All alone on Christmas Eve …

For as far back as I can remember, Christmas Eve—not Christmas Day–was the most revered twenty-four hours in our house.

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I was never sure if it was just our family who did this or if it was a world-wide experience. I spent little time thinking it over as I was much too busy growing limbs and forming consonant/vowel combinations to really pay attention. Then it was too late and it was simply taken for granted.

I could also never understand why no one in my elementary school got unduly excited over December 5th rolling around each year, and could not comprehend why this day was not discussed on the playground, at the lunchroom table and across the chalkboard.

Then I eventually figured it out.

We were Polish.

Now before you all get your knickers in a twist over this statement, let me explain. I don’t mean, ‘We were Polish’ in the sense of the phrase where people poke fun at one ethnicity for lack of intelligence in comparison to theirs. I mean it in the sense that everyone else I went to school with was German, Scandinavian or Lutheran.

Okay, and to be honest, yes, the first sense of the phrase also applied, but that was strictly an explanation offered up by my science teacher who simply hated that in the three years time he taught me, he never got the hang of pronouncing my last name and blamed his chunky tongue on my ancestor’s abhorrence for brevity.

Regardless, even though I grew up in a community in Northern Wisconsin where multitudes of Poles had settled their weary bones, bought land and then found out seconds after the ink had dried on the bank loan that the summer season lasted about seven days on any generous year, none of them went to my school. And hardly anyone was Catholic except a handful of ‘on death’s door’ elderly folk. All the cool Catholic Polish kids lived in the next town over.

And if you look at all the adjectives in that sentence, you’ll realize just how closeted I really was from the rest of the world.

Basically, this all meant that none of my friends or classmates hung up their stockings on the eve of December 5th in order to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, and none of them had their big family dinner, opened presents and went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

I remember the day in fourth grade when I brought in my long, stretched out knee sock, plum full of nuts, fruits, chocolates and Christmas sweets to compare what St. Nick brought me with what he brought my friends, only to be greeted with the look on those friends’ faces that, when lined up, collectively spelled out the word OUTCAST.

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From then on, it was something I felt our family did clandestinely, like a shameful secret, and as if at any moment someone might pound on the door at night and shine a flashlight on the saggy, pendulous hose hanging close to the wood stove, rousing us out of our beds and demanding to see our holiday papers.

Christmas Eve was another matter though. Waking up that day was something that occurred because of smells rather than sounds. When I think of the meticulous preparations my mother launched into at the crack of dawn in order to create the evening’s spread, I can only liken them to the monumental effort it requires each year to coordinate the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Or a full length reenactment of the American Civil War. Somewhere around the first of February she had to begin the entire cycle of rudimentary groundwork all over again.

While my mother labored in the kitchen, the rest of us scattered to all corners of the house, sealed ourselves behind closed doors and began the arduous but giddy process of wrapping our Christmas gifts to one another, only coming out to either peek beneath the lid of a pot or beg someone to part with their roll of Scotch tape.

Somewhere around sunset we were ordered to dress for dinner and then mass—something festive and church appropriate. Clothing that was too celebratory or battery operated was often shunned by our elders. Apparently, seeing a bright red glow bleed through your parka and hearing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer accidentally spring on loudly from your novelty jewelry can mess with a few pacemakers.

Dinner was white. White tablecloth, white candles, white food–all except for that hidden almond in the rice pudding, which if discovered in your portion announced to the rest of the family that you’d be the next to wed. After a few years truly paying attention to this soothsaying recipe, and seeing that year after year none of my three siblings were married off or even promised to another family in exchange for a few animal skins to combat winter, I stopped believing. It’s a crushing blow when at the fragile age of nine you find you’ve wasted an entire year waiting for one of your classmates to get down on bended knee and there were no takers.

Following dinner—and a world record for speediest cleanup crews—we all sat down in the living room and exchanged gifts.

Yes, on Christmas Eve.

I didn’t realize this was weird until my own children boycotted the event in favor of doing it “the regular way like the rest of the world.”

But come to find out, there are a slew of others like us out there. I think at some point we were told we did the whole gift giving bit on Christmas Eve because we were imitating the three wise men and their generosity. For a long time I’d thought it was that we were so close to the North Pole we were basically the first stopover.

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After all the ribbons and wrapping were cleared enough to make a path, we bundled up and headed out for the grand finale: candlelight midnight mass.

As a kid, I’d always wondered what it would feel like to show up like 99% of the congregation–shuffling in a few minutes before mass, locating a seat and then finding myself enveloped in the soft glow of all the flickering flames and the concert of glorious music. It never happened. Our family was the concert of glorious music, although I usually didn’t think it too terribly glorious at the time. My mother was the choir director and myself and my three siblings were the church’s orchestra–not to mention half her choir. We were also a blight on her backside as we did our best to unionize and complain about the conditions we were expected to play and sing in.

But that’s another story for next year.

Suffice it to say, the ride back home after the food, the gifts, the candlelight and music, on snow-filled streets with a starry black night, was a heavenly experience I could not wait to repeat.

Polish or peculiar, it was perfect.

~Shelley

PS As a tiny gift to my favorite Grinch whose heart needed boosting, I leave you with a goodnight lullaby. I wish you all peaceful, somnolent, silent nights. (And an extra holiday hug to my children for playing the violin, mixing and mastering the music.)

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.

O Tannenbaum!

Tis the season to eat, drink, be merry and … murder trees???

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Ugh, it nearly pains me to write that—especially since I merrily participate—but I figure, if you’re going to be one of the crowd, at least you should be an educated member of said crowd.

So … for all of you celebrating the holidays with some sort of festively decked out tree this year, I shall provide you with a little bit of trivia to entertain your fellow lumberjacks, tinsel strewers and gold star toppers. Pay attention, memorize and amaze.

You’re welcome.

Holiday Tree Trivia Twaddle

  • Christmas trees remove dust and pollen from the air. This year I’m training mine to use the vacuum cleaner so it can remove dirt from the carpet.
  • Christmas trees take an average of 7-10 years to mature. Christmas trees would make wonderful children.
  • To be more specific: It takes 7-10 years of fighting heavy rain, wind, hail and drought to grow a mature tree. It takes 18-20 years of fighting heavy rants, whining, howling and delinquency to grow a mature child. (numbers will vary)

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  • Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has annually given a Christmas tree to the President and first family. The National Christmas Tree Association is still waiting for a thank you note.
  • Recycled trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and been placed in ponds for fish shelter. I simply preserve mine by brining it in pickle juice at the end of the holiday season, and then bring it out again come December 1st. I serve a lot of corned beef on rye for dinner during the month so no one is suspicious of the stench.
  • The best selling trees are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Noble fir, Fraser fir, Virginia pine, Balsam fir and white pine. At one point there was a national push toward the Giant Sequoia because Americans never like to be outdone, but the wait time for them didn’t quite match up to our appetite for instant gratification.

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  • 100,000 people are employed in the Christmas tree industry. For about 4 weeks. The remaining 48 weeks of the year they’re just tree stump grinders.
  • In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees. In 2013, all stores erected big illuminated Christmas trees, kept them erected all year long, but took a break by switching them off for the month of April.
  • 98 percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms. The other 2 percent wouldn’t know one end of a cow from the other.

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  • Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska. Christmas trees are sold only in Alabama and Oklahoma. Everywhere else sells “Holiday” trees.
  • Tinsel was once banned by the government because it contained lead. Now it’s made of plastic. And it has to be said, landfills have never looked so festive.
  • The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred before the birth of Christ. After the birth of Christ, we learned to start celebrating the winter season by putting away any sparklers and fireworks leftover from the 4th of July.
  • In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House. He was then promptly shouted at by staff for tracking in mud and pine pitch.

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  • You should never burn your Christmas tree in your fireplace because it can contribute to creosote buildup. You should only ever burn your Christmas tree in somebody else’s fireplace.
  • President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923. Taxpayers nearly ended the ritual after being presented with the White House electricity bill come January.
  • From 1948 to 1951, President Truman spent Christmas at his home in Independence, Missouri, and lit the National Community Christmas Tree by remote control. I’m guessing that President Truman was a bit of a Grinch.
  • Nineteenth century Americans cut their holiday trees in nearby forests. Twenty-first century Americans have somebody else cut their holiday trees in forests not even remotely close to where they live.
  • In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day. After that, the tree will have located your liquor cabinet and will consume as much as a fifth of scotch until New Year’s.

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  • Helicopters help to lift harvested Christmas trees from farms. But this is strictly for the wealthy, whereas most folks simply drive their tree home strapped to the roof of their car.
  • An acre of Christmas trees provides for the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. Sadly, 3 people use up that oxygen within about 60 seconds when visiting one of the many trendy Oxygen bars around the world. *gasp*
  • Real Christmas trees are involved in less than one-tenth of one percent of residential fires and only when ignited by some external ignition sources. This came to pass after many years of officials believing the sworn oath statements of homeowners who promised they did not pass out drunk beneath the tree with a lit cigarette dangling from their hands and that trees in their neighborhood have a tendency to self combust.

So, all this goofy fun aside, I wanted to insert a sentence or two about taking care of this beloved planet we all share and enjoy (read occasionally abuse). I’ve come to believe that if we are capable of making this earth just a teensy bit better for our having been here, then we should feel pretty good about ourselves when we draw our last breath. Recognizing that even this blog has its own carbon footprint (the Internet and related technology industries produce over 830 million tons of CO2 in greenhouse gases each year, and is projected to double by 2020), I feel it necessary to take responsibility for my work’s contribution to that figure.

I have instructed my blog to plant a tree to offset its negative impact on our environment. There was a bit of a tussle between the two of us as to who should do the actual digging, but in the end we agreed to flip a coin. Mercifully, the great folks at the Arbor Day Foundation have paired up with Green Gestures—a large-scale reforestation initiative in the US (by bloggers, for bloggers)—and will, on behalf of your blog, plant a tree FOR YOU.

My blog and I have decided to name it CLYDE.

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I’m incredibly grateful to the folks at both institutions for all their efforts, and encourage the rest of the blogosphere to participate and spread the word.

Write a post. Plant a tree. Breathe a little easier.

~Shelley

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

Twelve years a slave to satellites.

There are a million things I know with absolute certainty that I have no talent for:

1. Numbers. If there are more than three, and something is required to be done to them, other than the elementary operations one practices in school up to about the age of twelve, then I am the last person you want to consult. Okay, maybe the penultimate person, because kindergarteners are notorious for making up answers where I would at least try to get it right.

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2. Cutting hair. I’ve cut my own, I’ve cut my children’s and I’ve cut my dog’s. It’s amazing how quickly a crowd will scatter if I walk into a room with a pair of scissors.

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3. Squeezing my entire body through the head of a tennis racket. It’s impossible. I’ve tried a million times. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, I’ve just got to study a few more Chinese circus children before I try again.

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But if asked what skill I can claim an aptitude for, I would not hesitate to point out that I possess a great sense of direction.

That is, unless I’ve programmed my car’s satellite with an address, or I’ve handed a map to my mother.

For this particular journey, I mistakenly did both.

As is usual for this time of year, I headed northward toward the big city lights to attend my annual writers’ conference and hoped that I should walk away inspired, incisive, but not in a fog as to how much work I would have in front of me once I got home.

Also, as is usual, I brought my mother along—not only for the company, but because her birthday always falls within this week. And as my father feels that recognizing birthdays is a surefire way to spoil the people you love or live with, leading them into a false sense of security, I’ve taken it on as my duty to make sure my mom gets to have a dinner out once a year that doesn’t get ordered at a counter.

This year, I thought we’d see a film before heading to the restaurant. After listening to nearly a dozen NPR programs, interviewing everyone from the director down to the steadicam operator, I was wholly keyed up to see the film Twelve Years a Slave. I felt it was a hugely important film, and even though I usually lose out during the voting round when suggesting we view a story that could be classified as political, controversial, or requiring the skills of a second language to truly understand its nuance, I thought my mom would find kinship with the hero because he too was a violinist, and string players just understand one another like no one else can. It might have something to do with inhaling too much rosin while preparing your bow hair, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

It’s taken me a while, but I now know better than to program my car’s sat nav because after initially feeling the thrill of having it installed in a car of mine around a dozen years ago, I soon came to realize that it was full of bugs. And I’m not referring to the kind I wrote about two weeks ago.

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These are the wonky bugs that require attention from a team of computer programmers. Surely they’d look at my car’s software—supposedly teamed up with one of our Earth’s satellites—glance at the jumbled stream of letters, numbers and characters within the code, and then sit back to laugh in their chairs because they’d soon recognize what I have: my operating system is overwhelmingly archaic and probably manufactured by Toys R Us. It doesn’t matter what I program into the device at the beginning of the drive, because according to my GPS map, my destination is always in the middle of a lake.

I refuse to trust the voice guidance, who has confidentially admitted to me that regardless of my request for the quickest route, she will direct me through every tiny town, as many intersections as possible, and throw me onto a toll road for a quick drop of a few coins before pulling me off again and back into the thick of traffic. I despise that woman.

Handing my programmed iPhone to mother proves just as pointless. I must confess it’s not entirely her fault. My smart phone has lost several IQ points over the last couple of years and being one of the first models of Apple’s handheld devices, it continues to plummet at a rate of knots.

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Some applications refuse to participate any longer, texts sit there until I’ve pressed ‘send’ the requisite magic number of times, and the maps icon acts like an obnoxious delinquent—a rascally miscreant who takes great pleasure in changing the address of my arrival destination on route when I am not paying attention.

My son calls my phone buggy.

I call my phone … a few other names.

We arrive at the theater only to find out that although technically this theater shows films, it does not show the film we chose to be directed to, and our real destination is on the other side of a ten-lane freeway. I ask my mom to give me a number, from a scale of 1 to 10, as to how athletically agile she is feeling today.

We get back into the car.

My mother redirects me to another theater, which is actually a state park.

Our next, “You have arrived,” moment has us turning onto an old dirt road having passed several police vehicles before I pull off to the side and announce, “Something evil has happened down there, and I’m damn sure they are not selling popcorn to folks who dare to come view the events unfolding.”

It’s now that my mom pulls out her brand-spanking new iPhone and says, “Let’s use Siri.”

I let my head clunk onto the steering wheel.

Finally, we arrive at the correct theater. We watch the film. I gasp, I am struck with horror, I am fixated, I am appalled, I weep. The lights come up and I turn to my mother, my eyes streaked with mascara.

“Well?” I ask hopefully.

She says, “He really wasn’t a very good violinist, was he?”

*sigh*

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~Shelley

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

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Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

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And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

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Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

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We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

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Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens

Apples

Chocolate milk

Navy beans

Salmon

Chocolate covered pretzels

Eggs

Tofu

Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste

Brownies

At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

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~Shelley

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

Good health hurts

I think by now we’ve all gotten the message from our physicians that if we don’t take care of our health, we’re going to die a god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death.

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And I’m sure there is a multitude of medics out there who–after reading the latest report of appalling statistics pinpointing the condition of global wellbeing–are, if not jumping up and down shouting, “I told you so!” then are at least just making the I told you so face.

If we are not hearing these cautionary predictions directly from the doctors we routinely visit, then it’s from our mothers, or our web sites, or the butcher as he hands you the leg of lamb that was awarded a health care plan far better than your own. Apparently, we are all ticking time-bombs teetering on the edge and as long as you follow the experts’ sage advice, you may be able to buy yourself a few extra hours.

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Well, I’m not sure those few extra hours are worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about maintaining good health. And not just good health, but great health. I want arms and legs and all internal organs running at optimum speed for the most advantageous results. But there comes a time when you have to step back and analyze whether or not what you’re doing is something that will make historians and school children, generations down the road, slap themselves upside the head at the sheer lunacy of your current day practice.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, reading about and running about, putting into practice countless ways to gain energy, improve my digestion and increase my immunity. Occasionally, there is time to wash a spoon, but for the most part, I’m covering all angles of the welfare wish list.

From farm to fridge to face, my aim is to find minimally processed, but maximally realized nutrients—all capable of helping me become the super-hearty, able-bodied, rosy-cheeked wonder woman that appears on the inside pages of my favorite reading material. She is everywhere: Food &Wine, the Yoga journal, and most importantly, The Farmer’s Almanac.

I’m determined to be her. And every day is a physical journey where I confidently feel I am marching toward my goal.

Except for last night, where my progress on this pilgrimage came to an abrupt halt.

Each morning starts off much the same way. I wake and plod my way toward the bathroom counter where a handful of relief and prevention awaits me. Down the hatch slide tiny tablets that will push away pain, fight free radicals and stimulate my defenses against invisible attack. I am now armed, and too full for breakfast.

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Instead, I take a two ounce swig of an energy shot made entirely of concentrated, bitter yerba mate—flavored with lemon so one’s facial muscles can practice that “extra puckery pout.” I’m sure it counts as exercise in someone’s book.

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Lunchtime brings an array of greens so hearty they usually require a small hatchet for carving purposes. On the side sits a pulpy cesspool of fermented foods which bacteria has made chewable for human teeth. To wash this all down, I choose some combination of herbs and roots, all ground, dried and steeped in boiled water. Occasionally, I throw in an eye of newt for good measure.

The afternoon slump rolls round and I combat that with forty drops of magic tinctures—extracts meant to boost endurance and rally the flailing troops. The potion is poured into a small amount of water, which then froths and clouds before meeting and shriveling my tongue. Good god, even rat poison is capable of being palatable. But it does the job and I am revived. I have just enough time to water a plant before it’s time to make dinner.

Tonight we’re gluten free and gorging on grains. Well … I am. The kids mostly make patterns on their plates like they’re creating Tibetan sand art, and will—as usual—meet up later in the kitchen, after I’ve tidied up, to prepare their real dinner. Likely it will come from the freezer. I’m guessing something beginning with ice and ending with cream.

Shortly thereafter, I swallow my own late night snack: blimp-sized balls chock full of bioflavonoids, rose hips and rutin–a fistful of antioxidant fortification meant to protect me from things that go bump in the night and make your skin sag three inches by morning. I lastly choke down two horse-sized pellets containing the equivalent amount of fish oil that the entire cast of Finding Nemo could produce. I slip into bed.

Literally.

It’s here I recall my afternoon eye doctor appointment. Basically, I was given about ten seconds to bask in the sharp-focused glow of the news that I have the eyesight of a prize-winning hawk. Then I discovered I barely squeaked by the test for early detection of macular degeneration and now needed to do something about it. I was given two carotenoid supplements to add to the daily lineup.

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So it’s Bottom’s up! again. As I drift off to sleep, something niggles at the back of my mind. Something the doctor mentioned as a side effect to my new best friends lutein and zeaxanthin.

Four hours later, his words sear themselves back into my brain.

LEG CRAMPS!

I phone the next morning to ask what can be done about them, for sleeping is impossible while a chain saw is severing away at your calf. He suggested a gin and tonic in the evening with dinner.

“Tonic water has quinine in it, which has been known to help treat leg cramps, and what the quinine doesn’t address, the gin will knock on the head.”

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Apparently, my ophthalmologist needs a new pair of reading glasses because it’s obvious he didn’t read the FDA’s announcement that quinine is a quiller. I mean killer.

I call my health food store friends to check for options. I need sleep.

“No worries,” they say. “First we’ll try you on 5 mg of melatonin, or a dietary supplement of valerian root—oh and poppy syrup goes down nice and easy.”

I sigh and put the phone down.

At this moment that god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death is starting to look really attractive.

So is a cheeseburger.

~Shelley

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

Hell is empty and all the devils are here!

There is a plague on my house.

Or more aptly, there is a plague IN my house.

Even more aptly, there is a plague in BOTH my houses. (The hound has a tiny cottage just outside the dog door.)

It’s evil. It’s widespread. It’s pandemic.

Actually, it is a they.

STINKBUGS.

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These six-legged beasts have made themselves at home—without invitation, without cessation, and without a return trip ticket from whence they came.

A few years ago, the abominable scourge was the ladybug—or ladybird beetle. I can’t believe people complained about our overabundance of ladybugs. Growing up, you were lucky if a ladybug landed on you—it was a chance to make a wish, or count its spots to see if a good harvest was coming your way. And as is well known—a good harvest could make or break the day of a seven-year old.

California citrus growers released thousands of the beetles—purchased from our good friends Down Under—and kept their fingers crossed that the clumsy, crimson cutie pies would gorge their tiny bellies on as many aphids as they could muster. They were champions. Our desperate need to send grapefruit for the holidays was saved.

But eventually people complained. (Bet you didn’t see that coming, right?)

Rumor had it that the next idea was to release some parasitic wasp that would in essence sneak up on the ladybugs, inject them with venom, rendering them paralytic and zombie-like, and then lay eggs inside them. Our tiny beetles shortly found wasp eggs hatching and chewing their way out of their own belly.

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Yeah, love that fix. Let’s launch a battalion of those wasps to teach our ladybugs a lesson.

The lovely ladybugs are no longer an issue in our abode, but have now been replaced with these malodorous, marmorated, major pain in my backside bugs.

Stinkbugs, so true to their name, are now making a yearly pilgrimage to my neck of the woods to worship something found in all the creases of my curtains, along the crown moldings of my ceilings and embedded deep within my light fixtures. When not paying homage to their transcendental deity, they rejuvenate their shield-shaped bodies by guzzling any sweet, liquid libation they can locate. Gone are my plump figs, my peppers and thick, leafy greens. I am a mecca that provides a free for all service of food, lodging and late night vespers to these party animals. A one stop church and chow, a synagogue and sip, a temple and tipple—I could go on …

I suppose I would have a lot more energy to create a battle plan to reclaim my house and crops if only I were allowed a proper night’s sleep. I have challenged cognitive skills at the best of times, but when paired with a chronic sleep disorder—thrust upon me by the late night riot of cocktails and carousing that these bugs launch into once I’ve donned my nightcap—I am left droopy-eyed, sluggish, and just barely tuned in to the fact that one of them is crawling along the back of my neck as I’m trying to work at my desk. I’m guessing he’s attempting to peek over my shoulders to report back to the others of my annihilation strategy.

They fly, stumbling along in the air, drunk on fig juice and nectar of collard greens. Their buzz is analogous to that of a small child’s radio controlled flyer, and just like the barely airworthy kidcraft, the bugs are likely to fall out of the sky at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure if they suddenly tire of the effort their wings ask of them, or if they have a very low work ethic, or even if their tiny brains stopped focusing on the task at hand and gave up coordinating calculations for lift, thrust, drag and weight, but they plummet and hit the earth—or the person standing between them and the earth–with a crisp thwack. They then are stuck on their backs, stranded by their hefty bulwark, many unable to flip themselves over because Mother Nature did not take into account the overwhelming dullness of mind these creatures possess.

A good number perish this way. No funerals are held. I am both elated and repelled at the sheer number of dead stinkbugs lining the windowsills, scattered across the countertops, or that crunch underfoot when I’m lulled out of bed with the need to use the facilities. I’ve decided to wear combat boots to sleep so that I’m totally prepared should the need arise. Plus, battle waits for no man.

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They fall into my cup of tea, dive bomb into my pot of soup, squiggle their way into the folds of my face towel and I am fed up. I’ve lost sleep, my appetite and my appreciation for cilantro—for this is what they smell like when squished.

The only answer is suction.

I stalk these foul creatures like I would conduct a witch hunt—that is if I was an uneducated, fearful Protestant—which I am not. But for the sake of good plot, I pretend to be close. At least for this scenario. It is method acting.

It is me and my central vac hose. We suck them up one by one. Gleefully. Triumphantly. Like a woman possessed. Or getting rid of the possessed.

I fly about the room, cackling maniacally. The witch and her wand.

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I cast these evil creatures into the abyss with a parting quote: We are time’s subjects, and time bids BE GONE!!

~Shelley

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

One for the books

I love my library. And … I hate my library.

First of all, I think being offered the privilege of reading one’s way through a building full of books is a fabulous idea. Apparently, we have the Romans to thank for that. History tells us that they made scrolls available to patrons of “the baths.” As a footnote, I will not credit the Romans with the ability to laminate, but guess access to these scrolls was available after a very stern, hefty, Hellenic woman with a pinched expression and even pinchier sandals first examined your mitts and noted that you had towel dried off enough to handle the goods.

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The public libraries as we know them today might need a nod of appreciation toward the great British Empire. Noted among the upper class, the Working Joes—after absorbing the brunt of the mid 19th century’s fun festival of war, insurrection, bankruptcy and scarcity—were apparently bringing down the country’s weighty, highbrowed reputation, mostly attributed to the cachet of good breeding. A rise in IQ was exactly what the aristocracy wanted country needed.

The drive toward establishing public libraries—state run and taxpayer funded—was a growing movement. Matthew Battles, a senior researcher with metaLAB at Harvard, states that:

“It was in these years of class conflict and economic terror that the public library movement swept through Britain, as the nation’s progressive elite recognized that the light of cultural and intellectual energy was lacking in the lives of commoners.”

Time to hit the books, gents.

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I’m guessing the famous Scotsman, Andrew Carnegie, grew convinced that draping himself in the colors of silver, gold and green was unflattering, and gave away barrelfuls of anything with those pigments to communities agreeable to a few ground rules and a hope for informational ease of access. 3000 libraries later, I think the world owes him a giant thank you card. Feel free to sign it down below in the comments section. I’ll forward it on to him later.

Today, if we are to include all types of libraries (school, special, academic, government, public, etc.) we’d find the world is lucky enough to house shelf after shelf of books in roughly one million constructed centers. This number is an estimate from the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), a group of folks who love to count as much as they love to read.

As a kid, it was a Saturday ritual that after piano lessons, the next stop was the public library. It wasn’t for me, but rather a stop off for my dad so he could get his weekly hit from his dealer librarian. Yeah, he had it bad. There were times when he was lost in the stacks for so long that I started ripping out and chewing on the pictures in cookbooks merely for sustenance. And as long as the book wasn’t a new addition to the shelves, it usually had some splatter of the previous patron’s dinner mottled across a few of the recipe pages.

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Once I moved on to college and beyond, every town I found myself employed in for longer than a matinee showing and a midnight review also found me slumped against the door of the nearest local library, waiting for the doors to open first thing the next morning. Memorizing the new string of numbers on my library card was the single most important thing to do. Then I could find an apartment.

As a parent of two children—when they were children—I attempted to make visits to the neighborhood library closely mimic an experience of meeting God at the Magic Kingdom, only without all the genuflecting and endless snaking lines thrown in. When I discovered the limit on checking out books was 75 items per patron, I think I pointed toward the back wall and said, “We’ll take that section.”

What I enjoyed most from this period of time in my life was coming upstairs to do that last sweeping check of children and the switching off of bedside lamps where I would undoubtedly find a mound of discarded books at the foot of each bed, spilling onto the floor. More often than not, one was splayed across their chests, the plot interrupted by drowsy eyes and impatient dreams.

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Today, I’m rarely in charge of checking out books for anyone other than myself, but even so, my visits tally to three times a week. I walk in with an armload of books:

One is nearly read, and I finish the last 13 pages while waiting in line, continually gesturing folks to step in front of me.

Four are due today, but I’m only one half/two thirds/six pages into the stories and will need to check with the circulation desk to see if there’s any way I can please, pretty please, I’ll get on my knees check them out again as long as there is no hold on them currently.

And three are nonfiction and much needed for research pertaining to my books, my blog, my mental health and child rearing. Always, childrearing.

I carry a hefty bag of coins which I have labeled contrition cash, or penitence pennies, and hand the librarian the loot, along with a sheepish apology for my sins against the system.

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It’s why I hate the library. Their generosity has made me a green-eyed glutton, a piggish patron, a barbaric bibliomaniac. I subscribe to all their email lists.

Fiction Best Sellers!

Staff Picks!

Books Approved by Oprah, Obama and Oh My God You Just Have To Read These!

There is so much guilt I suffer because of my library. But it’s really writers who are at fault. On the whole, we’ve got way too many stories, way too many messages, way too many words.

But I shall read on.

And I hope you will too.

~Shelley

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

If memory serves–which it doesn’t.

There is something wrong with my brain.

I’m sure of it.

One minute I can remember the lyrics to a bazillion songs, the list of elements in the periodic table and the names of all our American presidents. Now I’m lucky if I can remember … whatever it was I was just going to write down here.

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It’s incredibly annoying to lose the springiness of one’s brain. My hippocampus is either on fall break or I’m entering a new phase of my life through a door I cannot recall opening.

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Whereas mere months earlier I prided myself on the fact that I could be taken on a drive to a place foreign and unfamiliar, and easily find my way back home, today I grabbed my keys, dashed out the front door, started up the engine and pulled out the garage only to suddenly remember I had simply meant to go to the bathroom.

There’s no dire medical issue—no diagnoses of cognitive meltdown–just old fashioned overload. It’s like my brain is a rather large cannoli, unable to contain the mostly fluffy contents stuffed within it. And things leak out unattractively.

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I’m not too terribly panicked at this point, for I remember my mother around this stage of her life with four teenagers demanding physical, mental, and at times, emotionally fever-pitched attention. Her basic response to any pleading look cast her way was, “Did I remember to feed you today?” I like how she brought every issue down to its simplest form before proceeding to venture into other territories. In essence, all other matters were manageable as long as that box had been ticked.

The fact that both my teenagers have dedicated space in their bedrooms equivalent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault  (to provide insurance against any conversations such as those I described with their grandmother from ever taking place ) provides me adequate peace of mind. Although I have gone through the parental motions of nagging and threatening to eliminate weekly pocket money, nights out privileges, and occasionally even a bodily limb if I once again find out they’ve been eating in their rooms, I’m also aware of the fact that they might be doing us all a giant favor if the world should suddenly go to hell in a hand basket and we are cut off from civilization with nothing apart from my mushrooming whisky inventory, forty-six tins of cat food and a rosemary bush. Suddenly, they and their stash of after school and late night snacks are elevated to hero status.

Now recalling the subject matter of this post, I feel it important that you know I’m not simply sitting back and watching the inner workings of my brain decay day by day, but have leapt to the call of necessity and refuse to sit by idly. I will not be one of those women who live with their adult children, watch them leave for work in the morning, stare out the window all day long and then upon their return realize I’ve not eaten or used the toilet since the night before.

No. Not me.

I plan to fight with both fists up. And not using the girlie fist position with thumbs tucked in where they break upon impact.

My training regimen requires an appetite:

Healthy diet—No problem. I eat enough leafy flora to notice the slight tinge of cabbage patch green on my skin, and have discovered that I’ve ingested enough chlorophyll to nearly glow in the dark.

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Take supplements—At times I feel I am a giant walking ginkgo tree as I consume the leaves’ magic memory powers with such enthusiasm that I’m certain each of my cells are bathing in a small pool of tea, paste and gravy of gingko related products. And I’m forever hunting down any compound that claims to help my brain’s cell to cell communication. I’m even considering getting each one of them their own little iPhones if it might help with their correspondence.

Brain boosting exercise—I’m unsure at this point which is harder: flexing the flab of my bodily muscles or sharpening my cerebrum with puzzles and labyrinthine tasks. I do both, but feel equally disabled after each. Stretch, pump, push, pull … collapse. It’s so much easier to eat kale.

Drink red wine—Finally! Need I say more? Well, I can’t, because it’s a little challenging while swilling zinfandel.

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Laugh—Surprised? Me too. I came across several fancy pants universities that were engaged in or had completed studies with their students as subjects, determining whether or not weaving humor into “needed to learn” material could positively influence memory and recall, and therefore increase test scores. It turns out to be true. Except for one study. This was conducted in Nebraska. I suggest Nebraska should be sent a few more cases of red wine to help with future results of this study.

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Overall, I feel I’m doing my best to combat the natural downfall of my overworked, under-appreciated grey matter. I will continue to add some color with the greens and reds of food and wine, I will practice mental maneuvers to create an MRI brain map that will make the ROYGBIV spectrum pale in comparison, and I will wait patiently for the next season of Parks and Recreation to resume so that my weekly dose of belly laughs can begin anew.

In truth, the ultimate answer to all of my memory despair could easily be fixed by making a simple dinner reservation. Give me a salad, a glass of wine and  Amy Poehler as my dinner companion.

Now that would be a night to remember.

~Shelley

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

Thomas Jefferson is full of beans.

Old chocolate is amazing.

And I don’t mean old as in you found last Halloween’s leftover bag of miniature Snickers bars, and after removing both the fake and the real cobwebs, you classified it as … edible-ish.

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I mean old chocolate as in 250 year-old chocolate.

Okay, maybe I mean a 250 year-old recipe for chocolate, but I’m hoping that might be implied.

Regardless, I recently had a chance to taste this luscious libation when I last visited one of my fathers’ homes. Forefathers that is.

Although not technically related, I do feel a special kinship with Thomas Jefferson in that he and I share a lot of commonality:

Thomas Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State. I was the first United States Secretary of Stately Housekeeping in the ramshackle kindling fort my brother and I made when we were kids. Both Jefferson and I argued endlessly with the Secretary of the Treasury over fiscal responsibility and where we would spend our combined allowance—I mean finances.

Thomas Jefferson was a leader in enlightenment. He brought about awareness and understanding to millions on a plethora of subjects. I am a leader in de-lightenment. I bring about awareness and understanding to my children on the cost of keeping a room lit with no one in it to enlighten. (Hold your groans, it only gets worse from here.)

We shared a great love of books, both played the violin, and astonishingly enough, it appears we employed the same hairdresser for much of our adult lives.

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But it’s the love of Colonial chocolate that brought me closest to Jefferson on my last visit to his shiny little shanty. The architecture of Monticello could not compete with the spindly legged table set up in his yard that was used to demonstrate a ‘made from scratch nectar’ enjoyed by our late president and many lucky citizens of the 18th century.

The event was the Heritage Harvest Festival. Coined as America’s First Foodie, Mr. Jefferson invited friends and family to one of his annual backyard BBQs. He’s good like that, allowing folks to trample through his garden and kids to climb his trees. I bet if he were alive today, he’d have been right out there on the West Lawn with the rest of us, eating a pulled pork sandwich and washing it down with a local brew.

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Or he might have been standing behind me as I attempted for the third time that day to pass myself off as a curious newcomer to the demonstration of ‘How the colonials made their chocolate drink.’ Free samples in miniature Dixie cups were handed out after you watched someone explain the roasting of cocoa beans, the process of de-shelling the beans by hand and the grueling work of grinding the cocoa nibs via mortar and pestle.

Yes, arduous work.

Thank you for the sample.

Delicious.

(Wait for 30 minutes behind a tree)

Get back in line.

There were a million things to learn about at this historical heritage happening. We were encouraged to Celebrate the harvest and the legacy of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson who championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.

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And to Taste a bounty of heirloom fruits and vegetables and learn about organic gardening and seed-saving during this fun, affordable, family-friendly festival.

But I’ve had bushels full of fabulous fruit and veg this summer already, and was plum up to my earballs in articles and lectures on sustainable farming and gardening.

I WANTED THAT CHOCOLATE.

Okay, yes, every day I make sure to eat a fistful of mahogany magnificence, but this is not the point. The point is that what I usually have in my fist did not measure up to what I saw casually proffered to passersby via cherub-faced young ladies. What they held out on their trays should have been deemed illegal. It was addictive, enslaving—I was hooked.

It was cocoa bean crack.

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At one point in 1785, Thomas Jefferson penned that chocolate would surpass American love for coffee and tea—just like it had happened in Spain. Clever, clever Spaniards. I’m guessing over there, little kids had set up chocolate stalls and kicked the idea of lemonade stands to the curb.

Even Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of this ambrosia. Somehow, between his good looks and charm, he arranged six pounds of chocolate to accompany every officer, termed “a special supply” for those who marched alongside General Braddock’s Army during the French and Indian war. I’m guessing most Americans today would be asking for a refill after a week and a half tops.

Back up top at Monticello, I finally succumbed to guilt and temptation and forked out the twenty some dollars for the small tin of the American Heritage Historic Chocolate drink. It will sit on my desk for months as I gaze longingly at it, but I will repeatedly tell myself it should be saved for something monumental like a presidential election, or something worthy like passing a test, or a kidney stone.

Likely, next September will roll around and I will receive another invitation to visit the grandpappy of our population. I will rootle around on my desk searching for my tickets and come across the tin, having been buried beneath overdue Netflix movies, bills and yes, last year’s Halloween candy.

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I will head to the hill for some history (okay, we all know I’m just going for the chocolate) and try to soothe the guilt that bubbles up admonishing me for wasting money on something I didn’t even consume.

But then I will remind myself that the chocolate is 250 years old already, so what’s one more year. In fact, I’m totally with Mark Twain on the subject: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

~Shelley

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

Out of touch

Panic has set in at my house.

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It’s as crisp and as tangible as hair-raising electricity, sharp as a floor full of tacks, and capable of creating irreparable organ damage from the anxiety-ridden heart palpitations taking place. We’ve been cut off. Specifically, the little optic fibers meant to supply juice to our technologically dependent family have been severed.

We are addicts and our drug of choice has been snatched away, brutally and without warning.

And … on a holiday weekend.

This Labor Day three day festival is turning out to be a labor-less one, as far as our phones and Internet are concerned. And did I receive a memo about this? Nope. No one said, “Hey lady, if it’s okay with you, we’re going to shut down the overworked, desperately needed, wholly depended upon nerve center of your home for … awhile, alrighty?”

No, not alrighty.

Not alrighty at all.

Blood is beginning to spill out of my ears from hearing the teenage trauma as realization sinks in. We’ve lost all connection to the outside world. Studies have shown that if you allow this to happen to adolescents for any length of time longer than it takes to make a sandwich, neurological damage begins to take place. Synapses disconnect and their little points of contact shrivel and retract. I’m quite certain that Internet access is the same as sunshine to the plant kingdom, gas to a car, or a camera flash to Kim Kardashian.

No juice, no point in going on.

Find cliff. Leap off.

Everyone is looking around wondering what to do, baffled and bewildered that this could be happening. It’s almost as bad as discovering that air decided not to show up for work today.

Normally, something like this happens when there’s a massive storm, four feet of swirling snow, or there are trees down county wide from a slicing wind and rain storm. But that hasn’t happened. The sun is out, the grass is glistening with dew, birds are flitting about doing bird-like business. And there’s a thin blanket of mist in the valleys below us. Morning fog. Wispy bits nearly transparent and sylph-like. I am positive that fog does not have physical fingers capable of finding the plug that connects our house to the world and yanking said plug from its outlet. There is nothing to blame it on.

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I run downstairs into the utility room to scan the panels of blinking lights and machines that ping. I make my way through miles of wiring, and I wriggle around pipes that snake from floor to roof, pass through concrete walls and zigzag their way like thickly-roped spider webs across the ceiling. I find the receptacles that house all lines and cables relating to technology and magic, as they are one and the same to me. Some lights flash and others flicker. The important ones are dark or blaze in angry red tones signaling their lack of life or surfeit of irritation. Even these machines echo the family’s disposition.

I unplug everything and standby. I do yoga while waiting the requisite amount of time so as not to waste the minute and hope it will improve my mood. I replug and watch.

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No joy.

Perhaps I’ve done it incorrectly.

Wrong order? Too quick? Didn’t say the magic words?

I try again and decide to throw in a minute of holding my breath for good measure. I think positive thoughts and shine the basement flashlight on the box thinking maybe it just needs ‘healing white light.’

Nope. It needs a technician. Or a good spanking.

I search the house and yard for any place I might be able to get a signal in order to phone in and report our outage. I find one in the closet that gives quarter to the cat’s litter. I scan an object with real pages and inked printing, giving me direction to the telephone number of the one person out there who can take on my troubles and ease my family’s distress.

There is a plethora of numbers. I try them all. One by one, and even though they are listed as specific departments, they arrive at the same desk: the automated hotline. Businesses do not answer telephone calls any longer. Businesses have business to do. They have money to make, not problems to solve. Promises to guarantee, not satisfaction to deliver.

I give up playing the game by the rules since those on the other end have none. I mess with the machine and press buttons that they did not offer as an option. This often produces an individual whose game of solitaire or updating of Facebook was interrupted. They’re usually not pleased.

I provide the details. More than they need. Phone numbers, addresses, shirt size and bank account sums as incentive. Do what you will with it, just make the magic happen again, please. Can’t you hear the children suffering in the background?

He does not.

He issues “a ticket for service.”

Sometime, maybe soon, depending upon availability and mood, someone may or may not attempt to unravel your puzzle. Don’t hold your breath.

I know, I say, I tried that already and it didn’t work.

Well, you have yourself a good holiday weekend. Maybe spend some time with the kids, eh?

 I sigh, disconnect the call from my cell phone and go to the game cupboard.

I bring a stack of possible pastimes and place them on the table before my offspring. “Puzzle?” I offer. “Board game? Checkers? Gin Rummy?”

They stare at me blankly, eyes wide and unregistering.

The phone rings. THE LANDLINE PHONE!

It works! We are saved! We have been rejoined!

We bow down to the mighty, joyful ring, displaying our gratitude.

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We will always remember the holiday we nearly spent together. We laugh about it now.

Ah, memories.

~Shelley

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

 

The Rocket’s Red Glare

“Mom. Mom. Mother! LOIS!”

The last one always gets my attention. Yes, I know it’s not my name, but if I’m in a crowd and hear someone shout Mom, a thousand women turn around. This is the pattern of words/bird calls that my kids find necessary to stimulate my consciousness—my awareness of their presence (read demand for attention).

“Yes?” I raised my head to see my daughter standing beside my desk, her face a mixture of annoyance and impatience.

“Let’s go. Hurry up.” She held her iPhone in her hand and beckoned me. A man’s voice chattered through the speakers.

“Who’s on the phone?” I whispered.

She rolled her eyes. “NASA. We’re waitin’ on you now.”

GNC systems are nominal, another iPhone voice chirped.

I looked at my computer’s clock. 11:10 pm. Finally, I was awake for some big aerospace worthy event and not simply going to hear about it the next morning because it took place at 3:52 am and I chose sandman over spacemen.

I leapt from my chair and followed my daughter to the mudroom where we popped on our boots and jackets. Outside, the air nipped at any spots of exposed skin, so I did a little running in place to warm myself. I got shushed for bouncing too loudly and interfering with the crackling sound of our NASA Wallops men. They were ticking off boxes on a long checklist of things that could easily make a team of scientists fall to their knees and weep like children who lost a game of checkers if one of them didn’t get a ‘Thumbs up and go for it.’

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SMA?

SMA is Go.

SMD?

SMD is Go.

NAM?

NASA Advisor Team is ready.

Copy that.

My daughter ran in the house to shut off the kitchen lights, which gave me ten seconds of bouncing to myself. Kinetic energy converts to thermal energy, right? I was trying to think like a scientist. Then I heard her and the Wallops men float down the back porch steps in the dark.

I looked up into the inky black. The stars were crisply sharp tonight. It was as if NASA had done a last minute vacuuming of the sky, ridding it of any dusty bits that might interfere with seeing the rocket launch.

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“What’s our rocket called?” I asked.

“Shhh.”

LADEE is Go for launch.

“Ladee?” I nearly shouted. “As in Bruichladdich? Wahoo!”

“SHHHH!!!”

T minus 90 seconds.

I was thrilled. They named the rocket after my favorite distillery in Scotland. And suddenly I was in desperate need of a dram to celebrate—if not just to warm up.

“I can’t believe they named the rocket after a whisky.”

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Even though it was too dark to see my daughter roll her eyes, I knew it accompanied the tsk sound that came from her mouth. “Mother … *sigh* … the rocket is not named for an alcoholic beverage. LADEE stands for ‘Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.’ Now be quiet.”

“Poetic.”

“SHHH!!”

T minus 35 seconds.

RCO report range go for launch?

Range is Go.

SSC hydraulics internal?

Hydraulics Go.

“Where do we look?” I whispered.

She thrust a sharp finger eastward to the tree line. Even her fingers were shushing me.

I stood on tiptoe to see Wallops Flight Center. It was about one hundred miles away as the crow flies (or the rocket hurls). It turns out that I cannot see one hundred miles away. At that moment, Haggis, my hairy hound, hurled himself out of the house and—keenly aware of the heart-palpitating excitement and the need for speed—ran circles around us while barking.

“MOTHER!”

I grabbed at his collar and pulled him nose to nose. “Be. Quiet.” I pointed at my daughter. “Can’t you hear that her god is speaking?”

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T minus 20 seconds and counting … T minus 15 … T minus 10, 9, 8,

A rocket was hopefully going to the moon. It was so exciting.

5, 4, 3,

I held my breath. I really wanted to bounce.

2, 1, 0, ignition and liftoff of the Minotaur V with LADEE, pursuing a mission about moondust and the lunar atmosphere …

We saw nothing.

Six (static) naught copy (static) mach four … pressure is nominal.

“Where is it?” I whispered, fingers crossed. I really wanted to see my rotgut rocket. My Bruichladdich LADEE. My moonshine heading to the moon.

Pressure is nominal.

What the heck is “nominal?” I don’t want nominal … I WANT VISUAL!

An orange ball rose from beyond the tree line, and I grabbed my daughter’s hand. “There it is! There it is!”

We watched the fire from this tiny toy rocket blaze through the sky, like a slow moving falling star going the wrong way. It was breathtaking.

Our NASA men kept us informed how all the flight instruments and power systems were performing, how the attitudes and flight paths were spot on, to watch for a separation, ignition and burnout because they were all part of the show. It was marvelous.

“How long will it take to get there?” I asked, thinking we might see pictures of its successful arrival online in the morning.

“October 6th.”

“Wha??” I balked at the thought of it. “But the moon is right there.” I pointed to the area I saw it hovering the night before. “It’s like … spitting distance. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” was her answer.

“When are they going to learn that unmanned missions are a waste of fuel? They should have just asked Tom Hanks to drive. He knows the way.”

My daughter turned to face me and sighed. “Goodnight, Lois.”

I blew a kiss at the tiny orange dot. “Good luck, laddie.”

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~Shelley

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

The Gates of Hell

I live on top of a mountain. It just barely counts as one as far as qualifying height is concerned, but hey, a med school graduate at the bottom of her class is still called doctor. You pass. Congratulations. Hang up your shingle and warm up your stethoscope.

Back to my big hill.

The road up to the house measures a solid mile long—and a thousand feet up. Most cars chug up to the top with the old engine standard of ‘I think I can’ grunting from beneath the hood. If a car, on route to the top, should give up before reaching its destination, the choices for its passengers are either to roll backward along a death-defying series of dead man’s curves, or secure chalks beneath all four wheels and limp along on foot the remaining distance.

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The county decided they had no interest in claiming responsibility for road maintenance, and the post office, who still delivers mail via horse drawn carriage or carrier pigeon out where we live, said PETA would be all over their sorry arses if they had to consider our address as part of their route.

Together, the two organizations colluded and decided to call the road … our driveway.

In order to gain access to the stretch of road that has more animal encounters than a National Geographic Special, you must pass through a set of gates. They are formal looking, sharply pointed, black and menacing. Iron bars meant to intimidate. In fact, I’m fairly certain they are possessed. I feel as if they should brandish a sign with a giant skull and crossbones, displaying blood-scrawled words, “I’d turn back if I were you.”

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Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, gates were a part of life. They served a functional purpose. They kept animals off the road, animals from eating the crops, and teenagers from making crop circles in the corn fields on late night sprees. Of course, the last one was the hardest to control, and that’s pretty much my point: it was rare to find a gate we couldn’t outwit.

But this gate …

I’ve given up on the programming manual. It requires a degree in electrical engineering and more brain space than my head can provide.

The gate is electric and attached to a phone line—and although we pay each bill on a monthly basis, juice to both services is supplied only on every other Thursday as long as it falls on a combination bank holiday and Catholic saint day. Seldom do they all align.

More often, the box providing electricity is just a small metal house that offers shelter to either an enormous ant colony or a den of mice–whoever stakes claim to the space first after it receives its monthly cleaning. If the box does happen to hum with some form of voltage, it is only a matter of hours before someone inside becomes fed up with the incessant noise and chews through a wire. And if they’re a little slow with work that day, then surely lightening will come to the call of duty and strike the box with a massive bolt, rendering all residents inside to simple carbon atoms.

I’m positive the “antenna” meant to catch the signal of our remote control devices was accidentally switched out with a lightening rod. Pressing the remote control never works. You can point it at the gate, level it at the aerial, or even put it under your rear tire and back over it to make sure you’re pressing down hard enough, but I’ve found it ain’t up to the job.

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It does, however, change the channel on our dish receiver and it usually messes with the cockpit info in overhead planes.

Handy in some cases, I suppose.

Folks coming to visit who do not have one of our remote controllers meant to lull you into a false sense of consumer product reliability must depend upon their savvy skills of speaking into a box to gain entrance. This box is occasionally hooked up to our phone line which will dial up to our house, but only after you figure out a complex math equation and punch your results onto a keypad. This was done to ward off the mass of hunters who often show up and ask permission to track the land with their coon dogs.

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I don’t have any problem with hunters. I just want to make sure that if there’s a guy and a gun walking the woods where I live, he has to have passed fifth grade math.

It’s usually not such a big problem anyway, as the phone line is habitually broken and we’re on a week long waiting list to have someone from Appalachian Power come and take a look at one of our many issues. It might be just as effective if we simply tied two tin cans to the ends of a mile long string. I’m willing to give it a go.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run down to the bottom of the driveway to help someone get in, or arrived home to find the damn thing on the blink again. Either way, my car is usually parked on one side of the barrier or the other while I’m unlocking padlocks, pulling out circuit breakers, wrenching out lynch pins and roping back the gates to allow entrance or exit. Frequently in a downpour.

I have proposed we get rid of the whole system, but the three other adults who live up top are all English and find the gate reassuringly British, so I am outvoted.

Therefore, I’ve decided to think tactically. I’m now researching the cost of hiring a beefeater. Safe, traditional, and classy.

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I sure hope he doesn’t come with a manual.

~Shelley

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

A fairly faithful fairy tale

For the last two months I’ve been feeling like I belong in a Beatrix Potter tale. Maybe lodged somewhere in the index between The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Two Bad Mice. In fact, there are days where I’m so prickly from doing endless loads of laundry that I actually see the bristly, Scottish hedgehog Potter penned into the role of Animal Laundress of the Lake District gazing questioningly back at me from the mirror above my bathroom sink.

But in addition to being Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s doppelgänger, I have, as of late, been boldly playing the role of Mr. McGregor.

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He and I share the same love of growing veg, and the same dream of wrapping our soil-stained hands around as many fluffy bunnies as we can throw into a gunny sack.

Real nature lovers, he and I.

First thing in the morning, I am woken by the night patrol shift. Smudge, the charcoal colored streak of flying fur I see only at mealtimes, waits at my shoulder, staring intently at whichever eyelid she is closest to and waits for lift off (or lift up in this case). Now is when she announces, in a slightly bitter tone, that according to the always accurate clock in her belly, breakfast is late. Then, as she leaps from the bed, she throws a quick, “oh, and bee tee dubs, there are rabbits in the garden.”

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Covers are jerked off, the back door is flung open, and I sprint in a “Why are my legs not working??” kind of brain fog to scare off those wascally wabbits.

I get there too late and see nothing but cotton ball tails scurry back to their safety zone of immunity in the woods, or the fields, or Russia.

Disgruntled, I trudge down to the sheep barn to further fatten two defunct lawnmowers with a couple handfuls of grain. And by defunct lawnmowers I mean both sheep have decided they do not like the taste of our meadow grass and refuse to eat any more of it. Period.

I have never met, nor ever seen sheep go on a grass strike. And I feel if I were to admit this to any other farmer I would see tears spring to their eyes, and be later billed for the small hernia operation I forced them to have because they split a gut laughing over my fiascos in the fields. Yes, I can hear everyone telling me that I’m further complicating the matter by giving into their demands, that if I refuse them their cereal they will eventually give in to hunger and start mowing again, but I have SEEN these guys hold their breath—and I have no doubt that they would pass out just to prove a point.

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Replacing the lid on the grain bucket, I catch movement out of the corner of my vision and turn to see two black pearled eyes blinking back at me on a shelf beneath the barn window. A fat field mouse, pink nosed and whiskered, stands up to his jelly bellied middle, surrounded by tiny shreds of paper towel, pine shavings and my latest issue of The New Yorker. He has made himself a cozy bed in a pocket betwixt wall and shelf. His eyes go wide.

“What?” he says. “I smell winter.”

“Get out,” I poke a rake at his nest.

“Fine, but can you leave the lid off the grain bucket? Now that I have to relocate, it puts a dent in my foraging schedule.”

I sit on the bucket. “Out.”

I watch him scuttle away and my faithful hound and I finish mucking out the barn. As I’m making my way back up the hill to the house, Haggis turns to me and says, “You know there are rabbits in the garden, right?”

“What?” I look at him. “How do you know?”

“I saw them when we came down to feed the sheep.”

I am miffed. “Why did you not run after them?” I shout.

“I was helping you muck out the barn.”

“YOU WERE EATING SHEEP POO!”

“I was helping.”

I stab a finger in the air toward my vegetables. “Go. Run. Now!”

Haggis gives me one of his, You’ve gotta be kidding me looks and says, “I am way too full to run. I could get a cramp.”

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Doubly miffed, I march into my garden to see what fresh new destruction has occurred while both my well-fed, well-watered, overly indifferent protectors of the potagé have been enjoying the posh life.

As we near the beds, crows scatter from the blackberry bushes, a mole buries himself beneath the mulched pathway having munched his way through an entire cantelope, and a spindly legged fawn leaps in surprise and springs in misdirected flight toward the trees, still clutching a bright red, juicy tomato in his tiny mouth.

I lean on my trowel and look at the crops.

I think about the endless nagging I do with my children to eat more fruits and vegetables. I write about making good food choices, trying to illuminate the spectacular flavors from the garden and benefits from natural food sources.

I sigh and take down my Peter Rabbit scarecrow and replace it with a Welcome to the Salad Bar sign.

How can I chase away the collective few who have been following my advice all along? It’s absurd, right? I finally have an audience who are all ears and eager to eat what will make them big and strong. It’s now crystal clear to me … my forest friends have been reading my writing.

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Social media is amazing.

~Shelley

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

The ups & downs of progress.

Last week I wrote about my daughter and her camp which was not Space Camp, “and not even camp.” After the closing ceremonies, which consisted of a few politicians lecturing parents about the importance of maintaining the space program (might you be preaching to the choir??), a former astronaut reminiscing about the good ol’ days of freedom when he could pee without having to unzip anything, and a snack table full of freeze dried ice cream and cups of Tang, we decided the next day would be spent in as brainless a fashion as is possible for Americans.

We would visit …The Amusement Park.
Historically, the village fair birthed our modern day theme parks, providing everything from a celebration of a seasonable crop to a tranquil stroll about purposefully grown pleasure gardens. Games, food and freak-show attractions found homes in many of these fairs with the eventual addition of music, exhibits, and the ever-increasing playground of rides.

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The world’s fair was a step closer to our current experience, where the human imagination was catapulted forward from the introduction to the newest advances in industry and economic innovation. For a well-worded, artfully painted picture into the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. You won’t be disappointed.

And where would this growing world of entertainment have ended up if Walter Elias Disney had not thrown his mouse-eared hat into the ring? Granted, there were other theme parks in operation before Disneyland, but Walt had a way of taking a kernel of an idea, heating it up and allowing it to explode into a bucketful of fluffy success.

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Somewhere along the way from searching for a brief respite among the well-placed garden benches to opening a park filled with amusements meant to stimulate imagination and foresee the awe-inspiring future, someone announced that life was too safe, our days too dull, and our pulses to slow. What the world truly needed was an experience that you may or may not come away from still fully intact.

Cue the roller coaster.

The first of their kind were “ice slides” constructed in Russia during the 15th century. And since there wasn’t nearly enough excitement or danger involved in free falling wagons that had no directional control, folks went to work upping the ante. How far to the edge could engineering go before engineering failed? Well, only death would tell us.

And death has been known to shout its accomplishments from a great height and with amplification. The number of folks killed on roller coasters is less than a million, but more than one. Still, that’s a number I don’t like to fool around with. It just seems to me that if a theme park’s ride is reported to have let loose one of its passengers from somewhere around 75 feet above the earth, the response from said theme park CEOs should probably not include words like, “Well, it was a thirty second spot on the local news and only page four in the paper. We can do better. Shut her down so we can speed things up and add on fifty feet. Aim to reopen with a big splash next month.”

In my opinion, the swivel chair facing my computer has tougher federal regulations than some of the coasters out there today.

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But this doesn’t stop the diehard fan of fun. Roller coasters–made of either wooden rails or tubular steel, advertising engineering feats of vertical loops, whirling corkscrews and plunging nose dives–dot world maps entitled ‘Where to get Whiplash’ like the skin of a kid with chickenpox. It’s universal. People want sixty seconds of living life at fevered pitch with the added attraction of a brain so addled afterward you may need to repeat elementary school.

Traveling in the park with the family is tricky in that you’ll likely need to split up. Not everyone is going to want to wait in line for forty-five minutes for a heart-stopping brain scramble. Especially if you’ve passed the age of, “Hell yes, I’ll try it!”

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This means three out of the four of us go in a clump, and I find the Birds of Prey exhibit, where most of the large vulture-esque creatures on the inside of the cages are eyeing the hoary-haired, age-ridden mortals on the outside of said cages, viewing the scene as if it were soon to be a lunch buffet.

Knowing my daughter has never been tempted by roller coasters gave me comfort in that usually I had a companion on the non thrill seekers rides: the decrepit train that circled the outside of the park, the sky ride gondola that limps along a wire just at tree top level, and the tram that takes you from one parking lot to the other. All rides meant to show you how much fun everyone else is having and how much you’re missing.

And then her “Hell yes, I’ll try it!” gene kicked in.

I was on my own while the rest of the family rode the coasters.

I waited worriedly, keeping myself busy watching vendors fill waffle cones, and finally got a text from my daughter.

“I am most definitely a roller coaster person.”

​“How much of a roller coaster person?” I texted back.

“All of the roller coasters person. And some twice person.”

Ugh. I was worried. All that time spent developing her mental capacity, and organizing her brain cells to respond specifically to requests for untangling formulas and equations: was it damaged?

I asked her, “Can you still add and subtract?”

Her response? “1 + 1 = 4GS.”

Well, at least her snark gene is still intact. Relieved, I got back on the smoke-belching, ancient railroad trolley and inched my way through the pleasure gardens. This was the level of death by amusement I could handle.

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Choo choo!

~Shelley

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

Mission Impossible

It seems one of my kids has crossed over a great divide: the span that bridges the gap between child and adult.

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Well … sort of.

Maybe she hasn’t made it entirely to the other side. Maybe she’s over the apex and is now rifling through her handbag, foraging for her passport. But she’s close. And it’s a little scary.

Last week I sent her off to her last “summer camp.” I thought it would be fun, a good distraction, and even engaging.

I was wrong.

It was demanding and arduous, requiring a Herculean effort on all participants. This was not a camp; it was a gathering of overgrown grey matter.

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She did not make fast friends, she met her future colleagues. There was no braiding of hair or singing Kumbaya around the campfire. There was no macramé class, no hiking and no canoeing toward the sunset.

Instead, there was, “Houston? We’ve got a problem,” and all the panic that goes with it.

To make things even more adult like, there was very, very, very little sleep.

You don’t often hear kids remark that one of the highlights of their experience was the mind-blowing hallucinations that came as a result of sleep deprivation. And not the kind of sleep deprivation that comes from watching just one more Netflix movie while you’re all crammed into a dorm room trying to sneak past curfew.

There was no curfew.

No one encouraged you to catch forty winks. Blinking in general meant you took your eye off the ball.

And the ball was basically a mission to Mars.

Now let me be clear—and I have to do this because in the past I have been über criticized for calling this chunk of time a SPACE CAMP. It wasn’t.

Space camp is like this:

“Trainees will experience walking on the moon in our 1/6th gravity chair to feel what it’s like to work in a frictionless environment. Trainees will climb the tallest mountain on Mars on our Mars Climbing Wall and experience 4Gs of liftoff force on the Space Shot™ simulator. They’ll get an astronaut’s view of the earth while watching amazing films in our IMAX® Spacedome Theater and Digital 3D Theater.”

Space camp is interchangeable with a fabulous day at Disneyland.

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This sector of summer was more about calculating payloads, computing appropriate radiation levels and evaluating various chemical propellants. Yeah, hard to imagine any of them snapping a quick “selfie” to post on Facebook as they’re standing proudly in front of a white board covered in nothing but mathematical equations. Woot woot!

In fact, when hearing the ‘Welcome to Langley’ opening words from the program director, the first phrase was actually, “I hope you all came prepared to cry.”

I suppose the experience could be likened to Vegas Week from American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance, where you are put to the most strenuous physical tests of your mind and body, surpassing your limitations, and finding each participant sliced away from the competition and sent limping home. Except that at the end, if you survive, there is no golden mic, rainfall of confetti or monetary prize to announce your accomplishment. What you do find, however, is a pale-faced, red-eyed, polyester-suited man, slogging under the weight of way too many lanyard-strung ID tags who hands each survivor a coffee-stained card with a quiet remark of, “I think we may have a folding chair and a small cubicle for you in Houston. Let’s keep in touch.”

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In fact, the whole Let’s keep in touch business is pretty laughable, as once these folks realize they’ve found a fresh resource, ripe for stripping and renewable simply by topping up with Red Bull, I’m guessing one ubiquitous camera, belonging to a small satellite in space, will then be assigned to do nothing but track this collective pack of brain cells.

Maybe I’m growing delusional and paranoid, but just yesterday when I was sorting through a basket of clothes to be laundered, my daughter rushed down from her bedroom and frantically searched for a NASA pin that had been secured to her shirt for the entirety of her time at the institute.

“We’re not supposed to take these off. They’re our new good luck charms.”

Okay, she didn’t exactly say that, and that didn’t exactly happen, but I need something to explain last night, when I was preparing dinner, and my daughter was in the kitchen sorting through colorful college brochures, narrowing down her choices, when the phone rang, and after answering it, I hear an unrecognizable voice on the other end say, “Tell her to go with the blue one.”

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Generally speaking, I do believe the experience of participating in a high stress, nerve racking simulated mission, coached by engineers, astronauts and former prison guards was a success for both parties involved. My daughter discovered the joy of being surrounded by teenagers who had close to a mirror image of her brain and was finally free to speak without someone interrupting her every five seconds with a, “Wait … huh?” And NASA, after ransacking the brains of these young minds in an effort to possibly cull together any information that their home teams had yet to think of, now finds themselves with an improved launch date for a manned mission to Mars. Instead of May, 2046, they have proudly announced: May (maybe April) 2046.

All in all it was an eye-opening experience, especially for her, because remember … the difference between success and failure of a mission may all come down to the batting of an eyelid.

“Houston? … Uh, Houston?”

“Zzzzz …”

~Shelley

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

Clockwatchers

Depending upon what job I have held in the past, I have at times classified myself as an early bird, a night owl, and sometimes just the slug that gets eaten by both.

Currently, I have entered into a phase of life many folks are well acquainted with. In fact, they have a face creased by lines of anxiety to show for it.

We are clockwatchers.

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Why? I have teenagers. And they have lives, man.

It’s one thing when you’re the one they depend upon for rides into town, transportation to and from friends, and passage from one activity to the next. We perform a gratuitous service in exchange for the hopeful moment of mere eye contact.

But when they have access to fast moving, gas-guzzling, tune blaring vehicles that either they or their peer counterparts control, the parental mind bolts like dropped marbles, scattering across the floor in unseen, dangerous directions, and foretells life-altering hazards in things as typically innocent as mailboxes, squirrels and rain showers.

Teens are big on taking risks.

This is not news to any person who is in charge of their welfare, but it certainly curls the toes of many adolescents after the fact—or after the fall.

In fact, I vote all teens must wear a piece of clothing that marks them as pubescent and encourages the rest of the village to stop them at any moment simply with the phrase, “Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

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I bet we could lower the number of smacks on our furrowed foreheads by implementing this tiny technique.

It’s difficult to manage my regular routine when I’ve got two teens out of the house and both expected back at a specific time. Specific to me, but an ever-shifting time frame for them. Something always happens. This is the only predictable part of the outing. And it usually comes in the form of a phone call and a voice on the other end that speaks in dulcet tones reserved for Mother’s Day or my birthday.

I know very few parents who can head off to bed, knowing their teen is nowhere near theirs, and effortlessly lose consciousness. For me, it’s like cracking the spine of a chilling thriller, except for the fact that I’m not actually reading any words. I may be facing in the direction of the printed words on page, but a new author has taken over the invisible plot, rife with ideas meant to twist and churn my gut.

As an evil bonus, there’s a soundtrack.

If there’s wind—I’m dead certain one of the hundreds of overhanging limbs from trees they pass on the way home will come loose, crash upon the car and kill everybody.

If there’s rain—I’m convinced the oils on the road will coat a rising sheet of water, propel them into a ditch and kill everybody.

If there are animals that live on the route my kids take home, they are likely to be the equivalent of teenagers out too late at night, will be encouraged by their rowdy, pack mentality comrades to dart across the road in front of cars for a thrill, will be greeted by the Nerf Ball car my kids drive … and kill everybody.

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If you have teenagers, you are likely well acquainted with the movie reel running in your head that usually ratchets up to Technicolor vibrancy status every time you look at your watch or glance at the clock above the stove. You are waiting for the glide of headlights across the wall by the window, the sound of the car pulling into the drive, the bark of El Protector at the front door—anything that announces the safe arrival of the person or persons you invested umpteen years of energy, money and every wish you made, including those on falling stars, birthday candles, or the heads of a dandelions.

Why is it that no one has been able to push ahead the R & D for apparating? Yes, I know it would be expensive, but hey, JK Rowling has kids who will soon be teenagers, and since she planted the idea in everyone’s heads, I say she might be someone worth considering when petitioning for research funds.

I expect I should get used to the bleary-eyed, puffy-faced person who greets me in the mirror each morning and the slack-jawed, mascara-smudged woman whose reflection waves goodnight each evening. It’s inevitable, as my day starts when the racket of bellowing animal bellies rouses me from slumber, whereas my teens fall out of bed somewhere shortly before I shout out, “DINNER!” Bedtimes are slightly closer together—mine arriving when the sounds of their bedroom laughter, bass lines and Netflix all meld into the audio track of my dreams, and theirs happens when we’ve run out of post midnight snacks in the pantry.

And although I can actually consider myself both an early bird and a night owl at this point in my life, there is no doubt in my mind what category I look most like …

The slug.

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~Shelley

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

Well, well, well.

The well broke again, the hot water heater has a failed joint and there’s a leak in the basement.

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Apparently, no one has been feeding our dead plumber ghost.

This guy is cranky and cantankerous, moody as a teenager, and when determined to send home the message of I dont like being ignored will shut us down, skillfully coordinating it with a heat spell, a sand storm and a family reunion. He’s crafty, that’s for sure.

Roger (our nearly resident handyman/polymath friend and neighbor whom you can read more about here or here) has a new theory he suggested I consider. My original hypothesis—the one that suggested our continual plumbing calamities were the result of our construction contractors enacting an ancient building rite where one man is sacrificed and buried within the foundation walls to pacify the gods by dedicating a life in exchange for future good fortune—is one that I feel has explained most of our lamentable lack of liquid setbacks. But Roger has spent a great deal of time on our little haunted homestead and has suggested this:

The natives are restless.

One in particular.

And a powerful one at that.

Roger believes the land we currently inhabit was at one time occupied by many Native Americans, and that their burial grounds are scattered among these mountaintops where they settled. He also suspects that when we began poking around in the ground to divine a water source, we may have accidentally driven the shaft of the well right through the heart of a powerful chieftain.

Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk

And now we’re in for it.

This makes a mind-boggling amount of sense to me as well (no pun intended). And because of this new theory, I’m left wondering if there is something I can do to right this wrong. Can I alter a few things around the property in order to set straight that which has been askew? Is it possible to mend fences with the dearly departed?

Looking over my daily life, I believe I’ve come up with a few things that may be irritating our wronged warrior. For instance, if you’ve gleaned anything from prior posts, it may be apparent that I have a slight affinity for everything that reminds me of Scotland—and for the sake of full transparency, I suggest you replace the word “Scotland” with the phrase men in kilts. The fact that I’ve been blaring bagpipe music across the mountaintop is likely enough to rouse him from a settled slumber.

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I’m switching to wooden flutes. Nothing but melodies that are healing, plaintive and meditative. I myself will simply have to envision the musician as more of an evolved clansman. Maybe one with well-manicured hands who writes Gaelic poetry on the side. I’ll try to get used to it.

Or it could be that the scent of food emanating from my kitchen is so foreign and unpleasant that he occasionally puts a full stop on my practice of culinary arts. Yes, it’s true that I am somewhat overzealous with my enthusiasm for fermented foods and that in every dark and draftless corner I have something covered in cheesecloth, quietly brewing. But surely our wandering, tribal spirit would appreciate that I attempt to bar entrance to the pantry any foodstuffs that come across my threshold in a colorful cardboard box rather than strung together through the gills or bound collectively by foot and thrown inside a gunny sack.

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Yes, you’re right, I got a little carried away with that last part, but it seriously sounded so authentic in my head. Thankfully, the fishmonger at Whole Foods takes care of the scaling and the butcher removes most remnants of hoof and paw, head and hair. And I thank them for it.

Again, in my defense, I cook a lot of ancient, ancestral grains, but I’m wondering if perhaps he has noted that most of my seeds have traveled a great distance to find a space in my cupboard. Is it likely that my passion for sprouted, Aztec super grains has stirred his wrath over my carbon footprint?

English: Alexandria City, MO, July 9, 1993 -- ...

How do I delicately communicate my aversion to corn after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where Michael Pollan effectively told me that many Americans are now highly processed walking corn because of poor diets? I look ashen in yellow, so no thanks.

Having given it a great deal of thought, and having come up with two very viable possibilities as to what nettled my supernatural Native American, I have to admit I believe it is neither one. The third option is not one of music, or food, but worship.

It is so easy to take what we have for granted. I rarely give a thought about the ease of access to my water, the process others labored to bring it to me, and most importantly, the source from which it came. water faucet (600x800)I am reminded of these things when I’m denied that ease, when it is I who must labor and when the source withholds. Every drop to wash my hands, every dab to cool my brow and every sip to slake my thirst is counted, is measured, is honored.

This is his message, isn’t it? To be careful, to be mindful and to be grateful.

And that if I don’t turn off the bagpipes, he’ll turn off the water pipes.

~Shelley

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

A little night music

Victorian-era Engraving of the Man in the Moon

Victorian-era Engraving of the Man in the Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. The temporal length of night stretches endlessly, a slow, measured awareness of time. I close my eyes and try to center on my breath, but my active mind is unwavering and demanding.

Many nights I’ve given up the pursuit of sleep. I find the more I struggle, the more energy I expend. And energy has a way of creating energy. Therefore, it’s often best I slip into this fine-spun, cottony existence: a night shift form, a continuance of nocturnal wakefulness.

I find I am never alone. There are others who occupy these hours and regularly show up for the anchor watch.

What is it that wakes me? It could be the moon.

At the moment, it’s fully round and luminous, as large and potent as a Hollywood spotlight advertising a movie premier. It peers through the glass door to my bedroom balcony, illuminating the room as if the dinner party was finished, all the guests have left and we were preparing to search for a woman’s lost earring.

Sometimes I’ll wander outside, amazed at the clarity of night, convinced this might be an opportune time to bend down and finally weed a patch of garden I regularly ignore. But then I am distracted by the fireflies.

And what are their briefly kindled bodies if not a wink meant to tease? Like a child drawn to the sound of the tinkling ice cream truck, I too must chase these will o’ the wisps, to catch one maybe, or simply be close enough to see their alluring alchemy up close.

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Maybe it is the forlorn owl, woebegone and patient in his solicitous appeal to be answered, that rouses me from my listless state. I’ve heard his beseeching notes seep through the stone and wood and plaster meant to protect me from such invasive intrusions. But perhaps his degree of desolation is one that travels in a way yet undefined, but innately known.

The whippoorwill converses with friends. He is persistent with his practice, determined to perfect a call with nuance so subtle, only the finest and truly dedicated of musicians would recognize this desperate quest for perfection. I hear the same pursuit from the scales and arpeggios of my daughter’s violin–often at that bewitching hour–late and lonely and languid. To me, it’s up and down and up again. To her, it’s day and night, oil and water, thick and thin. The differences so palpable, so sharp, and so lonesome a club membership.

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Oftentimes, I’m brought out of my light stupor by the chorus of coyotes at a rowdy clan gathering. Their yipping, crazed cries for action depict a bloodthirsty plan, and its poorly written code is broken by my nervous sheep. They send their own secret slang that easily reveals their fearful tally of the numbered enemies. At this point, my faithful hound lifts his sleep-laden head and rouses to the call of duty. He takes one moment to listen intensely for classification of intruder and direction of the assailants and then he blasts through his door like a bullet out its chamber.

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There is a forceful announcement of the acknowledged trespassing–a warning shot thrown over the bow–and a detailed promise of injury to come, his amplified version of Don’t make me come down there.

Then again, it’s nearly impossible to sleep through the din of amphibious pining. Once the Festival of Frog has begun, nothing but a cold snap will freeze their lips shut, and this is a long way off. Yet their summer sonata is a resonant one where the cold-blooded instruments move with ease from croak to peep to trill. They are an orchestra sans conductor, impromptu with timing, but lyrically musical with their swampy cadence.

It may easily be the sound of the crickets keeping sleep at bay. They punch in for work as soon as the afternoon shift of cicadas clocks out, one choir replacing another. Except their tune melds effortlessly into mind-numbing Muzak. That is, until there is one lone fellow, desperately lost and forever separated from his family, who seeks sanctuary beneath my bed, calling for reinforcements.

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More likely it is the sound of a stirring breeze that catches my ear. This is the intro to the flutter of leaves, which whirl in a tiny, tight panic. Another nod to the wind section excites the wind chime section, which announces the herald of the low timbalic register of thunder. Distant and rumbling at first, it can quickly crescendo to clashing blows and a tremulous, foundation shaking finale. No lullaby, indeed.

When the performance is finished, I envision the remaining debris: leaves scattered like discarded paper programs and sticks tossed like spent sparklers from an Independence Day display.

But it is still night, and I am still awake.

Alleyoop (472x800)The only remaining sounds are that of the tired dog, tasting something yet uncaught in his drowsy moment of rest between patrols, and the sleuthing cat, who cannot manage a leap up onto furniture without uttering the human equivalent of an “alleyoop,” and cannot come down from any without allowing a forceful grunt of air to audibly demonstrate the effort as well.

No matter. I choose to look at this misfired attempt at sleep as a mere rehearsal: one meant to work out the squeaks and missed notes. It’ll all be fine come show time.

Practice makes perfect.

~Shelley

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

Fortune favors the brave. (And so does my library card.)

Fear word art

This is a powerful word. A word that when spoken—better yet, whispered—can send a cold prickle down the back of your neck. Try it.

Nothing? Okay, go into the coat closet and turn off the light. Now whisper it.

Still nothing? Fine. Go into the coat closet, turn off the light and wait for your dead grandmother to whisper it. It’ll happen. Be patient.

Was there a touch of angst that crept into your mind? A slight uneasiness joining the flow in your bloodstream?

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We all have fear to some degree: an anxiety about a work project, despair with a love affair, qualms regarding the choice we made selecting our new insurance policy, jitters because we just flashed, honked and gave a one-fingered salute to an old service truck that nearly cut us off in traffic, only to realize after another few miles that this is the guy you called from the office to please, please, please squeeze you into his schedule and come to your house to fix your piece of garbage air conditioning unit that’s broken down in the middle of a  record-breaking, blistering heat spell, and he’s rushing to meet you at your house on his lunch break.

Yep. Cold sweat fear.

And we try to avoid it. Like it’s a bad thing. But what if it isn’t? Yes, the result of the bad thing we fear being realized is not something most folks want to welcome into their lives, but that state of being fearful might be.

Hasn’t being in that moment—that heart palpitating moment—oftentimes brought you a pure rush of excitement, of thrill, of accomplishment? Hasn’t pushing through fear helped you realize your new potential?

Lately, I find myself a fear magnet. Examples of it are popping up all around me.

–        It’s the end of the school year. My kids are up to their earballs in exams. This is fearful.

–        I’m in the process of collecting quotes for a major house repair that may determine whether I end up needing to auction off a kidney. This is fearful.

–        Domestic terrorism and militant extremists. This is fearful.

–        Global warming. This is fearful.

–        My dead grandmother just spoke to me in our coat closet. This is fearful.

Prison 2

Prison 2 (Photo credit: planetschwa)

It is so easy to build a moat—abstract or concrete—around ourselves in order to shun that which frightens us, but it’s also easy to brick ourselves into the very castle meant to protect us. Now what have we got?

Prison.

Even as I take stock of my library books, stacked on my bedside table and surrounding my desk, it’s no longer snort-like funny to grasp how many of them are addressing the voluminous boundaries of this one subject.

1. Places That Scare You : A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (the most edible looking Buddhist/nun/teacher/author you may never come across.)

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Wayward woman + massive life challenge + teeth grinding grit = awesome story + bestselling book + scarcity of toenails.)

3. The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope (From Krishna to Keats, Jane Goodall to Ghandi, Ludwig van Beethoven to Susan B. Anthony—words meant to get you off your big, broad backside.)

4. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts (Yes, expect more loss of toenails, blackened chunks of flesh and to be cold the entire time you read this.)

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5. Daily Life in 18th Century England by Kristin Olsen (You’re right. This has nothing to do with the others—except for possibly the castle and moat theme.)

This is just a smattering, but the general theme is apparent: I’m guessing subconsciously I want to move to Tibet, find an iceberg and meditate through the pain of frostbite. Or it could mean that I need more iron in my diet and that my library card would benefit from a temporary suspension. Maybe I just need a walk.

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Maybe … it’s worthy to embrace uncertainty. Perhaps wading through the turmoil, you find that you’ve exercised that mental muscle, that by wrestling with the beast of dread you’ve subdued the bête noire and tied him to a tree, that, as the Danish are fond of saying, Life is not simply holding a good hand. Life is playing a poor hand well.

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There is so much more to do than tremble. Although tremble if you must as you do what you dare. Explore the edges of possibility. If there is no wind, ROW.

So when the world sends you messages—whether from the faces of your children as they pack up their book bags for the next dreaded round of exams, the rotting corner of your leaking, tarp-covered, held together by a handful of this and a whole lot of hope house, the collective alarm and despair felt by a nation as we trudge through another day of tragic headlines, or the titles that doubtlessly raise the eyebrows of the librarian scanning your books—it might be time to put down the trencher and ditch witch.

Be brave. Push through. And fail forward.

You didn’t need those toenails anyway.

~Shelley

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

Don’t kill a mockingbird.

My grandmother once said to me, “A girl should be like a diamond. The more facets she has about her, the more appealing she becomes.”

This came from a woman who had to leave high school to work the family farm, and then went to night school to get her GED so she could work her way through the accounting department at JCPenney’s. She was a whiz at math and took exceptional pride in the opportunity to beat any cash register when pitted against it. She owned a grocery store, was a caterer, spoke three languages, played a wicked golf game, took karate lessons and lastly, took a course in How to Build Your Own Bomb Shelter.

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She was not your average mother’s mother.

I tell you this because lately, as I’ve been hunched over the ever-spreading, perpetually-broadening mass of weeds that infest my garden floors, I am accompanied by the cheer-infusing, thought-provoking song of a mockingbird.

This warbling, mimicking, capricious minstrel strikes me as one who’s still searching for just the right fit, testing the waters by dipping a toe into many a pool to satiate the desire for true fulfillment. He wears an array of caps, and within a minute or two, cycles through a search for the answer to, “Am I a blue jay? How ‘bout a cricket? Now I’m a blackbird. Let’s try a hawk.” Continually learning new songs and sounds to imitate, he is the quintessential skill builder.

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History has taught us that typically, we had precious little time to attempt adding anything more to our daily calendar than hunting, gathering, breeding and fighting. Include all the hours we spent building alters and purification fires, creating feasts and paying homage to our many gods, and it’s easy to see how your whole day is shot. Worship is a full time job.

The Industrial Revolution altered our schedules, along with our standards of living, nutrition, life expectancy and for some, the ability to now get a table at trendy restaurants. Everything depended upon which rung of the social ladder your foot rested on.

But coal mining and factory work wasn’t for everyone. Especially, those who didn’t want to face a piece of equipment that made their prior skills irrelevant. It’s easy to see how a person who studied the fine art of lacework for the bulk of their life could be persuaded to join the League of Luddites and go all “John Henry” on a piece of machinery.

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing...

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing a loom. Machine-breaking was criminalized by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then came the growth of mass education–reading in particular. At first, it was largely influenced by religion because holy books weren’t just there to make the coffee table in the parlor pretty and Books on Tape hadn’t had a chance to record that big guy yet, nor make the tape they’d eventually use for the project. So literacy was key. And now that we could read, we were given access into other people’s thoughts, opinions and experiences. Roughly speaking, it expanded our circle of campfire stories exponentially. The act of taking in new information usually has some measurable impact on the average Joe. It often shows up in the form of thinking. Thinking can lead to action, action could lead to dancing, and as some religious leaders of the world believe, it’s usually all downhill from there.

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But in a few other parts of the world, thinking led to the awareness of dissatisfaction. And that led to big action.

War.

Cue women to join us onstage in the giant chorus of the workforce. You know what happened then, don’t you? It was a tiny little thing, but it had a big impact on career aspiration. THE PILL.

Yep. Now women were growing bolder with the knowledge that they had choice in deciding when to have a family, if at all. Finding a vocation suddenly became a word dripping with possibility.

Sadly, many of us are encouraged to make those occupational picks at much too early an age. Facing a guidance counselor, who spreads out a dozen career pamphlets in front of you, or visiting a high school college fair often leads to hasty decisions. Now you find yourself propelled onto an ill-suited professional track from the idiotic act of putting your name down on a clipboard simply because they had a bowl of brightly-colored candy sitting beside it.

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As a parent attempting to guide my firstborn through the highly stressful process of college searching, the one piece of advice I find myself repeating is this: Don’t specialize.

Over the last several years, hearing my children (okay, and let’s face it, a great chunk of children going through our current educational system) utter the words, “I’m never going to use this,” when referring to homework from a subject they detest, puts my mouth into automatic gear.

“That’s not the point,” I lecture. “The point is you are learning how to learn.” And until we modernize our schooling ideas, this is the best rationalization I can come up with.

I don’t think it’s a bad one.

It’s a critical process that will ultimately help each one of us attempt something new, or challenging, or death-defying. Who says we have to stick to only one career, one calling, one song? I admire my grandmother for her desire to not only plow the fields of her farm, but those of her heart’s ambition. And maybe that mockingbird is my grandmother reminding me, as I clear away the weeds, not to neglect planting a variety of seeds in their place.

English: The Strawn-Wagner Diamond, the only p...

So I say grow a little. Stretch out of that comfort zone. Whistle a new tune. Chip away at something new and hard. Be like a diamond.

Sparkle.

~Shelley

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

Call Me Scent O’ Mental

Five Senses

Five Senses (Photo credit: TheNickster)

If you had to give up one of your five senses, which would you choose?

I’m speaking of the traditional five we humans possess with some (but in some cases no) degree of functionality. Which one would you find most difficult to part with?

Your sense of taste? Sight? Smell? Touch? Hearing?

Many of you may already know the answer to this. Maybe you would relish the chance to never again force down Auntie Mabel’s mock meatloaf soufflé. Perhaps one more hour of listening to Junior practice Bach’s Fugue in F flarp is more than you can stand. And your world might be slightly more bearable if, when you opened the door to your teenage daughter’s bedroom, you were not greeted with a view of everything it contained strewn about her bed, the lampshades and every square inch of the expensive plush carpeting you were coerced into believing she desperately needed to fulfill her ideal living conditions, capable of propelling her academic aptitude through the roof as she judiciously studied upon it.

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For me the answer is simple: I would give up everything else as long as I could keep my sense of smell.

Although nothing remarkable to behold—no profoundly protuberant schnoz of Groucho Marx status, no perky, upturned Tinkerbelle snippet cutely pinched in the middle of my face–it is by far my favorite bodily feature.

Our sense of smell is particularly mysterious. And as I’ve come to find out, an action that still continues to befuddle some scientists. I’ll do my best to explain—in crude fashion—why this is so.

There is more than one belief as to how we perceive smell. A widely accepted theory is that floating molecules are brought into direct contact with olfactory receptors (a postage stamp sized patch of neurons way in the back where your nose and throat meet), and those receptors decode the combination of molecules by SHAPE and supply your brain with an answer that suggests the name of whatever substance you inhaled. (Put six carbon, ten hydrogen and one oxygen atoms together— cis-3-hexenal—and the light bulb in your brain sends up a flare shouting, “Fresh cut grass!”)Oldfactory (800x649)

Imagine closing your eyes and being handed a banana. Likely you’d identify the fruit simply by its shape and feel—the smooth skin, the slight pliancy, its curvature, the dry, sharp stem—rather than having to peel it, sniff it, view it, or taste it for further confirmation. The architecture is a specifically designed puzzle piece that fits into one particular enzyme receptor. Every molecule has a distinctive combination of bumps, grooves, ruts or ridges, and its partner, the enzyme receptor, identifies it exactly. It’s a shape code.

A not as widely accepted hypothesis (and one that is scoffed at in some labs) is that smell is not shape, but SOUND. Molecules quiver with vibration and, in a sense, sing. A rather hefty and unwieldy scientific instrument known as a spectroscope is capable of identifying those notes and will easily recognize each molecule by its tune, which brings us to the uncomfortable conclusion that we all have our very own spectroscope jammed up inside our noses.

I told you my explanations would be inept, but I thought it necessary to take a crack at it.

Fascinating science aside, and the argument which names you as either a “shapist” or a “vibrationist,” the nose is wholly remarkable in that it can communicate vital information, allow deeply imbedded memories to resurface and, propel us into every emotional state known to human beings. With just a simple sniff.

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Bring a ripened wedge of brie to your nose and you are transported back to your youthful summers working on a dairy farm when you were desperate to save up enough money for a new bicycle.

Walk into your basement and recognize the whiff of sulfurous “rotten egg” and you’ll flip a U-ey, head outdoors and toward the nearest phone to call your gas company regarding a dangerous leak.

Accidentally burn the sugar you’re caramelizing on the stovetop and you’re awash with memories of summer camp, log fires and gooey s’mores.DSC07974 (800x450)

The jury is still out regarding whether or not our human noses can detect pheromones and the messages attached to them, but scent psychologists suggest it would certainly explain a lot of eyebrow raising relationships that befuddle common sense.

To be fair, your sense of smell is intricately tied to your ability to taste. Place a bowl of jelly beans before you and pinch your nose shut.

Jelly Belly jelly beans.

Jelly Belly jelly beans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Select a bean without peeking at its color. Place it in your mouth and begin to chew. I challenge you to identify its flavor. It’s sweet. There’s texture. But until you release the hold on your nose and breathe in and out, you’ve got bubkes. Nothing.

Imagine walking into a kitchen on a crisp, fall day and missing the cloud of cinnamon and butter over a newly emerging sizzling apple pie from the oven.

Picture yourself pulling open the door of the local mudhouse and never again embracing the dark, chocolaty scent of deeply roasted coffee beans.

Envision a trip to the seaside and not finding your head filled with a wind that carries the salt-crusted briny ocean and the clean fragrance of deep sea creatures.

Did you know that your nose is capable of recognizing around 10,000 odor molecules?

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When I think about how many sounds my ears can pick up, it usually varies between those of hungry animals or grousing teenagers. Everything else gets washed out. When I take my eyes off of my computer screen and look around, I see mainly hungry animals or grousing teenagers. I’m fairly certain that if all this keeps up, I will shortly be snapping with sharpened fangs at said animals or teenagers and will therefore be able to tick off one more sensory experience.

Regardless of my written musings, the question always makes me pause for thought. Which sense would you cling to most?

Of course, there’s one other sense I could not bear to part with …

my sense of humor.

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Not too sure I’d want to part with Rob’s either.

~Shelley

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

Gridiron Chef; we shopped, we chopped, we smoked, we seared.

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Somehow … my brother met an incredibly bright woman.

Somehow … my brother realized she was Tier One Talent and that he had happened upon a gold mine.

Somehow … my sister-in-law answered yes to his proposal of marriage.

I believe she may have been clubbed over the head, dragged back to his cave and denied food and water until she agreed, but that’s just a theory. (And for proof as to why I developed this hypothesis, last week’s post gives a rough outline that might illuminate.)

Regardless, this lovely woman gave her husband a plane ticket for his birthday, sending him off to mess up other people’s kitchens for a long weekend. I owned kitchen number one, but before we could put any floured fingerprints on my counter tops, we first needed staples. Therefore, we went to the place where both my children’s college funds have been spent.

Whole Foods Market.

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Shopping with a chef is a heady experience. Shopping with a chef is an expensive experience. Shopping with a chef and no precise grocery list is a mistake.

My initial idea of arriving at the store for a “spontaneous” menu creation was born after a few weeks of seeing my email inbox overflow with my brother’s dazzling bill of fare ideas and the suggestion that I begin hunting down local food purveyors who could source out needs.

Huhu (800x640)Panic set in when I realized I was going to have to make some long term promises and exchange money under the table. We were probably better off not knowing who could locate Huhu grubs, boiled duck embryo and sheep back fat. Okay, I could locate sheep back fat, but it was still very much in use by its current owners, so I had to put the brakes on. Whatever was in the bins and behind the shiny glass cases at the grocery store would source our needs.Backfat (800x412)

While in the shop, a common occurrence was turning my back for thirty seconds and then pivoting to see my brother surrounded by people—both shoppers and stockers—who were wholly absorbed by whatever my brother held in his hand and the sagacious, culinary-infused words that came from his mouth. Within moments, folks were raising their hands to share a personal story—both ebullient and tear-jerking—of some meal that moved them. My sibling is a Pied Piper of the gastronomic world.

The plan was to purchase ingredients for two evening dinners. The cart held enough for two evening dinners and all the essentials needed for making our way through The Joy of Cooking twice. (Our chef is used to things coming into his kitchen by the forklift load.)Shop (800x568)

Once back at the ranch, it’s all business. Aprons donned, knives honed, hands scrubbed, patient prepped. (And by patient, I mean “deceased bovine.”)

We made steak fajitas. Except these didn’t taste remotely close to my original version—the one I’ve perfected over years and years of practice. Mine were no longer perfect. But the fact that I took mental notes and then called my brother because my mental notes had massive gaps in them means my steak fajitas will now be perfect again. That is, until he comes back to visit.

We pummeled avocados, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, gutted peppers, shaved cheese, seared skirt steak, shredded greens and peeled garlic. Bushels of garlic. There is no vampiric activity within miles of the house. In fact, we can’t even get Twilight to play on TV.

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But here’s the big chef secret free giveaway: VANILLA.

Yep, you read it right. The stuff we put in ice cream and cookies. The chef says to take about 1 ½ — 2 lbs of skirt steak and marinate it in the juice of four freshly squeezed limes (toss the lime halves in as well), 1/2 cup of olive oil, an entire head of garlic (don’t worry about chopping, just peel and smash each clove with the back of a knife), salt, pepper, oregano, and 1/4 cup of high-quality vanilla. Let it burble away for an hour on the counter or for the day in the fridge. Grill it. Slice it. Eat it. Beg for more.

The other big meal was an experiment that came to us on the fly. We were going to smoke short ribs, but decided to use a slightly unconventional wood. In fact, it wasn’t wood at all. It was PEAT. My favorite flavor in the world.

DSC09747 (800x450)Last summer, I got myself a birthday present. Two forty pound bags of peat. They arrived in two canvas sacks, housed within a large cardboard box and handed over by one irate UPS guy. “You shipped eighty pounds of dirt to yourself?” he asked me, rubbing his back.

“Yes. But it’s really old dirt,” I explained.

Then at Christmas, I received another eighty pounds of it. I didn’t order it. No one in my family ordered it. And I know the UPS guy didn’t order it. It was a mistake from the company. Thank you, Irishpeat.com. Sorry, UPS guy.

So we smoked these beautiful grass fed short ribs for about three hours and then made a one pot meal by layering the ribs on the bottom, covering them with mirepoix, beer, beef broth and eventually adding potatoes and greens to finish. Click here for the full recipe.DSC09761 (800x540)

Lest it need to be spelled out, the grub was good. Damn good. What phrase is more potent than damn good that I can use to explain the awesome quality without offending sensitive ears? You’re right. There is none available.

But to sum it all up, we acquired, we cooked, we conquered. The kitchen, although scarred, is grateful to have been included.

Thanks, Bro.

~Shelley

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

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

Not only that, he’s a cheat, he steals things and he smells like he’s been wrestling inside a giant vat of rotting fish.Liar (800x653)

Okay, maybe I should have put all of that in the past tense or surrounded it with quotes and introduced it with, I announced to my mom when we were nine and ten. But then that takes all the fun out of knowing his face will go beet-red when he reads this. And I’d almost give my left lung to be there when it happens because that opening paragraph is a form of payback for popping all my Barbie dolls’ heads off, supergluing them together and then using them as a makeshift whiffle ball for batting practice. Barbie (800x597)I might have misremembered some of those exact facts, but the end result was basically the same: I was miserable.

Except when I wasn’t.

And that “non-miserable” status was actually a much more frequent state of mind.

My brother was my roommate, my playmate, and a very convincing Frederick the Great whenever we played war, which happened repeatedly. We agreed to rotate the games we played: we could build stuff with sticks in the woods, sword fight with sticks in a field, or pile up sticks and attempt to light them on fire.

The alternative was that I could get chased with a stick if I didn’t agree to one of the prior games.salkville,shell&steve001 (622x639)

It was a rare day when we got to play house, but when we did, it was Little House on the Prairie where I got to be Ma and watch him play Pa. He built us a “log cabin,” fought off warring Native Americans who wanted to run us off our homestead, and started a smoldering fire on which I could cook him his grub. Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

There was one thing we heartily agreed upon though, and that was food. Everything we did was centered around getting, sneaking, stealing, making, hunting, fishing or feasting on grub.

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

If we wanted to get up early to bike through the woods to arrive in time for sunrise on the lake, we first had to fill plastic bags with cereal, grab two spoons and strap a thermos of milk to the handle bars. We’d make a quick stop to pick blueberries en route, then it was breakfast on the pier.

If we hoped to act like all the folks with big RVs and fancy tents who arrived at the local campground down the street and who got to eat Toni’s pizza, drink orange Fanta and play pinball while listening to the jukebox, we first needed to put our allowance savings plan into action. If we couldn’t scrounge up enough quarters to cobble together the price of the entire event, we’d settle for just the pizza. We had to have that pizza.

How stealthily could we sneak a fistful of pre-breakfast Oreos out of the booby-trapped cookie jar on a Saturday morning? How many weeds would we have to pull in our ancient neighbor’s vegetable patch before she’d call us in for sizzling fresh perch, drowning in home-churned butter and yanked out of the lake not an hour before?

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How many blueberries could we stuff down our gullets while slyly creeping through the woods, hoping to ambush preoccupied squirrels, engrossed in nut gathering? How many wintergreen leaves did we scarf down, pretending it was candy? How many winter snowfalls had us tearing open a package of Kool-Aid or Jello in order to open our own professional snow cone stand with us as our only customers?

Things haven’t changed greatly, although supposedly he’s a grown up. He pays most of his taxes. He drives a truck now instead of a bike. His three beautiful daughters cling to him like ring-tailed lemurs on a mighty oak, so I’m gathering either he’s learned how a bar of soap works or his children have no sense of smell.Chef (551x800)

He has an actual job that pays more than his childhood allowance. And as sad as he was to give up playing Charles Ingles, he refused to give up centering life around food. Somehow, he learned to read and write while I wasn’t looking. And apparently muscled his way through the Culinary Institute of America.

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

Yeah, maybe he no longer lies, cheats, steals or smells, but he still plays with sticks. He’s just swapped out those long, woody weapons for shorter, sharper blades.

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

~ShelleyBarrels (800x630)

*Next week, we’ll go shopping with our chef since he came out for a visit. And once we put the groceries away, chef and I did some sword fighting in the kitchen. Come back to see who wins.

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.

Unconventional conventions

Convention in session, Chicago  (LOC)

Convention in session, Chicago (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I would assume that many of you have, at some point in your life, attended a conference. Most of us have visited more than one. Some of us have registered at several each year. And there’s a chunk of the population who make it a weekly habit to show up at the gathering of any crowd bringing in more than a dozen people—whether it’s the opening of a seminar, a movie, or even a paper bag. Something exciting must be happening, right? Except I’m not entirely sure how they make a living in order to financially skip around from place to place and meeting to meeting. I’m guessing it has something to do with the ability to subsist on free coffee from Starbucks, ample soap in the washrooms and the talent to sleep beneath one of the long, cloth-draped banquet tables in Ballroom C.

As a little kid, I was dragged to countless music conferences. These were meetings where, in place of your regular instructor telling you that you were holding the violin bow incorrectly, someone roughly the same size, but with a different hairstyle and an accent did it instead. We paid a lot of money to hear those assessments.

Bart Simpson oversized statue

Bart Simpson oversized statue (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Following that, there were a few times when I realized I had to make money to pay rent and would agree to work with a couple of friends at the convention centers. We never got the fun jobs of Hopsitality Hero Ambassadors, handing out bumper stickers, wrist bands and key chains—the stuff everybody truly wanted–but instead were pressed into service dressing up as mascots for whatever “themed” group booked the convention center for the weekend. Our jobs—mine in particular—usually involved wearing a multi-layered, polyester costume with a giant head that required several extra pairs of hands using excessive force to shove it through a doorway. Why folks from auto shows or handicraft fairs wanted to have their photos taken with Simpson characters was a total mystery to me. Nickelodeon was like fairy dust. Everyone wanted a handful.

Hannibal1 (800x672)For a while, I’d occasionally tag along with my husband to medical conventions, but those symposiums were dry and serious. None of the booths offered any interesting toys. Pharmaceutical companies refused to hand out samples. Medical device companies had big slogans that involved words like insert, slice, and strip away.Hannibal2 (800x738) And all the lectures showed slides of pink organs, green organs or spurting wounds. I usually fought the urge to raise my hand and ask the presenter to repeat the last fifteen minutes because he lost me somewhere around the phrase uncontrolled colonic cell growth.

Still with me? *snap*snap* Yeah, let’s move on.

Having  just attended a multi-day book festival in my town for the umpteenth year in a row, there is one thing I’ve come to realize that holds true as a sort of “golden rule:”

As diverse as the vast population is in the “outside” world, there is a fistful of personalities that exists only within a convention center.

1. The person who stakes out a seat—front and center—and shows up to do so 45 minutes before a speaker’s presentation. Apparently, they believe the lecture might involve magic—some sort of sleight of hand rather than the usual umm … I don’t know … lecturing.First (800x678)

2. The person in the back of the room who, without fail, and within the first ten seconds of a session, will stand up and shout, “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I bet there’s an audio/visual guy who’s sitting three chairs down from that fellow who’d love to clock him one and scream back, “GIVE ME A FRICKIN’ CHANCE, DUDE!”

3. The person presenting who has never seen a microphone, never talked to a crowd and believes she’s just sitting up on a platform, sharing a glass of cold water with a few colleagues entirely bemused as to why there’s a guy in the back of the room who keeps shouting at her.

4. The person who, when Q & A time comes, and after being politely asked not to by the moderator, stands and asks a three point question with follow-ups. Who are you? Helen Thomas? Did I walk into a presidential press conference?

5. The person who, after receiving the nod from the moderator to ask a question, flips to the front of their notepad and begins to strip away all credibility of our panelists by throwing in head-spinning phrases like statistics illustrate that, and in consonance with Google analytics, and according to four out of five dentists surveyed. I think you get my point. No one likes you. Please sit down. You’re way too important to be here anyway.Statistics (643x800)

And finally:

6. The person who is obviously following you around. And sitting next to you. And wants to share. And do lunch. And decided to come to the conference because she simply had to “get out of the house.” Huh? Coming to a lecture about writing for technology and publishing digitally was really a better option for you than laundry? I would have chosen laundry. It’s a good thing she was there, though, because she let me copy all her notes after I fell asleep on her shoulder ten minutes into the talk.

Yes, there’s a lot out there in the world to discover. And going to a convention is a great way to get out of your office chair and learn something that hasn’t been turned into a TED Talk yet. Plus, it’s probably a heck of a lot better for your social life than simply conversing with like-minded folks on Twitter.

Let’s not forget the biggest perk. There’s a good chance you may get a photo op with Bart Simpson.

~Shelley

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

Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

Camphor (800x779)I smell like Bengay.

It’s the beginning of spring. I’m surrounded by sprouting blades of dewy, green grass, by fragrant hyacinth bulbs pulsating with their heady, honeyed perfume, by the woody, pulpy scent of sharp, cedar mulch, and by sweet petrichor—the scent of rain on dry earth. And what is it that fills my nose?

Muscle rub.

I am a mass of layer upon layer of analgesic heat ointment. Even after a shower, when I have loofahed and sandblasted down to the last stratum of penetrable dermis, I still emit the stench of crushed wintergreen. I am a walking tube of methyl salicylate, menthol and camphor. I tried to switch to “odorless,” but I’m convinced it has no effect. Therefore, I am stuck. I am odorfull.

Yes, I realize that’s not an actual word, but it is the exact description of my current cologne.

Even all of my food is beginning to taste like sports cream. The aroma molecules are circling around my body, and realizing that there isn’t enough room to hold all of them on my person, free falling and landing on anything that comes in close proximity. Like a banana I try to eat for breakfast, or the halibut I have for dinner. Believe me, I doubt you’ll ever find Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.Halibut (800x559)

My flavor profiles have slimmed to nearly nothing and my sense of smell has given up the ghost, realizing that what lies ahead is simply a further assault on the delicate workings of the olfactory system.

If I could just get my muscles to cooperate, life could get back to normal.

–        I could smell spring

–        I could taste food

–        I could sleep comfortably

Currently, I’m giving up the first two in hopes that the third will return.

There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight, or be thrown in the air by two pairs of hands and carelessly caught on the way back down by one and an elbow to break my fall, or get pitched off a spirited horse onto parched, cracked and unforgiving dirt, and then get up, dust off and move on without a glance backward.Horse (800x510)

Now, I merely see another human bump into a coffee table, hear a person trip up a staircase, or remember a former injury and I’m lining up the salves, the gels, the liniments and balms.

Why is it that merely sleeping crookedly for a small segment of six and one half hours should cause me two weeks of bodily indignation?

Strobist CTO exercise 2

Strobist CTO exercise 2 (Photo credit: Sami Taipale)

I practice yoga, I endure Pilates. I never slouch, and I’ve even stopped bouncing on the trampoline. Don’t I get points for that from the great Muscle gods? Does it count that I no longer bend from the waist? How about the fact that instead of loading up six bags of groceries on two arms and one slung around my neck, I now make three trips back and forth from the car?

I’m just getting used to the routine of seeing my general practitioner once a year, and after watching her wheel in a trolly holding my chart, hearing her say, “We’ve really got to get these things into digital format.” That’s her favorite phrase to make sure I get the picture of how much ink I use up in her office. The second would be, “I’ll add it to the list,” after I announce discomfort, strain or ache in a new area of my body. There’s no, “We’ll now … Let’s see what we can do about that.” There’s simply an understanding that they’re saving all the new magical therapy for a body that is significantly younger, stronger and will respond favorably statistic-wise in the trial.

I get handed a generic version of Icy Hot.

And when do I start qualifying for super discounts on the jumbo-sized bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen I purchase at the drug store?Stairs (800x550)Shouldn’t there be a sales receipt that pops out for the cashier identifying me as a serious, long-term customer who should be rewarded with loyalty points? Instead, I get a once over from the pharmacist behind the counter who mentions I’m beginning to look a little pale lately and maybe I should go in for a stool sample to make sure I’m not bleeding internally from growing too Motrin happy.

Sigh.

I would give my left lung for just one day when I could reach for my teacup or itch my nose and not come out of the movement with a slight sprain. Is it too much to ask for? It makes me sad with the realization that for quite some time, whenever I find myself blowing out candles, throwing a coin in a fountain, or wishing on a shooting star, the request is all the same: Let tomorrow be the day that I hear an anchorman broadcast that science has discovered a new plant that, when taken in pill form once a day, will make us all feel like we’re living inside the body of a healthy eighteen-year old. Oh, and how about the fact that it tastes like chocolate?

Take the blue pill...

Take the blue pill… (Photo credit: Smallbrainfield)

That would be a total day maker.

Until then, I have to stop wrestling with the dog in order to keep healthy whatever muscle groups are still functioning, sleep with no pillow to encourage spine, neck and head alignment, and increase my daily intake of single malt scotch, which I assure you is for medicinal purposes only.

Last on my list is to either develop a long-lasting fetish for all things related to the mint family, or find some industrial strength perfume. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era. Or odor.

~Shelley

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

Blackboards, flipflops & bedbugs; the quest for knowledge, warmth & clean sheets.

English: The International Space Station as se...

Fifteen hundred miles! That’s the distance I drove—spread out over seven days—in order to fulfill my duty as the parent who drew the short straw and would have to leave home for the Crazy College Road Trip Part II. The other lucky parent had a vacation on Easy Street dealing with the livestock, any ravenous teenage boys who may decided to take up residence during spring break, a planetary-sized snowstorm (dumping a measly two feet of powder), and a few dozen downed trees, power lines and a minor release of radioactive material. At least the generator kicked on for ten minutes a day. And where’s the gratitude?

But let’s go back to me.

Fifteen hundred miles? Do you realize what that distance is equivalent to? If my car had a NASA hand stamp on it and was retro-fitted with a few rocket boosters, I could have taken my daughter back and forth from Earth to the International Space Station three and one half times.

And according to the Worldwatch Institute, that’s the distance an American meal travels to get from farm to table. It’s no wonder I felt like a shriveled peach by the end of the trip.

Regardless, I learned a great many things traveling with my daughter this time around that I was not aware of previously.

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

2. Having allowed her to pack, I should not have allowed her to pack five minutes before leaving.

3. Having allowed her to pack and do this five minutes prior to departure, I should not have allowed her to wake up six minutes before leaving and one minute before packing.

There is so much to learn about letting go of the ‘parenting your child’ routine I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 17.5 years. Thinking this was a grand opportunity to let her shine with blooming maturity, I came to the quick realization that I might have handed off the baton to a runner who hadn’t quite made it onto the racetrack.

Observing my daughter exiting the house wearing a pair of shorts, sneakers minus the socks, and no coat should have sent up a warning shot. The rest of her gear didn’t even fill her school book bag, which she slung into the trunk before collapsing into the passenger seat. The fact that it was just beginning to snow outside and that we were heading northward to New England and into the mountains forced me to send her back inside for some proper winter clothes.

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

Roadtrip (800x687)

Fine. Off we go.

The itinerary showed seven days stuffed full of engineering school visits, campus tours, physics labs and info sessions. When we weren’t walking through hallways lined with gold-plated patents, we were peering into glass encased rooms, so precisely sterilized, that all chemical vapors, airborne microbes and any aerosol particles present were required to don white suits. These folks were serious about being clean and I figure there’s a good chance I can encourage my daughter’s development of this skill simply by pasting a sign above her bedroom door that reads Dupont Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could work.

Some of the schools we visited were clearly her kind of people.

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of them wandered the halls, spines curved and sagging under the weight of backpacks that contained textbooks that eventually, when understood, will reorganize their contents into cures for cancer, blueprints for Mars housing developments and the prototypes for the first antimatter power plants. If you could see into their multitasking brains, there’d be a large bubble above their heads filled with mathematical equations with a tiny asterisk at the bottom and a symbol for “don’t forget food.”

Other campus appointments undoubtedly revealed she did not belong to the institution. It’s very bad form and often frowned upon to snicker through sixty minutes, listening to the school’s admissions officer and two students make known how celebrated they were when viewed wearing the college’s logo. Try not to judge us too harshly. I’m pretty sure that somewhere around the forty-five minute mark we were told that by the end of each student’s third term they were handed a wand and told they could levitate, but only if they repeatedly chanted the university’s Latin motto.

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

Bedgugs (800x505)

Not all of the public houses I reserved left us well-rested. One was perched atop an Irish pub, and all its occupants were in full swing dress rehearsals for Patty’s big day. Another spot left us doubtful the sheets had ever seen the inside of a washing machine and some of the stains in the bathroom were probably still under “crime scene” investigation. We debated whether or not we’d be better off sleeping in the car. It could be why the hotel was called a “motor lodge.”

But all’s well that ends well. I learned that the man/alien from Men In Black (Edgar the bug, but wearing his human form) actually runs a B&B in New Jersey and that his wife makes nice waffles, my daughter learned that whilst in the navigator’s seat, it is preferred by the driver to have directions given to them that are short, audible and presented before the car passes the off ramp, and we both learned that I packed more than enough clothes for the both of us.

WIB (800x470)

Next stop: the moon!

~Shelley

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

 

Sinning saints make red letter days.

Green Beer!

Green Beer! (Photo credit: garrettc)

Great gobs of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And although this is a fine day to indulge in Emerald City colored food and drink, I think we’re missing the bigger picture here:

WE NEED MORE SAINT’S DAY HOLIDAYS.

Yes, it’s likely that most of us will have at some point come in contact with or been a part of the making, baking, chewing and spewing Saint Patrick’s Day grub that would send most nuclear plants’ managers straight to the alarm panel. Yet not all of us are entirely sure why we’re compelled to do so.

It’s true that Patrick has been a shining example of how just about anyone can turn their life around right after they’ve been kidnapped, purchased by a Druid and worked as a slave for half a dozen years. But Patrick would be the first to push away the parades and shamrock-shaped cakes baked in his honor. I’m guessing he’d be happier if we all just sat in a circle and shared stories from Bible camp. He’d probably also confess that a lot of unnecessary hype has been drummed up over the years about him driving out every snake in Ireland. It’s all stuff and nonsense. There are no snakes in Ireland. There are, however, a few slow worms in County Clare, but as we’ve come to find out, those guys are actually legless lizards.

Tropical Island Paradise

Tropical Island Paradise (Photo credit: sebr)

Apart from St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the only other saints’ names we tend to truly utter with voices expressing pure thrill and anticipation are when we’re boarding an airplane and ensuring our bags are checked to one of a few tiny islands in the Caribbean.

I think we can do better than that.

Why not consider a St. Augustine’s Day? Twenty-four hours where we celebrate our youthful transgressions of stealing, cheating and scoffing at the banality of common education. We recall our addictions to the lowest vices, remember fondly the concubines we once embraced, and retell the story of Augustine’s childhood misdemeanor where he and his posse climbed a neighbor’s pear tree and stripped it bare of fruit—not to eat, but just for the pure joy of vandalism. As a general act of penance and goodwill, we can send friends and neighbors a fruit basket from Harry & David’s. We can even send a Hallmark card off to any children we sired and abandoned along the way, wishing them well with therapy. It’ll be cathartic and remedial at the same time.Pear-stomping (684x800)

In addition to making amends for Augustine’s negligence with the fruit of the tree, we could also minister support to the discarded fruit of his loins. Well, not his in particular–it’s a little late for that–but we could easily create a St. Margaret of Cortona Day. Margaret is the patron saint of the orphaned, reformed prostitutes, single mothers, sexual temptation and the mentally insane. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there may be a connection of sorts.StMargaret (494x800)

Margaret won this supporting role through diligence and research. There were plenty of other women lining up with the hopes that the Catholic Church might give them recognition for playing a similar role, but Margaret’s character really seemed to shine through and connect with the Academy members—I mean, the Vatican panel of theologians. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was tremendously photogenic and looked good on stained glass.

Regardless, we could make this day one of good deeds rather than self-indulgence. Instead of holding a parade or making swanky dining reservations, we could all drop a quarter into a mass fund for the college education of the offspring of single mothers. Or those of you who regularly patronize the local den of iniquity might want to consider donating that night’s “fee” toward this good cause. It’s just one night. We could put the charity boxes on the counter at gas stations. I think the American filling stations called Sheetz would be an apt partner.

Another possibility might be a St. Catherine’s Day, because any woman who can write a treatise on purgatory is going to find a slew of females prepared to help her through it with a pot of caffeine and a large chocolate-laden coffee cake dished out at someone’s kitchen table.

Having been rejected by the nunnery, married off to a tightfisted, violent-tempered husband, and given the no-go by her reproductive system, it’s not surprising that poor Catherine sunk into a state of melancholy.

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

And since she didn’t have Oprah to turn to, she was left with the only other form of psycho-therapy available at the time: confession.

Suddenly pierced with Divine clarity in the confessional, Catherine apparently lost consciousness with an overwhelming eureka moment. And that might be why Oprah’s shows were so popular. Those thunderbolt episodes where you slap yourself on the forehead can lead to a lot of folks jiggling life back into focus. Like it did for Catherine. From then on out, this woman had purpose.

And couldn’t we all use a day like that? When we celebrate waking up from the fog? Maybe we’d all participate in a giant world detox. We could share, purge, take a quick nap and wake up refreshed. Think of the possibilities.

I’m sure there are endless candidates for further Saint Day holidays, as there are over 10,000 glorified souls currently inked in on the Catholic ledger, but maybe you can mull over the potential martyrs while having a pint at the pub today.saint bob And let me know if you stumble upon any winning ideas, because if there’s one thing history has taught us, it is that it can be a lot of fun to celebrate dead people.

~Shelley

*As a Saint Patty perk for today, click on this 4 minute Oscar-nominated short film and learn about our guy from one of the most edible authorities out there. Enjoy!

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.

Daylight savings, nighttime losses …

Sleeping Baby

Sleeping Baby (Photo credit: Lisa Rosario Photography)

Sleep is important.

Personally, it’s more important to me than most anything I can think of. I would gladly give up my favorite meal, a thick wad of cash or even the spare fifty IQ points I tell people that I have if it means I could rid myself of the wretched sluggishness that comes after I’ve overdrawn on my sleep bank account.

In fact, I’d happily give my left lung to simply have back the one hour stolen from me every year in March.

I hate Daylight Savings Time.

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned fo...

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time in 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Except when it works in my favor.

The present moment does not fall into that category.

We are a society so tightly wound, so minutely organized, that we refuse to acknowledge our animalism. Our train tables, our baseball games and our prime time television shows fight for an adaptable clock, while our bodily clocks question the strategy.

My bodily clock does not just ask, “Are you sure about this?”—it rebels.

For six months until it gets its way.

My body wants a solar clock. Rise when the sun smacks you in the eye, and start shutting things down right after dinner, dishes and a Downton Abbey.

I am so attuned to the tiny shifts in the astronomical hours that it no longer surprises me to crack open an eyelid ten seconds before a tiny pinprick of pink light nudges above the horizon, announcing an aurora worthy of watching. Of course, the precursor to that event might have something to do with the fact that fifteen seconds prior to sunrise, a weight of around eight pounds, evenly distributed across four tiny paws and wrapped in fur, has perched on my chest and willed my eyes to open, which they remarkably do. It’s uncanny. Or uncatty.

Still, miraculous, right?

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar St...

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar Stores hailed a 1918 DST bill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And to be wholly pedantic with semantics, the official phrase is Daylight Saving Time, not Savings. And to be wholly persnickety with the phrase, there is no saving. It’s shifting, adjusting or simply sliding the assignment of a named hour to a slot that we like better than where it resided previously.

We’re control freaks.

We’re like tiny gods waving sticks up at the air and shouting, “Take that!”

And if Mother Nature happens to catch a glimpse of us, she’s probably shaking her head and she might even throw out one of our people’s best vernacular comebacks: Whatever.

 Yeah, that about sums up our collective human maturity when it comes to thinking we’ve got it all under control. We’re teenagers.

I understand the rationale behind the thinking, to make better use of daylight, but it seems absurd that we’re attempting to make the Earth bend to our will—our preferred and ‘set in stone’ tablets of behavior and time.

Thou shalt not golf in the dark.

I believe this absurdity (failure to coerce the Earth, not golf blindly) to be true only from past blundered experiments where my scientist daughter has repeatedly attempted to explain to me that no matter how hard I wish it to be so, no amount of positive thinking will change the laws of physics and discoveries of science. Mathematical equations will remain true to form no matter how many times you may cheer on the concept that 2 + 2 = 5. A four is a four is a four. Period.

Except when it isn’t.

Example? Some infinities are bigger than others. Thank you, 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor. Trying to wrap your head around that concept is likely to trigger a small brain hemorrhage. And since I covet every cell remaining in that gray amorphous matter residing between my ears, I can’t risk the possibility of injury. But if you’ve got extra, click here or here for more on Georg and his brain dissolving theory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.Buzz (586x800)

But there’s more to this than math. There’s biology, which happens to be my main beef. Try to convince a dairy cow that, because the milk truck will arrive an hour earlier tomorrow morning, she’d better pump up the volume tout de suite, or worse, tell her to hold that bursting udder for another sixty minutes because you’re planning to hit the snooze bar for the next six months, and you will likely form a new theory all your own. Cranky cows like to kick.

I follow the sage advice of my yoga teacher who for countless years has been reminding me, and a throng of other zen-for-a-moment seekers, to “Listen to the wisdom of your body.” This mantra has been sewn into the very fabric of me. Every molecule. It’s found in the strain of my downward facing dog DNA.DogDNA (800x573)

I know there are countless reasons to support DST, but there exist just as many for why it interferes or doesn’t make sense. My favorite?

Allegedly, in order to keep to their published timetables, Amtrak trains must not leave a station before the time printed. Therefore, when the clocks fall back in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait.

For one hour before putting it into drive again.

Sleepy, confused passengers are surely scratching their noggins over the clever corporate decisions made in that boardroom.

There is so much more to say on this subject. Seriously, I could … yawn … go on and on with my argument.

Instead, I’m going to go take a nap. See you in an hour.

~Shelley

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

Maneuvering thru March Madness

Shamrock (695x800)

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

My least favorite things to do in March

VonKrap (636x800)
• Count the days until April
• Eat green, shamrock-shaped food
• Pretend I like Irish whiskies
• Forget the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has finished
• Come to terms with the fact that Fat Tuesday could easily be replaced with Chubby Wednesday, Bloated Thursday or I-Hate-My-Closet Monday

Chubby (800x777)

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

j
My least favorite poem about March

pg 192 Human Skeleton

pg 192 Human Skeleton (Photo credit: perpetualplum)

Spring Treasure
by DAVID LAPIERRE

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

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

Wake up, little fellows, wake up…

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

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

…and stumble…

Training my gaze

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

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

j
My waxing lyric about March

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

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

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

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

crocus

crocus (Photo credit: polkadotsoph)

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

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

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

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

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

Boster (800x700)

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

It succeeds.

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

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird

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

Spring will come.

It always does.

~Shelley

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

O Brother, where art thou brain?

Toot & Puddle I spend a lot of time looking outside the windows. The views are truly spectacular: mountains, trees, silos, cows, woodland creatures, fairies and llamas.

Okay, I took it too far. Everyone knows we don’t have llamas, we’ve got sheep.

Funny enough, the windows I’m most drawn to are the ones that look over the sheep pasture. I’m so curious to know what keeps those mammoth woollies busy all day long. Occasionally, I’ll try to sneak up on them, to catch them by surprise. They never seem surprised. They’ve got the Art of Zen down pat. They even blink in slow motion, although it might be the arctic temperatures that are slowing down that bodily function.

Stamp owned by Swollib

They’re brothers, even though they look nothing alike. But heck, I’ve got three siblings and none of us resemble one another. However, there was a high turnover rate of postmen on our lonely stretch of road while I grew up.

Our sheep, Toot and Puddle—named after two fairy tale pigs—refuse to be farther than a three hoof stride from one another. They wander the meadow, chew grass, get caught up in the search for better tasting grass, raise their heads and snap back together in some strangely choreographed rubber band dance.

At times, I see them both with heads high, still as statues, staring in the same direction. I crack the window and listen. Wile E. Coyote? Bumbling bear? Livestock snatching Scotsman? I am regularly left with no answer and they simply both return to the heads bowed position. Perhaps it’s sheep yoga. The stretching of tired neck muscles.

And that brings me to their favorite pastime. Ramming. Talk about needing beefy necks. Or would that be lamby necks?

Whatever the terminology, it remains unfathomable to my brain that they continue to sustain this brutal level of continuous impact, a collision so violent I’m left hearing birds tweeting carousel-style. But as is customary, they both seem to agree that the best thing they can do after a good head bashing is … repeat the experience.

Ad nauseam.

Ram speed ahead!The sound alone is volatile enough to crush the tiny bones of my inner ear. It is a thudded clunk, a muffled wallop, a thwack that only the crunch of bone jarring against bone can create. But to them, it is akin to the tinkling tones of the ice cream truck coming up the street, for it sends them leaping into the air with glee, bouncing with legs like springs.

I’m guessing the only thing saving their brains— what little they do possess—from spilling out of their ears, is the giant cloud of wool they are encased in. I suppose it’s a little like taking two large cement blocks, wrapping them in pillows and forcing them to merge at breakneck velocity. Or magic. It’s the only other explanation.

But it is quite the show. And I think it’s my squeals of protest and elevated anguish that ratchets up their fun factor. They’re showing off. By having a pillow fight with their heads.

The other thing I find unendingly fascinating is that one of them refuses to talk anymore. Now, lest you think I’ve been joining the ramming riot, I’m not suggesting these yahoos can string a sentence together and quote Shakespeare. They hate the bard. Especially Leonardo’s version of Romeo and Juliet when we showed it on Movie Nite last week.

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No, what I mean is that Toot used to be vocal, and being the bigger brute of the two, we thought he’d be raucous and unruly, an intemperate bulldozer.

But as we’ve come to realize, size isn’t everything.

He ended up sounding like Mike Tyson with a case of croup. Raspy, high-pitched attempts to communicate generated uncontrollable laughter from the crowds we sold tickets to. And herein may lie our mistake. We may have overscheduled him with shows.

I thought he possessed more confidence, but I’m guessing he took much of our mirth to heart. I feel terrible. So I’ve decided to start a rehabilitation fund with the proceeds. Of course, we first had to pay for the overhead, because bleachers and popcorn vendors don’t just build themselves, but everything remaining thereafter went straight into his account. Mostly.

I’m determined to make it up to him. And to the folks I’m refusing a refund.

Regardless, the sheep have taught me a lot over the last couple of years and in no particular order:

–        Once hay has fallen out of the hay rack and touched the floor, it is inedible. They’re worse than me with the ten second rule.

–        Everything is a scratching post. Fences, trees, the bookcase that holds all of their favorite poetry … everything.

–        Wool is waterproof, soundproof and nearly bulletproof. And I mean nearly. It’s super close to being there.Bullet_proof_wool_200213 (800x543)

–        Sheep hold a grudge. Forget to feed them for one measly week and they stop talking to you. Won’t even get up to greet you at the paddock door.

–        There is no lamb language for, “Excuse me.” Head butting gets the message across super quick and you don’t even have to stop chewing whatever’s in your mouth to communicate this.

–        I would like pajamas made entirely out of sheep lips. Seriously, it’s like a new fabric made of jelly and velvet.Sheep_lips_200213 (800x636)

–        Sheep have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, which for the first year I found incredibly upsetting and thought was a result of the barnyard brawling, but apparently, this is considered normal.

–        Sheep refuse to fetch.

In closing this week, I leave you with an old bit of farmer wisdom, handed down through many a family: Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And always drink upstream from the herd.

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what was 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.

Hurry up and slow down!

Rusher_300113 (800x523)I come from a family of “Rushers.”

This is not some ethnic inside slang for a relatively unknown Slavic country, but rather a perpetual state of physical being. One we have practiced, but not perfected.

We rush. A lot.

Because …

we’re always LATE.

It’s a weird club to belong to. Most folk don’t want to admit they’re a member and in fact deny any connection. Rusher_family_300113 (800x380)Of course, we’re not quite organized enough to formally meet yet —to create some sort of support group that gathers in the basement of the Moose Lodge on Sunday nights and comes clean about the somewhat sordid high we all feel when we make it to any destination with thirty seconds to spare.

The sound of a door clicking shut behind you while you pull the tail of your raincoat out of the way in the nick of time brings a zing of euphoria to anyone living in this category.

I don’t want to be in this category.

I want to be a measured planner.

I want to arrive places with my hair done, my shirt buttoned, everyone fed and no shortage of breath.

I want to eat breakfast, brush ALL of my teeth, walk, not race out to my car, and avoid running over that squirrel because he realized there was enough time to make a lovely nut loaf for dinner and chat with a neighbor just over the yellow line and finally scamper off to safety before my car came upon him.

Mouse_in_can_300113 (800x631)Instead, I am buried so deeply beneath my duvet that I sleep through my alarm clock. I wake only because the cat has tightrope walked along the ridge of my body and has started kneading my head to remind my brain where I have buried her breakfast.

When I squint at the time, I catapult out of bed, tweaking my back, limp to the shower, wash my hair with someone’s Super Juicy Cherry Bubble bath by accident, race wet-headed into my closet to filter through old laundry to find a pair of yoga pants with the least amount of sheep slobber on it and leap out the front door minus coat, the correct car keys and usually still sporting my highland cow slippers.

And if you’re a rusher, then you’ll know exactly what happens next.

I zoom down the driveway in my getaway guzzler, pop that puppy into a gear its manufacturers didn’t even know existed and race past herds of befuddled bovine, allowing the wind to dry my hair into what I imagine will be something convertible commercial sexy, but will end up hairdresser’s horror.

And that’s when it happens.

Tractor. 

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. ...

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. New Holland tractor somewhere in the Netherlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe this word was birthed from the term intractable, because these guys are simply buildings with wheels.

Where I live, the roads are built like coiling, slithering snakes. No straight lines, no sharply cut angles. Just curves, bends, hills and loops. You must go around, up and down mountains. There is no “as the crow flies” here. Even crows don’t get to do that. And any flat land found between those prodigious heaps of rubble is covered with crops or cattle.

We love our farmers.

Except when we’re behind them in their John Deeres.

After working up a lathered frenzy and recalculating just how fast I will have to go to make up for lost time, taking into account all the usual lawmen lairs hiding troopers who are waiting to protect and serve, I blow a kiss to the harvester as he turns down another dirt road for work.

I fly.

Hairdresser_300113 (545x800)And I wonder why the inside of the car smells like a giant bag of Starbursts.

Moments later, I am jammed in morning traffic.

I find myself tapping my fingers on the wheel, drumming a frenzied beat and talking to the red light I wait beneath, pleading with it to change its mind.

I press on the gas, slam on the break, switch lanes, give a wave, shout a sorry, press on the gas. Rinse and repeat.

I find a parking spot. Grab my phone. Run from the car. Run back to the car. Grab my purse. Run from the car. Zip through the door. Scan in my keycard. Race to the bathroom. Recoil in the mirror. Bolt from the bathroom. Return to the bathroom. Snatch my damn purse. Sprint to my classroom.

I roll out my yoga mat.

Detach. Escape. Focus. Breathe. Relax. Loosen. Release.

Namaste …

(sound of pistol)

And we’re off!

Yoga2 (800x401)

~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). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone, click here.

Learning your anatomy; it’s heart work.

English: The Queen of Hearts, from a 1901 edit...

February fluff is everywhere.

And by fluff, I don’t mean snow. I’m talking holiday detritus. Red and pink displays adorn shop windows, enticing the eye with come-hither missives. Blooming roses sit in cellophane cylinders, fragrant reminders from flower shops and grocery stores. Jewelry counters make monumental efforts to display baubles so brilliant, you risk corneal damage if proper eye protection isn’t worn when touring the facilities. And the manufactures of chocolate—an all occasion offering—achieve epic kudos for creativity and artifice by showing up in everything from pasta to toothpaste, face masks to band aids and candles to play dough.

I’ve even come across chocolate flavored chocolate.

The holiday of luv is upon us. Its mascot … an organ.ABC (800x612)

Raising children in a household with a physician, the first rule of order was to address bodily components by their proper names and “know thy functions.”

Before we securely settled on the order of the alphabet or techniques of shoe tying, I began overhearing snippets of conversation not uncommon within the lecture halls of an anatomy class.

“The human body contains an array of biological systems, and within those systems are assorted organs, which consist of tissues that are made up of cells. Those cells essentially are comprised of water in company with a soup of molecules, which primarily contain carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.”

“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Generally speaking, the excretory system is in charge of eliminating metabolic wastes generated by homeostasis. It regulates the chemical composition of your body’s fluids, maintaining the correct balance of water, salts and other necessary nutrients.”

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

Palpitating (743x800)“Your body does not contain a tummy, it contains a stomach. Now lie down flat with your hands at your side and allow me to palpate your abdomen for rebound tenderness.”

And even though for many years I made a living making music, I endlessly struggled in an attempt to pen catchy lyrics about the endocrine system or compose a convincing cardio march.

That just wasn’t my bailiwick.

I came to realize I was more about emotion than embryology—more gut than gizzards—spirit not spleen.

And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the enlightening science. But I found that once words bypassed the three syllable mark, I began focusing on other things, like the physical feats of the human tongue, or categorizing just how many sounds I could hear at that precise moment, or what type of consumer would be moved to purchase chocolate flavored chocolate.

Baby's Blue Eyes

Baby’s Blue Eyes (Photo credit: Tampa Band Photos)

I ponder the great mysteries of the universe. Not the great leap forward of methodology in modern medicine.

I see a sash of colors cross the sky in an arc, ending somewhere misty and amorphous, and I’m told how the various parts of the eye labor together, converting light rays that travel through the pupil into interpretable data for my brain.

I hear my rumbling belly and sink my teeth into a sizzling mound of juicy beef, tangy ketchup, sour pickles and sweet brioche bun, and I find out hunger is the brain’s message to the body, announcing the necessity for nutrients.

I roll in the grass with a four-legged ball of fur and embrace all the licking, panting, growling and nuzzling that accompanies the act, and feel an exhilarating zing rush up my spine and pulse with each heartbeat. This mood “comes from the Greek word euphoria which means ‘power of enduring easily,’ or from euphoros, which literally means ‘bearing well.’”

Puppy Love

Puppy Love (Photo credit: smlp.co.uk)

Huh.

Apparently, my day was a lot more complicated than seeing a rainbow, chowing down a burger and falling in puppy love.

And yet, I feel an overwhelming surge of relief whenever I’m presented with the string of indecipherable digits that represents the results of blood tests, and after a quick glance from Sir Sackier, find comfort that everything is within allowable range.

That same release of stress occurs when a family member mails an envelope stuffed with black, coated films revealing shadowy, white forms and vague and blurry shapes, because what usually follows is a snap of the fingers and a phrase beginning with, “That’s a classic case of blah, blah blah.”

And how many times have I sat in an examining room with a fractious child, fretting over the sudden switch from English to Latin, trying to read faces, examine body language and deduce a diagnosis when my husband turns to me with the reassuring translation, “It’s just a tummy ache.”

Yes, we all have a heart that both pumps and pleasures, we’ve all grown a spine that both supports and resolves and we each possess vision through which we filter belief. Wonky (681x800)But this doesn’t make us identical, just unique components in the mass of a larger working, searching, yearning entity trying to make sense of it all. In all these beautiful tongues.

Laugh with the poetry.

Smell the roses.

Sparkle with trinkets.

Just make a wide berth of the chocolate flavored chocolate.

~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). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone, click here.

Women; wives, wiccan and warriors.

The Purification of the Virgin.

The Purification of the Virgin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of things I’m grateful for these days, but one of the biggies is that I no longer live in an ancient world where much of my time is taken up with purification rites. Not that I can actually remember living in that ancient world, but if the whole idea of reincarnation is accurate, some clever therapist is going to eventually discover a treasure chest of past lives’ memories in addition to the fear and angst I’ve been dragging along with them for centuries. The likely reason is that even now, I cannot seem to give away anything that might come in handy one day. Or ever.

Like my entire wardrobe from when I was thirteen.

Or my junior high science project of leaf identification.

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and...

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and a bull) to the god Mars, relief from the panel of a sarcophagus. Marble, Roman artwork, first half of the 1st century CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my point is, if we leapt back in time to when I was still living with my Roman warrior husband, I’d have a lot more to worry about than simply finding enough drawer space for all my childhood riffraff. Likely, I’d be too busy spinning wool, loaning out my skills as a wet nurse or preparing some livestock for the next animal sacrifice.

I suppose there was the chance that I could have been commanding an army and issuing coins bearing my image, but you really had to be incredibly organized for that sort of thing, and anyone standing over my desk will attest to the fact that order and efficiency aren’t my strong suits. Plus, I just don’t have the hair for good coinage.

February, in particular, would have been a month I’d have been glad to see the back of. All those nights when I lived as a Druid, lighting torches and waving them about in hopes of chasing away evil spirits that cluttered invisibly around us resulted in a lot of smoke and no definite feeling of a job well done.

English: Saint Brigid.

English: Saint Brigid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least womenfolk finally figured out how to delegate by the time I’d been reborn into Ireland. Yes, the weather might have been worse, but we were now putting responsibility solely on the shoulders of Brigid, the goddess of fire. It was a heck of a lot easier explaining to our fretting husbands that we did everything we possibly could to chase away winter and let the ewes deliver safely, but apparently the fickle deity we spent all day praying to was otherwise occupied and unavailable. Plus, there was laundry to do. Sorry.

That whole February fire purification bit often ended up ack bassward in that driving the sheep through hoops of flames so they could be “blessed and protected” by Brigid often resulted with a few wooly fireballs, nullifying the whole affair.

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire (Photo credit: chiaralily)

But waste not want not, right? As long as we had a crowd gathered, we might as well sharpen a few sticks and hand out kabobs. My farmer husband would likely be pacified with my explanation that any animal who wasn’t clever enough to veer away from death by jumping thought the middle of the hoop was an animal that needed culling from the herd anyway. And their offspring would only compound the genetic defect.

Basically, we just killed two birds with one stone.

Much to the relief of my own small herd, their lack of common sense is rarely tested to the point of life or death in the present. And thankfully, I now no longer leave their mid-winter fate in the hands of some guardian spirit, an omnipotent flame fairy. Now, in these modern times, common sense prevails. I leave it up to a rodent.

Groundhog

Saint Punxsutawney Phil.

I can picture my ancient self gazing down at the evolutionary progress I’ve made, admiring how I originally just waved heat in the direction of evil, then progressed to elect an invisible woman to guide me through the dark, scary days up until now, when I can at least see our new underworld god, if only for a second.

Progress.

I suppose I can, at this very moment, make a gesture of thanks to our military leaders at the Pentagon for giving my future self the go-ahead to fight off any evil determined to drag me and my flock back into Neolithic times. Yes, it may not be for every woman, but some of us might be able to dredge up our past life skills of flogging and flaying our enemies, then carve buttons from bones and stitch up something practical from any dried leather hides. Or we could update our methods of combat and practice pulling a trigger.

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mar...

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mark Antony on obverse and Cleopatra VII on reverse. Compare with RPC# 4095. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me right back to commanding an army like I might have been doing in my Roman days. The only problem I foresee with this is that I’m regularly left with helmet hair.

Which, when giving this some consideration … is exactly what I need in order to be taken seriously when posing for the face of my new coins.

~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)!

SILENCE!

Writer'sRock_240113 (800x684)I … can’t concentrate.

Everywhere I go there’s too much noise. A plethora of distractions. An abundance of chatter. Multiple—what? No, you may not make a pizza. We just finished dinner.

I need a space where no one is allowed. An opaque bubble unpoppable by anything apart from spurting blood, ravaging flames, or—I’m not sure. Ask Dad, but I think it’s your turn to feed the sheep.

 My space is not sacred to anyone but ME.

A propaganda cartoon of the arrest of Governor...

The act of writing does not come easily to me. In fact, it’s much like hiding under the bed and trying to gather dust bunnies. Suddenly, I’m holding my breath, desperately hoping not to be discovered by the serial killer who’s broken into the house and is hunting me down. If I don’t move, if I’m very still and shut my eyes to the scariness around me, I just may make it to the other side. If I let a squeak of surprise escape my lips at seeing the shoes of my killer slip through the door and bonk my head on the bed frame, he then drags me by my feet out from under the bed and poof–that’s the end of that.

Okay, let me try and explain. I am me. Under the bed is my dark, safe, quiet haven. It’s full of ideas in the form of gossamer, almost intangible substances. And the rest of the world’s occupants are the killers of my creativity. Bam! It’s over.

I don’t know how people do it–how to think through noise.

English: "Discussing the War in a Paris C...

I’ve had to alter my schedule this week and have been forced out of my dark cocoon. I’m set up in a coffee shop. I hate it.

First of all, I’m forced to buy something I don’t even want in order to justify taking up space and bandwidth. I could make five or six cups of tea at home for the price of one that I had to purchase here. And it’s not my kind. It’s not my anti-stress/full-of-zen/conquer-the-keyboard kind of tea.

Secondly, the chairs are horrible. Like sitting on rocks. I miss my chair. It swivels. It has padding. It’s got wheels. And I’ve changed my mind. These chairs should take lessons from rocks. They aspire to be as comfortable as rocks.

Next, I can’t even keep track of the number of conversations taking place around me—none of them interesting. I’ve eavesdropped on them all. Wendy is having another baby. Pranav doesn’t think this semester’s anatomy class is moving along fast enough. Jared is finally quitting his job because his boss, Alicia, keeps cornering him in the men’s bathroom demanding—shhh … wait … that one is interesting.

 Someone’s cell phone twinkles with silvery, sparkly twiddly bits every twenty-two seconds, which is what I’m guessing is the exact amount of time it takes two teenagers to text a conversation that involves words like:

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Sup?

Dude

Heya, Bro

WUU2

Nothin ATM U?

i hate my life

Lol

JK

LMAO

OMG

T2UL

k

Riveting, right? WRONG.

It’s distracting.

But only for me, apparently. Everyone else is still able to focus on reading their emails, memorizing great swaths of soon-to-be tested-on material in their textbooks and most importantly, following Jared as he struggled to politely pull his tie out of the sharply filed, dragon lady red fingernailed fingers attached to the breathy and threatening Alicia.

The espresso machine hisses and sputters. The earphoned man next to me watches The Office on Netflix and laughs like he’s sitting in his boxers on his apartment couch. He even belches impressively and doesn’t take notice of the fact that three people around him recoil in disgust. Okay, it was just me, but I did it twice in case he didn’t see me the first time. It doesn’t matter. Steve Carell rules.Rock_solid_240113 (800x612)

I put my earbuds in. Should have done this a long time ago. I tune into Pandora—Native American flute music. But it’s too close. The flautist’s breath is right in my ear, making my hair flutter. The earbuds are massive, built for someone with an ear canal the size of an elephant. It’s painful. On top of everything else, every two minutes an announcer reminds me I’m too cheap to spring for the full paid version and maybe I should consider this for the sake of uninterrupted sanity.Zen_tea_240113 (800x566) (347x323)

I know what will save my mental health, and it ain’t forking out more moola. It’s just me. Back home. In my chair. With my tea. And no earbuds. And no one else.

Okay, except for Jared, but just until I find out if he finally gave in.

~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)!

*And another big thanks to Robin Gott for his perfectly accurate penned depictions of  how my words look in pictures. To see more of his humor, click here and here.

The Oaths We Take, The Rules We Break.

Promises170113 (800x632) (2)January is supposed to be a fresh, new start to the year, right? Full of promises we make to ourselves and one another, and we most often hear them at the end of a liquor-swilled dinner. People resolve to make themselves thinner, exercise and meditate, swear off cigarettes, stop burying Fed Ex drivers in the backyard …

Regardless, along with all the “New You” promises made sits a quiet, smug, don’t-need-to-be-flashy-because-that’s-not-what-we’re all-about campaign. It’s the “Simpler You,” the “Par Down to the Core You,” the:

“Barely there, but so aware” promise you make to yourself.

Juices

Cleanse. Purge. Sluice. Expunge. Clarify. Erase. (Somehow, I still get the unnerving feeling this can loop back to the Fed Ex guys.)

It doesn’t matter what words you use to define it, but it makes most sense to me with this word:

DECLUTTER

(Funny enough, that word is overstuffed with a mess of letters.)

It’s a word that has to elbow its way to the front of my hippocampus where it muscles past all my other short-term memory “to-dos” and insists—nay, screams—for immediate attention.

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

I write myself a Post It note to remember.

There’s a lot that needs sorting. My desk, my closet, the pantry, the fridge, the barn and at some point I’d like to find where I last left the kids.

I find it near impossible to weed through my email inbox. It’s filled with hundreds of self-motivating subject lines like:

2013 will be my most manageable year yet!

A chaos free mind = a chaos free me!

Ransom negotiations.

Sorry. That was a copy and paste mistake, but I think you get my meaning. And if it isn’t mail that apparently came from my higher evolved, totally zenned out self from a future dimension, then it was a forward that probably came from my mother, who has seen my desk, closet, pantry and fridge. And it’s likely she’s the one holding the kids until I can see past all my Post It notes—hence the last email title.

clutter

clutter (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

There are several others—okay, who am I kidding, there are hundreds of others—all with similar messages:

6 Steps to Realizing Your Resolutions—which I would read if I could remember where I put my list of resolutions.

Conquer Clutter!—another great idea apart from the fact that there’s not enough space to lay out the blueprint for battle plans.

Becoming Minimalist—that’s one of the longest emails I’ve ever read.

Don’t be a Stuffaholic—I bet there’s a support group which meets twice a week (which will eat up all my free time for decluttering)

*sigh*

And it’s not just emails. The messages are coming at me like bullets from all angles.

–        I’m in the car and the radio assures me that “Organizing the new you for the new year has never been easier. We’ll send someone to your house to do it FOR YOU!” I switch stations. I’ve already got a mother-in-law.

–        I walk into the gym for my yoga class and see message boards in bold and catchy coloring: Make a mindful New Year’s pledge. Find the real you buried beneath all those unnecessary pounds! Apparently, no one realizes the mindful minutes I put into selectively accruing those extra layers. It was deliberately done. It’s winter. Snowshovel? Check. Salt pellets? Check. Purposefully acquired figure of impenetrable, whale-like composition? Oh, yeah. Check.

English: Komondor

English: Komondor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–        Even the dog, who at this point in the year has more hair per square inch of flesh than my 1970’s childhood home’s combined shag carpeting, has been sending not so subtle messages about his much needed spa day and haircut. I find him listening to books on tape instead of pouring over leather-bound tomes in the library.

Yes, I hear the messages. I need to reduce. Maybe I can live without the remainder of my wardrobe from junior high. It’s possible I will never reread all the cards I have received and saved since I was seven years old. I suppose some people draw the line at holding on to Halloween candy dated as ‘Best By 19-something-or-other,’ but it’s truly hard to let go of one’s thrifty nature.

fingers crossed

fingers crossed (Photo credit: cinnamon_girl)

So all I can promise is that I’ll try.

For the good of my family. For the benefit of my dog. For the relief of the Fed Ex guys.

I’ll do it.

I promise.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and most importantly this week, be sure to check out the awesome cartoon humor of Robin Gott (here)! He penned the above caricature of me (spitting image by the way), and will be sure to give you a giggle in the pub with his take on styles of kilts across the globe. Check him out!

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 Mayas were dead wrong; yes, dead, but most importantly wrong.

English: matchstick arithmetic problem

Although any statement I make in my house involving science is automatically tossed aside with a giant hearty laugh, I really thought I had a decent handle on math.

I announced in my first post that because someone threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to catalog the absurd things that either take place in my brain or on top of our mountain, I had agreed to write about them for one year. And one year equals fifty-two weeks, does it not? But this will be my fifty-fourth post for a once a week blog.

And seeing as the Mayas had many of us convinced we needn’t have set our alarm clocks for Friday, the 21st of December—and because of that I was late for yoga—I’m guessing that those fellas were working off the same abacus I’ve been using.

Mine seems to have an extra bead.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Tim.Deering)

Not entirely sure what their excuse is though, which is really bothersome, as I have a basement stocked with canned goods, ammunition and wearable sleeping bags. Plus, I’ve skimmed through every survivalist handbook I could check out from the local bookmobile lounge, which has to take every other Saturday off to transform into the Mammogrammobile. It turns out I’ll need to return my borrowed books, as they now have a noteworthy due date. Fingers crossed it’s next Saturday. (Kill two birds with one stone.)

I suppose in truth, the rest of my end-of-the-world provisions will come in handy, because one simply needs to add a vat of Crisco to have all the essentials for a full day up here on Hootenanny Hillock.

And that is ultimately my theme here today. We’ve been issued a continuance.

An extension. A prolongation. A get-a-bloomin-move-on.

Worldly scholars warned us all about this unhealthy habit we as a society have fostered—the one where we’re all constantly looking for Armageddon. But perhaps worldly psychologists would roll their collective eyes at us and tell us to just schedule a Giant Day Off.

21.12.2012 _DDC4514

21.12.2012 _DDC4514 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

Maya historians have attempted to explain the whole calendar phenomena: the big hand on the clock finally ticking over to the thirteen b’aktun, the terminology and explanation of the Long Count and the Maya’s penchant for keeping track of celestial cycles, but I guess many of us were too absorbed by the phrase, “Marks the end,” to follow along and hear the rest of the words that completed the sentence. It could have been, “—of how far into the future they were willing to schedule dentist appointments.” Or, “—date when all the perishables in the lowest cave should finally be tossed.

It could have been anything.

In fact, there are more Maya dates on cave walls that are still being unearthed today. And nobody’s got a clue as to what they all mean—except maybe Mel Gibson, who I’m pretty sure speaks ancient Mayan, right?

Devil's Tower Wyoming as in close encounters o...

Devil’s Tower Wyoming as in close encounters of the third kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fear is that this date was of cosmic importance. Perhaps the Maya were pointing out the lining up of some planetary, spherical or solar dynamics and that at the precise date of December 21, 2012, 6:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, a portal would open, something would unlock, a gate would unhinge.

All I know is that at that particular moment, Sir Sackier nudged me from sleep and told me to put my arms down and stop mumbling. Apparently, I’d been speaking to the Mothership and was reaching out for a leg up. Now we’ll never know. I might have been the key that unlocked this huge mystery.

Or it might be time for me to stop drinking so heavily before bedtime.

English: Chromolithograph print of a tobacco l...

The point is, I’ve got no other choice than to Keep Calm and Carry On.

I know… the signs are everywhere—and quite probably a message from the Maya. They knew this would happen.

Therefore, I’m taking the message to heart. I shall persevere with the blog. The perspective from up here on my peak is that, in looking back over the past 53 essays, it’s clear I’ve still much to do. There are stalls to muck out, gardens to destroy, teenagers to aggravate, letters to be written just for the sheer pleasure of annoying bureaucrats, roasts to scorch and above all, arithmetic to master.

In light of this announcement, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and hope you’ll return to read about life up here from my perspective.

The air may be a little thin, but the future is fat with ample tales.

~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)!

‘Twas the night Santa ditched us.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

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

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

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

The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.
And Sir Sackier on his phone, and I on my Mac,
Still slogged on with work that would keep bills paid back.

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

A classic Western depiction of Santa Claus.

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

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new work for the season.    More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

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

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

1914 Santa Claus in japan

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

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

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

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

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

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~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)!

Saturnalia; good ole fashioned, naked fun.

Forest on a foggy winter day

Forest on a foggy winter day (Photo credit: follc)

Earth’s darkest days. It’s such a foreboding phrase, don’t you think?

And yet, on the upper half of the planet, it is a time of great merriment, benevolence and outright fuddled intoxication.

Long ago, that joy was attributed to the fact that the sun—a symbol of divinity—had decided not to abandon us. We’d been found worthy enough by the bright god for his return northward to heap another six months of favor upon us. And when one’s gods show munificence, one quickly dashes out invitations to local friends and neighbors to kick up their heels and enjoy a good shindig.

Of course, these long past party animals had to be Roman. When someone mentioned the word bash, it was either in reference to the use of one’s weapons or upcoming rampant Roman revelry. These guys lived life to its fullest—none of this ‘one day only’ deal. When it came to the close of December, a week’s worth of fun was considered cutting it short.

Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Thomas Couture's Romain...

Paris – Musée d’Orsay: Thomas Couture’s Romains de la décadence (Photo credit: wallyg)

And when sizing up all of the year’s fancy feasts and festivals, the blue ribbon winner had to be Saturnalia.

In the earliest of Roman ages, the age of Saturn, a festival was thrown in honor of Saturnus—the god of seed and sowing. The gala at first was held on December 17th, but because of a few folks fooling around with time tracking, things got muddled. Somewhere between then and Caesar’s changes to the calendar, the exact date grew hazy. Therefore, the Romans covered their bases and stretched the length of celebration to a few days before and after the new calendar’s official date. There were the usual gripes about no mail delivery and closed government offices, but seeing as most folks spent the week in a fog of alcoholic fumes, flaring tempers were easily dampened with an extra swig of grog.

The point of the festival was to recall that Golden Age, when innocence reigned and abundance was the norm. Once Saturn was ousted from his celestial throne by Jupiter, and time marched forward to the darker and despondent periods of the Silver and Iron ages, Romans did their level best to bring back snippets of that shiny era. Determined to experience a taste of the delicious decadence their ancestors once embraced as everyday ordinary, these normally gladiatorial warriors left their weapons at the door and started whipping up big batches of eggnog.

But showing a bit more gusto than their predecessors, these rowdy Romans took the lily-white past and ratcheted the level of excitement to new heights.

Designated Driver

Designated Driver (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

You know how today we exercise caution with alcohol and warn folks not to drink to excess? No Roman would invite you back to their place if you were going to poo poo their fun and order a taxi for everyone come 10:30.

And think about how much time we usually spend picking out jubilant outfits for the many seasonal soirées. The sparkle and glitter, the festive colors of red and green, the merry messages spread across our chests to invite mirth and frivolity? Waste of time for these guys. Saturnalia was a function without formalities in that department. In fact, the dress code called for total nakedness. No black tie, just flesh-toned birthday suits.

Role reversal was a big hit in the party game department. Servants switched hats with their masters and led the feasting, while the lord and lady of the house spent their time serving food and washing feet. Ultimately, it really didn’t matter. They all ended up in bed together. That was pretty much the point. Ah, those rascally Romans.

Presents

Presents (Photo credit: Alice Harold)

Unchanged from past to present are the presents. Although those guys partied hard, Rome’s inhabitants were good about saying thank you in the form of sending one another small gifts. I’m guessing some of it had to do with replacing valuables broken the night before.

Thankfully, most of us have abandoned the crowning of a less-than-enviable position—the Lord of Misrule—for the whole bawdy affair. Yes, one can understand the ancient desire to appease the god of the week and make a solid sacrifice of love and loyalty by offering up some unlucky schmuck, but it can really put a strain on the rest of the partygoers. Anyone who’s placed next to the soon-to-be dead guy at the banquet table quickly realizes their efforts at holiday chitchat and cheerful musings are wasted efforts. Hence, we see the justification for the origins of seating charts.

Wenceslas Hollar - The Greek gods. Saturn

Wenceslas Hollar – The Greek gods. Saturn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, eyes open this week. Think about how things have changed. Make a toast to the dusty bones of a long dead Roman with a measured cup of mulled wine. Pull out that reindeer sweater and for once be grateful the weather necessitates head to toe clothing. Show some ancient gratitude for the folks who bag your groceries, bus your table or tutor your offspring. Put a cookie in the mailbox. Hand a stick of gum to the poor chump who has to stand for hours holding the Stop/Slow sign for roadwork. Thank your lucky stars we no longer choose the weakest link as the scapegoat for the culminating event of all December dos.

It may be dark outside, but the future looks bright from right here.

~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)!

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~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)!

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)!

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

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

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barn

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

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

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

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

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Family Ties That Tug

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will be in London for Thanksgiving this year.

For me, it’s the second worst day of the year to be in London. The first, of course, is the Fourth of July. Sir Sackier made a practice of “accidentally” arranging family summer holidays so we’d be out of the country during America’s annual celebration of freedom from the British. We’d usually find ourselves ensconced within the warren of London’s streets, dazed from playing Follow the Leader where The Leader regularly forgot he had a family of three—jet-lagged and cranky—pulling up the rear.

One can’t expect the British to be all, “U-rah-rah!” over helping traveling Americans celebrate a page in the history books they might want to tear out and use as fire starter. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of picking at a scab. To Sir Sackier, it remains an open, festering wound.

550d - London - Churchill at Big Ben London

550d – London – Churchill at Big Ben London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

To compensate, three quarters of the family were often found slumping against one another in cavernous museums, led by our own family monarch as he enlightened our weak-muscled minds about the hundreds of years of British invention and innovation. Surprisingly, there are quite a few dark corners in Churchill’s bunker where one can catch a quick kip.

Regardless, there’s an ever-increasing number of American expats living in the land of palaces and prisons. And because many of my countrymen have found it near impossible to be more than fifty feet from the big-boothed safe haven of chain restaurants, and because eateries find catering to the appetite of their diners a no-brainer in helping to pay their electric bills, locating an establishment willing to rustle up some Turkey Day grub is easier than imagined.

Whether they go for a dressed down sort of experience and order a McGobble-Gobble, or they get all gussied up and search out a big bird with all the trimmings, Americans are offered plenty of places willing to pull together the makings for a slice of comfort pie.

But it won’t be the same.

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

Instead of man-handling a thirty-two pound turkey/pterodactyl into a Kmart kiddie swimming pool for a 24 hour soak in our own version of the Dead Sea, a tradition I’ve always cherished doing with my mom the night before, I will lie awake in bed knowing she’ll probably have chucked a three pound turkey breast into a salt-filled ziplock bag and tossed it to the back of the fridge. Likely she’ll still make a good dent in the fifth of scotch we would use to reward ourselves for slowly moving the bird from the back of the car and onto the back porch without breaking a wing or a leg or a sweat.

Instead of waking in the morning to find my parents in my kitchen, freshly scrubbed, aprons on, knives sharpened, coffee made and ready to discover just how many things I forgot to purchase at the grocery store and will need to send Sir Sackier back out for, I will sit quietly at a table with a cup of English Breakfast and nod consolingly toward the opposite end of the table where my husband grows increasingly shocked at the price of petrol, the loss of traditional values and how the American debt crisis could be solved if one English footballer simply donated three or four week’s pay.

Pie-Making - transferring the dough

Pie-Making – transferring the dough (Photo credit: CaptPiper)

Instead of kneading, rolling and crimping seven pie crusts using seven unique “no fail” recipes with the hope that at least two of them will “no fail,” I will contemplate the possibility that my mother will have decided to forgo pie altogether and simply give everyone their own pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon in place of all the fuss.

Rather than hiding the salt from my mother just before she makes the gravy—who by late afternoon has lost all taste receptors that report salinity on her tongue due to her third jug of scalding coffee (okay, and maybe the cask strength single malt scotch, capable of scraping the tartar off of anyone’s teeth)–I will disembark from the bowels of an underground, blink back at the bright light of day, and scan across hundreds of heads rushing in and out of the Waterloo tube station, wondering which direction Sir Sackier dashed off toward.

Schlitz

Schlitz (Photo credit: fixedgear)

Instead of collapsing into a chair once we’ve finally gotten all the food to the dining room table and nearly allowing my head to slump forward to land in a pool of mashed potatoes larger than a pig trough full of slops, I will sit staring off into space in the back of a black cab wondering if my dad will have opened up a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais to compliment his can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or simply pulled back the tab on a can of Schlitz.

In place of gathering around the same table hours later after a post poultry nap to play Balderdash while we take turns shooing the dog out from under the table because of the nasally corrosive fumes he’s emitting, I will slip into a bed belonging to a crisply run British hotel and lie beneath covers so sharply starched I would not be surprised to find out they’d simply bleached off the words from last night’s Evening Standard.

Scène de l'Ordre de Bon Temps, Acadie (1606). ...

So although I won’t physically be in America for Thanksgiving this year, I’ll still be there.

But it won’t be the same.

~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)!

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

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

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

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

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

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

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

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

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

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English: White-tailed deer

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

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

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

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

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)!

Slaughter & Mayhem. How I love November.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

During the past couple of weeks, and throughout the next month and a half, I’ll have celebrated four family members’ birthdays. Okay, one family member was celebrated twice, but she really deserved it and wasn’t totally “present” for the first gala I threw for her.  Still, I figure the event counts no matter how you look at it.

In between all these cakes, candles and moments of merriment, I have to fit in a lot of dishwashing.

Oh, and the Festival of the Dead.

I might be a pagan at heart, but not wholly. I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, I will drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead, but once there, they will argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I leave the cover off the grain barrel, they’ll ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

I draw the line at sacrificing horses. They’re meant to represent the fire deity, Bel (or Belenos the sun god), and apparently will win back the world come springtime. But equine sacrifice is such a messy job. Plus, if you’ve ever seen dead horses, they’re really not up to winning back anything for you after you slay them.

English: Wicker man, engraving

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

Worse still is when you arrive at the glowing gala get together and find yourself looking up at a massive effigy, The Wicker Man. You hazily recall something about the forcing of not just one unlucky fellow, but a whole slew of folks into giant wood and thatched cages, along with every flavor of farm animal, some bread and honey, and a few jugs of vino. It’s only after everyone and everything is stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in your head illuminates just as a rosy glow from below sheds some extra light on all of you—in the form of a giant pyre. There’s a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quiet down.

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

Of course, most of us know that on All Hallows Eve the veil separating the dead from the living is tissue thin—see through for many if you regularly make a habit of chatting up dead relatives. I’m totally fine with that. In the ancient days of Samhain celebrations, spirits were greeted warmly from their regular gloomy, dank haunts. Everyone scooched over a bit on the couch to make room round the hearth, and a few nibbles of barley cake were offered as well as a cup of grog. Most ghosts were grateful. A few remained mulish and curmudgeonly. But who can blame them with the months of back breaking chain clanking and heavy breathing they have to repeatedly practice for the Big Night? I’m sure there are times when The Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding of the occasional gripe.

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...

On the other hand, I always get a bee in my bonnet with Trick or Treating. I appreciate the historical significance—the several explanations for the favorite activity. In days of yore, one had to deal with not only a few departed relatives, but also fractious fairies and spiteful sprites. Today, our children want to keep that memory alive by participating in the pranks of these wraiths. What’s the harm in frightening the neighbors into parting with a handful of sweets, cakes or coins, right? Your choice: a few tiny terrors or a couple of confections? To me, it’s just fancy begging.

Because of my disagreeable definition, my children hate me with a particular vengeance on Halloween. Or maybe it’s the fact that I refused to take them round the neighborhood beseeching comfits of any kind. One year, after so much bellyaching, I allowed them to dress up and run around the house a few times, ringing the doorbell when they reached the front door while I rummaged through the pantry shelves, determined to find some forgotten Easter candy. It worked for a year or two. Not so much anymore.

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

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

Jack-o'-lantern

Jack-o’-lantern (Photo credit: wwarby)

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

Kids love that story.

So as much fun as reliving my last few days has been, I’ve got to run and make another batch of barely cakes. A few of my dead relatives refuse to leave the comfort of my couch.

~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 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)!