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.