Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

This thing ready to go??

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Presidential Partying

As the American Presidential race is currently running at fevered pitch, the press—ever watchful and observant, and always acting on our behalf—alert the public to everything about the candidates from what color their bed sheets were as a child to whether or not their fiber is presently effective.

We’re given a thorough evaluation of each candidate’s depth and breadth. Spellbinding details from the big scale decisions they’ve made to the minutia of off-camera life, because who isn’t fascinated by the contents of our candidates’ glove compartments, right?

Things have certainly changed since our first president was elected in 1789, and since George Washington wasn’t scrutinized in the same fashion as today’s runners, he was fortunate enough to escape the prying eyes employed at present which would surely have made mincemeat of his past.

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I won’t go into the marijuana growing or the fact that he possessed only one real tooth, but the bit about his fervor as a distiller of whiskey and, according to some, one overenthusiastic with its intake, might have sent up a few red flags had he been trying to gain the popular vote of our current day and age.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t exactly make hooch so much as sell it. Even his dad worked at a local distillery doing odd jobs when Abe was a babe.

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As it turns out, it was a tricky time for Mr. Lincoln because of the Temperance movement. Owning a store in the backwoods of New Salem, one was forced to sell what the community needed (read: demanded). Whiskey was just as much a necessity as bacon, beeswax, and bee vomit (read: honey). Many criticized the man for participation in dram selling and voiced the opinion that those who sold liquor were minions of Satan. But Lincoln’s address to the Evangelicals of the reformed drinker movement is in essence summed up by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

I’m guessing Hollywood did not read that chapter in their history books and have gone ahead to reveal the long-hidden truth that Lincoln was, in fact, a vampire hunter and slayer. Again, I’m sure in modern times, some savvy journalist would have sniffed this bit out.

John Adams had a strong penchant for Madeira, cider, and beer, complaining bitterly when it wasn’t available. And who could fault the guy? Anyone who starts smoking at the age of eight surely knows what will best cut the taste of nicotine first thing in the morning. Let’s give the kid a break.

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It could be that he was simply trying to drink away the bitter memories of the fact that not one of his family members attended his inauguration. It’s likely they were boycotting because they discovered he once shared a bed with Benjamin Franklin—or perhaps again, shacking up with Ben was a memory only Madeira could erase.

Regardless, it’s tough to imagine Trump and Cruz sharing a cot in a Motel 6 to save a few bucks since they’re both currently belting out stump speeches in the same state. It just wouldn’t happen.

James Buchanan could have qualified for the Olympic drinking team had there been one, as his capacity for drink—namely old rye, champagne, Jacob Baer Whiskey, and cognac—could rival the recycling bin of your average frat house.

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And surely making a regular habit of having two or three bottles of wine with a meal that consisted of mostly glasses of cognac and rye, and ensuring one’s regular ten gallon barrel of whiskey arrived each Sunday has seriously got to ensure that your liver will find a place of honor on some curiosity shelf in the Smithsonian, right? And yet, it is not there …

Grover Cleveland “enjoyed” his beer—as much as four to eight bottles of it a day—which left him with a beer gut that mirrored the great Buddha belly.

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What can be said of Thomas Jefferson, apart from the fact that the man not only knew his wines, but endeavored to grow them?

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Well, this little tidbit:

Our founding fathers ran up an epic bar tab in Philadelphia’s City Tavern at a dinner to honor George Washington a couple of days before penning their signatures to the Constitution, including eight bottles of whisky, twelve of beer, seven bowls of alcoholic punch, 22 bottles of porter, eight of hard cider, 54 bottles of Madeira and 60 of claret. That was divided between the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

It’s no wonder most of their signatures are illegible.

I think the lesson learned here is not so much one that suggests all of the fellows reviewed were supremely lucky to get away with the swilling habits of most sailors on ship leave, but one that will have you realizing what thirsty work governing America truly is.

~Shelley

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My Mother, Thief of Goat’s Milk Products

There was no freaking way she was going to redecorate my room. No way on earth. She had that power at one point in my life, and as a result, I spent my teenage years in a sunflower yellow room adorned with far too much poppy imagery.

I finally had my own space – of sorts. I spent the first week of my summer in Boston scrubbing the floor, spackling the walls and maneuvering the biohazardous excuse for a mattress gracefully out of the window. Then I painted everything brown. And threw the entirety of my wardrobe on the floor. The space was officially mine.

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A few days earlier, on the phone with my mother regarding the upcoming visit: “OH IT WILL BE SO MUCH FUN WE WILL GO TO THE CUTE LITTLE WHOLE FOODS BEHIND YOUR CUTE LITTLE ROOM IN YOUR CUTE LITTLE HOUSE AND BUY CUTE LITTLE GROCERIES AND FIX UP YOUR ROOM WITH CUTE LITTLE CUTE THINGS.”

No.

NO POPPIES. OR BRIGHT COLORS. NOT HERE.

Such interference must be prevented at all costs. So I crammed every minute of the weekend with plans to explore the revolutionary and overwhelmingly Italian parts of Boston. (Distinct neighborhoods, albeit.) No time for redecoration.

But first, she had to climb five flights in the sweltering evening heat, only to be greeted at the top by a bathroom that was literally growing hair out of every drain. (She got that part right.) However, no challenge is insurmountable when one equips my mother with a little red wine and stolen fans from the communal living spaces.

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We were awakened the next morning at sparrow’s fart by the music of hundreds of trucks idling outside my window. (Two seasons in New England – winter and construction! Hahaha… so funny …I want to burn this city to the ground. Just kidding. Maybe.)

We embarked on a grand adventure to see libraries and historic churches – basically my mother’s favorite things – and she attempted to “check out” books from a library she does not belong to in a city she does not inhabit. No, Mom, published authors don’t get automatic librarian rights. Don’t listen to Grandpa.

We toured a historic art museum famed for the world’s most expensive and currently unrecovered art theft – I think my mother gave off a slightly suspicious vibe, as we were followed around by a number of guards from room to room. Either she didn’t notice or was intentionally messing with them by standing a hair’s too close to the artwork and exclaiming loudly “This Rembrandt would go perfectly with the bathroom color scheme!” Regardless, they broke a sweat.

We explored a booming Farmer’s and Artist’s Market in South Boston – I have never seen her accumulate so many samples so quickly. She had it down to a script too  – “Yeshihello, how are you, marvelous, I live in the area and will definitely be back to buy more of your product, may I try a sample of your local deliciousness thankyougoodday.” We made it out of there with literally enough food to last the rest of my collegiate career.

(If you’re not picking up on a theme here – my mother is a klepto. Of library books, priceless works of art and artisanal cheese samples. I plead unknowing and accidental accomplice.)

We hiked Boston’s Freedom Trail, a winding path through the tumultuous history of the Revolutionary War- it also happens to wind through the North End, where overstuffed cannoli and fresh, cheesy pasta distract from the patriotic quest. And I do not say “hike” lightly – after repeatedly climbing the five flights up Dante’s inferno to my place, we decided to also climb the Bunker Hill Monument at midday. We basically climb stairs now. It’s a hobby.

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Finally, a surprise I had meticulously planned – an evening on a sailboat and a visit to the best improv club in town. But the good old public transportation system, essentially comprised of turtle-drawn buggies, had different plans. Hence the running three miles in flip flops, tearing through a quaint harborside party reception waving my arms and screaming “CATCH THAT SAILBOAT!” Not gonna lie, probably one of the most epic things I’ve ever done.

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Now, just to complete the picture, here are some pictures.

Chloe and Shelley on sailboat
Conducting business on the sailboat. (I.e. dealing with the homefront crisis in which Grandma forgot where the cat food is. Classic Grandma.)
She knocked over an encyclopedia right after this was taken. I kid you not. It was so loud.

Shelley in library

Washing the kleptomania from her hands in Boston’s picturesque Frog Pool.

Shelley at Frog Pool

Apparently a proud supporter of the internment of Samuel Adams.

Shelley at Sam Adams tomb

The face of a woman who is done with my preposterous selfies.

Shelley selfie

A preposterous selfie. That stone circle behind us marks the location of the Boston Massacre. A lack of tea makes everyone cranky, apparently.

Chloe and Shelley Boston Massacre

At the end of the weekend, she departed, leaving me with a mountain of nut cheese and crackers made from seaweed harvested by mermaids. I’ve already started to plan the next adventure, which will involve more racing to reach ships in time and less opportunities for my mom to get thrown in federal. And, most importantly, at the dawn of the next week, my room was still clothes-strewn and completely bare of poppies.

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SUCCESS.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

 

Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

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~Shelley

Related articles

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

I’ve Got This Down to a Science

I felt like a million bucks walking into the Koch Institute Auditorium.

Okay, that’s a big fat fib.

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I did not feel like a million bucks, I felt like a million bucks couldn’t make a dent toward improving my current status.

I was more water-logged than the Cutty Sark’s figurehead: hair plastered to my skull, rainwater sluicing down my pants and overflowing from my squeaky shoes, and mascara tracking soil-black furrows in all directions away from my eyes. I was in need of some serious respackling.

This was a result of my rain-battered, late afternoon mile-long walk from my hotel to my daughter’s university campus where I’d been invited to attend a lecture given by one of the esteemed faculty members before “Parent’s Weekend” the following day. (Full story here.)

I slogged to the lady’s room and wrung out my clothing, paper towel dried my hair, and attempted to scrape off the black grout that now epoxyed itself to my skin. Waterproof Wonderful, my Aunt Fanny. I left the bathroom looking like I’d been camping in a nearby peat bog for the last three weeks. I snatched up my name tag and dashed into the lecture hall to locate a seat near the back. And in the dark. And under a tarp if I could find one.

The invite stated the program was to begin at 4 pm. But what actually started was the wine and hors d’oeuvres party. This meant I’d get to watch other people—other people who were dry—enjoy themselves with the first rate food and the five star confidence that they’d not scare the bejeebies out of the other lecture guests during the meet and greet. No, it was best I stayed put.

And did for the next hour.

I dripped a melancholic puddle beneath my chair, forming a large enough pool to gather the attention of one of the catering staff, who kindly brought me two cocktail napkins. It had the about the same effect as trying to cap the eruption of Old Faithful with nothing more than a Tupperware lid.

But it was the thought that counted.

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The well fed and lubricated crowd filed into the lecture hall and the Chancellor took to the podium. She thanked us for coming, and then launched into a long-winded, rhapsodic introduction for the professor we had gathered to hear. The man sat looking sheepish as the Chancellor gushed with exuberance over the prof’s accomplishments.

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I prickled. No human being alive could have done this much in three lifetimes let alone two thirds of one. The man introduced and moving toward the podium had a name akin to that of a James Bond villain—Vladimir Bulović. I felt he should have been wearing a cape.

The lecture’s title? Why the Future Will Be Measured in Nanometers.

A plethora of questions buzzed through my head: What is a nanometer? Did anyone bring an extra calculator? And will I be seen if I crawl on all fours toward the exit and swim home in the direction of a clean, dry bed?

Professor Bulović spoke in a torrent of rushing words—and Russian words—or maybe it just sounded foreign because it was all diodes this and photovoltaics that. Yep, total Greek.

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So I stopped listening and started reading. The slides from the power point presentation were filled with words and symbols, and thank god occasionally moving pictures. Those I could follow.

The snippets of video showed objects that all fell under the umbrella of ‘nanoparticles.’ Quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, icosahedral twins and triplets and the rest of their unpronounceable family members. And soon I was enlightened with what this man, his team, and the monumentally small world of nanotechnology had been beavering away with in laboratories across the world.

For your mind-blowing pleasure, here are a few of science and technology’s newest projects Professor Blofeld–er, Bulović discussed:

LiquiGlide – A freaky non stick coating that can be applied to food packaging to eliminate waste. In this particular instance: ketchup. Click and be amazed.

Transparent Polymer Solar Cells – Windows that clearly harvest energy from the sun.

The Flexible Light Bulb – What if the light bulb of the future wasn’t a light bulb at all?

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Cancer detection – with magnetic nanoparticles.

Flexible solar panels – printable too!

Eyeglasses that can recharge your hearing aid while you’re wearing both.

Nanoparticles that clean oil spills via magnets – You’re welcome Exxon Mobile.

Water filtration—or desalination. Here we have folks working to make a filter device that allows a glass of seawater to become drinkable water after a few minutes of hand pumping. I think some hand shaking is in order.

Reengineered cement that will reduce carbon emissions. Now that’s a solid idea.

Better lighting with quantum dots. As far as I can see, this is some brilliant science.

Yep, hearing this lecture had been one tiny head explosion after another.

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So even though I traveled what felt like a million miles to get there, and even though much of the lecture was a million light years beyond my ken, and it was clear that folks had spent millions of dollars on research and development, I now just want to say, Thanks a million. The future looks wonderfully exciting, Professor Bulović—although it’s a little hard to see.

~Shelley

CALENDAR WINNER AWARD!

Our free calendar goes to the lovely Linnet Moss. Kindly contact Robin with your address so that he can post your 12 month doodle diary. (info@robingott.com)

Congratulations, Linnet!

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

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How to Get Found by Losing Your Way.

Orientation is a concept I spent a lot of time thinking about this last weekend as I helped move my daughter into her new digs at university. From the moment I put the key into the ignition and the car into drive until I parked my automobile snugly into the garage returning home, I was in a constant state of getting my bearings.

As a writer, one is schooled to continually practice the art of noticing.

The teenager sitting beside me rarely noticed anything that wasn’t coming into view on the flat screen of her smart phone.

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There is a vast difference between us. We orient ourselves in completely different ways.

We both learn about the world using our eyes, but mine make grand sweeping gestures east to west and north to south, taking in trees and buildings, street signs and faces, while hers make a minuscule movement barely left and right of center—just enough to absorb the bazillion articles on Reddit that tell everyone reading what’s happening in the world today.

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But at least we know what’s unfolding around us.

We both use our ears to scope out sound. As we sit in a lecture hall, in front of a panel of teachers, advisors, administrators and staff, I soak up the voices and what they say: the chief of campus police—serious and dour, the dean of students—confident and erudite, the chair of the physics department—stumped by all the befuddled faces, the university healthcare representative—thoroughly weary from repeatedly answering the same question, just posed in a different accent.  The incoming freshman I’ve placed in the seat next to mine has used her ears as a holder for two pieces of electronics and plastic in order to block out the ambient voices and welcome in somebody else’s streaming from iTunes.

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I look at the distance we need to maneuver from one end of campus to the other and pull out a map; she hears the phrase lovely walk and clicks on an app to hail a cab.

We pass by groups of kids and I scan the clusters of faces from all ends of the earth and say, “It’s going to be wonderful getting to know so many new people from places you’ve never been.” She replies, “I already know most of them. We’ve all met on Facebook.”

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The list of activities–the get to know you parties–are poles apart from what would ease me into my new surroundings had I been the newcomer on campus.

Come build a rollercoaster!

Edible LEGO bricks. Let’s eat our architecture!

100 somewhat illegal uses for all your tech gadgets—shhh.

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Yeah, my university mixers were more of the sort that announced: We’re having a pizza party in the Student Union. Come meet your mascot.

I watched a kid zoom by on a ten speed bike powered by a chain saw. I heard music coming out of a speaker that looked like a small Oreo. I saw someone typing words onto a screen, which would have been fine apart from the fact that there was no keyboard beneath her fingers.

I was now completely disoriented.

By the end of the day I had amassed a file full of papers—everything from phone numbers to calendars, lecture notes to course requirements. I turned to my teen, “I’ve got spares for you too because I noticed you weren’t taking any.”

She waved her phone at me. “Got it all right here.”

Smart phone. A helluva lot smarter than me.

We bring the last of her gear up to her dorm room. “Do you want me to remind you how to do your laundry?”

“Nope. I’ll YouTube it.”

“Shall I walk you to the university’s clinic and campus police?”

“Already Google-Mapped it, Mother.”

“How bout I—”

Smart phone is waved in my face.

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It is clear I have been replaced by an app. By copper and wiring and eye tracking and satellites. This is her world not mine. It is fast, it is immediate, it is clever and it is made for a group of brains that do not see the world as I see it.

I collected my things and we walked to my car. I looked at my daughter and thought about our positions in the universe, how I would find my way back home, how I would go back to what was familiar and well-worn, and how I’d be recalibrating life and adjusting to the “new normal.”

So much of the weekend was, in truth, an orientation meant for me. I watched this young woman and all her peers around us utilize unfamiliar signs, and oftentimes unreadable directions, leading them confidently down their new path.

There really was nothing left to do apart from stand aside and lovingly snip the last threads of that invisible umbilical cord between us. I let her go … wireless.

~Shelley

August Gotta Have a Gott winner

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

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

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