Slaughter and Mayhem; How I Love November

There is something incredibly magical about the transition from October to November. And by magical I mean mostly spine-chillingly creepy.

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I cannot begin to keep count of all the happenings around here that start off with the catchy refrain Hey y’all. It’s time to celebrate the Festival of the Dead.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised and surrounded by incredibly careful Catholics. We were polite. We barely made eye contact. And whenever there was anything remotely resembling the acrid scent of incense, we automatically genuflected and started in on a few Hail Marys.

Where I live now, I see a mishmashed range of religious followers or unfollowers, but I also find myself amidst a plethora of pagans. And as it’s nearly impossible to ditch my Midwestern deferential upbringing, just to be neighborly, I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, in the past I would drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead like all ancient farmers were wont to do, but once there, would find they’d argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I left the cover off the grain barrel, they’d ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

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I drew the line at sacrificing horses, which are meant to represent the fire deity, Bel or Belenos, the sun god, and who reportedly would win back the world come springtime. It’s just 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.

A couple of times, I was 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 was that usually somebody had issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you wouldn’t know till you got to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still, was when I once arrived at the glowing gala get together and found myself looking up at a massive effigy—like The Wicker Man. I hazily recalled 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 once everyone and everything was stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in everyone’s head illuminated just as a rosy glow from below shed some extra light on all of them—in the form of a giant pyre. There was a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quieted down.

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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.

And I’m totally fine with that, as being a novel writer, I’m wholly used to hearing voices and engaging in what most folks would see as worrisome one-sided conversations.

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.

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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 where the Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding with the occasional gripe.

Lastly, I’ve always welcomed anything that shed 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.

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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 creepy shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

There’s a lot to look forward to as usual, and I really ought to get a head start on making a few extra batches of barley cakes for all the upcoming visits from dead relatives who refuse to leave the comfort of my couch. As the older one gets, the larger the cast of characters grow.

~Shelley

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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.

Twas the Night Before Finals

I have been on both sides of a performance since way before I can mentally remember, and likely somewhere around the time I was first forming eyelids.

My mom was a musician.

Her children all became musicians.

She married a man who was not a musician, but was a better musician than many musicians I have come to know.

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Sitting in the audience is hard if you go to a concert and you are “a musician.”

You really, really, REALLY want the performance to go well. Better than well. Spectacular. You want to be moved in a way that would have you offering a kidney to any one of the participants afterward as a way of saying thank you for sharing their skill, talent and soul with you.

I know very few musicians who actually attend other people’s concerts with their fingers crossed that the show will suck and it will get slammed by the press. Yes, I know a few, but they’re miserable, unhappy people who are constipated and suffer from halitosis. They have no friends. It’s a sad life, but they deserve it.

I went to a concert last night. It was a holiday concert I attend nearly every year. And it’s something I look forward to with as much excitement as the first winter snowflake, the first winter hearth fire, and the first moment I realize it’s futile to keep fighting my body’s desperate need to bulk up for the upcoming season. Winter pudge is a fact of life, and I’ve come to heartily embrace it.

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Almost as much as I relish this annual concert.

Every year, this particular performance spotlights the talents of our local university’s divine male voices, corralled into polished control. It must be a massive undertaking, as these dulcet tones are more accustomed to swilling caustic liquids and belching out the alphabet when not rooting for their home sports team like caterwauling hooligans. The transformation is magical. But I imagine they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form.

Two hours of intense and focused concentration is a lot to ask of a young lad aged 18—22. Especially as it was finals week. The fixed determination on these collegiate faces revealed the end of a long semester with nothing more than one more toilsome week in front of them. They were tired.

But the boys sang on.

On top of everything else, they were required to decorate the hall before the event. It really should have come as no surprise to anyone then that having asked said young men to make the hall look festive, they would use whatever adroit ingenuity they could scare up. To describe the auditorium as merry and bright would be accurate, but deficient. More precise would be to point out that much of the décor was likely nicked from neighborhood lawns and secured with whatever supplies found in the hallway janitorial cupboard.

Strings of lights were pinned up with duct tape. Plastic garland was tossed around podiums. Miniature multi-colored trees were plopped in random places across the stage and plugged in with long extension cords that snaked to available outlets. And large pink flamingos stood guard like stand-ins for the life-sized nutcrackers that never quite made it for Showtime.

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It was award worthy.

For a frat house.

And yet, strangely, this was part of the charm.

They walked in like tuxedo draped monks, holding candles and chanting O Come O Come Emmanuel, and filled the darkened hall with an incantation that transferred goose bumps from one arm rest to the next.

What also seemed to be contagious was the persisting, remarkable coughing that rippled through the crowd. With each new piece, another audience member began clearing their throat, hacking through a tickle, and then hawking up something demonic. At one point I began to wonder if the entire hall was coming down with croup.

I thought that perhaps at intermission I should dash out to the nearest drug store, buy a few bags of cough suppressants and hand them out as folks filed back in. The war cry of windpipes continued.

But the boys sang on.

Directed by a man who was world weary himself, whose lines to the audience were as deeply ingrained as a piece of old driftwood, and who struggled to recall the names of the soloists, simply relying upon a finger to point them out among a sea of youthful faces, the boys did their best to follow the slushy command of their leader.

At any given moment, something was always falling, burning out, or beginning to smolder and spark. Not one singer’s head turned, no one dashed out to catch the collapsed trimming, and the new sound of a tittering crowd accompanied the carols, canticles and chorus.

But the boys sang on.

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Angelic and earnest, exhausted yet joyful, those young chaps persevered, delighted to share and be part of the university’s 74 years of bestowing song to those who were hungering to hear it. Clearly their intent was to lay their acoustic offering at the foot of the stage, gift wrapped in a bright and festive bow.

They finished their celebrated recital as they had begun it; candles in hand, they drifted out single file, ignoring the buckled adornments and the coughing crowd, and on toward a long night of study. With the last haunting notes of the Dona Nobis Pacem round disappearing behind the stage, the audience sat still for the first time in two hours, holding on to the precious musical moments as they lazily slithered away.

But thankfully, the boys sang on.

~Shelley

PS. Rob and I would like to wish everyone the very happiest of holidays! Next week, all will be silent and dark, as Rob’s hands will be filled with grog and nog, and I’ll likely be buried beneath four months’ worth of laundry that came home from “someone’s” dormitory. We’ll be back the first week in January with a very SPECIAL EDITION of Peak Perspective and look forward to seeing all of you upon our return. Happy New Year, Peakers!

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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Cap and gown; the costume of progress.

GRADUATION

Letter G (644x800)Gathering on long stretches of lawn, huddling inside church halls, or amassing in colossal gymnasiums, tis the season to honor and applaud young scholars who have climbed the slippery rungs of the academic ladder. Here they will be granted a view that skims the treetops toward their futures.

Letter R (633x800)Racing across a platform to grasp the pressed woody fibers that hold an inked seal of accomplishment, we watch the students sail forward, a breeze billowing beneath the graduates’ gowns; a tease of the winds aloft they’ll soon face full on.

Letter A (654x800)A speech is prepared, rehearsed and delivered, its words an urgent call to remember the past, but seize the future, grasp it with both hands, clutch it to your heart, embrace it with a fervor that will outlast the first, tiny taste of liberty.

Letter D (648x800)Dozens upon dozens of bright, earnest faces listen to microphoned wisdom: sage insight pressed upon the young and energetic meant to spur on bravery, incite tenacity, and goad some grit.

Letter U (638x800)Umbilical cords to home and school, friends and parents faintly snap as if the students, fidgeting for freedom in their seats, collectively give one last tireless tug to the tethered, fraying thread that holds them bound within a tapestry of the familiar.

Letter A (644x800)An abundance of flashes populate the air; crisp time-stamped moments, trapped in hand-held boxes that years later, will release a rush of recollection that will be both reflective and wistful.

Letter T (630x800)Tomorrow’s outlook is surmountable, and our cloth-draped cubs will rush on ahead, taking their place at the front lines of battle, determined, unflinching, valiant.

Letter I (626x800)I study these children, these long-legged, adult-bodied children, and hold my breath—inhale with hope that they may remain clear-eyed, clear-headed and clearly driven to find a conduit that will express their yet unknown ambitions.

Letter O (603x800)One day they will glance back to look at their younger selves, to study their pipe dreams, their castles in air, their pie in the sky, and they will know what it took to make them go from dream to possibility, from possibility to opportunity, and from opportunity to achievement.

Letter N (577x800)Never again will they find this footing, nor pass over this platform, but perhaps instead they’ll burn these bridges in order to maintain a steady, confident gaze toward a horizon we hope they will pioneer with backbone and boldness.

Be brave, be hungry, become.

~Shelley

May 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. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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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Holiday Shopping: a series of moments between meals.

I hate shopping.

There. I said it. And yes, I heard the collective gasp coming from a hefty portion of readers, who I believe (and this is strictly based on the pitch of each gasp) were largely female.

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I don’t like browsing for things I don’t need, but would love to have. It’s torture. It’s also a little like watching the cooking channel with an empty fridge.

I don’t like trying on clothing. Because who doesn’t need therapy and a support group after five minutes in a fluorescent-lit, warp-mirrored, foul-floored changing room?

And I don’t like having to leave my swivel chair, hairy hound and Everlasting Gobstopper cup of tea in order to wrestle with the rest of the world just for a parking spot. It’s times like these when I wish I had an old armored bank truck—you know, the kind that pull right up to the front door of any shop because they’re collecting bags full of cash from the overflowing tills, and everybody outside makes a wide berth of the truck so no one suspects them of foul play.

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Yeah, that could work.

Going shopping also means I have to change out of my yoga pants. Okay, that one doesn’t really apply, but it means I have to put on nicer yoga pants. And I’m trying to keep those for a special occasion. Like when I finally have to answer the doorbell.

HOWEVER, I do make one exception to my normally Grinch-esque disposition on retail therapy.

I give in for one day.

I dress up (as long as the definition of “dressing up” means spraying on perfume),

I get it my car (fingers crossed next year it’s an armored bank truck),

and I grab a fistful of colorful coupons I’ll likely not use (save the ones with the word chocolate in them) because once I enter into the world of Muzak-droning department stores, I lose all functioning memory. So many pretty sparkly things …

Some of you may be familiar with this one day of giving in to ‘mall madness.’ It’s known to many of us as Black Friday.

Where I grew up, it was simply known as the day when deer hunting season opened and 3/4ths of the town was in the woods and the remainder just met up at the mall for a cup of coffee.

But after many years, I’ve hung up my camo pants (just kidding, I still wear them) and have happily joined the throngs of others who have opened the door a few days early to the month of December. Here, at the massive galleria of glitz and gold, we bask in the twinkling lights, hear Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby harmonize with sleigh bells, and ride on the outdoor mall’s miniature kiddie train only because my feet are aching and it conveniently swings by the lot where I’ve parked my car and need to dump off a few heavy already purchased parcels halfway through the day. (Everyone does this, right?)

I’ve spent this day with my mom for a bucketload of years. And we have a set schedule that CANNOT BE VARIED.

We’re kinda traditional. Or set in our ways. Or totally uninventive.

It doesn’t matter because it works for us and we want to relive the experience each year thereafter. Although with each successive year, I have to fight harder to get a spot on that kiddie train. Last year, after I tried to wrestle a seat away from a seven-year old, she essentially flipped me the bird when I told her Santa was watching. Okay, that’s not exactly true. She was actually doing sign language, but it was close enough to a rude gesture that after telling the conductor about this child’s reprehensible behavior, he booted her off the train. Whew.

In truth, the day begins at Starbucks. And I’m fairly happy to spend it and end it there if I had my druthers, because once I’ve had one of their magical mind-blowing concoctions, I desperately want to try them all. It’s a good thing I only cross their threshold once a year. Likely I’d have to remortgage the house if I made it a daily habit. Some folks probably already have. I don’t blame them.

Next we jump to the calendar store. And this is where we stay for the next three hours. I really only need to buy myself next year’s calendar for the kitchen wall, but somehow along the way, I made the decision that I am now in charge of buying everyone’s calendar for the upcoming year. From the postman—who will “Love this!” because there’s a mailbox on the photo in the month of August, to the exterminator—whom I won’t see until March because he already came for the winter quarterly bug defestation, I cannot leave that store without picking out a calendar for nearly all the people in my village. I even found one for the woman who used to do the sheep’s weekly acupuncture sessions. I know, ridiculous, right? You’d think there’d be a huge section for animal acupuncturists, but no, only one wall.

Now it’s lunchtime. We eat at a fabulous American chain restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory. Just walking in and smelling what the factory is pumping out on its conveyor belt brings on the need to unbutton your pants to make room for the five pounds you’ve simply inhaled.

An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing what we should not eat because we’re busy saving room for dinner, which comes in about two hours. I remind myself that I’ll work it all off by walking around afterward, and then see the kiddie train chug by the restaurant window.

Following lunch, we pop into a furniture store so that we can sit in a few dozen armchairs we could never afford. Then we stretch out on the three or four sample beds made up with animals skins and furs and generally everything one would need to keep warm if living inside an igloo. It all helps with digestion.

After this, we’re feeling a little sluggish, so we make our way to the world’s greatest cooking emporium and spend time holding spatulas that will transform our future meals. We drool over table settings that one would expect to see on a buffet board laid out by God if there was anyone he was trying to impress. There are also a slew of edible samples that come from the store’s line of We’ll make you look like a pro. Just buy the box and add water. And don’t forget the spatula. We then browse through cookbooks in order to stimulate our appetites for dinner, which is a mere minute or two away.

And at last, we’re ready for the main event: Maggiano’s, the big family Italian restaurant whose menu theme is We hope you’re wearing your fat pants.

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God, I love yoga wear.

We are seated in a huge enveloping leather booth. We are surrounded by garland and greenery and silver lights. We hear every song that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett ever recorded. We eat piles of pasta with cheese and cream and butter and that piece of parsley garnish because we need to be able to say we had some sort of vegetable. And then it’s time for a slice of their chocolate cake. I think they call it, Yeah, you wish you could make this. I don’t mind the slam. I bought the spatula in the last store, so I’m ready for the challenge.

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On the way home, we pull out the one thing we purchased besides half the calendar store, the spatula and four days worth of food squished into two meals: we put on the season’s first holiday album. Someone sings to us of faraway family, mistletoe and food. We sing along in the glow of the dashboard lights, nostalgic and doped up on carbs.

I get home and squirrel away my parcels, but pull out my new kitchen calendar. I put a big red circle around the day after Thanksgiving.

I can’t wait to go shopping.

~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.