When she was young, Sister Madly thought her looks were ordinary; she couldn’t understand how people even recognized her. There was nothing special about her hair or her eyes, she was short, and her nose was simply there- in other words, she was that typical, run-of-the-mill moppet that couldn’t be distinguished from any other.
In fact, her looks so ordinary, it practically made her invisible.*
* She could, however, throw a tantrum of epic proportions, which would render her invisibility temporarily null and void.
Now invisibility had its perks: she could make faces at passing strangers, not eat her vegetables, even get away with murder (once she figured out what murder was and why she would want to get away with it) all without consequence. Of course, Sister Madly would grow up being overlooked and trampled underfoot, a plight for which her mother must have some secret sympathy, enough at least to compel her to buy her daughter the mercury she’d been begging for the past week.
At is turned out, her mother hadn’t much sympathy at all, which left Sister Madly sulking in the basement with a coloring book and not an ounce of mercury to her name (nor a hammer- one simply cannot play with mercury without a hammer!) She wasn’t completely heartless, though, as she invited Serafina over in hopes of cheering Sister Madly out of her no-mercury funk.
After getting the Hula Hoop stuck in a tree yet again (a favorite pastime in the Madliverse*) the girls wandered down to the corner party store for candy cigarettes, which naturally resulted in the two deciding to cut their own hair. Serafina’s decimated lock ended up being easily tucked behind her ear, but Sister Madly’s- well, her lock stuck straight up in the back, much like the fuse on a cartoon bomb.
* Not so much for the Pater Madly, who had to retrieve said Hula Hoop.
The impromptu makeover was not a particular blow to her vanity, as Sister Madly lacked a certain awareness at that age. Surely the Mater Madly would agree that this ‘new do’ was an improvement, as Sister Madly was sporting a rather unflattering pixie cut* at the time.
* Aka, a ‘Dorothy Hamill,’ named after the only individual on the planet who could pull off such a style.
As it turned out, the ‘new do’ was as subtle as a brick through the window. There was a lengthy lecture that evening, during which the Parental Madlys explained exactly why they didn’t want their daughter personally modifying her pint-sized physique: she could harm herself, it wasn’t a necessity in order to survive, and heaven knows she wasn’t doing it for a worthy cause. It would grow back, sure, it was only hair- but it was only hair this time. They didn’t want to know what would happen next time, and sought to discourage further experimentation before Sister Madly emerged from the basement one Sunday afternoon with various piercings and badly executed tattoos.
The Mater Madly was particularly frustrated: not only were Sister Madly’s class pictures upcoming, she was also to be in her cousin’s wedding the following weekend.
Still, Sister Madly didn’t see why they made such a fuss; she was invisible, after all. Had her mother been in a slightly less end-of-the-world frame of mind, Sister Madly would have pointed out the likelihood of her pictures turning out blank- it is impossible to photograph the invisible, that’s just common sense. She also would’ve suggested that Tallulah take her place in the wedding- Sister Madly wasn’t exactly sure what a wedding was or its purpose, but her mother made it sound important, and her cousin would probably want a flower girl who could be photographed.
About a week after the wedding, the pictures revealed something rather shocking: Sister Madly was clearly visible in the photos, right down to the wispy, fuse-of-the-bomb hairdo. While initially perplexed by this development, the answer was suddenly so obvious that she felt silly for not recognizing it: Sister Madly, you see, was invisible to the world, not to herself. Therefore, just as she could see herself in a mirror, she would be able to see herself in a photo. No doubt her class picture would reflect the same.
This is the rationale that has sustained her into adulthood. Logic is a dying art.
CURRIED SUMAC PULLED CHICKEN
- Ghee/Oil for sauteing
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 6 boneless chicken thighs, whole
- 2 sweet onions, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- 2 tsp curry powder (used Japanese Curry)
- 1½ – 2 tsp Harissa
- 1½ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sumac
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- salt to taste
Saute onions until caramelized; 45-50 minutes
Add garlic; saute 3 minutes
Add spices; saute 30 secs
Add chicken; stir to coat
Add stock; bring to a boil
Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes
Shredded chicken w/2 forks in sauce
Simmer to reduce/thicken (if needed)
Let stand 2 minutes; serve
THEME SONG: Invisible, U2
Image 4.) Anna Spencer Photography
Last night, our PTA meeting ended in bloodshed ~ Welcome to Night Vale
Once upon a time, fellow WordPress wayfarer, Locksley, embarked upon a sweet little escapade around the Archipelago of Malta– albeit without the saintly Sister Madly. Not that he should feel the least bit guilty about this, mind you, with Sister Madly being something of a stranger;* however, it should be noted that any misfortune that befell Locksley during this Madly-free holiday- such as a plague of flying ants falling from the sky- was simply a coincidence.
* Yes, yes- rumors persist about how Sister Madly’s traveling companions are never seen nor heard from again, but these are the risks one takes when traveling. Besides, no one has ever proven a thing.
So after rambling around this exotic locale (without her) the valiant Locksley passed along to Sister Madly a recipe for a local delicacy- seriously, it uses an entire bottle of wine; what’s not to love? A most gracious gesture indeed, my friend.
However, finding rabbit meat in her hometown was not as easy as it should have been. The local butcher scene remains rabbit-free to this day, no doubt from the appalling lack of such creatures in the immediate area. Apparently, her town is nothing like the lush, fertile landscape of Malta (where she as never been) which is essential to the cottontail diet.
This search eventually led Sister Madly into the dark recesses of a farmer’s market, where she found a freezer simply labeled ‘game meat.’ Not wishing to look like a vegetarian to the crusty ol’ rancher, Sister Madly approached the situation as carnivorously as possible:
What sound did this beast make when it was alive?
While she didn’t find rabbit that day, she now knows what a quail sounds like.
So just as Sister Madly was threatening to eat a chicken nugget for every minute she went without a rabbit, the universe came through with an unexpected source: the seaside-residing, yet ever resourceful, Tallulah.
Now one would think that a small, coastal town would be known for its fresh seafood, not for its exotic meats- but then, who is she to decide what tickles the fancy of a seaside hamlet? Even if the carcass looked suspiciously like Tallulah’s intrepid little feline, Caviar…*
* Sans fur. And head. And feet. And everything else that makes amateur forensic identification impossible.
Until that moment, Sister Madly had been rather ambivalent on the subject of small game butchery, and would have remained so had the rabbit already been jointed. Sure, she’s cut up a chicken before, but it takes a great deal of imagination to tie this:
… to this:
Really, Mr. Butcher, if you took such care to remove the head and the feet, could you not also joint the creature? No doubt the savage finesse with which you wield a cleaver is nothing short of a culinary ballet, but stopping short of jointing is much like flossing your teeth halfway through a pirouette.
And by the way, it was most considerate of you, Mr. Butcher, to leave the kidneys in tact. It’s like finding a pearl in an oyster- a delightful, disgusting, little pearl.
At least, she assumes those were the kidneys…
After watching a video of a posh British lady jointing a rabbit on the internet- and indulging in a cider or two- Sister Madly found herself uttering those fatal words: how hard can it be?
But what started as an evening full of Let’s Make Rabbit Stew! optimism quickly became a nightmare of hacking, sawing, and a few choice words for Posh British Lady on the Internet. It’s no wonder the butcher didn’t joint the creature- it’s virtually impossible. The state penitentiary should consider reinforcing their cells with rabbit bones- nothing short of the Holy Hand Gernade was going to cut through those suckers. It would have been easier to slaughter and joint her brother-in-law.*
* Not really. Well… no, not really.
Needless to say, Sister Madly’s stew appears to be less than traditional in its presentation- that is, not served on the bone. She says ‘appears’ because she has never been to Malta, thus cannot say for certain. No doubt this was merely an oversight on the part of the valiant Locksley, much like the way one forgets to pack a toothbrush.
* A special ‘Thank You’ to Locksley– even if you did forget to take her along. She’ll overlook it- this time.
MALTESE RABBIT STEW
- 1 Rabbit, jointed
- 1 bottle full-bodied red wine, such as Cabernet
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 6-8 sprigs of thyme
- 6 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp sumac
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 16-18 cippolini or pearl onions, peeled
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 10-12 baby potatoes, cubed
- 1 cup peas
- 2 tbsp capers, rinsed
- salt and pepper, to taste
- oil, for sauteing
Marinate rabbit in garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and 1 cup wine 1 hour to overnight
In dutch oven, brown rabbit on all sides; set aside (reserve marinade)
Saute chopped onion in oil; 5 min
Deglaze with 1 cup wine; 3-5 min
Add sumac and tomato paste, mix
Add carrots, potatoes, cippolini/pearl onions, mix
Add rabbit and marinade (including bay leaves, thyme and garlic)
Mix in stock and remaining wine; bring to a boil
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1½ – 2 hours, or until meat is tender
Add peas and capers 10-15 minutes before the end of cooking
Remove bay leaves before serving
THEME SONG: White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
Mothers are strange creatures. They can be very contradictory in nature.
Take the Mater Madly: one Christmas, she gave a young Sister Madly a lovely box of crayons, then became most displeased when Sister Madly used those crayons to create a masterpiece worthy of Michelangelo* on the living room wall. Her mother displayed the same mystifying irrationality when Sister Madly, after receiving a stamp with her name on it, used said stamp all over her face.
* The Ninja Turtle, not the Artist.
Clearly Sister Madly didn’t know how to utilize the toys to her mother’s satisfaction. Hula Hoops routinely found themselves stuck up in trees, Frisbees spent weeks upon the roof, while the her dad’s cologne – which, apparently, wasn’t a toy at all – was often spotted consorting with the condiments in the refrigerator. The complexities of these toys bewildered Sister Madly so much that she would give up and wander into the woods, where she would be found playing with her growing collection of odd-looking rocks.*
* This shouldn’t have surprised her mother in the least, as ‘rock’ was Sister Madly’s first word- or so the story goes.
The final straw, no doubt, was the day Sister Madly was found living out an especially whimsical South Seas voyage in the toy box rather than with the toys kept inside of it. Her parents thought it best to procure some toys that would require Sister Madly to associate with other living beings- in this case, people- lest her isolated world became so extraordinary that she decided to dwell in it permanently.
That is when the dolls started appearing.
Now Sister Madly had nothing against dolls per se, other than the fact that all of her sweet, demented adventures would now be played out through the dolls when it should be through Sister Madly herself. They would be the ones uncovering sacred artifacts, they would be traveling in gypsy caravans, and they would be the ones exploring haunted houses on nonexistent planets accessed through secret panels located inside the bread box, while Sister Madly gets to sit there and watch. So unfair.
But that isn’t to say Sister Madly didn’t enjoy playing with the dolls; after all, she and Tallulah were typical little girls who did typical sibling things.
Take this storyline, for example (a popular one in the Madliverse) :
Aleister, who worked as an elevator attendant at a swanky resort, had one task and one task only: to retrieve the elevator whenever it went awry, as it habitually shot through the roof and landed somewhere down the beach. He was also hunted by the resort’s Head Chef, who used the Jacuzzi to make his culinary masterpieces and found the soupe du jour to be especially tasty after Aleister fell into said Jacuzzi (when one is returning an elevator to its proper place, one tends to walk blindly.)
Meanwhile, the entire town is haunted by a serial killer whose chosen M.O. includes a butcher’s knife. However, said Killer finds himself plagued with that pesky misfortune of being assigned a theme song at birth (‘The Pink Panther’ in this case) which starts to play whenever he raises his hand, thus alerting his potential victims to his presence. Due to his symphonic affliction, he is known as The Most Incompetent Serial Killer in History, with a victim count currently in the negative.
These two worlds finally converged the day Aleister retrieved the elevator from the Waffle House (where it was found working as a line cook) when he encountered The Most Incompetent Serial Killer in History. This startled Aleister so much that his legs broke off and ran away, which resulted in his arrest for indecency as his legs ran off with his pants.
Aleister’s coworker, Elliot, learned of his friend’s predicament when he encountered Aleister’s legs on the treadmill (they were training for an upcoming marathon.) Elliot, disguising himself as a Bean Sprout, broke into the jail and found a pair of diamond-studded swimming trunks (appraised at $4.2 million) in the Sergeant’s locker, which he gave to Aleister so he would not be arrested of indecency once again after escaping from jail. This theft, of course, made the Sergeant very cross…
The retrospect does not do it justice! It sounds so incredibly dull.
The bartender, however- having just overheard Sister Madly relate this story to the Professors- had but one nagging question:
“So, what was the soupe du jour?”
THAI CHICKEN AND SWEET POTATO CURRY
- 4-6 boneless chicken thighs, whole
- 1 large sweet potato, cubed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 chili peppers, chopped and seeded ~ OR ~ cayenne pepper, to taste
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 14oz. can coconut milk
- 2-3 Tbsp red curry paste
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp lime juice, or to taste
- salt to taste
Saute onion in ghee/oil until translucent, 5 min
Add garlic, saute 1-2 min
Add curry paste, chilies, spices and bay leaf, cook for 30 sec
Add sweet potato, chicken, broth, fish sauce and coconut milk
Mix and bring to a boil
Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 min
Uncover and shred chicken (in sauce) with 2 forks
Continue to simmer uncovered to reduce and thicken, 10-15 min
Stir in lime juice and remove from heat
THEME SONG: Your Favourite Toy, Michael Cretu
2.) Doll Created by Julien Martinez
Every Child is an Artist.
The Problem is
How to Remain an Artist ~
When we grow up.
~ Pablo Picasso
1.) “Autumn Rose (Self-Portrait)” Autumn de Forest, age 12
2.) “Sea Breeze” by Kieron Williamson, age 10
3.) “Eagle Nebula” by Aelita Andre, age 7
4.) Dusan Krtolica, age 11
5.) “Limit of the Apple” by Victoria Yin, age 12
The smile that greeted Sister Madly that December day of yesteryear was one she hoped to never see again, for it was the smile that always preceded something disagreeable. And clearly, this was going to be more disagreeable than simply hauling a wagon through the snow to deliver homemade bread to the neighbors.
But it ended up being much more ghastly than anything the 8 year-old could have imagined.
It was the Living Nativity.
What made this so disagreeable was that she was living in Michigan at the time- the ideal place to have an outdoor Nativity in the dead of winter; absolutely ideal.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Great Lakes Region in the middle of December, allow Sister Madly to provide you with a brief synopsis:
…as opposed to where she lives now:
It was after a proper period of sulking (and a lecture from her parents) that Sister Madly decided to see this unsolicited obligation as the opportunity to flaunt her most excellent theatrical abilities- after all, who knew what Hollywood guru would be in attendance that night? Her dread was further mollified by the news that she was not to be a shepherd boy as was first thought, but rather, a King.
But this was no ordinary Christmas Pageant: there were no lines, indeed no speaking of any kind, not even a song- which was most fortunate for those within earshot, as Sister Madly cannot carry a tune with a forklift.* In fact, there was nothing required of her but to stand perfectly still, and be completely silent. While this ventured dangerously close to mime territory, Sister Madly refused to cross that savage boundary and decided to convey kingly majesty through her presence alone, just as any brilliant thespian would.
* She is not licensed to drive a forklift, either.
So on the appointed evening, Sister Madly, along with her parents and Tallulah (all of whom were, no doubt, plotting to steal her spotlight) found themselves at the First Church of the Middle of Nowhere. There was no sign of the Hollywood Guru, but he most likely wanted to be inconspicuous and hid the Rolls Royce.
Now Sister Madly knew better than to expect Broadway quality costumes from a country church, but even her simple expectations proved to be too high. The King’s costume wasn’t so much pulled over her neon, insanely-puffy winter coat (which glowed sweetly beneath the blue fabric like a cartoon x-ray) as Sister Madly was stuffed inside of it. And she had to wear the puffy coat- not for any sensible reason, like the weather, but because it made the robe fit more snugly as the costume was meant for an adult, not an child.
A child… Sister Madly was seriously offended at being lumped into a demographic to which she actually belonged- an indignation that was further provoked when she was told that she would be standing on a milk crate because she was too short. Of all the nerve…
While the other Kings wore winter coats as well, they had nowhere near the puffability as her neon monstrosity. Sister Madly was almost perfectly round, and moved with all the grace and speed of an imbalanced washing machine. She looked less like a king and more like Violet the Blueberry in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
It was as terrifying as it was magnificent to behold.
But Sister Madly reminded herself that this wasn’t just a still-life production centered around the Baby Jesus- who was noticeably absent from the Manger- it was an epic tale about a Mysterious King of Orient-R. And Sister Madly, with her plastic jewelry and her arms sticking straight out at her sides, she was that King, chosen to bear the hallowed gift of Murder-
Myrrh? What in tarnation is myrrh?
“It’s a burial spice.”
…because the person’s been murdered?
“Because the person is dead.”
Where does murder fit in?
So no murder, then. Just gold and something called myrrh…
Wait- what about about Frankenstein? Sister Madly’s wrong about that too, isn’t she? It’s actually Frank-and-Beans?
“Frankincense. Also a spice.”
And just like that, a piece of her childhood slipped away. Gone, now, were the days of Gold, Frankenstein, and Murder; gone was the mysterious land of Orient-R. Sister Madly wasn’t a King, nor royalty of any sort; she was just an 8 year-old moppet in a puffy coat, standing on a milk crate in the midst of a Nativity that sadly lacked a Baby Jesus.
There had better be cocoa afterwards.
THEME SONG: King of Wishful Thinking, Go West
Sister Madly recently told a friend that when it comes to a Crazy Cat Lady, ‘crazy’ depicts the cat, not the lady.
She stands by this claim, by golly.
Now Sister Madly, herself, has 13 cats by proxy- 3 through the Professors, 2 via Tallulah, 1 outside the Pub, and 7 throughout the neighborhood. But this was not always the case; just a few years ago, Sister Madly had but 1: Tallulah’s cat, Caviar.
On the surface, Caviar is all fluff and cuddles, driven by a bloodlust for moths, canned peas, and pine needles, and is as much of a fan of hard cider as Sister Madly. Many a winter’s night he would curl up in her lap, licking cider off her fingers while Tallulah tutted her maternal disapproval, which was largely ignored. Indeed, Caviar was a lazy, languorous drunk.
But if one were to look straight into his soul: madness- sweet, cider-marinated madness. Yes, Sister Madly is proud of that little demon psychopath, having perfected the art of crazy with methods entirely of his own devising. It was most unfortunate that Caviar was not around during Sister Madly’s childhood to pass along some Tallulah-terrorizing tips, although her own signature move of sitting as close as possible to Tallulah- without actually touching- was a wicked success.
Unfortunately, Tallulah was not around for Caviar’s Masterpiece; no, she was out on something called a ‘date’ with someone called a ‘boyfriend’ due to this newfangled thing called ‘love’ the moment Sister Madly realized that half of her shoelace was missing. Had Tallulah mentioned that she would be away for most of the weekend (like a good elder sibling should) no doubt Caviar would have postponed his gastronomic escapade until she was all cozy at home in pink bunny slippers, painting her nails.
One would think that the rancid, I-hope-that-was-mud-I-just-stepped-in aftertaste that all shoelaces possess would have persuaded Caviar to abandon his hearty consumption, but being of the Madly mindset, he reasoned that there could be no funky aftertaste if he just kept on eating.* This resulted in an unhappy Caviar who spent the weekend deliberately making himself unsoft- thus no fun to pet- all the while giving Sister Madly the evil eye as though she had stuffed him full of shoelaces like a turkey on Thanksgiving.
* Hearty shoelace consumption causes tummy-aches. For your FYI.
Once Caviar grew tired of that shoelace mucking up his system, he decided to rid himself of it in the most natural way possible- and by that, Sister Madly means the way that Mother Nature had designed.
This turned out to be rather unpleasant for all parties involved.
You see, the shoelace that is ingested whole is returned whole; it does not magically separate inside a cat’s tummy, nor does it disintegrate (as Sister Madly was hoping it would.) Thus the feline that consumes 20 inches of shoelace returns 20″ of shoelace.
Unfortunately, Caviar could only manage 18” on the return, which immediately sent him into a Prima Donna’s tantrum, hissing and caterwauling about the apartment willy-nilly. Sister Madly tried to reason with him, explaining that while his situation was not ideal, it was impossible to run away from the shoelace while the shoelace was still a part of him. She likened it to the few times he had tried chasing his tail, but Caviar was having none of it. Cat logic, you see, holds no respect for the reasoning of mankind.
Now the one thing Sister Madly was told was that under no circumstance should she pull the shoelace out, as it could harm the pathetic little creature. Not that she had any desire to do so; the shoelace made him look like a pull-string doll, and she wasn’t too keen on finding out what Caviar would say if she gave it a tug. She had seen the Talky Tina Twilight Zone episode and had learned a thing or two.
But what’s more is that, thanks to Mother Nature, the returning shoelace was not a clean shoelace, not by any stretch of the imagination. This presented a whole new set of problems as the apartment was rapidly become unsanitary; and as ignoring the problem wasn’t making it go away (oh, how she tried!) Sister Madly- accompanied by Dean Martin’s That’s Amore– spent upwards of 10 minutes chasing Caviar around with a towel, hoping to somehow herd him into the bathroom where he could work out his issues like an adult.
But it was not necessary; throwing the towel over Caviar resulted in a spastic, get-this-neon-terrycloth-horror-off-of-me ritual exorcism, which was enough to free him from the shoelace as well.
Five minutes later, he came begging for cider.
* To those with the horribly twisted minds that Sister Madly so admires, no- the shoelace was not reusable.
THEME SONG: That’s Amore, Dean Martin
It was a common sight that summer, the old refrigerator box moving upright across the lawn.
To the untrained eye it was a free-spirited box, pouncing upon puffball mushrooms and chasing fireflies with unmistakable good cheer. But what the untrained eye did not realize was that this wasn’t just childhood whimsy; this was a mission of the highest caliber, one that demanded both stealth and discretion.
You see, Sister Madly was utterly convinced that her neighbor, Harry, was a Russian spy.
It was not an easy conclusion to reach as the classic signs of Russian pride were absent, such as fur hats and vodka parties, and bowls of borscht on a Saturday night. But there was no mistaking the subtler signs, the ones sadly overlooked by the federal government: the mowing of the lawn before 7 AM; the cans of fruit cocktail he gave to children on Halloween; the disapproval when Sister Madly’s hula hoop got stuck in his tree ‘yet again.’ Yet the incident that all but confirmed Harry’s Soviet sympathies was the night questionable music drifted from the shed tucked away behind his house.
A song that referenced alien abduction.*
* Come Sail Away by Styx
All the music that ever mattered could be found at the roller rink, sandwiched between Roxette’s Joyride and the closing anthem of We Are the World. But this little ditty which encouraged extra-terrestrial naughtiness was nowhere to be found at these skating parties, leading Sister Madly to the obvious conclusion that the song was a code to be deciphered.
Even though the word ‘alien’ never appears in the song, by simply mentioning a starship, the aliens are implied- which was a clever move on the part of the Russians. The ‘alien’ was without a doubt Harry as he proved himself a stranger by strangely suggesting that Sister Madly was not using her hula hoop properly since she kept getting it stuck up in the tree.
As for the starship, there was no such craft parked in his driveway, nor on the street in front of his house. Obviously Harry had the craft hidden away, which could only mean that the starship was inflatable. Yes, somewhere on that property there was a zeppelin stuffed into a coffee can, ready to be inflated and deployed at a moment’s notice- and that moment was approaching. Clearly this was the message hidden in the song. A brilliant lot, them Russians.
And just as Sister Madly was congratulating herself on the cracking of this code, there came a polite knock on the side of her box.
But it wasn’t Harry; it was her dad. And it seemed that after days of watching the refrigerator box amble through it’s many misadventures, he managed to work up just enough curiosity to ask what it was that Sister Madly was doing.
Maybe she should tell him about Harry- after all, when it came to fighting international spies, her dad was probably a bit more capable than she.
To her surprise, the Pater Madly did not seem particularly threatened by the Russians; in fact, he seemed to imply that his greatest foes were a bit little closer to home- the bats living in the chimney, for example. And the wasp’s nest.
Sister Madly had to admit that she did not know which country was currently #1 on the International Espionage Watch List. Perhaps Russia was so last Tuesday. Perhaps another nation was now a greater threat, someplace mysterious and largely unfathomable- like Paducah.
But just as it was with Russia, the badges of Kentucky pride were absent, such as silver spurs. Harry didn’t wear silver spurs, not even with his comfy, tasseled loafers. But he did whistle now and then, to prove his good cheer. Yes, Paducah was a possibility.
Not only was her dad remarkably unconcerned, he was amused, which made Sister Madly wonder if he was a spy as well. After all, he made ice tea in the old apple juice jars, and in the refrigerator one couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Because of this, Sister Madly was often given ice tea ‘by mistake’- which is just the thing a spy would do, in her opinion.
The Pater Madly, however, did nothing to deny – or defend – his ties with Russia (or those with Paducah, for that matter.) Instead, he simply informed Sister Madly that he had gotten her hula hoop out of the tree.
And on the advice of her father, Sister Madly did her best not to get the hula hoop stuck up in Harry’s tree- if her dad was doing his part to improve relations with Russia, she might as well do hers.
She got it stuck on the roof of the garage instead.
THEME SONG: Come Sail Away, Styx
4) Paula Strahan
There comes a time in every child’s life where one must face that dreaded rite of passage: the ambiguous ‘science project.’
If Sister Madly had known all the loopholes, such as time machine = clock, or better yet, cooking = chemistry, she would have had her mother bake a couple dozen cookies and be done with it. With little hesitation, both parents deemed proving the existence of unicorns impractical to the scientific community, yet supported her decision to dismember her sibling and replace the limbs with butterfly wings so long as Sister Madly was willing to clean up afterwards (which she wasn’t.) In the end, Sister Madly chose an experiment out of some How to Scientifically Take Over the World book that she once found wrapped up under a Christmas tree.
And that experiment was to bleach a rose. With sulfur.*
* The book mysteriously disappeared after the completion of this science project.
There was some concern about this project from the onset, in particular the obtaining of the roses. After all, Sister Madly knew just how expensive these flowers could be (He got you a dozen roses?! It MUST be love!) which was why they were so treasured. Growing the roses herself was simply out of the question- to this day, plants refuse to photosynthesize in her presence. She decided that her parents’ budget would allow for 3 roses: a practice run, the actual project, and one unbleached rose to compare. She wouldn’t need more than that because science projects always turn out perfectly the first time around- especially when it involves an 8 year-old playing with fire.
Her parents, however, had a slightly different- and, in Sister Madly’s opinion, utterly preposterous- concern: where, dear child, are you going to get the sulfur?
Contrary to popular belief, one does not just pop off to Sulfur Express to get this element, nor does the average citizen keep a stockpile in the garage next to the Harley. And while certain religious texts believe sulfur* to be an important ingredient in the Lake of Fire, neither her parents nor the school board approved of the lengthy, transcendental holiday it would take to obtain the sulfur, much less the destination. Her school wasn’t very Hell-friendly.
*Brimstone = Sulfur
Then again, she once heard that onions contain sulfur, thus saw no reason why setting fire to an onion would not produce the desired effect. Her parents did not agree.
It was her science teacher, through a connection at the local college, who later obtained the sulfur. As Sister Madly now had all the components, she was quite ready to bleach the rose and successfully take over the world.
However: Rose + Chemical + Fire = Father doing the project while Sister Madly watches.
With her father at the reigns, the project went off without a hitch (although it took a total of 5 roses.) But it wasn’t enough for Sister Madly to walk into school the next day and announce that the experiment had been a success; no, not only was she required to turn in the completed project, she was to present it to the class.
What do you mean that Sister Madly has to understand and explain the science behind this project? Isn’t the fact that a rose transformed from red to white in the seclusion of her own backyard with absolutely no witnesses cool enough on its own? The How to Scientifically Take Over the World book didn’t explain how this experiment worked, only that it does work and quite frankly, that’s good enough for her.
Mind you, when all this occurred, the average family was still several years away from regular internet access. Sister Madly didn’t know any pro-science adults who could explain to her the sulfur phenomenon (she wasn’t very social) and didn’t know where to begin researching it in the library (not that she had any desire to do so.) Faced with these impossible options, Sister Madly decided that it was necessary to bluff her way through, figuring that if she threw enough scientific-sounding words around, she would pass.
And bluff she did, attributing the bleaching phenomenon to static electricity: when exposed to fire in an enclosed area, the sulfur produces an electrical charge which causes its particles to cling to the rose, thus turning it white.
It is not known whether the teacher bought this snake oil sales pitch, or whether he simply admired her audacity, but that day Sister Madly adjourned for recess with not only with a passing grade, but the confidence that school was a waste of time as her science teacher was no more wiser than she.
20+ years later, Sister Madly finally knows the science behind this experiment.* It hasn’t enhanced her life in the slightest.
* When sulfur burns it produces sulfur dioxide- which acts as a bleaching agent- reducing the pigments, thus turning the rose white. Re-oxidizing the reduced pigments restores the color, which can be as simple by exposing the reduced dyes to the oxygen in the atmosphere.
It happens to the best of us, that close call of almost having to marry your sister.
It’s the same old story: one minute, you’re sitting at your favorite pub with a few pints of cider, then the next your elder sister is sitting across from you, asking if you’d be willing to take the place of the man who was suppose to marry her in 10 days. He flaked out, you see. How typical.
It’s the classic American love story.
The conversation didn’t begin that way; in fact, they were discussing the wedding cake that Tallulah had picked out. Sister Madly implored her to do away with the
yucky questionable fruit filling, which is an atrocity meant for things like food fights and PB & Jam sandwiches, not heavenly, life-altering cake. Not if you want your friends to actually like you. Seriously, toothpaste or kibble would be a far more user friendly filling.
It was then that Tallulah broke the news of He-Who-Flaked-Out-of-the-Wedding, that she just might need Sister Madly to take his place, which left Sister Madly gaping like a large-mouth bass (albeit, a fetching one.) She should have seen this coming. A few weeks after her engagement, Tallulah had warned that this might be a possibility; but that was over 14 months ago, when Sister Madly had ample time to prepare by drinking constantly. Or joining a circus. Or being institutionalized. Or at least by brushing her hair.
Yet like any decent elder sibling, Tallulah understood her apprehension, saying that if Sister Madly had any better suggestions, she was more than willing to consider them.
Oh, but Sister Madly had suggestions, and plenty of them; yet Tallulah managed to find fault with them all- even with the one that was so logical and so horribly practical, it was clearly above reproach:
Summon Cthulhu, you say? Sure, Sister Madly, that’s a plan- not a good one, but a plan.
But summoning Cthulhu takes a bit of time; there’s chanting and worship and travel and finding about 3000 expendable souls for him to snack on along the way. It would do no good to have him feasting on all the wedding guests in the middle of Tallulah’s vows. That’s bound to ruin a couple of friendships.
But much like Cthulhu, Sister Madly doesn’t just marry a desperate soul on a whim. There needs to be a sit-down where the ceremony is planned out and vows are discussed- and let’s not forget that whole fruit filling issue, although Tallulah seemed to hint that she would be willing to change said filling to a glorious chocolate bliss if Sister Madly would only do her this favor.*
* Turns out, Tallulah never hinted any such a thing. That was the cider talking.
Seeing as her options were becoming all-the-more limited, Sister Madly decided to utilize the barter system- Tallulah was, after all, family.
Will you play Safety Dance at the reception?
How about Dancing with Myself?
I’ll think about it.
How about the bagpipes at dusk?
You hate Twister.
How about Safety Dance during-
THERE WILL BE NO SAFETY DANCE!!!
Will you hire someone to pose as Slender Man in the photos?
Ha Ha Ha Ha! (For those of you who unfamiliar with Tallulah-speak, that is a ‘no.’)
Will you at least pick up the tab tonight?
I suppose I can do that.
When one considers how much cider Sister Madly consumed not only before, but after that initial proposal, the joke was on Tallulah.
As it turned out, Sister Madly did not have to marry her own sister 10 days later; Tallulah, you see- the ever intrepid, down-to-earth Tallulah- found someone else to officiate the wedding, relieving the panicky Sister Madly of the duty of performing the ceremony for her sister and brother-in-law.
Sister Madly still doesn’t understand why Tallulah objected to Cthulhu, as he is the High Priest of the Great Old Ones. Clergy officiate weddings all the time.
For those uncertain: Sister Madly was asked to officiate (perform) the wedding ceremony for Tallulah and the now Mr. Tallulah. While Sister Madly loves her sister, she herself isn’t quite ready for marriage.
It is no secret that Sister Madly’s lineage is one of bootleggers, barbarians, gamblers and smugglers- and those are just the ladies.
By the age of 15, Sister Madly’s great-grandmother was not only married, but making moonshine; yet tales of these exploits paled by comparison to the ones that emerged during Prohibition (1919 -1933), when she began making bathtub gin. While illness to near blindness was common amongst the clientele in the early days, Sister Madly is still disappointed that the family recipe was not passed down to future generations- seriously, what else is she going to do with her bathtub?
Despite the nomadic blood in their veins, her grandparents had managed to settle into a more conventional lifestyle. Yes, much like your very own household, the Halls of the Elder Madly estate were slick with an electric organ, a fully-stocked cocktail bar, several antique slot machines and good, old-fashioned melancholy. Sure, it was a bit like the Phantom’s Lair meets Voodoo Magic after a mid-1960’s renovation, but that doesn’t mean it was short on charm. Or polka albums. Or false walls. Mysterious drafts and unexplained noises. The sense of never quite being alone. Spiders. And pin-up playing cards.
Never one to be a gregarious little supernova, Sister Madly often spent family holidays in the comfort of the mysterious drafts and the slot machines. Her grandparents took to this antisocialism as though Sister Madly were some sort of child prodigy instead of a wayward little urchin outlining bodies in chalk at the bottom of dimly-lit stairwells. The laundry chute became the clandestine way Tallulah would pass candy to Sister Madly down in the basement on the days Tallulah chose to socialize with the adults- although sometimes, Sister Madly was forced to retrieve the treats herself when elder sis FORGOT ABOUT HER.
Not that she holds a grudge or anything…
It was during one such solo mission that Sister Madly discovered the sliver sleigh bell that she would one day come to inherit. Actually, the sleigh bell had been on the mantle all along, but that was the day she became curious about it- enough to delay the mission to the candy dish and ask certain questions. Yes, she was that curious.
The story is that this sleigh bell was smuggled into America by one of Sister Madly’s great-grandmothers when she emigrated from Finland. It is said that the Finnish Government back in the day frowned upon the natives leaving the country in favor of new adventures, so to discourage the wanderlust, those emigrating were allowed to take with them very little money and absolutely nothing of value. Thus Sister Madly‘s great-grandmother departed Finland with nothing more than a wild aspiration and a silver sleigh bell, which she had hidden inside a ball of yarn.
Why a sleigh bell, you ask. Sister Madly would like you to believe that it was Great-Grandma’s way of giving society the ol’ middle finger- or whatever gesture is the Finnish equivalent. And while Sister Madly finds this to be a most delightful theory, it begs the question of whether border patrol was simply inexperienced in detecting sleigh bells hidden inside balls of yarn, or if this was part of a greater plot to infect America with a lunacy that can only be transmitted by a sweet, sleigh bell trafficking, 19 year-old who did not even pretend to know how to knit.
*At this same age, Sister Madly was living her own dream of joyriding scissor lifts through the mall. Never lose those stars in your eyes, Moppet.
Therein lies the proof that Sister Madly is, without a doubt, of this same bloodline: not because she gets a kick out of transporting knives inside of socks or substituting absinthe for Mountain Dew, but by the way she defiantly buys skeins of yarn without even knowing how to knit.
Blood, you see, is thicker than moonshine.
FRENCH ONION BARLEY
- 5 onions, sliced (used 2 red, 3 yellow)
- 2-3 Tbsp butter/oil
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 8 oz mushrooms (opt)
- 2/3 cup dry barley, rinsed of riffraff
- 4 cups beef or mushroom broth
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp thyme
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed, rolled-out and cut into squares
- 1 egg, beaten
FRENCH ONION BARLEY
Melt butter/oil in dutch oven
Add onions, stirring to coat
Lower heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally (every 5-8 minutes or so)
Continue until onions are caramelized (45-60 minutes)
Add mushrooms and sauté (5 minutes)
Add red wine to deglaze pan
Add broth, spices and bring to a boil
Add barley and stir
Reduce to a simmer and cover
Simmer for 45 minutes or until barley is tender
Divide soup into oven-proof ramekins
Pull pastry square taut over the top of each bowl
Press pastry against rim of bowl to seal the edges
Brush pastry with the beaten egg
Place bowls on baking sheet and bake @ 400* for 20 min (do not open oven before 15- pastry may fall)
THEME SONG: Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Dervish. Or Cher. You choose.
At an early age, Sister Madly learned to master some heavy-handed life-hacks, such as respiration and how to use a bendy straw. But one such life-hack that continued to elude her throughout her childhood was how to properly utilize a knife in polite society.
One would think that with Sister Madly’s inclination for all things medieval that she was born wielding the weapon- but this does not guarantee the corresponding intuition of proper knife utilization. Sure, Sister Madly knows the basic safety measures when harvesting human organs down in the secret sub-cellar, and no doubt she could become an expert in fancy knife theatrics in very little time (say, 60 years or so); one can even imagine her as a plucky little lass climbing a ship’s rigging with a knife clenched between her teeth (difficult to do, by the way, without salivating like a St. Bernard.) Yet it took her a substantial amount of time to grasp the fundamentals of knife etiquette at the dinner table- to the point of embarrassment.
She often wondered why her parents had the nerve to serve her food that required a knife and fork when they knew that she was shamelessly incompetent with said knife and fork in the first place (even at that age, Sister Madly was conceited, lazy and naughty.) More often than not, Sister Madly contemplated eating these impossible meals with her hands, but that would probably result in another “you weren’t born in a barn” lecture- although she couldn’t quite understand why this was an insult, seeing as Jesus was born in a barn and some say that he is the Messiah.
The whole situation frustrated her mother the most. “Your father is not going to be there to cut your food for you when you’re on a date, you know.”
Sister Madly was actually rather pleased with this statement, as it assured her that her father would not be tagging along on her dates in later years. Still, that didn’t make the food-cutting task any easier, with the fork held in a clumsy fist and the knife routinely falling to the floor; one could trace such behavior back to her Viking roots, which of course her mother would not understand since these roots are said to be paternal in origin.*
* While Sister Madly may exhibit barbaric tendencies, there is no actual proof that she is of Viking heritage as no one has been able to trace her family tree back more than 3 or 4 generations. But if it can‘t be proven, neither can it be refuted.
Then one evening, her father offered up this modest suggestion:
At first, this seemed illogical. Why, things like pencils, pens, machetes, battleaxes and grenades automatically found their way into her right hand ever since she could remember; surely using a knife with her left would cause the rivers of the world to flow backwards while bringing about the apocalypse. While she was okay with that, Sister Madly still wanted the opportunity to go on a date at least once before the end of the world.
Still, her father had never deliberately steered her wrong (a quality that Sister Madly did not inherit, she is proud to say.) And it is quite possible that she would hit it off with one of the Four Horseman, should her dad be wrong- a date with Famine would most likely not result in sawing away at a stuffed pheasant in some fine French restaurant.
So she switched hands.
And it worked like a dream.
It was this bit of parental insight that has sustained Sister Madly into
maturity adulthood. Tasks that were next to impossible with her right hand have become effortless with her left, such as throwing a Frisbee, peeling vegetables, striking matches (again, totally inept until the moment she switched hands*) and most importantly, writing on mirrors in lipstick.
* Note: the sudden increase of mysterious fires around town the day after this discovery was purely coincidental.
Sister Madly has yet to go on a date where she is required to use a knife- to cut food, that is. There are other uses for a knife, you know.
THEME SONG: Cuts You Up, Peter Murphy