But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane In proving foresight may be vain; The best-laid scheme o' mice an' men Gang aft agley An' lea'e us nought by grief an' pain For promised joy! To a Mouse, on Turning Her up Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785 Robert Burns
We often see January as a time of new beginnings. New year, new start, new resolutions. We tell ourselves we will lose the extra weight, get that new job, start that new business, break those bad habits, or let go of old hurts.
We boldly declare that this year will be our year. Yeah. Because that’s gone so well over the past couple of years.
Like the mouse in Burns’ poem, we’ve built our nest and we expect it to carry us through hard times. We get our financial affairs in order, make and exceed career goals, set intentions, and do other sundry tasks we sometime refer to as adulting. We get our degree, get job training, and expect smooth sailing.
What we don’t expect is a plough to overturn everything. Figuratively speaking.
For myself and my household, 2022 has indeed been the year a plough overturned our nest. At least in the first month. I had an entire month’s worth of content vaguely planned, a schedule to work by, plans for a new business venture in the works, and a new chapter of life I had planned and was excited to start.
Then, someone in our house got COVID. The Omicron variant. What should have been a month of productivity, success, and strides forward has turned a month of sickness, recovery, nursing family members back to health, and trying to recover my own strength.
Till crash! the cruel Coulter past Out thro' thy cell
Crash indeed. That’s precisely what it felt like when I felt myself get sick. The poet Burns put it very succinctly indeed.
How does a mouse survive when their burrow has been destroyed? Well, I suspect (optimistically perhaps) that the mouse did her best to find new shelter. Winter notwithstanding.
In other words, she started over again.
Solid advice for mice and men alike. Or women.
“Just start over” seems like the sort of dismissive advice given by people who are themselves secure and don’t have to face the same hardship. It’s easy enough to say, right?
Variations include “you’ll land on your feet,” “just get out there,” “just be persistence,” and so forth.
I’ve heard all of the above often enough throughout my life. At the time, none of it was particularly helpful. In the moment when the floor’s been taken from under you all the good advice in the world sounds trite.
But comfort food nearly always hits the spot. So, I turned to a spot of comfort food in honor of Burns Night!
Burns Night is not so very well-known outside Scotland. We may have Highland Games in the States, but very few people know of Burns night. Or observe it despite the fact that a good portion of the population in the United States has Scottish ancestry. The bulk of Appalachian culture has roots in the Highlands and country music itself wouldn’t exist without the Scottish and Irish folk music which came over with the successive waves of immigration in the nineteenth century.
As someone of Scottish ancestry, one of the main priorities I had for 2022 was to celebrate Burns night. While we didn’t parade the haggis in with bagpipes and recite Robert Burns’ Address to a Haggis–we are still in recovery at my house after all–we enjoyed a very low-key evening with haggis, Cranachan, and, in my case, the last of my father’s Glenfarclas.
True haggis cannot really be sourced in the States which is a true pity. It sounds like the most horrific concoction ever conceived but it’s pure heaven to eat. The spices and the richness of the meat is just what’s needed on a very cold day. Particularly if you’re coming off a spell of ill health like I have.
Thankfully, I found a marvelous recipe for “simplified haggis” which attempts to replicate the flavor without some ingredients. While lamb and chicken liver may still not be to everyone’s liking, I can assure you, it’s quite addictive!
To put this into perspective, the receipt makes enough for 4-6 people. My mother and I finished almost the entire receipt by ourselves in the course of one evening and had more for breakfast the next day. And made a fresh batch for our supper that night.
Yes, it’s that good!
Of course, no night of comfort food is complete without dessert! For Burns night, this means a Scottish take on trifle. Any Cranachan made in the States isn’t going to be quite the same, like the haggis, primarily because Scottish raspberries have a very different flavor.
But oh, a bit of whipped cream with berries is a treat that doesn’t get old. And you can’t go too far wrong with fresh berries–means the dessert is healthy, right?
I, of course, had to do a few adjustments of my own since I’m on a low-sugar, low-carb diet. I had to eliminate the honey and the sugar from Christiana’s recipe entirely and since I didn’t have any scotch which could be used for cooking (I wasn’t about to use my high-end single malt stash!), I did a very American substitution: bourbon.
I know, I know, bourbon is no substitute for scotch. But when you’ve been in quarantine for a couple of weeks and don’t have the energy to think about an appropriate and less costly scotch to use instead of your favorite single-malt, needs must.
And considering bourbon originated with Scottish immigrants to the United States, I felt it was appropriate to the occasion.
I even put some in the haggis. What? I was doing Americanized haggis anyway, might was well do an Americanized Cranachan.
Still thou art blest, coward wi' me The present only toucheth thee: But, Och! I backwardness cast my e'e, On prospects drear! An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear! To a Mouse, on Turning Her up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785 Robert Burns
Comfort food may not solve all your problems–in fact too much of it can make things worse, but when you’ve just been through a major life change or upset, it can certainly help put you on your feet again. Or at least make things seems a little brighter so you can make it through to fight another day.
Burn’s final stanza of To a Mouse actually has some of the best advice you can give. He tells the mouse of the worries behind and before him–while she only has to worry about the present. This is both figurative and literal.
Ploughing the field means you can see where you’ve been and how far you have to go. But the human mind is constantly engaged in what’s happened and what will happened. Which means, if you struggle with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness you can’t just focus on the moment.
The mouse, being an animal, is actually better equipped to deal with the present moment. It’s a basic survival instinct.
Perhaps, then, what Burns is really saying here, is that we need to be more present in the here in now. Focus on what you can change from moment to moment, let go the past, and allow the future to unfold how it will.
For my family, it’s been a long road to recovery. The worst thing is the fatigue. We’re all desperately trying to regain equilibrium and get back to normal, but, as I have discovered, my own body doesn’t cooperate. I accomplish one task and I’m wiped out for the rest of the day. I work hard one day and the next day I can barely move.
Dealing with the present is a lot easier when you’re sick. Or recovering. I will say that much!
If your 2022 is turning into yet another round of 2020, then I would encourage you to have a nice comfort dinner, read some Burns, and, like the mouse, worry about the present.
Sometimes, it’s the only way to recover.
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