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Monthly Archives: March 2006

Getting Dirty with Friends

A few weeks ago, friends came to visit from Florida; Mike and Patty, and their kids Little Mike and Taylor. They’d had a very unpleasant experience at our old business, and Mike was hurt, angry and confused. The awkward thing was, even though we had nothing to do with the offense and even though we couldn’t control the behaviors of those involved, we felt badly, because it was clear he’d been singled out and attacked because he is one of the few friends from our past who refuses to cease any and all communication with us. It’s a situation that is all sort of surreal, like a bad B-movie where the actions of all the characters come across as overblown and false because there is no realistic motivation or explanation for it. Anyway, we invited the Chesleys to visit, hoping to get their mind off the entire episode and to remind them to laugh. We had one rule. No talking about the event, or our former school. Life is too short, ya know.


When they pulled up, Mike got their luggage out of the car and then reached in and pulled out his nifty cowboy hat. Ha The boy was ready to go country. We were not about to let him down. We had a wonderful four days. We went four wheeling (his son could do this 24-7-365) and horse back riding. We made marshmallows on a big bonfire and the girls explored the creek. Mike is a ruff and ready outdoor type, and he is most at home getting grubby. He is a paintball king; an ex-hunter (which allowed us to enjoy a campfire without me having to preach) has two four-wheelers of his own, etc….

While we were out taking care of the horses, I was busy picking mud out of hooves, when he turned to me and said, “I’m so shocked to see you like this.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Getting so dirty.”

Ha. That was too good an opening. I said, “Come on Mike, you know I’m about the dirtiest girl of your acquaintance.” And I winked. Love making Mike blush, don’t ya know.

He said, ‘You know what I mean. Getting all muddy. Mucking with horses and all.”

Now, I do understand that people who know me from my dance world often think that is all there is. I have a certain persona there; I am always running around in sporty clothes, doing the cosmopolitan dance thing, sequins and makeup never more than a reach away. I have that New York image from my past hanging on which makes people tag you a certain way.


But Mike is the friend I zeroed in on to be a partner in the great adventure race in Blue Ridge – a 9 hour race that includes running, biking, canoeing, and surprise “adventures” like tree climbing or wading through a mid pit.  At the last recital, we spent days making jokes about it backstage. (I didn’t pursue it this year due to all the upheaval of moving and construction – and I’m not in good enough shape – and … the sun is in my eyes ……. Ummm… please fill in the blanks with any more excuses that might work……) the point is, he knows I am more than a dance teacher.


Mike said, “I know you are sporty, but I thought that meant running and tennis and Nike shoes and stuff. Not THIS.”

Well, welcome to the real me, Mike. A girl can get dirty in lots of ways, and the older I get the more I’m thinking this is the only “dirty” that anyone cares to witness.


The next day, we took them square dancing. What a hoot. I got a chance to see the boy’s real talent (he was a natural) I danced with Mike, Little Mike and Kent. Only danced with Mark once (guess we’ve danced enough together for one lifetime so the urgency to gather his wife in his arms for a spin isn’t there). Patty danced with Mike, Little Mike, Kent and Mark. The two little girls danced together (and with some adults, who thought they were fun – even though a bit short for a dos-se-do). It was a novel experience – one they won’t forget anytime soon, I’m guessing. And Mike kept looking at his wife and saying, “Isn’t this fantastic. Don’t you think it would be great to live here?” Ah – that is how it begins. Watch out…


We took them to the art galleries and shops, to papa’s pizza buffet (where we play this dumb word game with total intensity like it is the word Olympics or something) Mike ate an entire blueberry pizza himself. Amazing.  The next day we went to Sue’s Best Burger in Town, where I humiliated Mike in a rousing game of air hockey. I happen to be undefeated (which is totally a lie, and I’m just writing this to annoy any opponents who might read this….. but I’m fierce, win or lose.)  We even went to Helen, an old Bavarian style town to shop and look around. They were out of corndogs (the nerve), but had an art festival going on, so we forgave them. Mike was amazed by the wood turning some artists displayed and later, went with Mark to the studio to met his teacher and see Mark’s work. Now, naturally, HE wants to learn to turn too. It is a man thing, this fascination with wood.

It was all a fun adventure.


They went home, feeling better, so the visit was a success. They were supposed to come visit again this week for Spring break, but the entire family caught the flue. Gee, the lengths people will go to avoid getting beat in air hockey.


This week, my best friend Jody Smith has come to visit with her son Kyle (Kent’s best friend) and her grandson Sebbie (who is a perfect companion for Neva). It is so fun “showing off” my new life. Yesterday, we went four wheeling and had a weenie roast at the land, tromped through our house construction site (the entire house is now framed – it is getting so exciting.)

The funny thing is, Jody wasn’t at all surprised to see me mucky. This time it was ME who was surprised. Jody grabbed a horse and started talking to him, and I asked if she ever rode, and she laughed and said, “I grew up on a farm and we owned horses.” Well, ya learn something new everyday. Jody was a camper, horse woman and competitor and all that, when young. Funny, how you can be friends for years and not know a detail like that. We didn’t ride yesterday, because it was rather cold, but tomorrow it will be 60, so we will. We will do the galleries today, and I want to take Sebbie to the feed store to look at the young chicks. Fun.


*Side note – I have decided what to name my rooster when I get it. Joe Cocker. Partly because of the cock thing, but partly because when Joe cocker sings, some people think it’ awful noise, and others think it is a beautiful sound. Joe is controversial that way, just like a rooster. Anyway, I gave it some thought, and that seems to be what sticks for me. Joe Cocker, Ginny’s cock. Yep. It is perfect.


 It is a joy having my best buddy here. Nice to have someone to talk about grad school , kids, life change, frustrations etc..  Jody understands it all – been there, done that. She is a social worker, and we also have some great intellectual conversations about the culture here, my reading student,  etc…. She recommended some books I’d love – a book on class distinction in America and how to handle and communicate with different socio-economic groups. (Sounds boring, but it is actually a fascination and this book, I’m told,  is fun.)  I’ll just put it on my year away reading list.

The point is, I needed this visit. Really. I’ve been feeling isolated and lonely lately. Happy, but missing friends.


New subject –

Yesterday, I got my student facility parings list. I will be working with a new mentor, A.J. Verdale next term. I am so jazzed. She’s a powerful, demanding teacher -I was so impressed with her at the last residency. I made a request for her, but wasn’t sure I’d be assigned. Now, I am excited and feeling the pressure a bit. She is someone I will have to work hard to impress. Can’t wait. After that, my final term, I’ll be able to choose whomever I want to work with and get it, since it will be time to finalize my thesis. Gee, time flies when you are drowning in reading and writing.


Ah – someone is stirring. Gotta go. Cooking for a crowd, don’t ya know. Got a hashbrown casserole in the oven and I need to make the bacon and biscuits and a fruit salad.

Love company for more reasons than one, ya see.



Writing a Book is Hard

Writing a book is hard.

That’s not what I mean.

Writing a good book is hard.


Anyone can hack out a book for entertainment. I’ve done that myself. Had a ball. But to organize a story with impact, to employ skill and language to enthrall someone (not to be confused with fluffy entertainment) is quite a challenge.


I’ve been struggling with the ugly reality – “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” for a few months now. The better I get, the worse I feel. Fancy that.


I’m buried in studies – getting that classical education I was convinced was the foundation I needed to become a better writer. I don’t regret the decision, but it’s hard.


It’s hard to maintain that intense focus month after month, working at a desk when all around, life is beckoning me to sample its delicious flavors.  I mean, I don’t have to do this. I’m not training to be a teacher or expecting to become some exalted author. I’m financially secure, and don’t need to prove myself in any way (Heck, I’ve already proven accomplished in an arena or two.) I’m seeking an MFA because I’m compelled to – I feel driven to understand this craft from a more centered place. The only thing I expect to accomplish is to be better, which for some unexplainable reason, is vitally important to me. So, I’m making sacrifices of time, effort and, leisure (as a main course) and stomping my ego (for dessert).


It’s hard to wade through obscure books that challenge my mind and force me to think in a new way (and most of the literature assigned is dark in nature, and that’s not exactly uplifting.) People say, “Wow, you’re only 46 and retired already. With means to enjoy it. How fun! Lucky you!” But I’m working harder now than I have in ages – I guess because I’m in a realm that highlights my inadequacies (I miss feeling accomplished and “good at what I do”). But it isn’t just writing. Reading is no longer entertainment. It’s work. Yet, I’m riveted by all the books I’m exposed to, and I’m developing a different perspective on the world through them. So, I keep at it. Loving every page – even the pages I hate.


It’s hard to start seeing all the odd foibles and personality quirks I tend to put in my work, hard to kill my natural cheesy instincts, even though I understand I must. I’m beginning to think I am more suited to write corny Hollywood fluff than serious literature. Nevertheless, I’m determined to be able to do both.


It’s hard to get it all right, the story arch, the characters, the dialogue, the theme, the language, the voice…. It is all so big, this writing a book. It’s like trying to paint a picture by looking through a keyhole. You can never see the entire thing in one glance, so you keep going over and over it, unsure whether the big picture is in proportion, or some gross rendering of your attempted subject – like a Picasso, when what you were hoping to paint was a Degas.


It’s hard to accept the unending criticism, even when you know it is all commentary you need to hear and you should be grateful for it. And you know a teacher wouldn’t correct you or give you such honest feedback if they didn’t think you had the intellectual capacity to understand it (which is, if you think about it, complimentary – but that doesn’t soothe the sting). 


It’s hard to know they’re right every time, because they can see clearly what you’re missing over and over again, no matter how intensely you scrutinize your own work beforehand.


It’s hard to learn that no matter how long I do this, it won’t get any easier. That’s evident when you start reading author interviews. It’s just a fact. This will be hard forever.


I’m tired.

Writing a good book is hard. Hell, reading a good book is hard.

And here I am, hard at work trying to do both.


I guess, the way I’m feeling today can be summed up in a few words . What I’m doing now isn’t fun.
It’s hard
Still – I can’t stop doing it.


An easy out – talk about the animals!

There is a lot I could write about today.


I got my second response from my mentor this afternoon, and it was highly encouraging. She thinks my book is taking shape and getting strong, and she said I’m a very insightful reader that grasps important conclusions from the books I study. That’s nice. In truth, I’m not feeling like much of a writer these days, but I am getting lots of positive feedback, so I must be improving. I am developing a strong understanding of literary fiction, if that means anything at all.


We saw the movie the Libertine yesterday. My husband didn’t like it, and as we left, he commented that it was a weird “film”. (Any non-commercial movie is a “film” to him, which means it usually isn’t very entertaining.) However, I actually found the film interesting, and I started to comment about how well the story was put together- the author did some interesting things. And then, I caught myself and said, “I think school is affecting me. I am reading so much literary stuff, so much classical and obscure literature, that I am developing a taste for more obtuse material.” It’s true. And, I’m developing an instinct that compels me to analyze the techniques used to relate a story rather than just enjoy the experience.

He laughed and said he’d been noticing that about me too. He just doesn’t view some of this stuff in the same way I do right now. It doesn’t mean anything. We’ll still see artsy “films” and swashbuckling movies and have our independent opinions about both. We’re pretty open about what we go to see. But I’m now just slightly more impressed with those things that are not so obvious. I wonder if that will change when I am finished with school, or if this is a shift that has taken root permanently.


But school and writing is not what I want to write about now.


I could talk about my father in law. We helped my husband’s parents move from Florida to a town about an hour from us a month ago. I thought they should be closer, considering they are skirting 80, but my husband and his sister agreed that one hour away was perfect. The in-laws were content with the area selected because it’s “civilized” with a real live Target and a surburban feel.  They’ve just unpacked the last box, and finally gotten settled.

I keep pointing out that I think my husband’s dad, Bill, seems older. The move might have been harder on him than we realize. But, it turns out to be more than that. This week, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It may have spread to other areas of his body. We won’t find out the details until this week. It is sad, and the timing is awful. Now, there are all kinds of concerns. And his mother is so worried, about what is happening now, and what will happen if her husband doesn’t survive. She feels alone in a strange place.  

 But I don’t want to write about it now.  I just don’t feel up for it. 


I could write about my feelings about dance. They are rumbling inside like I have an empty stomach. I hunger for it, and yet I don’t regret my decision to retire from that business at all. It is all a matter of what I aim to do with my feelings of loss to feel whole. We also have some serious issues with our business sale – but I can’t talk about that even if I wanted to – which I don’t. It is all rather frustrating and sad. 

In fact, this entire subject of dance and all the things connected to it is too intimate and raw to open at this time. So I just won’t.


I could talk about my kids. They are doing so well. This move has been the best thing in the world for them. My youngest daughter has a piece of her artwork exhibited in the children’s art show at the Blue Ridge Association – she was the only third grader in the county chosen. My son is playing soccer and is in the band. He is on the principals list – a nerdly scholar – don’t ya love it! My oldest daughter called today to gush about being recognized as a power voice at school. She’s in a challenging BFA theater program. The teacher asked her how far she could take her belt voice and gave her a chance to show off. She blew the house down, with great quality and range.

The teacher said, “Did you know you could do that? Do you like singing like this?”
She said, “All I know is my Mommy likes it. She is always encouraging me to belt.”
Ha. I’ve been telling her all along she has an incredible gift – but she keeps trying to work on her singsong head voice. I’m thrilled the teacher will help nudge her in the other direction. I swear, she has an amazing, unique gift. I want her to explore it. She’ll stand out.

But, I don’t want to talk about my kids either. They are big fish in this small country ocean, but I’ll save that subject for another day.


I can’t talk about Kathy or my work with illiteracy, because there isn’t anything to tell. I am planning to hunt her down tomorrow, so more will be said on this front soon enough.


Funny, for someone who doesn’t want to talk about things, I’m writing a long entry!


Anyway, I think I’ll land on my favorite subject – not that it’s profound, but it just doesn’t offend anyone and doesn’t demand much in the way of intelligence or thought. How’s that for being a blog slacker?

And frankly, I can talk about this without being meloncoly or philosophical, which I want to avoid today. It is important when you are on the cusp of being down, that you work to focus in more positive places.I am trying to control my mood – which some would say defines me (to be controlling). ButI rather think it is a matter of my not giving in to meloncoly, which in truth, defines me even more. Believe it or not.

So – I will talk about our animals.


Perhaps I should keep a graph of my animal escapades so people can keep up. Only I would need a big piece of paper. Here’s the latest.


Goat is a big pain. He’s into everything, and wanders out of our land to munch on our neighbors new garden. I am not prepared to start animosity between my beloved new neighbors. I may go “country” in many attitudes, but I’ll stop before I take on the personalities of the Hatfields and McCoys and start warring with my neighbors. That four legged goat rotter actually wandered up to our house site and started butting the laborers backsides for fun. Like I said, he’s cute, but a pain.


The other day, while dragging the devil to be tied up so I could feed the horses without him hogging all their grain, I said, “Boy, if I could find anyone to take this damn goat – someone who wouldn’t eat him – I’d give him up in a minute.


My husband is not one to let an opportunity like that pass. He flipped open his phone and said, “Got it handled.” It just so happened Eric, the fellow who sold us Dixie and gave us our puppy had mentioned he’d love the goat for his kids – as a pet. Mark made him promise not to eat our friend, then made arrangements for them to pick the goat up in a few days. It was done as simply as that. I just sort of blinked and thought, “What the hell did I just do?” But, I knew it was right.


I told my daughter that we found a new home for goat, and she wailed all the way to school as if she were Mary, and I’d condemned her little lamb to slaughter.


I then told a blatant lie to alleviate my guilt. I told her I’d read that goats could possibly endanger a baby horse, because they occasionally butt the delicate darlings. I thought it was really best, in the interest of caring for our new horse, that we find Goat a new home. He does go at it pretty heatedly with the dogs, so while I had no facts to support this claim, I thought the threat might be true . . . in a small way.


Unfortunately, she didn’t buy it. She pointed out that goat was sweet – her best friend, in fact – and while he was curious and tussled with the dogs, he never bothered the horses. She said he was the only animal “her size” for her to groom, and she was willing to keep him tied up all the time if we could keep him. I guess a goat in the hand holds more sway than a baby horse in theory. I told her it was already done. Goat is history.


She was inconsolable. Nevertheless, we said our tearful goodbyes on Sat. morning. I did feel guilty. Goat has an endearing, if not annoying, personality. He is comic relief in this land of livestock. But, I’m rather stressed out by his antics and do think that part of being happy with this new lifestyle is avoiding those things that make the work unpleasant. Goat is the king of “unpleasantry”. 


 So, we became a goat-less family.


Afterwards, we went to Merciers Orchards to get a few of the worlds best apple turnovers. (That isn’t the company’s claim. It’s mine. This place makes the most glorious turnovers known to man.) So we pull up for a snack, and don’t ya know, but outside there is a box filled with puppies and a sign imploring people to take one home.


There is a dog crisis going on in our community. I won’t go into it in detail, but in a nutshell our animal rescue is shutting down, they’ve shipped the last twelve dogs to New Jersey to find homes, and for a while now, they’ll be putting down all animals that come in. They refuse to pick up strays as well. It’s a funding issue – really awful – I’ve been reading about it in the paper. Anyway, my husband sees the puppies in this box, pats a cute black one and says, “Let’s do our part. Let’s take it home. We’ll call it Max.”


“It’s a girl,” I point out. (I am the detail person.)

“Then she’ll be Maxine. Neva, you’ve been wanting a dog like your brother’s. This is you’re lucky day.”

And he went inside to get the apple turnovers.


I stood there is shock, thinking he was kidding. But he wasn’t.  Dog number three came home with us that day. She’s a hound-dog mix. Looks like a lab. I was told this kind of dog is bred to hunt bear. Well, that’ll sure come in handy for us.


Neva was instantly cured of her goat mourning. Funny how that works.


We were going home to build a new, bigger bunny cage. That was our Sunday project. We’d agreed that Monday we would have to take our new baby bunnies to the pet store to see if they would take them off our hands. Still, we needed a bigger cage for the rabbits we’re keeping. The cage we have now is close to the ground, so the dogs bother the bunnies all day. A taller cage is nice, but I wanted a bigger one too. I like our animals to live the “good life” which requires space to play and run, endless treats and lots of attention.


Neva successfully campaigned to get her aunt to take two of her babies, so that only leaves one baby. I was thinking, “This is easy. Have a litter, enjoy the experience, and give them away right at Easter. No trouble.  Perfect.”


I picked up our last baby to cuddle a moment, and said, “What is that in the nesting box?” For a moment, I thought a rat had somehow gotten in. Then, I realized what I was looking at. It was clearly, another newborn bunny.


Now, I ask you, how is that possible? I removed the male two hours after this litter was born. I should’ a told Neva to name this rabbit Mary, rather than Bun buns. Apparently, that randy male, Thumper, impregnated the mom within the hour she dropped these three kids. The nerve! There is no other explanation.  The babies are nowhere near sexually mature, besides which a bunny is pregnant for four or five weeks, the entire lifespan of these bunnies. They were little blobs when this litter was conceived.  So, it had to be Thumper – the letch.


We could see at least two new babies, but I’m guessing there are three buried in the nest. Bun Bun’s has had three offspring every litter to date. From what we could see, one of the newborns is black, the other white – an exact replica of the litter we are giving away now. I might point out that this is oddly convenient – makes it less traumatic for my daughter to say good-bye to the current set.


I keep thinking of that MasterCard commercial where the pet shop owner is taking so long to approve the card that the store gets filled with bunnies -which multiply every few minutes. I thought that commerical a silly exaggeration, till now. Ha. That could be us.


But, baby bunnies at Easter are fun, so I will consider us lucky, and I’ll tend to the mother with the same devoted care I gave her with the last liter. Extra cabbage and carrots, warm bedding, and lots of vocal encouragement. I don’t yell at her or doubt her nurturing anymore, either. Attitude is everything when it comes to remaining happy about your life.


So, while the actual family dynamics of our animals has changed, our tally is really the same. One less goat. One more dog. Three less bunnies. Three more bunnies. Same color. Sigh.


May first, we’ll have a new horse. That will demand some blog reflection and description. I have my iodine ready – I must put the umbilical cord in iodine, and do all kinds of other gross nursing. Yehaw! Love a challenge.


Then, of course, by June, our house will be done. I’m planning to get a rooster. This is not negotiable. I figure, if I get to live in the wilderness and go au natural, I should be allowed a rooster for my alarm clock. I am already up by five so the sound won’t bother me, and NOTHING can wake the others dead sleepers in my family, so they’ll be oblivious to any crowing. I love the sound, and I look forward to it. Really.

I’ll insist I get to name it too. My husband named the new dog. He named the stray cat we adopted when we moved here, and with my son, named the first dog we acquired. He and the kids even named the donkey – vetoing all my suggestions. He renamed his horse as well. Now that I think about it, he is a superior animal name hog!

Well, the rooster’s name is gonna be my call.  I’ll name him . . . well . . I haven’t given it much thought, but I will.


As Scarlet says, (another southern gal after my own heart), I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Li ve and Learn

When I decided to make a big life change, I imagined I’d be living in the quiet mountains of Georgia with endless time to enjoy life. I’d have uninterrupted hours to enjoy nature, to study and write. However, the reality is different. I am always behind, feeling like there is too much to do. My “I have to get to . . .” list never empties.


Part of this is the fact that we are still working on setting up our new world, building a house,  remodeling a cabin, setting up our new property management business, all of which entails lots of work and organization – errands galore…. And part of it is my commitment to family. I’m “there” for my kids 110% (making up for lost time, don’t ya know). And part of it is that I decided to jump the gun and start a hobby farm even before moving to the land – so every day I have this 35-minute drive each way to feed my four legged friends. Then, there is the normal stuff you try to squeeze into your day, working out, cooking, running, an occasional ride when you can’t resist. And throw into the mix the various hobbies I am toying with, jewelry making, crafts etc…. And most importantly- I have to watch American Idol, ya know.


But most of it is this damn MFA I’m pursuing. It requires about 35 hours a week, which is just about a full time job. I love reading. Love writing, but once it becomes a “Have to do” rather than a “want to do” the flavor of it all changes. I find I have to force myself to work on my book. When I was running the dance empire, writing was my escape. I adored it. Now, it’s an obligation, and I find myself making excuses to avoid it. It’s all about attitude, I guess, and I have to work to keep my writing associations positive.Not that I don’t still love to write. I don’t have to force myself to blog – but then, that writing isn’t required. It’s a pleasure because it’s a choice.  The fact is, the book I’m writing isn’t fun. It isn’t full of romance, sex, and all the stuff I can sink my teeth into with joy. It’s filled with social commentary and purpose, and it’s literary (ugh). I don’t like my new book, but I am told no one likes their book if they are writing something “real.” (Bah. Humbug to that.)  


Nevertheless, I’m happy with my studies. I know I’m improving, and I’m getting some wonderful feedback from professors I admire. I think going back to school for a formal writing education is the best decision I could have made, considering my long term goals. Now, I’m forced to push the envelope as a writer. I’m exposed to authors I’d never bother to read if I wasn’t forced to, and I’m learning so much more than how to structure a sentence from the experience. 


But still, I miss reading for fun. I miss being able to follow an interest and pick up a book just because I’m fascinated with the subject. Today, I actually ordered a book for pleasure. I probably won’t have time to read it for a year (when I graduate) but still, I couldn’t resist. It’s called In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cult of Speed. It’s a book about the philosophy of “making real and meaningful connections with people, culture, work, food, everything.” It isn’t a book that attacks our current culture – just one that questions it and offers alternatives. I read a fascinating interview with the author and a review of the book in the World Ark, the magazine for Heifer international (OK, I do make time for my bleeding heart periodicals…. So shoot me, I worry about the world, and I’m still trying to save it, one goat at a time.)


But for now, like it or not, I’m reading Burning Your Boats, short stories by an sophisticated British writer, Angela Carter, (and trying to come up with some intellectual opinion about it for my next book annotation, which ain’t easy). And a book called, “Believer’s Book of Writers Talking to other Writers”, which is an intellectual look into the motivations of some respected world writers. It’s actually pretty good. I just finished a collection of Raymond Carter’s short stories (liked it) and a book entitled Caramella, (a memoir) for my creative non-fiction studies – which, by the way, is going extremely well. I have a gift for non-fiction, apparently, and I think, when I am done with my torturous dance novel, I’ll try my hand at a humorous memoir about midlife change and moving to the country.


But boy, what I wouldn’t do for the time to read a racy romance with great sex and absolutely no intellectual value right now. (Sigh).


I saw a wonderful quote today”

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”  – Mahatma Gandhi-


Good advice, I think. At least, I’m getting the “learning” part down now. When school is over, maybe I’ll have time to tackle the “living” part too. In fact, just to be sure, I’ll put it on my “have to get to. . .” list.



Dixie’s sign

Our horse, Dixie, will be having her baby in about six weeks. I am so excited. This is probably the only time we’ll breed her. She’s had three babies, and I think that’s enough for one mare. And we don’t plan on getting any additional horses (other than this baby) for some time. We have more livestock than we have the energy to care for already. Then, if the baby is a girl, she has to be about seven to safely breed, so all in all, it will be a long time before we ever get an opportunity to experience a horse’s birth or see the delightful antics of a new, frisky colt, again.   


So, I’m serious. I don’t want to miss it.


I’ve been trying to figure out just what we should do when the time comes, checking books and the internet and talking to farmers. Finally, I read that, about a week before a mare gives birth, her udders swell. OK. So, Now, I have a sigh to watch for. Good.


Everyday, I crouch down and stare at Dixie’s underbelly, looking for these udders she is supposed to have. I can only see one thing between her legs, and I’m telling you, it looks more like a clitoris than an udder to me.

Now, I have to admit, I feel pretty stupid spending a half an hour a day, staring at what might turn out to be my horses clit, waiting for it to swell, no less. And it doesn’t help that Dixie blinks slowly, giving me a droll, “You are more an ass than the donkey” stare. I’m thinking, she may have me pegged.


But nevertheless, I squat on my haunches and stare everyday, looking for some sign that the excitement is soon to begin.


Today, I think I spotted two little bumps near the fleshy area between her back legs.

Ah Ha!!!! I think those are the bumps of budding udders! Halleluiah! Now, I can finally stop feeling like some letch, staring at my horse’s private parts like a fool that doesn’t know her ass from her elbow.
I don’t need to point out that this means I HAVE been staring at my horses clit. I guess, since it’s just between us girls, it’s OK. Not like I ever claimed to be an experienced cowgirl, ya know.


So now I know in great details just what a horse’s clit looks like, and furthermore, I know it’s different from a tiny, new udder. Amazing what you learn when life demands you figure things out as you go.

Hot Dog! My parents came to visit!

My Dad and Mom came to visit last weekend. I can’t describe how happy this made me, because, while I know our life has been in turmoil with incessant construction etc… and I know it’s been winter… and life just isn’t set up for guests yet . . . I was disturbed that they haven’t seen our cabin, land or any of the new world we’ve selected for the next chapter of our lives. I hated how, when we talked on the phone, they couldn’t picture the things I was talking about, such as the cabin we live in, the outlay of our land, our animals, or the general atmosphere of our existence. Even though I know it wasn’t true, I still felt their not visiting signified a lack of interest or something. It bugged me.


Deep down, I expected my parents would adore our new set up, for they’re the people who taught me to love nature. In fact, we first fell in love with the mountains up here while visit my parent’s cabin fifteen years ago. They’ve already done the “Georgia mountains” thing. Therefore, I knew they would “get” it. (Unlike my husbands mother who claims our lifestyle is “barbaric”. She refused to get out of the car when we took her to our land, vowing to never visit our new home because, apparently, she detests trees. Whatever….) 


Anyway, my parents were going to Atlanta to visit my brother for a business reason, and decided to stop by for a two-day visit. (I know two days doesn’t sound like much of a visit, but they will be coming back when it is warmer for a longer stay.)


The construction for our bunkhouse is finally finished, which means have a private, comfortable place for them to stay. The road to our creek front property is complete, so we can drive them down to see that, and we’ve started construction on the house too so, there’s tons for them to see. And to top it all off, the weather has been perfect too. Halleluiah!   


They arrived on Saturday morning. They are 77 & 79 respectively, so a big drive from Florida is no small potatoes. I was vividly aware that they might be tired, and I wanted to be understanding. The spirit might be willing, but an almost 80 year old body might balk, unable to handle some of the rugged terrain involved to show them everything. I figured we’d take it one hour at a time, and just feel out what was comfortable for them.


We began by giving them a tour of the cabin, (which they adored). It was more rustic than they expected, because their cabin was more like a rustic wooden house with fine, themed furniture. Posh. Ours has rough sawn wood molding and big tree columns holding up the porch walkway between the primary cabin and the bunkhouse – a big log for a mantel and wood everywhere. They loved it all the more for the natural details, and said our remodeling was “ingenious” considering the dilapidated, old cabin we started with. My Dad said he just didn’t think he would have gone through all the work and mess to end up with what we ended up with – nor could he have thought up such a plan. It was a nice compliment.


We had coffee and then drove them down the windy, narrow, steep rock road to our creek front property that rests alongside the cabin. I gotta admit, it was the first time I was in the car when Mark drove this road, and I was more than a little freaked out. It’s steep and narrow and the edge just drops off the mountain. I held my breath. My parent’s were unfazed. They said, “Hey, our cabin was on a road as steep as this, but we had it paved. Just pave the road and it will be perfect.”

What troopers.


At the bottom, my Dad got out of the car with his hobbling gait (he had a hip replacement a few years ago that went bad) and he actually lumbered down the steep dirt bank to look at the creak. He wanted to see just  where we would put a house, should we build there, and hear about our plans to clear the area. He and my Mom built several spec homes in North Carolina ten years ago, so they understand the building frustrations and processes better than we ourselves do. We stood for a while, listening to the rushing water, enjoying the view, talking about the possibilities.  

We went back to the cabin and took a break. Naptime. More for us than for them. (We’re the old farts in this story.) Later, we went to the land. My dad was raring to see these 50 acres of ours.


We began with a general drive through along the roads in the car. My parents marveled at how beautiful the land is. They said they had doubts about our decision to buy 50 acres – that it was too big and unnecessary and perhaps not a good investment, but actually seeing it put it all in perspective. They said they were more impressed than they would ever have guessed. They expected something plainer. Less potential, I guess. The land is remarkably beautiful with wooded areas circling a clearing and gently rolling hills. We have trees arched over the road like a natural entryway, apple and black walnut trees and a king sized blueberry bush. It’s rather like the garden of eden, without flowers. We stopped to introduce them to our animals, where my Dad spied our huge fire pit (already set up for the next bon fire – I’m no fool, I know how to entertain) surrounded by our Adirondack chairs, all ready to go. He grinned and said, “When’s the Winnie roast.”

“Up for that?” I asked. It was a dumb question. Not like I didn’t grow up with this outdoorsman.

“Tonight,” he said. “But now, take me to the four wheelers.”


I was thinking four wheelers are pretty bumpy riding. Dad is slowing down physically now-a-days, so perhaps we shouldn’t push our luck. But he insisted. He was delighted to see they were substantial machines, not little go-cart sorts of things, but big monsters four wheelers. (That is more for safety than power. I confess.) Anyway, he cranked up one and my mom hopped on the back. Mark and I got on the other.


Off we went to explore our 50 acres. We took them down all the small roads and cavities set up by the previous owner when there were plans to develop the land. We zipped through the creek and along the pasture, and every time we got to a new area, my Dad would look at me, grin and say, “So, whose land is this?” As if it was impossible to imagine it all belonging to his kid.


We rode up to the house site, where my Dad took some time to watch the construction for awhile. Men can’t resist big machines and power tools, don’t ya know.  He met our builder and marveled at the “good material” we are using on the house. Dad understands all this building stuff, having built several houses of his own. He understands our impatience and excitement, and he couldn’t resist kidding us about it. He gazed around and said the setting, there in the woods by the creak on the hill, was perfection. (I think so too.) He asked about the house plans, staring at the first floor (already built) imagining what’s to come, picturing our future home in his mind. It was nice watching my husband share this exciting project with my Dad, two generations talking guy talk with enthusiasm.  After a rest, we were off on the four wheelers again. 


I kept asking my Dad, “Are you OK?” which clearly offended him. He still imagines he is a rough and tumble adventurer – which he is, obviously – but he is a 78-year-old adventurer, so we have to be careful. And he said, “Hell, I jumped out of an airplane two years ago. I’ve been doing this my whole life, of course I’m OK, never been better.”


And I looked at him with the wind in his hair and his cheeks glowing with excitement. There was appreciation and joy in his eyes – and I was overwhelmed with respect for him. This is a man who knows how to live, who doesn’t choose to be old before his time, who ignores his aches and pains as long as it entitles him to one more thrill. Fearless, and at home in the wild, he doesn’t forget to smile at the sun, breathe the fresh air, and appreciate all the beauty of the outdoors.

God – when I grow up, I wanna be like him.


And there was my Mom, sitting behind him, gritting her teeth, hanging on for dear life, saying, “Slow down, Honey, you’re not as young as you used to be….” But, despite her worry, she let him have fun, and better yet,  chose to be a part of it. She makes a career out of sharing all the things he loves, whether it’s a day on a boat, or careening around the great outdoors on a four wheeler. Lord, she’s a perfect spouse.


Watching them, I found myself wondering if I’ll have half the vigor they do when I’m their age. Heck, I don’t have that much now. I just know I want to live fully as they do, in the same manner they do – being active as long as my health and heart allows.


Mom told me that, later, they had an argument because my Dad told her he wanted to go horseback riding “one last time before he dies.” But Mom put her foot down on that one, because she thought riding might pop his hip out, and here he would be in the wilderness without a hospital nearby. She is indulgent, but practical, and in the end, her word is law. (That is the power of being a supportive wife. If you say “yes” almost every time, your guy is honor bound to respect the rare “no”. Good lesson in that.)  Horses, she explained, were off limits, like it or not, so Dad just pet them, admiring our four legged trouble makers from the ground. He recalled stories about those years when our family owned horses when we lived in Missouri years ago and we laughed at the fact that we had different renditions of the same event. Life through the eyes of a child does color history, I guess.


Frankly, not riding was a relief. I didn’t want to be responsible for the animal’s behavior. With my luck, they would pick this one day to be ornery. Beast are not something you can control the way you can control a motorized ride.


That night, we had our bonfire and we toasted marshmallows and roasted weenies. Dad couldn’t resist coaching the kids on the perfect technique required to make a sizzling bratwurst. My son just likes to burn his hot dog until it looks like a seared hockey puck, which offends Dad’s outdoor chief sensibilities. Ha. Whatcha gonna do?


Well fed, Dad sat there, looking at the stars, enjoying the fire and his grandchildren playing outdoors. He later said that that time, sitting together by a roaring fire, was the best part of the visit. Mark and I each told a story (practicing our skills learned at that storytelling class – prime material for a campfire) and that inspired fun exchanges of family memories and stories. It was all perfect. Simple, yet perfect.


The next day, we took my parents to the wood art gallery to show them what Mark wants to do in the near future. He is making inroads with galleries and shops already and will no doubt have some work featured in them before you know it. We walked along the shops of historic Blue Ridge just to show them the town and the more refined, artsy elements of our world. We ate at Sue’s (best burger in town) but alas, we were all too tired to play pool or air hockey (my favorite). Just goes to show, whether you are 79 or 40, a day in the fresh air can wear you out. They enjoyed the town, comparing it to a western vacation resort, or a fancy Gatlinburg. It’s true, Historic Blue Ridge is an upscale arts area designed to attract tourism. It’s busy, but still, its nice to have that kind of quaint area nearby when people are visiting.


All told, it was a perfect, but short, visit.  


Now, when I call home and talk to my parents on the phone, they’ll have a picture in their mind of what I’m describing. That’s nice, but what’s better, is the picture I have in my mind now of them.


I’ll always remember watching my parents on that four-wheeler, their wrinkled hands cranking the gas, their gray hair blowing in the breeze. I will remember the tender way my mother wrapped her hands around the man she has loved and supported for 60 some years and the way he smiled at her and said, “Ready, babe”, each time before taking off down the graveled drive. They are a perfect couple. Still in love after all these years. Still playing together, exploring the world. Still a team, two admirable characters who, together, are stronger than they’d ever be alone.


I’m so lucky to have had parents who are an inspirational example of enduring romance and a lust for life.


I can only hope that time will reveal, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. 


Sometimes, ya Just Rather Take a Walk

It’s been one of those days.

I haven’t worked out for two months (since my back injury) and now that the weather is warming up, I need to get back to business. Therefore, I started working out again this week. Today is my second day, and I’ll admit, I’m sore. Nevertheless, I’m a devoted sort, so off to the gym I went. I’ve discovered that I don’t feel whole when my body gets into that sleepy state that comes with non-use, and frankly, I have to keep in shape, like it or not, for my Boston Teaching Job this summer. Resting on my physical laurels just doesn’t gel with my self-image, interferes with my ability to play hard, and leaves me cranky, so in order to feel good, I need a daily dose of sweat and (sigh) soreness.


Anyway, I’d already dropped my kids off to school, cleaned my car, and dropped off some videos at the rental store, and now, at 9:45 I was knocking myself out in a step class. Suddenly, the receptionist came and motioned me out of the class. She said I had an emergency call from my husband. I needed to call him back right away.


Now, my first thought, whenever there’s an emergency, is that my husband has chopped off a hand. I know that he’s off turning wood on a huge lathe or working with his chain saw to carve something. So, it makes sense that one wrong move might take a finger or two. (And let me point out here that his fingers are important to keep. In addition to their being required for his dexterity for work (and for filling out his gloves) they are rather vital to my long-term happiness, though I am too delicate to go into detail). But I figured that if he was calling, he must still have his hand, considering he dialed and all. So perhaps some other awful tragedy has occurred. We recently sold our business and there are some delicate legal issues brewing. It could be that. Or, maybe something happened to one of our children. Eek.


Now, my mind was swimming with the tragic possibilities. I hustled into the hall, panting and sweaty, anxious to call back.


My husband said, “We have an emergency.”


“What?” I ask tepidly.


“The animals have escaped. I got a call from the woman who owns the lumberyard down the road and she said they are walking down the road, headed out to the highway (which is not really a highway, just a real road). We need to get out there right away. “


“How does she know they’re ours?”


“She recognizes Dixie, so she called Eric (who sold us this pregnant horse) and whoever answered at his house told her we bought him, so she called us.” The woman happens to have our number because we have bought lumber from their yard. Small world.


I stood there trying to imagine how she could recognizes our horse. I don’t know if I could distinguish Dixie from another chestnut mare if I saw her in some other pasture. She is not all that unique a looking horse.


We were silent on the phone. He is an hour away apprenticing at a woodworkers shop. I am an hour away at the health club. The question hangs in the air. Who goes?

Of course, I offer to take off and take care of it. The fact is, I am the one who wanted these animals, and when they’re trouble, I feel obligated to be the one put out. And, my husband’s activity today is more important than mine. While his practicing woodturning isn’t a job or a responsibility, it’s a part of the recipe we’re baking to make his happiness soufflé. Therefore, the time I afford him to follow his heart is precious. Not to mention that it makes me the “good” spouse and earns me some brownie points. And face it, I only had ten minutes left of class. I decided to qualify the call as a rescue mission, because to be perfectly honest, I was tired.


So I hopped into the car and sailed down the highway to go to our land to find the wayward livestock.


As I drove, I thought about how our emergencies now a days are a far cry from what they used to be. There was a time when an urgent call meant a dozen parents and crying kids were standing at the door of FLEX, livid, because a teacher didn’t show up for their birthday party. I would have to stop my day, go teach, and face a lot of fury in the process, then, there would be the aftereffects and having to deal with the employee etc… etc….

I sighed with happiness, just thinking of how my problems today are problems that make you laugh rather than cry.


So, I drive up to the land, and there, standing passively in the pasture, are my innocent animals. They have that Eddy Haskel “aren’t I innocent” look. I don’t trust them far as I can throw them, which isn’t an inch considering they weight 800 pounds each!


I feed them, but they barely touch their grain, a sure sign that they have been up to no good. If they aren’t hungry, they’ve been out eating grass somewhere. But how did they get back in the pasture?


Looking for answers, I drove to the lumberyard. The woman told me that when she last saw the animals, they were headed down the highway. She called because she didn’t want them to get hit by a truck. One thing was for sure, she didn’t put them back. She did comment that they had gotten into some hay and grain of the neighbor farmer, and he wasn’t very happy about that. As I talked to her, I couldn’t help but notice she is old and lacks expression, her voice almost monotone. It was like talking to one of those humorless farmers holding a pitchfork on a hallmark card, meant to make you laugh. I stifled my smiles.


I asked if it was possible the animals she spotted roaming weren’t ours, considering they were tucked neatly in their pasture when I arrived. I checked the fence for a downed section but all seemed in order.


She shrugged and said, “Well, maybe so. It was three horses, a donkey and a goat. They were all together like some mismatched family out for a stroll.”


OK. So that HAD to be our mischievous devils. I mean, who else has a clump of animals that fit that very description. I thanked her for the call, and left. I drove away, imagining my livestock strolling leisurely about the county. Eesh.  


So, however they got returned is a mystery. Obviously, I owe some neighbor a favor. I will find out who did the good deed in time, and then, when the season begins, I’ll drown the good do-bees in blueberries as a thank-you. Maybe I’ll get lucky and one of their cows will wander into my driveway so I can return the favor. Just in case, I’ll start studying the livestock nearby so I know what animals belongs to what farm.


In the meantime, I have my eye on my sly, roaming four-legged friends. They can’t fool me, no mater how innocently they stare. I went back to check on them one more time and gave them a piece of my mind.


“I’m pissed at all of you. You dragged me out of a workout class, I’ll have you know.”

They blink as if they don’t give a damn.

“Well, you may not care now, but every pound I don’t lose because I skipped my workout is a pound that you will have to tote around when we ride, so you’re going to pay for your folly in the long run.”

They snort and paw the ground. Ha. That got ’em.


Now, I’m home, my day all out of sync and my schedule muddled. I have homework to do, but I can’t seem to focus. At least the horses are fed, and I can eat lunch without guilt (thanks to the workout). I even gained a brownie point with the hubby since I took responsibility for today’s dilemma – which always comes in handy, ya know.


So, the day isn’t a total waste.  In fact, there’s no reason  a donkey, a goat and three horses should have all the fun, taking a stroll in this perfect weather. I might just take a walk too and forget about my homework till tomorrow. Why not. 

A perfect work of art

My husband and I are exploring a renaissance of art. This is not to be confused with exploring Renaissance art. That would involve going to a museum and looking at slightly overweight naked ladies painted in gold and brown tones, angles swooping overhead and all that rot. Not that staring at slightly robust naked ladies is awful, but face it, my husband gets to do that any time I step out of the tub, so it isn’t exactly a temptation to seek out more of the same.


By exploring a “renaissance of art”, I mean that we, personally, are diving into new, unexplored artistic regions. For fun. Stretching our artistic muscles. Our lives have always been somewhat artistic, considering we made a living at dance, costuming, choreography, and running a business with excessive creative thinking our only resource. Then, on the side, we were involved with gardening, writing. . . oh, the list goes on and on.


But now, we are a bit like children who have escaped one room they’ve been locked in for too long. It may have been a room full of great toys, but we’re ready to play with new things now. We have stepped away from dance, and the world is like this huge store filled with artistic wonders that we can pick up off of shelves to try on for size. 


It began with our new career choices. My husband dived into woodturning. He is wonderfully talented at it. And fascinated with the medium of wood, he is creating furniture and all kinds of other wood objects. I became immersed in writing – fiction, poetry, non-fiction. You name it. But those were our choices for our new vocations. Beyond this, we started seeking artistic avenues for fun too. We discovered the Campbell school. Mark took woodcarving and I took pottery. We returned for a course in storytelling. Out side of this, I took classes on jewelry making, wire wrapping and more. Mark took gourd carving. I even bought yarn and began crocheting again, something I haven’t done since I lived in New York (where last I lived and experienced a true cold weather.) Our hands are always nimble, working at creating something new.


This weekend, we took a two-day class on how to make deer antler baskets. Don’t laugh. They’re beautiful, complex and gorgeous. Mark made his perfectly formed. Green. It is striking in its tight weave and defined pattern of colors. I chose to attempt something more rustic, and I weaved more texture into mine, including a hairy, frayed rope and a copper brillo pad. Mine is the one pictured in copper and brown tones. Don’t laugh. My odd selection of materials worked. People in the class asked if I was an artist. Ha. Nope, just willing to explore. But I was pleased that they considered my imperfect basket “artistic”.


We came home with two lovely baskets for our cabin. But what was better, was we learned all about how to drill holes into the antlers (which were all naturally shed antlers, for those of you who wonder why I, a confirmed naturalist, would want to make something out of the parts of an animal.) We learned how to make rib bases, and then, how to weave. I used to make jokes when stressed at my business –I’d insist it was just a matter of time before they would lock me up in a loony bin where I would weave baskets all day. Ha. I had that wrong. I think going crazy begins with weaving baskets , THEN you need to be locked up in a Looney bin, because weaving a basket can drive you crazy. Really. It’s tedious and challenging all at once. It took about 9 hours to make our antler baskets.
We came home, and Mark immediately began another project out of some antlers he bought last year. Not me. I was ready to take a basket break. He plans to make several more as gifts for close friends and wants to get started while he remembers how. I might do the same, after a basket break but it would have to be for someone special – a friend who adores nature and art, – because these antler baskets, while pretty, are tons of work.


My husband and I miss dance. But we have a huge, ever growing list of folk crafts and arts we want to explore and this helps covers the empty spot inside where dance used to be. I’m signed up for a course in chair caning in April.  I figure, if Mark is going to make rustic furniture, I can make myself useful by learning how to make all kinds of interesting cained seats. That way, any furniture he makes for our home will be crafted by us both. (I’m a romantic, and I find the idea that we worked together to fill our home with things that have meaning rather than a price tag, rather endearing . . so shoot me . . I’m an idealistic sap).

I’m supposed to bring chairs to the course to work on, so I bought two old, wooden antique chairs at a garage sale and plan to refinish them in the next few weeks. I am planning to decoupage them so they are totally covered in this newspaper print I have from a romance flyer printed in the 1800’s. I found a penny press version of a romance paper, complete with pictures and great romance headlines and stories etc at an antique shop…. I will cover the chairs in this historical material, then put layers and layers of shellac on it so it looks as if the articles are under glass. I will then cain the seats and have something special for my new writing room. Perhaps I’ll shellac a table to match, and have it as a bistro set. The pieces will be all about romance, history and art. Such furniture suits me more than I can describe.


Let’s see, I want to take glass and fused bead making, and book making. I am determined to try spinning, dying and weaving and a few of those textile classes. Mark is worried that if I like it, I’ll demand a llama. You can make your own yarn from the fur of a llama, ya know. You can do so with sheep too, but a llama is more fun, and I am looking for an excuse to get one.


Anyway, our world is filled with art lately. It is in every corner of our home, a part of our days, and in our thoughts. For entertainment, we go to museums, galleries, art festivals or we take a class for hands on fun. It is all a part of our new art renaissance. Escaping the jail of our previous business and going wild in a productive way, if that makes any sense.


I suppose our art fascination will fade some as the weather warms, for I feel nature calling me now, and it has a louder voice than art. I am ready to hike the Appalachian trail, go kayaking, and tubing, whitewater rafting and camping. I have every intention of sleeping on our land in a tent in May when I believe our new colt will be born. I’m NOT going to miss that! Our blueberry bush is filled with tiny buds, and will spring to life soon, which means the only art I will have time for will be in the kitchen making blueberry splendor of some kind or another. I can cook something everyday and not make a dent in the abundant blueberries available on our land. I should know. Last summer, I tried. The only art we will have time for when the weather offers such choices, will be the avenues we’re pursuing by profession, writing and woodturning. The extras will have to wait.


So, art will rest, and we will turn to new adventures, the kind that are accompanied by bird songs, cool breezes, and a night sky, so black, that the stars appear to glow brighter than possible. Nature is god’s art, and frankly, it surpasses anything man can make. It certainly nourishes the soul as well, if not better. Eventually, when the bears hibernate, we will come inside again to escape the cold, and we will turn once again to artistic adventures as our pastime of choice.


 Just today, as I was coming home from a workout class, I decided to stop by to feed our horses. I actually missed them and I wanted to turn them out in the second field to eat. We have a hay shortage in town and I can’t stand that my honey’s don’t have hay to munch. Anyway, when I turned onto the dusty, graveled drive of our land, two deer were standing in the street. They paused, then lept to the side, paused again, and just stared at me. They were doe . (No antlers to make me feel guilty.) I sat there until they slowly ambled off, watching with a thrill I can’t describe. I can’t wait until our house is done and we move to this beautiful, remote, world of our own. I have hope that these creatures, and others, will greet me on my morning walks. And I bet then, I won’t need to pursue artistic ventures to feel that heart pounding satisfaction of creation.

Then, our very lives will be, what I consider,  a perfect work of art.







Making a Mess Can be Good For the Soul

As someone both artistic and practical by nature, I’m drawn to art with utility. Therefore, I thought a class in pottery would suit me. I wanted to make something with purpose and find out what nature’s most useful mud feels like between my fingers. Also, I confess, I have romantic visions of clay, thanks to the movie “Ghost”.

I guess you could say I had big plans. I wanted to make a cup.

    At $435, for a weeklong pottery class at the famous Campbell School of Folk Arts in North Carolina (plus the cost of materials and lunches) mine would be an expensive cup. To justify the investment, I announced to my husband that I was making the cup for him. This gave me incentive to produce something presentable. I was determined.

    My husband took a class in woodcarving at the school the same week. He was making a hand-hewn bowl and spoon, something that looks like a caveman would use for his Cheerios in the morning. The wood studio was conveniently located right beside the potter’s studio, so he could stop by throughout the day to say hello and lend encouraging advice. When I needed a break, I’d go to his class to watch him chipping away at his log (no advice from me, since I know less about woodcarving than I know about pottery.) While we were not together in these endeavors, it felt as if we were, for each lunch we came together in the big, family style lunchroom to share our experiences of the day. The week felt like one huge, art exploring date.

      When we were not together, I was meeting new people. The other students in my class were all enthusiastic, non-competitive, art-loving beginner potters too, and they spent as much energy “oohing” and “awing” other’s attempts, showing sweet unconditional support, as they did wiggling their nose at their own work. I fit right in, surprisingly at home when playing in the mud with my new friends. 

     You wouldn’t think I’d feel fondly towards an art form that strips a gal of her glamour, but I took to pottery immediately.  Not only are you muddy and wet throughout, but alas, your nails have to go. Ghastly!  It’s not that I’m pampered or spoiled, but losing my nails makes me feel like I have Fred Flintstone’s fingers when typing. I was working on a non-fiction piece for my MFA in the evenings, and let me just say, for once, the typos in my paper were legitimate. My hands were raw and sore from the friction of the mud spinning on the wheel all day long and the absence of my hard protective nails made me so sensitive to touch that each time I hit the keys of my computer, it was like hitting miniature funny bones hidden on the ends of my digits. Nevertheless, the joy of seeing improvement in my pottery each day kept me grinding away at the wheel.

    I’ve discovered I love the feeling of the wet clay under my fingertips. I love experiencing how subtle pressure makes huge adjustments in what I’m creating as I draw the clay from the base up the sides of a cylinder. I like how the pressure of my foot against the pedal controls the speed of the spinning, allowing me to determine how force and gravity will shade my creation. I even love the various implements and tools used to fix imperfections or decorate a piece in artistic ways.

     I now know how to wedge and center clay. I can make cylinders and bowls. I even practiced carving my initials in the bottom of my very own creations and came up with a pretty flourish of my initials to make my mark.

      The goop of clay is sensual. Sometimes, I found myself sitting, just focusing on the glorious sensation under my fingertips rather than remembering to work on my project. I’d feel the sticky mud seep into the tiny cracks and lifelines on my palm, massaging the pads of my fingers with forgiving pressure, the hands-on contact with art both earthy and satisfying. Pottery is natural, clay extracted from the earth, molded by man to make a finished product that is at once useful and striking. I was thrilled to be a part of that wonder.  

       I practiced eight hours a day, then went home exhausted, continuing to feel the wheel spinning under my hands, not unlike the sensation of getting off a treadmill where, even though you know you are standing still, it seems as if everything around you is racing. I felt out of time sync with the exterior world, however, my inner world, my artistic soul, was satiated.

     My teacher, Andrew Stephenson, is a professional potter with a MFA who also served two two-year apprentice terms with world-renowned potters. Another artist who works in the medium of wood and pottery, Matt, assisted him. Both are great teachers, demonstrating and explaining in detail what we have to do to successfully create a piece, then showing us what happens due to the natural errors beginners tend to make.

     First, they’d observed us trying each new skill, then they’d squat beside us, taking our hands and guiding them to adapt the correct pressure, angle and touch required to make something beautiful. On breaks, we viewed slides of their artwork found in galleries, and saw films about famous potters. We learned the history, culture and technique of pottery. All of this made the class much more than a lesson in how to make a cup. The teachers were not only attentive and caring during the class; but they woke in the middle of the night, scurrying through the cold to the pottery studio, to load and unload the kilns, making it possible to fit several firings into the single week. There commitment came across as encouragement, inspiring us all to stay focused.

       Producing pottery is a complicated process. Your creation can go belly up anytime during the many stages required to make a finished product. Once you master the art of forming the piece on the wheel, it still has to survive the trimming stage, the drying process and the first firing. If it doesn’t explode at this time, due to air bubbles or cracks, it has a second chance to go bust in the second firing. Then, having survived this half of the journey, your creation is now subject to luck with glazes and another go in the kiln. The chemicals react differently determined by the level of heat, cooling, and application and the result is always a surprise. A great potter is not just a visual artist, but a chemist, a baker and logician. Pottery is complex, creative, and experimental all at once. And fun.          

     I made seven owls, and two cups. I inspected each piece as it came out of the final firing, marveling at the differences in the glazes, how each one reacted differently dependant upon where the piece was placed in the kiln. It’s like each piece of clay, once molded, has a unique personality, modified and exaggerated by heat.

     I presented my slightly lopsided, thick, caveman style cup to my husband on Friday with no small amount of pride. It’s his favorite cup (or so he claims, as a dutiful husband must.) My pieces are clearly a beginner’s attempt. They aren’t great, but they’re mine, precious tokens of a wonderful experience    

     North Carolina and Georgia is home to the country’s most renowned potters. People come from all over the world to study here. Galleries, festivals and shops feature displays with everything from traditional folk pottery to Terra Sitillata, Porcelain, or Raku. I now have a new understanding of pottery and can pick up a piece in a shop and imagine just how the clay felt under the artist’s hands. I even recognize many of the techniques and different glazing styles used. I’m filled with a new appreciation for the craftsmanship involved, and will never again question the cost of handmade pottery, knowing how much talent, time and effort is required to make beautiful, artful, handmade containers.

    One week is only enough to get a taste of the art of pottery, so I will no doubt take another class someday, perhaps hand building, or glazing techniques. My husband, once a hobbyist potter, tells me that if I get “into” pottery, we can buy a wheel and kiln and build a small pottery shed by his woodworking shop. He’d like that, not only for me, but because he might visit and whip out a carafe or bowl on occasion, too. I guess pottery is an art that seeps into your soul. Even when you move on to a different art, you never forget the compelling feel of that sensuous mud between your fingers. I told him I might take him up on the offer someday, but for now, there are other interests I want to explore. The truth is, I’m not ready to live with Fred Flintstone fingers on a permanent basis.  

    Thanks to my positive experience in the class Mud Made Fun: Getting a Spin on the Potter’s Wheel, I may not become a great potter, but I am a new supporter of the art. I want to go to kiln openings and start collecting a few prime pieces in which to serve my ongoing “experimental” cooking. I’m convinced food will taste better from a container made with care. Beautiful handmade bowls will inspire me to make dishes worthy of the art that holds them and I look forward to setting a table that is also a work of art.

      The class is over, and I have put pottery behind me for now, while I go back to the demands of my everyday life. But, if I close my eyes, I can still feel the smooth, cool clay between my palms. Mud is simple. Magical. And therapeutic.

      Occasionally, I even borrow my husband’s cup, just so I can sip my coffee from something made by my very own hands and remember pottery’s greatest lesson. Making a mess can be good for the soul.     



Once Upon A Time, There was a Story to Tell. . .

    I think of storytelling as an art wedged in between writing and theater. It is embedded with history and based on simplicity. Considering these are all things I adore, I have been fascinated with storytellers ever since moving to the woods of Georgia. I dragged the family to a storytelling festival at the Blue Ridge Arts association a few months ago (which wasn’t very good) and continue to mark off storytelling events at area coffee houses, albeit we have yet to attend. As a writer, I am riveted with the idea of stories being passed on from generation to generation and I have toyed with the idea of learning how to stand up and tell a story orally myself.

    So, when we heard a radio announcement that the Campbell Folk Arts School was giving away two tuitions to an upcoming storytelling class (a weeklong intensive) because they are looking for more storytellers in the area, I was thrilled. I’d just taken a class on pottery, and my husband had taken woodcarving at the school, so we didn’t really have another free week to indulge in a new interest, (I fall behind with my MFA work when I play too much) but the opportunity to get a 450 dollar class -one that I lusted for – on the house, was too delectable to pass up. I called and put myself on the list, unaware that my husband had also called to enroll me as a valentines day present. When I told him I was going, he sheepishly explained that he knew I would love it and he had called to enroll me too. Now, I was enrolled twice. Not a big problem, I just dragged him with me as the other “Ginny” in class. He is a good sport. Storytelling wasn’t his primary interest (cause there is no wood in the craft) but he cleared his schedule and accompanied me just to see what it is all about.

      We had to miss the orientation day because we had friends visiting from Florida that were not leaving until after Monday, so we arrived on Tuesday. Then, we found that there were only four people registered in the class and the other two had decided to leave. One was sick, the other embarrassed when he discovered that storytelling involves standing up in front of an audience. (Duh!)  The teacher was highly qualified with lots of experience as a performer, published recordings and she even has a Masters in storytelling – now who’d ‘a thunk they made one of them darn things – It was an odd circumstance that so few people were registered. Storytelling is usually a popular subject, but several different classes were small or canceled at the Folk School that week – no doubt because of the bad weather and the fact that February is not a big draw in the mountains. Nevertheless, the instructor hoped we’d stay since she been contracted to stay the week, students or not. We were game. So together, my husband, the teacher and I, dove into the art of storytelling.

     We learned the folklore and history of the craft, and waded through many stories. By the end of the first day, we were taking turns telling stories, being critiqued and learning the techniques that make a story interesting. My husband and I were both very good, but that is no surprise considering we have theater experience and feel comfortable with public speaking. We selected a few stories to claim as “ours” and practiced them, perfecting them for a performance on Thursday night for the school participants.

   It is no surprise that the story that suited me best was a “Jack tale”, original folk tales brought to the mountains by Scots in the 1800’s. (Jack and the Beanstalk is one of them). These are tall tales with lots of exaggeration and humor. They suit my sense of humor and personality. (Its no secret I tend to exaggerate for fun)  Mark chose a fairytale, something with a poignant moral, which suits him as well. He is first and always, a teacher.

     The second day, we were told to select another story, and I smiled and asked, “Can I try an original story. I would like to see if I can do this with something I’ve written myself.”  Of course, this is what I had in mind all along when I thought of learning how to tell a story aloud.

    The teacher was pleasantly surprised. Not many people want to do something like that.

     Mark said, “It took you long enough. What are you going to do, the Lobster Story?” Damn man, he knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

    So I began working on the Lobster Story, figuring out how to tell it orally in under ten minutes. It worked beautifully. The story is embedded with moral and emotional messages. I was so thrilled to have this new way to share something that comes from within.

      When we performed, I chose a tall tale and my lobster story. Both went over very well. I was somewhat nervous telling my original story, I guess because it could bomb on two levels. The way I told it could be bad, but the story itself could be bad too. Yikes. But in the end, it was very conducive to this medium of entertainment.

     By the time we were through, we had the confidence and skills to do this anywhere and anytime. We have even thought we might offer our services at a few coffee houses nearby one day – we will be able to put together a fun program between us. We joined the Blue Ridge Storytellers Group, and we are now proud members of the National Storyteller’s Association. I even bought us tickets to the annual Storyteller’s festival in Tenn. in October. It is a big four day event. Seven tents are erected and each day the greatest storytellers in the country perform. They even have midnight ghost tales for those willing to stay up. Gotta love it. We will just go for the weekend – don’t want to burn out the family on stories first time out but I am sure the kids will love it. Fall is a wonderful time for new experiences in the mountains.

     I have begun collecting old folktales. I am thinking I will try to design an independent study of the art of storytelling for next term for my Creative Writing MFA as my interdisciplinary course. I think Storytelling goes hand in hand with writing, and I’d love an excuse to delve into the history of it more.  I can write a paper about the festival, produce my nifty certificate from the seminar, and do some reading. I am guilty of trying to find utility in my every endeavor. This way I can pursue this new interest with conviction. “I HAVE to read this (or go there) cause it is my HOMEWORK.” Yep. That alleviates guilt every time.

      In the meantime, I’ve explored something new and enjoyed all the delight that comes with learning I have undiscovered talents. And if nothing more, I am ready to entertain friends around the bonfire or when camping now. I have a wealth of stores to share, some that have been passed down for generations and some that are uniquely mine. Fun!

    And the best things is, stories are infinite . . . and now, I have one more reason to dig them out of my soul!