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Monthly Archives: April 2006

Coffee, art and aspiration

I miss owning a business. Not a dance school. I cannot describe how much I DON’T miss that during this particular season. For the last eighteen years, spring has been a time of stress and overwork as we hustled to prepare a recital for 1000 performers. Moreover, our efforts went far beyond choreography and cleaning up dances (which – because we were the primary artistic contributors in the school meant a great sacrifice of time – total focus) but we also wrote the programs, sold ads, designed the light plan for the stage lighting, did picture displays, and did hundreds of hours of backstage preparation and organization. It took years to put our systems into effect. And no matter how good it got, we always believed we could do better, so it was always a matter of brainstorming – working out the glitches from year to year – adding a new element – which amounted to more effort. The last year, I actually wrote a recital-planning book, but it will never be used now. Ah well –I was committed to never ending constant improvement. No effort is ever wasted, so I am glad I put to words all I learned. I might use it someday.     


     This was also the time of year that all the planning for the next season had to be completed – class schedules, school season planners, defining our yearly goals. And we were hustling to plan our summer program. And I was always preparing my notes for master classes or seminars I was commissioned to teach out of state (Well, I still have that – and they are currently due – sigh). In other words, there was never time to smell the roses as they began blooming in spring.


    Now, without all this recital stuff demanding our attention, I am enjoying spring the way I haven’t for years – not since I was free and unencumbered by the dance school season’s schedule – not since New York, where spring made studying dance feel like a creative party.


    Now, I’m noticing flowers, trees in bloom, and feel the sultry wind blowing in across the pasture. I marvel at how fresh and new life feels. We have butterflies – hundreds. I watch my daughter running across the pasture, chasing the llama, giggling, while dozens of butterflies swirl about her head, thinking it is like watching an animated movie. Too perfect. (Like in the last Harry Potter Movie when participants from the girl’s school enter Hogwarts, butterflies are set free by their sighs.) My blueberry bush is 9 feet tall and 12 feet wide. You can actually walk through it to gather the berries from the interior (now that my husband carved a walkway through the monster). It is so covered with butterflies and bees pollinating the new blooms, that it looks alive, constantly in motion. Fascinating. This month, we are taking hikes, having long, lovely talks, and enjoying the changing season with such a deep appreciation for the leisure it is beyond inspiration. It is like personal nirvana.  


   No, I don’t miss owning a dance school this time of year.


 


     But I do miss having a business. I loved the challenges involved – the way it taxes so many skills. You must be good at accounting, finance, planning, design, marketing, and of course, endless creative thinking. That is the best part – tapping into your creativity to make your business different. I loved the resource a business provides too – I could contribute to the community through the vehicle, donate services, projects, space, whatever was needed to help others. This satisfied something within me too. 


    So, while I don’t need to start another business, and don’t need the income, I can’t help but think about businesses I would enjoy starting. (I am definitely an entrepreneurial sort – I would NEVER buy a business. I am all about laying a foundation and designing a new enterprise from scratch.)


     There is so much opportunity here, endless enterprises so bound for success, it drives me crazy. I am committed to slowing down my life, not taking on another huge project, yet I find the idea of starting something fresh and building a new empire hard to resist. (And frankly, I like hard work.) This area is growing so fast (happens to be the seventh fastest growing area in the country, and oddly enough Sarasota was the seventh fastest growing area when I began a business there – interesting) that it is no surprise they are starved for commerce.  And I keep thinking that this time around, we don’t need to make so much money – it isn’t vital that our business make enough to support a family of five and their future. It would be nice if it supplemented our income, gave us cash for indulgences like a trip to Africa or acquiring a racehorse – ha) but we don’t have to make so many sacrifices or compromises to secure our future (because it is already secure –thanks to some savvy real-estate investments we have made over the years. We are lucky in that way – made some great choices this year too, that made us as much as we would have made working the entire year. Apparently, we have good instincts. Who knew?)


   Mark has always said that if we put the same amount of energy, creative thinking and sheer labor into any other industry (besides dance) we would be shockingly successful. Dance is not a business that traditionally makes money. The arts isn’t prosperous that way – but we managed to commercialize dance education without losing artistic integrity in a way that is unlike any other studio I’ve ever known  That is something we will always be proud of. But, just imagine if we applied that kind of energy and innovation to a business with more earning potential – one that doesn’t demand so much actual hand-on creative effort that ravages your emotional stores. Wow.


   I keep circling an idea. I bounced it off my husband and he doesn’t seem turned off at all. Funny, because for years, whenever I had an idea, he would sigh and be so aggravated that I was forever feeling guilty and miserable, as if I was the cause of our never-ending stress. My idea’s symbolized work – but I’ve come to learn it was not innovation and work he despised – it was more about the atmosphere of the dance school world and how it stripped us of the time and privacy he wanted for other things in life. I kept pushing the envelope. He just wanted to mail the damn letter to someone else and find a new P.O. Box.


   But I wouldn’t start a business without him on board. It would have to be something we did together. I don’t want to take on a journey alone, and he is, after all, my partner in life travels.


   A dance school here would be so successful – people ask us to open one every other day. And with our experience, our connections, our resources, etc… we could be back where we were before within three years. Tempting. It would be like pulling up the roots of our business and relocating it to the area we have always wanted to live. And there are other great elements of the idea – such as the fact that kids here have discipline and a different mentality – and nothing to do. We both recognize that we could make amazing dancers here. But what then? Would we just want to sell and move again? No thanks. I love it here.    


   So, what is it I want to do? Well, there are many things, from opening a canoe rental company, open just six months a year, or running a summer dance camp for serious dancers (which includes whitewater rafting and other fun between serious study) – two ideas that only require half a year of work. We could remain semi-retired that way. Or cabin rentals on our own land and creating vacation avenues for our customers. (Horseback riding, pontoon boat – we could provide it all…)


   But what I am really stuck on right now is the idea of opening an Appalachian Arts Café.


    The town of McCaysville, right by our new homestead, is growing rapidly. The stores there are changing before our eyes, from dismal antique shops and rundown country stores to upscale shops featuring fare that is more specialized. The Blue Ridge Scenic railroad leaves Blue Ridge (where the shops are very upscale now) and goes to McCaysville everyday. Six years ago, when it opened, they had 6 thousand passengers. This year they had 60 thousand! They expect it to continue growing. Ummm. That’s a lot of customers looking for someplace to shop and view regional mountain fare in our little town. And there is no coffee shop. Drives us crazy – coffee drinkers that we are. (The nearest Starbucks is a 60-minute drive from us – no kidding. Our powerful community leaders keep franchises out.) You can’t buy a bagel or a donut anywhere within miles of our town.


    So, I am thinking we should open a coffee shop – the kind with a big roaring fireplace and leather chairs, specialty drinks and fantastic treats. (My mother says my muffins will put it on the map. Ha. I would love to make gourmet cakes each week and sell them by the slice – an excuse to cook without being accused of keeping my husband heavier than he should be). And I want it to be an art gallery too, featuring local Appalachian artists and their handcrafts. I did some research, and the galleries here take artists for a 60-40 cut, so the store doesn’t even have to purchase this art in advance – just provide great displays and move the merchandise. You can return what you don’t sell and if you have an eye for art (which we do) and travel in the artistic circles to meet the right people (which we do) a good store would have a wealth of artists to chose from. That means low investment for gallery merchandise. Not to mention that my husband’s wood art would have a home and we could move that too. And perhaps some of my jewelry…. And our other new interests in folk art  (My husband has made over 10 Antler baskets and is preparing to do festivals next fall – they sell for 125-200 up here and his are better than most.)


   If we had a coffee shop/art gallery, I would want to schedule folk musicians and storytellers to entertain on the weekends. I would have an open mic poetry night and get the local writers to gather there (I travel in those circles too). Might have a spare room designed for community meetings – writing groups or book clubs – a way of providing someplace special for the community to gather. I’d carry books too – only local writers and regional books to enhance our focus on regional art. Might include my own.


   Of course, we also have another option. When the train pulls out at 3:00 each day – WE CAN CLOSE – because we feel like it.  We don’t have to be a slave to a business anymore, and a coffee shop is something you can hire someone to work for you. In fact, the coffee shop in Blue Ridge that we regularly visit is owned by a woman who lives in Florida. She only spends the summer’s here.  So we could have leisurely hours to work the train crowd alone, on extended hours for community customers. But we would not be the one making the coffee drinks and running it on a daily basis, unless we wanted to.  


    Rents are low in our area, so the startup would be easily manageable for us with our current resources. But that is the problem – I don’t want to rent space. I will never rent for a business again. When you are a renter, you really are only setting up a glorified self-employed job for yourself. A business is never really yours till you own your building. We learned that the hard way. When you rent, you are limited by a landlord’s permission regarding what you can do in and to your business, or if/when you can expand. Rents add up to a lot more than mortgages. So you are working to build someone else’s capitol – in short, half of your work is spinning wheels to support their business gains. This is a financial drain on a new business too. But when you own your space, the business really feels like yours. You can change it, expand it, sell it, or close it, and the choices are all yours. No long-term responsibility with contracts or leases. Just your freedom to make choices and create a business as large or as unique as your imagination sails. Our entire fortunes changed – and our potential – the day we bought our first building.


    So, I’ve begun looking at buildings. There is a fantastic Japanese restaurant that is never open, resting in the perfect location. You could put bistro tables outside – it is quaint. Adorable. We’d buy that building, but it’s not for sale. But then, the operation there is not doing much business either, so who knows what is going on. We are looking into it. And there is a small house for sale in the town too. I am going to go see it and find out if it is commercially zoned. We could do wonders with that. Of course, we could buy a big ole building and rent the other storefronts out to others too. We could manage that. I just know I won’t open a business ever if I have to be a renter myself.


    So, my mind is spinning.


     I keep reminding myself that there is more to life than work, and I must take the time to slow down, watch the butterflies, pick blueberries and take long walks. Write.  But then, I also think life should be an adventure and we should continue to grow and learn from it. I imagine there is much to learn and accomplish in a new endeavor like an art/gallery coffee shop for us. It’s a business that circles art (which we love) and appeals to the gentle nature of people (which we also love).  When people stop to have a cup of coffee in a beautiful atmosphere, having just stepped off a scenic train because they are enjoying vacation, they are usually feeling fine.  I would like to surround myself with people like that – make conversation with people who approach you with a joyful smile, then share what I know about the area so they will enjoy it as I do. We could make the interior of this place all logs and rustic furniture, have amazing displays of folk crafts, a big showcase with desserts and every kind of coffee (served in hand made pottery mugs). Maybe smoothies in the summer (we don’t have those in this area either). A total indulgence in artistic mountain atmosphere.


   And now is the time. Opportunity is ripe. I feel it.


    I can’t stop thinking about it.


    I should, but I can’t.


    And if my husband continues to listen, holding back that exasperated sigh that I came to dread so much, I’m afraid my idea might become more than a passing thought.


    


Hey – I just got a call from Mark. My llama is out. Gotta go chase him.


Ha. Do I have time to run an art gallery and chase a llama too when the need arises? I better be sure to put that into the equation when developing a business plan.


 


 


        

Blah Blah Blah

I am so frustrated about the new book I am working on, I can barely force myself to sit down to work on it. If I were not in a master’s program, with this my thesis project, I would have scrapped it long ago. I think, by nature, I’m good at weaving a fun story with fun characters. My dialogue works and I build tension and create plausible situations that are entertaining.


 


In this book, I am trying to accomplish something more than just telling a story. I’m trying to weave dance philosophy and insight into the damn thing in artistic ways, which keeps messing up the story. Yet, without this didactic garbage, I feel the book reads like cheap commercial fiction –which I swear, I’m cut out to do – and I believe I will be successful at – but doesn’t stretch my technical skill in a way necessary to grow.


 


I received my monthly response from my mentor today. She said my last submission included the most “successful and engaging chapters submitted so far.” She also added, “You’ve had my attentions from the get-go, and you kept it throughout. What really made the difference in these chapters is that you remained in scene almost exclusively. . . . a lot happens…”    


 


Well, of course a lot happens. A lot happens in all my books – EXCEPT this one. Clearly, my attempts at being “literary” are falling short – an affected imitation of obscure literature. Blah Blah Blah. I need to stop preaching and just write a story about dance. It is just so hard to unravel what I’ve woven into the story so far. Every scene was written to support the darn critical essays about dance – so removing them makes me feel the internal motivation of my character isn’t going to be real for the reader.


 


What a sticky wicket.


 


My first mentor liked the “voice” of those essays passages, but also questioned whether or not they belonged. Now, I am hearing, basically, the same advice again, just said in a different way. Gee – if you hear something more than once, you have to listen. So, I need to sit down, read the entire manuscript and start slashing. (Sigh) I need to let this book be what it is, and stop trying to force it to be what I want it to be.


 


I can’t wait to finish this project. I want go back to my second historical. I want to write a book that makes me laugh and sigh. I want to fall in love with my hero as I pull his puppet strings to make him an admirable man that is significant in the lives of others. I want to step out of my world, my life, and go somewhere new, back in time, where romance, innovation and courage touches the lives of those who need it. (Going back to the dance world is not a fun escape for me. Sad but true.)


 


I have lost enthusiasm for writing this month. That is not like me. I’ve been thinking it is because of spring, or because of other personal issues, but really, I think it’s just that this book doesn’t excite me. It actually makes me tired. Annoyed.


 


I’ve received lots of positive, encouraging commentary from my teachers that make me feel I have promise as a writer. I just have to channel my energy, my instinct and my creative juices to the subjects that inspire me. And brings me joy. The entire point of writing is not to accomplish something specifically – but to do what I love –  without fear or expectation.   


 


Thank God I am pursuing my MFA, however, because it keeps me at the grindstone, forcing me to maintain a degree of discipline that will mold the writer lurking inside of me – like it or not.


 


I guess, the book I am working on now is like eating my spinach. But man o man – what a bitter taste it has lately.

A perfect Easter gift!





Some people get a baby bunny or a little dyed chick for Easter, but I like to do things in a big way. Guess what I got? A BABY HORSE!


 


I won’t go into my profound disappointment that I missed the actual delivery. My own fault (but some of the blame certainly can be attributed to Dixie, because she didn’t show any of the warning signs). 


 


Saturday morning, I was signed up to run a 5K with my son – the first one that was close enough to us to bother to attend. I woke up at 5:00am feeling awful. I’ve had a killer cold all week. So I took some Dristan to feel better and wrote a bit on the computer. By six, I was drowsy, so I lay down. Didn’t get up until 10:00!!!! (long after the race was over). That is so opposed to my normal behavior.


 


Every morning Mark and I go feed the horses early, often stopping at this dingy diner we love for breakfast. However, since I had set a president for being lazy this morning, I decided to make a big family breakfast. I made German Apple Pancakes, biscuits, bacon and eggs. And we all sat around eating – relaxing – until almost noon. Then Mark and Kent headed out to the land to de-bark some logs and I went to run errands and wash my car. Little did we know that we were missing the excitement out at the land. Dixie isn’t due until May 1st, so frankly, I’ve not been too obsessive about sticking around. I was planning that next week.


 


The boys arrived just as Dixie was finishing the delivery. Our neighbor watched the entire thing. He said he thought about calling, but didn’t. Drat. Any other morning, we would have all been there.


 


Since we don’t have cell phone service out there, it’s difficult for Mark to call me. He has to drive up a hill to get a signal. By the time he reached me, it’d been an hour. He and Kent watched our new filly take her first steps and feed. By the time Neva and I arrived (with suds still on my car, because I left halfway through the wash process when I got the call) the baby horse was already trotting all over the pasture with her mom. So my first sight of her was at 3 hours old. I sure would have like to see the birth, but I did see the icky after birth and the sac the horse came in, and witness the first hours of her life. I guess that is enough to be grateful for, for a city slicker like me.


 


Our new baby horse is beautiful, an exact replica of her mother. We named her April. With her coloring and long thin legs, her slight and bony body, she looks like a deer with a big head. She was unsteady the first day, stumbling a bit when she was on a slant. She sleeps a lot as all newborns do, but it’s amazing that moments after they are born, horses can walk, trot, and even run. They are alert and start interacting with others in the herd too.  I could watch her forever.     


 


We handled the baby lots, which is advised, because it helps them bond with humans. Mostly, I wanted to pet Dixie. She kept closing her eyes – she was so tired. She is proving a good mother, attentive and gentle. They are together every moment, Dixie and her new little mini-me.


 


We’re told that within the week, April will get frisky and playful. We’ll be entertained by her jumping and bounding around the pasture, as her behavior gets mischievous and silly. Beats going to another movie any day!


 


So now, I have one more attraction to pull me away from homework and all the duties I should be attending to. I can’t seem to focus on with spring seducing me as it is. The llama is integrated into the fold now, though still a bit standoffish. I’ve learned a great deal about llamas the last few days –a remarkable animal. They are used as herd protectors, for wool and as pack animals. Up here, they are very popular with hikers. You can pack all your equipment on them and they can handle the roughest terrain. Their silent and steady and don’t shy the way a horse does. They have small feet that don’t put wear and tear on trails, so they are allowed places where horses aren’t. Cool. So, perhaps one day, I’ll consider some grand walkabout adventure with Dali in the Appalachian hills. Can’t imagine better company.


 


It is spring break for my kids this week. Mark is facing lots of work on the land because the builder is ready for the thirteen-foot logs and he can only complete about three in a day. I am behind in my homework, and really need to attend to it. Yet, we still want to do some fun things with the kids. They deserve some recreation. Mark wants to take them to Dollywood, I want to go Kayaking and to Atlanta to see the Chocolate exhibit at the museum (which sounds boring, but I’m told is interesting). Hopefully, we will do it all.


 


But not today. Today, I will work. I will go get some hay for the animals and stare with wonder at the April for an hour or two. I will clean my house and cook something even though I have too many leftovers from my gluttonous Easter spread to merit making dinner. I will plug away at the books “Beloved” and “Tell it Slant”, two things I’m reading for school. If I’m good, I will go take a run (actually, that is a walk around the mountain with a one mile run at the road that circles around to the other entrance) but don’t count on that. I haven’t exactly been disciplined lately.


 


And more than once today, I will stop and take a moment to be grateful. I’m convinced that is the key to happiness. Not just designing a life you love, but taking the time to appreciate it – never taking for granted the good things surrounding you, no matter how subtle. Sure, there are things I could complain about, stresses and annoyances – but frankly, I’d rather not focus there. Staring at April walking gingerly beside her mother, a beautiful sign of fresh life, it’s easier than ever to celebrate the small sweet things that skirt the edges of our harried world. When you take the time to consider it, we all have so many blessings. It is simply a matter of recognizing them.        

Pull up a chair by me.




    
Pictures don’t do justice to the projects featured above (if I say so myself). You can’t read the fine print to appreciate the details of the newspaper chair, or even see the glossy, yellowed finish that makes them look aged and like pop art at the same time. I tried to get a picture the best I could, but the finsh creates a glare and  I guess it’s something you need to view up close in person to truly appreciate. The little rocker and my footstool look good in person too. Ah well.
 
My chair caning class was a great choice, as discovering a new interest goes. I learned all about the art of repairing antique chairs, discovering techniques used to create beautiful caned seats for handmade furniture and learned a bit of the history behind chair caning. Most people in the class brought in chairs that required lace caning, the delicate woven cane you see in Victorian rockers or dining room chairs. I was more interested in rustic furniture seats, so I stuck with rush, sea grass and larger caning patterns. However, I wanted to learn it all, so I was forever sticking my nose in everyone else’s project, especially the lace caning, watching their hands work, trying to learn how to tie off ends, peg cane, and figure out the seven steps they had to follow to create a pattern. It took the lace caner’s all week to complete one chair seat – the work is delicate, monotonous, and time consuming. I was able to get a more immediate sense of gratification, as I completed two rush seats for my historical newspaper chairs, a herringbone patterned 5/8 cane seat for my antique children’s rocker, and a sea grass footstool. And I was finished with my projects by Thursday lunch so I went home early and took Friday off, due to some family responsibilities. Sometimes you just aren’t comfortable taking time for yourself when others are shouldering work.


     Chair caning is really just another version of basketry. I look at chairs in antique shops now, and can recognize what techniques are demonstrated, whether or not the artisanship is good, and in cases when a chair is worn or broken, I know what must be done to repair it. Most importantly, when my husband begins making his rustic log furniture with logs and/or laurel, I can now make becoming seats to complete them. I am looking forward to working together to make some interesting places to sit for our new home.


     But what I loved most about taking this class was spending the week with such wonderful people. It was a small class but every student was interesting, warm and friendly. Lovely. I worked next to a woman named Nancy from a small community in Kansas, and she had great stories to tell about her life. Her husband was in the Cherokee storytelling class – he is a librarian – and we talked about storytelling and how it relates to reading. Mary sat behind me. She brought in a huge Victorian rocker that needed detailed lacework and she was having a hard time getting such a large project done, primarily because she is recovering from chemotherapy. Her husband was in the Windsor chair class, a 7-day course where participants make the detailed chair from scratch. Ralph was from Florida, also working on lace caning. He is an avid bird watcher and he entertained us with amazing birdcalls throughout the day. He often came late, because he was hanging out with the teacher of the Nature Studies class, talking birds.


       But the person I enjoyed the most was Cliff. Cliff is a professional caner. He was the teacher of this class for years and years, but he retired this fall, turning the class over to two of his former students, Don and Gwen. Cliff returned as their “assistant” simply because he loves the Campbell school. He worked on chairs he was commissioned to do by customers, but spent as much time teaching and helping us with our projects as our teachers did.   


    Cliff is 83, but as sharp as anyone I know. He was an endless source of jokes and history, unfailingly amusing with a down to earth perspective. He has energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence. Unlike many older people, he also is very aware of the trends in our new society. For example, when someone brought up American Idol, he talked about the contestants and the judges like any well informed fan. When we talked about the internet, he shared funny stories about his discovery of Google. He said he gets a kick out of searching for his name, because he can find information on every craft show he’s ever done, class he taught, how many dogs he has, and what he had for dinner last night. He makes lots of age jokes. Someone would ask how old his son is, and he’d say, “Oh, about 105. I had him later in life.” Or if they asked when he last did a daisy pattern lace cane, he’d say, “Oh that was a long time ago. I was only 123 then.”  Then he’d grin sheepishly and laugh. (I only found out how old he really is by asking my teacher Don, one of his dearest friends.)


       Cliff was in the navy, worked in the corporate world in early years, has been involved in theater, is an antique aficionado, a respected craftsmen, has traveled all over and . . . well, this man has had an interesting and creative life. The kind you can’t help but admire. And even at 83, he lives fully, vivaciously. He’s a model of living to your highest potential, savoring life, and making great connections with others.


      Cliff adored my newspaper chairs, liked that I created something original and novel. He was encouraging and engaging to talk with. I simply loved his company.


     I think staying young is a matter of being interested in the world, communicating with others, and living an authentic life. Cliff has mastered all of these things better than anyone of his age. I admired him (and his companion, a woman who is an established lace caner as well) so much.


       I thought I might not enjoy this week as much as the others I’ve spent at the Campbell school, because this was the first time I’ve gone alone. In the past, I’ve taken classes with my husband, and even this session, I was signed up with my sister in law (but the health issues with her father made it impossible for her to attend.) But there is something calming and lovely about the grounds, the flowering paths, the historical center and craft shop, the spacious studios peppered around the many acres – it is like a walking meditation zone– the very atmosphere of this wholesome, natural environment is so welcoming I couldn’t help but feel comfortable.


    Each day, students gather in a large dining hall for lunch. Wonderful gourmet dishes are served family style. I sat at a different table each afternoon to meet and talk with new faces. The first day, I sat with a table of all blacksmiths. Boy, can those guys eat. (Good choice, I was trying to diet.) I heard all about their hammering and working with metal – they are a rowdy lot.


   The next day, I sat with members of the Banjo class. I told them I was once married to a banjo player. They wouldn’t pass the rolls to me (also OK since I was on a diet) because they said they could never trust a girl who divorced a banjo player. I explained that it wasn’t the music I had issues with – but perhaps the music that wasn’t being made between us. They did pass the rolls eventually. I knew enough about banjo’s to be able to carry on a conversation –a surprise to me.


   The next day, I sat next to the teacher of the Cherokee Storytelling Class. He was fascinating. We talked about his Indian culture, my historical books, and storytelling in general. He got me all excited about the national storytelling festival. Gotta go. Fun.


   I also sat the teacher from the spinning and Dying class, but damn if I didn’t have the llama yet, so I didn’t take advantage of it to pick her brain. Next time.


     There were others, from all kinds of classes – the glass fusing class, faux finishing, nature studies, and best of all, the outdoor cooking over an open fire class (gotta take that one someday). I love the conversations at lunch. We talk about our classes and this leads to talk about other interests and experiences. Inevitably, we talk about how we discovered the Campbell school. Most students have been coming for years and years – taking at least one week out of their lives to really relax in this old world environment. As such, it seems everyone is fascinating – the kind of people who have avid interests, pursue alternate experiences from mainstream culture, and who have a generous graciousness regarding art, history, and nature.


     Many of the people are older, 50’s and 60’s, retired yet learning to be craftsmen to supplement their income and reinvent their lives to something creative– or they are celebrating leisure for the first time in years, using it to pursue latent interests. But some students are younger and many families come together (sorry, no children). I’ve sat with generations of women from a single family who come for a “girl’s week”. The grandmother is in a quilting class, the daughter in silk screening, and the young adult granddaughter in jewelry making.


    I’m always amazed so many couples come year after year, the husband taking one class, the wife in another – it is a part of their journey as a couple growing together. I hear them describe the ten years they have been coming, jealous. How it is Mark and I never got around to visiting? We knew about this school. – But then, our lives were consumed with a different art and we never took time for anything else. Sad, that.


      I will be returning in May with my daughter for a weekend silver jewelry class. We will learn to melt silver to make charms and chains. (Talk about a hefty materials fee…. eesh ) But it’s her birthday present. I will look forward to learning something new, but mostly, I look forward to sharing this wonderful place with my daughter. This kind of memory beats another trip to Disney world or a tangible present any day. For us both.


     My week is over but I now have chairs for my writing room which not only emote two things I love, history and art, with their unusual design – but they are also proof that dance isn’t the only thing I can do well – and to top it off, they remind me of a place I love too.


     Amazing how much joy can be associated to a simple chair. if you go about it right.


        


 


 


  


 


     

The Dali Llama lives in Georgia?




I know everyone is waiting anxiously to find out how my birthday was. (My internet was down, so the suspense has been dragged out due to technical difficulties – not as a ploy for effect.)


     It was great.


    And, yes. I’m a llama mamma.


    One black male llama. Five years old. Still has his balls, (helpful should I ever acquire a female llama and want to start a booming llama business.) Name. . .  Well, you don’t want to know what his former name was . . . (“Nigger”, she whispers with shocked indignation). The llama is NOW named Dali. This means, the Dali llama lives at the Hendry homestead. How cute is that?


   He doesn’t spit. You can ride him. And he hasn’t been shaved for five years, so he looks like an Antarctica, prehistoric llama. His hair is long and thick, like dreadlocks. He has beautiful, soulful eyes, a regal carriage, and he thinks he owns the pasture.


    The horses and donkey can’t figure out what kind of creature he is, so they are nervous and stay clear of him. Dali, however, comes from a pasture with twenty horses, so he thinks he is not just with horses – now he is with chickens.


    He keeps circling the pasture, step by step, the horses keeping as far away as they can, staring, snorting, and pawing the ground. Dali is learning his new territory and I’m told he’ll keep to himself for three days, then suddenly adjust and start herding with the others. He’ll come in for food then and start bonding with us. I hope someone bothers to tell the horses this bit of news because I don’t see them anywhere near ready to make friends yet.


    Dali is an odd-looking creature – exotic. He looks almost like a bird, a rare ostrich or something. His long neck, curved ears and thick, feather-looking fur, combined with unusually thin legs and two-toed hooves (that look like bird feet) make him seem otherworldly.


     I adore him!


     For the record, I did give Mark an “out”. About a week ago, he asked for the Ferrier’s number, “Because”, he commented, “One of the horses lost a shoe.”


      The thing is, I’m the one who takes care of the daily animal maintenance stuff (which is why I had the number), so I could only assume he wanted the number to chase down the llama for sale. I had an option. I could play dumb and act as if I didn’t notice this request was out of character (to get what I want) or to use that opportunity to tell my husband not to feel obligated to purchase me this llama to prove his undying love.


    I was quiet.. . . well, for about an hour.


    Then, we went out to breakfast, and when he brought it up again, I felt, in all fairness, he deserved an “out”. I told him I could only assume he wanted the number of the Ferrier because he was thinking of buying me the llama I coveted, but I knew we were not in a position to get one now, so I could wait. I appreciate the thought, – I knows he does what he can to give me my heart’s desire. But I don’t want to be asking for impractical things.


    He actually got angry and said he was in no way considering buying me a damn llama. Don’t get my hopes up. And he went on and on about Goliath’s lost shoe and my presumptuousness to think I deserved a llama.    


    So, I let it go.


    Then, no one mentioned my birthday again. Not a peep. Not a single question about what I wanted or where I wanted to celebrate. Nothing. They acted as if I wasn’t having a birthday at all. Now, some women might fall for the “Gee I forgot,” routine – but not me. My husband has never forgotten an anniversary or a birthday – ever.


     Then – the day before my birthday, Mark said the Ferrier was coming out to shoe the horse on Wednesday – it was the only day he could get the appointment. He also said he would be working on the land the entire day.


     Yea, right. I’ll believe that. It’s my birthday, and you have plans to work the entire day, into the night, and you made appointments for the pets that I have to supervise (so I have assigned tasks too) and we aren’t going to acknowledge the day in any way.  Sure – that makes sense…


     So, I pretty much guessed there would be a surprise at the land and this was a ruse to get me there.


     I drove up to two excited kids and a llama picking his way gingerly through the field. He stopped to stare at my car. It was love at first sight. (For me, at least) but he is playing hard to get.  I would have seduced him with treats, but damn if I don’t know what a llama likes for snacks. He turned his nose up at carrots, apples, and sugar. I was out of weapons. I will do some research and return prepared tomorrow – ready to win him over.


     Dali was from Mark and the kids, and I do love this gift. I was, an am, thrilled. How many people can say their husband will buy them a llama? Reminds me of the movie Phenonoma. A man is sarcastically making fun of John Travolta for buying all these chairs he didn’t need from the woman who made them. He kept acquiring the chairs because he loved her and he wanted to show her support, make her feel sucessful, and it gave him a chance to see her and make her smile.
    The fellow sitting with the guy said, “John was smart. Your wife left you, right? I bet it is because you never bother to buy her chairs.  Did you ever bother to learn what her chairs were so you could buy them to show your love? every woman has chairs, but only good men know enough to buy them.” It was a wonderful description of love. – This
llama is a chair for me – a hairy, funky chair. It is nice to know my husband is willing to buy my chairs even now, after 18 years together.
    
Mark said that when the fellow delivered it and they set it lose in the field, they watched it for a while, and the guy asked, “So why does your wife want a llama?”


     Mark said, “I have absolutely no idea.”


     Then Mark said, “Why did you have a llama?”


     The fellow smiled and said, “No reason.”


    Well – that is my point exactly.


     Mark said, “My wife will love him. She’ll change the name of course.”
      The fellow said, “This llama knows his name. Been called ‘Nigger’ for five years. Might be best to keep it.”   
     Mark laughed. “Trust me. She’ll change the name. In fact, I don’t know if I should tell her what it’s name formerly was. Might influence her opinion of this llama.”
     It did. Makes me love him more. I figure it is an act of mercy to adopt this llama and give him a appropriate name. Yes – it was fate that this particular llama, (who clearly wasn’t appreciated considering the derogitive name assigned – nor should a llama be walking around giving people a reason to chuckle over a racism joke name) found a new home with me. Sets things right, ya know. I guess one could question how respectful the name Dali is too – only, considering I am a sorta semi-practicing buddhist, I think it isn’t a slander – more a play on words. 
 
Back to my birthday….


     My sister-in-law gave me the next best present in the world. A big blackberry bush to plant out near my blueberry bush. Yippee. I’ve been talking about wanting blackberries. Now, I’ll have ’em.


   My chair caning class has been wonderful, and I met some delightful people, whom I’ll discuss later. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday week – productive, creative, easygoing and inspirational – with loads of wonderful conversation to tweak the mind. And I made some fantastic chairs and learned so much. Mark showed up on Wednesday with an apple pound cake to share with the group (and flowers.) It always makes a gal look good to have an attentive spouse – makes her seem like quite the catch to have a fellow hustling to please. He earned brownie points coming and going for that brilliant move. I  complained that I couldn’t eat the cake, however, considering I was on a diet, but he told me it was a “lose a pound-cake”. Well then, I had to eat a big piece! What the heck – it was my birthday. He wouldn’t stay for lunch. Said he had to get back to the land to work. Yea, right.


     When the kids asked me what I wanted for my birthday (after the fact) I sang them a song. I wanted:


Sammy and a pile of hay.


Sammy and a pile of hay.


Sammy and a pile of hay.


And Maxine to be O…..K.   


(You have to imagine a rousing gospel flavor to appreciate the tune.)


 


Even though there is no hay to be had anywhere in town (due to the heavy rain this year) Mark managed to find a few bales this week. Maxine is worm-free and fine.


But Sammy is still MIA


Almost a perfect birthday . . . but I miss my dog.


I am still holding out hope.


    Finally yet importantly – I talked to some people at the Campbell school who know llamas. I commented that his hair was so long and he looked so hot. They said you should sheer them this time of year – just like sheep. This would get rid of all that matted hair and make him cool for summer, and the hair is valuable. Go figure. Mark and I discussed where we would have to go to find someone willing to come sheer the llama, and I finally said, “Let’s figure out how and do it ourselves. It will be fun, and since we will have him for years, we might as well learn how.” I’m told they are hard to hold down. Well – there are two of us and only one of him. Mark sighed and said, “Why not.” Gee, I’m glad he is willing to embrace the unknown. (I need his muscles, I’m thinking – and he is a good size to hide behind if Dali starts spitting.)


    Ha. This will be an adventure.   I’ve never sheered a llama before – bet it is memorable. So, tonight, I’m going on E-bay to find a llama sheerer (a sheep sheering device, I figure) and perhaps a book or article to explain how to go about the task. Maybe we can get creative and try a few hairstyles in the process – a llama pompadour or a llama mohock.


    See – having a llama will expand our experiences and allow us to learn new things. I knew this was a good gift.


All I have to think about now, is what I will make out of all that llama wool!  


 What I’d like to make, is a litle black sweater for a little black dog – one with a space for a tail to tuck between his legs because he is feeling guilty for running away. Yep – that is what I wish I had a need for now.

P.S. My daughter told her boyfriend about what was going on at home. He said, “First you tell me your mom made a “Negros for sale” chair, then you tell me your dad bought your mom a pet called “Nigger” for her birthday. Do I really want to meet these people?” Very funny. 
Circumstantial evidence – don’t ya hate when that happens.   

Aliens took my dog

Aliens have abducted my dog. It better be aliens, cause if I find out a person took him, I’m gonna kick their arse from here to kingdom-come.


 


Last Sunday, Mark went to the land to de-bark and sand some huge logs, columns needed to support his loft office, which overlooks a huge great room with 25-foot ceilings (very cool). He took the kids with him so I could attend to some pressing homework. Kent works with him now, turning the logs and learning a bit about woodwork, and Neva likes to play with the animals, so they love joining him out at our house site. Our family dog, Sammy, went with them too.


 


They couldn’t take Maxine, our new puppy, because she threw up what looked like spaghetti, but it turned out to be worms. We worm all the animals regularly, but she joined our family mid cycle, so somehow we missed this. After grossing us out big time, she was home, sleeping off the medicine we gave her to rectify the problem. Our big, boisterous 6-month-old Shepard puppy stayed home too because he just takes too much room up in the car and he is still a bit wild to pt in the back of the pickup. So, just Sammy joined the family for a day in the fresh outdoors. Sammy  adores the land. Thinks he’s a rough and tough mountain dog now. He barks at the horses, chases squirrels, stomps through the creek, looks for possums and skunks, and best of all, he pigs out on horse maneuver. He likes it best steaming from the oven, if you get my drift.


 


 At about two Mark called and asked if I would like to meet them at Subway for a lunch break, and I did. We were only out about 30 minutes. Mark put Sammy in the enclosed horse pasture – a fenced area he shouldn’t be able to get out of. The horses and the donkey (who like to stomp little dogs) were grazing outside, so Mark figured Sammy  was safer in than out . When they returned, he was missing. I guess the dog could have gotten out, yet we also thought it might be possible some kids that were four wheeling on our land let him out. They like to come down and pet our animals, so who knows.


 


Discovering him gone didn’t concern anyone at first. They called and called, but Sammy was nowhere to be found. When they called me, I joined them for the search, but had no luck either. It was getting dark, so we finally had to leave. We assumed Sammy would be there in the morning. He’s been to the area dozens of times and knows it fairly well. He wasn’t.


 


We talked to all the neighbors, then put up two dozen signs with a sad little picture of Sammy looking lost. We put notices up at the two-area vet’s offices, called animal rescue and the animal search and rescue lady that announces on the local radio. No luck. We got a lead from the neighbor Tuesday. She said she saw a small black dog like the one in the picture running across her field. So we went out there and called and called, but in the end, we only saw crows. I have serious doubts he was ever there.


 


Now, each day, we drive all around the area, calling up and down the streets and talking to people we see. No one has seen a small black dog. Actually, most dogs up here are big, so a schnauzer would stand out. They say people steal pedigreed dogs around here, and I guess that is a possibility, but our land is tucked away, far removed from others, so I find it hard to believe a dog thief would happen to ramble by at the very moment we were gone. And Sammy is neutered and nine. Who really would want him? He is actually a very badly behaved little bratty dog, and if someone did take him, I wouldn’t be surprised if they threw him back over the fence a week or so later. Only the original family would love this dog. We do, and we want him home where he belongs.


 


This week on the news, they featured a story about a found dog. A couple lost a small Sitsu – it wandered away from their backyard- and they went through all the motions to find him, but he never turned up. Sadly, life went on. Now, suddenly the dog shows up. They got a call from Animal rescue informing them their dog is in their possession.


The couple said, “We don’t have a dog.”


Animal rescue said, “Don’t you have a sitsu named Mimi? We have it here. It is wearing a collar with your name and address.”


The woman on the phone said, “We lost that dog 5 years ago!!!”


Well. Now, they’ve found it. And it made the news.  No one knows where the dog has been. It’s wearing the same collar it had on five years ago when it wandered off. The dog is healthy. It isn’t dirty or behaving differently. How odd is that? If it found another home, certainly the new owners would change the collar after 5 years. The original owners said the dog doesn’t even look older. Hummm………….


 


So, I’m thinking aliens took that dog. They are done studying it, and have now returned it to Georgia (where aliens would naturally go to find signs of intelligent life.) Upon returning to earth, the dog naturally sought out his family.


 


So, perhaps Sammy is in outer space, pooping in a big ole spaceship instead of on my bedroom floor for a change. He is barking at space mailmen and making a general nuisance of himself, pawing to be petted when ET just wants to read.


 


I miss him.  I can’t sleep at night thinking about where he is and what he is doing. Mark says he might be curled up on someone’s couch, but I have visions of him hungry and dirty, alone and lonely. I can’t stand it.


 


I will keep looking – praying coyotes and cruel people haven’t encountered him and that he will wander home soon. Even if he comes home with antennas and beeping. I want him back.


 


I love my dog. Flaws and all. In fact, I love him because of his flaws.


Sammy, wherever you are, I’m with you.

Pull up a chair, friend

This week I’ll be taking a chair caning class at the Campbell Folk School. I called to cancel the course because I felt uncomfortable pursuing my own interests in light of the stress my husband is going through. I didn’t feel it was fair to expect him to have to arrange his day around school pick-up and plan dinner etc… But when I called, I was told I would lose my deposit, so I decided to make a compromise so it wouldn’t be a total loss. I’ll go, but leave early each day so my participation doesn’t interfere with my husband’s schedule. It’s also my birthday week, so this gives me something to do, which alleviates my family having to plan something to entertain me for the day.


 


So – the class is on. And that means I need to ready my chairs. Each student is supposed to bring several projects, refinished, repaired and ready to cane.  Because I knew I would be painting layers of gloss on my chairs, I had to get cracking.  I bought my two chairs for 10.00 each at a flea market. I had to cut off all the old dry, racked caning and unscrew the seat top. I then had to spray-painting the base coat with an off white. My husband insisted I do this away from the house and it was nighttime before I was free to work on it, so I trudged down the mountain to spray in the dark. Needless to say, in the morning, I had to laugh at the splotchy chairs, with a bug or two painted on. Ah well, it lends character and the surface of the chairs will all be covered up anyway.


 


Next, I had to go to storage to get my Penny Romance Papers published in 1873. Our storage unit is like hell – if hell is a two-foot space where you are locked in by everything you ever owned. Like Ebenezer Scrooge who collected chains throughout life, everything we’ve collected in our vast eclectic living is piled in this unit until our home is built. (And frankly, the fact that we are living without all this stuff for a year does make you question if you really need it – but that is fodder for another blog). Our furniture, books, clothes, kitchen wares, Flex paraphernalia, tools, hobbies, toys, bikes and you name it are all stacked twelve feet high in this 30-foot unit. I begin rooting through, but there is only so much I can find within reach, and eventually, I have to admit I’m never going to find these papers. At least, not until summer when we move.


 


That means I have to come up with another idea for my chair. I stood there among the tangible evidence of my life and began considering just what other theme would be meaningful to me and a good contribution to my writing room.  A chair decoupaged with hundreds of dance pictures? Family pictures? The articles I’ve had published in magazines? Pages from the classics I’m reading for school? Do I really want a Faulkner chair? I had wanted the chairs to be indicative of my love for history and writing, so in the end, I decide to try to stick with that. I went shopping. Back to the antique stores I go in search of more penny romance papers. But they are no longer available. It was a rare find.


 


So I begin looking for vintage newspapers. I find lots of Civil War period New York Times, but little else. Finally, I stumble on two wonderful papers, Gleason’s Pictorials, published on January 28th, 1854 and Harper’s Weekly Journal of Civilization, November 22, 1862. I also couldn’t resist a two-page newspaper flyer called the Daily Courier, April 3rd, 1853, which are all classified ads. I’m thrilled with these finds, but evidently aware that these papers, at around $50 each, mean I am making a rather expensive chair. But I justify that, because these chairs will be with me a long time, I can afford to spend a bit. I want everything in my first and only private space to have meaning, and frankly, if I bought an antique, I would spend a great deal more.


 


Now, I must begin adhering the papers to my chairs, which are just standard rung chairs with a slatted back. First, I read the papers, dwelling in the amazing history of the time. I should read more of these things. It really takes you to a different time, place and cultural thought. Makes me want to write.  I read about the death sentence of a woman who murdered her husband, written with such melodrama and sensationalism, it made me laugh. We don’t slant news like that today. The papers include poetry and stories, because people didn’t have TV or radio and reading (for those that could read) was their primary entertainment. But what fascinated me most, was the advertisements.


 


I glued the front-page title and headlines of the paper to the top rung of my chair so the date showed, and wrapped pages around the legs and body of the chair. Then, I cut out specific ads and placed them in strategic places. I was most interested in all these ads of “Negros for sale”.


 


I need to explain that my current historical novel (which is on hold until I finish my literary dance book at school – on hold because academia doesn’t focus on commercial fiction, which my historical love stories are) is about a lawyer who is on a quest to free slaves. He works with the Underground Railroad. He’s discovered, and as result, he, my heroine, and two slaves are on the run. They go to Florida and interact with the Seminole Indians (who consisted of many runaway black slaves) and eventually make their way to a boat that takes them to California. The slave characters in my book include a woman 23 years old, and the book takes place in 1853 – the very year of this paper.  Let me point out that this book is all about freedom and equality and I’m told my best characters in the book happen the black characters. In other words, this is not a racist book. The book is about justice really and a sensitivity to the plight of black Americans. The hero and heroine fall in love because they recognize their joint moral convictions.


 


As you can imagine, I look at these papers, and realize I’m reading ads that could be the real life evidence of my story – one ad is an offer for an award for a young 23 year old black woman runaway (50$ reward – what a sad price on a life, huh?) and other ads are solicitation for selling negros. Because I want this chair in my writing room, and because I am thinking of my book, I cut out these ads and place them in a prominent place on this piece of art people can sit on. This chair is like research now, a part of my book for the room where I will finish writing it.


 


I am thrilled with the look of the chair, so I begin the many layers of glue and water to seal it. But as the first coat dries, I’m looking with pride at the chair, and I start to think about how others will see it. And it occurs to me, I have a chair that has “Negro’s for sale” plastered on it. Holly crap! Now, I understand why I’ve created this, but will other people? For all I know, others will look at it and think I support the notion of selling Negros, or at the very least, it makes me look insensitive regarding this sad period of history. Now, I’m feeling really, really self-conscious about my beloved chair. I can’t undo my choice without wrecking it. I spend an hour totally uncomfortable and feeling inappropriate, until I break down and cover one of the ads up with an ad for Ladies selling skin products. (Ha- a funny add that says if you want to be beautiful, you must use their cream because it will remove freckles. Guess you can’t be beautiful and have freckles.)


 


Now, I still have a chair with a few questionable ads, but none are actually front and center. By the time I put 5 layers of glue and water on the chair and three layers of honey colored polyurethane to give it a glossed, sepia look, the print is subtle anyway. But I know my husband is going to kid me about this chair big time.


 


Now, I stand back and admire my chair again. I love it . . . but . . . . Suddenly I start to question the integrity of my work. Perhaps it is wrong to have cut up these wonderful historical artifacts. Now, you can’t read most of the print. I’m starting to consider the journey of these papers and how they survived. I suppose they were in a file of a publishing office somewhere as originals for years and years. Then, when the paper collapsed, they were sold or given away. Or maybe this particular paper was saved because the person who ran an ad wanted a copy for prosperity. Or it could have just been used to line a trunk filled with a wedding dress or something. And it laid in someone’s attic for years. Then, 75 to a hundred years later, someone realizes old papers are worth something, so they take them out and keep them awhile to show friends or family members. But they never really display the papers, so eventually, they’re sold. And the papers fall into an antique dealer’s hands where they sit in a stack of old papers and magazines for a long time. People come along and view them, marveling at the contents, but really, what can you do with an old newspaper? You can frame the first page, but you can’t very well frame all 8 pages – it would take up a room. So the best you can do is keep it folded up in the protective sleeve.


 


But I come along and buy it to put it on a chair.


 


Now, a part of me thinks this is a good end for a paper that survived so long. For one thing, the paper was disintegrating (which made it really hard to brush on glue without destroying it altogether. Who knows how much longer it would have held out? Soon, you wouldn’t be able to remove it to turn the pages to read it anyway. ) Now, it’s been cut and arranged, but still, it’s preserved forever. And another thing, the paper isn’t hidden away for the rare occurrence when someone looks at it – now people will enjoy it all the time. It will be a conversation piece – and something I will cherish and appreciate. So, I justify my act by thinking the ultimate fate of this paper, the reason it was saved all this time, was simply for me. For this specific project. And I start thinking, “Wouldn’t the person who originally read this daily paper be amazed to think that over 150 years later a woman will use it to decorate her home.” Life is remarkable, ya know.  


 


I collect old books and I have my penny romance newspapers. I’m thinking I might start collecting some of these papers too and I’ll preserve those particular items for all time. This will prove I don’t think historical artifacts are disposable items for my own end.  I need to make a table to go with these chairs – I’m imagining a small bistro set for my room, and I’m thinking I’ll refinish the table in another way. I will look for the kind with a glass top over a hollow center that allows you to put items inside to view. I can start collecting money from the 1850’s and other artifacts and make it a mini museum.


 


So, my “Negro’s for sale” chairs are on the porch drying with their last coat of polyurethane.(wince) I will meet my instructors tonight at the welcome dinner, and tomorrow I’ll begin learning to cane the seats. I don’t know what to chose for this last portion of the remodeling– there are so many kinds of textiles and patterns employed in the craft of caning. I’ll wait and see what is recommended. I also bought an old child’s rocking chair without a seat at an antique shop for $8.00. I can start with that to practice. I know my kids have outgrown a tiny seat, but I’ll have grandkids someday and it is a great accent piece if nothing else.      


 


I will put a picture of my finished chair on this blog at the end of the week. You won’t be able to read the fine print, so no cracks from the peanut gallery. But trust me; my husband is having a field day with this one.