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Monthly Archives: May 2006

Running can be a true “Pick me up”

When I ran yesterday, I left the dog at home and opted to take a trash bag instead. I’ve noticed trash wedged in the weeds along the country road where my new route lies. I guess when you run someplace regularly, you tend to take ownership of the space, because I’ve been compelled to clean it up. Beer bottles, cigarette packages, and fast food containers are not my idea of landscape art. (Figures it would be beer bottles. Wine drinkers wouldn’t be so classless as to litter.)  These discards drag my attention away from the green rolling hills and soft-eyed cows, so they simply have to go.


 


I jogged the first ¼ mile passing up the small wrappers and rare Mountain Dew bottle on the side of the road. I figured anything I picked up early would have to be dragged with me the entire run, so it would make sense to just get it on the way back. But the second ¼ mile happens to be the stretch where most of the litter has landed, as if there is one culprit who drives home from work everyday, and at exactly this point in his journey, rolls down his window and tosses out the remains of whatever he was consuming.


 


I started picking up Budweiser cans and Taco Bell boxes. Pissed me off. For one thing, you can’t run while stooped over, so this pretty much wrecks my workout, and for another, it’s gross. I filled the entire bag with rotting debris on that next ¼ mile. Now, I was only ½ of a mile into a three-mile run, lugging a heavy bag of garbage. I propped it against a tree and decided to pick it up on the way back. No reason to carry it the entire way, beside which it was full, so its not like I could pick up more trash. The remainder of the run was relatively trash free (supporting my “one man with no environmental ethics and a pattern of behavior” theory). I figured I’d run with another trash bag tomorrow and nab the leftovers then.


 


By the time I had turned around and made it back to my trash bag, I was getting tired. These are not easy runs for me anymore (and I fear they never will be). I’ve never been a good runner, only a determined one. I spend all my time looking up at the sky, enjoying the breeze on my sweaty skin and stopping whenever something interesting catches my eye. I spend zero time concentrating on pace or form or doing speed drills to improve. I don’t push to go farther or faster. I just enjoy the lumbering plodding that gets my heart racing. If my natural lack of talent isn’t enough, the hills around here catapult my “below average” rank into a “you’re an embarrassment” status in the pecking order of those that run.  


 


Because I was tired, I contemplated leaving the trash and driving to pick it up later. I was not looking forward to that ½-mile walk straight up the mountain with this loot. But I also imagined a dog coming around and scattering it all over again, and that was unacceptable too. So I just ran (slowly) with it tossed over my shoulder like I was Santa Claus. I passed a house where a couple was outside having a cigarette and lounging on their freshly cut grass before a burning trash pile.


The man said, “Picking up trash? Good for you.”


 I said, “Yep. But it’s heavy. Can I throw it on your fire?”


He thought I was kidding, and made a joke, but I pointed out that I was serious.


He said “Sure, why not.”


So I took advantage of the opportunity and tossed my bag onto their fire.


I complimented their freshly cut grass and his wife took credit for cutting it that day. We exchanged a few jokes about him being a mowing-slacker while we watched the flames swallow my bag. He was a good sport, convincing us he should be excused from razzing because he was hard at work all day. I agreed that was a fair excuse.


Mostly, I think I talked to them just to watch the fire. I was delighted to see that road trash become smoke.


 


Afterwards, I plodded home, growling as I passed the litter left behind when I first started this project. I will just have to get it tomorrow. The question is, will my refreshed running path stay that way? Or will I have to pick up again and again after that certain someone who thinks the great outdoors is his private car receptacle.


 


And will I? Or will I step over the beer cans out of principal, the way I leave my son’s socks on the floor to teach him that he has to be “responsible”. Picking up once after a lazy someone is a gift. Doing so everyday alleviates the proof that one’s actions have consequences.  


 


The thing is, what’s acceptable to one person is not always acceptable to another. So while I’d love to imagine that the suddenly clean roadside will inspire reverence and appreciation for the view, it’s more likely my efforts won’t even be noticed.


Except by me. And if I’m the only one who cares whether or not this route is clean, I’ll have to be the one to bend over once in a while to keep it that way. Fair or not.


 


So, the real question is, how can I repeatedly pick up trash and not get a chip on my sweaty running shoulder over it? Hummmm………….


 


How many calories does a bending-over-break in the middle of a sluggish run actually burn?


. . . . . . Enough, I guess.

Wildly yours




My husband has been terribly stressed lately. Part of this is because he is designing and building a house, but mostly it’s over his parents. I won’t go into the emotional impact this ordeal is taking, but it’s a doozie.


 


Anyway, yesterday I wanted to do something to help alleviate stress. But really, there is nothing I can do. The house is his project alone, and while I can help care for his ill parents, the stress associated with this situation goes beyond the daily tasks involved.


 


So – I did the only thing I could think of. I cleaned house.


Now that might seem like a frivolous thing to do in the name of “helping out”, but honestly, I believe it’s easier to handle stress if you have a welcoming home to come to at the end of the hard day. When you feel driven to simply crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head, it’s simply nicer when you are retreating from the world between crisp, clean linen. At least, this is certainly true for my homebody hubby.  


 


So, I rolled up my sleeves and did the floors, scoured the bathrooms and vacuumed and dusted. I lit candles so the room would smell inviting ( I may not have a sense of smell, but my husband always knows what animals have been inside and/or what I’ve been cooking in any given day. His nose is keen enough to make up for my lack of sensory awareness.) I made healthy blueberry bran muffins (using the last of our handpicked blueberries from our bush last summer) And of course, I put fresh flowers on the table.


 


Now, this isn’t something special for me, because I always have fresh flowers on the table. Even when I was broke and living in New York, I bought flowers for my table. Sacrificed a meal to do it if I had to. I guess flowers have always been my way of feeling in control of my environment. I want pretty things, nature, around me.


 


Because I was busy and limited by the fluctuating availability of the flowers in our yard, I used to purchase nice bouquets of hothouse flowers from the grocery store or Sams. Not now. Now, I just go outside and pick wildflowers. This is one of my dearest pleasures living here. Suddenly, those perfect hearty flowers you can get at the store seem undesirable to me. Processed or something. The flowers that grow wild on a hillside, while less uniform, seem more natural. Delicate. Their stems are limper and they don’t last as long, thanks to the fact that they were not designed for packing and transporting and they haven’t been dyed or soaked in flower preserver. The wildflowers are less groomed, yet still they have charm. And the offering is always a surprise, determined by the weather and regional fauna cycles.


 


Some kind of flower blooms here in Georgia constantly from April to October. I used to think our back yard with the 250 orchids was spectacular, but it can’t compare to the earthy beauty here as all these dormant flowers that have slept the winter underground make their appearance in their own sweet time. It is so inspirational.


 


Anyway, once I clean, I walk the mountain and pick whatever is growing on that day. I am always surprised to discover my bouquet de jour each week. This week, I picked the last of the purple irises that grow outside of our bathroom window. We have zillions. I don’t mind cutting them because they are hidden in the back area of the cabin and as such they bloom and die un-appreciated if I don’t bring them in.(OK these technically are not wildflowers – they are bulbs, but they are bulbs that have spread wherever they want and no one has gardened them to my knowledge – so they feel like wildflowers to me).  Currently we have wild daisies and yellow thingabobbies everywhere. (Let’s be honest here– I love flowers but I don’t know squat about them).


 


We also have poppies growing on the roadsides. When driving to feed the horses,  I will sometimes pull over and start picking them right there on the side of an empty road. Poppies should be called floppies, by the way, because their stems are so weak they are a pain to arrange. But they are certainly pretty.  We have a huge wild rose bush on our hillside too. I like to cut a few blooms and put them in this lovely piece of handmade pottery that our friends, the Chesleys, gave us when they visited last. It holds water and has spaces for three short stemmed flowers –the perfect thing for these short stemmed roses. Not only is it pretty, but I like how it reminds me of my dear friends. And roses have a particularily special connotation for me. They are a flower that symbolizes love (this is why they were all over my romance website – no accident ya know – red roses are special.)


 


Mark always makes fun of my flowers because I am bad at arranging them. I am the sort of gal who just takes fistfuls of blooms and shoves them into a vase. That does it for me. He will later take them out and rearrange them, as if my sad display offends his artistic sensibilities too awfully. Well, if that’s what you need to do, go for it, Babe. I just like the color and the way our cat sleeps under the blooms as if they inspire grand dreams of the outdoors (she is too lazy to explore it on her own).


 


I guess wild, unruly flowers suit me better than perfectly orchestrated collections. The fact that they are free makes them seem even more like a gift for the soul.


 


My house is clean. Flowers grace the rooms. But the stress is still swirls around my husband, an aura of concern as thick as Jell-O, causing him to pop Advil like it’s candy. 


I want to say, “Please. Take a moment to smell the roses, Dear.” But such words sound shallow, like a surface level pep talk, to someone dealing with true troubles. All I can do is make sure there are roses within range of his nose, and hope that even if he doesn’t consciously notice them, they sooth the endless ache inside in some small measure.


Back with my reading buddy again

   My lessons with Kathy have resumed and they are going nicely. We met last Monday. I expected we would have to go back to square one, considering we’ve had a two-month break, but she zipped right through our flashcards.


    I said, “Wow, you are reading these better than when we met last. What’s up?”


    She said, “After you visited, I decided I really wanted to get serious, so I started practicing with the girls inside. They helped me.”


     She even brought a thin children’s book written for a second grade level. It was too hard for her, but she was excited to try it nevertheless. We only got through a page or two. She told me a woman who had been in jail before her was also learning to read and she had left the book when she left, so the girls encouraged her to take it home.


    She showed me the Happy 40th Birthday cards they made her and I looked at all the encouraging and sweet messages written inside (that Kathy obviously can’t read) and had this overpowering urge to march into jail and start helping every screwed up gal in there. What was truly endearing is how Kathy saves everything that denotes kindness – as if such expressions are few and far between in her world.


     We talked a long time. I ask way too many intimate questions, but she is comfortable answering them. (Mark always accuses me of being inappropriately inquisitive and says, “How do you get people to tell you these things? Well Dear, All ya gotta do is ask, and if you are down to earth and try not to be judgmental, people will often share their gut feelings about things. Real conversation is a welcome change from the surface dialogue that we are trained to engage in in social situations. The thing is, few people ever dare talking about anything real.)  But sometimes, I embarrass him, I think.


     Kathy however, is not embarrassed to talk bluntly to me. She has a childlike honesty and she takes responsibility for her weaknesses and her blunders, something I admire. I won’t go into her history now, but we talked about when and why she experimented with drugs (only started at 36, not as a teen as you would imagine) and her economic difficulties and her attitude about education etc… I am fascinated with her situation and appreciate how she invites me into her world without apologizing for herself or expressing bitterness or frustration about her disadvantages. She is positive and has dreams like everyone else. Life is just what it is for her.


    It is a true eye opener to see the world through another individual’s eyes when they come from an entirely different socio-economic group and upbringing.


    This morning I am off to work with her again. We are ready to tackle new words and simple sentences, so last night I made a few worksheets for our lessons. I am also going to pick up a Kindergarten and/or first grade book or two with worksheets to fill out. I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to be condescending in any way, but she was so excited about her children’s book that I’ve changed my mind.


     I said, “I can bring you lots of these sorts of books Kathy, but I didn’t think you would find them very interesting.”


   She said, “Anything that helps me learn is interesting to me.”


    Talk about a good attitude! Wish my dancers from the past were half as open about doing whatever it takes to grasp a foundation in a subject you intend to master. I’d have worked miracles!  


    I went through dozens of magazines last night – cooking magazines and women’s magazines – looking for anything that I could use to help her with a lesson. She simply isn’t ready for that yet. (All those damn words with four letters and up… sigh).


      There is strength about this woman. She is the “Rocky” of reading. My own “Rudy”.  I don’t pass judgment regarding her recent run in with the law. Heck, who am I to think I would be half as sweet or earnest were I born into a situation with her obviously limited opportunities. Frankly, I respect her.

     Anyway, I won’t bore a reader with a play-by-play account of every lesson, but I did want to say that progress is being made and I am hanging in there, making a small impression in the world in a humble way with this one deserving person. And it feels great. I leave each lesson with a private sense of euphoria – energized and encouraged by my current place in the world and how I’m using my time on earth. Life is what you make it. Not just for yourself, but for all those you rub up against in the process of living

Writing and leaving “Handprints” behind

I got my final response for this term from my current mentor today. It was a very long and detailed assessment of my novel project, a true priceless gift, since this commentary is coming from someone whom I respect and admire. I’m grateful I’ve had a chance to work with someone so devoted to literature and teaching.  As always, she made me feel as if I am a good writer with serious potential – and that I’m finally tapping into it. She say’s I’m improving and I think she’s right. Heck, no one could put this much time and concentration into something and not improve, at least a little.


 


But she had some serious things to discuss with me regarding my novel’s POV. Six months ago, I changed from the third person to the first person, trying to make a smooth transition as I worked in some academic dance essays that were important to me – an unglamorous look at dance from an “after the fact” position. I consider them interesting and revealing regarding my character’s emotional state. But I have been frustrated beyond description with this book, because the new voice just doesn’t feel natural. And it didn’t fix the problem of making the essays “belong”. The writing seems abrupt and lacks the lovely language that makes a story a pleasure to read. And my heroine is a bitch. Yikes.


 


 I also have issues with this project because the book isn’t fun. I miss the rousing historical adventures and the colorful characters I usually invent when working on my “commercial fiction”.  I miss the good sex in my books, the flirting, the humor. I miss falling in love with my hero. Literary work is admirable, but I am not convinced it is what I am cut out for – although I think studying classical fiction has been the best decision I could ever have made.


 


I think I wrote (historicals) because it was a way to escape my life and have a wild adventure that I could control. What a kick. But writing a book about dance isn’t an adventure. It is sort of like sloughing through my psyche and revisiting old wounds and disappointments. When I write about the art of dance and all its beauty, I miss dance and get sad. When I write about the shit side of dance, I get disappointed and sad. Writing this book makes me sad. Period.


 


Anyway, I have only written about 180 pages in the last year. For me that is a shock, for I am usually more prolific. Heck, I wrote more than 150 pages in my blog last month! Writing this book is like slogging through emotional cement. A chore. Perhaps it is because the work is being evaluated by esteemed professionals, or because I feel I can’t just have fun and make it a humorous story because it is supposed to be literary.


 


So – considering all this, my professor has now suggested I write it again (shoot me) in third person. I know she is right. Mark says that I should trust my first instincts (which was to write this in a combination of first and third person – seemed the thing to do naturally) because my books are always best when they first emerge, but when I start listening to other’s opinions, I mess them up. He can’t understand why I don’t have confidence enough to follow my instincts and why I listen and respond  to other’s feedback as if they know more than I do regarding what my story needs.


 


The truth is, I don’t have the confidence he expects me to have because I recognize I have so much to learn. But he is right, I should trust my instincts and allow my stories unfold as they will – naturally – and not affected by rules or standards set by what has been published before. I can barely stand the idea of re-writing my dance book yet again, but it is my thesis project, so re-write it, I will. (Gag) I will spend this month getting the manuscript ready for my next mentor. This time, I am going to get serious and write the book I want to write. Forget literary. Forget what other’s think. This is my book about dance – a subject I know better than I know my own foot. I will write my story my way and see what happens. It is, after all, only a story, one of many, many that I intend to share with others. If it is garbage, well, so be it. It is something I must “get out” more than it is something others must read.


 


I think I am in my one-year MFA slump. I have a year to go, and suddenly I am craving the time and freedom to work on something with a different tone. Well, tough for me. I think going to my residency next month will be a good thing. Inspirational.


 


I wrote a story for submission to my workshop yesterday. It will require a bit of work before I send it next week, but I will post it as is just for the heck of it. For those of you who are fans of my romance and sex stories, this will bore the crap out of ya. It is, after all, a literary endeavor and I am trying to exercise certain skills. Think of it a bit like eating your spinach. Or, since this might be a better comparison for those that know me– it is like taking ballet. You may want to be a jazz dancer, but a certain amount of technical proficiency can only be developed from classical exercises, so to be a better dancer, you get your ass in ballet and focus, like it or not. That is what I am doing in this MFA. I am developing writing muscles, finding my center, building proficiency and skill so that when I am in jazz class (historical novel world) I can kick butt, defy gravity, and be as wildly inventive as I want. Freedom rides on the wings of technique.  


 


Anyway – enough excuses. This is my story. One of two. Number two isn’t even a glimmer of an idea yet. God, I need someone to innocently say something to spark a concept. That is the beauty of a personal exchange for me.  I need my muse to step forward. It’s been sadly MIA for sometime. Miss it dreadfully.


 


HANDPRINT


By Ginny Hendry


 


     John was sleeping. Nowadays, it seemed John was always sleeping.


     Beth paused in the hallway to stare at her gently snoring husband, the flicker of the alarm clock causing a red glow to grace his forehead as if he were a marked man. It was only eight. She had hours of loneliness ahead before she too would be able to sink into the oblivion that rode on the back of sleep. The problem was, she couldn’t seem to sleep anymore, even though she was exhausted all the time. John, it seems, couldn’t wake up.


     She walked into the hall bathroom, not bothering to quiet her footsteps or dowse the light as she would have done a few months ago when John turned in early. There was no point. Her inconsideration wasn’t likely to cause him to stir. Nothing would.


    Her bare feet met the cold tile with hesitancy. The bathroom was immaculate. He’d cleaned it again. The commode gleamed and the shower door sparkled. The usual streaky soap and mildew, proof that people actually lived in the house, had been wiped away with a pungent pine scented agent that flailed her senses, annoying her more than even the rumble of his slumbering breath.


     Not that her response made sense. John’s pitching in with housework was the kind of thing that would normally delight her. It didn’t now. The family toothbrushes no longer sat on the sink in haphazard disarray as they normally did. They were tucked neatly into a plastic organizer in the drawer, along with their daughter’s hair elastics and a few Band-Aids. Beth felt the empty counter looked unnatural. The smell, the shine, the very neatness of the room, annoyed her.


   With quick, erratic movements, she rummaged through the drawer to put the toothbrushes back on the counter, poking around under the sink to find her daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake Cup. She carefully arranged the smallest toothbrush inside and tossed her Oral B on the side of the sink, thinking she should use it, but why bother?  As an afterthought, she tossed a few hair elastics into the corner by the vanity, even though she knew this would confuse John. But maybe not. He would have to wake up to notice  things like that.


     She considered taking a bath, but the polished tub just didn’t feel welcoming. Instead, she slipped on a silk nightie, thinking she’d make a cup of tea and read. Leaving the light on, she thumped down a few stairs, then turned around and went back up to the bedroom. John had rolled over, but again, he lay still as death.


     She stared at her side of the bed, an empty cradle that would sink softly if she were to ease her weight into it, but  the idea of her crawling into that bed at any hour was paramount to lying down in a coffin. She just wasn’t willing to succumb to that trapped, dark loneness when there were other alternatives.


      It was odd. So many nights they retired early to snuggle into the 300 count sheets to watch a movie in that bed; their daughter, Sara, cuddling up between them, giggling as she purposely slid her cold toes against their legs. The bed was filled with fond memories, so the deep alienation she associated with it now made little sense. Nevertheless, she abhorred the four-posted cage now. The fact that John could sleep so soundly in it made her uncomfortable too.


    She grabbed her pillow and pulled at the quilt, dragging it behind her so it slid like a serpent from a swamp of warm sheets. Cold air swept over John, causing him to stir.


    “Where’re you going?” he mumbled, his eyes remaining shut as he hugged his pillow.


     “I’m sleeping outside tonight.”


      He ran his tongue along the roof of his mouth a few times, sampling the bitter sleep secretion that settles in a person’s mouth when in a comatose state. Beth could smell him from where she stood. Apparently, he didn’t brush his teeth tonight either.


      “Please, don’t sleep with the trash again,” he said.


      “What’s it to you if I want to sleep with the trash,” Beth said, but her voice sounded more tired than challenging.


     “It’s not healthy,”


     “Tomorrow’s trash day. All the cans are down at the end of the sidewalk,” she said, bunching  a pillow up in her arms.


     “That’s not what I mean.” His voice was muffled by a pillow, making it sound as he was far away.


      “I’ll be up later,” she lied, dragging the bedding behind her. John’s snoring filtered down the hallway, proving he really wouldn’t know or care where she slept tonight. His lucidity had been a fleeting thing, as she knew it would be.


    She passed her daughter’s room noting that the door was closed. Sara hated that, so Beth quietly cracked the door open an inch, then went on down the stairs. 


    She made herself a cup of tea and sat alone in the living room to drink it, watching the moon through the window, full and bright, save one thin cloud that dared streak through the middle, as if the mist was attempting to cut the perfect, bright sphere in half.  Beth thought shadows seemed hell bent to divide everything lately.


    Outside, she could see the moon reflecting off the swing set. John had rolled up the swings once again. The silhouette of the play set showed only lumps of chain tucked up against the upper iron pole rather than rubber seats freely blowing in the wind. He said he did this because the swings hit him in the head when he mowed, but even so, it didn’t excuse the fact that he never returned the swings to right afterwards. She considered stomping through the dewy grass in her bare feet now to free the floppy seats, but decided it could wait until morning. No one would want to swing in the dark anyway.


      She sat in the living room a long time, her eyes adjusting to the dimness even though she wasn’t really seeing anything around her. Her mind was elsewhere now. She was thinking of the trash.


    When they first bought this house, they put their trashcans on the lumpy grass beside the garage, where they were forever being upended by dogs or raccoons. Beth and Sara had to walk around the yard almost everyday picking up crushed juice cartons and yogurt cups, sticky with coffee grinds and last night’s dinner scraps. Something had to be done to keep the trash intact, so John decided they should poor a concrete slab along the house and fence-in the garbage area. They called two companies to get estimates, but no one seemed interested such a small job. Finally, John decided to commit a weekend to it. He would just do the job himself, save them money and handle the trash dilemma once and for all. How hard could it be?


      The first weekend he dug up the grass and leveled the area. It took longer than he expected, but he liked how it looked. There definitely was a designated trash area now. The next, he built a two by four frame to establish the parameters of the area he would need to concrete. He then spent a third weekend mixing concrete in an old wheelbarrow, but despite bags of the stuff, it seemed as if the oblong frame would never fill. His back hurt and his hands were blistered from stirring the murky gray mortar with a rusty shovel. He complained that it felt as if he were trying to hold sand in a colander, because no matter how many bags of concrete he mixed and laid, the oblong area he thought would be a perfect, generous size, required more. He had only completed only one-half of the cement floor and still had an entire second slab to go. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter continued picking up trash, looking expectantly at the unfinished area, innocently asking when it would be complete.


     John complained. It wasn’t as if he was the one turning over the trashcans at night. He bungeed the can lids and even bought two new, snap lock cans, yet still, animals found ways to scatter the contents all over yard. The only saving grace was that John was so busy each weekend mixing concrete that he had no time to mow, so much of the remnants of last night’s dinner lay burrowed in the calf length weeds where the wayward trash was at least less obvious. 


     On the forth weekend, John announced he couldn’t mix anymore cement, so he took a break to erect a fence, satisfied that this, at least, was progress. The next weekend, he couldn’t face the project again, so he devoted that Saturday to lawn maintenance.


     “The grass does keep growing, even if there’s a trash area to build,” he snapped, when Beth asked if he planned to finish his project so his daughter could wash her hands of coffee grinds for good.   


     “Why don’t we just stick the trash cans in the fence the way it is,” she said. “Maybe all we needed was a fence all along. Really, is the concrete so very important?”


     “The concrete is what provides a clean, steady surface for the cans. Best of all, it’s permanent,” her husband insisted.


        Beth decided to let it go. John always seemed too quick to acknowledge the concept of permanence.


        The conversation forced him back to the job at hand, mixing concrete until, finally, a few more bags were all that would be needed to complete his neat, protected trash area.


     Beth and Sara made lemonade and brought a big glass out him, appointing themselves Daddy’s private cheerleaders. As John smoothed the surface of his last load of concrete to make a perfect rectangle, they “oohed” and “ahhed”, celebrating not only his well-constructed trash area, but their retirement from the daily trash pick-up chore.


    John ran a trowel over the wet concrete with a sigh of relief, growling when a leaf blew on top to mar the perfect surface.


    “Oh, no you don’t,” he said to the leaf, picking it out of the cement, crushing it between filthy palms and throwing it behind him into the grass.


    “It’s perfect, Daddy,” Sara said, clapping her hands as a four-year old is wont to do when excited.


     “Can we put our handprints in the cement?” Beth asked, thinking it would be fun to leave a lasting impression of the family here, embedded in what felt like a special communal project, considering it had consumed their weekends for almost two months.


     “The concrete’s too wet, and besides, I rather you didn’t,” John said, his brow wrinkling as if the mere idea of sinking hands into his perfect project was painful to imagine.


     “It’s just a trash area,” Beth reminded him.


     “It’s taken me forever. Is it so much to ask that we respect this work? I just want it to be perfect.”


     “Nothing’s perfect.” Beth pointed out. “Besides, a few handprints will add character.”


      “Impressions on the surface will leave dents that will do nothing but collect dirt. If it remains smooth, we can hose the area out easily and we’ll always have a perfect, clean trashcan area.” John said, wiping sweat from his forehead.


     Beth reached out to toy with his hair, something she always did when teasing him. “Now dear, get real. Is there such a thing as a perfect trash area?”


     John gestured to the streamlined cement hardening behind a secured fenced-in rectangle, then closed the gate as if baring their entrance for good. “There is now.”          


      They went inside for lunch, after which, John went upstairs to nap. Beth was surprised, because John never slept in the day, but knowing he was exhausted from his efforts, she took Sara outside to play on the swings. Her hard working husband deserved quiet and rest and swinging seemed a far more inviting pastime than picking up trash.


     Sara giggled and squealed as the motion of the swings caused her stomach to flip. Each time Beth let the momentum slow down, her daughter would whine and beg another push. After an hour, Beth couldn’t bear seeing that swing careen towards her one more time.


    “No more swinging, Honey. Mommy’s arms are tired.”             


    “Please. One more time.”


     “I can’t. Let’s find something else to do.”


     Sara’s lower lip puffed out as if she were about to wail. Beth’s eyes slid to the house wondering how long her husband was planning to rest. It was pretty unfair for him to leave her alone to entertain their demanding four year old by herself the entire Saturday.


      “I’ll tell you what,” she whispered, tickling her daughter’s tummy. “How about we put your handprint in the cement? It will be there for all time.”


    “Daddy will spank me.”


     “Daddy won’t know.”


     The child grinned devilishly, loving the idea of sharing a secret with her mother. Together, they ran to the side of the house, laughing at their mischievousness because the idea of breaking a rule was even more fun than actually doing it.


      Beth took Sara’s hand and led her to the far side of the fenced area. Kneeling to the ground, she pointed to an open space between the slats.


    “Hold your hand out like this.” She spread her fingers wide so her hand was like a flattened spider. “Put your arm through here and press it into the cement.”


     The little girl did as told. Beth guided her wrist to make sure the handprint was deep and defined. Together they giggled at the icky gray residue left on Sara’s retreating palm. They wiped her hand on the grass, and then went inside to wash her hands in the kitchen.   


      Tomorrow, before Daddy gets up, I’ll put the trash cans back and he’ll never know our secret.”  Beth said, handing her daughter a cookie from a box on the counter.


      “Will he be mad?” Sara asked, crumbs falling from the corner of her mouth.


      “Not at you,” Beth said, giving her daughter a kiss and wiping a cookie morsel away from her lip. She knew John might grumble a bit, but one look at their daughter’s tiny handprint, captured for all time, and he would understand.


       John woke a few minutes later, and no sooner did he give his daughter a hug than she blurted her guilt about wrecking Daddy’s cement. His nostrils flared and he gave Beth a perturbed glance but that was the extent of his fury. Sara described putting her handprint in the goo with such wondrous enthusiasm, it made them both laugh. It was just a trash area, after all.


      In the end, Beth never did put trashcans on the handprint. The imprint wasn’t a secret that needed hiding, besides which, she liked being able to glance down and see her daughter’s hand each time she lugged a load of kitchen scraps and old newspapers outside.


      She knew her daughter’s hands would grow. Larger. More agile. The hand that held hers would someday no longer be a toddler’s hand, but a child’s, then a young woman’s. Yet thanks to her decision to defy John’s will that one and only day, a token of their baby was forever embedded in their home, and Beth could visit it any time she wanted. Sometimes, while taking out the trash, she kneeled down to press her adult hand over Sara’s small child sized impression. If only their little girl could be preserved forever in time, small and sweet, like that handprint.  


        Beth took her teacup into the kitchen and returned to gather her quilt and pillow. She wasn’t tired but she was ready to turn in. Carrying her bedding, she padded through the garage and out the side door to the trash area where, like the night before, she would sleep. It didn’t seem odd to her. It wasn’t unsanitary or anything, because she’d hosed the concrete down just that afternoon after she discovered John had put the trash out there again. She hated when he used the area for trash, but he insisted that was what the place was for. Not to Beth. At least, not anymore.    


    She spread her quilt out onto the perfect cement, angling her pillow so she could look up at the stars.


   “Good night, Sweetie,” she whispered, her voice floating up from behind the secure fence and fading on the wind as it floated into the vast dark. A dog barked. A garage door closed in the distance. Beth stretched her hand out to cover the small impression beside her, a hand that would never get any bigger.


     Holding it, she fell asleep to dream of swinging. 


     

I’m Not Chicken When it Comes to Poultry


My new sweet friends. To point out how small they are, let me make it clear  that  Neva’s petite hand is holding the Red one (we are calling her Hellen Red -y).



     Life lesson number six hundred and forty eight (for this week).


Don’t go rooster shopping with family members or you will inevitably start compromising!


     I went to lunch with Mark and Neva today (she had early release from school). Afterwards, I had plans to go to the feed store to buy some bunny food. I said, “What would you say if I wanted to buy a little rooster today?”


     Mark said, “What’s it look like?”


     I described my coveted oriental rooster (which at this stage is only a little blob of a chick).  I said, “He’s cute. You want to go see him?”


     This was met with enthusiasm (but only because my husband didn’t want to go back to work so soon, I’m thinking). We went to the feed store where dozens of chicks are in different cages – all kinds of poultry, from turkeys and geese to a variety of chickens.


We stare at the little gray and white stripped oriental chicks. The males have a purple dot on their head.


    Mark says, “How many did you want to buy?”


    “I was thinking one rooster and three girls to keep him happy.”


     Mark stared at the picture on the card in front of the cage. “Will they all look like this?”


     “Yep. Isn’t that rooster tail magnificent?”


      “Uh hun. But how will you tell your girls apart later?”


     This, of course, was a serious dilemma I hadn’t considered. If you want a lasting, intimate friendship with your chickens, you certainly have to be able to tell them apart so you know whom you’re talking to. Hummmmm


      Mark and Neva were attracted to the bantams in a cage next door. Bantams are small chickens – minis. They are not really good for eating like the big, fattened up Purdue sort of chickens, and their eggs are about the size of large marbles, so they are definitely not layers. They are best as pets. Considering I would never eat my friends, I think pet breeds are a good choice. However, you don’t know what sex you are getting with these low-end $3.00 bantam chicks. However, they come in a variety of colors and designs which is nice for defining character.


    Here is the issue to consider. You won’t know what sex they are until they get older. If you have more than one rooster, they will fight (to the death) so you have to get rid of all but one. That means heartache if you are attached. The feed store lady said we can bring any extra roosters to her and she will give us a bag of feed for them. Many people want the roosters and few want to wait for chicks to grow up taking their chances that they have a male.


    I learned more than that today. You cannot mix chickens – they have a pecking order (thus the saying) so I can’t really buy a few Orientals and put them with my bantams for variety even if I want to. Must strive for a harmonious chicken coup, ya know. But I can put any rooster with any kind of chickens, cause all the males want is to get laid (not to be confused with the egg laying kind of laid). Guess it doesn’t matter what creature you are, the basics of nature is universal.


     I think the smaller chickens are cute. They are personal (the store has a pet bantam rooster that is almost like a parrot, swinging on a peg by the counter – he goes up to everyone to check them out.) and they aren’t nearly as intimidating as the more aggressive larger chickens that grow to the size of a small dog. But alas, size matters when it comes to a cock. (Life lesson number one) The fact is, my bantam rooster won’t crow nearly as loudly as a bigger rooster.


     Mark heard the store rooster crow and said, “This is definitely the rooster for you, honey.” He grinned innocently.


     I didn’t fall for that trick. He wants to sleep past 5 am. But I want a loud, demanding cock to wake me every morning. (And a rooster too – har har) But I can live with a subtle little cock for now. A girl has to settle sometimes. So I said yes to the Bantams.


     I won’t get eggs from these chickens, which changes my ultimate plan a bit,  but I am not exactly sold on the idea of collecting eggs. I mean, of course the idea of gathering farm fresh eggs in my backyard and whipping up a gourmet quiche is romantic, but do I really want one more chore to add to my daily list? I love this farm-like existence, convening with nature and getting back to life basics and all, but I’m not quite ready to turn in my subscription to the New Yorker for a subscription to Mother Earth News. I love our animals in so far as I am learning new things by caring for them. But I don’t want to let them control my world either. I’m getting a kick out of hobby farming. But I don’t want farming to be kicking back, if you know what I mean.


     So, I went with the bantams.


     Neva was invited to pick them out. We have four very different chicks, one yellow with a brown stripe, one gray, one red, and one black and white. They are the size of my cell phone and they chirp in a gentle, soothing way that is endearing (without break hour after hour, ha). I told Neva she could name them, but all names are subject to change if one turns out to be Joe Cocker, my rooster. I am kind of hoping they are all girls – then I can go buy a big, fat, loud, dramatic ornamental rooster to romp with these colorful gals. But it may just be that my Joe is here with me now, chirping softly with his future ladyloves. That is nice to.


     We will keep our new chicks in a closed cage for a few months until they get big enough to be self-sufficient. Then, they will move to a coup that my daughter and her boyfriend will build next week while they are visiting (ha – they don’t know this yet) and this will teach my poultry friends where home is and keep them safe from predators. Then, when they are strapping (miniature) chickens, they will be set free to roam our pasture and forests. They can sit and crow on the fence while I feed the horses and eat the fly larvae in the dung so we don’t have pests swarming around when we are sitting by a campfire.  Fun! I have wanted free-range chickens to decorate the landscape. And I will get such a kick out of knowing they are out there, roaming the land and living naturally.


    These are my practice poultry, ya know. I am planning to buy two peacock chicks in August when they come into the shop, and I am toying with the idea of wild pheasants that I can let go on the Hendry preserve. Sound crazy?  Humor me. And don’t knock it till ya tired it. I’m thinking a gorgeous peacock spreading his tail out among the wildflowers I planted last month (but haven’t shown up) will be inspirational. Argue that, my friend!


    So, I expanded the menagerie today, and I can only hope I didn’t lay an egg doing so.


I’m so happy I could crow – only now I don’t have to. Got baby Joe for that.


 


  

Update

Today, I thought I’d write a short update for any friend who actually follows the progression of things in my world. A blog is not unlike a soap opera (only, hopefully, less melodramatic) with all kinds of story threads that different episodes focus upon. There’s the “MFA school and writing” thread, the “let’s start a farm” thread, the “teaching Kathy to read” thread, the “life without dance” thread, and – well, you get the point. I’m all over the place in this blog, but hey, real life is all over the place too.


Here is an update on a few frayed threads:


 


     Kathy got out of jail this week and is home on probation. She called me, seriously intent upon getting back to our reading lessons. She is ready to make a fresh start in her life. We will start up again on Monday (9AM) at the college. I’ve decided to put the entire jail thing aside, categorizing it as an interesting episode of our odd little friendship. This way, I can dig in and concentrate on teaching her to read rather than stick my nose in an entire life overhaul for someone I barely know.


     Clearly, some kind of community service for a cause I feel strongly about is important to my feeling I’m deserving of a good life. I’m glad to get back to this project, for whatever deep seeded reason I’m compelled to do so.


 


   I got an E-mail from the director of my MFA program today, reminding everyone to review their writing and select the two pieces they want to workshop. These submissions are due MAY 22! Shoot me. I thought I had more time. Unlike most of the other students in the fiction program, I write original pieces for each semester, because workshoping sections of a novel (my thesis project) is simply a waste of time. Most everyone else is working on short stories. A novel is a different animal all together. You can’t discuss an elephant when you are looking at only the trunk.


    Most people have stories they have worked on with their mentors for months, and they send these in to workshop a second time. To me, this seems a waste of a very beneficial opportunity for input, so if I want fresh material, I have five days to write two new stories. That’s a tall order, considering the scrutiny this work will get. (Last term, my mentor and fellow students thought it amazing I plunked out two original pieces in a week. Apparently, it’s harder for some to come up with ideas for stories and to get them on paper, than for others. However, weaving a fresh story is simple for me. My problems are more about the BIG picture of how to unravel a promising novel in a poignant way or how to tweak those easy to write stories so they are actually dynamic.) Anyway, I started one short story today, and I’m fairly happy with it (I’ll post it later for the rare, special individual that might care to read it). 


     I am so excited about working with my new mentor next term. She’s such a dynamic teacher. However, I’m nervous too and I hope my work will have enough merit that she’ll take me seriously. Nothing like a little self-imposed pressure to cause you to lose sleep.


   I ordered the books I must read for this residency today. Stop Time by Frank Conroy (a memoir) Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins, A short story by Stuart Dybek called We Didn’t, and 24 pages of scene study notes from my professor along with other handouts. I have two weeks to read all this, then I will be reading and taking notes on the twelve student manuscripts we will be workshopping. So much for my squeezing in the “fun” novels I wanted to read on my non-existent break. Ah well. I love school, so I can just swallow my complaints and be happy. Tired but happy.


 


     I reached out to April yesterday and grabbed her halter without her so much as flinching. Wow. She started pulling away, but she didn’t drag me across the pasture. I linked a lead rope under her chinstrap and proceeded to walk her by myself. I had one hand on her rear and the other on the rope near her head. We walked this way for about ten minutes without mishap. Ha! That is terrific progress in the halter training quest. I’m feeling like quite the accomplished cowgirl now. Yee-haw for me.  


    Dhali Llama is much friendlier too, though he keeps exactly one arms length away. I found someone willing to sheer him in two weeks for the unable-to-turn-down fee of 30 bucks. It will be nice to see what he looks like under all that monstrous hair – nicer knowing I don’t have to do it myself (at least this, the first time).


    I saw a rooster I want to buy. He is three days old and fits in my palm. A tiny little chick that costs a whopping 3 bucks. I’m thinking of buying him, really. It’s the breed I want (an oriental, specialty rooster, with a long, dramatic tail). But I am worried I can’t keep little Joe Cocker alive. I will read about chicks and think a bit on this first. But I’m seriously tempted. He can stay in my small rabbit cage (obviously, the rabbits are no longer in it) until he is big enough to protect himself. We can get acquainted. Bond. I’ll handle him a lot. It’s spring. Gets me in the mood to watch a little cock grow.


 


    The house is drop down gorgeous and is proceeding nicely. I will not write an update about it, because I haven’t written any posts about it, but I plan to. It is a piece of heaven in construction. More on this later. With pictures.



  I sent my notes for teaching the dance seminar in Boston yesterday. Writing them was odd – it stirred up some strong, undefinable emotions. I am so good at that stuff, and the work has so much merit -(that is not me being pompous – it is just a fact – the work is good) that I almost feel guilty, as if I am turning my back on what is truly special about me – or like I am not doing what I was put on this earth to do. I felt horrible, as if I am doing something wrong by not keeping at it, not continuing to see what other great things I can do with dance. But I honestly feel I’ve been involved with that art all I can stand. It doesn’t excite me anymore, even though I respect, honor and love the art with all my heart and soul. Life is so interesting, that to walk only one path seems a mistake. But I felt sad yesterday. Guilty. Maybe it’s longing for old habits, or desiring the comfort that comes with what is familuar, wanting to stand where you know you will be appreciated, where you truly count.
    Anyway, it was a difficult day for me. But I sure did write some kick ass notes. They are a bit academic in nature. Ha. That will challenge the dancers, but challenging dancers has always been a particular passion for me. I am looking forward to teaching that seminar. I’m gonna charge in like gang busters and teach jazz on multilevels. Not just steps, but theory, and soul. I’m just sorry the students I’ve known and loved for years won’t be there to get a dose of my revived passion. Ah well, they have new teachers now. That is the way it goes.
   


    My husband’s father, Bill, is fading. He’s getting thin, and is sometimes disoriented, but nevertheless, there is a light about him. He’s suddenly appreciative of everything – extremely loving. We are doing our best to make his final months special.


    My husband’s mother is not such an easy case. She has a fractured back and Mark had to bully her into an operation so she can “be there” for her husband these last months. She had an operation today.


    Watching your parents handle death calls character into question (for everyone) and a life passage such as this dredges up some raw wounds from childhood and makes everyone involved question life and what is important. I guess all families experience this kind of epiphany when the generation above grows old, but it’s the first time we have had to contend with the drama and emotional fallout of death. It isn’t fun, but it is a part of life, so you deal with it.


 


   A writer from the local newspaper called this week. After I dropped off a résumé and materials about our dance careers to the Blue Ridge Arts Association (because I was going to teach there this summer) the office manager called the paper and said, “You won’t believe the people who have just moved in to our area. They’d make a great human-interest story.
  Now, they want to do a story on Mark, me and Dianne – the family with the artsy mostest. So I’m supposed to call back and arrange an interview. Mark scowled and said, “It’s too soon.” He wants to be more organized and directed in his new arts endeavors before a feature story is released. I feel sort of the same way, but it is lovely nevertheless, that they find us interesting.


   Mark has several of his antler baskets in the Art’s association gallery now, a place that sells local artist’s work. That’s a kick. I will put a few pictures of them with this blog so people can see the kind of work he is doing. He had to develop a basket company and make cards to professionally tag the items, and he was going to call it “Basketcase.” I liked it. But he ended up naming it “Blue Ridge Basketry” and designed a very classy logo and card to denote a significant artist. This, he figures, allows him to charge more for his original creations, because it appeals to certain sorts of individuals. His baskets are selling for 250.00 and up, (just because he is a “newbie” – they are worth more.). It is hard to let them go however. I’d keep them all if I could, but how many baskets can one house handle?


    Anyway, my husband is a talented guy – but that is nothing new.


 


There is more, but I have to get back to my homework. I have only five days to be brilliant. Ain’t enough time – but then – what would be?


 


It is beautiful out today. The weather is striking. I am thinking I might take a run and write some of that story in my head first. Yep, that’s what I’m gonna do.  Bye.


 


 


 

My New Running Pal



This is a picture of my son’s dog at Thanksgiving when we got him, then at Christmas. Talk about a growth spurt!


I have a new running pal. He’s tall and handsome and a far better runner than I. Of course, he would be. He’s younger . . . oh, and he has four legs. I think that gives him an advantage. He’s my son’s dog.


 


 I used to run with my best ever buddy, Sam. He’s been gone over a month, and I’ve given up hope we will ever be a jogging team again. So, the other day, I thought I might try running with our new, exuberant family member, a six-month-old Austrian shepherd, Teddy. He fit into my palm a few months ago. Now, he barely fits into my car. Always wanted a big dog but he takes some getting used to.


 


I clocked a new running path out from our mountain, turning left and along a long winding country road. I used to run three flat miles around a large block in Florida. This route is different because it’s a straight shot. No turns to distract you or give you an “O.K. I’m finished with the first quarter” booster.  Man, a mile looks long when you are looking at it in one continuous line. And while this new route is not mountainous, it is full of inclines and gently rolling hills. Yikes. I am notoriously bad at hills. So, I just demand two running miles from myself for now– the third mile is now a steep walk up the mountain. That, I’ve decided, counts.


 


I’ve missed running, and I am ready to get back to it. I just can’t drive that 45 minutes to the gym anymore, and now that the weather is fine, I prefer being outdoors while getting my exercise. Running offers so much more than an visit to the gym, (mentally, spiritually, and it fuels the creative juices) at least, for me.  


 


So, Saturday at 6 am, Teddy and I took off for our first ever run together. Not only has this dog never been on a run, he has never been on a leash. I let him go wild, exploring the mountain until we arrived at the road. Then I figured I had to put him on a leash, just in case. Should he prove a good boy, maybe we can run together without the leash later.


 


He didn’t fight the leash at all; in fact, he rather enjoyed staying close because he was a bit intimidated by the new surroundings. Twice a car passed us and he tried to chase it. This gave me a great opportunity to begin training him out of this annoying and dangerous habit. We passed a small bird on the road too, which again made me glad of the leash, because Teddy definitely wanted to chew the poor thing like one of my best shoes.  I felt badly for it- even considered picking him up and taking him home – I assumed he had a hurt wing or something and needed a nurse. But I’m not ten anymore (when I did that sort of thing all the time) and I know better than to fool with Mother Nature. So I left the little guy flapping along the hill, even though it was obvious he was unable to get off the ground. This proved the right choice, because on our way back, I not only saw that little bird again, but three others exactly like him. Apparently, Saturday morning a mother bird decided it was time to shove her babies out of the nest. I’m guessing within a few hours they were flying, (God willing) as long as a dog like Teddy didn’t come along and decide they’d make a fun snack.


 


I loved running along that road, looking at miles of green pastures and lazy cows. I loved watching the sun come up, knowing it was the same sun that I used to watch in Florida, only now it looks so much less encumbered without houses littering the view. And it isn’t nearly as hot.


 


Teddy had a ball (so did I) and he even helped me up a few hills, pulling at the leash when my feet were dragging pitifully slow. When we got back to the mountain, I let him go. He jumped into the raging creek and drank deeply, like I’d taken him over the desert or worse. Guess it takes time to condition yourself for running. But if Sammy could handle it, (and an old chick like m) he certainly can.


 


I missed my Old Sam that day, but it was delightful to discover a new running partner who has so much enthusiasm and energy, he’s like the posterdog for the slogan “running is a joy.” It is, you know. I felt better after that run than I’ve felt in a long, long time.


Whole.