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Monthly Archives: June 2006

Friends and unfolding ambition

My daughter has two college friends from Florida visiting. Actually, they’re our friends too, considering they were students in our school for years and very involved in dance. It’s been fun having them here. Yesterday, after showing them our land and house and giving them the general Georgia initiation, Mark took them four wheeling. They were nervous at first, but Danielle said, “I just kept saying to myself that I knew Mark would never put me in danger.” I think she is one of the last students we had that absolutely trusted us, and it was lovely to think she still does. Cute.

     When we returned to the cabin, Mark walked them down to the creek. They sat waist deep in the water and laughed about old FLEX memories. We went to a Mexican restaurant that night and I did my usual annoying thing of picking their brain about what they want out of life and how they plan to make their dreams unfold. I’ve learned new things about these kids. It’s delightful to talk about something other than dance to find out who they are beyond that element. Interesting.

     Today, Denver had to work in the afternoon so I took them riding. Funny, but I imagined Erica to be the prissy one, and Danielle to be sportier, but in reality, Erica has an outdoorsmen heart (and former experience riding horses, white water rafting, etc…) so my expectations were off the mark. Erica got on Goliath as naturally as she would have stood at a ballet barre, (OK – she wasn’t much of a ballerina so that is a bad comparison. Let’s say she was as natural as she would have been in tap shoes) and Danielle thought, “If she can do this, so can I.” So, she got on Dixie and followed directions to figure out how to steer this live creature to get around.  We rode through a short wooded path, then out onto a field. Erica wanted to go faster, so she galloped along, and Danielle followed suit. I was quite impressed. Most people are slower to get their bearings when trying something new (especially horses, because they can be intimidating) but Danielle revealed a willingness to adventure. It was nice, walking along in the sun pointing out blackberry bushes and talking about all we hope to do with the land with some of my young, dear dance friends. In a way, it blurs the boundaries of the old life with the new, and that feels natural. I haven’t understood this concept that I must sever all connection with my past (not our choice, but an unfortunate reality). Anyway, sharing a day introducing our new world to old friends was nice.

       Tonight they will experience their first drive-in movie with Denver. I’ll be home doing homework. I offered them a six-pack for the car and they looked at me like I was insane, laughed, and said, “You think we want to sit around in a car by ourselves and drink beer?” I don’t know, I thought that was what college kids did. That’s what I did in high school. I guess what was cool in my day is stupid and geeky now. Ha. Figures.        

       They will be here a few more days. I’m enjoying it.

     They just asked me if I was blogging and when I said yes, they got all giggly and curious, trying to look over my shoulder at the computer screen. Ha. Then, I won’t say more about them (yet). Hard to blog in the very room they sleep.

       Speaking of high school, I need to back pedal on my upcoming reunion. It has been pointed out to me that my 30th reunion is not until next year. I’m not as old as I pretend. I don’t know why I was sent the 1976 graduating class info, except that I did have lots of upperclassmen as friends. Ah well. My best wishes to that class, whoever they are. I have a year till I make the big three – o. I’m not officially ancient till next year.


    New subject:  I found a building I want to buy. It’s big, 10K square feet (as big as the first FLEX) yet looks small for it is a two story brick building nestled against the road on the main drag in Mc Caysville where the Scenic Railroad stops. The downstairs has a lovely wood floor and wooden knee walls. It is in good shape. The upstairs needs to be gutted and remodeled. That area could be apartments for rent or a store space. I keep thinking of all we could do with it – especially if we give Mark free reign to do his thang. He is the visionary in this all things relying on design. I imagine a café downstairs with an art gallery exquisitely laid out, and the back area a furniture store with handmade rustic furniture (Mark’s art) and artifacts for cabins. We could then have a community room upstairs for reading or writing groups or other community meetings, (we’ll serve the coffee). Perhaps we could use the space for a publishing office too, because I am thinking of starting a small magazine – selling ad space to support it – something artistic and entertaining for “half-backs” (those zillions of mountain visitors from Florida). My mind is on a roll, circling all the possibilities around and around.

    Mark is interested too, yet he feels it is too soon. He wants us to finish the house before we start a new project (and he is right). Nevertheless, I did some research on the internet and found a company that makes consulting videos and research material for people wanting to open a coffee and specialty drink shop. I then found some information on how to run a successful art gallery. I’m fascinated. I’m now beginning my research, just to piece together what this endeavor would be all about.   I will write a business plan and begin the process of educating myself on this kind of business – all the pros and cons. That takes time. Of course, by the time I am done, this building will be gone – but you never know. What is meant to be will be.  Anyway, I feel energized and excited about tackling a new horizon. And sitting with a cup of coffee, reading about the coffee business has a certain poignant perfection.

  I have always wanted to surround myself with what I love. Now, my world is about reading, writing, art and nature. What better way to blend it all? 

   My dad said, “Why would you want to open an arts café? You won’t make a lot – it’s more for a retired person wanting to supplement their income.” Then he paused and said, “Well I guess you qualify.”

      That might be true, but I also think he is underestimating what we can do with a store/café.  We are remarkably creative and we can stretch resources beyond normal limits. Look what we did with dance (we didn’t own a normal dance studio – we ended up with an empire that included stores, preschools, educational products etc…  It ended up making more (and ended up with a business worth more) than any studio I’ve ever known of in my 35 years in this business.) I have already thought of dozens of ways to make our new enterprise unique. It could be a springboard for some exciting artistic avenues– and who knows, we might build a new empire, something unlike other café/galleries. It might be a home for publications, an on-line rustic furniture and Appalachian arts resource, home to arts exhibits, or who knows what.

     The point is, life feels more vivid when we are creative. And challenges are good for the soul. I am drawn to the idea of a new adventure, but that doesn’t mean I should leap (now). Sigh. I just have to get finished with school and slow down a bit to be sure I know what I want next. I have to finish my book. And it has to be right for Mark too. He needs some breathing time before I load him up with a new project. What is the point of success if you’re going to kill your spouse in the striving for it? He is so overwrought with things to do and handle, I worry.

   Gotta keep your priorities straight and remember what is most important in life, and business isn’t first on the list. I won’t make that mistake ever again.

   But that doesn’t mean I can’t start reading – planning- thinking outside of the box.

    Eeek.  Time to go. An emergency has occurred. Our dog was just bitten by a copperhead snake and his face is swollen and he’s sick. Gee – living in the mountains is never boring. I will fill you in on the gory details tomorrow!  


Poultry sex and more

I love my chickens. They reside in a cage in our bunkhouse by the TV and all day long, they peep and flutter around. You cannot help but stare at them, the way some people stare at a goldfish bowl. They are simply amusing and different from any other kind of pet (at least to us).  No one can walk into the room without stopping to stare into the cage, then as if some unknown force compels them, they reach in to hold one of the fuzzy balls. It cracks me up. This entire family (and guests) is chicken mesmerized.


These four birds have unique personalities, and yet they are like a click of chicks too traveling in a clump and following the lead of whichever bird dares try something new. The other night we rented a movie. We all gathered in the bunkhouse and put it on the TV. All of a sudden, the chickens got perfectly quiet. We glance over, and they had gathered at the corner of the cage and were staring silently, motionless, at the set. Mark laughed and said to Denver’s boyfriend, “Uh Oh, I think they are trying to tell us something. Ginny must have rented us a chick flick.” Very funny.


Anyway, my chickens are getting bigger and shedding some of their fuzz for feathers now. Everyday, I look for signs of rooster-ness. One day, our builder had come over to pick up some checks. He paused at the cage, stared (as do we all), and asked what sex they were.


“If only we knew,” Mark said. “My wife is hoping for a rooster.”

The builder said, “Well it’s easy enough to tell. Just hand them by their feet. A chicken will just hang there limply, but a rooster will try to right himself.”


This kind of comment is normal in these parts. Everyone has a theory, wives-tale, system, or secret to second-guess the secrets of nature. If people want to know what the weather will be like here, they don’t turn on the news. They look at the bugs or the clouds or their grandmother’s rheumatism or whatever. We laughed a bit about Ronnie’s poultry sex defining advice, and yet in the back of our mind, we wondered about it.


Denver and Steven were sitting in the room staring at the cage and Steven said, “Why don’t we try out the chicken sex theory.”

Until then, none of us wanted to grab one of those cute little guys by the feet to see what would happen. Seemed mean. He reached in and took one of the babies by the feet and let him hang. He flapped and went crazy.

“Rooster.” Steven said.

Denver wasn’t convinced. After all, she thought she would flap and go crazy if someone came along and grabbed her feet and thrust her upside down too.

They tried the next chicken, but that one just hung there, like a sleeping bat.

“Chicken,” they both said, feeling like bird sex specialists now.

The other two chicks hung loosely too.

I walked in and they excitedly described their experiment. Of course, I had them demonstrate it to me. A few moments later, Mark walked in. Again, the poor chickens were thrust upside down. Every time, it seemed we had one rooster and three chickens. This, of course, is perfect luck should it prove true.


We went to the feed store to buy some animal supplies and talked to the owner. We bought our chicks from her – they sell over 60K chicks a season, everything from chickens, turkeys and quail to peacocks and other imported fancy poultry.  We told her about our experiment.


She laughed and said, “Everyone has a theory, but don’t go counting on it.  Some say males grow tale feathers first. Others insist the rooster’s wings stick out when they are upside down (hummm… a few of ours did that too). She gestured to a thick book on how to determine the sex of poultry and said, “I read that entire thing, and I am more confused now than ever, and I’ve worked with chickens for years.”


So, I guess I can’t get too excited about my home poultry demographics yet. Bummer.


She told us that at 9-12 weeks, roosters will grow this spur on the back of their leg. She showed it to us on the shop’s pet rooster. Only males have these. She said the boys will start crowing at that age too – little soft rooster calls even though they are still tiny. Ha. Talk about cute. Can’t wait.


So, I am now learning about chickens. Fun.

Our rabbit had another litter this week. Neva is planning to be a bunny tycoon and start her own business. We are finally landscaping this cabin, planning to get it ready to sell when the house is finished – we’ve decided not to keep it as a rental, because we put too much money into it. It turned out to be too much cabin (and upkeep) for a rental. Anyway  – we took the cages to the land and set them up next to the horses. This is where they were going to land eventually when we move, so we thought now might be a nice time to get them set up. The next day, the smaller cage (holding the male) had been turned over and dragged ten feet. We were shocked. The bunny was fine, but something had tried to get at him. We couldn’t imagine a dog or a coyote having that much power. What could it have been? A bear? It was disturbing to say the least. We righted the cage and set it up in another area. It’s been several days, and everything seems fine, but we watch carefully for signs of danger. Neva would kill us if anything happened to her beloved Thumper. Ah, the perils of living in the wild. Bunny threats around every corner! 


The horses are fine. Baby April is still skitterish, but getting tamer in slow, steady ways. The other day, all the horses came charging in from the lower pasture to eat. She was moody and stayed behind. Then, all of a sudden, she freaked out because she was separate from her mother, and instead of going through the gate that Mark was patiently holding open for her, she tried to jump the fence. Landed smack in the middle with her forelegs on one side and her back legs stuck in between the wire mesh behind her. If she moved, the wire cut into her. Mark yelled. I ran down and grabbed her, but she is about 200 pounds and she goes nuts if you lift her feet, so we couldn’t free her. Mark had to go to the workshop while I kept her calm to retrieve his wire cutters. We had to cut away the fence. (He repaired it after she joined her heard. Poor guy is forever repairing the fence it seems.) Yep – we get plenty of excitement from our pets.   


Donkey is doing well and is still (and will be forevermore) my favorite animal and best friend. He has eyes filled with soul and so much personality. He runs to the car when he sees it, recognizing that it’s us, he honks away in his distinctive voice (which no one in this family can imitate – we’ve all tried) . I can’t express how much I adore this little guy. If something happened with our past business and we ever had to return to Florida, (we’ve played this scenario out a few times) the one thing I know is, Donkey would be coming with us.


As for Dahlia llama – he is still standoffish, but he will eat grain from a cup if you hold it out to him, so he isn’t averse to coming close. We haven’t been very good about catching him for “desensitizing”.  Just been too busy with April. Maybe working on the llama is a good fall project. Nevertheless, I adore him.  He always seems so majestic and stately – and wise.


Other than the domestics (two dogs and two cats), that is it. Oh yea- Mark bought half a cow. Apparently, our builder buys a couple of cows each season to keep his grass down. Later, he will take them to be butchered. We, apparently, will be getting half of one cow for our freezer. ½ of a cow costs 250.00, but it offers you four times that (value) in meat. Mark has also been offered the cowhide to tan as a bonus– he’s been wanting one to recover a bench with.


You might want to know how I feel about all this.


When we first moved here, I would never consider eating something whose existence I was aware of in a first hand way. Felt wrong. Now, I feel differently. I have done some research to learn how animals are handled when raised in meat companies for food. The meat you buy in the store has been literally tortured – animals are born and force-fed, kept in cruelly small cages and in dirty conditions. But free-range animals, while their fate is sealed, still live a fulfilling life. They have a year or so of sunshine and happy grazing. They are patted and stroked and talked to, and they have other happy animals for company. They live lazy, easygoing lives, without fear. Considering the livestock will be eaten in either case, I think it is far more humanitarian to support the free-range animal industry. I can’t bear to think of those animals that are born only to suffer and die, landing on my plate. (This is especially true of chickens. The chicken companies keep those animals in tiny pens – filed with disease – it is awful – at least some cattle you buy are raised on plains and then taken to be slaughtered. But many are kept in stalls, overfed and even slaughtered in cruel ways.) So, I have a different feeling towards those people who raise their own food. It is healthier for them (no steroids or fat from force-feeding) and better for the animals. It is more akin to how nature intended the process to be.

Nevertheless,  for all that I am in support of natural farms, I still don’t want to eat my own beloved animals – so I will never want a cow (or a pig – Mark keeps talking about a pig. Ick) I just end up with too intimate a relationship with anything I live with. Doesn’t make sense, but that is how I feel.


Honestly, I am eating less meat than ever – even considering returning to my vegetarian status. The more aware I am of animals as creatures of god now, and I can’t look at meat in the supermarket and not imagine the face and fur of what it was before. At one time, I felt removed from what meat actually represented. I mean, I knew academically that it was a cow or a pig and that it was slaughtered, but still it felt as if those nice pre-packaged cuts were born that way – like it all came off of some cow-tree that grew flank steaks or something. I know it sounds dumb – but I just felt removed.


Not anymore.


It is good to be aware. It is good to be aware of everything in life.  

Catching up

My daughter’s boyfriend left yesterday after a ten-day visit. I am guilty of not blogging when people visit, not out of choice or a lack of desire, but because of circumstance. On the one hand, there’s a lot to write about. We tend to do fun things with our guests and there is always much to reflect upon. But entertaining eats up a lot of time, (and lets not forget all the extra cooking I can’t resist doing) and I find myself squeezing in homework with late night reading in bed or creeping around in the wee hours of the morning with a book in hand. I sit in the tub at the end of the day reading my MFA material and composing letters in my head, wishing I could post them. However, the problem is, our cabin is set up as two separate structures joined by one covered walkway – sort of like a rustic compound. When guests are here, we like to give them the run of the bunkhouse where, unfortunately, my laundry and office reside. This means I fall behind on my laundry and it definitely limits my computer time. I am the kind of writer who wants to plunk out a few thoughts at very odd hours – middle of the night or pre-dawn. Even though everyone insists they don’t mind if I am upstairs (guests sleep in the downstairs bedroom) I feel it isn’t very fair invade their space at ungodly hours. Therefore, I stay away. But trust me, when friends are here, I go through blog withdrawal and my head is cogged up with thoughts I wish I could share.


Anyway, how does one catch up? It would take ten days of writing to cover the ten days I was MIA. So much happens in my life – some of it big and important, some of it silly and simple, yet those are the kinds of things that make others smile, so I wish I could write about them.


I could talk about the fact that Denver has returned home for the summer. In fact, she has left college for good. Most parents would report something like that with anguish, or disappointment or anger, but I understand her decision and she has my blessing. Not everyone needs to walk a traditional path – I certainly didn’t. I didn’t get my college degree until I was 40. I’ll get my masters at 48. The fact that I didn’t go to college out of high school didn’t mean I was destined to be uneducated or unskilled. Heck, I think I have more education and made more money than most of my friends – all those people that did the right social thing and went to school, got a job, got married and had 2.5 kids – then spent a lifetime living respectable, stable lives. That is nice and all, but I bet I have more work satisfaction and personal happiness than many of these solid citizens do.  I certainly can state that life has always excited me. That counts for something in my book.


College is terrific if it trains you for something you have a passion to do, but I think life offers many more options than that. The college path right out of high school is simply easier and less harrowing than other choices. Anyway, I do not fear that her leaving school at this time means she won’t be successful. It just means she is creative and brave and will have to approach life with some mental and creative muscle.  


She will live in Georgia with us this summer (I gave her my dance-teaching jobs) and she is considering living with her boyfriend in this area for a year come fall. They will save money, regroup and make a life plan – Denver is considering moving to NY to pursue theater as I did.( I have mixed feelings about this)  She even said she’s considered opening a studio here. (I have mixed feeling about this too.) It would be very successful – especially since she has some pretty awesome consultants and willing help living right here, but she is young to settle for that lifestyle as of yet. We’ve talked about her going to trade school to learn silversmithing and jewelry design – an artistic career to support herself while she continues theater.  But it is early yet. Time will reveal which path she will take. I have a lot to say about all this, (of course, I would) but not today


I could talk about the visit with her boyfriend, Steve. I like him. More than I expected. He is a perfect match for her – not that they are the same, but they compliment each other well. I think some of the best couples are two individuals that are uniquely different – like puzzle pieces that fit together well. These two make a sweet couple, and there were things I noticed about their relationship that I admire. Like the way they discovered a remote field filled with a million lightening bugs one night (parking, no doubt) and they were so fascinated by it, they had to bring us to see it. There were all these twinkling bugs in the grass and the trees, like it was Disney world or something. We made fun of how they found the place, but secretly, I was thrilled my daughter is with someone who will pause in the middle of making out to appreciate something so simple, yet so beautiful about the world– and even like it so much they are compelled to share it with others. They play games together too. They play this game with marbles and after the second day here, I noticed they had exchanged the marbles for lovely rocks they had collected here in the mountains. Cute. They have an easygoing relationship that seems to have depth.

And from the looks of it, Steven is a good kisser. That is important in the long haul in my book. But I don’t want to talk about them today either.


I could talk about how yesterday, I taught my first dance class in a year. What fun. Denver was taking Steven back to the airport so I offered to sub her class. I worked with seven 5-6 year olds and had a blast. I so miss the enthusiasm and wonder in a little child’s eyes when they are introduced to dance in a creative way. You can see them falling in love with movement right before your eyes. Every parent there asked if I was going to open a school. Ummm…. No. But it was delightful getting a taste of my past passion once again. Luckily, a taste goes a long way when the meal is something as very rich and filling as the all-consuming art of dance.


I could talk about how we sold our school one year ago and now, finally, we seem to be leveling out emotionally. We have rediscovered our sense of humor. Life is filled with laughter and playfulness – a wonderful adventure, once again. This week FLEX is having their recitals. We wake every morning filled with gratitude that we are not buried under the weight of that chore. I don’t recall ever having a June to savor – at least not in twenty years. In fact, I’ve never had a summer with my kids. I began FLEX when I first had kids. That means I never got to parent casually in the leisure months of summer.  Usually, when the kids get out of school it triggers a mound of anxiety and work, for that is when the real stress and work of the year-end performance hits. (In fact, just when school got out, Mark started having FLEX nightmares again. He said he thought it was because all the usual triggers were there because of the season, even though it isn’t our nightmare anymore.)  Traditionally, June is swallowed by recital, then there is a summer program – and in August, the work begins again with a new season. I’ve never had the soft, slow days of summer to enjoy with my children. Till now. We have done more in the two weeks since they got out of school than I’ve done entire summers before.  I am somewhat ashamed to have missed it all the summers past, and yet, I think I appreciate this time more now because I know what it is like to allow the simple, yet important things in life get buried under the weight of work. We offered to run the recital for the new owners. We would have set their lights, organized the backstage, cleaned up numbers etc… We are masters at all of that, and frankly, I believe they would have benefited from our expertise. Running a good show is harder than it looks. But they didn’t want us. Hurt our feelings at first. But rather than be worried about them and how they will fare on their own (which was my first instinct) I concentrate on how their not wanting us is a true gift – for it means the summer is ours for the first time ever. I am overwhelmed with appreciation for our new life this month.   But, I don’t want to talk about that today.


I could talk about my animals. Or our new house. Or my masters program. Or running. Or talk about how Mark is getting his real-estate license and is going back to work – he wants to sell our cabin and the lot on the creek himself, and has been asked to represent our builders future spec homes for starters. And a friend with a real-estate office wants him to head the sales department because they are more into building now.  Mark has a gift for seeing the potential in property and he is ready to go, excited to do something totally new. And we have money to invest, and with him immersed in the field, I bet he will find great opportunities. Bet he does wonders in the field. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with a real-estate business ourselves if he likes it as much as I am guessing he will. It is funny – for all that we wanted freedom from work, we don’t feel ready to stop. Not at 40 and 47 respectively. Too much energy to lie down so soon, I guess. (Mark says that not working at this age makes him feel guilty, like some kind of life slacker. He is uncomfortable. Interesting.)


I could talk about how I found a building I want to buy to begin a new business. It is perfect. I have begun doing the research and working out a business plan in my head (nothing on paper and no numbers crunching yet) but I am moving closer and closer to that point when I just dive in.  I have good instincts on things like this, and I miss the challenge of having a business of my own. We are talking about the coffee shop and art gallery still, but also have interest in importing teak rustic furniture and adding handmade rustic furniture for a bigger, cabin-remodeling store too. Maybe we will do both!!!! Why not? Yet – I don’t’ want to talk about any of these things either today.


I am writing an awful lot for someone who is just saying she won’t write about this and that. I think I will talk about Kathy. Yeah. We meet two times a week for 1 ½-2 hours. Our lessons  are going fantastically and she is making steady progress. I absolutely love working with this woman. She has the honesty of a child (one reason I always adored working with children is because they are the most honest people in the world and they don’t put up pretenses). I have to keep on my toes to keep the lessons progressive, but I think I am doing a good job considering I am not a trained schoolteacher. She is reading sentences now comprised of simple words. The first time she actually comprehended an entire sentence (before that she just stumbled over random words) her face lit up and she squealed with excitement. She is delighted with the evidence that she is learning to read. So am I.


Today, we wrote a letter to the girls in jail – a letter of inspiration to let them know her path is hard, but if she can do it so can they. Kathy has told me so much about her life and the people in it. She told me four of the ten people in her rehabilitation counseling sessions couldn’t read. Wow – how many poor illiterate individuals are out there? I went home contemplating how I could get them together in one room – so I could help more than one person at a time. But honestly, I think a huge part of Kathy’s progress is due to the one on one attention. I am both a teacher and a counselor (and a friend) to her. And she needs all of the above. So I have to limit my ambition to saving one non-reader at a time. For efficiency sake.


She told me she picks up driftwood at the lake and makes wall hangings and centerpieces. She hot glues silk flowers, moss, butterflies and such to make small scenes. Her husband makes walking sticks from twisted laurel that he sands and polishes. He burns designs on the handles. She is on house arrest, so she is now spending her days making things to pass the time. She brought a walking stick and one of her driftwood pieces in to show me. They were nice. Well, of course, this got my mind humming. I asked her how she might go about selling them, and she said her husband once set up a table on the side of the road and they sold quite a few. She just doesn’t know how people get these booths at fairs and such. So, I am doing research for her and I intend to help her start a small business of her own. I will help her find out how and where to buy her materials at discount and walk her through the process of setting up a booth at a craft fair. I even think I will enroll her as a member of the Blue Ridge Arts association so she can put a few pieces in their store/gallery. She doesn’t have the capability of learning the ins and outs of marketing handmade items at this time – but I do. And she can learn with me so later, she can do it on her own. Of course, reading will be required to figure out some of the forms. Talk about a perfect assignment. Motivation!!!!  It is a duel benefit exercise – my idea of a purposeful education. Anyway, working with Kathy fills me with a sense of purpose. If I had one wish for my friends, it would be that they could each find something just like this to do, something that fills their heart with joy. It makes you feel as if you are leaving an impression on the world, however small, and that you are doing your part to help humanity (even if it is only one person you help). I’ve written checks to organizations and done volunteer work before, but nothing compares to the intimacy of this, rolling up your sleeves and getting in the trenches to change a person’s lot in life one on one. Anyway, it makes me feel wonderful.


New subject –

Today I interviewed a cosmetologist for an article for the local newspaper – a student success story from the Appalachian Technical College. I guess you can say I am easing into professional writing. Who’d a’thunk it of this dumb dancer chick?  I could post the end result, but it might bore everyone – it’s just journalism. Yet, if I like it I might. You are a captive audience, in a way.  Anyway, let me say I am a natural at this. I am good with people – I LOVE asking questions and learning new things, and I can make a good story out of anything. I am having fun. My mind is filled with ambitious ideas for writing projects. Ha. It would be. Give me an inch of opportunity and I’ll make a mile of it. You’d think I had 40 hours in a day to work with. I act like it. In reality, I get far less done than I want.


Now – I have homework to do. A book to rewrite, a human-interest story to write, a dinner to make, and I still need to take my evening walk around the mountain to see what is in bloom. I have my priorities straight now, that’s for sure.


A big kiss to anyone out there who still reads my blog. You are a trooper.


P.S. Today I got an E-mail about my upcoming high school reunion in August. I think it is year 29 or 30!!!!! Gosh, I’m old. I don’t know whether to comment on it to Mark or not. I’d love to go, but maybe that’s a bad idea. I don’t know if he would be open to it, and I couldn’t go without him. But I’d love to see how old friends turned out. Why not? I can’t imagine I’d have anything to be embarrassed about. I’m well enough preserved that I won’t scare anyone or be unrecognizable, and I’m not ashamed about how I turned out career wise or family wise. But perhaps I should worry about everyone else – remembering people for how they were has a certain apeal I don’t know. But it would give me something fun to write about! Nevertheless, I’m thinking it’ll be a “no”.

Sad, that.


Derrick’s View

I have been busy the last few days finishing a second story for my critique group  for the upcoming residency. It is harder than one can imagine putting a story together and making all the pieces fit. Then there is the task of smoothing the writing, nailing characters, and trying to leave some kind of impression on a reader.

Anyway, I worked on this one, and last night gave it to my daughter, her boyfriend and my husband to read. I thought I’d have my own little critique group first, then rewrite it before sending it in today (due date.) My daughter liked it. Her boyfriend played it safe and nodded a lot. (Smart fellow) My husband looked like he was sucking a lemon as he read it, his face all controted and his head jerking back like my words were slapping him silly.  I chuckled, thinking, “Wouldn’t that go over well if I read manuscripts like that at my residency, acting physically sick by awkward sentences or concepts that didn’t sound perfect to me.” Ha. Wouldn’t that make me everyone’s best friend.

We had a rowsing conversation about the story and they pointed out a few things that didn’t gel for them. For all that my husband acted as if reading the thing was painful, he didn’t slaughter it. Hearing their impressions helped. I made some minor changes this morning that I think improved the story greatly. As for my husband . . . well . . . I made fun of his lack of diplomacy. I’m used to him. 

Anyway, this is my second “literary” story (for this month). I only post it on the off chance that some friend might want to read it. I will no doubt make reference to it later, especially when I write about my residency and how my peers critique the work, so in the interest of following this endless diatribe about my life, it may prove pertinent.   

I am relieved to be finished. Now, I only have to read a billion words to be ready for Boston. Sigh. But in a few days this will include everyone else’s manuscripts. Always interesting to see how the other camps are doing…

Anyway, here it is, Ginny’s story de jour . . .  Enjoy!


     Most people believed the best thing about Grandfather’s quaint cabin by the lake was the view. 

      Derrick just didn’t see it. He didn’t see fifty feet of lush grass sloped gently to a humble dock where a hand-built canoe lay wedged upside down on blocks, ready to use at whim. He didn’t see the lake beyond, a serene pool of water that reflected the afternoon sun as if it were a solar panel. In the evenings, the water supposedly captured colors. The vibrant orange and red of the sky looked almost as if someone turned the color button up high on a TV set, distorting the picture until it looked more like a page in a child’s coloring book than a realistic landscape on the nature channel. 

      He didn’t see what was beyond the lake either. Mountains. At times, a crisp, clear green reminding observers that life extends far beyond their own backyard. At other times, a misty gray, fading into the sky as if the many layers of hill and valley had been drawn with disappearing ink. In winter, they said snow made the view look as if it were drawn in charcoal, all muted shades of black, gray and white. In fall, the mountains were reminiscent of an autumn tickertape parade. Dots of amber confetti filtered from the sky from trees that were no more than wedges of color so thick it looked as if they were slapped on with a putty knife. God had used George Seurat’s technique when painting this particular landscape.

    When Grandfather passed away and left the cabin to his two grandchildren, everyone assumed he was hoping they’d carry on the family tradition of sitting on the porch to stare at the view. Beth, always the more traditional of the two, did exactly this.

     When she came home, she called her brother and said, “Derrick, since you have no place to go, I think you should live in the cabin for awhile. You could use the rest and the environment is inspiring. It’ll get you out of your slump.”

      She’d been worried about her brother’s mental state every since his wife had left him for the predictable, upstanding accountant. Beth was convinced the peace and solitude of the cabin would heal Derrick’s depression and, with hope, jump-start his flagging career.

    Derrick took her advice and moved into the cabin for a season. However, as it turns out, he didn’t sit on the porch to enjoy the view.  How could a person gaze at mountains when they couldn’t see past the tree?

     Grandfather had planted a nice, straight maple tree over fifty years prior. At one time, it provided shade and lured squirrels into the yard to entertain watchers with their antics, but now it had turned into a huge and gnarly obstruction, its branches reaching outward as if it were attempting to hug the very ambiance of the cabin. Perhaps, to swallow it.

      “You sound so agitated,” Beth said on the phone. “Relax. Pour yourself a drink and look at the view.”

     “I can’t. Grandfather’s tree is in the way,” he snapped.

     “Come on, that tree doesn’t block the view. You aren’t even trying to feel better.”

     She had a point. The tree stood far to the left of the yard, but even so, Derrick’s eyes kept wandering to it. The things he could touch always commanded his attention, while less tangible objects floating in the distance left him unmoved.

     “The tree bothers me.”

      “Like Mom’s bike bothered you, when you took it apart in high school?”


      Beth’s exasperated sigh contradicted her upbeat tone.  “Just don’t look at it,” she said. “Do you want me to visit?”

     “No. I just hate the tree.”

     “No, you love the tree.”

      “I hate everything I love,” Derrick pointed out.

      “So the tree isn’t really your problem.”

      “No, the tree isn’t my problem.”

     “So, you can leave it alone.”

     “I think so.”

     “Call me tomorrow.”

     “Don’t I always.”

      The problem was, the tree was harder to ignore than many of the things that bothered him, like his wife’s antique dining room chairs, handed down from her great aunt. She’d been furious when he sawed the legs off those chairs, as if he’d done it on purpose. Derrick felt it should have been obvious he didn’t have a choice. The chairs would’ve bothered him eternally had he not done something about the feeling they stirred within him. A wife should understand a thing like that.

      Determined not to disappoint his sister in the same way, he forced his attention elsewhere to avoid staring at the engrossing tree. This, unfortunately, wasn’t much help, because once he looked away, the tree started talking to him. The maple was a loud tree, speaking to Derrick in a demanding tone every time he went outside.

    “The tree is talking to me,” he told his sister.

     “Trees don’t talk, Derrick.”

    “This one talks to me.”

     “Don’t answer.”

     “I won’t. But this is a loud tree.”

      “Ignore it and it will go away,”

      Derrick hung up the phone thinking that was a stupid comment. Trees don’t go away on their own. They just keep getting bigger, their roots embedding deeper into the soil, their branches filling the air above.  Eventually, a tree isn’t just in front of you. It spreads everywhere, a canapé of branches hovering above, the roots becoming a part of the very ground you stand on. If trees cold only bite down, they’d swallow you. 

     “This cabin would look nicer without that old maple,” he said to his sister on the phone.

     Her silence at the other end made it perfectly clear she didn’t agree. “Should I come down there?” she asked.

     “I’d rather you wouldn’t.”

     “O.K., but only if you promise to leave the tree alone. It’s been in the family for years.”

     “I’ll try,” he said.

     Beth was quiet on the other end of the line, but he could hear the impatient tapping of her manicured nails on some surface in her home.

    “I won’t touch the tree,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t hang up until he promised.      

    “Good. Now rest. Recharge. I’ll visit in the fall.”

      Derrick hung up the phone staring at the tree through the window. The fall was a long way away.

     He decided to stay inside, thinking it was best to avoid his Grandfather’s tree altogether. But then, the incessant hum of that tree started to reach him in the kitchen. He couldn’t cook dinner without the tree luring him into another disturbing ethical argument, one that would inevitably drag him to the window to stare again at the thick, twisted trunk filled with knots and burls.

    “Shhhhh…..” he whispered.

     The tree leered.

     Derrick began thinking of removing the tree, just to gain some peace, but knowing how this would disturb the family, he put thoughts of the drastic measure aside.

     He spent more time reading in the living room. Certainly, with this much space between them, the tree would stop its incessant flirting. But Derrick couldn’t focus on his book. The words on the page were like random grunts; senseless because his mind couldn’t string them together coherently while thinking that the book was once a tree too, each page made of pulp from a thick trunk. Did that particular tree talk too, or was it a nice, normal, silent tree? Invisible. There were, after all, lots of trees in the world, and Derrick wasn’t drawn to all of them. Perhaps the book had been the kind of tree that, while standing, one could easily dismiss. The vacant place left after it was removed might have gone unnoticed too. No one misses an unloved tree.

      Derrick wondered who would notice if he were to cut down Grandfather’s tree.    

      Everyone would notice.

      Grandfather bought this land when he was only nineteen. He cut dozens of trees down to clear the lot for the cabin. On a whim, he then planted a tree of his choice. Maple. One day he fell in love and carved a heart with his girlfriend’s initials into the bark. Unfortunately, when Grandmother moved into the cabin, she made him cut away the bark to remove the heart, for they were not her initials. In time, new bark grew over the offense like a scab over a wound. But it left a distorted mark, a scar to remind everyone a tattoo had been removed from the tree’s rough epidermis. That mark was a source of family jokes and family pride. Grandmother always got her way, and grandfather loved her enough to let her. They had a damaged tree to prove it.  

     While the children were young, the tree held a tire swing. After the kids grew and left home, the tire was replaced by a wooden swing for adults to sit upon while they gazed at the view. Over the years, the maple branches had been host to bird feeders, thermometers, hanging baskets of flowers, and other yard ornaments, as if mementos of family life kept creeping beyond the confines of the cabin, only to be caught in the branches before escaping the borders of the property.

       The tree was a part of this cabin. A part of Grandfather. When he died, they scattered his ashes all over the cabin grounds and at the mouth of the lake. It was a good bet to assume some of Grandfather blew to the base of the trunk. Derrick believed some of the old man seeped into the earth only to be sucked up by roots and then carried through sap-laden veins to every appendage of the living maple monument. His grandfather’s essence was in this tree.

      “Sit with me, boy,” he remembered the old man saying one day. Grandfather was sitting on his wooden swing, whittling a chess piece while watching Derrick mold playdough into little likenesses of animals.

       Derrick had been so engrossed with his project he ignored the request. Some voices are easier to tune out than others are. But grandfather always got through. He urged Derrick to join him on the bench. Playdough gave way to a lesson in whittling.

     “Where are grandfather’s chess pieces?” he asked his sister that night.

      “Mom has them.”

      “I don’t suppose she’d give them to me.”

      “She’d tell you to make your own.”

      “That’s not the point.”

      “Well, I wouldn’t recommend you ask for them, at least not until she gets over the fact that Grandfather left the cabin to you.”

      “Us,” he corrected, winding the phone cord around his finger like a coiled bandage.

     “He left the cabin to us both, but I think he meant it to be mostly for you. He understood you in a way none of the rest of us ever have,” Beth said.

    “He’d been disappointed if he knew I stopped working.”

    “I think he’d understand that things like this happen.”

    “Would he?”

    “We all do.”

    “Not mom and dad. Not my wife.”

    “Forget them for now. Wait until you feel better. Nothing good comes of conversations held when you’re depressed.”

     “Am I depressed?”

     “Haven’t you always been?”

     Derrick shrugged. “Grandfather called me ‘different'”.

     “Well, no one will argue that.”

     He hung up, noticing that every time he talked to his sister, the rumble of the tree got louder. He tried to think back to when the tree started taking to him. He recalled hearing a subtle wooden whisper when he was in college, but it was easy to ignore a tree that spoke to him in such hushed tones. He didn’t even mention it to the family, because he knew they’d dismiss the idea of a tree calling to their offbeat son. They didn’t know what went on in his head  . . . at least, not the way grandfather did.

     “The tree is driving me mad, Beth,” he complained to his sister.

     “Don’t do anything you can’t undo. You know it would be wrong to mess with grandfather’s tree,” she warned.   

     “I guess so.”  

      Derrick started spending time in the room furthest from the tree.  The Bedroom. He lay on the big, four-poster bed trying to think of anything but the tree, but still, it called to him. He couldn’t sleep.

     One day, a wind knocked a gnarly branch halfway off the trunk. Broken from the base, it swooped over to the house and brushed against Derrick’s window. Derrick might be able to avoid the tree’s incessant call, but the idea that it was making physical contact, actually reaching out to him, was simply too much to endure. He had to cut the tree down. Beth would simply have to understand he couldn’t live this way. Grandfather would have.

     Filled with guilt and regret, he went into the yard to inspect the tree. He wrapped his arms around the trunk amazed that they didn’t meet at the backside. It was a huge tree, full of memories. Full of life. Running calloused hands along the bark, he closed his eyes, feeling every curve and distorted bump on the surface. The tree was twisted, as if time and the wind had broken the tree’s bones, leaving it stooped and slightly curved like an old woman’s body. In fact, the tree reminded him of a woman. The scar at the upper trunk looked pinched and distressed, like his wife’s face those last few years they were together.

    “You remind me of my wife,” he said to the tree.

     A wind served to help the tree answer. It shuttered as if insulted.

     “But you remind me of Grandfather too.”

      This seemed to make the tree happier. It swayed gently.

      “Forgive me. You are simply too loud.”

       He went into grandfather’s workshop to get the chainsaw. He paused half way there and turned to the tree. “Why me? Why didn’t you talk to grandfather all those years?”

     The tree stood there silently, belligerently refusing to answer what Derrick assumed was a fair question.

      “Thanks for nothing.”

      He stomped into the workshop, angry at the tree for forcing him to do something he knew would cause him grief later. But it wasn’t as if he had a choice. He emerged moments later wearing goggles and work gloves, the engine of his weapon roaring. The deafening sound drowned out any inner conversation he might have about the value of the tree in his family’s estimation. Not that it would penetrate his purpose. History proved that once in motion, inertia kept Derrick going without food or sleep until the voice was quieted.

    He stared at the bulk of the wooden monstrosity wondering just how he should go about making it fall. He’d done this kind of thing before, but it would be just his luck to go about the deed wrong, so the tree ended up killing him. But not cutting it down would kill him too, he thought, so he’d take his chances.

    For fifteen minutes, high-speed metal tore at the smoldering wood. He made a deep wedge in the side until, eventually, a loud crack filled the air. The tree swayed as if fighting gravity and circumstance. Then, in slow motion, it tumbled, leaves showering the earth and lodging in the hair of the impassionate man who brought it down.

     Derrick leaned over the freshly cut stump to count the rings. The tree was 52 years old, give or take a ring. He took off his gloves to run his hands over the freshly cut surface, studying the tree, recapping its history and character in his mind. The tree was still talking to him, but it was no longer forging an argument. Now the two of them shared something more akin to a satisfactory discussion of purpose.

     It took several hours for Derrick to cut away the branches to make firewood. He stacked them neatly by the cabin, his leather gloves handling each piece with careless disinterest. Slowly, the tree dissolved; until all that was left was the huge trunk and the scattered leaves and sawdust covering the grass. 

      He stared a long time at the trunk. Absent of its appendages it looked not unlike a burnt Venus De Milo. Exhausted, both from the effort and the emotional release, Derrick went to bed dreaming of a woman, his wife, buried under the bark of that gnarly tree.     

     The next day, Derrick rented a tractor with an ominous grapple attachment, something resembling the Jaws of Life. He picked up the remains of the tree and moved it from sight. Dragging it to Grandfather’s workshop, he rested it upon two reinforced sawhorses, an open coffin for a maple corpse.

     Satisfied now, Derrick was able to ignore the tree. For months, it dried and cracked as the wood withered and aged, lying in the workshop like an embalmed corpse awaiting its funeral.

     “How are you? You aren’t still talking to Grandfather’s tree, are you?”  Beth said, the next time she called..

     “No, the tree isn’t bugging me as much as it did before.”

     “I’m glad. I knew the peace and quiet of the cabin would do you good. Do you think you might be ready to go back to work soon?”


      “Do you want me to come up there?”

     “I’d rather you didn’t.”

     “Alright. It’s been a crazy year, and since you sound better, I’ll wait. Maybe Christmas.”

     “That’ll be nice,” Derrick said, his sister’s voice, as always, triggering strong thoughts of the tree.

     “What have you been doing lately?”

      “Looking at the view. It’s beautiful.”

       Beth’s voice was filled with a smile. “I’m glad you’re noticing it now.”

       “Me too,” he said.

*     *     *

      Years later, a couple stood, eyebrows knitted as they stared at the maple

     “This one really talks to me,” said the wife.

      “I knew you’d like it. It’s a woman,” the husband said. “See the face in that scared area. It’s like she’s tortured or something.” 

    “Or angry. Makes me sad,” said the wife.

     “I think it’s cool. But look. From over here, it’s a happy old man.”

     The wife circled the piece, marveling at the spaulted colors in the wood. The statue was streaked with black, brown and white, areas of the bark left to add detail and design to the polished surface. “It looks different from every angle. Look at the little chess pieces at the base.”

     The husband tilted his head. “I like it more than his sculptures of the bored Victorian people on chairs with the legs missing. I think that’s supposed to mean something, but I can’t tell. It’s weird.”

    The wife hummed an agreement. “This guy’s different, that’s for sure. But with this piece, the longer you stare, the more you see.” 

     They gazed at the tree some more, images taking shape before their eyes as if a litany of concepts were hidden in the textured surface, revealed only to those with the patience to trust there could be more to a tree than the obvious.

     Other people looked casually at the maple and passed by, seeing only a statue of a woman. Or an old man. Or sometimes, just a polished lump of wood.  They walked by and gathered at the window beyond the exhibit where the seeded glass highlighted the gardens below, currently aflame with the early evening sunset.

    “Isn’t that a beautiful view,” said an older woman to her companion, easing onto a bench to enjoy the pretty sight.

    The couple, however, didn’t see it. They were too engrossed with the tree.