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Monthly Archives: July 2006

Life Dissapointments

For all that my life is, in many ways, charmed, I struggle with disappointments too. Here are a few plaguing me today:


1.     Horrid news. Starbucks is coming to town. I have been using the fact that the nearest Starbucks is a 50-minute drive as proof of how remote and untouched by commercial enterprise my world is. But as can be expected, the monster of sophisticated civilization continues to sprawl and take over the universe. . . like mold infesting a perfect loaf of sweet bread. It begins with a few small dots of green, which you think you can ignore (you just rip that part off and still enjoy a bite, semi-guilty because you are trying to ignore the inevitable truth that what was once fresh and perfect is now on the downslide). Then before you know it, the entire loaf is hairy, scary and unpalatable.  

     Actually, our Starbucks, due to open by Christmas, is going to be in Ellijay, a twenty-minute drive (where my health club and Walmart is). But three more stores are scheduled to open in the area. I can only assume one will be in the heart of Blue Ridge where tourism is booming. I worry now about my favorite haunt, LL Beanery, a quaint, privately owned coffee shop. Funny, it took months to get over the habit of visiting Starbucks – I associated pleasure to the store because we went there to “get away” from work – a short break from teaching to get a steaming cup of coffee while we diffused. Now, having broken the “habit”, I don’t miss Starbucks at all. In fact, I associate bustle, an overtaxed lifestyle, and a clichéd, contrived atmosphere to this (and most) franchises.

     And the other Starbucks? Where will they land? Who knows. I doubt one will be in my beloved town of McCaysville where I want to open a coffee shop. But it is only a matter of time until the Starbucks mold takes over and eeks it’s way to my little town too. So much for my dream of opening an elite coffee shop sans all-powerful competition. Ah well, I will have to focus more on the innovative art gallery side of the enterprise.


2.      My building for said enterprise is going, going, gone. As I mentioned previously, I fell in love with a building at the other end of the Blue Ridge Train in McCaysville and was determined to purchase it. But someone had made an offer already –although they were having financing troubles and hadn’t left a deposit. We left our name in case things didn’t work out, but never got a call. Yesterday, we see a van clearing out what was left of the stock. Mark jumped out of the car to ask what was going on, and they said the building did sell and the closing is today. Drat. They still have our number “just in case”. I was bummed, because I’ve thought about that building and our next venture so much it really does feel like I’ve lost something personal.

   When I asked Mark what was going on, he said, “They are keeping the building for us.”  

    I said, “What does that mean?”

    He explained that we are in no position to begin a new business yet – we aren’t ready (which is true) because we are still in transition and working on the house, and therefore someone else has bought our building to “keep it” for us. Apparently, his theory is that these unknown people will open a business, find out it is really harder than it looks and run into financial trouble (or be so successful they will want to expand and move elsewhere) in a year, just when we will be ready to take over the building. We will then buy it and do what we do so well.

    You see, that is how we got our first FLEX building. The first time we saw it, we were not in a position to buy. We lusted for our own building, but someone else, far more established than us, bought it. Sad sigh. But then, a year later, that person went bankrupt and the bank took over the mortgage. They were so intent on getting the loss off their books that they sold it to us for less than we would have had to pay the year prior. It was the right time. For us. For the building. For fate.

   Mark says “It was meant to be.”

   That’s his primary life theory. If something is meant to be, things work out easily. If not, you must trust that it wasn’t your destiny, and you should be thankful things didn’t work out. You don’t know of the trouble and/or hardship you probably avoided because you didn’t force an opportunity whose time was not at hand. Something better will come along – something more right – when it is meant to.

   I used to laugh at his life theory, but more often than not, I’ve discovered he’s right. Faith. It comes easier to some of us than others. Remembering that, now I will drive by that building everyday, grateful someone is “keeping” it for me until I am ready. But, you can be damn sure I’ll never spend a dime in that enterprise, just to be sure I don’t tip the scales of fate against me. I still want the bugger.


3.    I found Silkie chick number two under my daughter’s bed. She was totally icked out that she slept in the room two nights with a headless chick under her.  We have put screen around the cage now so no more tragedies will occur. I haven’t kissed my cat for a week. Damn cat.

4. Kathy, my reading student, is still missing in action. Damn Kathy (just kidding). I am letting this go for the time being, because I am going to Boston next week to teach my dance seminar and I’d hate to find her only to say “I’m too busy to care today.” I have plans to hunt her down and act like the truant officer when I get back, forcing more words, paragraphs and life lessons down her throat. I don’t give up easily once I’ve set my mind on something, and I think she is someone who needs a determined friend to help her help herself. I worry about her though, and why she hasn’t called. I can’t presume to understand her life or what it must be like. I can only commit myself to trying to make a difference. She is my medium for world contribution at this time, and I trust we will get back to work when her son is back in school. But every time we take a break, I am dissapointed. I can’t say I don’t appreciate the extra time for myself- but, at the end of the day, it is how you spend your time that counts, not how much of your to-do list you complete, and working with Kathy makes me feel good on many levels.       

5. All other disappointments are typical of people my age. Loved ones dying. Wrinkles gaining momentum. A writing room that needs two coats of paint when I was hoping one would suffice. Homework stress and novel challenges. Missing certain friends.


I guess, all things considered, I shouldn’t complain.

Weekend surprises

My llama looks like a poodle. No, that isn’t true. It looks more we miss our schnauzer and thought we might create a tribute to him in our llama. This is not because we are bad llama shearers. More, that it takes a lot longer to sheer a llama than we anticipated so we only did half the job. Now, his body is all shaved, but his neck, legs and underbelly are still furry. We will tackle the llama leftovers today.


We expected the actually cutting of the hair to be easy, while getting the llama to behave, difficult. The exact opposite was true. Once Dahli was caught and tied up in the tight corner of the field (to keep him still) he more or less stood calmly. His stomach kept rumbling and he stomped a bit, but our llama is a polite one, (doesn’t’ spit) so, other than stepping on us a few times with his 350 pounds and squishing us into the fence, he was a doll. The problem was the actual cutting of the hair. Those damn llama shearers that are advertised as classic, used by professional sheep and llama shearers worldwide, in reality, don’t work. Would have done better with plain old scissors, I’m guessing.  Dahlia’s hair is so course and matted and LONG that it took hours to get through. Mark did most of the cutting because he has stronger hands, but both our hands were tired from the effort. Didn’t cut the animal once, nevertheless, after about two hours, Dahli’s patience was spent. He started stomping and moving and making some scary sounds, so we decided we’d done enough for one day. We were pretty tired. Imagine if we had an entire llama farm to sheer!

     Once free, Dahli didn’t run away. He just moved a few feet beyond our grasp, then followed us around, so I don’t think he was miserable being groomed, just nervous. There was this huge pile of hair at his feet, which Neva kept gathering and putting in a huge washtub so Mark can use it for making baskets. And the family has this romantic idea that I will spin wool from it. (Um, yea. I’ll get to that right after I finish my blockbuster novel, everybody. Sarcasm aside, it sounds fascinating and I hope to try one day, but another year, please.)

    I imagine Dahli actually liked the attention. I’ve worried that I have a lonely llama for awhile, because it is said llama’s need companionship and I think my horses and donkey are big snobs that don’t want to associate with him. In fact, I’ve been looking at the llama rescue website, thinking of getting Dahli a girlfriend. (You’d be amazed at how many homeless llama’s there are in the world.)

      Anyway, this weekend, we did the shearing deed. Just goes to show that so many of our fears and anxieties about trying something beyond our comfort zone are really just a waste of energy. Best to dive in and learn by doing. We took pictures, but I can’t post them until tomorrow. Still don’t know how to work that new camera, and Mark is gone for the day, off to the land of sanding.


     Shearing Dahli isn’t the only new thing I did this weekend. I MADE BLACKBERRY JAM! 

     I woke up Saturday, and told Neva it was time to do something with the two buckets of berries in the fridge – needed to make room for milk, and man cannot live on berries alone.(I was also afraid they wouldn’t last.) We’d already bought a big canning pot and a jar lifter, jars and pectin and all the other necessities for making jam. You’d think I was the president of the Smuckers Corp. if you saw my Walmart cart that day. (If you want to try something, might as well do it right, I always say.) Now, all we had to do was follow the directions and try our hand at jamm’in.


    So Neva squished the fruit and measured the sugar while I sterilized the jars and did the set up. I told her we certainly had enough berries for two batches, but once she squished the fruit, we found it took two cups of berries to make one cup of berry smush. We only had enough berries for one and ½ batches. I suggested we go to the grocery store and pick up some strawberries to make the second batch a mixed fruit jam. This was met with an outraged look and a speech about how our jam was supposed to be a natural effort – a start to finish project done with Hendry hands. No store bought fruit would sully our creation.

    What’s a gal to do? We got in the car and drove to the other side of the mountain to pick some more fruit. Did I mention it was raining? My demanding daughter stood by the car and forced me into the wet prickers to get another two cups of berries, claiming her job was to hold the bowl. Not only was I supposed to do all the picking, drenched and moody, but I was supposed to go about it quickly, because she was excited to start the cooking. (One of these days, Alice, bang – zoom, right to the moon.)  

    A half hour later, we returned home, dripping, but with enough berries to complete the second batch too.

    I thought cooking jam was going to be harder. I actually thought you used a pressure cooker and it took hours and . . . well, I had no idea that it was so easy. Mostly, it is just the preparation and mess that makes it an effort. Nowadays, you don’t need to seal jars with paraffin – they make these fancy gummed lids that preserve the fruit. And this magic pectin stuff has whatever special sauce makes the jam thicken and last, so all you need is three ingredients. Sugar, fruit and pectin. Anyway, it was fun boiling the finished jars to pressure seal and decontaminate them, etc…. It was a wonderful project for a mother and daughter who adores cooking together.  

    After finishing and pouring the jam mixture into the jars, you boil them, then set the jars on a towel to set. You can’t touch them for 24 hours or they won’t jell. Neva began making painstakingly beautiful labels, complete with delicate fruit drawings in full color with her new set of fine tip magic markers. I cleaned the kitchen.

   Then, we waited. Stared at those jars like they were going to explode, afraid to touch them for fear we would have made blackberry soup instead of jam. I speculated about the color, the seeds I could see from the outside, etc. I really was curious about what was inside those jars. Couldn’t wait to find out.

    The jams will continue to set for two weeks and the flavors will meld, but it is said you can eat it the next day. So Sunday, I woke and immediately made biscuits – part of my big Sunday breakfast tradition. I set the table with the blackberry jam glistening in the center, establishing it’s importance in this experimental feast. The family sat, staring at that jar of homemade blackberry jam as if it were a bottle of arsenic. We had to try it, because we were going to give some to my father-in-law that afternoon. He has mentioned he loves homemade blackberry jam (reminds him of his mother) and he doesn’t have two weeks to wait.

     I tried it first. It was good! Yum. So, the family followed suit. Mark kept smearing it on biscuits, exclaiming it was the best jam he ever had. At first, I thought he was being a supportive husband, giving duty praise, but when half a jar disappeared, I knew he truly liked it (despite his blackberry prejudice).

   Neva and I were so excited. We started talking about all the people we wanted to give it too (with some blueberry jam that we will make in two weeks when the blueberries are ready for picking.)

    Mark said, “Hold on. Don’t be so quick to give it all away. We have to have enough to last us a year, you know.”

   I assured him he’d have plenty. Besides, only those who labored at the jam get to decide who eats it. Little red hen taught me that.

    It was a joy to create something so simply – I marveled that I can go into my backyard to pick fruit and serve it with breakfast to raves. Gee, I’m a hunter-gatherer – minus the hunter part.


     That evening, after working on the llama, Mark and the kids went to get cold drinks before we tacked some staining at the house. I stayed behind because the horses were grazing free on the land, and I have to watch they don’t wander to our neighbor’s garden (they brilliantly covered the ground with fresh hay. Thanks for that one.)   

 And don’t ya know, not a minute after they were gone, I found myself picking berries and filling up my Subway big gulp cup. The idea of returning to my kitchen berryless was disturbing. Can’t quit a berry obsession cold turkey, ya know just because you had one successful berry cooking experience. 

    I went down one of our little overgrown side streets to pick. I find the best berries by crouching low and picking from the underneath where the hot sun doesn’t cook them into little raisin-like nubs. And while I was all couched down, I heard a noise. I look up and there is a huge buck standing only about eight feet from me, staring right at me. Amazing. Stupidly, I stand to get a better look. My movement makes him dart away into the woods like a super ball shot out of a slingshot, rick-a-shaying from tree to tree. Drat.

But my heart had such a rush – he was beautiful. . . and right in my backyard.

     I told my family when they returned (who glanced at my cupful of berries as if I were really beyond help.) Denver said, “I’m so glad he didn’t attack you.”

    This made me laugh. I explained that deer don’t attack people. She argued that male deer are aggressive, because she remembers the father buck in Bambi being king of the forest, standing proudly protecting his herd. Cracked me up. But what do expect when half the world gets their nature education from Disney movies?  I explained that deer are shy and steer clear of people, which makes a face-to-face encounter with one so special.

   Then, while Mark and Denver were staining (I was told I am sloppy (not true), so I was excused from duty) we heard howling. We all stopped and went onto the porch to listen. It was the coyotes! Cool. Suddenly we heard dogs barking too, then the sound of a dog yipping in pain. Then nothing. My son’s eyes grew round with disbelief. “That will be our dogs getting eaten before you know it.”

    I assured Kent what we heard was just a big baby of a dog crying for nothing, but I looked into Mark’s eyes over his head and read a look of “Our dogs are dust.” I feared he might be right.

   So, I went to explore. I walked towards the sound, and sure enough, I heard something in the trees. Hoped it was my deer again . . . or a coyote pup.  It was our neighbor’s dogs coming through the woods, wagging their tails as if they were pleased over a recent game of chase the coyote. I picked another gallon of blackberries (since I was there) and returned to tell everyone things were fine in the forest.

    All told it was a good weekend. Filled with laughter, adventure, a bit of sugar, and a bit of danger. That, my friend, is life on the wild side.



Ageless Aging

    Women can be really funny about their age. I don’t understand why, because the number has nothing at all to do with your physical, mental, or emotional state, other than fluctuating hormone levels. Yet, so many women feel as if admitting their age invites prejudice or makes them less appealing. Honestly, I know some older women who are shockingly beautiful (and definitely more interesting) while some younger ones can only be described as an embarrassment to the female race – how does defining the number of years we’ve been on the planet change that?

     I, for one, have never lied about my age – at least, not since I turned eighteen and could buy my own bottle of wine.

     Actually, I tend to round up when I refer to my age, something that drives Mark crazy. The other day someone made a comment on my agility and I said, “Not bad for a 50 year old, hun?”

    The woman said, “You’re not fifty!”

    Mark said, “No, she is NOT 50.”

   “Almost,” I quip.

    I figure 47 is pretty close and I was just making a point that I am up there in years. I’ve been 50 every since the day after I was 45. I’d been 45 for an entire 5 years – every since I passed the 40 mark, so it was time to head to the next round number.

    I think my rounding up annoys Mark because he is six or seven years younger than I am (depending on what month it is in the year- 6 ½ to be exact) and he feels the gap my falsehood creates makes it sound as if we are mismatched. But really, most people assume we are the same age. In fact, many people think I am younger than him, a fact that always makes him roll his eyes and sigh. (It is his gray, nothing more. I’d have it too if I didn’t help Mother Nature keep the red alive on occasion.) 

    I can’t imagine what would process a woman to lie about her age. I’d MUCH prefer to tell someone I’m 47 and have them think, “Wow, she looks great for her age. I’d never guess that.” I sure don’t want them thinking, “She’s only 40? I wouldn’t have guessed that. She sure didn’t preserve as well as that 47 year old redhead we met yesterday.”  The number you assign simply isn’t going to alter the impression people have of you. You will look as vivacious and pulled together as you look, the proof is in the pudding, not the number.

     My sister in law, Dianne, ALWAYS lies about her age. She will be 50 this Dec. She actually gets furious if we ever tell anyone the truth. (She doesn’t read my blog, so I don’t have to worry about her socking me for saying it here.) She believes she looks far better than the average 50 year old, so she wants to maintain this concept that she is a young 40 something. She doesn’t date much, but I think this is partially because she isn’t interested in any man over 42. Considering most men date younger woman as it is, that narrows her playing field. I myself hated that Mark was younger than I. Refused to date him for months because of it. It is all well and good to feel excited by someone younger and full of vitality – but if you are with them for the long term it creates pressure to “keep up”. I certainly don’t want my husband’s eyes to slip to the young 30 somethings then back to me and frown because his wife has wrinkles years before a girl his own age would’ve had them. True, women live longer than men, so marrying a younger guy may help us conveniently end this journey at roughly the same time, but other than that, it is a nuisance to be with a younger man.

     Personally, I think Dianne looks terrific for her age, but I think lots of 50 year olds look great nowadays. Our society supports middle-aged people dressing, behaving and pursuing younger interests, and that combined with technology such as skin and hair care, the focus on working out etc, means none of us look as ancient as our parents did at this age.  Some people let themselves go, true. But many, many don’t. Historically, that is no different than it always has been. Anyway, as such, even though she looks lovely, Dianne looks like most single 50-year-old woman today because I think the 42 year olds look more like they are 35 – saying you are 42 is inviting people to think you look old, all things being relative. After all, we all have the same advantages for preserving our façade nowadays – and this is not even taking into consideration all those 50 year olds that turn to cosmetic surgery for help. I won’t even discuss my feelings about that.(The big fat, egotistical cheaters.)

     I bring this all up for a purpose. My Mother in Law just had a birthday. She was supposed to be 79. As you know, Mark’s father is ill and he just celebrated what will be his final birthday, at 78. But in our discussions with his mother about where she should live when he is gone, and how much she will be capable of doing for herself, it was revealed that she is actually 84. She’s been lying about her age every since she was 18 and no one in her family ever knew! How strange is that? Long ago, she testified that she lied about her age making herself older so she could sign up for the war effort back when everyone wanted to do their part, When in fact, she was plenty mature when she left home – she was just creating an excuse for those awkward moments, like when her social security stated she was ready to collect years before she was supposed to qualify. She says now that she has always kept her true age a secret because she felt men (her husband) don’t like older woman. You’d think after 50 years of marriage you’d stop worrying about that. Guess not.

     I pointed out that her son married an older woman and he likes me plenty.

     She said that was a generational thing and that I was a rare case.

     Now, I can’t help but wonder if lying about your age is genetic, something the women of the Hendry family feel compelled to do. Or perhaps, Dianne sensed this shame about being mature from her upbringing, even if her mother never out and out said, “You must try to seem younger than you are or no one will like you.” Either way, lots of pieces of a puzzle have fallen into place this week regarding the Hendry woman and their egocentric attitudes regarding age. I just wish Dianne was happier with her age so she celebrates it. It is freeing to do so.


   I don’t mind growing old. I figure time has been good to me. It certainly has made me more well rounded and interesting. And I welcome all the perks that come with maturity – knowing yourself, having some degree of financial security from the accumulation of your years of work, and the release of pressure to be perfect. Our society puts an awful lot of focus on beauty and youth, and when you are young, you can’t help but knock yourself out to meet the bar. At 50, you are just happy to be healthy and you accept that you only have so much god-given resources to work with.


This month in Runner’s magazine, they featured dozens of Master’s winners, runners who are mature and have set impressive records. They have runners age 70-90 that have done things I couldn’t have done at 30 – and several of them didn’t even begin running until they were in their 50’s . It is so inspirational. They prove that age doesn’t have to stop you from leading an active, interesting life. It is all about mind-set and your willingness to work at staying healthy. I, for one, want to celebrate my age. I’m rather proud of what I have done in 47 years, and considering all that I have learned on route, I am excited about all I will do in the next 47 years – with far less self-doubt or flagging confidence to shadow the process.

      In my first 47 years, I was unclear of how much I could do – as if others had more talent or inner power than I. Now, I believe I have more talent and/or power than others, simply because “others” threw in the towel on dreaming long ago. “Wanting” made them uncomfortable and they stopped trusting their ability to create a certain sort of life because the effort to support themselves or raise a family or get a foothold on life simply wore them out. Sad, that.

    In the movie, Shawsank Redemption, they have this great line. It is about a man who lived in jail for many years. They called him “institutionalized.” He’d been contained so long that when he was given freedom, it made him so uncomfortable he killed himself. I never forgot that. More often than you know, I see people stuck in a life rut and think “Poor fool is institutionalized.” The powerful image stuck with me. 

     For my personal life philosophy, I’ve made a conscious decision not to compromise or accept limitations gracefully. I abhor ruts and I honestly believe that a person has a right – a need – to be excited to greet every day. We must each design a life that is filled with promise and adventure – whatever that may entail for the individual.         

       Not everyone believes in taking risks, but I do. You can’t hit a target if you don’t aim, and even if you miss, you gain practice in the trying. Throw enough darts, and you will eventually hit the bull’s-eye – and then, you not only have achieved a goal, but you’ve become such a good dart thrower that you can do it again and again and again.

   At least, this works for me.



OH MY GOD! *  $ # ! ## * . My cat just slipped into the screen while I was writing this blog and grabbed another baby chick from the cage. I chased him down the deck, but he got away down the mountain with it flapping in his mouth. I’m sure he’s crunching away at it now. I’m so furious. Gonna torture that cat when he comes back. Poor Silkie. I need to do something about this TODAY!  For all that I pretend life is perfect, as you can see, success is a constant trial and error thing. Damn, now I’ll feel badly all day. Damn cat.  Maybe if I wrap some small wire around the gage. Yea, that will do the trick. Damn cat.


For Jamie

A dear friend from afar (one of those special students from the time when FLEX was filled with true dancers . . . and true joy, has requested a few more pictures of our house in progress. It is hard to get a good picture inside when you have no electricity – but here are a few. Actually, this week the stone work has been done which is really exciting – makes me feel like we are creating something permanant – castle-like. Anyway, a few images to springboard one’s imagination.

This is the house from the forest (on a hill) out front. The midgets in front include my dad, brother, sister and nephew. Don’t let the classless troublemakers prejudice you against the architecture . . .At this point in time, the entire front and the base of the house is stoned with the round stone you see to the left. Slate covers the walkway. It is to die for. The arched doorway has key-stones and a rounded stone archway. Ah, nevermind. I’ll put a picture here one day soon rather than bother to describe it.

This is the outdoor fireplace on the huge porch. It also is awaiting a stone facade. The cubbies are for storing wood (very good thinking, Mark). You can see the logs overhead. They are 23 feet each and Mark did them himself. He also did this mantle, but the picture doesn’t do it justice. Like everything you see here today, it is all a work in progress. Building a house is like choreographing a dance. Takes clean-up to see what you’ve really done. 

This is the entryway. It leads from the front door to the main room. I added it to show off Mark’s logs. This will all be stoned and slated too, opening into a room with 25 foot ceilings. That fireplace has stone all the way to the top and will support another mantle made by yours truly. The doorway to the left is heaven. . . that is, my writing room. The logs in front are actually supports that will be attached to the stairway leading up to mark’s loft office (with the porch over the main entrance that you can see from the front). those stairs are made of half logs – very earthy and substantial. The stairway leads to the downstairs too, where we lock the children up tight. (evil grin)
A wonderful dining room is to the right, but I don’t have any pictures of that yet. Tough – you have to wait.

This is the area where our kitchen table will be. The kitchen sort of curves around this wall with a stoned sink and some see-through cabintry – the area is open so I can talk to others when cooking. The best part of this area is the view, but you can’t see it in a picture. Outside of these windows is the creek and beyond that, the pasture where our horses roam. It’s quite soothing.

That is it for now. I have taken more pictures, but I don’t know how to download them yet.
Anyway… enjoy, Jamie. Thank your lucky stars you are not still on scholarship. Imagine putting Christmas lights up on this roof? Eeek. But I must say, I miss having our favorite slave to keep me company while painting and/or picking up the worksite. Damn that growing up thing you all do…

Oh, and here is a picture from the back. It allows you to see how our bedroom opens onto a small private porch and the back porch too. Mark did all these logs that support the porch.  This is the view of the house that the ducks will have when we get around to making a pond where the springhead is. Actually, that is scheduled for a few weeks hence. The coyotes get this view too.


Coyotes in the woods

     We have coyotes on our land. People have told us this, but since I’ve never seen or heard them, it hasn’t bothered me (it’s just given me a great excuse to justify the purchase of a donkey and llama – the mortal enemies of the coyote.) But now, something has happened that makes the issue of coyotes something we must discuss. We can hear them in the evening when working late at the house. The boys working on the site mentioned that the mother coyote has dropped a litter of pups across the stream from the house. Mark heard them too. Now, everyone is talking about our new family of coyotes. They sound like a litter of little puppies only 200 feet away.

    I thought that rather sweet at first. But the problem with a litter of coyotes is that they grow up. Then they travel as a pack. Coyotes won’t go near our horses, thanks to Donkey, and they are very skitterish around people and will avoid them at any cost, so I don’t have to worry about my children either. (Relieved sigh). The problem is, our dogs. If the dogs chase them, they can be lured into a pack, attacked and killed. Happens often, I’m told.  I suspect they will be a interfere with a healthy long life for my rooster(s) too.    

     The workers all shrug and say, “Ya’ll will have to shoot those wild muts soon.”

     Now, my son and daughter, crazy with worry about their beloved dogs, keep saying, “They’re right, Mom .We gotta kill the coyotes.”

   I say nothing. It is disconcerting to hear my children talk about killing anything (but time.)

     Ronnie, our builder, is a terrific guy, funny, easy-going, but very, very country. Born and bred in Blue Ridge. Never been on a plane. Only finished 5th grade (and yet he is one of the smartest people I know) a God fear’in preacher on the weekends, works hard with his dutiful sons building quality houses . . . and full of the best country slang ya ever heard. He is a real live country character, the kind you gotta love. He has a subtle way about him- and he likes to make fun of me in such a subdued way, I can’t help but believe talking to a city girl like me is a highly amusing pass time for him. 

     He said, “Ya’ll gotta get rid of those Coyotes, ya know.”

    I said, “And how do you suppose we should do that? Shall I call the humane society?”

    He grins. “I don’t reckon they would be much help.” Then he lifts a finger and makes a subtle shooting motion.

    I shake my head and say, “But we don’t own a gun.”

     He looks at Mark. “Living here, you’re gonna need one. Mark knows.”

    Ah, so they’ve already had this conversation.

      I cross my arms and say, “And so we are supposed to sit on our porch and pick those little baby pups off like a shooting gallery?”

       Ronnie shakes his head and says, “Unfortunately, they’s sneaky. My boys and I have never actually clipped one, ’cause they hear ya, or see a motion, and they take off fast as can be. But maybe you can scare them away.”

     This, I can handle.


     So, the issue of our buying a gun is on the table again. Mark insists we can’t live out in the woods without one. He points out that we have black bears in the area (and now Coyotes) and even an intruder might be a real threat considering there are no neighbors within shouting distance. He feels it is more important to protect the family than stick by some no -violence (to nature or man) creed. I do understand his point.  He assures me the weapon will be kept locked and secure – and we are not talking about a handgun. Just a riffle. (Be still my heart). I insist we go to a shooting range, take a lesson or two and learn to use it properly. Mark says Ronnie can probably teach him out back in an hour. Yea – I like that idea, honey. Go shooting into the woods right by the house and see what you hit. Um. NO!  (Might damage a blackberry or two, and we can’t have that)


So, I will have to take a break from my internet research on blackberries and canning to look up guns. Shoot me (eek – I didn’t mean that literally.)


But in all honesty, safety is an issue that we must consider with this dramatic life change. As it is, yesterday I told Mark I thought it was really important that he teach me to drive the tractor.

    He narrowed his eyes and in a real suspicious voice said, “Why?”

     Ha. Does he think I’m gonna go play with his new toy when he isn’t looking? Hell, I don’t want to learn how to run the thing – God-forbid, he might expect me to go out and bush hog a few acres for him if I actually can.

     The fact is, I have horrible visions of a tree falling on him and me standing there, helpless, watching him be crushed while the tractor is two feet away. Meanwhile, I’m this incompetent gal who doesn’t know how to do anything but cook and dance, and as such, I’m no help at all in an emergency. I imagine Mark bleeding and groaning, trying to explain to me what all those levers are, as the life-force drains out of him. Then, I imagine myself frantically trying to guestimate what to do, pushing the wrong button and squashing him totally. (Ha, not that I have a dramatic imagination or anything.)


I figured he’d laugh at me if I filled him in on my gory concerns, so I just told him I thought I should learn how to run it in case the wind blows a tree down across the road while he is gone. I wouldn’t want to be trapped at the house. He said that made sense, so he would teach me the basics. 


    I have always said I wanted to retire in the mountains – live in a place where nature and solitude come together to enrich the soul. But if someone told me three years ago that I would be stretching my experience envelope to include tractor maneuvering, rifle handling and canning, well, I’d laugh myself off the chair. Not that I’m complaining. Actually, it just goes to show that life can be a great adventure if you are open to it.


I must get back to work. Who knows, after we move, I might be distracted by late night howling and that will no doubt interfere with my creative juices. . .  (Deep down, I hope there will be howling. The way I look at it, the coyotes were there first.)     

Neva with our grand protector . . .

Squashed by squash

I wish I had 40 people to invite to dinner tonight. I would NEED 40 people to get rid of the yellow squash heaped in a huge wood-turned bowl in my kitchen. Apparently, our builder has a garden that went wild. He’s been gives away brown paper bags of his overages. We received a full bag of yellow squash and one of cucumbers. What am I to do with all this?  Mark has this brilliant idea that I would have fun making homemade pickles. Ummm….. get real.  I am still wrestling with the blackberry jam concept. Don’t know if I’m up for pickling yet. (My Laura Wilder Ingles gene isn’t as strong as one might suspect.)


Our neighbor, Gary, has twelve acres next to us. He and his wife are wonderful. Been retired for years and their home is beautiful. There granddaughter stays the entire summer, and has become Neva’s best friend. Mine too, because every time she sees me feeding the horse, she comes to help. Cute kid.  Gary works on the land all day. He’s created gardens, waterfalls in the creek and charming places to sit or lay in a hammock. He collects old Oil company signs and they are on his workshop like an antique collection. He also has a second cabin home on the property that they rent on occasion for extra income. I hope we have that someday. It all goes to show what time and attention can do to a piece of land. Anyway, Gary thought he was planting cucumbers but they came up as squash too, so I already have received an armload of his gift produce. And Dianne planted a garden in her backyard and passed on three yellow squash with her tomatoes. Remind me NOT to plant yellow squash next year when I get a garden. It takes over the world, like the blob. Fact is, there aren’t that many creative things to do with it – or at least, not that I know of. I should do some research. Now, if it was zucchini, that would be another matter all together. I make marvelous zucchini bread and I could gift it right back at whoever forced the produce on me. Ha. That would be a way to get even.


Why am I blogging? I don’t have time for this today. I have to look up how to make blackberry jam on the internet, check recipes, and maybe, delve into yellow squash soufflés. (Cooking is number two on the “how to avoid your homework” chart.) Time is of the essence when buckets of hard earned berries are sitting in the fridge, threatening to mold.

I must go.  If I stumble upon something interesting, regarding foodstuffs, I’ll report it here. But don’t count on that being my next blog. I got my llama sheers in the mail this week, and I think today is the day Mark and I will tackle that one. One of the people working on our house raised llamas and they made big fun of us as newbies considering what we were going to encounter. Sounds scary. Ha. I’m not intimidated. Can’t be worse than a dance parent with vengeance in her eye because her kid didn’t move up a level.  I will let you know how it turns out – and take pictures. My llama may end up look like a three year old who cut her own bangs, but I will take pride in trying something new, if nothing else.


Gotta go. Thank Goodness yellow squash isn’t fattening.

Little nothings (and Somethings) about Life

    My eldest daughter tactfully commented that I’ve “written enough blogs about blackberries”. I guess my fascination with the berry is boring her. Of course, she will now say that I didn’t quote her accurately. She pointed out that she understands I can’t always quote the family verbatim (considering my lax memory) yet still, it bristles her that I summarize some conversations with a single prominent comment.

    I pointed out that I am very careful to be accurate and the family does actually say all the things I bother to quote in my blog. Heck, it’s not as if I can lie or embellish what is going on when my commentary is an open book (or computer screen) and those involved can take me to task for anything reported. But what she doesn’t realize is, sometimes a comment is spoken off-hand but it may be imprinted on the listener’s brain for reasons you may never know. People have selective hearing dependant upon their mood, emotional state or past experiences. And I tend to zero in on a single sentence when it amuses, annoys, or inspires me.

    Sometimes, it feels as if I am witnessing life through a high-powered lens, ultimately aware of what I think, feel and experience. It is rather new, this awareness, having started at about age 40. I think it was the catalyst for my discontent with an achievement driven life.  Anyway, my In the moment awareness makes details stick in my mind because I ponder them long after the moment has come and gone.  

     In regards to her feeling I embellish a conversation, or misquote, I think it’s more a case that when you see something you said in passing in print, your knee jerk reaction is not to recognize it as “yours”. Often the problem with interpretation is not what we say, but how we say it. Unfortunately, the way a comment is interpreted when read might be a far cry from the way it was intended by the author. For example, I tend to say things in humor – a touch of sarcasm my weapon against taking things too seriously when I sense things are escalating out of the comfort zone, but if those off-hand comments are taken literally, they can seem offensive or challenging. When I quote a family member, it may seem as if they are insensitive or foolish, when actually, they are just kidding. I know it, so I assume the reader will too. I guess if I was a better writer, that would always come across. Honestly, if I had the power to assure every word I’ve ever written was received with the perfect intent I had poured into it, my life would probably be very different now. Ah well . . .


I’m off track. I was intending to just do a quick update on life.


Let’s see – despite the fact that I have reached my quota on blackberry blogs, I will mention that I’m still picking blackberries. Today, Neva and I spent two hours diving through the prickles to fill an entire shoebox (we bought her new riding boots this morning, and the box was what was available in the car when the urge overtook us). Since my freezer is full and the family is getting sick of blackberries, we discussed what we could do with the windfall. She wanted me to let her sell them at the flea market for 3.00 a pint. (She is quite the entrepreneur – don’t know where she got that from). I told her I was willing to get all hot and sweaty and scratched up for family, but I draw the line at commerce. So we brainstormed and decided it was time to try our hand at making Blackberry Jam. She felt I should pay her for her contribution, considering how much effort she is putting into the task, because I’d get all the credit for the jam. I said, “No way”, but  promised I’d let her cook the jam with me. We can learn together.  We are now planning to make a gob of the stuff and put it in pretty jars with a nifty label that she can decorate. Then, she can give homemade blackberry jam to teachers and/or grandparents and friends at Christmas as gifts. She thought this a spectacular idea and instantly became a harsh taskmaster, demanding I force my way deeper into the pickers to get the biggest berries off the beaten path. I told her this aggressive blackberry picking was getting painful. It’s supposed to be fun.  She pointed out that all the best blackberries are in the places that take the most work to harvest. Then she said, “It’s just like life, Mom.”    Ha. She is only nine, and it appears, my work is done. I love her vibrant, little spirit.


I think picking blackberries will be in the top ten subjects of my new book 101 things you can do to distract yourself from doing homework while enrolled in an MFA program. Considering I’m not making much progress on my thesis novel (and I’m disgusted with myself over it, let me tell you), that is one book I feel qualified to write.


New subject:

My cat is a shithead.

    Yesterday, while reading something on the computer  Neva came in and said, “Mom, something weird is going on. There is blood on the porch and two of our chicks are missing.”

     I had just visited our baby chickens, giving them fresh food moments prior, so I knew she was mistaken. I went and looked into the cage. The door was tightly shut but two birds were gone. I couldn’t figure out how they could have gotten out. Then, while we stood there, my cat, Tom, comes in, walks right by us and sticks his paw into the cage, grabs a chick and starts pulling it out through the narrow bars. Of course, I socked him. Then I threw him over the porch railing about eight feet below (Neva said she has never seen me so mad at a pet. Ha, I guess it is no surprise to see me mad at people, but at pets . . . that is rare.)  Apparently, he ate my two silkies. Neva found one, headless, in the other porch. She buried it and made a very nice tombstone, a rock that states, (in permanent marker) “Here lies Silkie Little Chick.” I took a picture, but I can’t post it because I don’t know how this new camera works yet.


We never found the other chick. I have horror flashes of reaching under the couch one day and thinking I’ve found a wayward sock, but it will be Silkie number two. Damn cat. We went and bought three Silkie replacements the next day. They are cute, but I am watching them carefully, dreading another cat-astrophe. The problem is, we can’t keep the cat out because the dog lets her in. That is another issue.


Our 7-month-old dog, a plot hound named Maxine, knows how to open doors. Any door. She is large, so she just lifts herself up on her hind legs and gracefully puts her paw on the handle and lets herself in. She not only can push a door open, but she can pull from the other side. She can open the front door, the screen door, locked chests, you name it. She has the run of the cabin, much to my dismay, because she is generally untrained. For example, I made cupcakes for the 4th of July and Neva laboriously decorated them. An hour later while we were out, the cupcakes were drying on the table. Maxine let herself in,  jumped on the table and ate all 24 cupcakes. Then she proceeded to barf all over the carpet, which smelled so badly we had to throw it out.

     She lets the cat into the screened in area when she is headed into the bunkhouse to lie on the carpet in the air conditioning, something she has started since she knows we keep the main cabin locked. She doesn’t intend to provide Tom with a Silkie drumstick lunch, but her leaving the door ajar does just this. We now have keys in all the doors and lock everything each time we go in or out. The screen door too.  It’s quite a nuisance. And really, I fear it is only a matter of time till Maxine learns to turn that key. Damn dog. Shithead cat. My world is filled with antagonistic animals this week.


New subject:

Mark quit his real estate course after one class. He announced he is too busy to drive and attend a scheduled commitment one hour before the second class. Of course, I told him this would be the case before he began. (Another I told ya so moment that I didn’t voice out loud. Aren’t I admirably disciplined?)  He is going to take the course on-line instead, but he hasn’t started yet. He has a year to do so, so I suspect it will wait until after the house is complete. He is not very good at self-motivated tasks such as an on-line school. Ah well. So much for our doing homework together or my getting sudden pity and understanding about my own workload.  Drat..


A sad subject:

Mark’s father has been in steady decline and we suspect he will be with us only a few more weeks. He now has a cancerous tumor in his brain as well as in his lung and bone. This makes him very confused. He does not know what day it is and often speaks about erratic things. He is nostalgic, which is new for this former stoic Scotsman. We took him to a bagpipe concert (he is a first generation American, having been raised in Scotland), and he cried because it dredged up memories of his youth. I made him blackberry cobbler, and he cried because his mother used to make it in Scotland. His confusion and his sensitivity, along with a loss of dignity because he feels helpless and lost, is horribly sad. Dianne is a saint, caring for her parents in her home at this trying time.

    I don’t want to talk much about this chapter of our lives, simply because I tend to get philosophical about life issues, and I don’t want to boil this down to theory or springboard from this subject to my own thoughts on aging or my life. I don’t want to pretend I understand what the family is feeling or try to wrap death up in simplistic fatalistic terms either, so I think my thoughts should remain private. But I will admit that it all makes me ponder life a great deal as I consider what is most important during our finite time on earth.

    Life is short. Make every day, every moment, every relationship, count. Most importantly of all – be happy.


I have under two weeks to switch from mild mannered country bumpkin back into dance diva. I am scheduled to teach 300 fledgling teachers in Boston on August 7th. This dredges up a great deal of philosophical thought on dance and my place in it. But I don’t want to talk about it tonight. I am tired.


It used to be I never slept – maybe 5 hours a night at most. Now, I sleep quite well, staying in bed to the lazy hour of seven sometimes! Imagine. I guess my plan to slow down and take time to enjoy living has seeped into more facets than my career choice. Now, I actually like a full seven hours of sleep. But who knows, maybe when my chicks grow up and I discover I have a rooster, I’ll embrace waking at the crack of dawn once again. At least then,  I’d get some homework done. But for now, Blogging remains my number one pastime on the “What to do to avoid homework” list.


Yawn. Good night, friend.



Mark’s Birthday weekend

I was away without internet access this weekend, so I wrote a bit on my laptop in sections and can post it now. You may wish to read it in spurts, for it is long. But believe it or not, if I had more time, I could go into more vivid detail about all I’ve seen and felt. Ah, the frustrations of having a mind so full and fingers so sluggish – not to mention a clock that ticks too fast to fit everything you desire to accomplish in the day. Anyway, here goes:


This weekend is Mark’s Birthday. I decided to take him away – pry him out of his house-building drudgery for a short weekend of leisure. So, I made reservations and tried to keep them a surprise. However, about a week ago, he started complaining about how busy he was and how he couldn’t be absent from the worksite for even a moment or things would go wrong. He pointed out mistakes being made every time he came home for dinner or had to meet me for an hour in the afternoon. I started to panic, thinking he’d kill me when I told him I’d planned a weekend away at this crucial time in the building process. I stressed about it for days, then cracked and told him about my plans. I had prepaid the weekend so there was no canceling. Leaving the surprise until the last moment seemed as if I was inviting resentment, or at least, a load of bad temper to spoil everything. Didn’t want my romantic get-a-way to turn into an obligatory thing. I wanted it to be something special.


So, I spilled the beans. He didn’t react negatively – he actually seemed pleased, although he mentioned how hard it would be to go away without some painting being complete because the hardwood floors and ceiling were going in this week. He couldn’t bare the thought of them being accidentally stained with color before they were treated. No problem. I got up at 5:30 am and went with him to the site and painted away. By 11:00 he was satisfied that things were in order, so we could leave guilt free. That was important – you can’t relax when you are thinking of all you should be doing. Luckily, none of the workers come in on the weekend, except the stone mason, so Mark won’t miss anything important – just the chance to get ahead. I figure, he can take a weekend off for a birthday.


I’ve taken him to see the Biltmore Estates in Asheville. Staying at the Biltmore seemed a bit pricy at 500 bucks a night– as a couple we’ve never been that impressed with extravagance, we are more delighted with charm – so I picked a Victorian Bed and breakfast with all the trimmings instead. It seemed thematic.  We are staying in the Beaufort House in the Dogwood Cottage. This is a beautifully restored Victorian home, complete with vintage antiques, china and old world quaint decor. They serve a formal breakfast in a gorgeous dining room, china, linen, and all, at 8:30 AM. We were greeted today with a wine and cheese banquet, having missed the high tea at 4:00. I have to tell you, I’m loving the ambiance. My mind slips away and I am in one of my romance novels, seeing my heroine walk down the grand staircase, her face vibrant with enthusiasm for the adventure I will thrust her into with my keyboard. I find myself taking notes of the details around me, the trim on the chair rail, the throw pillows, the pictures and china patterns. It is like stepping into the past. Fun.


At this moment, I am sitting outside on a small wooden deck at a bistro table while Mark is getting a massage inside with a physical therapist/masseuse. This was a service offered by the Beaufort House that I couldn’t resist setting up in advance. I figure it will set the tone of this birthday weekend – time to relax. Mark’s body has been so beat up and sore lately, he can barely function. I think this, above all else, will make his birthday perfect. I had a special mocha cake delivered to the room and a bottle of wine, chocolates and special tea bath crystals with candles. These are the kinds of luxuries you can organize in a quaint bed and breakfast – such a far cry from the average hotels bustling with tourists down the street. And all of it comes to less than half the cost of the Biltmore, so the luxury comes without guilt. That makes everything even nicer.


Tonight we will go explore downtown – or maybe just have dinner somewhere. They have a jazz club here – that always makes my knees go week. Ashville is one of the top eleven art districts in America too, so I’m betting we will spend some time in the galleries. Tomorrow we will see the amazing Biltmore Estates, home of the Vanderbilt’s in the early 1900’s. It’s the closest you can get to a castle in America (the largest home ever built in this country), with some 288 rooms. I’ll talk more about that after I see it tomorrow. We are taking a special behind the scenes tour to learn about the construction and how things worked in the house – fun for Mark because he likes to build things and for me because I like to experience things, ask questions, so I know enough to write about them.       


This bed and breakfast has an amazing history too (I’ve been reading information provided about it out on the porch while sipping my wine). It was built in 1895 by the State Attorney General for his new young wife. It went through changes, turning into a boarding house in the 1970’s and believe it or not, Charlton Heston and his wife rented a room here for a year while they saved money to go to California – the guy had this crazy dream of becoming an actor. Ha. Maybe this place is lucky. Anyone really curious about this Bed and Breakfast can see it online. It’s a marvelous place to stay.


Ah – the massage is done. I can go inside now. I’m almost sorry… it is lovely out here and I could write much more . . . but I don’t think ignoring the birthday boy would earn me brownie points.



Mark was so relaxed after his massage; he looked like someone strung out. His eyes were all glassy and blood shot, his arms hanging limp at his sides as if it was too much effort to lift them. He said he felt great, but I think the combination of a glass of wine, a massage, and just being away made him crash. We went to an authentic pizza joint recommended by the masseuse, but didn’t eat much. We chose to return to the room and ended up laying in bed and watching a movie instead of going out – not a bad choice considering the feather quilts and pillows and the big double Jacuzzi hot tub in the room. Ha. Don’t think that is authentic Victorian décor (the hot tub) but it sure is welcome by someone all broken and beat up by trees, as Mark has been. Tomorrow we will go to the Biltmore. Can’t wait.



We gather in the dining room for our complimentary breakfast (which is why this is a “bed and breakfast”, not a “bed and bagel” stop, I suppose). They had a full house, all 11 rooms were occupied by couples so 22 people sat around a huge Victorian table set with china and adorned with flowers. A few extra tables were set up about the perimeter and we sat at one of these. It provided a beautiful view of the bushes outside and the veranda (complete with an old fashion swing). We were served juice and coffee first while we shared conversation with other couples. Such interesting people choose to stay at a place like this, it makes conversation vivid and enjoyable. We especially connected with a couple our age who have been married just a year. They are building a house now (two lives merging into one requires a new start – what better way to go about it than by building a place of their own) and they came to Asheville to purchase a piece of art for an empty wall. They were lovely.

 Breakfast arrived. We were given a homemade banana muffin (mine are better) and eggs benedict (mine is also better) and a hot, crusty pear dumpling. (I never made one, but I would be hard pressed to do better. This was fantastic! Wow. You can bet, I’ll try it at home so next year, I can claim mine is better . . . maybe.) Breakfast made this stay truly special. I was fascinated by the woman who runs this establishment – she does all the cooking, organizing, checking in – etc. She was a marvel.


For years, Mark has said he would love to run a bed and breakfast. I’ve never been as keen on the idea. I love to cook, but only for the people I love. I certainly don’t want to do it on demand, as a job. And clean after others?. Thanks but no thanks. He had this romantic vision of us growing herbs in a garden and me cooking with them, people entering our lives to share our home and leaving feeling refreshed and inspired. But one man this morning was complaining about the creaky floors as if the bed and breakfast was unkempt because of the noise in the hall. I commented that when you stay in a one hundred year old Victorian home, the creaky floors are a part of the ambiance. They make it all authentic so really, they shouldn’t be offensive. The man rolled his eyes as if I was an ass. I looked at Mark and whispered, “That is why I would hate to run one of these establishments.” The point is, you can’t control the people who visit, and so much of the public is spoiled and impossible to please. If we haven’t learned that in our years of business, we’ve learned nothing.


With the lovely morning meal behind us, we took off for the Biltmore.


The Biltmore experience:


    George Vanderbilt’s great grandfather borrowed $500 to purchase a ferry to transport vegetables from the main land to Staten Island. He must have been a hard worker because in his lifetime, he grew his business to a net worth of 100 million. (And in today’s time that is worth 8 billion – not bad for any entrepreneur.) He got into shipping just when the timing was right. His son (George’s father) inherited that fortune and doubled it- got into the railroads just when the time was ripe.  I think that is where the work-ethic gene (and good timing) in this family fizzled out. George Vanderbilt, the youngest of 8 children, inherited 5 million from his father and 5 million from his grandfather. He devoted his life to spending it.

      George considered himself an intellectual. He read a great deal – in fact, he kept track of everything he read from the age of 12 on. It totaled about 3500 books when he died. That is two per week all his life. (I wasn’t much impressed. I may even have him beat – certainly, my MFA work has me pushing the numbers.) He traveled the world collecting art and antiques and studying architecture to plan his spectacular home in the <ST1laceName w:st=”on”>North Carolina</ST1laceName> <ST1laceType w:st=”on”>Mountains</ST1laceType>, patterned off the grand estates and castles in Europe. No one knows how much he spent, because he paid for things privately and kept no records, but I walked through the estates thinking he certainly didn’t have enough money with a measly 10 million (estimated worth today at 66 million) to build Biltmore. He must have had some investments too, because to build this house today would top 66 million for sure. Heck, Disney spent more than that on a theme park years ago. 

    It’s amazing – for that investment doesn’t include the art and antiques inside, which include Renoir oils and over 1600 prints by famed artists. Most of the furniture is 16th century or older, and the tapestries are from the 14th century. George acquired the table that Napoleon’s heart rested on for 5 days as they were doing an autopsy. Guess that is the kind of conversation piece you get for the man who has everything. Amazing. His library holds thousands of hand tooled leather books, antiques by their own right. The china and linens alone are worth a fortune.

    We walked through this monstrosity, amazed and slightly put off. What kind of person chooses to live this way? They say this home is George Vanderbilt’s contribution to the world. I couldn’t help but think that is a pretty dismal display of a life well lived. Considering the man’s resources and family power, it all seems grossly indulgent to me. I guess if he made the money through hard work or innovation I’d feel differently – or if he left some other significant mark on the world, the house would seem a just reward. As it was,  I imagined a spoiled rich kid who thinks he is important because he can buy things, traveling the world to acquire more and more, and probably not understanding or having empathy for any of the repressed people he encountered along those travels. In the lecture that accompanies the tour, they kept mentioning how kind the Vanderbilt’s were to their servants etc. but it didn’t change my gut feelings about the family much.   

    Biltmore, when it was built in 1890, (finished in 1895) was a marvel of modern convenience. All 288 rooms were wired for electric lights. Unfortunately, there were two systems being claimed as the route to the future, but George did not choose Edison’s. They had to upgrade to the correct system after all the electrical work was initially done. George Vanderbilt also had a marvelous new convenience that the country help they hired didn’t trust at all. Flush toilets. With some 45 bathrooms in the house, people had only to pull a chain to see their waste disappear. Amazing! The bathrooms were all identical, with plain, cream tile like something out of a prison, each sporting a claw foot tub and toilet.  Sinks hadn’t been invented yet. People still used a washbasin to wash their face and hands, calling for a servant to bring them a pitcher of warm water when desired. The running water in the home was all cold, so I suspect the servants were bringing in hot buckets of steaming water to add to the bath too – “convenience” is a relative term.  

      Downstairs they had an indoor pool, a workout room with all the newest equipment (a medicine ball, parallel bars and a rowing machine). We toured the kitchens complete with a pastry room, roasting room, vegetable storage and other divided rooms to combat the heat. The laundry rooms were fascinating too, with a new fangled device that spun the clothes to remove the water after things were washed and a huge drying room where sheets were hung on long poles and slid into a warm oven sort of device so they dried where they wouldn’t be seen.

     I especially loved our back stage tour where we saw unfinished rooms and the basement. I saw how coal was delivered for the three huge furnaces to heat the home, the air vents used to cool the upstairs, and the room devoted to electrical switches that controlled it all. We saw how the dumbwaiters worked and the small tubes set in the walls, which allowed staff to talk to each other from one level to another (like talking into a Dixie cup on a string when you were a kid).

    Many of the rooms have invisible doors that you can only see when you look very carefully, because paneling and pictures are on them so they blend into the walls. This allowed servants to move about unseen and reminded me of gothic horror movies. George built a bachelor’s wing, so the men could come in late and not disturb the female guests (hummmm, guess convenience has many faces). A few nudes are hung in the hallway here. Fascinating. I loved how, when you walk by the men’s smoking room by the grand dining hall, the smell of tobacco is still pungent (or so I was told). A hundred years later and the whiff of those men is still there, like the ghost of their leisure.

      There were some odd facts that jumped out at Mark and me, for example, the family never finished the music room on the main floor (until 1970). The room is in a significant place in the front entryway, yet it was boarded off and left. Why? We speculated that the wife caught George with a female maid there or something, so she demanded it be closed off, never used. It was such an unexplainable odd thing – and no one talks about “why” today. In fact, the tour contains many such mysteries that make you wonder about the people who lived there. I think the Vanderbilt’s keep their family secrets in the closet as well raised, affluent families do. For example, George died in 1914 from appendicitis; but his wife only lived in the home for two more years. When her daughter married, she claimed that there was only room for one woman in the house, (in 288 rooms?) so she moved away and never returned again. Sounds fishy to me, as if she was looking for an escape clause. Their daughter divorced ten years later and went to Europe, never to return either -another one bailing from the family home . . why?  Makes you think it may not have been the happy place history paints it to be.

    The home is still privately owned by the family, only it is now open to the public as part of a “for profit” enterprise. At 35.00 a ticket and 7.00 more for the audio lecture (which you must get to understand any of what you are seeing) and 15.00 for the behind the scenes tour (that makes it 57.00 per person) I imagine they are working towards recouping their investment. Takes time with a white elephant of this size.

   The grounds were spectacular – the gardens amazing. They have fishponds and mountain views, a waterfall and bass pond, some 17,000 acres to explore, much of it developed for ultimate beauty.  They have a winery, of course, a carriage house and stables – just about anything you can imagine.

   We had lunch in a posh restaurant on the grounds, actually it was built in what was formerly the stables. We ate in a refurbished stall on a table decked in linens and china, the windows and sky-high tile ceiling the original of this carriage house. I imagined a young stable boy sitting on a bucket right where our table was placed, flies swarming around his head, straw at his feet and horses whinnying nearby, hearing someone telling him a tall tale about how one day, a hundred years hence, people would pay 12.00 for a sandwich to sit and eat right there in the stables. That kid would laugh himself off the stood at such an absurd claim.

       All told, it was a fascinating trip. I so love history and writing about it, that walking through those halls has special meaning for me. I see the faces of the people who lived this way in my mind, both the privileged and those that served them, and the many guests or the children born into this lifestyle, imagining what they thought and felt as they went through their days. It’s like stepping back in time and being a fly on the wall.

       Mostly, I think the entire project was sad – doomed from the beginning. Had George Vanderbilt built his magnificent home 300 years prior, it would have been happily used by his family for years to come. Like the great castles in Scotland or mansions in England. I’m sure that was his intention, but as it was, Biltmore was only used about 40 years. Why? My theory is that it became obsolete almost as soon as it was complete. America went through such a huge leap of growth in the industrial revolution that this home, seeped in history and heritage, couldn’t keep up.

    Within twenty years, the automobile was invented. Oops, there goes the main use of the carriage house and stables – and I doubt the automobiles back then could make it up the mountain – thus alienating their rich guests from visiting and sticking the family with a passé mode of transport. All kinds of new things were invented from sinks and refrigerators, to water boilers and stoves. The phone and telegraph was invented – and suddenly the tubes in the walls (designed so staff could talk to each other) had to seem old fashion – George’s original intention of building the most progressive home ever became the exact opposite. Probably a dismal disappointment to him and his wife.

     Considering the impact of the great industrial revolution, you can see that this monstrosity of a home, designed in the fashion of the wealthy family ancestry homes of Europe, just didn’t fit in to the new world’s lifestyle. Even the servants required to run the home would have had other options for employment. They went to factories, or to war – got married and had their own businesses as the world suddenly offered opportunity to the common man. Women could suddenly go out in public. They could vote. They didn’t have to fold sheets and be invisible in the great house anymore, protected from the world. All people slowly became free of the strict Victorian policies and attitudes. Once that ball started rolling, it didn’t take long (imagine the roaring 20’s a few short years after this ridged old world attitude existed)  Class distinction was not as powerful as it once was and everyone learned they had rights- not just the rich. And they wanted to exercise them.

   I think Biltmore was simply a home built too late for it to thrive in the manner it was intended.

   But that doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive and a marvel to witness. I loved every minute of the tours and the hours we spent leisurely walking the grounds. We speculated about the personal lives of those that walked this plat of earth before us, the fights they had over the original construction, the way George must have poured over plans and designs as he built his dream home. The Vanderbilt’s must have showed off at first, inviting everyone who was anyone to visit, then I bet they felt trapped by it later. I wonder how the future generations feel looking at it all today – or how his father and grandfather felt the first time they looked at the opulence, knowing their boy never worked as they did but spent so liberally. Bet they didn’t like it much, and this probably caused stress between son and father.

      For us, seeing Biltmore was not just about seeing Biltmore – it was imagining the stories behind those walls. Fun!  

     The family still owns the home, and they certainly have family pride, evident in how they present it all to the public. The grandson’s voice introduces the home on the audio tape, making it all sound so romantic and whimsical, as if George Vanderbilt left this terrific accomplishment behind for all of mankind. But knowing history as I do, and having studied America’s culture from 1850 and on, helping me understand the realities of life back then, I came away with a very different feeling from the tour than intended by the presentation. On the surface it is beautiful and amazing – a virtual museum of artifacts and living history. But underneath –the reality of the project, ah, it makes a history buff/imaginative girl’s head spin with the possibilities.

   Word has it that in the depression they charged a dollar to see the mansion. But it was a huge drain of the family resources, losing 250 thousand dollars a year just for upkeep (in today’s dollars, just imagine how much that was). It fell to disrepair, unused, but in the 1970’s it underwent a huge restoration. The family actually had companies make copies of the original wallpaper and fabrics so what you see today is the original mansion. They planned to turn it into a tourist attraction – which worked beautifully. There were busses and busses of people being carried from the parking lots to the house like it was Disneyland or something. We were a bit off-put by the crowds, but at least when we walked the grounds we found some solace and could imagine that was what it was liked a hundred years ago for guests.  

     For all that Biltmore is a successful tourist attraction today, I imagine a wealthy great grandson’s dilemma now of making a business out of this family land just to keep it from draining them dry. He is wrestling with state taxes and all kinds of financial red tape that George Vanderbilt never had to deal with. This man probably has a very different work ethic, an empire of investments to run, much like his ancestors that ran the shipping empire to build the family fortune. The day’s of inheriting wealth and being a gentleman of leisure (those that worked were considered a poor excuse for a gentleman in the pre-Victorian era and many a family’s estates were lost through the excess gambling, drinking, and spending done in the name of gentleman’s leisure in Europe) are gone. 

      Business rules the world now and success in business is admired foremost, even in the world of wealth and privilege. As such, a home like Biltmore is an investment, and in the tradition of the 21st century American way, the family has found a way to make it profitable.

    Historically, Biltmore is a gift to the world. George intended something different, for sure, but he left a legacy in a historical home that, due to it being made of stone, copper and marble, has permance, not to mention a collection of authentic artifacts preserved for generations to come. Anyone with a healthy bank account balance can enjoy them… um…. not to be confused with state run museums or libraries that are a true gift to the world, available to all.  It all goes to show something good lies in everything . . . you just have to be patient until time reveals the true value to mankind. And perhaps, more time must go by before the true legacy of the Biltmore estates is revealed. Until then, it is great fun for a visit if you can afford it.


In closing:
I need to sum up this weekend, so I will end by just saying we spent the late afternoon browsing through art galleries (I’m becoming ever-more convinced we could run one of these successfully, so I look at them through different eyes – summing up the business potential, artistic integrity and such.) Then, we were so tired and still full from our stable lunch that we decided to have a picnic in our room rather than go out. We stopped at this amazing fresh market deli/grocer and bought apples and gouda cheese, crusty bread, shrimp, a chicken, watermelon and crab and artichoke dip and took it back to the room, where we ate in bed watching another movie (I swear, we never watch TV – but it felt decadent and lovely for some reason to lay around – totally lazy). We polished off the rest of the wine and Mark’s cake. Indulgence seemed the theme of the day.


The next morning we had another wonderful Victorian breakfast with Cranberry muffins, fruit salad and blueberry waffles. Yum. We then went to a huge art festival at the convention center to browse the high-end craftsmen and their goods. We were lucky it happened on our weekend in town, for this is a well-known exhibit in North Carolina – one we have often said would be nice to attend. We talked to a woman who makes quilts that we have admired at other events and saw some other unique work. Fun. Then, we went home to gather the family for the real birthday celebration. We went to dinner and saw a movie, “My Super ex-girlfriend”. Ha. Guess we reached our intellectual quota for the weekend, so a mindless movie was all we could face. Kids liked it best.


And now . . . I am home. Behind on my work (the theme of my life) and hustling to get on top of things. But somehow, stepping away, removing yourself from your life for a short while, gives you great steam to tackle it once again. So now, without excuses – I must get to it.   

She’s gone wild berry wild

Help. I can’t stop picking blackberries. It’s like I have blackberry radar or something, because I can be driving along, lost in the world of my mind, and suddenly I see them on the side of the road like a beacon.


I’ll say, “You see those blackberries?”

Mark will say, “What blackberries?”

The miniscule blackish morsels may be tiny and tucked obscurely underneath branches, but I see them, and I CAN’T ignore them.

So I will stop the car and gather a few in the bowl I keep in the back seat for just this purpose – or if we are in a hurry to go somewhere, I’ll return later to pick them on the sly. Can’t resist.


Yesterday, I went for a run. I haven’t gone running since before my residency, so I was a bit annoyed with the state of my path. I’ve picked up over six large trash bags filled with discarded cups and beer cans out there (If I ever get into heaven, it will be for environmental sainthood – sure won’t gain entry for anything else). And don’t ya know that in the two weeks I’ve been gone, the dirty, rotten, stink’in, lazy, slobbish, ignorant, jackass who throws waste out of his car window (I don’t like this guy, in case you haven’t noticed) has been up to his old habits. Apparently, he didn’t notice, or appreciate, the lovely clean road I’ve supplied him with for his drive home. Jerk.


Anyway,  I’m plodding along, thinking that I’m over being this guy’s outdoor maid. I’m gonna leave the trash where it is, because I’ll be moving in two months, and for all I care, the guy can drown in it . . . when I see a bush dripping with blackberries. I’m sort of glad I don’t have any vessel to put them in, because, frankly, we are overrun with blackberries, and my family is making fun of me over my enthusiasm now. The freezer is filled with one cup proportioned baggies of blackberries  – we have a huge vat of blackberry cobbler in the fridge and bowls of blackberries awaiting a fruit salad fate. I’ve given a few pints to my sister-in-law, and I’m forever looking for recipes to use the ones I keep dragging home. Finding good recipes for blackberries isn’t easy considering my husband announced this week that he really doesn’t like blackberries all that much (NOW he tell me?)


Anyway, back to my quest. I sigh as I look at those ripe, flavorful berries and jog on, but a few steps down the path and I see a big plastic 64-ounce subway cup on the road. Now, I figure picking it up would be good for the environment AND it would supply me with a vessel to collect a few more blackberries ( I can justify any passion, sad to say). So, I pick up the cup, backtrack and come home with more fruit.


I just can’t resist. They are free, fresh, and I like ’em. I told Mark I was worried I wouldn’t snap out of it. Maybe I’ll need electro shock therapy or something to kill the blackberry-picking obsession. He said the season would be over in about 5 weeks, so I’ll be saved. Till then, I’ll keep picking. Perhaps I should mention here that my giant blueberry bush is starting to turn. But blueberries are not as controversial as blackberries – they are more versatile when it comes to cooking, they have no thorns, and are sweeter by far . Picking them is a family affair, so I won’t feel so circumspect when I shift my focus to a new berry.  


At least, I am not the only person with this serious blackberry picking affectation. My sister came to visit for a few days and don’t ya know, she has it too. Must be genetic! The first day here she said, “Let’s pick some blackberries.” She didn’t know I’ve been at this for a week already. We spent a day on the land, picking away. She is quite an aggressive blackberry harvester. She got all scratched up, but she announced it was worth it to best me at the deed. That is debatable, of course. At one point, I noticed my kids in the car, resting and enjoying the air conditioning. Linda and I were out there slaving away at the bush, delighting in filling our bowls, smiling with blackberry-stained tongues. It’s obvious who the real kids in this family are.


The next morning,  Linda was out on the porch having a cigarette and she spies another bush. She dumps her coffee cup out and walks over in her PJ’s to pick more, gathering them in her cup, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth like Betty Davis. Yea – she has the dreaded blackberry obsession too.


We had a great time while she was here. We rode the horses and she gave me training advice (she is a far better rider than I, having spent years showing horses while I was dancing). We also went to the feed store to buy some supplies and came away with more baby chickens. She couldn’t resist – I couldn’t say no. I now have two tiny silkies (the chickens that grow low feathers on their bodies and feet that look like fur) and two bantams (miniature chickens) and four that have these huge tuffs of feathers on their head like they have an afro. They are all “fancy” chickens – not for eating or egg laying. They are for ambiance, don’t ya know.


The second day Linda was visiting, we called my brother Dave, who lives 1 ½ hour away. We invited him to dinner, but didn’t expect him to come. Sure enough, he came with his two sons to see my house and land (this is the first time my siblings have seen any of what we are creating here.) Strangely enough, then, my dad called. He was flying home to Florida from Cincinnati (where he went to play poker with some old buddies) and he missed his connecting flight out of Atlanta. So, since he was stuck, he rented a car and zipped over. Now, I had almost my entire family (sans Mom) together for this grand showing off of the new Hendryville. We explored the land with our four wheelers, and inspected the house. All were impressed and gushed lovely, generous compliments. My brother said, “Wow, this is more magnificent than my own plans for when I win the lottery.”  

Yes, well, many days if feels as if we won the lottery ourselves.


It was a nice weekend, although Mark had to work through much of it. He is drowning in labor with this house, trying to stay one-step ahead of the workers so he can put in all the special details he dreams up. My sister and I went to see how he was doing on the day we were riding, and he was covered head to toe in sawdust. Linda said, “Gee, your husband looks like a powered donut nowadays.” Ha. Perfect description.


Having a few days with my family was a joy. But it does put me behind in my homework, so today, I have to buckle down and get something done.  I’ve given myself one hour to blog, and time’s up. Sigh.


Before I go, I thought I should mention that I lost Kathy again. That happened after my last residency too – I came home to find her in jail. If we don’t have consistent meetings, she fades away, loses her focus. I went to the Appalacian college for our scheduled reading session on the Monday I got back from Lesley, but she didn’t show up. I figured it was the day before July 4 (and the college was closed) so perhaps it was just a matter of bad communication. But I haven’t heard from her since and her phone is disconnected. (This happens with her often, due to financial restraints.) I suppose she’ll call evenutally and we will get back on track. Anyway, it’s depressing. It’s hard to save the world when the world refuses to show up.




A basket, naturally.


Here is a picture of my basket made from nature. (Two angles). I picked a base twig with a cool, natural loop in it, thinking I could hang this basket from that end. Eventually, when I put it in my writing room I’ll do just that, but for picture sake, it is resting now on a sheet. I was sort of annoyed that Mark took the picture before I had a chance to “clean up” the basket. That is when you tuck in and tie off little ends of material in the weave. You wait for the project to dry a bit before doing this step. So if any basket connoisseurs are out there thinking I am a sloppy basket maker – well, it is only because you are peeking before I had a chance to tidy up. If you look carefully, in this basket you’ll see sea grass, corn husks, palm tree fluorescents, and big dried flower leaves (the things that look like ribbon.) The end product is very stiff and solid, as dried material from nature gets in time. Anyway, it may not be perfect, but you can be sure no one else in the world has one since it is free form and original. I think originality counts for something. I had plans to give this one away to a teacher of mine who has a deep love of nature, but now I’m thinking I could do better.. My firsts always are a learning thing.  Maybe next time, I’ll stick with items I find on my own land – blackberry vines, string from around the horses hay, etc. That would make the making of it more fun, and it would come with a secret story. I like a little hidden history in my gifts. Even if I am the only one who knows what makes it uniquely mine.