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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Rock hard reality

Sunday, I had a morning date. Well, it was a chore, but I decided to pretend it was a date. (“Pretending” is the only way I’ll ever get asked out by my house-obsessed husband.) We drove to Helen GA, a quaint Bavarian tourist village in the mountains. There is a wonderful rock shop there, with an owner who will make you a deal, if you smile sweetly and buy more than a few rocks.


 


On Saturday, the workers showed up (yahoo) to finally begin doing the rock on the fireplaces. We have been collecting geodes for this project, hoping to embed all kinds of beautiful, natural stones into the river rock to make this fireplace a work of art, not just a traditional, pretty fireplace. And so, they began. The rock-layers don’t exactly have much artistic sensibility. You can tell this when you hand them a lovely nine dollar crystal amethyst and they slap mud on it and put it in backwards so all you see is the outside, grey rock. Um… I was hoping it would go in the other way. . . . They shrug and react as if you are slowing down the job. Jeeze.


 


Anyway, Mark stood at the bottom of their scaffolding, picking out rocks and gently recommending they insert them in special places. He is careful not to come across as “a high maintenance prick” and yet, he wants desperately to get what he wants artistically from these laborers. It is a delicate line to walk. The fireplace slowly began to take shape, featuring all kinds of geodes and interesting natural stones. The workers said, “We are saving these nice ones for right up here in the center.” Mark points out that there will always be a piece of art hanging there, so anything in the center is going to be covered. “Please, just keep to the places I tell you to put them,” he says casually. Meanwhile he is gritting his teeth, wanting to shove them off the scaffolding so he can climb up to do the job himself. He would, if it wasn’t such a huge job demanding experience he doesn’t have.


 


He couldn’t leave the project, which turned out to be a problem because, as they were putting our carefully collected special rocks in backwards, downstairs the other laborers had used the wrong stone for the second fireplace. Instead of the pretty round river rock with amber, pink and light grey tones that we bought especially for this stonework, they used rough, square, black jagged rock that was bought for outside. Mark pulled me into a closet to point out his frustration, but said he was going to let it go because if he kept making them re-do every job, we would never get in this house.


 


 I said, “Can you live with it” This is an important question. I will consider the house pretty and special no matter what. Heck, I’m just thrilled to have all these fireplaces. But I know my husband, and he will stare and snarl every time he goes into a room with something he doesn’t like– it will eat away at him, until one day, he will walk in with a sledge hammer and a glint in his eye. Because he won’t be able to stand something that he feels is “not right” from a visual standpoint.


 


He insisted he could live with it. It is just a family room after all, and we have the super fireplace upstairs. And he is so tired of all the stress of building this house – he just wants it done. He can live with the black rock downstairs if it saves us money and time.


 


I’ll hold him to that (as I hide the sledgehammer.)


 


At day’s end, with half a fireplace stoned, we realized we were short on geodes, and now that the project was underway, we also realized we needed rocks that were slimmer to fill in small cracks with something more interesting than mortar.  So, Mark planned a trip to the rock shop and asked me if I wanted to go.


 


Sunday out? You bettcha.


 


We are good rock shop customers, because we want all those rocks no one else would ever want. We do not reach for the shinny, sparkly rocks that most people want to rest on their mantel or to use as bookends. We like the ones that, when cracked open, only have bits and pieces of crystal and geode showing. We want rocks with live edge, the more oddly shaped, the better. This assures the fireplace will look natural, and we want people to have to sit with a glass of wine staring, to take in all the interesting detail. A bunch of wildly colored polished rocks stuck in with weathered stones would be too obvious – draw too much attention to one area rather than a blended whole. We also need geodes with crystals that do not sink in too deep because I don’t want sparkly pits to collect dust in areas I can’t reach to clean. It is all more complex than it sounds. We want subtle beauty.


 


Anyway, we bought about 6 dozen geodes, many of them smaller, but a few big raw crystal pieces for up high. And we bought enough to embed them in the 18 inch rock that will be going around the ceiling too. Might as well make it all match. The rockwork has turned out to be remarkable, and probably one of the most interesting things in the house. The workers stare and say, “How did you ever think of this? We’ve worked on hundreds of houses, some worth 5 million dollars, and no one has ever thought of these different ideas. They’re amazing. Beautiful.” Then they point out that they will do this at every other house they work on for now on. Gee, that’s nice to hear. So much for our having an original home. But they say copying is a sign of flattery. So, I will take it as such, proud in this unique home we are building.


 


Back to my date. We picked rocks in the pouring rain for about an hour, then Mark says he has to get back because he has to return to the house to keep working. I point out that it is Sunday and since we’ve driven 1 ½ hour to get to Helen, maybe we should browse and share coffee or something. I got him to agree to stopping in the sweet shop for a couple of chocolate dipped strawberries (my favorite), but that was it.  No time to play. No time, even for breakfast – had to drive through and eat on the run. It wasn’t much of a date, but I have ROCKS to be proud of– that’s for damn sure.


 


I figure, eventually this house will be done. I’ll then be able to demand my husband sit down with me for at least an hour, in front of our pretty fireplace with all those pretty rocks, to touch base and get reacquainted. For now, I just turn the drudgery of our days into dates through the acrobatics of my mind. It is all in how you view a thing, ya know. If all ya got is a rock to amuse you, make it a geode, see the beauty within, and give that rock a fun association. That is how you make something lovely out of something plain. Don’t do this, and you’ll go crazy.


 


Speaking of going crazy – my son filled my car with Diesel gasoline last night. Yep, even though the hose doesn’t fit a normal car, he managed to force it in, hold it just so, and pump 24.00 of death into my engine. The car promptly died. We had it towed to the shop where they will have to drain the engine and hopefully, after a thorough cleaning, it can be saved. My son insists this is my fault because I drove up to a tank that offered both sorts of gas and I didn’t watch what he was doing. The fact that he has pumped gas a hundred times isn’t to be factored in. I did ask him to pump, true. (It’s 15-year-old boy’s job, in my opinion.)


 


I figure there are worse things that could go wrong in a day. It’s just a car (albeit a fairly new car, whose warrantee has just been voided due to this error.) Ah well. It will give me something to tease him about for years to come. Kids. Can’t kill ’em. What ya gonna do? Complain for eighteen years, then miss them, that’s what.


 


 Today, I am cleaning because my parents are coming to visit on Wednesday. Last night, I started by going downstairs to put in some laundry and “eek”. I jump a foot. Something ominous is there, waiting to “get” me. Turns out it is a pair of elk antlers as big as me. Mark is working on the computer a few feet away. I say, “What are these monstrous things?”


 


“That is your new coffee table.”


I check to see that these antlers are naturally shed, and they are. “What kind of deer grows such huge antlers?” I ask, imagining some poor animal toppled forward because his antlers are as big as his body (like the dog in the Grinch cartoon).


“Elk.”


Ah, that makes sense. “How much does a pair of elk antlers this huge cost?” I pry.


“Less than a coffee table.”


Ha. That depends on if you want to factor in the workshop, tools and opportunity costs (which, in this case, is the time I will have to wait for this alleged coffee table to actually show up in front of my not-yet-maybe-never-to-be-acquired couch.)


“Cool. Can’t wait to see what you do with them.” I say.


 


I don’t suppose there is a coffee table in the world I’d like more than one made with my husband’s hands from a pair of monster elk antlers. But, I rather they didn’t sneak up like that and scare the wits out of me. Sometimes, I wonder about that man and the things he is playing with.


Men. What ya gonna do? Can’t kill ’em. Complain for eighteen years, then . . . complain for eighteen more, that’s what.

Racing in the Mountains

This Saturday, I earned the distinguished title of second place runner in the women’s 40-50 year old division of the Blue Ridge 5K. I have a certificate to prove it. I hope you are amply impressed, because it won’t last long. Now, I have to tell you that there were only two women in this age category, so I won by default. But as I told Neva, the way I look at it, I actually beat lots and lots of people. I came in before all the hundreds of women age 40-50 who stayed in bed while I was out plugging along my 3-mile plus route. Thus, I’ll take my certificate. I’ll hang in on my wall above the computer in a place of honor, reveling in my accomplishment. Yep. I’m a winner. I showed up.


 


The night before, it was storming violently. I told Mark I was hoping it would still be raining in the morning so I would have an excuse not to run. I hadn’t told him about the 5K I’d signed up for yet. He sort of lifted his eyebrows and said, “You are going to participate in a race? Good luck with that one.” It wasn’t exactly warm, enthusiastic encouragement, but I understood his surprise. Frankly, he was right to wonder why I’d bother. I’m not, and never will be, a good runner and with all we have on our plate this month, squeezing in a race seems a bit self-defeating.


 


But I wanted to run, nevertheless, just to remind myself of what I should be doing as someone who professes to be committed to health and wellness and all that rot.


 


I woke at 6:30, sighed when I saw it was only overcast and a bit of drizzle (actually, I like running in the rain, so this qualified as perfect weather for me) and got ready. Neva stirred and asked where I was going. I told her I was off to a race. As expected, she begged me to let her come. I told her that if she promised to wait while I ran, she could run along the last ½ mile and cheer me on. She dressed in her soccer outfit and put her hair up. It was obvious she was dying to run. The entire drive to the race, she worked on convincing me that she could make it three plus miles. I thought, considering the shape I am in, it isn’t as if she could possibly slow me up, so why not let her try? And when I saw how small the race was, I signed her up. It’s a fundraiser. They could use the extra 20 dollars.


 


This was the first time this group has sponsored a race in Blue Ridge. There were only 21 people registered. Eleven of these runners were young, fit members of the high school track team determined to outdo each other. Six runners were middle-aged men with long, lean legs who run together everyday at the high school track and do periodic marathons as a team. Professional amateurs, I would call them. There was a couple in their early 40’s, all decked out in spandex and visors, who run every race they come across. (The wife was my division competition – and must I point out that we don’t like this sporty yuppie gal with designer running apparel and scads of experience. Fate sent her just to make me look like a slacker, I think). Then there was Neva and I, and finally, a 65-year-old woman named Phyllis, who likes to run races just to see if she can make it.


 


I looked around at all these serious runners wondering, “Who will be in the rear with me? There are usually a bunch of second-string runners in a 5 K, new runners and old people and fat people and people with handicaps– something that reveals they are there not to work on speed but just to see if they can finish 3.2 miles. The lack of “back of the packers” did not bode well for out of shape Ginny and the 9-year-old new runner Neva. Yikes.


 


We saw another nine-year-old girl there with her father. She was wearing a number. Great! We asked if she was running, but she had signed up for the one-mile fun run. She was the only contestant for the shorter route. I asked Neva if she wanted to run with this girl instead, but she insisted she wanted to run with me. She thought a “real runner” would go the 3.2 miles, and she wanted to be a real runner. OK. Can’t hurt to try.


 


The race began– in two minutes everyone had shot on ahead (all those 6 minute milers) leaving me, Neva and Phyllis to plod along at a normal, human 12 minute pace. They told everyone to follow the orange cones, but at about the ½-mile mark, we came upon construction and there were orange cones everywhere.  The three of us stopped. I saw an old man sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee and I asked him if runners had passed this way. He said, “Half went strait, half went up the hill.” The hill seemed shorter, but steeper. I had somehow been appointed leader of our small group, so I chose shorter. So, up we went on this huge incline (and do I need to remind you that the hills kill me?)


 


As it turns out, all 21 of us were wrong. We were supposed to turn a few streets earlier, but those in charge didn’t mark the course correctly. So everyone in the race ran an extra ½-mile or more. This explains my embarrassing time of 43.10. (Neva ran 43.01 and Phyllis at 43.18)Take off 5 or 6 minutes for the extra distance and I ran my normal 38, which transfers to 11 to12-minute mile. As I’ve told you, I’m a lousy runner. Actually, I think I did well considering the entire course was hills. I complained to one fellow about all this running uphill, and he grinned and said, “No matter how you look at it, half the course is downhill too,” Well, obviously he has a better attitude than I.


 


This tiny race wasn’t organized as races in more established areas are. They didn’t have water along the route, and no one was placed at mile markers to give encouragement. I passed one guy  at an orange cone at a corner, whose job it was to make sure we knew where to go, and asked how far we had come. He shrugged and said, “Beats me, maybe a mile.” We were at 22 minutes so I was certain he was wrong. Phyllis was discouraged, but I assured her we had gone farther. We were just jogging all alone, an occasional orange cone to give us direction with no one around to encourage you or check to make sure you didn’t collapse with a heart attack or anything. It sure didn’t feel like a race, more like an afternoon run on your own. It was comical.


 


Neva ran the entire way, even though she got a stitch in her side and a blister on one toe. I plodded along, enjoying the blustery wind, the wet drizzle, loving that I could watch my daughter’s ponytail swing back and forth, as she demonstrated her unfailing energy and her desire to try things she never did before. I admire that.  I also enjoyed the fact that Phyllis was at my side. Without her, I’m sure Neva would have blamed me for our being last. She has no way of knowing that, at most races, quite a few people run at a leisurely pace, participating just for fun, because it gives them an incentive to meet a personal goal.


 


At the end, we celebrated with bottled water and a banana and I received my award. They only had awards established for ages 10 and up, which I think was a drag. Neva deserved something for being the youngest person to complete the course, but she was happy enough with her adult large T-shirt. We celebrated in our own way, just the two of us, with a nice breakfast out.


 


Sunday, I was so sore I couldn’t walk. I was shocked. It’s not as if I don’t still run occasionally, though I’ve been doing two miles instead of three and walking the mountain. Why did I hurt so much? I figure it was the added distance and the hills, which I pushed to keep running. At home, I just walk them. Neva, of course, didn’t feel anything. Man, I hate getting old.    


 


Perhaps my running days are coming to a close. Perhaps it is time I become a walker – or I resign myself to the treadmill or something. But honestly, without the fresh air and the birds to lure me along the trail, I can’t see myself enjoying running much. Then again, perhaps the problem is just that I attended a race. Not everything in life has to be a race. Sometimes, the leisurely, easy pace we set is what is right and true for us, the path that allows us to enjoy the benefits without forcing comparison with others, an unnecessary pressure that may end up discouraging us.  Yes, maybe it is time I return to being a closet runner (only outside in the sun, not inside, on a treadmill in a closet) where I run for the joy of feeling the sweat against my skin.


 


The point is, I ran a race this weekend. It gave me a fond memory to share with my daughter and it was a reminder that I better crank up the workout element if I want to stay in shape. It gave me further evidence that I live in a small, quiet place where all the trappings of suburban life don’t spill over to complicate what is actually simple – living well. This was a better race (maybe “better” is an unfair word – maybe it is more accurate to say it was “different in a good way”) for me than those I attended in Sarasota with all those bodies participating and the packet stuffed with promotional material and the excitement that comes with all the hoopla. I ran quietly, sharing an adventure with my child. I met a friend. I ran further than I planned – even uphill. These are things that make a Saturday special.


 


We should all race for things like that.  But the certificate is nice to have too. If I ever feel inclined to tell a “big fish” story about my running expertise, this will serves as a supporting document. . .  Ah, who am I kidding. Neva will let me get away with that.

Cupcakes are coming

October 18th is National Cupcake day. I’m not making this up. I belong to “the Good Cook” book club, and this month, they pointed this “holiday” out with a suggestion to order a cupcake cookbook. I guess this is so we can prepare for the celebration.


 


I have never celebrated National cupcake day before, but I am thinking, for now on, I might just make it a yearly thing. Do it up right. I happen to feel a bit of an emotional slump in mid-October; a feelings funk that counteracts the feel-good flow that comes on the cusp of fall leaves. This melancholy is already in the air, swirling around me, making me melancholy of late. Perhaps it is a pre-holiday thing. Or an “I can’t stand waiting for my house anymore” thing. But I think it is more a feeling that comes to balance the joy of fall. Contrast. It’s how we stabilize, I guess.


 


 It occurred to me that having national Cupcake day to look forward to might reprogram my brain; make Mid October something to anticipate with positive enthusiasm, rather than my wanting to crawl under the covers. So, here it is, my official announcement. I am going to go hog-wild with the National cupcake day thing. I will begin by purchasing this recommended cupcake book. There has to be some fun experiments inside to distract me. Cupcakes are supposedly cheery, reaching down and tap the kid in all of us. And for those who like to control proportions, cupcakes are practical. I’ve always been a muffin girl myself, leaning towards the thin thread of healthy alternative (which is a fallacy, to be honest, because my muffins are gigantic and stuffed with all kinds of delectable ingredients that no one could claim as “good” for anything other than satisfying a craving.)


 


Anyway, I am thinking of cupcakes today. And fall. And wondering if there is a solution to my funk. And the description of Pumpkin-filled spice cupcakes, or Caramel Apple cupcakes or Sunflower cupcakes in this book might just do the trick.


 


It is all a matter of controlling your how you perceive a thing . . . associating good where you need it. Cupcakes. Why not? I could use a little “sweet” in my life.

avoiding my work

I was supposed to take a class at the Campbell school on how to make wooden books this week. But I bailed. I am so far behind on my homework, I decided to take the week off from “life” to buckle down and get some serious computer time in. I had cleared my schedule for the class, even canceled Kathy’s tutoring. Determined to make progress, I decided not to reschedule appointments. That way I wouldn’t have any excuse not to get some serious writing done. Of course, I haven’t been as productive as I had hoped. I am having a very hard time keeping focused on my work – I just don’t enjoy working on this book. I keep telling myself I should just plow thorough and get it over with, but that is harder in reality than in theory.


 


The good news is, I’ve attended to all kinds of other “busy work” in a concentrated effort NOT to attend to my homework. I paid bills and cleaned the house, did laundry and sent out a few literary contest submissions. I wrote blogs and went horseback riding. I watched the chicken coup get started and had the horses shoed and poked around the house site because the kitchen is going in this week Yippee. I took things to the dry cleaner (as if we need dry cleaned clothes living in the woods?) and did some cooking. I even went to Martha’s yarn shop to say “hi” and give her a copy of my spinning essay. I timed this so I could take her Monday morning beginner’s knitting class, thinking two hours for fun wouldn’t kill me.


 


I used to knit when I was young, but I haven’t picked up needles for about 25 years (other than occasional crochet projects, which is far different). The last time I knitted, I was making a pair of leg warmers in New York. If you consider how long ago leg warmers were in fashion you’ll understand just how long ago that was. But knitting is like riding a bike, and it only took about ten minutes for me to be knitting and pearling a nice sample square again.  I learned a combination of the two stitches, which creates a seed stitch. Pretty.


 


When I got home I showed the sample to Mark and he held it up to his chest and said, “Is this the beginning of my sweater?” (The man thinks he has a right to lay claim to each and every thing I make. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a wonder to me he would want anything that smacks of my handiwork. )


 


I looked at his 3XL size chest and my little tiny knitting sample (that took two hours) and said, “Not likely. You won’t be seeing a sweater from me until NEXT winter, if that. I need to practice first.”


 


Hearing that I was not beginning a project for him, he lost interest in my knitting talents. I suppose that makes sense. Knitting isn’t the most attractive hobby, associated to little ole ladies as it is. I can’t imagine I come across as all that sexy sitting around knitting (in my polka dot glasses). Maybe I should only knit naked, to defy the stereotype and assure this new interest doesn’t dampen my sex goddess image. Naw. That might get itchy. (And thank you for not saying, “What sex goddess image?)


 


Anyway, I bought a bunch of natural brown and grey alpaca yarn from Peru, and began a scarf (for me). It’s really just an excuse to practice. As you can gather, the true purpose of this is another great distraction to avoid homework.


 


I bought a spinning wheel this week too. I found one on E-bay that I thought would be a great starter wheel. It is a reconditioned wheel, 25 years old, with four bobbins and a freestanding skein winder. A great deal. It’s coming from Netherlands, so I’ll have to wait 4-6 weeks for it to arrive. Apparently, many people spin in the Netherlands. What else would explain why so many of the wheels offered come from that area of the world? The wheel I purchased is not a brand they manufacture anymore, but it is in great condition. I was so tempted by the many antique wheels for sale, all dated around the early 1800’s (my favorite decade of history to write about, so I tend to covet things from that period). However, I knew this wheel was for practical use, not for collecting, so I resisted the older ones. Until I know more about spinning wheels, I don’t trust that I could fix anything that might be wrong with an antique. Someday, I’d love a real old wheel just as a decorator piece.


 


I will let you know how it fares when it arrives. I have ordered some fiber and I’m ready to make yarn. Next project I knit I’m hoping will be out of my origional two-ply. Anyway, my spinning wheel is made of lovely walnut, it is a nice design, and if nothing else, it will decorate my study and give ambiance to my personal space. I figure if it doesn’t suffice, I can sell it on E-bay and purchase a newer, more modern one. Actually, when you are doing something as old fashion as spinning wool, high tech modern technology doesn’t seem all that imperative.


 


I am signed up for a 5K this Saturday. I had intended to do some running this month to prepare, but I haven’t had a chance. So, weather permitting, I’ll go and make a fool of myself and plod along weakly. Gee, nice when you have some entertaining humiliation to look forward to for the weekend. 


 


I received some beautiful comments from my non-fiction professor on my spinning piece this week. He felt it was my best attempt so far and suggested I try to get it published. I was thrilled because Mark didn’t particularly like the piece. He commented that he will be glad when I move past this “literary stage” and return to some mischievous romance writing. He thinks it suits me better. I guess that is a compliment, but considering I am in school struggling with the literary stuff now, it was depressing.  I do not feel all that talented anymore, and I struggle with a desire to quit all the time. Mark always smiles at me when I voice my frustration, because I’ve never quit anything in my life (at least since he’s known me), so he thinks I’m just blowing off steam, but really, some days, I wonder why I am torturing myself. My response from my fiction mentor this month (on my book) were harsh (but true) and served to squash what little enthusiasm I have left for that project. However, for all those ex-students of mine out there, let me point out that I am still plugging away, waiting for this frustration to pass. Growth is painful. But to achieve a higher level of proficiency, some degree of self-doubt and discomfort is normal. I will hang in there, as should they with whatever dream they are pursuing. (That’s my responsible pep talk for today.)


 


My mentor, AJ, told me to use the search mechanism in my word program to discover how many times I use the word “move” or some divertive (Movement, or moving) in the text. It came up as 107! That is one “move” every other page. Um… I certainly wanted a moving book, but that is absurd, even for a book about dance. So I am taking all the “moves” out this week. Sigh.  She also pointed out that I have an issue with reputation. I also say the same thing more than once (grin). It is as if I have to beat my readers over the head with a concept because I don’t trust they’ll get it. So, I’m fixing this too. But discussing this is depressing. So, never mind.


 


The weather here is so beautiful it is amazing. I went riding all alone yesterday, just looking up through the trees at the dappled sun, feeling the cool breeze caress my skin, and thought for one moment, that this particular moment was perfection. I try to hang on to moments like that. They sustain me.


 


The new owners of our business have been sharing some of the stressful situations and the endless grief that accompanies running that establishment, and looking at it now with distance, I wonder how we lasted as long as we did. We deserve what we have today, that is for sure. I earned my dappled sun and cool breeze. And I swear our past years devoted to that school is what makes me appreciate it as I do


 


I must go. Blogging is one of those things I do to avoid the homework too, and I am really starting to feel guilty. Guilt is probably the emotion I handle the least well.

Chicken folly

Man-o-man. I got in trouble yesterday.


 


As I mentioned, I hired a guy (Erick) to build a chicken coup for my six beloved chickens. They are too big for the cage on the porch, and I am slowly trying to set up this new farm-ish lifestyle at the new digs because we will be moving there in six weeks (God willing). Mark is so busy with building the house that I didn’t want to bother him with the project. I thought about asking Denver to help me build it, because I am clueless about how to wield tools (a handicap I have every intention of overcoming) but she is working all the time, and preparing to move back to Orlando next month, and I could see that our building a cage together just wasn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, my chickens remain, unhoused. So, rather than whine about it, I took action and found someone to help me get the job done.


 


I bought a book on farm animal housing , a “hobby farming in your backyard” sort of book, and I started looking at chicken coops other people had. Don’t laugh, up here just about everyone has kept chickens at one time or another. I picked a nifty design that not only offers a shed for the chickens, but has a safe covered area for bunnies too, and I showed it to Mark. He said it looked fine. I was excited!


 


We met Erick at Subway to give him the plans. Now, I should point out that the picture of this chicken coup is simple, just a little shed with a door and a little chicken going into a small square hole (like a doggy door). I told Erick not to bother with the inside, because I was going to buy ready-made chicken nest boxes. I was trying to make things simple.


 


That evening, Erick approaches Mark for reimbursement for the chicken coup materials (not labor, mind you, just the wood for the project). IT WAS $1,600.00!  


 


Mark calls me and says (in this controlled voice that he uses when he is trying hard not to kill me or overreact). “What did you ask him to build, honey. (Honey is the same as saying “Asshole” in this marriage. It is in the tone, ya know.) I reminded him that I showed him the plans. It was just a little shed with a little chicken dancing by the door.


 


I said, “Certainly that figure includes the materials for the llama windbreak too.” But Mark assured me that this was the cost of just the chicken shed materials. Eek. I was afraid to imagine the end costs, with labor. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the fence that has to be erected around this coup for the chickens too. (Like I said, I am in big trouble over this one.) Mark says dryly, “This is going to be about a 4,000 dollar chicken cage. Hope you want this really badly – like more than that trip to Europe.”


Remind me to torture you next time you make a mistake, Honey.


 


I hang up, but it keeps bothering me. I mean, I could have bought a ready-made shed at home depot for seven hundred bucks and had Mark cut a hole in it. I thought of that, but considered it too extravagant – I was thinking this chicken thing would be about 400 dollars, which I thought was already indulgent. I start wondering how a person could spend 1600 dollars on a small amount of wood. Something was definitely wrong.


 


So I called Mark and said, “I gave you the plans because you are the wood guy. I’m just the girl who likes chickens. I assumed that picture was to scale of that chicken in the drawing. Just how big is this chicken coup?”


 


Mark pauses and says, “I’ll call you back.”


 


Turns out my plans were for a chicken house that could easily house 200 chickens. I have only six. I was hoping to stretch the envelope and go to ten, tops. Mark says, “Erick, we told you Ginny only has about 8 birds.”


Erick says, “I thought it was big, but hey, who am I to point that out? You gave me the plans.”


 


At this point, who to blame is debatable. Because Mark did review the plans, and he knows what he is reading, considering he is a builder-guy. But I am at fault for thrusting that book in front of his nose at a time he was obviously going to be distracted.


 


So, we agreed to make the coup smaller – but still it is going to be big enough for about 50 chickens. The stuff has been purchased, and while we can use some of it for the llama shelter, much of it will remain in the chicken project. There goes my new couch. The good news is, Neva and I can raise just about anything we want to for fun at this new facility. Turkeys, peacocks, rabbits – a damn buffalo might even fit.


 


But that was not the extent of my folly. Because last night Erick called and told Mark that he needed him to cut a trail into the area where I want this chicken coup, and he also needed Mark to level the spot where he is building it – by this morning. So, while I hired this guy because I didn’t want to put demands on my husband’s time, Mark still had to drop everything, pull out the tractor and start plowing down trees at the end of a hard day working on the house. I gotta hand it to him. He didn’t complain. He just gave me that, “You better damn well appreciate me,” grimace as he made the trail.


 


Truth is, as guilty as I was over his having to put time into my project, I have been dying to get him to make some trails around the land for riding, so I was thrilled to see this opening in the trees. Kent and I took the four wheelers up and down it to “test” out the trail a few times last night – more to keep Mark company and be supportive than anything else. I saw that 100-foot trail open up in about one hour and thought with glee of the other 50 trails I am hoping he’ll create. But I’m not stupid. I won’t start hinting at that until I paid penance for today’s trouble. 


 


Anyway, in a few days I will have the biggest, most overpriced chicken house, ever. It is made of treated lumber so it will last 80 years – longer than I will last. (What is that – 160 generations of chickens?) I will probably be paying for this (and I’m not talking cash) for months.   But the way I look at it, if you are going to do something, dive in a do it with conviction. We wanted to experiment with a holistic, natural lifestyle – back to basics – be one with the earth – yada, yada. You need tools for such a lifestyle, and that includes a barn, a chicken coup and some trails. Joy costs, ya know.


 


I may not make it to Europe for some time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to have a great adventure. Because I feel as if I am visiting another country now – everything is so alien and different in this world of forest and farm. The attitudes are different here – the culture – even the heavy accent of the natives makes me pause to translate what they are meaning in my mind. People say, “How can you stand living in the country, after all your years in New York and in Sophisticated Sarasota?”


 


Ha, I think, “How can you stand not living somewhere like this, where everyday is filled with wonder and surprise and challenge, all to the tune of birds singing and the wind in the trees. Here, everyday I experience the greatest sensations, warm fur under my fingers, cold noses that nuzzle your arm, and whinnies of delight when I approach. I see pleasant smiles on everyone’s face – because people are not annoyed by the “inconvenience” of life in a slower-paced, less aggressive community.  Neighbors are friends. Best of all, solitude is easy to find in the wide-open spaces of this nature ridden area. God walks with you when you take the time to appreciate his workmanship and I have never felt as spiritually content as I do here, walking among the trees or along the river. I adore the quiet. Yes, I can stand living in the country. Probably not forever.


Definitely, for now.


 


But being happy doesn’t mean I don’t get myself into a pickle on occasion. Like now. If I was willing to eat my chickens, this big chicken coup thing wouldn’t be such a folly, it would be an investment, like when you pay extra for installation to save money on energy bills in the long run . But I just can’t go there.  So, how do I justify a gigantic animal shelter that I really don’t need?  Peacocks?


 

An amendment to my last blog . . .

Finishing what I started this morning . . .


 


I got my new sponsored child today. Her name is Meaza Zergaw and she is  from Meki town at the Southern Shewa region of Ethiopia. She was born October 5, 2001. Both parents are alive and live together. Her mother is a housewife and her father a day laborer. The family earns 400 a year. They come from the Guraghe ethnic group and they follow orthodox Christian religion. Meaza is in kindergarten and likes counting numbers and reading alphabets, doing errands and loves playing with toys (what 5 year old doesn’t.) That about covers the biography they sent me.


 


Now, for her picture. This is a beautiful little girl with delicate features and light toffee skin. Her eyes are deep brown, earnest, but her expression is horribly grim. This looks more like a mug shot than a picture of a healthy 5 year old. Considering how sad the picture appeared of the boy they sent me, I wonder if they purposely discourage smiles so potential sponsors feel more empathy for these children. Or maybe the long face is a cultural thing, or photography is frightening to young people who do not understand why they are asked to stand in the bright light. Then again, perhaps the photograph comes three minutes after a medical checkup and the participants were just given a shot or a douse of castor oil.  For one reason or another, taking a picture for the sponsor appears to be a dreaded endeavor.


 


Whatever – my goal now will be to get a picture of Meaza smiling. I happen to consider myself gifted at making young girls smile, only without dance as a medium to work with, I understand I am up to a challenge.   


 


I have her picture hanging on the wall by my computer next to my big, steel “It’s all good” sign. Her pitiful little face will remind me to be grateful for my life and all the good things in it. Only, when I look at it, I think I’ll imagine her smiling.  I like to believe, need to believe, all my distant friends are happy. 

Ethiopean friends

   I have been sponsoring Muluken Midesko (a United Christian Children’s Fund participant) for over eleven years now. We exchange letters, and on his birthday and Christmas, I always send an additional 100.00 to enhance his quality of life. Instead of going into a general fund as the monthly sponsorship does to pay for food and education for the children of the community, this money goes to the family personally making it far more intimate gift.
     I think of Muluken often, wondering how different his life is from mine, hoping my small donations do indeed make a difference in his world. Our exchanges, limited as they are, have been fascinating as he asks questions about my world and I try to understand his. 


     It is obvious that the world’s problems are much bigger than any one person can solve, but I think it is vital every person does something to make a dent in the ongoing suffering. It never sits well with me that some people shrug and say, “What can little, old me do about it. The situation over there is awful, but I don’t have much money.”
    Meanwhile, they head out the door to their health club with a walkman and a bottle of water, wearing a pair of new Nike shoes (that for all we know, the Muluken’s of the world labored to make at age 4). The truth is, if we were to see these unfortunate individuals sitting outside our front door, we’d be outraged. We’d feel compassion and we’d take action. But distance allows us to disassociate from grief.  Stories of war ravaged children and starving families seem so far away, and, so storybook horrid, that it doesn’t seem real enough to address in a tangible way. But these atrocities are real, and with the communication vehicles we have today (periodicals, TV, internet, newspapers) the evidence of the world’s disadvantaged is undeniable.


     I am offended by people who have a “we have to take care of our own first,” mentality. Anyone walking on two legs is “one of our own” in my book. I hate all the excuses people make to avoid making even a small sacrifice in the name of humanity. And I don’t think much of people who only care for themselves and their immediate loved ones either. It is, quite plainly, self-serving. For all that one can argue a person is a very caring individual because they take care of friends and family and give a dollar to the Santa ringing the bell in front of Sears every December, I just don’t buy it. We get back something (emotionally) when we nurture “our own”. True compassion demands faith, putting forth effort for those that can’t give you anything back. Not love. Not appreciation. Not even a verbal thank-you.  


     I am on a tangent. Oops. Sorry. The point is, I like to think that one person half a world away is experiencing a better life because I cared. I can’t think of the 20 million people I can’t help, for that will drive me crazy. I just focus on  the one individual I do help. The fact is, sponsoring a child isn’t a big sacrifice. At 40 dollars a month, it involves forgoing one dinner out for people in our socio-economic group. It is actually such a small thing that I am, at times, ashamed I don’t do more.  I mean, I purchase the occasional goat or cow for Heifer International too, but still, I live a pretty cushy life and could do more if I were less selfish. My little monthly donation doesn’t absolve my guilt in letting other children in the world starve either.


     You can bet if our children were starving and we knew that far away others were flippantly spending enough on candy and cookies in one month, as it would take to sustain our near-death children for over a year, we wouldn’t be understanding about it. (Obviously, I think about this stuff a lot. I have this habit of putting myself in another’s shoes, even people who have no shoes, and it tortures me. It is a part of my nature that is difficult to live with.)


      Anyway, this week I got a letter stating I would no longer be sponsoring Muluken. He has “left the system.” His family has moved to another area where better opportunities are available. This notice left me feeling very disturbed. For one thing, I don’t altogether believe this explanation of his falling off the face of the earth so suddenly. Why don’t they tell me where he has gone, or notify me in advance so I can say good-bye? We have been fond acquaintances for many years, after all.


     I am guessing that Muluken turned eighteen and they are excusing him from the program as an adult, or maybe he’s gone off to get involved politically and become one of the individuals creating havoc in this sad country. Perhaps it is worse. Perhaps he died of disease or an accident. I really don’t know if the organization would be honest about these kinds of things, for their only concern is soliciting and maintaining funding. If people like me, comfortable, clueless Americans who appease their guilt by sending a little check once a month, get emotional or disturbed by the reality of what happens with these people, they may decide sponsoring a child is too emotionally disturbing. Some people are in it for the letters and the pictures of the child, after all. And if you feel badly because your little sponsored child hasn’t written a big, fat, letter of appreciation, you might bail.  


     The lack of closure regarding Muluken’s fate is really disturbing to me. I can’t stop thinking about him, and I wonder if he has questions about me. Perhaps he thinks I just stopped sending money. He has pictures of me. Letters. I have to be more than a check to him, and yet, if I was “more” why have I disappeared? If he is eighteen, he may be out of the system, and yet, I could have been given a chance to help him throughout his life. But perhaps that is beyond the mission statement of the organization. It is the United Christian Children’s fund, after all.  And if I were to help Muluken, the adult, it would mean a child somewhere was not getting a chance to be fed and educated and taught life skills with my small donation. Perhaps, my work with Muluken is done. Perhaps he is old enough and prepared enough to get a job and have a family of his own. He doesn’t need me anymore.  Others do.


      The annoying fact is, I don’t know what they told him. Not that I’m implying there is anything malicious about this organization. Only that I wonder if the system is set up to protect the best interest of the collective whole, at the cost of individual intimacy. While I understand the logic in this, it leaves me so unsettled.


      Out of the blue, I was sent a picture of a new, very young, solemn Ethiopian boy to replace Muluken, with a letter urging me to “save” him by continuing my support. A small notice in the letter said Muluken is “no longer my sponsored child”. Unbelievably, I declined. Oh, I didn’t decline helping, of course, only declined the particular child they assigned me without first asking my preference. Guild ridden over the fact that fate may have wanted me to support this particular stranger, I requested a female instead. The truth is, I believe the girls have it far worse than the boys in third world countries, and so, this time around, I’d like to make a personal difference in the life of a woman. I guess you could say, I relate better to the idea of a woman dealing with social expectations and the role of motherhood etc. with limited resources. I will receive the picture and history of my new sponsored girl-child next week.


     In the meantime, I will sip my coffee and stare out over the mountain wondering where Muluken is and what state of health he is in. I will ponder whether or not he kept my pictures or tossed them the day he got them and be curious about whether he has fond thoughts of me, or resentment, or perhaps feels nothing at all. Not that it makes a difference, really. But it would be interesting to know.


    I will begin sending money to a new child this month. I was told on the phone (when I made the change request and the computer spit out a new name for me) that the new child’s birthday is in October. I asked them to immediately take a withdrawal so I wouldn’t miss acknowledging it, and since there is a two-month lag between when a donation is made and when it is received, she will receive this personal “extra” with her Christmas money. It will be a windfall to this family, I’m sure. Since she is young (about 4), we won’t be writing for a few years. But I will send her pictures nevertheless and begin a correspondence just so she knows someone a half a world away is thinking about her. In most cases, it is the mother who you are talking to anyway, and that happens to be the person I worry about most  -the mothers who suffer the painful reality of raising a child without enough resources to do the job. We will be connected by the loosest of threads, at least until such time as the organization decides we are “finished” and they cut our string.


      Sponsoring a child probably makes a lot of people feel good about themselves. But I swear, it stirs up all kinds of conflicting emotions in me. Yet, I couldn’t stop over that. I am committed by nature of my personal morals.


     I’m not going out to dinner tonight, because that is the price of helping one person live better. It is how I will maintain an appetite through all the rest of my meals this month. I could do more, but I could do less. I think what’s most important is that I avoid thinking about the “less” and try to feel good about the “more”. And I must remember that if I can save only one person in a million, it isn’t so important which one. They all deserve help equally.  I must trust that the “one” fate thrusts in my path was put there for a reason. We are meant to be friends, even if it is only for a temporary period of time. 
      The fact is, friends come and go as life pushes us in different directions. But I know that the impact of a friendship


can last long after the active period. Relationships, despite how they fare in the long term, alter your world forever.