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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).


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. 

Some dreams just don’t float

It is not a good week for boats in Hendryville.


    I’ve been checking the “bargain trader” magazine for a year now, seeking a used, one person kayak (actually, I want two). I have a kayak, but it is a two seater, so heavy that I can’t even drag it two feet myself. So, I’ve been wanting an easier boat to handle, so I can go off and play without it being a big ordeal that requires man-muscles. But people don’t sell used kayaks, or so it seems. You simply never see them advertised.

    I could ask for a new boat, I suppose, but I prefer used toys. That way, since it doesn’t involve a huge investment, I won’t wrestle with guilt when I’m too busy to use it, (a spouse can’t say, “See, you really shouldn’t have bought that, you almost never take it out”) and I just don’t want to get all persnickety about keeping an object of entertainment in a new condition. I prefer some scratches at the get go, so you don’t have to yell at your kid for bashing the toy into a rock or spilling a coke on the seat. I think toys are meant to be played with, and when they are broken in, and they come at a reasonably (used) cost, you can enjoy rough and hearty use with a light spirit– especially in the beginning when you don’t know what the heck you are doing with the thing and you learn by making mistakes.    

     Anyway, this week I saw an ad for two used kayaks. Precision brands. A Pro-line and a slimmer model called The Dancer (I’m thinking, with a name like that, God wanted me to have this boat!) So I made arrangements to go see them.   I invited Denver to drive with me the 1 hour and 20 minutes to Dalton to see these boats. I took the work truck because I was determined to come home with them.

    Mark calls and says, “Why are you in the truck?”

     I say I am going to look at the two kayaks I mentioned the night before.


     You see, “silence” has specific meaning in our marriage. It is our code for disapproval. We don’t say “you can’t do that” to each other and we don’t nag or try to police each other – because we want to respect each other’s wishes and interests. Therefore, when we are annoyed or disapprove of something, we just keep quiet. Silence says a great deal, because it is glaringly obvious that enthusiastic support is missing.  The person who is doing the questionable activity has two choices then. They can respond to the silence by saying, “Is this a problem?” (This alleviates your guilt for doing something without asking, and it opens up room for discussion about the issue, thus inviting fair debate), OR you can just choose not to recognize the silence. (This is a way of saying, “I feel strongly about this, and if you love me, you won’t try to stop me,” without having to say those exact words. You just act as if everything is OK; as if you never dreamed your actions would be a problem because you know the spouse would want this for you.)

    In this case, I pretended I didn’t notice the silence and said, “Have a great day, Dear, I’ll call ya when I get back in about three hours, love ya, bye.”  You see, I did mention the boats at dinner the night before, which I believe was an opening for my spouse to say, “Do you really think we need kayaks now, rather than a new couch? I’d rather you didn’t do that.” or he could say, “If you want boats, I should go with you to look at them,” or whatever he was thinking.  In other words, he had his shot and he didn’t say anything, so I could, in a technical sense, assume that was his way of giving me approval.  

     But ten minutes later, I felt guilty. I called back and said, “I noticed you were silent when I mentioned I was going to look at the boats. Is this a problem? Would you rather I didn’t buy them, because they are really a great deal and you know I’ve been wanting them for several years, but if this isn’t the right time, I understand.”   

    Of course, given the freedom to voice his disapproval, Mark then says, “No, of course you can get them if you really want them. I just need to transfer some money and, you know, I need to be prepared if they will be in the driveway when I get home.”

    This fixes everything. I didn’t go off and do something without spousal approval (which is totally unacceptable), and he gets brownie points for being supportive.

   When I hang up the phone, Denver says, “Why do you always take me with you when you are going to do something that gets us in trouble?”

    “I don’t do that.” I say.

    She reminds me that I took her with me when I went to the pound to save the dog, which made Mark flip his lid. Ha. She is right. I like an accomplice to crime.

    Anyway, we drove an hour and a half, only to find two of the most miserable, falling apart kayaks you can imagine. They were all scratched up, with a crack in the hull and the seats were held together with duck tape. They were NOT worth the 475.00 asking price. Damn.

     Disappointed, I said, “No thanks,”

    The woman said, “Make any offer.”

      I thought, I wouldn’t buy them at a garage sale for 75.00 each, so I said I just wasn’t interested.

    It was a long drive home.


     The next night, Mark comes home and says, “Stop cooking (I was making apple gingerbread) we are going to look at a boat.

     I said “The kind you paddle or the kind that go vroom”.

      He said, “Vroom”.

      Cool beans. I’ve been in a boat mood. The kayaks were a washout, but maybe this was why. Perhaps the vroom was meant to be.


    We go see a speedboat that the sister of our builder is selling. Apparently, my boat escapades were discussed at work, which brought up the subject of boats. It was nice, a six  seater, with a small cabin for sleeping. It was getting dark when we looked at it, but we decided to come back the next day to buy it. We’ve been wanting a used pontoon boat, because they are perfect for the lake up here. You can swim off a pontoon boat, pull a tube, or even barbeque on deck. However, a speedboat would be fun too.


Today, we go to look at it again, thinking we will bring it home and be out on the lake tomorrow. But when we see it in the light of day, it looks a bit more beat up than it looked at sunset, and we discover that it is actually 16 years old.  Well taken care of, but still old. We began questioning how it will hold up. We don’t want something that is breaking down all the time. So, we pass.


Like I said, this is not a good week for boats.


I grew up with a father that loved boating. We were forever going out in canoes or in whatever boat Dad had at the time, a cabin cruiser or speedboat. I miss being on the water, and I’ve hoped, now that we have weekends to enjoy with the family, that we would take advantage of this wonderful lake community by getting some kind of boat. Mark didn’t grow up around boats as I did, but he is game to try owning one. We’ve wanted a used something, so we don’t feel as if we invested too much during times, like in the winter, when it is in storage or we don’t go out on the lake for a month. It is no fun to have a toy that you are always thinking, “Was it worth the investment” as you calculate the price per hour of real-life use. ( I know that you shouldn’t do that, but you can’t help think about it, because of the alternate things you might have invested the same discretionary income on, like a trip someplace cool or a different kind of toy.) I also don’t want to worry about learning to pull into the dock (oops) or running aground in an expensive boat. Give me a boat that already has a few scratches, please, so I can take chances with it for fun. But I do want something that is reliable, because going out in a boat and getting stranded isn’t the best way to convince a family that boating is fun. It is a fine line, I guess. You want one that is new-ish, but not new.


So, this wasn’t the boat for us either. Becoming captain Mark or co-captain Ginny will have to wait. Sigh. (I would have looked cute in a captain’s hat.)


I guess, when the time is right, the perfect boat will just be sitting there on the side of the road with a “for sale” sign in the window. Till then, I’ll just keep checking the paper. Winter is coming anyway. 


But I did get a new toy today. Sort of. We hired someone to build a chicken shed/coup. And he will also build us a portable shelter for the llama. I know we need to focus on building our house, but the animals need houses too. My priorities do tend to shift about depending on the weather, and the rains are coming. My furry friends need a roof soon! We went with a big chicken house because I have been thinking I might just try the egg-collecting thing. Just think of all the soufflés, omelets, and quiches I would have to make if I was overrun with eggs. Yessiree, Bring on the chickens!  That might float my boat (and since I don’t have a tangible one to do the job, I’ll take what I can get.)



Soccer Mom Inpersonator

I am a soccer mom impersonator. This is not to be confused with a true soccer mom. I believe, to be a true soccer mom, a woman must have some idea of what their child is doing on that field kicking that round thing back and forth. I don’t. I’m told to just sit in the bleachers and be quiet, because apparently, my commentary gives away my ignorance. When other Moms see their child kicking at the little round thing, they yell, “Pass it. Good shot!” I’m inclined to shout, “Point your foot, Dear.” (After all, if a girl is gonna kick her leg, I figure she would want to do so gracefully.)


Anyone who knows this family as the former first family of FLEX can appreciate how huge a step (regarding personal growth) this whole soccer thing is. It’s a leap of faith, and I’m not talking a “tour jete”, which comes much more natural to us dancers. Sports. I’m struggling to adapt. However, it isn’t easy, considering our history.


In August, I took my daughter to the sports and recreation department to sign her up for an activity. We looked over the list and I said, “Why not cheerleading?”


Neva looked at me, horrified, and said, “I could never be a cheerleader. You hate cheerleaders. Everyone knows that.”


I pointed out that “hate” is a pretty strong a word. Besides which, I don’t dislike cheerleaders, only cheerleading, and that was before. Mine wasn’t an all-inclusive prejudice. I only didn’t like cheerleading when it applied to my dancers. I happened to be a cheerleader myself when I was young, though I kept that personal fact to myself as the director of FLEX. True, I was not too keen on sports, gymnastics, Community Theater, band, etc., but only because these endeavors dragged the attention away from serious dance training, making it nearly impossible to get the attendance required to lead kids to dance success. However, my frowning down on cheerleading wasn’t a personal issue. I just worked so hard to keep the serious students focused that, over time, I developed a mild distain for all those obstacles that continued to make the quest difficult.  And I didn’t hate every recreational activity. I liked scouting – but that was because it teaches children community awareness and a broad spectrum of humanitarian pursuits, which helps them to be stronger individuals . . . , which leads to become more remarkable artists. You see, in the end, everything was judged by how it would influence the dance spectrum.


I told Neva that, considering she no longer dances, I now feel differently. Cheerleading might be fun for her. I happen to know that cheerleaders get to be center stage at ballgames, where the boys are, and that has its perks. It also is a wonderful outlet for a case of full-blown energy (which she has in abundance). Then, there is the fact that this activity takes some coordination and acrobatic skills, which she also has. All told, I thought it would probably suit her.


She picked soccer. Therefore, twice a week we go to rehearsals (“It’s a practice, Mom”, they always correct me) and she kicks the black and white round thing around, running about 50 miles during that hour. (Makes her a good candidate for cross-country running, I’m thinking, and that is a sport I understand.) Nevertheless, she is rather good at soccer I’m told, surprisingly enough.


Therefore, I’ve become the notorious cliché, – a soccer mom.  I have learned that I can yell if I use generic terms. It is safe to shout, “Go, Neva.” or “good shot,” if the round thing lands in the net thing. This is not appreciated when this happens on the opposite side of the field, because that means the other team is getting points. Oops.


I figure my understanding for the game is irrelevant. What is important is that I am there, being supportive. I have washed and ironed her costume (“It’s a uniform Mom. Duh.”) and I always have cold, icy waters for her breaks. I sit in the stands clapping, whistling, and cheering. But inside, I am looking at those beautiful young bodies on the field thinking what wonderful dancers they would make. I am admiring their energy, their long lean legs, the way they spin around to change directions. .  (it’s such a short step away from executing a chaine turn.) I look around at the happy faces of the parents, sad because in dance, all I saw was scowls and all I heard was complaints. Why are the parents so angry all the time at dance, but so inclined to laugh and enjoy sports for the sheer fun of it? I am, quite honestly, jealous of the light and friendly attitude of everyone participating. Maybe, I should have held my rehearsals outside. Perhaps it’s the open space, the green grass and blue sky, which keeps parent perspective in check.


Last night, when we were going to bed, I asked Mark how his day had been. He looked at me, sighed and said, “I am missing my students this week horribly. Don’t know why. It just hits me sometimes.”


I understood that completely.


For everything gained, something is lost. Some days, the loss feels more poignant than others. That, I guess, is a part of personal growth too.   I am very comfortable with the fact that my children no longer dance. I think they did so only because they were railroaded into it by nature of our family structure. And for them, dance was never just about dance. There were other issues muddying the water, such as the way it interfered with family time, or how it stretched the “unconditional love” issue, (it is a delicate thing to be both a devoted teacher and devoted parent, because it demands two opposing attitudes). Now, my kids can discover their true calling without influence. Dance just wasn’t there thing, but that doesn’t alleviate the fact that it was my thing. And when I see that the world is full of kids who don’t dance, it still leaves me unsettled. I’ve always claimed dance is good for the soul, a great way to developing discipline and personal integrity. I didn’t preach that because I owned a dance school and I was selling a product. I believed it. I believe it still. Guess that is why I would feel so much better if the soccer players would point their feet when they kick.


They say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” I think that is good advice, the kind I should take myself, for watching it is certain to make sitting through the game easier. That way, I’ll stop eyeballing all those kids, silently mourning the fact that they don’t dance.


One game, I saw a beautiful, young redhead girl walk by, giggling and flipping her hair in a punky way. I turned to my sister-in-law and said, “Wow, doesn’t that girl look exactly like Anna?”


She said, “Anna who?”


“Anna, our most beautiful dancer who was the prison guard in Mark’s fantastic behind bars dance.” I said, as if that was the dumbest question of all time.

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and said, “You see them everywhere, don’t you.”


I do. And even when I don’t, they are in my head. And my heart. . . And on the field . . . and in the grocery store . . . and at the football game . . . and the horseback riding arena . . . and mostly . . . in my dreams.


My spinning essay (for those who prefer a more romantic description)

Threads of  Meaning


     When I told my husband I’d signed up for a spinning class, his response was, “It’s about time we started using our gym membership.”

      With a “sheepish” smile, I explained that wasn’t that kind of spinning I meant. I was talking about a class designed to teach people how to make yarn out of raw wool.

     “It is actually a spinning and dying class,” I clarified.

      “Sounds like a painful way to go,” he said.

       I could tell by his smile he was amused by the concept of me sitting, peddling a wheel with a basket of wool in my lap, like one of the Mennonites we paused to watch at historical festivals.

    “Why go to the trouble of spinning when you can buy all kinds of interesting yarn at Wal-Mart?” he asked. 

      Honestly, I couldn’t answer him. I just thought learning how textiles were made would be interesting. Furthermore, I’d asked for (and received) a llama for my birthday and I couldn’t help but think this was the prime opportunity to justify owning what had turned out to be a high maintenance, temperamental, yard ornament.

       I said, “I figure, if I learn to spin, I’ll be able to do something with my llama fiber.”

       “Are you spinning llama fiber in the class?”

       “No. Just sheep’s wool.”

        His eyes narrowed. “I am not buying you a sheep for Christmas”.

        I waved my hand as if to dismiss his threat. He’d acted as if I was insane when I started talking about wanting a llama, but three months later, on my birthday, he proudly presented me a big, fuzzy, camel-like creature with a bow around its wooly neck. Besides which, I was pretty much assuming that, after taking the class, I’d be campaigning for a spinning wheel for Christmas. I did make a mental note to try to make enough yarn for a scarf for him though. I think I too needed to associate some logical purpose to this endeavor. “Why spin?” was a good question.

     A few days later, I entered a barren classroom at the John C. Campbel Folkschool to begin my 6-day spinning seminar. The room was nothing more than a vacant space with eleven chairs arranged in a circle. Sinks and stoves were built-in along the perimeter to define a long narrow strip of kitchen slipping around the corners like a bow around a present. A shelf holding pots and buckets for dying raw materials hovered overhead. Boxes of raw fiber were stacked up on the counters, but there wasn’t a single (intimidating) spinning wheel in sight, an absence that surprised me, yet I was grateful for all the same. Perhaps this would be a theoretical class. Maybe we would be using simple hand spindles. The lack of wheels made me think it was going to be easier than I imagined.

      On a blackboard on the wall behind a long table featuring a mass of unwashed animal fur a quote had been written:  

” Our ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”

 – J. Lambert –


     Could this be the answer to that nagging “why spin?” question? Perhaps, by learning to spin, I would tap into my primal creative source and understand the fabric of my existence. It seemed a tall order for a ball of yarn to deliver, but I was ready to embrace my primitive side to explore the possibilities. Eager to experience the process my ancestors went through to make yarn and thread for sweaters and shawls, I craved a glimpse of life, pre-Wal-Mart. I trusted that even if the adventure didn’t offer me an explanation of the essential thread of my existence, it would certainly make me appreciate the conveniences I enjoy today.     

       My teacher, Margaret Owen, was a 53-year-old woman who’d been spinning since she was seventeen. Bustling with enthusiasm and warmth, her love of all things pertaining to wool was evident from the start. After introductions were made, she showed us a few complex sweaters she’d knitted from hand-spun wool, giving us a bit of history regarding the piece and sharing stories about who taught her the stitches and what materials she used to dye the wool to make the colored pattern. Then, she entertained us with antics of the sheep this particular fiber came from. Suddenly, the sweater seemed far more than a garment made to wrap around shivering shoulders. Now, the sweater had personality, an intimate and meaningful history. Such a thing was bound to chase away a chill just by nature of its significant journey into being. Oh, how I wanted one of my own!

      Margaret put us at ease talking about her early introduction to spinning, her harrowing introduction to raising sheep, and her recent thrilling trip to Scotland (the Outer Hebrides and Orkney) where she explored spinning traditions and knitting techniques. Her philosophy leaned towards a “whatever works for you is best” attitude. She pointed out that wool enthusiasts often fall into two categories; those that believe a good spinner does not veer from tradition, only doing things in ways that will preserve the original art, and those who take artistic liberties and enjoy encompassing new techniques and innovations, leaning towards more experimental textiles.  She was determined to expose us to both tradition and all the other possibilities wool presents. Informed (and with her blessing) we could then sway towards whichever direction suited our personalities.

       But before learning to spin, we needed to learn about fiber, which meant learning about sheep. There are thousands of breeds, each with unique qualities that affect the fur. We discussed what breeds were common in different regions and the elements of diet and lifestyle that resulted in softer or courser wool. After an overview, we concentrated on those sheep with wool we were most likely to work with, such as Rambouillet, Marino, Corriedale, Cotswold, or Lincoln. We taped samples of each into a notebook, creating a personal resource for recognizing wool types in the future. The tighter the kink in the wool, the softer it would be, and in no time we learned to inspect the crimp (perm) and staple (length of wool where it is cut from sheep) to judge what kind of project the fiber would be best suited for.            

       Soon, we were being pelted by wool-associated words, until keeping up with the definitions was like playing a frantic game of scrabble. Hogget is the first shearing of a lamb, tippiness describes the brittle ends of wool, skirting is a way of cutting away courser areas of the full coat (legs, stomach, and neck) to leave only quality wool to work with, kemp is the undesirable hollow fiber that doesn’t take dye. We learned about lambs wool, virgin wool, worsted wool, and woolen yarn. We were introduced to picking, teasing, lubrication of dry fiber, carding, and combing. 

      Once we understood wool, it was time to begin working with it. We gathered around a huge mass of raw fiber that had been recently cut from a sheep and learned to recognize what area of the animal each section was from. Still filled with dust and small twigs, we picked out the debris, then each student washed one pound of it in huge tubs of warm water with shampoo (it is hair, after all) . No agitation or it would mat and turn into felt. No abrupt changes in water temperature or it would break down the fibers. Raw wool was, apparently, a delicate thing, so I approached it gingerly with a touch of anxiety. I plunged my hands into the water, feeling the cotton softness of the raw wool under my manicured nails, imagining my ancestors doing the same, yet vividly aware that their hands would be work-worn and calloused because, while for me such a task is a hobby, for them it was mandatory life’s work. Yet, going through the motions seemed a way of honoring my past, so I worked with a reverence for the process, enjoying even the mess a pound of wool can make on a person’s jeans and sneakers.

     After soaking and rinsing our individual pound of fur, we lay the eleven clumps on screens to dry and began discussing natural dyes. Margaret introduced us to a variety of natural elements we would use to color the wool, pointing us to areas of the garden outside where we were to harvest the flowers. Some of the students took a walk to gather materials. I helped others lift the huge pots off the shelves to begin brewing water that would soon welcome marigolds, madder root, and lichen.

       One jar was filled with ammonia and a piece of copper pipe to create sea foam green. We crushed cochineal bugs to make red, brewed onionskins to make beige, and tore up indigo to make blue. In order to make the wool colorfast, it had to be treated in another bath of five gallons of water with three ounces of alum and one ounce of cream of tarter. The wet, treated wool was then introduced to the dye pots and left to soak.

     Meanwhile, we created a “rainbow” pot where our freshly cleaned, treated, white wool was layered between cheesecloth with handfuls of dye materials dropped in random clumps. Walnuts, marigolds, madder and cochineal lay buried in the folds. We covered our lasagna-like fiber creation with just enough water to saturate it and let the pot sit. Hours later, we lifted beautiful colored wool from the pot, a tie-dyed wonder, arranging it to dry as we “oohed” and “aahed” over surprise pigments and the swirls of color that the positioning of the wool created.

     Out of each dye pot arose a gift from the earth, vibrant colors with depth and wholesomeness that no box of Rit could ever offer. The sheer subtle variety within each pound of wool was like the natural varied shades in a beautiful head of hair, far richer than flat (died) hair, making the natural dyes all the more striking. While I knew I shouldn’t be surprised that these awesome colors were born of simple things growing outside, I still couldn’t help be amazed. Deep down I think I assumed chemicals were required for vibrant color, as if man’s inventions were all to enhance product, when in reality, it is often convenience we seek. 

     With wool now hanging to dry on clotheslines about the room, clumps sitting on screens, or left unwashed on tables, the room looked as if had been taken over by a wooly fern that had grown haywire while we weren’t noticing. We were working in a forest of wool, dripping clumps hanging like moss from the ceilings, dry heaps of fuzz pooling about our feet.  

    It was time to get out the spinning wheels. A large closet in the back of the room stored dozens of spinning wheels for the school. We gathered inside, encouraged to pick whatever style peaked our interest. I chose what appeared to be a traditional style Ashford Spinning wheel, my eye on the big granddaddy wheel that looked like something designed for show rather than functionality.

      Margaret smiled at my gaze and dragged it out, saying “Everyone should try this one too.”

    “Isn’t that going to be hard to work on, considering we are beginners?” I asked, staring with reservation at the three-foot wheel that took up the entire corner of the room.

     “Size doesn’t make a difference,” she said. “It only changes the ratio of twists in the yarn. Bigger is just faster, which means you can make more delicate threads.”

     I sat at my slower model feeling I had made the right choice, but I enjoyed the granddaddy set up nearby all the same, for it served to inspire as it created ambiance.

       We still had work to do before spinning. It was time to card the wool. With two flat brushes sporting hundreds of short prongs, we brushed the raw wool to detangle it, picking out leftover twigs or burs and combining colors for fun. When the fibers were all going in one direction, we lifted the feather light mass onto one card, then rolled it into manageable tubes. While it isn’t necessary to card wool before spinning, prepared wool is easier to work with, resulting in more uniform, delicate yarn. As beginners, we brushed studiously, determined to set ourselves up for success before tackling any actual spinning.

       Finally, it was time to spin. Spinning is actually remarkably simple. It is the act of pulling clumps of fiber into long narrow tubes and adding twist. Wool has tiny scale-like qualities, so it attaches to itself easily to make an ongoing thread that is really just millions of tiny independent “hairs” spun together. A single ply (single, twisted yarn) has a bit of kink in it, and when knitted or woven, it has the potential to distort the shape of your finished project (like sewing off the bias), so you must keep a single ply loose and later, hang it wet, weighted, to “set the twist”. For this reason, most often, people make a two-ply yarn. This involves taking two colors of single twisted yarn and spinning them together in the opposite direction, an act that loosens the twist and evens out the hang. Two-ply is also how bigger, textured yarn is made. Combining two individually spun threads together offers unlimited opportunities to create original color and texture combinations. I found the wealth of creative options engaging, and the moment I blended two simple yarns together into a complex bundle of swirls of color and texture, I was hooked. I was making yarn that no one else in the world would have. Few things in life are that original and I considered those soft chords of wool in my hand precious because of it.

      For the next few days, we spun wool according to our goals, our light or heavy hand, and our eye for color. None of the student’s end products looked alike. The originality of the yarns was as fascinating as the range of personalities in the class.

      It was now clear many of us would continue spinning after the course was finished. Margaret discussed other fibers, such as Mohair and Cashmere (goats), camel, alpaca and llama. She even introduced us to one of her angora rabbits and demonstrated a neat parlor trick of spinning directly off the rabbit sitting calmly in her lap. When I got home that night, I found resources on the internet for yak and musk ox fur. They even make yarn of possum. I wanted to try it all.

    On the last day, our minds saturated with information and our hands smarting from hours of friction running wool between our fingers,  Margaret invited us down the street to her farm to meet her sheep. Here, we saw live samples of corriedale, merino and Shetland sheep, along with her Pyrenees dogs, (who guard the sheep and whose hair can also be harvested for spinning). I found the sheep rather lacking in personality and seeing how much goes into caring for them made me think I would be better off sticking with buying raw fiber for now. (A detail that delighted my husband.) I always have my birthday llama’s wool to add intimacy and significance to future projects, just in case I want to associate personal meaning to a sweater I might make. 

     Wandering around Margaret’s pasture with the other students, I looked at the animals, curious about which one gave me the gift of wool I’d spun that morning. I yearned to stroke the head of sheep that unintentionally brought me so much pleasure. They seemed happy with their lot in life. Sheep do not have to die to offer us this marvelous gift of fiber, a detail I am grateful for.

      That evening, our class culminated in a ceremony, the John C. Campbell folkschool<ST1 showcase, where students in a variety of classes display the creations they’d worked on all week. I admired all sorts of Scottish Heritage crafts, but my eyes kept slipping back to my yarn, tangible proof of my new talents, and I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone was as grateful of their week’s experience as I was.

      Learning to spin introduced me to a new hobby that is both utilitarian and creative, but mostly, it taught me to look at the world differently. An avid lover of history, I often peruse museums to enjoy vintage costumes, furniture and/or rugs. Often these antiques have been preserved for hundreds of years. I know that when I see these pieces now, rich with handmade textiles, I’ll have a new appreciation for the colors and how they’ve survived over the years. I’ll understand how tedious the work must have been to create such beautiful objects and acknowledge how talented the artisans who planned and executed such complex designs must have been. I can’t stop marveling at man’s innovation to extract a rainbow from the earth, his ability to transfer it to wool and spin it into delicate fabrics or useful materials of various feel. And I am filled with respect for the animals that lived hundreds of years ago and the people who tended them, for they worked in harmony to leave behind a legacy of art and ingenuity that defies anything sitting on the shelves of Wal-Mart today. 

       “Why spin?” is a good question, one I have an answer for now.  J. Lambert, whoever that is, said it succinctly.

       “Our ability to hold and to live in the memory of the primal creative source is an essential thread that binds together the fabric of all existence.”


      The way I see it, my life is filled with “things”. Things I need to exist, things I own to be comfortable, and things I’ve collected to assure a life of convenience. Most of these “things” can be acquired at Wal-Mart, but beyond that, I rarely consider their origin.

    “Things” only have the meaning we associate to them. Suddenly, I’ve come to a point where I’ve stopped associating meaning to most everything I own.  I associate the value of a sweater in terms of its cost or if it makes me look slim. I think nothing of tossing away a blanket because the color no longer suits the room. The things cluttering my life have little meaning, making me feel as if the trappings of my life are disposable. Is it any wonder so many people in our society complain about feeling disconnected?

       Learning to spin has taught me history, science, and the story of the textiles that fill my world today.  I now have the ability make things by hand, and I can, and will, associate personal meaning to them by nature of the time and trouble they took to create. But I have a deeper appreciation for the items sitting on the Wal-Mart shelves now, too. In the memory of man’s creative source, our history, I understand and appreciate all that is available to me today.

   The fabric of my existence is composed of much more than the surface implies. It stretches back, long before I was born, all the way to man’s primal discovery of how to use the gifts of the earth in artistic ways. Somewhere along the way, the wool’s been pulled over our eyes -people have forgotten the base origins that lay the foundation for what we have today. Learning to spin has taught me more than how to make yarn. It’s taught me that I must combine the twisted threads of past and present to create a deeply textured life that will maintain shape. This kind of awareness becomes a sweater of substance I can wrap around my shoulders. And it will warm me through all the seasons of my life.