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Monthly Archives: October 2006


Sunday, we went apple picking. It was a glorious day, and walking through aisles lined with dozens of trees laden with a variety of apples was good for the soul. Mark and I needed a day focused on something nice, so I think the simple act of picking apples had special poignancy. It certainly felt like a tender, uplifting day.


The ground was littered with hundreds of fallen apples in various states of decay. Some were still fresh, lying on the ground – ripe, perfect gifts that simply experienced bad timing, falling before being selected by a visitor. Knowing people were not bound to stoop over to get these unlucky apples made me somewhat sad for their fate. There were so many yellow and red globes on the ground I swear it looked like the ball pit at a children’s play place.


Mark said, “Wouldn’t you love to ride through here and just let the horses have a grand old picnic?” Ha. They would come out looking like elephants with short, pointy ears. However, riding through those open spaces would be a thrill, I agree.

Mark kept picking apples and taking a bite, sampling the different species. I told him that didn’t seem kosher, considering we only pay for the apples that fill our bag, but he laughed at me and pointed to the ground. “They write this public grove off as a tourist activity and I’m sure they just hope people will deplete the apples the best they can. Look around. We can’t make a dent in the ripe fruit here. Eating one more simply saves it from rotting.”


He was right, of course, so I began eating too. In fact, after that, I noticed everyone we encountered was munching away. OK, it wasn’t cheating after all. It was actually a way to give poor, unloved fruit a purposeful end.


We were aiming to pick two pecks. Not that we need that many apples, but we wanted to prolong the fun awhile.  Kent insisted that all the good apples were the ones at the top of the tree – which wasn’t at all true, but it give him an excuse to climb. We did a tag team thing where he worked his way up the branches and threw his selection down to me to bag. I was being plummeted by apples, like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz when she teased the trees. My son kept laughing, apologizing, but honestly, I know he was aiming half the time no mater how he denies it.

Mark reached up to grab a red delicious and the one next to it fell and bopped him in the nose. Once he discovered that picking overripe apples was dangerous, he developed the “hold Neva up in front as a shield, all the while getting credit for helping her reach the highest apples” technique. However, Neva is no fool. She said, “Hey wait a minute, now they are hitting me!”

“Oops,” he said innocently, winking at me as apples plummeted around him, knocking his daughter silly.

But my kid is a brave soul, willing to do battle to get the best apples. God forbid her brother accomplishes something she can’t.


After we had filled our bags and eaten enough apples to keep the doctor away the rest of the month, (and polished a bag of hot boiled peanuts), we left to drive on down the road to Burt’s farm. This is where we go to buy our pumpkin every year. We did this even those years we didn’t live here, for we often visited in the fall, and you can’t go to the mountains this time of year and not visit Burts. It’s a huge farm with thousands of pumpkins set out among haystacks and scarecrows. Country music is piped in and the scent of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread wafts from the kitchen all day. Burt is famous for BIG pumpkins. Many are as big as a one of those Barbie cars kids drive. The farm has about a hundred wheelbarrows that you use like a shopping cart to bring your gourds and pumpkins to the register. We chose a 33-pound pumpkin – huge – and a smaller five pounder for Neva to carve herself. Of course, we had to get a piece of pie, three bags of popcorn, hot cider and other delights too. Going to Burt’s is not about the pumpkin. It is the all time fall kickoff event!


When we got home, we watched a dumb movie (Ultra violet – yuck), and I began planning for my next lesson with Kathy. She is getting cooking homework this week. I’ve put together all the ingredients for homemade chocolate chip cookies and I copied the recipe in words she can read. Tomorrow I will give her this basket of goodies, complete with flour, sugar, vanilla and a measuring cup and cookie sheet (just in case) and I will help her to understand how to read recipes. Fun.


One of the reasons I dreaded going to Sarasota last week was that it meant I’d be missing our reading lesson. I am committed to my dance students, true, but Kathy is my student too, and a very important one in my opinion. Last Friday she was scheduled to have her first assessment to see how much she has improved. It killed me to miss the pre-test lesson, when we would have done a review. I called her from Sarasota and asked if she wanted to postpone her test, but she said, “I am here studying my words right this minute. I’ll do OK. You just take care of what you have to take care of. You’ve already done your work, now it is up to me.”

I was thrilled. It’s encouraging that she feels confident and that she understands that my role in this kind of test is determined by what was done in the days and months before. I thought of dancers I’ve sent to competition who tended to take it so personally if I wasn’t in the room when they danced. I believed then too, that my work had already set the stage for what would happen. The actually test (or judging) was all about luck and their performance at that point. I don’t care how she scores officially (just like those dancers I sent to competition) I know my student has worked hard and I am proud of her.

Anyway, she did it without me. I can’t wait to hear how she fared. I guess my cookie homework is a sort of celebration.


I am also behind on homework, thanks to the impromptu trip. Not that that is anything new. But I will get my work done by staying up nights so I can send it in on the due date November 6th.   Then, I AM ON A BREAK! Yippee. I have two months off, just when we will be moving into the house (next Monday). I don’t have to tell you how much I need this MFA break.  I love to write, but my mind is swimming with literary mumbo jumbo and it needs to fester and lay dormant a bit. And other things are distracting me.


Halloween is tomorrow. No pumpkin buffet at my house again. Boo Hoo (not to be confused with just a boo) But I have a moon lighting the sky without competition from streetlights or suburban spread, and I have real coyotes and owls howling in the background to set the mood. Yep, Halloween is different here, but it is still good. Genuine.





Mutiny over the ballet bounty

I have been out of town on an impromptu business trip. A flood of scandalous news was sent our way regarding our old business. In a nutshell, the employee we left in charge as director has left the school and opened a competing business down the street (despite a legal non-compete contract which was a condition for her taking the position.)


Now, as in a divorce, no one party is responsible for the dissolution of a marriage. Nevertheless, people take sides -usually they rally behind whoever is their closest friend or can do the most for them.
The women say, “Hey it’s all his fault because she did the best she could and he is an insensitive lout that doesn’t appreciate her.”
The men say, “He did the best he could under immense stress and pressure, and she made things worse instead of being supportive and caring.”
But the truth is somewhere in between, and honestly no one on the outside knows what really went on, because the problems go much deeper – down to emotional levels of self-worth and conflicting personal desires.


Anyway, I understand that the truth is very complex and the surface information people hear (and judge by) is missing some very key elements. VERY key.  So, I won’t presume to discuss whether or not this split is justified on a certain level, other than point out that it is illegal. A legal contract is a promise of good faith. I guess you can find loopholes if you have a good enough lawyer – and you are very careful with what you say (which our former employee is doing with all the practiced perfection of a miss dance interview – sorry, that is a comparison only my old students will appreciate.) Some people operate under a moral principal that “if you can get away with it, then it must be OK.” Not my cup of tea.


The problem I have with this entire thing isn’t what is happening (since I know it is very complex) as much as how it is happening. The truth is, this plan has been in the works for some time, and it has affected the previous employee’s performance, causing dissatisfaction in the school to set the stage for this dilemma. I know her choice was preplanned because I knew about it some time before the announcement – and if I know about it living 500 miles away, well, then lots of people knew about it. (Not, unfortunately, the new owners of the school.) In fact, at Mark’s recommendation, they confronted this employee directly and asked about the rumors point blank, and she assured them she was not going to open a studio. Two days later, her announcement blazed across the newspaper and the next day at the staff meeting, there was a full-fledged walkout at the mother ship. No notice. Teachers justified their decision to go to the other school and simply walked. It is common knowledge that students will go where there teachers go. So while you can claim no one is being solicited technically, the fact is that when teachers are invited to go with you, students are expected to follow (that is why the teachers are invited after all, since the new school has no enrollment defining need to begin hiring for. They anticipate “need” on the assumption that stealing teachers will equate to enrollment.), and the fact is, other personel and contributing members of the old school have been asked to support this new endeavor – she even asked for our support! Talk about gall!


The upheaval was staged perfectly. It is scandalous enough that there would be a split, but if customers walk into the school and no one is there to teach the kids, they would lose faith in the management’s ability to control the situation. The new owners of FLEX were left with no teachers and no dance director to help them solve the dilemma. They were, so to speak, sitting ducks, and everyone knew it and delighted in the fact. Obviously, resentment runs deep. They were not only sideswiped, but also hit with a vengeance on multi levels. I felt badly for them. The least I could do was get them some staff and give them some advice.


All issues of legality aside, I was shocked and appalled by the unprofessional behavior of the teachers involved. I don’t care how angry you are, it is only responsible to give notice and not work to purposely bring your previous employer down in so ugly a way. This was a mutiny, orchestrated to do the utmost damage. I am shocked to see so many individuals follow along without conscience. As far as I am concerned, everyone can leave if they want – the new owners are responsible for their employee’s dissatisfaction and that is another issue altogether– but have some class people and give fair notice. If what you are doing is truly good, right, and justified, than it will succeed without the forced damage done to your previous employer. I won’t go into the falsehoods being spread to influence others – but I promise you that the new owners of the school are not the only ones being duped. By the time that reality is revealed, the damage will have been done.


Anyway, I really had a hard time accepting what I was hearing.  As is always the case, when we hear things that seem out of character to us, we go to the source to see what is true firsthand. I received all this disturbing information at 3:00 and decided I had better make the trip to Florida. I scurried to put life in order and was in the car driving by 9 Pm. Mark was unavailable, so he opted to stay home and hold down the fort.

By 6 AM, I am cruising into Sarasota. Tired, agitated and disgusted by what I do know to be true, despite any justification others may use to support the decisions they have made.
Mark calls. He says, “I am holding out the phone from my ear. Do you hear what I hear?     
In the background, Joe is crowing loud and clear.
I squeal with delight. “Isn’t that a beautiful sound? I wish I was there with you to hear it in person.”
He says (drolly) . . . I am at the house.” Meaning, he is pretty far from the chicken coup, and the rooster is still ringing out loud and clear.” . . . And you can hear a rooster.” 
“It’s not enough to wake you up. Just enough to celebrate where we live. Admit it.”
He does. (He says I make him out to be a killjoy in my blogs, but I don’t intend to. Usually, it is just our humor and he plays the straight man’s roll so willingly. Honestly, he is a good sport and ultimately supportive of all my adventures, as I am of his.)
Hearing that bird makes me wonder why I am here, having driven all night. with my eyeballs scrunched in frustration. 

He then says, “I think you should turn the car around and come home. Let everybody back there kill themselves, cause they are “doing it for the kids” (justification de jour- cracks me up, for what they mean is the selective kids – theirs). Really, Ginny, we know better. Come home.”

I know he is probably right, but I insist I have to learn more. I was convinced that I could make sense of this puzzle that has been plaguing me so long. We were turned into the enemy within two months of leaving – a choice that began many of the school’s problems. We left our business in good hands, or so we thought, but we made it clear to both sides that our ongoing involvement would be very important to the transition. It is frustrating watching your life’s work be unmanned (internally) – especially when it just doesn’t make sense for any of the parties involved. In retrospect, if you consider who has the least to lose and the most to gain by leading the school down a spiraling path, the writing is on the wall. It is just writing I have a hard time accepting, on an emotional level.   

Therefore, I began my fact-finding mission. First, I headed off a few of the “walk-outs” at the staff meeting, primarily because they respect me and wouldn’t do anything improper while I was witnessing it.  I helped staff the school for the short term with teachers who left some time ago. This foiled some hopeful plans for chaos, I suspect. Then, I talked to parents, students, teachers, and managers. I looked at the sequence of events which brought our school to this awkward impasse, trying to fill the holes in the big picture. Meanwhile, every hour, I call my husband and fill him in on all I am unraveling. He sighs and says, “Come home, Honey. Your rooster misses you.” (Sure, it’s the rooster that misses me.)

I kept hearing more and more depressing facts. Fabrications. An alarming amount of twisted logic. Everyone is being misguided in a huge manipulation orchestrated under the veil of innocence. Fires are everywhere and instead of putting things into logical perspective, everyone is fanning them. Our job was always to diffuse problems, but it seems no one has been doing that. Sad. The few people who refused to be a pat of this madness have long since left. Smart cookies. Those left behind had an alternative agenda. All along, people could have worked together for the best interest of everyone. But in a struggle of wills, they didn’t. And the gossip is so outrageous it would make me laugh if it wasn’t so sad.


Finally, I learned one thing too many, one thing that so disturbed my husband when I shared it, he said, “Against my better judgment, I’m coming down. I’ll be there in eight hours.” And he was.

Now, I have plenty to say about our experience in Sarasota this week – plenty to say about art and integrity and responsibility and character and mistakes and people who say and do things to promote their own interests, and inadequacy and ego and fear and arrogance. I have words of sanity to offer to people who have been lead so far from the path we originally designed that it could fill this blog and jam up the internet airways till kingdom come. Again, I must say, people do not have all the facts. Not by a long shot.

And dance people who read my blog are expecting just that. But I’m going to disappoint them.  I’ve known for some time that all kinds of people from our old business my blog. It happens to get lots of Sarasota traffic. Go figure. But these people don’t join me here with earnest or kind intentions. They aren’t friends or they would be bold enough to walk into FLEX when I am in town to say “hello”. They’d step forward out of respect and/or friendship. (And for the one parent who did just this on Thursday, with such grace and kindness, making lovely comments on our new home and our life, and making it a point to see Mark and I both before going, I must say we were sincerely touched. That parent has so much class.  I couldn’t help but be very happy for her child. The apple will fall close to a very good tree in this case. )  Anyway, other blog readers are tuning in with resentment, or curiosity – looking for things to criticize. One parent even had the gall to pull up pictures of our house and say to others, “Isn’t it nice to see what OUR money bought.”

Which is so sad. First of all, it isn’t true. As long as we ran FLEX we had very little to show for our hard work other than ulcers and heartache. The money we used to build our house came from walking away and turning our talents to other areas – areas where there is actually a monetary payoff for hard work and commitment. FLEX was like some great insurance policy. We were better off (monetarily) dead. Sad, but true.  Then again, even if this was not the case and this person’s tuition did indeed buy us a log or a brick, it is sad to think that those we devoted so much heart and effort to, now begrudge our having something to show for it. They certainly have a child with training to show for their investment. I guess everyone would be a lot happier if our eighteen years of hard work resulted in us having to work at Wal-Mart. We were suppose to be “doing it for the kids” I guess. Interesting. 


Anyway, I’ve decided to devote one rock on the fireplace to the parent who thinks I have the house I have today because of her tuitions. (Guess she forgets the scholarship she received when her family fell on hard times. Nevertheless, a rock is symbolic of her wisdom and sensitivity, so this I’ll make a nice dull one her namesake). I sure believe I DESERVE that house because of her now.

The fact is, the house we are building is all about who I married, not what we did for a living previously. Rustic Architectural Design is my husband’s new business – as you will see when his project is featured in log home magazine and our business grows (we have a second structure already in the works and plans for a third).  As much as people may think we are nothing beyond dance mongers, well, that shows greatly you underestimate our gifts. For the record, you can train people to spit out technical information about dance, but artistry cannot be taught. Without it, dance is a superficial, empty exercise and those involved have a limited capacity to do anything of value with it. In retrospect, I believe everyone got the bargain of a lifetime working with artists such as we were, for basic tuitions.

Anyway, because these negative and confused individuals are visiting my blog for reasons I will never understand, I have been avoiding the dance subject for many months. When Mark came to FLEX to try to help (knowing things were not on track), he was forcibly kicked of the building. I didn’t write about that, or the other hurtful things that have transpired over the last year, because I just didn’t have the heart to go there. And we decided to throw up our hands and give up on that fight long ago. When you are sad, you lack the fight required to face these kinds of things. And I had witnessed firsthand how my blogs were twisted and used as proof of my evil. Ha. I wrote something because a heart to heart talk and sincere guidance wasn’t working. Instead of my blog being the wake-up call needed, it was taken as an offense and used as an excuse to explain the overexagerated reaction of hatred– which obviously began long before that blog. So much for trying to put perspective (and offering some important withheld information) on a situation. I gave up on counseling those that needed it long ago after that ridiculous escapade. I knew then my honesty was a threat, and people who feel threatened will do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. 

But I was sorry to leave the FLEX issue out of my blog entirely, because the fact is, I have friends who have nothing at all to do with dance – writing friends who celebrate my leaving dance and they want to know how it is going, or ex-students who are sincerely happy for me and curious about how I am adapting to life without a dance empire. I have hated censoring such a huge part of my retirement (an emotional stuggle) because of those dance people spoiling for a fight.


It is also too bad, because I have dance friends who are very interested in my take on the dance world, and they could learn so much about dance if I addressed the issue – at least philosophically. I have new perspectives on dance education now, thanks to distance, maturity, and all the research I am doing for my thesis (a book on dance of all things).  Want some logic on the true state of dance education – read Grace under Pressure by Barbara Newman. In her forward, she states: “This book is about the craft of passing dance through time, about the transfer of experience and knowledge from one generation of artists to another. I wrote it as a tribute to the hidden artisans who choose that craft and in an attempt to document their work before they, and the standards they value, are gone for good. You have to remember that what we see on stage is merely the visible tip of a process we never see, which takes place in classrooms and studios, in rehearsal and creation, in the bank, the boardroom and the mind. The process reaches back into history and forward to a world no one can imagine, and the authorities who guide it fasten the past to the future every day.”


This is how true artisans think. It is not “business is business” or “I can do anything I want if I can get away with it”, or “it is for the kids and the parents like it” mentality. It is committing your efforts to something bigger than the coordination of rhinestone costumes and pop music and affected movement that does nothing but satisfy uneducated people on a commercial level.


I have friends and students from the past and present who visit this blog with the best of intentions and they would enjoy exploring a subject we all care about on a deeper level.  But, I’ve respectively decided to keep my feelings about dance to myself. If there is one thing I know more than anything, it is that people believe what they want to believe. And if they want to believe negative things about us or our motives or what has happened in the wake of our retirement, so be it. They get something from that, but don’t ask me what. And the repercussions of everything happening now stretches far beyond the individual students that everyone is scrambling over today, like the plastic platinum trophies at competition that are so ridiculous. Actions going on now will set off a string of repercussions that include legal, financial, and emotional fallout, not to mention a long-term impact on the dance community at large. It sure as hell isn’t about dance (or the kids) friends. Trust me. Besides which, anything I write about dance will be taken as a message about my dance school or students, past and present, because no one can see that my commitment to the art is so much bigger than FLEX. Sad, but true.


Someone turned to my father this week and with a big smile, made a comment about our facility. They said, “Business is business.” I think he enjoyed my horrified reaction to that comment when he related it, because since the beginning, he has said “Business is business” and I have argued that the arts require special consideration. I believe decisions cannot be made in dance with a “business is business” mentality or the magic is lost. But maybe the magic was always my own illusion. Perhaps I was too idealistic for this entire dance school thing all along. Perhaps it IS about tuitions and plastic trophies and whoever has the most students in the end really does win. The powers that be are just dead set on winning something I personally wouldn’t want. I shouldn’t care. But it sends a chill down my spine .

Wisdom as it pertains to art is something gained over many many years, and it’s the result of many many experiences that stretch far beyond the comprehension of the local dance studio mentality. But with a sigh, I understand some people must learn these truths themselves. Or not. I don’t hold out much hope for certain individuals anymore.
This is the hardest thing for me to accept of all.

Anyway, my blog was silent because I was out of town for a week. A friend ran into me in Sarasota, laughed, and said, “NO WONDER you haven’t been writing. You are here. I’ve been so disappointed everyday when I check in and there are no pearls of wisdom on your blog to make me laugh or think. Go home so I have something to read, will ya!”

That was sweet. So, I’m home, planning to do just that. To write about everything except my old business and dance. But that doesn’t mean we are not concerned or involved or thinking about the state of dance in Sarasota every minute.

I learned everything I needed to know when I went home. Much of it will leave a sour taste in my mouth for many days (or years) but much of it was wonderful too. People accused me of rushing in like the Calvary to try to save things. They said I had no right to be involved. Interesting. But that is because they had no understanding of what I came for.  


I came to witness what we left behind and to see what those we entrusted with the thing we loved did with that responsibility. And as a bonus, I saw kids I adore and miss. I spent time with teachers who still had a sense of humor, who can laugh with me about everything in a bittersweet way. I had dinner with parents I enjoy and we laughed about things from the past and things happening in our lives now, about my husband the “ballerina on a tractor” and other non-dance related things.  And I realized that finally, after many years of our wanting it, some of these dance people are our friends. Real friends, not people wanting a part for their kid in the next dance, or wanting positions of power or a chance to earn more money from us. Not people who put us on some kind of dance pedestal in an unnatural way and suddenly resent us for not giving more either, or people who discard us because we are no longer useful to them as they continue in a frenzy to validate their talent in the most unsophisticated ways. I’ve discovered good people who enjoy our company – enough to hang out and laugh for the purpose of talking and visiting. It was a nice time and I wish Mark had been there sooner to experience that portion of the trip.


When Mark arrived, we talked a bit, spent some time with teachers and friends, and then we went into a store to get away from it all. And someone who hasn’t been in our school for over twelve years came up to us and said, “I’m so sorry for you.”


We thought perhaps this parent didn’t know we had sold FLEX and moved. Obviously, she didn’t know we were so happy now. It has been such a long time since this parent had any reason to be involved in FLEX gossip, considering her daughter is married and she is toting around the ex-dancer’s kids now.  So we asked what she was talking about.


She said, “I just feel so badly that your name has been trashed around this town. And the person doing it is such a surprise. We were under the impression you left certain individuals involved in your school because you shared a good relationship with them.”


What can you say to that? “Um. Um. . .” Then, smack yourself on the forehead like a sudden revelation took place?


That was when I turned to Mark and said, “OK. Let’s go home.” I was so icked out, I can’t describe it. There are some truths you just don’t want to discover. It is great understanding the big picture, but when the big picture leaves a lasting image that you can’t get out of your head, you rather close your eyes. Unfortunately, we had promised to teach that night, so we felt honor bound to stay.  For the kids” (shoot me).   

Mark was scheduled to teach. I had told the kids that we didn’t care what decision they made and it didn’t matter where they planned to dance, but they should come to show their respect – even if it was just to say good-bye to a teacher who truly made a difference in their lives. I told them to come for “dance” – for the last class of all time between them and the past- that their presence wasn’t a statement, other than the statement of fond appreciation for Mark’s role in bringing dance into their lives.


They chose to have a pizza party to celebrate the boycott of his class instead. 

They certainly showed us.

Mark was disappointed. He said, “They are trying to hurt me, and/or make a statement about their future choice. But what hurts is knowing the kind of leadership they are getting which condones this behavior. They are just kids, carried away with this feeling of self-importance and swept up in the drama of the fight. Their bad attitudes have been left unchecked and now they are raging out of control. Can you imagine you or I ever allowing a student to act disrespectful, to dishonor their mentors or teachers in this way? We’d drag them by the bun and toss them into the classroom despite their whining. And any parent that didn’t like it would be put in their place too. Some dance principals are not debatable.”


Our number one lesson was to teach students to live with gratitude for all they’ve been given – I even dragged my students to visit my teacher in New York 30 years after he was actively my teacher. And trust me, they would rather have been at the <st1laceName w:st=”on”>Broadway</st1laceName> <st1laceName w:st=”on”>Dance</st1laceName> <st1laceType w:st=”on”>Center</st1laceType> taking dance classes with “cool” teachers. It was an ongoing argument as parents and kids fought to get what they wanted rather than what they needed. We held firm.  It wasn’t because my teacher could do something for me (or them) now – it was an act of respect – and it was to teach the new generation something about what makes a great artist – something that stems on artistic integrity, and an appreciation for those that lay a foundation for the gifts you get today . When you are involved in the cycle of dance for enough years, you understand that what is “in the moment” is not nearly as important as the values you instill and the attitudes you support – because these elements come into play later. Artistic karma, ya know.


I guess it is a different world, and the values we tried to instill with dance are inconvenient  and therefore disposable today. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “I can’t get no respect.” But that isn’t sad for us. It is sad for those who miss the point – generosity of the spirit.  Without it, a dancer is just a floating through the craft as an exercise, peeking at a physical level but never grasping the wealth of spiritual and soulful joy that drives an artist’s work to be authentic. Considering our ex-students are still dancers in training, their choice was a sign of misguidance, more than a sign of character weakness. Not easy to watch for us old timers.   Especially when you consider that a few years from now, this generation of dancers will be gone – they will have turned into accountants and marketing executives, wives and mothers – and they won’t look back, other than to tell their kids fun stories about their dance days. These dancers will have had a taste of dance, but it is being served without  enough seasoning to keep them at the buffet. The cooks, later, will have to wonder about their menu.  In other words, the struggle over the few dancers that appears important today is irrelevant in the long term. Newman also states, “Most dance students, even those who reach a relatively advanced level, disappear without a trace. Don’t forget, it’s murder out there without means, motive and opportunity.”


Your legacy begins not with who you teach, but what you teach and how.

Shortcuts are the path to becoming lost in the woods, and a house built on deception and an absence of integrity is a very weak structure. Not one I would ever send my kid into.

Mark and I have always known that when you teach on a level that attempts to set a strong sense of principals in place, you win some and you lose some. We can focus on those who never really “got it”, or celebrate those who we’ve influenced in ways we can be proud of. We are so thrilled to see how the values embedded in our teaching stuck with so many individuals, even some of those who’re in the middle of this awful turmoil. Teachers with a great grasp of dance have come forward with the best of intentions. Students who obviously love the art have stepped forward with admirable independence.


Even management apologized and said, “We are guilty. It was just easier to jump on the Hendry Hate train then deal with your shadow.” Hendry hate train? Wow. Counting the passengers on that train is depressing. Imagining who the conductor was is devastating.


But we know it is hard when you are being pulled apart or facing peer pressure, being fed misinformation designed to rile you up emotionally, etc- to do what is right despite the pressure or influence to act otherwise. And we know good and special people can get lost and confused, especially if they are naive, or they put money in a higher priority than other, less tangible, valuables. Nevertheless, we are humbled by students from our past that came forward with a genuine smile and a heartfelt hug, making it clear they missed us and valued their time with us in this great journey of dance. And we are touched by the letters of thanks we’ve received from dancers of the past too- letters inspired by things transpiring today. 


I received this e-mail today:


Hey Ginny,

I got to say most of this to Mark when I spoke to him, but I wanted you to share this with you too -I couldn’t help to remind you guys how special you are to me during this icky time.


You poured over a decade of your heart and soul into FLEX and it showed. Don’t let ‘them’ tarnish your memory or the legacy that you left behind. For every one of your critics, there are two more dancers that recognize that their time at FLEX created a magical impact on their lives. You both deserve to enjoy every bit of your new lives without the drama that is surrounding this current situation.


Be proud of what you created, you produced generations of kids who will always hold a special place in their hearts for you, Mark and FLEX. I just feel sorry for those who have seem to forgotten all that they were given, and trust that as always happens in life, the pendulum always swings back and evens things out.


I read this and was reminded that it wasn’t just about dance, ya know. And it sure as hell wasn’t “business is business”.  People can (and will) back peddle and start saying they respect and appreciate us now, (denial with a smile seems to work so conveniently for some) but we witnessed firsthand what truly has happened. Announcements claiming innocence and best intentions, excuses made now to develop a facade of superficial earnsty, really is an insult.

So, what will happen next? Well, Mark and I probably have a better idea than anyone involved. We see things very clearly, thanks to distance and experience, and we also happen to have a say in certain elements of the equation. But speculation is not something I will share publicly. The funny thing is, we believe we know more about what this will mean to everyone in ten years than what it means now. Nevertheless, we do not intend to influence the outcome of fate (though we’ve considered trying), because we believe everyone must lie in the beds they have made – and are currently making. But that doesn’t mean we will turn our back on our beliefs either – even though it would be easy to do so considering we keep getting so “icked out” when we get more evidence of how people really have felt about us and see how dance education is being approached today.

Honestly, we plan to use our time now to enjoy those people who have made us proud. We plan to go back to our old dance school, if and when and for as long as we can, to dance with students that come to the floor with positive attitudes, excited to explore movement and new choreography. We would have been there sooner if we hadn’t been forbidden to make our presence known. Fact.


We plan to encourage those that need encouragement and remind everyone what counts is artistry and honoring their gift.  We look forward to sidestepping the raging egos and political struggle that has been a part of this, and every, dance studio since the beginning of time, to just enjoy our limited role as friends and teachers. If things work out for our old school, we will be happy for everyone. If they don’t, we will know we did our part and lived according to what we believe. We wish to remain removed from all the business and legal elements now on the line.  All along, what we wanted was to shed the business of dance and embrace the artistic joy again. It is like becoming a grandparent – we wanted to enjoy the kids and then give them back for someone else to raise. Ha. Pipe dreams on our part.  

In the end, I look at the difficult transition of our school and the sad way people have dealt with it, as a growth opportunity. You learn so much through adversity. I am grateful that events have revealed what portions of our life were authentic and what was simply an illusion. That is important to know.


We have lost a great deal as good memories have been soured and undeniable truths regarding deeply seeded resentment has surfaced.  But what we have gained is good too. I didn’t leave dance, remember. I evolved. I am now writing about it, trying to channel all I believe to be true in a fictional accounting that will reach many more individuals than I could reach in the local dance class. That is an element of my life’s work too, and my dance school experiences, while bittersweet, gives me a lot to think about for that project.


While Mark and I were driving home from Sarasota, he commented that everything going on back home is like the Starwars Saga. He feels compelled to grab a dear friend or two and shout, “Luke, come back from the dark side!” He thinks Darth Vader, (once a Jedi knight too) has built the death star and is excited to try it out regardless of the innocent that thrive on the planet. (Mark does a great Darth Vader in the dance classroom impression.)


I asked if that means I get to be Princess Leigh – (and if he was gonna be Jabba the hut because he makes Jabba jokes often about himself. hee hee.)  I fancy myself in that Princess Leigh costume, ya know.


But Mark said, “No, you are Obi Wan and I am Yoda. Then he proceeded to make me laugh with some great pearls of dance school wisdom in Yoda’s affected dialect. I thought about that later, and I believe he is right on the money. Obi Wan left the struggle, just lifted his light saber and allowed himself to be plowed down. Because he was better involved as a voice in the head of those that continued on. He was sort of a sprit that encouraged people to trust the force. I’m not implying that the dilemma going on in the dance school is a struggle between good and evil, by any means. That wouldn’t be fair at all, because I understand there are two sides to every story and I really am struggling to understand both. I just mean that this is no longer our war, and we can’t be involved, other than our hoping what is decent and lovely will prevail.  But I honestly have concerns about that. I fear nothing good (and I mean good for dance, not for individuals) will be left at all.       


Now, I have had my say. I have homework to attend to, and Halloween is tomorrow! Tonight, my evil family members have conspired to drag me to the haunted corn maze. Eek. I have pumpkin soup to make. I must keep my feet grounded in what is real, and in this case, it is liquid pumpkin and whether or not I can outrun the guy in the corn with the chainsaw!

Gee, I hope we carve a happy pumpkin this year. I saw enough scowling faces in that last staff meeting and the dance class to last me a lifetime. Ick.


I am sorry for all that has happened. Mostly, I am sorry for the kids who think the pied piper is their friend . . . and the parents who, with good intentions, hand him his pipe.



This is what happened when This is how it happended . . .

I am trying to write a blog for you. . . but I am having trouble because I can’t hold my head up at the computer. My forehead keeps thunking down and slamming against the desk. Not because I am tired – but because MY HEAD IS SO BIG!!!!!! Getting bigger by the minute. I just read a response from my professor that has my noggin swollen the size of New Jersey. Usually, when I get a response from one of my professors, I want to crawl under my covers and mope for at least an hour. I get so frustrated and I feel so average when my work is under fire. I mean, I appreciate the wisdom and honesty I receive. But it is a long, difficult road, this learning to write well, and I sometimes feel as if the journey is laid out with gravel and shaved glass, and I am walking the path barefoot. 

Anyway, my blog, “This is How it Happened” was actually a first person essay assignment I sent my non-fiction professor. I thought it had some problems. Mark read it, and thought it could have been stronger too – as if it started to be one kind of essay, but turned into an expository piece about the festival. Hey, when you have a deadline, you send what you have. 

Today, I receive the response. It was rather encouraging, which is something I can use, considering this term I am struggling so hard with my fiction project and the no-nonsense professor in charge of helping me with it.

So, in the interest of bragging and maintaining my “big conceit” image – and in hopes to maintain some semblance of respect from my blog friends who may not trust their own judgment (so they will be impressed by a learnered man’s opinion), I thought I would share my professors note. 

I certainly won’t choke today considering I am going to be patting myself on the back for an hour or two. 
You may say, “Well, it isn’t THAT great. Nice and all, but certainly not worth making such a stink about,” but all things being relative, it means a lot to me.

Here it is:

Hi Ginny,
I actually did take a short walk after we exchanged our Sunday email.
I got a few shots of some leaves floating on the surface of a still
pond, which might be worthy of enlarging some day. Today, I’m
enjoying the peace and quiet after a three day nature/science
overnight with 71 fifth graders, bad food, and moldy cabins.
You’ve outdone yourself again. Your essay is ready for publication.
The opening paragraph of “This is What Happened” got better and
better after I read it a few times. At first I didn’t think it was
strong enough to open an essay, but then I thought about it for a
while, and remembered how hard it is to think of our parents as
children or teenagers. Thus, the opening scene puts us in a mildly
uncomfortable place, momentarily, and that is a good thing. And this,
of course, gets worse where David is stuck in the laundry shoot.
(Seeing how I am mildly claustrophobic, this gave me the shudders…)
You then break the tension with the white space and discuss the
relationship between family antics and storytelling. The next part,
the hysterically funny ransacked apartment, seems to interrupt the
lecture-like format the reader was just getting used to. What would
happen if you kept this part connected to the family antics section
above as demonstration of how stories continued in your generation?
It’s only a thought, because the essay works fine in the order you
have these sections.
Notice how your story unfolds geographically and then comes home
again. First the memories of your father, then your generation and
then the wide world of the storytelling festival. Nevertheless, you
don’t let us readers off too easily. You keep up the tension with
your thinking about the lack of intimacy and the well-rehearsed
performances of the culturally diverse storytellers. (Thank you for
avoiding any hints of patronizing!) The icing on the cake here, is
the fact that the terrific storyteller, drive-in guy, is named Davis.
This magically hearkens back to your father David (just one letter
away), and the circle is going around again, not letting the reader
forget how the essay began. We are no longer uneasy at the distance
among the cultures of the previous ruminations. We’re back to the
familiar. Okay, the essay is culturally biased some would say, but we
white folk have a culture too, which we need to celebrate. The
intimacy of you and your husband under the stars is a great way to
finish off the final thoughts. If you wanted to truly come full
circle, some other anecdote about your father and the milk scene
might be a nice way to tie up the end.
It’s obvious that you have a strength when it comes to understanding
the intricacies and beauty of local folk culture, and I believe this
was one of your goals. You have come a long way since the early dance
piece, and what a journey this has been. I am looking forward to your
next submission already. Anything interesting in the way of food down
I now have to prepare a poetry workshop for my faculty’s professional
development as part of our year-long look at writing genres. With
your permission, I’d like to share this latest essay with them when
we discuss memoir writing later on in the year.
/David R.

So, This is what happened when I sent “This is What Happened” in to be assessed.Yippee.

Ya know, I will be out of school in June, and then I plan to turn all my attentions to doing something
with my writing aspirations. I am looking forward to returning to writing what I love with more skill and
the dash of confidence I need to tackle the obstacles awaiting me.(Yes, I want to return to writing historicals
that make you laugh and sigh – so shoot me, I appreciate literary work, but I don’t need all that painful
reality bogging down my stories. I am a romantic at heart and I aim to celebrate it with my own unique
messages to the world.)
I will take you along on the journey, of course.

Now, I am thinking about the next assignment. David asked about food. Is he kidding? Like I couldn’t write about
food with both hands tied behind my back, hanging upside down and with a fork pointed at my throat.
Ha. Food and I have been lovers a long time. I will kiss and tell, if that will make a good essay.


Crowing Joe

My daughter, Neva, is coming down with a cold. I let her stay home today because there was only a half day of school. It’s the beginning of a four-day “fall break” here, a very nice tradition that affords families a few days of fun just as the leaves are changing and the fall festivals are in progress. The problem is, keeping my under-the-weather daughter home means she must accompany me to my reading lesson with Kathy. She has been dying to meet Kathy in person, so I thought this would be fine, if she promised to be good and remain non-intrusive – no small feat for this overly energetic, curious little girl. She promised to try.


As I taught, Neva sat quietly on the couch of the lounge playing her game-boy – one eye slipping towards Kathy now and again. It was obvious she was dying to sit at the table and watch us more closely, maybe add her two cents into my instruction, but I had threatened her with her life, and liking her life as she does, she kept a safe (respectful) distance. The lesson went well. They are giving Kathy a second assessment test next week to see if she has made any progress. We both know she’ll do well (she has come a long way from the beginning, when she barley recognized the alphabet) but still, as a matter of pride, we are working hard now to assure she scores well.  


After the lesson, I figured I should do something to reward Neva’s self-control and to help cure her cold. The best thing I could think of to chase away the sniffles is  . . . well, to buy a rooster, of course! Animal acquisition is good medicine for anything that ails you, in my opinion, so we went to the feed store to inquire about that tame, gregarious bird they had for sale yesterday.  Neva is my partner in crime for all things relating to wildlife, don’t ya know.


The term “pecking order” comes from raising chickens, because the problem with introducing a new chicken to a flock is that there are bound to be fights, especially if the new bird is male and bigger than everyone else in the pen. After asking questions, Neva and I decided to try it, promising to hang around and watch to be sure a war didn’t ensue. Twenty-five bucks bought us a one year old, gorgeous, sex-link rooster. Sex-link is not a description of his personality (shame), but his breed. Nevertheless, the name seems to describe a bird that will inspire some major egg laying to me. Since I would only consider an inspirational cock for my chicks, he suited me perfectly. He doesn’t peck at people and will let you hug him too, so Neva found him perfect as well.


We set the new rooster lose in our coup, and instantly he began fighting with little Drumstick, our tiny, banie rooster. Eek. The feathers on both bird’s necks poofed out like lion manes and they began flapping and flying into each other, pecking and squawking.  Imagine a little beagle fighting with a huge Saint Bernard and you get the picture. It was not a fair fight, as size goes. This did not bode well for long-term success, but before we began panicking, we put the new rooster in a cage in the pen, thinking he would acclimate to his new digs safely this way. We hoped they would all get acquainted through the bars of this temporary confinement.  The birds circled the cage, staring, curious yet leery, about the newcomer.


Meanwhile, I said, “Neva, it is no secret that Mom has been coveting a big, fat cock for some time (ahem) and therefore, I think it’s my turn to pick a name for a pet. I want to name this one Joe, because of the singer Joe Cocker, whose voice some people consider music and others consider noise.”

She thought about it and agreed Joe was a good name.  


Joe started to crow. His crowing seemed to set off Drumstick, who now began crowing in his little, meek voice too. Neva and I both appreciate the glory of a rooster bellow, so we did the happy dance, then decided we should see how far the noise would travel. We walked towards the house, enjoying the way the bird’s serenade followed us down the path. We even slapped each other five when a particularly loud cock-a-doodle-do rang out a 10th of a mile from the coup. Unfortunately, loud as Joe is, from the house his crow is only a subtle, distant cry. Bummer. But you can still hear him, as if you’re listening to a bird in a neighbor’s yard a couple blocks away – graceful but not jarring, which Mark will appreciate.


Neva and I inspected the house progress (another story altogether) then, returned to the coup.  Now, the flock seemed more accepting of the new cock, so we let Joe loose. He chased a few of the girls a bit, and squawked at Drumstick, but mostly, it seemed everyone was going to cohabitate in peace. Whew.


Just as we were preparing to go, Neva says, “Um, Mom. Look.”

I turned to see two chickens “doing it.” At least, I think they were “doing it” – unless they were taking up mud wrestling or something. Little Drumstick jumped on Potpie and started doing the funky chicken (and I’m not talking about the dance.)

I guess, the arrival of a new rooster made our little rooster’s male hormones kick in, and since he can’t outfight the other guy, he wants to show that he can out-#%&* him.

Neva said, “Looks like that is how chickens make eggs.”


I explained that chickens make eggs without a male, so what those two are doing is probably fertilizing eggs. Fertilized eggs will hatch if you leave them be.  Fascinating. At that moment, it occurred to me that my daughter and I were learning the true facts of the birds and the bees at the same time.  How many people can profess that kind of naiveté!

Goodness, but life is interesting here.

Anyway, my daughter and I now have a big, bold cock to stroke anytime we want now. 
Repeat that without smiling and I’ll give you a nickel.

This is what Procrastination looks like

While reading a nutrition magazine this morning, I learned that one ostrich egg can feed ten people. Damn, I knew I should have made my chicken pen taller.


The average hen will lay 300-325 eggs a year. My big slackers haven’t dropped a single egg yet. Losers.


Apparently, Americans eat 350 slices of pizza a second. Every single second? I guess that is possible considering all the college kids in the country who wake and take a bite of stale, cold pizza left from last night’s orgy. I know that Kent can definitely drive up the piece per second number when we take him to the “all you can eat” pizza buffet.


It takes 7-10 days to make one jellybean. Now, this is awfully interesting. Why, I wonder.  I’ve never made jellybeans from scratch. I don’t even have a single jellybean recipe. I’ve been thinking I’ll make wine vinegar from scratch when we move into the new house, because I’ve read about the process and it sounds cool . Wine vinegar takes a few months to ferment and is a little like keeping a crock filled with sourdough starter (another thing I’ll be doing) because you add to the original starter for years to get the best, heirloom flavor. But jellybeans are apparently a slow cooking delicacy all their own. I’d like to try it, but it might be over my amateur cook’s head. Would hate to attempt something that would shake my cooking confidence. Besides which, I might piss off the Easter bunny if I infringe on his monopoly and we can’t have that.


Forty percent of the world’s almonds are used in chocolate bars. Amazing. Obviously, Hershey’s with almonds are more popular than Chicken Almandine. Sad, that.


And I wonder how I survived all these years not knowing that 6000 BC was the approximate year that soups included hippopotamus bones. I haven’t tried that recipe either. Here I thought I was an adventurous cook, and I find out I’ve barely scratched the surface of dish possibilities.


That is about all I gained from this “Nutrition for the Active Woman” magazine, a collector’s issue from “Oxygen”. The recipes are all a bit too organic for me – I like healthy cooking and all, but when every recipe calls for soymilk, mirin, yazu citrus juice (I don’t even know what that is) and juice from pomegranates, I figure the end result will not be worth the effort. It goes against my “use what is in the cupboard” rule. Not that this rule imposes any particular challenge for me considering, like most enthusiastic cooks, I have such a diverse and overstocked cupboard. But I am almost certain I am out of yazu this week.  Actually, there is one recipe I cut out from the magazine, but only because it was a diety winter broccoli soup that looked appealing. I had to make my 4.99 investment pay off in some way.


By the way, the magazine didn’t include a single recipe for Ostrich eggs, which is sort of a tease if you ask me since they bothered to point out how far they stretch.


I am procrastinating, obviously. It is raining again and I don’t want to do homework again. But I must. I can’t keep avoiding my book, even though it has become torture to revise recently. (Revision still puts me to sleep.)  If I ate with better nutrition, perhaps I’d have more energy to face my endless homework pile. In fact, perhaps that means I should make myself a cup of coffee and sit on the couch and re-read this Nutrition magazine for another hour . . . in the interest of getting my homework done, or course. . . .




Pigs in trouble!

Today, I got a letter asking for my support for the pig protection campaign. This is not a husband’s rights group. No, this is real, live pigs they are talking about and they need my help.


I am supposed to check the box that says, “Yes! I want to make a commitment today to help FREE pigs from the crate,” and send in a donation of $20-100 dollars.


I opened the solicitation envelope and said to Mark, “Quick, Honey. Get out your checkbook. The pigs of the world need us.”


He thought I was kidding. So, I read the beginning of the letter to him. It said, “If we treated dogs and cats the way we treat pigs, there would be a public outcry- and the abusers would be thrown in jail.”

I looked at him accusingly. “You aren’t going to let this outrage go on, are you?”


“I do like pigs.” He said. “I like them best as bacon. Pork is good too.”


He did not seem to understand the seriousness of this issue. I read the quote on the top of the page, which said, “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you – give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal”. . . “Winston Churchill said that!” I pointed out.


Mark sighed as if he was wondering why he got stuck marrying the girl whose name was first on the “Sucker for animals” list. I do send money to Heifer Corp regularly (I have an earnest respect for this organization) and I have sent money to the ASPCA on occasion. But I haven’t done my part to protect pigs. Of that, I am sure.


I decided there were other needy organizations that probably deserved my support more than pigs, so I threw the envelope away, but I put the letter on the coffee table. Later, waiting for dinner to cook, I picked the letter up and read it through. My goodness, the plight of pigs is dire. I started feeling really badly for these pigs that are kept in gestation crates two feet wide. Their movement is severely restricted – they can’t even turn around. They are forced to sleep, eat, and live in these metal crates and produce litters of piglets. When the piglets are three weeks old, they are torn from the mother and the breeding cycle begins again. The pigs live in this misery for several years, and then unmercifully, they are slaughtered. Not much in the way of quality of life.


As you can imagine, this kind of information supports my growing appreciation for local farming. I think it is far kinder to bring up a happy, free-range animal in your backyard even if you plan to eat it for dinner, than go to the grocery store to buy pre-packaged meat.  You may feel less guilty eating bacon when it isn’t a nice pig you have looked into the eyes of – but you are supporting inhumane pig farming practices. Anyway, once again, I found myself thinking the vegetarian life might be for me. I don’t want to be responsible for the sad lot of Winston Churchill’s pig friends, nor do I want to feed my leftovers to Bessie in my backyard to fatten her up for Christmas dinner. If you can’t win, remove yourself from the struggle, I always say.


Honest to God, I ended up sending $20 to the Pig protection campaign because the pictures of “Sugar Bear” (a rescued pig now at a Farm Sanctuary) tugged at my heartstrings.  But, I’m drawing the line at pigs. I don’t want anyone sending me sob stories about the plight of hamsters.


I made arrangements to buy an angora rabbit next Monday from my spinning teacher, Martha. (I will probably get two, a male and a female, in fact). Every three months when they naturally shed, Neva and I will gently pull the hair from their bodies while we are watching TV (Animal Planet, perhaps?). We will collect this fur and keep it with other fibers so that when I spin, I can add angora to my wool to make super soft yarns. Neva is thrilled, because these rabbits will require lots of handling to keep them tame. That’s the kind of responsibility she can really get into. She will have to brush them regularly to keep the hair from matting too. She gets a pet to fuss with and I get raw angora for spinning. Talk about a win-win situation.


The only bad thing about it is, I was told that you mustn’t over-feed angora rabbits. In fact, the fur is better if you keep them undernourished. Are you kidding me? Like I’m not going to visit that cage with leftover salad and carrots and other goodies? I’m thinking I might be the only woman on the planet that has bulletproof angora. Ah well, I will try not to spoil them, but they have to promise not to look at me with those innocent, pleading eyes, like my dogs at the dinner table. 


Speaking of treats, Dahli Llama has finally learned to like horse cookies. Now, he hangs around after we feed him, hoping for an extra tidbit. He is getting more and more tame, thanks to his sweet tooth. Love that.


Since I am on the subject of animals today, I will tell you I also almost bought a rooster this afternoon. I was at the feed store and saw this huge rooster in a cage out front. I asked about him. The owner said he was a pet, but the previous owners have to get rid of him because he has such a huge, loud crow. He is like the Ethel Merman of roosters. My eyebrow lifted and I said, “He’s that loud, is he? And he’s been a pet, so he is tame?” Humm……… bingo.


I almost bought him on the spot, but he is awfully big, and I was told he might beat up my little chickens at home because they are still rather young. The woman working at the feed store told me I should ask the owner if she believes he will get along with my flock before I take him home. So I will go back tomorrow and hope I get the answer I want. Do I need to point out how badly I covet a huge, loud rooster? Ha. Finding one already grown, with a foghorn like crow, is like Christmas coming early.


Speaking of Christmas, Mark and I decided not to exchange gifts this year, because we are going to buy a flat screen TV for our bedroom. But that hasn’t stopped me from making a wish list for fun. At the top of the list is a Donkey cart. I think any girl with a donkey, deserves a cart, don’t you? How cute would that be, to rig up Donkey and take a spin around the land? This way, non-riders (older people, little kids, and/or big, fat sissies) can join the outdoor Hendry experience when they visit  Donkey can wear a little hat with a hole cut out for his ears and I can even decorate his cart for the holidays.


Mark logically pointed out that the donkey doesn’t know how to pull a cart, and he’d rather our donkey not have to live with ridicule when the other animals see him all gussied up like a queer-bo.

“He doesn’t know how to pull a cart  yet.” I said. “And a dapper donkey is a thing of beauty, hardly something to make fun of. I will only put him in the most stylish sorts of hats.” I promised . . . with my fingers crossed behind my back..


I honestly think I could figure out how to train a donkey to pull a cart. I’ll look it up on the internet. How hard can it be?  So, I am keeping my eyes posted for some kind of donkey cart. They have some pretty strange things in the Georgia trader – I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I would love to find an old beat up cart that needs refurbishing – something cheap. That would be a fantastically fun project.  I could paint it in whimsical ways, maybe even shellac it with old time pictures.   I mentioned to Mark that he could probably build one if we bought the wheels. He could, of course, but he didn’t say anything, so I guess that is a “no” – at least until he has a house and we have some furniture. Bummer.


Last but not least, I thought you might like to know I bought a ticket to the upcoming cow paddy bingo event. I know that makes you jealous. They sell tickets for 5.00. A huge area of downtown Blairsville (next-door town) is sectioned off with numbers and a well-fed cow is led around in a circular pattern. When he drops his “paddy”(the crowd goes wild), the person with that number has bingo and wins 500 bucks! I kid you not. This is our idea of Friday night entertainment here in Blue Ridge. It is a fundraiser, so I couldn’t resist. I’ve never been a cow paddy bingo winner before, and you know how I like adding accomplishments to my résumé. I’m thinking a 500 dollar windfall would buy a pretty cool donkey cart.


I have to get back to my homework. (Big bored sigh.) I must work my brain until I get tired enough to sleep without dreaming. Otherwise, I think a zoo will haunt me tonight. (Rabbits, Donkeys and Pigs, oh my)


Sleep tight.  








It’s been raining for two days straight. What’s a girl to do? Certainly not homework.


I made chicken soup, of course, with a new recipe for “Country Cornmeal Buttermilk Bread”. It contains all the ingredients I have on hand. I am a very lazy cook in that way – I like to see what I can make out of what I have in the fridge or pantry. It is like a personal challenge to make something extraordinary that doesn’t require my going to the store. I made a sugar free pumpkin pie (without crust) for my dieting husband too. Then, I added a pork roast and veggies with my secret low-fat recipe broiled potatoes. As that was all simmering, I cleaned my cabin so it would smell nice and look welcoming when everyone got home. I changed our sheets and set the table. I went to the post office to pick up the mail, knowing we would have another Net Flix movie in our box. Rain calls for a good movie, I think.    


Did all this stuff stop the rain? Never does. But it does make the world cozier when the family gathers at the end of the day. Comfort food, a clean house (with a fire going, of course) and the sound of rain pounding the roof is the perfect recipe for a nice evening. Food isn’t the only savory thing I know how to cook up, ya know.   


But, before I can enjoy any of this, I still have to go visit the land to feed the horses. I will be standing out there under the dripping sky (more like buckets of water than drips) grumbling because my donkey and llama eat so slowly. I will visit the chickens, at least feeling good that they have a nice dry nesting place. Then, I will visit the house and see what small progress might have occurred today, sighing because time is passing so slowly as I await this coveted move. I then will go back to the pasture to unhook the horses, which will now be finished and getting all pushy for an apple. I’ll give them each two, blinking through drenched bangs as I consider how my muddy sneakers are going to grubby up the car again.


At last, I will return home. By then, I will be cold, wet, and hungry. The heck with the family – I think I cleaned the house and made a nice dinner today for ME, knowing what the rain really means to my day.


Mark will come home and feel all snuggly and happy after a good meal and a movie. He will sit by the fire with his coffee and start thinking of those clean sheets upstairs. So, he will lean over intimately and open his mouth to say something suggestive, but just as he does I’ll sigh and say . . .  “See ya. I have homework.”


What’s a girl to do? It’s been raining for two days now . . . I had to make soup.

Kathy and the News

 I had a fascinating lesson with Kathy this week.


She has learned to read three letter words and many four-letter words, but still has difficulty with five letter words and up. The longer words involve rules that are harder for her to remember, such as when you add an E to the end of a word, it changes the vowel sound to a long sound. You also have all those pesky blends like Ch, Th, Br, etc . . .  that make an entirely new sound complicating the task.


Anyway, she is reading some easy children’s books now. I brought a newspaper to our lesson last Thursday see if we could use it in anyway, thinking its content would be less condescending than children’s books. As I lay it out on the table in front of her, it occurred to me that not only has she never read a newspaper, but it’s likely she has no idea what is inside. I asked her if she knew what was included in a newspaper, and she replied “News?” 


“Well, yes, but it isn’t quite as generic as that,” I explained. So, we went through the paper, page by page, as I pointed out what was inside. I explained how the Atlanta paper had national coverage, but our small local paper, published two days a week, was concerned with our community only. That happened to be the paper I was introducing to her Thursday.


We discussed the first page news, such as the fact that the mayor has been arrested three times for cockfights and people think it is time to give him more than a small fine. She had heard of this and nodded as if this was hardly news to her. There are yellow ribbons all around town, and another article explained that one of our local boys died in Iraq this week and his body was being shipped home for the funeral. On Sunday, they asked people to show their respects and line the streets when the hearse arrived. That was news to us both – we both wondered about the ribbons we’d seen along the road as we drove to the lesson. In that moment I think we both made plans to stand outside at 5:00 on Sunday.


Then we went to the second page and I showed her the section where all arrests are listed. Her eyebrows lifted and she said, “Does that mean my name was in the paper?”


I explained that, “Yes, she was probably listed.” This is why her son’s teacher and others knew what had happened even though she hoped no one would know. She was shocked. Embarrassed. She had no idea that kind of information was made public. She looked over the arrest names a bit sheepishly. I wondered if she was looking for people she might know, so I pointed out that she could check it once in a while to see how people she knows from her court appointed meetings are doing. If she read this section, she would know if friends or acquaintances slipped up and went off the wagon. She nodded sadly. 


We went on to the Editorial page and I described how people write letters to pronounce their opinion on things happening in the community. We read a few of the heated letters. She had no idea that there was a public forum for people to vent. She was delighted to learn of it.


I showed her the obituaries. She didn’t know there was a place where those that passed away were honored. She thought that was nice. I turned to the community events page and we reviewed how she could find out about all the nice things happening in the area that she might want to attend, such as the Christmas Bell Ringers concert or lectures or the 2.00 pancake breakfast the Shriners are holding this weekend. I also pointed out that civil services are listed, such as the empty stocking program where children from disadvantaged families can sign up and get Christmas presents. She said once a friend signed her son up for that, but she had no idea where to get information for those kinds of things normally. Now, she does.


We even reviewed the TV and movie listings, and the adds for the local grocery stores to compare prices and see what stores had a “buy one, get one free” deal this week, which revealed where she could shop for the best bargain. We saw what animals are up for adoption at the local animal rescue and reviewed the want ads. She was amazed to see so many listings for employment and the listing of things for sale. She remarked that, “those want ads sure make it easy for someone to find a job or something they want to buy second hand.”


I grinned and said, “Yes, Kathy. Life can be much easier when you just know how to maneuver through the system. Reading takes the work out of lots of things because information and communication is so important for understanding the world around you and all it offers.”


She looked at the paper pensively and said, “I can’t wait ’till I can read this.”


I nodded casually, but inside I was screaming a big, fat, yippee!


Since meeting Kathy, I can’t make a recipe, or read a poster about an upcoming concert that I don’t consider how non-readers miss out. And doing things like putting our Chicken Nesting boxes together this weekend – with directions that were furiously complicated -make me wonder how non-readers function at all.


Kathy followed along as we perused the paper, amazed and impressed with all the information packed inside. She said, “I thought there was just news in these things.”

I pointed out that news includes more than the obvious events, like a bank getting robbed. It includes community services, events and information too.


She took the paper with her and planned to read it on her own to see if she could make out what each section was later, when I wasn’t around to explain it for her. She can’t read it all yet, but she might be able to get an idea of the columns, even with her limited reading vocabulary. She was very interested in learning how to use the paper to her advantage. It made my day.


I was excited, because I know that Kathy isn’t going to learn to read and start picking up Hemmingway in her spare moments. The goal is to teach her to be self-sufficient and to improve the quality of her life, and learning her way around a newspaper brings us closer to that end.


What was best about it all was I had an opportunity, once again, to look at something I take for granted, in this case the newspaper, and see it through fresh eyes. I really never considered how valuable a paper is before. A newspaper, to me, is a disposable thing and I barely pay attention to what is inside, other than to browse through casually. I go to whatever section I think has information I need and ignore the rest.  But a newspaper is a marvel because it has SO MUCH information and it is published every single day (well, most papers) and it is inexpensive and easy to attain. What an amazing service for mankind.  


I think feeling gratitude for our life is one of the keys to feeling content. I may be the one volunteering to help Kathy read, but it is clear everyday that I am benefiting as much as she is from the effort.  Life has subtle, yet special, gifts to offer us, if we take the time to recognize them.


Anyway, I am feeling grateful today. For newspapers . . .  and people like Kathy.     

This is What Happened.

      When my dad was a teenager, he derived devilish pleasure from vexing his sisters. He would come to the dinner table tossing a football from hand to hand. Dumping the ball onto the couch and swinging his leg over the back of his chair, he’d grab his glass of milk, down the liquid in one huge gulp, then unceremoniously slam the glass down onto the table at the very same moment his butt hit the seat.

    He’d announce, “Hey, how come I didn’t get any milk? My glass is empty and everyone else’s is full.”

    His mother would scold him for his lack of table manners, while his sisters grumbled about his obnoxious humor, because it was their job to refill his milk glass.

     This game only really amused him. His sisters grew increasingly annoyed as he continued to satisfy his thirst for both milk and stirring up trouble with this daily ritual.

     One evening, the girls filled his milk glass with castor oil. Suppressing giggles, they watched him come in with his usual arrogant, playful manner. He swung his leg over the back of the chair and gulped the tainted liquid in one huge swallow. However, this time, when his butt hit the seat, his eyes bulged out and he gagged.

     “What’s wrong, David? Didn’t you didn’t get any milk? We better pour you some more,” his sisters said sweetly.

      It was not as if he could complain that his milk had been tampered with since he knew better than to admit aloud what everyone knew; that he’d started dinner before everyone sat down. He looked to his mother expecting her to be incensed by this unforgivable abuse, but all he received was a suppressed smile.

     “I doubt David wants more milk today, girls,” Mother said.

      From that day on, my dad approached the dinner table with contrite care. He’d cast a leery eye towards his milk glass, waiting for the meal to start before giving it a test sip. He learned his manners that day, and he hasn’t swung a leg over a dining room chair since. 


      I’ve been told this story dozens of times by my aunts and uncles, each repetition regaled with laughter as I’m treated to examples of just what my father’s face looked like when he downed that milk laden with castor oil.

     Each time, my father sheepishly grins and says, “They got me good that time.”

     For there were other times, additional stories, hundreds of them, that told of past events where the four children in his happy family (all born a year apart in the 1920’s) learned about life, love and each other. These adventures defined and enhanced the personality traits that made these children unique individuals within one happy family unit. 

      Thanks to family stories, I know all about how my uncle Howie, the eldest, chased his siblings into a bathroom one day and threatened to break their favorite toys if they didn’t open the door, so he could “get them” for some offense that no one seems to remember exactly.

     Howie’s ominous voice, called out threats, such as, “I now have Mary’s favorite doll, and if that door doesn’t open immediately I’m going to cut her hair right off!”

     Sobbing at the drama of it all, the children decided they had to reach mother, who would take care of their furious brother and give him his due, so they lowered my father, the youngest, down the laundry shoot. They assumed he could slide down into the basement, land in the soft laundry below and run outside to mother, who was hanging clothes in the afternoon sun,  but unfortunately, they didn’t take into account the taper of the laundry shoot. My father promptly got stuck. It took an hour for the children to decide what would be worse – leaving David wedged in the shoot forever, or opening the door where they would have to face the furious Howie, who was now shouting, “I have David’s marble collection now and I’m going to roll it down the stairs if you don’t open the door.” Mercy!

    The story always remains so focused on the emotional upheaval of the children and Howie’s threats that no one really remembers how the ordeal concluded. But knowing my grandmother’s firm hand on the children, I’m guessing, in the end they all got in trouble.   


     I grew up in a family of storytellers, people who were quick to share tales of humor or pathos in an effort to relay to the younger generation the history and colorful antics of the family. The stories had a rich and vibrant nature; even when told over and over again, for they were “real”, starring the people we loved and longed to know better.    

     Seeing my parents as children, making mistakes, learning hard lessons and experiencing the world with more innocence than I would ever attribute to them, (had I not heard it from their own mouths) made me suddenly understand who, what and why they are the kind of people they are today. And knowing them in this way rooted me in a deeper understanding of who I am as well.

    I don’t know if it was intentional, but all those evenings of storytelling gave us (the younger generation) far more than a glimpse of memory or a funny joke to laugh at. It gave us a sense of our heritage, at the same time teaching us family values and attitudes, because a shared sense of ethics was always subtly embedded in each and every amusing adventure that our elders recapped for us.

    There was a reason these tales found a place of honor in their mind, a place where things like the location of car keys can easily forgotten, but the look on my father’s face when he drank castor oil is somehow embedded like a fossil. These events stuck because the hero of the story learned something in the process, something valuable enough to deserve sharing.  My family’s habit of recanting their life lessons taught me not only the wisdom of mistakes, but that life doesn’t need to be taken too seriously, for the best stories (the ones I remember) were always dowsed in humor.    

     It wasn’t long until the younger generation of my family began collecting a wealth of events of their own and naturally, they began adding to the family stories.

    My sister, an airline flight attendant, tells of the day she came home from one of her first trips to find her front door unlocked. Fearing someone had broken in, she went to a neighbor and asked him to check her apartment for intruders.

     He went inside for a few moments, then came out and said, “It’s safe, no one is inside, but I’m afraid we have to call the police. Your apartment has been ransacked! It’s horrible!” 

  My sister pushed the door open and rushed in to find her clothes dumped on the floor everywhere, food tossed about and furniture askew. Her house keys, however, were neatly hanging on a peg, proving she had forgotten to lock the door (again.) What she was too mortified to admit was, the “ransacked” apartment looked exactly how she had left it. (She was the notorious slob of the family). Mortified, she convinced her neighbor that she really didn’t need to call the police, since nothing appeared to be missing.

     She straightened the mess, and avoided her neighbor for months afterwards, hoping she wouldn’t ever have to admit the person who “ransacked” the place was her.  From that day on, my sister professes, she never left her apartment a mess again. In fact, she’s became a very organized, tidy person as result.


     Through this and many other stories, I’ve learned about my sister as someone evolved from the childhood version I experienced firsthand as the younger sibling.  She’s offered me a mental picture of her life as an adult, the people she’s encountered, the places she’s visited, and the adventures she’s stumbled into, so even though her life is far removed from mine, I know her as the adult she is today.

   The tradition of swapping colorful renditions of life is simply natural for children exposed to storytelling from youth. My husband and I both share our life stories with our children. They listen, chuckling or awed, unaware that their moral fiber is being woven through a tapestry of tales told by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They are assimilating our history, our heritage, our beliefs and our fondest memories each time they enjoy seemingly purposeless tales that bring a smile to everyone’s face.

      Of course, storytelling is not unique to this family alone. It has been a method of teaching heritage and community for centuries. On the surface, it’s plain good entertainment, but at the same time, storytelling offers up the opportunity to orally pass on tradition, ethics, and wisdom in a way that sustains a listener’s interest and leaves room for interpretation. No fire and brimstone speech can have the profound impact of witnessing a tale passing by with a moral shadow dragging in it’s wake. A story unfolds and people listen, unguarded. Open. We embrace the message because the story is not about us, exactly. And yet, in time, we find most stories are about us, for great stories pivot on undeniable consistencies of human nature.

     Everyone loves stories, as is witnessed by the popularity of books, movies, and TV. You would think the art of oral storytelling would get lost in this jumble of high tech alternatives, yet the simple act of telling a story is embraced by people everyday. Stories are swapped at parties, work and in people’s living rooms. But nowhere is the love of storytelling more evident than at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, where each October thousands of people gather for three days to hear international storytellers perform.  

      Since we enjoy telling stories ourselves, my husband and I thought it would be fun to see how “professionals” share a tale, so we made arrangements to attend. After a five-hour drive through scenic mountains, we arrived at the small Tennessee town and waited in line at the <ST1Storytelling Center</ST1lace for tickets. Ninety-five dollars for a one-day pass seemed high to us for listening to a few people talk, yet no one seemed to raise an eyebrow as they paid for the opportunity to sit in open-air tents to hear people weave tales about their lives, folklore or fairytales. Couples juggled seat cushions, thermoses and blankets as they poured over a map and schedule, planning which of the seven huge tents, erected around the closed-off historic city limits, to visit first. Over twenty-five artists were featured, though it is only possible to see approximately five in a day. Since we had no clue of what to expect and we were unfamiliar with the popular storytellers of the day, we chose the closest tent. After this, we decided to meander each hour to another tent,  thinking it would be fun to listen to whatever subject matter or storytelling style we stumbled upon. We could always return another year to take in those performers we would miss this time.

     The first artist we heard was a Lakota named Kevin Locke (his Indian name is Tokeya Inajin, meaning “The First to Arise”). He told stories of Indian folklore combined with modern day jokes. Clad in ceremonial dress, he played the Northern Plains flute and performed the complicated hoop dance of his tribe as well, making him seem much more a performance artist than a simple storyteller. We found ourselves laughing, sighing and gasping in amazement throughout the hour as we watched this man share history, tradition and a dash of Indian philosophy in native stories enhanced by music.

     Next, we listened to Sheila Kay Adams who shared stories from the small mountain community in Western Northern Carolina where she was born. A ballad singer, she also sang us a song. We laughed at the antics of her unassuming country neighbors who boiled life down to basic principals and reacted with monotone acceptance to whatever upheaval country life tossed their way.

      The next speaker we watched was Queen Nur, a woman who told stories of the celebration of life through the African oral tradition, her voice peppered with blues songs and ditties. Her expressions and attitude were thick with black personality, her program focused on stories of hope and desperation from Katrina as she spoke of the courage and heroic actions that took place during the catastrophe within the fellowship of black Americans.

     We listened. Entertained. Music was gracefully incorporated into each telling experience and the artists employed dramatic interpretation to make the stories vivid and powerful. But for all that we were having fun, we did not feel particularly touched by these tales, for the stories all seemed hinged on cultural truths that we could not relate to. They were fascinating stories. Educational. Fun. But somehow, we felt excluded, as if the fact that we were not from the storyteller’s circle of experience reminded us that we were nothing more than an audience. It felt almost as if we were intrusive of the intimacy the storytellers worked to create, as if these were stories meant for other’s ears, for people of their similar background and or cultural heritage. Suddenly, it felt obvious why we had to pay to sit with the crowd to hear these stories. This was a calculated performance rather than a chance for friends to share a poignant truth , which is what storytelling had always been to me.

   I began wondering about the connection of intimacy and storytelling. Perhaps the greatest value in oral storytelling is embodied in the common threads, the relationship, between the teller and the listener.

      While wondering about just this, we wandered to the next tent to see Donald Davis, perhaps the most popular voice at the festival with dozens of CD recordings and impressive awards to his credit.

      Davis appeared to be a simple man in his sixties with a white beard and receding hairline. He wore jeans and he addressed the crowd with such down to earth ease it felt as if we were all squished into his living room to casually talk, rather than jostling for seats in a circus-sized tent. He told a story about his first job as a sixteen-year-old working at the neighborhood drive-in. As he spoke of his demanding boss Daphne (with “daffy knees”) his fellow teenage employees and the life lessons he learned working in a world where the dark hardly camouflages what really goes on, we became riveted. We began chuckling . . . then, laughing out loud. Soon we could barely contain our guffaws. Because his story was not only bizarre and funny, but we’d been there. He spoke of a time and place every middle aged American in the tent knew and loved. We remembered firsthand the flimsy popcorn boxes, throwing trash out our window after the movie was done, and wrestling with the speaker hanging on our window. We knew all about the “unmentionable things” he hinted that were happening in the rear of the parking lot. And who among us hadn’t hidden a friend in the trunk of the car at least once?   

     Davis’s story was his to tell. It was about his particular experience. But it was our story too, for his tale brought us to a time and place we understood and had fond memories of. And he told it with such humor and honesty that we found ourselves laughing at his silly story . . . but also at our own.

      I left this hour thinking that storytelling had many purposes. I savored those stories that taught me about different cultures and life views, but I was most moved by the stories that helped me understand my own life experiences better.

        Later, my husband and I sat under the stars on a blanket by a gentle creek to hear Halloween ghost tales. They were not particularly scary or thought provoking, but they were reminiscent of stories shared at the slumber parties of my past, where the point of the story was just to create goose bumps on everyone’s arms. Snuggling in the cold with hundreds of others, our eyes pinned to the spooky gazebo where the tellers took stage, had a particular appeal all its own. The sheer simplicity of the event created the intimacy I seemed to need to accept that these stories were meant for me. But in the end, the stories were not nearly as memorable as sitting close with someone I cared about. 

        Storytelling can accomplish many things, from sharing history, philosophy and wisdom, to just reminding others that they are not alone in their experiences. They serve as entertainment, education and can be a vehicle for establishing cultural ritual. But I think what is most poignant about storytelling is that it involves a teller and a listener, joining together to preserve a moment in time.

     It is wonderful to read a novel or sit in a theater to see a film, for these are stories that take us outside of ourselves to adventures we might never be exposed of on our own. But nothing can compare to the emotional satisfaction of sitting and looking into another person’s eyes and having them share something deeply personal with you, giving you a chance to reflect upon your own life.

    What can be more poignant than hearing from a person’ own lips. “This is what it happened . . . “   
When it comes directly from another’s mouth, without pretense or self-serving purpose, you believe it.  
And you learn because of it. 

Cowboy Church

It’s no secret. You’d have to hog tie me to get me into a church. But, I’m thinking I found a church that might just do exactly that to save my soul. Cause this church is “Rounding up souls for jesus!” Yessiree.

While driving to Helen one day, Mark and I spoted this church. At first I thought it was a joke. But it is a real bonafide church. I’m telling you, this is a service I wish I could attend (only it is 1 1/2 hours away, too bad). I especially like the “howdy” on the front door and the nice cowboy decorations. One of these days, should I ever feel inclined to repent for my sins, I’m thinking I’ll join the Cowboy church. I imagine the preacher wears a cowboy hat and the choir plays the mouth harp and the washboard. Whoever knew church could sound so fun?

I couldn’t help it. I had to take a picture for you. We live here. Ha. Scarier still, is that we fit right in, in our own weird way. Ya gotta admit, when you live in a place where even the sight of church makes you grin, well, it must be good for the soul.