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Monthly Archives: October 2006

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. 

A pictorial blog

As quickly as I take pictures and get around to having Mark download them (I have to learn how to do this myself one of these days) , the house evolves, making it seem as if I am posting “old”  news. Ah well, it will be new to you. Actually, we have progressed beyond this construction point this week. They are now laying the floors and finishing details that make it all start to look like a fantastic home, rather than a rustic cabin filled with construction. I take pictures with the construction team in view because I like to remember them, though it might seem odd to you. Hey, it is all about preserving the process – remembering the stages that linked to create our new home – NOT about my wanting to capture photos of the cute young, muscle bound builders (ahem) .

But first, I thought I’d start with my chicken house. Admit it, you are dying to see the foolish cage I spent way too much on. This is the scaled down version of my origional plan, but still it cost me over 3 grand. Taught me a valuable lesson – leave the building to the men . . . when they have time to pay attention to what you are talking about. Anyway here is my chicken coup, complete with six scrawny chickens. May be folly, but it is still mine to enjoy.

A side-front view: Note that the chicken coup (the actuall laying boxes) is still in the delivery box leaning against the wall-  not put together or hung. Hummm…… I have to conspire a way to get Mark to help me with this still.
It isn’t easy when I have more egg on my face than in the coup.
This is the coup from the back. You can see that I have a bunny cage on the side too – but it is still in disrepar since the bear tore the hinges off. It also has some holes torn in the heavy duty wire that you can’t see. The nesting box is full of teeth marks and paw gashes and torn open in the front too. It is a sad reminder of the carnage. Boo hoo.

I’ve also include a close up of my door decoration. I went on-line and ordered this metal chicken thing-a-ma-bob to mount on the entrance. Mark saw it and said, “You are the biggest queer-bo I have ever met.” (That is his idea of romantic.) I didn’t have the gall to tell him I’ve also been searching for an inexpensive rooster weather vain for the roof. How cute would that be? Mark thinks (now that he is the big shot house designer) that he is the only one with good ideas. Well, I think my smartly decorated chicken coup will prove he isn’t the only one with an eye for classy design!

Now, for the house. As I’ve mentioned, we have 4 fireplaces, so I thought I’d share them with you. They don’t look nearly as good as they will when the construction is removed and they have things on the mantle etc.. And we have track lights to aim at the primary fireplace to bring out the chrysals in the geods and stuff, to make it more a focal point. But this gives you the general idea.

The first is the fireplace in the great room. You can’t see the geods in the picture, but they are all over – to the ceiling. The second fireplace is on the porch. We have nifty holes in the stone to stack wood into. Mark made this mantle from a tree on the lot. Cedar. He carved out the burls and finished it. Cool, hun? He also did the logs above. This floor is being laid today with slate. It is a striking room, more so if you can see the view because it looks down on our creek. I suspect I’ll waste many afternoons reading out here when I should be doing something productive. What can I say, my ambitions have shifted. Now I sway towards “shiftless”.

The bedroom fireplace is actually a wood stove. It has a nice leaf pattern so when it is turned on the glow of leaves fills the room. This one is gas with a remote and a timer, because we are lazy and want to be able to fall asleap with it on with no effort on our part. The next one is in the downstairs family room. This is the “kid’s fireplace. Gas also, because they can’t resist throwing things into the fire and messing with it and we now have a house that can be burnt to the ground with a single match and a good wind. We designed a place for the TV on top, thus explaining the hole in the stone. 

This is what my kitchen looks like from the living room. Well, you can’t see much except that it curves around into the room a bit. There are no doors on the cabinets yet. They have since built a wood slab bar to sit at by the sink. I love this kitchen, but you have to wait for pictures, ’cause not enough is done to show it off yet. Next is a picture of my super, collosal, fantastic, wonderful, adaquate food pantry. Think it is long enough? I plan to fill the dang thing with jars of blueberry jam and pickles once I learn how to make pickles. Yep, a pantry like this is aching for homemade stuff, and I won’t let it down. It is the principal of the thing. Across from it is the washer and dryer and cabinets, etc. I’m loath to admit I will be spending plenty of time in this portion of the room. At least it will be neat.

This is our bathroom – well, the guest bathroom that you would use if you stopped by to visit. I haven’t taken a pix of our master bathroom, which is the best room in the house. Next time. I think this bathroom is the kind Fred Flinstone would have had with the stone and all. Ha. Next to that is a picture of our driveway, what I see each time I drive away from the house. Pretty, hun? It isn’t finished yet either, obviously.

Now for the serious stuff. Here are our stairs. Mark and the building boys made these out of huge trees on the lot. They weigh a billion pounds, more or less. This is an origional design, because usually these are done in a different way, though don’t ask me to explain it. The rails are made of smaller trees, and what you don’t see yet is the interesting laurel posts that will be between the rails (Mark is cutting the laurel today at the national forest with a permit from the forestry service).  This stairway leads to his loft office, that opens to a small deck over the front entrance of the house. The stairs also lead down to the lower level of the house where the family room, kids bedrooms, pool table room, guest room and DANCE STUDIO/WORKOUT ROOM are.  The stairs are kind of a focal point in the house, seen from every room since it is an open plan. They are prettier than the picture shows, and when they are all oiled and finished, they will be amazing. (My humble opinion)

I’m running out of pictures here, so I will end with a pix of the path Mark cut into the woods so I can walk (or ride) to my chicken coup. And a picture of our new pasture area that we fenced in for the horse. I think I am missing my horses, because I have had two dreams this week about them. In both, they have run away and I am searching for them frantically and only find the one who is still on our land. Clearly, my psychee is unsettled with this thing we did, loaning them out to the neighbor. Guess you only know if you try. Anyway, I do miss them and I can’t wait for the month to be over so they come home. It is like sending your kid to camp. You are dying to get rid of them, but when they are gone you get all mooney and sad and you want them ho
me where they belong. 

Now, I have homework to do. I promised I wouldn’t blog until my paper was written, and look at me, acting as if posting pictures doesn’t count. Amazing how I can justify something I want . . . . sinful, actually.     

It’s time for dinner, deer . . um, I mean “dear”.

Last night, I made a savory stew, but I also made some homemade, oat bread with pecans –because I knew that would draw the attention away from the main course. I felt this was wise because I was feeding my innocent, unsuspecting family deer meat for dinner. I was careful not to share this truth until they were halfway through their “beef” stew. I wanted to give them the opportunity to consider the taste and texture, after they fully acknowledged that were enjoying the meal. I didn’t want them pushing their plate away and saying, “Pass the salad” at the thought of being a Bambi carnivore – (which Denver did indeed do the moment she found out what it was she was consuming.)  


Hunting season opened two weeks early this year because the deer population is so large. They claim this is important to keeping wildlife in balance (and considering how many deer I’ve seen these past few weeks, I can believe it). Therefore, we’ve been hearing shots in the evening around the cabin.

Denver said, “What is that sound I keep hearing?”

We told her it was deer season.

Incensed, she said, “They can’t shoot them anywhere, like where we live can they? That seems awfully dangerous.”     

I explained that they can shoot them anywhere the deer lived, so they probably don’t shoot off their guns in downtown Blue Ridge or suburban areas where most people dwell. Since we live in the forest, they actually can shoot them where we live. We need to keep that in mind when we take walks this time of year.

Sad, but true.


Of course, I pointed out that no one can shoot deer where we are going to live, because we have claimed our 50 acres as a “Wildlife Preserve”. This decision was made to take advantage of a great tax break, while also living true to our (my) moral ethics. (I should point out here that Mark is more and more open to the concept of hunting now that he has made friends with hunters. I don’t imagine he’ll ever go hunting himself, but he thinks it is fine for others if they eat what they kill. And he happens to adore deer meet.)   Making our land a wildlife preserve means no one can shoot anything on the property for the next ten years. Even if we sell the land, the new owners must accept in advance that it is a wildlife preserve until 2016. Do I need to tell you how much pleasure this gives me? Heck with the tax break – I just love that our land is a safe haven (with lots of goodies set about from the mistress of the preserve) for animals.


Anyway, back to my deer meat dinner. At the end of the season, last year, our builder and friend, Ronnie, gave us several packets of deer tenderloins to try. Venison happens to be low in fat and very healthy for you. Mark has been pushing me to try it. I tucked those neat little butcher paper wrapped packages in the back of my freezer, where I planned to forget them. But as hunting season opened up again, it occurred to me that Ronnie was bound to ask us how we enjoyed his gift last year, and if we wanted anymore from this year’s bounty. I think it would be rude to admit we never even tried his meat– and I certainly don’t want to lie about it.


The fact is (as I explained to Denver) if a deer is shot and consumed, it is really a natural thing. They live a far better (free) life than the cattle we purchase from slaughterhouses, and the circle of life demands that some creatures die to allow others to live. But if we just throw out that meat, then the deer died in vein. What a crime to have the creature killed and then tossed in the garbage. In a way, we are paying respect to the deer by eating it, since it has already been killed.


This was somehow accepted by my children, and we all tentatively sampled the meat, agreeing that it was tender and had great flavor. It’s diety too. I enjoy learning to cook new things, and I have a ton of venison recipes, but honestly, this wasn’t as much fun as thought it would be. Eating a graceful, peaceful animal, such as a deer, doesn’t sit as well with me as it should, considering I accept the logic of the hunting issue. In fact, I am leaning more and more towards returning to my former vegetarian state. I don’t eat red meat much anymore, unless it is a bit of hamburger in a meatloaf, and even then, I use mostly ground chicken or pork. I think of steak and see the soft, gentle eyes of the cows I pause to watch when I run. Can’t help it – makes the bite stick in my throat. I don’t think I’ll ever feel this way about chicken. I have chickens. I like them. But chickens are dumb. I can eat them. Not MY chickens, of course, but other, nameless, faceless chickens are OK for the skillet. It’s a double standard, I admit, but that is how I feel.


Anyway, my family survived the deer meat test – with Mark almost too enthusiastic for my comfort. But to be honest, the best thing about it was my discovery of the new bread recipe.


We must all be open to new things. That doesn’t mean you have to like everything you try, but you should at least experience things before passing judgment.  Gee, does this mean I can pass judgment on the hunters and nag them at every possible opportunity now? Guess that would be a stretch. I’ll just have to let our “wildlife preserve” act satisfy my desire to serve and protect the deer – be happy in the knowledge that they can live out their graceful, gentle lives in peace . . .  with the Hendry’s blessing.   


My overdue blog

     Last night our friend, Jessica Smith, called and said; “I had to call. I feel out of touch. Ginny isn’t blogging!”

Wow. Someone noticed.


    I really shouldn’t blog today either – I have a HUGE homework packet due – but I will write a quick overview of what is going on just so Jessica ,and anyone else out there, knows I am alive and kicking. I will embellish upon things tomorrow after I send my work to my professor and can breathe.


    To say I’ve been busy is an understatement. First, my parents came to visit for five days. As Simon, Kent’s drum teacher, said when I sheepishly got around to showing up at the music store to explain why we missed our lesson and even forgot to call, “Your parents came to visit? Say no more. I get it.”


    It was a wonderful visit, however, albeit a bit sad for me. I was suddenly so aware of how fleeting my time with my folks will be, and small signs (evidence) of their age or slowing down seemed glaringly obvious. Clearly, this was fallout from Mark’s Dad’s passing. I found myself feeling grateful for my parents, for all the fun we’ve had together over the years. And I kept looking at them as people; two amazing individuals who set an example of living well that I only pray I can follow. They have the perfect marriage – a relationship filled with romance and consideration, humor and sincere camaraderie that sets the benchmark pretty high for us mortals. They are committed to each other, to keeping healthy for each other (they look great, eat carefully, workout daily – it’s amazing.) They are active, in touch with the world, and have this wonderful mature wisdom that colors how they view life. I admire them so much. We had a cookout on the land, and my Dad took a spin on the four-wheeler. He rode one of our horses. He went fishing on our creek and tried to walk up our killer mountain (but luckily, we caught him halfway up and drove him the rest of the way). My mother spent the week trying to take work off my hands, always wrestling with me in the kitchen over who would set the table or do the dishes. Made me laugh. I kept saying, “Be a guest for once, will ya? I’m forty-seven. I can make a dinner.”  Her energy puts me to shame.

    We celebrated my dad’s 79th birthday while he was here, and toasting another year of life was fun, yet I feel a bit like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is only a matter of time until one of my parents succumbs to age. I can’t imagine one without the other, and I can’t imagine life without them. Anyway, for all that we laughed and enjoyed a nice visit, inwardly, I wrestled with all kinds of poignant melancholy. I know that doesn’t make sense, because it is silly to worry about things that have not yet happened. But the fact that life does come to an end is suddenly very real to me, and it made me so aware of all I have to be grateful for. I was very lucky in regards to the family heaven assigned me.


     When they left, I was inundated with “catch-up work”, both in the area of MFA homework and housework. By housework, I’m not talking about cleaning the cabin or doing laundry, though I had my share of that too. I’m talking about being out at the land to answer questions and do my part of the tasks of developing our new house. We are in the last stretch now, and there is so much to do. But I must say, the house is spectacular. Mark and I often stand there after everyone goes home, our jaws dropped, and we say, “Do you believe we are actually going to live here?” It surpasses any dream we ever dared have.


    Our house, thanks to Mark’s artistic genius (and his shopping talent) is the most original and remarkable house the worker’s have ever seen – and these guys work on multi-million dollar homes on the lake all the time. It is the talk of the town, and everyone, from the electrician, the stone layer, the plumber, the grader – you name it – comes in and remarks that it is the most original house they’ve ever worked on. They shake their heads and say, “Ya’all really outdone yourselves this time.” Then, they return later with their wives to show it off. Now, strangers keep showing up – builders or workers from other jobs wanting to see this house everyone is talking about. It is quite a nice thing for Mark.     

     He keeps saying, “But what does that mean for me? I wonder what it will lead to.”

     He admitted to me that  somewhere along the line, this house became more than a house for his family to live in. It became the vehicle where he poured a year’s worth of artistic energies, a chance to see what he was capable of. He has always wanted to build – designing things like our school in Lakewood ranch, or remodeling our home in Sarasota or the cabin, only wet his appetite to build. He wanted to start from scratch and do whatever the spirit moved him to do, and this house gave him the opportunity for exactly that.

    Our builder has talked to Mark about a future partnership. He said, “All we have to do is recreate this house on the lake and we could make half a million dollars, easy.” But later, Mark said to me, “What they don’t realize is, I don’t have to recreate this house. I can do it again with all new ideas. I could design five more houses and they would all look totally different and be just as artistic and remarkable. My mind is bursting with ideas. I think I could be really good at this.” Duh.


    I just smile when he talks like that, because I know that great things happen when you let instinct take over and you trust your inner voice. He wants to build. All I have to do is encourage him – TRUST his talent – and I know he will be successful. Behind every great person is a person who believes they are great. I believe the thing that stops us from being all we can be is not ourselves, but the subtle messages our loved ones send. I plan to send messages that will propel him forward.  This kind of work requires a big investment, and that means risk. But the way I see it, everything great we have ever accomplished in life, and the reason we are where we are today was simply because we took risks. No reason to stop now.  


     Anyway, I will post some pictures soon. The fireplaces are all stoned and remarkable. The workout room, a perfect little dance studio all our own, was finished yesterday. I can’t wait for that!  My body craves movement, though I might keep my eyes closed or away from the mirror for a month or two, considering how out of shape I must be in the dance department.

    My kitchen is in and it has a place for everything. Especially me, ’cause I’m gonna plant myself there and cook till I can’t stand any longer. If you knew how much I miss access to a fully stocked kitchen . . .  I have a huge pantry. The workers say, “You can’t possibly fill that with food.”  Ha. They haven’t met the real me yet. I even have an outdoor fridge to hold leftovers and a separate freezer I plan to stock with things yet to be made, or already made and waiting for those busy days when writing takes precedent over cooking.  I could go on and on about this house, but I’ll wait and devote a special blog or two to it. I’m supposed to be making this short . . . Let me just say we are awfully excited about this house and finally closing this transitional phase of our lives – getting settled so we can decide what direction to take our life next..


   What else has been going on? Oh yea. Two of our horses went on a working vacation. We live near a popular trail riding company called Blanche Manner stables. Peggy, the owner, has become a friend. Neva has taken some lessons at her ranch. When we couldn’t find a decent blacksmith to shoe our horses, Peggy turned us on to her Ferrier, Chris. Anyway, Chris was at our place shoeing our horses and we were talking about the house and how busy we were and he asked if we were riding much. I told him it was tough finding the time to even care for the horses, much less ride, this month. I was also talking to him about my plans to separate our mare, Dixie, from her baby, April, asking him advice about weaning. He said Peggy has her biggest month in October because tourist come to the mountains to see the leaves change and to enjoy the fall festivals (Of course, we know this – that is what we did for fifteen years before moving here.) They always want to go on a trail ride to enjoy the scenery, so Peggy’s business booms in fall. He said she could sure use the loan of a horse or two if we were interested in letting them go for a short while. She would take care of the shoeing and feeding for the term, and the horses would get ridden everyday, which is very good for them. It would be especially good for separating the mom and baby, because out of sight, the transition would go smoother. (We were told that even the whinny of the colt can cause the mother to lactate and make the process take much longer.) On top of this, we really wanted to keep the alternate pasture empty so we could lime it and prepare the soil for spring. (This is ranch talk, ya’all)  So, I talked to Mark about it, and he called Peggy and offered her a loan of some horses. She took Dixie, since removing her was our first priority and she is the gentlest of our horses, and then asked if she could borrow Peppy, as well. Peppy is a perfectly trained horse, neck reined or doubled reined, and he obeys any command well. But he has developed a few bad habits of late because I spoil him too much. So, we thought, why not?


    Peggy came and took them away last week. They are only down the street at her ranch. We thought April would be distraught without her mother, but in the end, she acts as if she doesn’t even notice the others are gone. She is most connected to Donkey anyway – probably because they are both young and like to romp in the field together. They were both so much smaller than the horses, only now April is passing him up with her long legs. It was Mark’s horse, Goliath, that seems disturbed by his missing friends. He keeps whinnying and trotting around, looking for them. Agitated. We always make jokes about this horse, because he is so like his owner, Mark. He is this big, harmless lug that is obsessed with eating. His behavior is like Mark now too. These boys ignore their family when they are around, but if their loved ones are removed, suddenly they get all lonely and pitiful. They eat more too. Ha. Can’t hurt to remind them appreciate what they have.


     Our horse family will be reunited just as we are moving in. I miss them, but I feel good knowing two of my darlings are getting a crash course on good behavior, and a little hard work will be good for Dixie getting her figure back. I just hope that the dingbat amateurs riding them do not give mixed signals or kick their soft bellies – stuff which will make their stay away from home uncomfortable. Well – maybe that will make them appreciate me more when they come home. In the meantime, I am spoiling April, Goliath and the Donkey horribly. I bought a huge sack of apples for my equestrian friends at the orchard the week before we made this decision (apples are so cheap this time of year) and now I have to disperse them ultra generously so they won’t go bad.  I’ll get back two lean, fit horses and have some big, slackers at home – perfect evidence that the reason my horses are spoiled isn’t them, but me and my treats. Eesh.    

       The chickens are extremely happy in their new digs. But they look a bit skimpy – only six birds in that big facility. I keep eyeballing some new chicks, but I promised Mark I’d wait for spring. Sigh. Took him two hours to pressure wash the porch once I got those baby bird cages out. I think he would have a fit if he came home and saw some little fluffy tuffs of chicken peeping out there again.

    But I get to mess around with my starter chickens now, even if they are sparse. No signs of eggs yet. I plan to throw a big celebration the day I see my first homegrown egg. Can’t wait. I think it might be awhile. They are still babies, under six months old, and my rooster is a squirt. Tiny and not very loud. I still need me a big, fat, colorful LOUD rooster that struts and flaps and acts like he rules the roost, even though it is all for show, cause the girl chickens are doing all the real work. (I’ll name that one Mark junior). Yep. I will put a fat rooster on my Christmas list.


    We went to the national storytelling festival in Jonesborough Tennessee this weekend. It was great fun. But I won’t write about that now. I have to write a paper on that for my non-fiction professor by tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll just post it later. It was a very different experience, so I want to share it with you. I so love stumbling upon something new.

   Kathy is doing well, and she won an award for “most determined” student in her AA group. She is a model of inspiration – a true reminder that our lives are what we make them. Anyway, I’m quite proud of our friendship and the work we are doing together. She is reading some preschool books now. It is a delight to see her progressing.  She is getting teeth too. But I’ll talk about that later as well. 

    OK. Enough rambling. I have to get to my homework packet. I’ve lost four pounds this week. Cool. Think I’ll keep at it and see how svelte I can get throughout October – preparation for the upcoming holiday lack of control gluttony. Kind of like buying canned goods and water when you know a tornado is coming. Early preparation makes the damage less tragic.


   I missed being here. Nice to be back.