RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2006

Keep moving . . .

Good Morning,

My husband says it is odd when I start a blog in this intimate fashion, as if I am talking to someone. He says, “Who are you talking to?”


I shrug and say, “It’s just a different writing technique. It feels good to approach entries different ways.” Which is true. But it is also true I like to think a close friend is on the other end, instead of a critical audience, so sometimes I rather write in close, first person narrative.

I think Mark likes my blogs more formal because they make more sense to him that way- like the purpose of my being here is to practice a writing exercise, rather than something that feels exploitive of the family as I share funny exchanges of our day. (It is just that real life is such a great spring board for thought, don’t you agree? Most family stuff is universally true.) But I have enough formal writing in my world that I don’t necessarily want a well-constructed  blog. It’s more enjoyable to write as if I’m talking to someone I share a bond with.  I guess I am like a kid with an imaginary friend, only my buddy isn’t playing beside me, invisible. My friend lives in the circuits of my computer, kinda like in the movie Startrek, when the captain started talking to the space ship and it talked back in a sexy woman’s voice. (Of course, if I imagine my blog talking back, it sure as heck won’t be in a sexy woman’s voice. Something more along the lines of Mandy Patinkin’s deep, intimate tone would be more my style.) This confession makes me sound lonely. Ha. Maybe I am.

I am off the point.

Today, we will begin the long, laborious process of moving into our new home.
We are starting by moving things we don’t need for daily survival from the cabin to the new house, then we will take the things like beds and such, that will signify the official change over (we will start sleeping at the house) – then a moving van will take our furniture from the storage unit (where all our true possessions have rested for 1 1/2 years) This will probably occur next Tuesday or Wednesday. We have lived a long time without lots of “stuff”. I am guessing half of what we packed away will be discarded when we unpack it, because we now have a different perception of what is important in life. Downsizing is all the rage, and while our house is upsized, our neediness for “things” has definitely been downsized.


Moving is exciting, in an exhausting sort of way. The house is remarkable – I need to post more pictures so you get the entire scope. People keep reacting to it is such funny ways. The other day, the electrician asked if he could walk through with a video camera because he said, “There will never be another house like this one.” Mark and the builder exchanged a funny smile, because they are already working on plans to build another one like it – or probably better, if Mark has his say. But as far as I’m concerned, they can build a dozen houses like this one, and none will be as special. Copies never have the heart and soul of the original. There are details that are distinctly “us” in this house, things you would never do in a generic house made for resale. I love those details the best. I always hated that concept of doing things to your home for “resale”- as if all the decisions you were making were for the next guy. I personally, rather paint the place red if red happens to put me at peace. Beige is for sissies. 


(Holly Molly – another bird just hit the window of this cabin. See what I mean? That is so freaky!)


Anyway, someone also made an offer for our house and land that represents almost twice what it cost to build. Whether or not that offer would take serious shape is one matter. But the theoretical concept was out there now.

Mark’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “What do you think about that?”

I said, “The house would come furnished, of course. WITH A WIFE AND KIDS! Cause if you think I’dl live in a temporary situation for another 1 ½ years while you build another house for us (and probably have a heart attack in the process) you are insane.”

“Um… yea, I agree totally.” He said.

Like he had a choice?  The thing is, you could spend a lifetime building things and selling them to people who do not have a vision to create a remarkable environment themselves and probably make a fine living of it. But that is like devoting your life to enhancing everyone else’s quality of life.  I think it’s important to live in the here and now, for you, and no profit margin is worth putting  that off. Tomorrow never comes, ya know, so you can’t afford to put “living” on hold for sometime in the future.  

I do love our new house, but the fact is, it is only a house. I keep reminding my husband that a house can be a prison if you are not careful to keep life in perspective. He sighs and promises me life will slow down and we can focus on non-material things as soon as we move. I’ll hold him to that.


Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled and breathless over the place we will be living. The house is cool, but even better is the setting with all the glory of nature outside the door. I have everything I’ve ever wanted in a life-environment now – a beautiful office for writing, an amazing kitchen (complete with some pretty cool ovens that are both convection and regular, along with other perks to delight a cooking enthusiast), a private dance studio as big as our former children’s dance center just for us –not for work, but for dancing for the joy of it (ah, bliss), nature trails for walking or running right outside the door, horses and llamas as part of the landscape design,…. a fire pit, a workshop for my husband’s junk, and even a big hot tub AND a Jacuzzi tub to soothe my old bones when I dare try using any of the afore mentioned perks.


For all that I might say a house is just a house; I have to admit this house is a slice of heaven and it is worth the sacrifice of alternate experiences, and the long wait, to get it.  I wasn’t as enthusiastic as my husband to build something so grand and so permanent – but I am glad now that he did. Moreover, it has given me further proof (not that I needed it) that my husband has some amazing gifts that only need a bit of encouragement and support to flourish. It is rewarding to see your spouse happy, doing what he loves.  Above all else, I think that is the best thing about the change in our life. Happiness isn’t a house, but it sure is being able to build one if that is your heart’s fondest desire.

This weekend, some friends from Sarasota came to visit. They are shopping for some land up here. They couldn’t pick a more awkward time to visit, because I can’t entertain while we are between homes in the midst of moving, but they said they will be busy scouting land, and they are cool with our being distracted. I am just hoping they find some land they want to buy, because that will assure they’ll come back later to close on it. Then, I can take care of them properly. Stuff them and take them out to play. I did manage to make them breakfast today, an egg, ham and hash brown casserole, crusty whole-wheat biscuits and a German apple pancake covered with sautéed apples. (This was more about killing off the last of our huge apple supply than about cooking something nice. In the past week I’ve not only been pushing sliced apples as a snack and put them in fruit salad, but I’ve made apple cobbler, warm apple cake with caramel sauce, apple gingerbread, and now a German apple pancake.  I’m taking the last few sad little fruits that look ready to turn, to our horses. I will finally be apple-depleted. Whew.  Using all those apples we picked was a challenge.)

New subject: Yesterday, I wrote my final assignment for my non-fiction professor. I hated sending it, because this concludes our work together. I enjoyed his tutelage so much that I chose to work with him for two terms (one full year), which took some groveling at the school director’s feet. I have learned a great deal from this professor. He is a good teacher, because he is encouraging and inspirational, yet he pushes students to expand their knowledge and abilities. He gave me great leeway to explore my interests, which allowed me to venture into creative non-fiction following the path of my own enthusiasm. When I graduate in June, I have every intention of writing a memoir or two – one about life transition and country living, the other about how a dancer is made (which would involved retracing my steps as a child with certain eager expectations – through to New York where the reality of dance was discovered, and into the world of making a stable living at the art, i.e. compromise (studio stuff). Finally it would explore why a dancer leaves the art – circling back to the childhood expectations and ideals and the life lessons learned along the way – it would be an interesting, albeit difficult, project to undertake).  Then again, I’ve kinda written this book already. It isn’t a memoir, but a fiction accounting that begins at a dancer’s retirement .  Through a series of flashbacks, diary entries and other such nonsense, the story of how art can become a powerful factor in one’s self image is unveiled. This is my thesis book, but I’d bore you to tears if I talked about it any more than this. Hopefully, you will read it someday – as an act  of friendship if nothing else.


I am also considering writing a regular non-fiction book (how-to) that outlines studio management and dance education practices. I’ll call it the Million Dollar Dance studio. Catchy, hun? What studio owner wouldn’t want that book?  I know I have an audience for this because I am still hired as a studio consultant and seminar guest fairly regularly. My reputation lingers even though it has been years since I was a New York name, go figure. Having managed a supremely successful studio (with Mark, of course, I don’t mean to omit his part in this success), I have real-life evidence to draw upon to support the theories this book would present. I must say that when it comes to running a dance studio, we know our stuff, and so much of our process was unique from other schools, that a case study would be a nice offering for others who could use some practical guidance on how to make a living teaching dance.  I’m told that the combination of my experience and reputation along with the literary training I’ve now acquired, would make this an easy proposal to sell to an editor. Non-fiction book deals are sold before they are written, unlike fiction or literary manuscripts. And I have actually learned all about putting together this kind of proposal, thanks to my new degree. The problem is, while I could write this book in my sleep, I don’t know that I want too. It would be an easy way to be officially “published”, but I am thinking I need to step away from the dance school mentality and dive boldly into something I am less familiar with (and less qualified to do)-  just as a means of stretching the Ginny envelope.   I need to let go of what I know and take some risks (and some falls) as I tackle the things I have less confidence in. . . Gotta take your first steps sometime . . .


Funny – I have a little wooden sign over my computer that says, “Boldly Going Nowhere.” Ha. I think that says it all.

Anyway, you can make me eat my words later when I get all mopey and depressed and feel like a failure because I can’t sell a manuscript, so I resort to writing the dang dance management book as a way in ease into the publishing world. I am never as confident as I sound, ya know.

I wrote my last creative non-fiction essay yesterday, at least the last one that will be critiqued by a teacher.  Any further attempts at this kind of thing will have to be done on my own. Hate to lose the motivation to produce – but no one can stay in school and have a teacher hold their hand forever. Now, I must turn my attention back to my fiction book. I have to have it all finished in about three months, for that is when I turn in the thesis for review. E-gad. Then, I must prepare a graduate level seminar for the final residency. Haven’t picked a subject yet. Have NO idea what I want to focus on. However, unlike many of the students, I’m not dreading this element of the degree. I am very comfortable teaching. I don’t find the idea of standing up and lecturing intimidating at all. Once I pick a subject, I am confident I will do whatever research is required and I’ll present the information in a solid way. For some people in the MFA program, teaching is a new (dreaded) experience – but not for me. Teaching is teaching, no matter what the subject, and I’ve been addressing crowds for a lifetime. Actually, I look forward to teaching a writing concept rather than a dance concept. It will be a nice challenge.

Speaking of which, I was asked to teach a writing class at the Appalachian College where I work with Kathy. I told them I have to wait until after I graduate. Still, this is something I will seriously consider later. I was also told one of the writers at the local newspaper office keeled over dead from a heart attack at his desk last week. Sad. They said, “They could seriously use you over there. Interested? We can give you a recommendation.”  Again, I said that until June I can’t consider heaping anything more on my plate.


All these little things make me feel there is promise for a new sort of future for me. When you are brave enough to open a new door, it leads to many other doors. I love nice long hallways with lots of doors to chose from! But I also don’t want to bury myself in responsibility that isn’t required. I sort of want to keep myself free to write the book of my heart. I pursued my MFA to prepare myself for just this. How many people can pause life to follow a dream? Not many. I must cherish my opportunity and not throw it away. It is easy to let the most sacred opportunities pass us by when we are not brave enough to venture out of our comfort zone. Comfort is lovely. But discovery leads to an even greater comfort level.

Anyway, I must clean the cabin today, because friends are visiting. I thought I’d share my final MFA assignment essay here for anyone interested. I know Jamie will read it if no one else. (And send me a few corrections as only an English teacher can…) It is about something that happened to me this week that made me look at myself a new way . . . . . Save it for later if you’re not in the mood now. I know some people do that – save things for later. Just be careful how much you put on hold – good things get forgotten or lost that way. Enjoy!

Pretty is as Pretty Feels


      Since I woke up a few minutes later than usual this morning, I skipped taking a shower. Instead, I tied a lovely, new scarf around my head and garnished the look with some complimentary jewelry. I like fashion. I like accessories. It just so happens, I liked my “look” today. The scarf I selected, a muted grey, yellow and coral design, made my eyes “pop” in an attractive way, and it brought out the blush in my skin. Most importantly, my stylish (somewhat dramatic) ensemble was proof that innovation can change a morning from “frantic” to “creative”. 

     I went downstairs, smoothing out my matching grey sweater  while glancing around the room, searching for my favorite boots to complete the overall fashion statement.

     My fifteen-year-old son looked at me and said, “Halloween is over, Mom. You don’t have to go around looking like a gypsy.”

     My first impulse was to pinch him. My second, was to remember a kid wearing torn jeans and a faded T-shirt with a commercial logo blazing across the chest, would never be editor of a fashion magazine.

    “Your jeans have a hole in them,” I said, just to remind him I’m the ultimate authority on appropriate dress.

    He grinned, poking a finger through a frayed hole that suddenly seemed strategically placed, because it sure wasn’t in an area where jeans get realistic wear and tear. “You bought them like that. I think we paid extra for the hole.”

    Just as I opened my mouth to make a retort, my nineteen-year-old daughter breezed into the room. She said, “Good Morning, twenty-year-old-Mommy.”   

   Was that a compliment? Or a crack? Every forty-seven year old woman would like to look twenty, right? Or, is she saying I am not dressed age-appropriately? No forty-seven year old woman wants to look like she wants to look twenty, especially if she is missing the mark by about seventeen years. E-gad.

     “Am I too old for this scarf?” I asked, as I reached up to tug on the rim checking to see that my bangs were tucked in. I fingered the tails of the scarf, making sure they were still draped softly around my shoulder as well.

     “It’s cute. Can I borrow it?” my daughter asked.

      I considered for a moment my daughter’s love for zany hats and vintage accessories, the kind of brave articles that only overconfident, young adult’s wear as a public display of their individuality. I glanced at the clock. Less time than ever to take a shower now.

    I decided to ignore both my children. They are, after all, just kids. What do they know?

    My husband walked into the room. He saw the scarf and paused for a moment as if contemplating how best to react. “Cute,” he said, then proceeded to pour himself a bowl of raisin bran.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

     He looked at me innocently. “That . . . is . . .  a . . . cute . . . scarf,” he said, as if slowing the comment down would help me process his opinion and take it in the polite manner with which it was intended.

     I narrowed my eyes. My husband is no fool. He wouldn’t dare tell me if I looked dumb in this scarf. It’s his duty to make me feel good about myself. Besides which, what does he know? He thinks I look cute in grubby jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirt. Not to mention that it’s hard to respect the opinion of someone dressed in a camouflage undershirt and work boots, not what you’d call “fashion savvy” by any stretch of the imagination.

    “Thank you,” I said, crinkling my nose at my son in an “I told you so” way.

     I motioned for the kids to head to the car, privately discrediting my husband’s generous compliment. Love is blind, ya know. But I like it that way and it’s only fair that the “unconditional attraction clause” in marriage works two ways. Therefore, I didn’t make a comment about his yard-work outfit and instead, kissed the top of his head, careful not to let my chic scarf touch his goofy baseball cap, lest it get dislodged from its perfectly jaunty angle (The scarf, that is, not the baseball cap. That was already crooked, my husband’s hair sticking out bozo-like around the edges.) 

    Trying to retain my usual laissez-faire fashion attitude (no small feat when wearing something that now feels like a costume), I dropped my kids off at school and stopped by the coffee shop to get a latte. I visit this store every morning at ten past eight, and so I share a friendly report with the girl working behind the counter.

     She smiled as I entered and said, “Morning. Nice scarf.”

      I paused, trying to decipher her tone. She couldn’t very well say, “Morning. Weird look for you,” now, could she? Therefore, what exactly did she mean? “Nice scarf for a twenty year old” (which she is) or “Nice scarf for a gypsy?” (Which I’m not) or, “I’m polite so I will say ‘nice scarf’ to make you feel comfortable, even though you’ve come in here this morning wearing a get-up so odd it can’t be totally ignored“?   

       “I didn’t have time to shower today,” I said, feeling the need to make a disclaimer.

       “I have days like that,” she said. “But still, I like the scarf. I picked those same colors for my kitchen.”

       She thinks I look like a kitchen? I headed back to my car, holding what had become a rather tasteless latte in my cold hands. Two women smiled at me from across the parking lot, no doubt glad to be standing downwind. I imagined they were thinking, “See the scarf. That woman must not have taken a shower today. Why else would she go out in public wearing that outrageous scarf on her head? Doesn’t she remind you of a kitchen?”

     I quickly drove home, instantly jumped into the shower and took great pains to do my hair just so.

    So much for my brave fashion foray.

     When I think about my response to everyone’s reaction to my scarf, I feel a bit sheepish now. I pride myself on being a trendsetter and a free thinker. Since when do I care what other’s think? I liked the way I looked in that scarf. I believe the colors made my complexion glow and covering my vibrant red hair brought attention, for once, to other features. But the fact is, every woman wants to be perceived as pretty, and while we recognize (on a intellectual level) that it’s only important we feel good about ourselves, deep down, we like to think other’s share our positive opinion. Even though I personally thought my scarf was pretty, I simply didn’t trust my “look” was perceived in a positive way by others, and as such, it ruined the pleasure for me. 

     “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” my mother use to say. And, “Beauty is only skin deep.” That may well be true, but why is it that every beholder has a different ideal of what is skin-deep-pretty? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what is pretty to each individual has little to do with our natural gut reaction to a visual image.      We are taught what is pretty, just as we are taught to be prejudice or taught what religious or political affiliation is right and good within our intimate family circle. 

      Fashion changes. Botticelli women were all the rage in the 1460 but in 1960, emaciated Twiggy was the ideal. In each case, a healthy, non-excessive body weight wasn’t receiving the admiration it deserves.  Cultural style mandated what body type was perceived as beautiful.

     Historically, we look back on those trends and shake our head at the absurdity of public opinion. But knowing beauty has been established by social attitude in the past still doesn’t stop us from allowing our concept of what is and isn’t pretty to be influenced today.     

      I don’t suppose I will ever consider the women of Ubangy striking, no matter how large the plates they use to deform their natural lip line may be. I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel envy over their stretched earlobes, deformed by wearing massive iron rods where I would wear delicate jewelry. These forced physical adjustments are considered beautiful in the Ubangy society, but not in mine. And no matter how long I stare at pictures of these women, seeking an understanding of their concept of beauty or attempting to appreciate the originality of their fashion trends, I can’t seem to get past the fact that their ideal doesn’t look attractive to me personally. Would I feel differently if I saw the same style on the cover of vogue magazine? If the stores I frequent began pushing displays featuring a similar look, condoned by designers I admire, would I find myself trying to enhance my features unnaturally, because my perception of beauty will have been altered as social acceptance becomes the norm?

     I sponsor a child named Muliken, in Ethiopia. I not only send monthly support to enhance his life, but we exchange letters. One day, I sent Muliken a large, eight by ten picture of me so he would have a face to connect to the person he was talking to across the sea. He wrote back:

My dear sponsor,    

            Thank you for the pictures. I see you have marks all about your face.

I am sorry. What sad thing has happened to you?


    I thought his response endearing. I wrote back a long letter explaining that, what he perceived as a malformation, was simply freckles. I explained skin pigment and told him that lots of people in America have these markings on their face, like leopards from his world. His honest reaction to my looks didn’t bother me. In fact, it made me chuckle, for I understood he had probably never encountered anyone with my complexion before. Muliken didn’t consider me pretty; he actually saw me as deformed in some way, but I wasn’t perturbed by this, because I recognized and respected the huge cultural difference between us. The fact that Muliken didn’t find me pretty didn’t make me question my self-image at all.

    Since I understand the power of cultural influences, why does it disturb me so much when my own society passes beauty judgment? Knowing, intellectually, that beauty is influenced by cultural (and sub-cultural) attitudes, I should shrug off public opinion and not allow it to shake my confidence. Yet, it does. 

     My son is fifteen, enmeshed in a culture where standing out from the “in” crowd often results in being ostracized. He and his friends all dress the same, speak the same, and think the same. They spend hours studying the internet and TV in a mad struggle to keep abreast of what is “cool”. They believe they must comply with the unspoken code of what is “in” to earn coveted peer approval. In his eyes, my wearing a funky scarf when no other mothers are wearing them will set me apart from my “peers”. Therefore, it’s a fashion risk my son simply cannot approve of. To him, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it.

     My daughter, on the other hand, is a bit older, of an age where flaunting social norms is considered daring and independent.  She not only applauds the possibility of her mother standing out, but she wouldn’t mind borrowing the scarf herself, since it attracts attention. To her, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it.

     My husband doesn’t see much beyond my face or figure. As a busy man who skirts many of the cultural influences in the media (he has no interest in fashion magazines and rarely shops) fashion evades him completely. He does like me in a tight sweater; a pair of clingy jeans, maybe even a pair of come-hither boots, once in a while. However, his taste in a woman’s dress has nothing at all to do with fashion and everything to do with reminding him just what is under the clothes. To him, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it. 

     Unlike my family members, my friend at the coffee shop has no personal stake in how I look. No one is going to think more or less of her simply because one of her customers looks like a twenty-year-old-mother-gypsy. I sincerely doubt she notices how the scarf molds the shape of my face or enhances my coloring either. She sees a lot of faces in a day, and I bet the only faces she considers pretty, are those wearing a smile. Yet still, when she said, “Nice scarf,” I didn’t trust the comment.

      I did my laundry today and after I washed my scarf, I hung it up with a dozen other beloved scarves and wondered whether or not I will wear any of them.

    My gut instinct is to purchase a new alarm clock so I will never wake up late and be faced with the “no-shower” dilemma again. This would dissolve the motivation for donning a scarf. But perhaps that is the wrong attitude. Perhaps I should begin a campaign to parade my individuality for all to see. I can wear a different scarf everyday for a month as a matter of principal. The problem is, when people get accustomed to seeing me in scarves, the “look” will fail to make a fashion statement. If I abruptly change my image, people might even feel badly for me as they wonder if I have cancer or if I can’t pay my water bill as they try to figure out why I am dressing out of the ordinary. Besides which, I’d get awfully tired of the same old look, no matter how nice an experiment it is to draw attention to parts of my body other than my hair.

    I could always just wait until wearing scarves becomes fashionable again. It is only a matter of time until the mussed hair look will lose popularity and a sleek, colorful scarf will take center stage. A scarf fashion trend would increases accessory sales and anything that increases revenue will eventually prove popular, thanks to economical world forces. I just have to sit tight, and wait for that to happen. Then, I can don a scarf and when people say “Nice scarf” I’ll trust they mean it, for they will no doubt be wearing a scarf too. 

    I could always listen to my children’s opinion and save the scarf for next Halloween. Or wear it when I am feeling particularly old and want to pretend I am twenty again. I can even wear it for my husband with nothing else, just to see if he notices (he won’t.)  

     But the truth is, whether or not I wear the scarf again has nothing at all to do with how other’s perceive it and everything to do with how I perceive other’s perceive it. (Complicated, but true.)

     I have to decide what is pretty in my estimation. And that means I have to stop second guessing remarks that are probably nothing more than earnest recognition of my walking into a room looking different than usual. 

   The truth is, this morning, no one said my scarf was unattractive. I decided they didn’t like it because I read something into each and every comment made about my “look.”  In the end, it’s safe to say the only person who didn’t really think the scarf looked natural on me was me.

     “Pretty is as pretty does,” my mother would say.

      So the question really is, “Does wearing a scarf make me feel pretty?”

     Looking at the wide array of scarves hanging in my closet, I have to admit, I like the color, texture, and multitude of style options that scarves offer.  So, tomorrow I’ve decided to get back on the horse and try wearing one again. I’ll consider it an experiment.  It may be wise to tie the fabric tightly around my ears to block out the sound of other’s voices. Then, I won’t be influenced by anyone else’s opinion of what is or isn’t pretty.       However, for this to work I have to understand that to be really comfortable wearing something different, there is only one voice I must silence.

      My own.


My final homework packet for this term is due to my professor today, so I don’t have much time to dally, but I embrace a deep sense of peace when I sit at my computer to talk to you before I attend to my real life (and work) so . . . here I am.


Today, I am thinking of birds. (Ha. Don’t be calling me birdbrain cause of it. Cheap shot.)  


Yesterday, while at the computer, I heard a loud thunk against the glass door. A bird had flown into the screened-in porch and rammed into the pane. This is the fourth bird that has hit our cabin this month. It is peculiar. We’ve lived here for almost 1 ½ years, and to our knowledge, no birds have committed suicide by flying into our windows before. But suddenly, it is happening over and over again. I don’t understand why.


The birds fly into the windows and usually die on impact, falling into the bushes. Next, my overgrown, exuberant, puppies come along, find them, and think, “Dead bird. Cool. Let’s take it to Ginny and watch her freak out.” I go outside (barefoot, of course) and just barely miss stepping onto a poor dead creature with a broken neck and puppy slobber dripping from its twisted wings. Sad.


I’ve always lived by the “I don’t do dead things” rule. I’ll put a bowl over a dead mole or bird if the cat drags one onto our porch, claiming it is a man’s job to attend to gross or unpleasant things that pertain to animals. Mark then removes the carcass, but he always grumbles (fairly) that it isn’t much fun to come home to that kind of “honey-do”. I guess I’ve grown hearty here in the country, because I have learned to remove dead creatures myself, though as I do so, I make quite a racket scolding the family member I blame for the death. My dogs or cats head for the hills when I come upon something that has been caught, chewed or in any other way, tortured, because I berate them wickedly for their insensitivity. Then, I get sad for at least a half hour and no amount of tail wagging or contrite wining will provoke a tender pat on the head. The barbarians!


But, in the case of the birds dying around our cabin recently, I can’t blame the pet’s playful instincts. These suicidal birds are a puzzle. I’ve looked at our cabin from outside, and the windows are dark. If they were clear, I think it might make the birds blind to the obstruction in their path but frankly, my windows are not all that clean (I’m embarrassed to admit), and they have screens in them. It is not as if the panes in the glass are camouflaged. I’ve drawn the curtains thinking that might help matters, but still, birds keep slamming into the cabin.


I wonder, “Why now?” Are there suddenly more songbirds about – is this is a matter of odds – too many birds in the sky to assure a safe flight path? Or are the birds eating something newly in bloom that makes them loco, like catnip to felines. Perhaps they are flying about hilter skilter, high. (and I don’t mean altitude). What is up with this reckless flying? A sudden case of bird blindness? An effect of wind and air pressure affecting their equilibrium? Have there always been birds flying into cabins in the fall here in the mountains, but somehow I’ve missed it?   


Anyway, yesterday, after the bird hit the cabin door, I saw a flurry of motion, so I leapt from my seat and went to investigate. The bird was not dead. It was lying, stunned, in the corner of the porch. I think it had to be hurting, because I can’t imagine any live creature hitting a wall that hard with his or her head and not feeling a serious sting. I bent down and gently picked him up.


They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and I can tell you now, for a fact, that it is absolutely true. I admire birds as they flit about. I love to hear them sing and watch them zip through the sky or land on the bushes around me. But that doesn’t compare to the thrill of holding one in your hand. That little sparrow weighed nothing, yet felt as soft and warm as a toddler’s hand. It looked up at me and blinked with such resignation, it took my breath away. I guess it was thinking, “Well, this is the end for me.”


I stroked the creature’s feathers a bit, then took it outside and held my palm open. I wasn’t sure it could fly, but I was praying it would skirt off to freedom if it could. If not, I was committed to nursing duties, of course. He sat there a moment, and then abruptly took wing and shot into the sky without looking back. I was happy for him, though I was thinking wistfully that I sure wish the area birds would show up wearing little wire rimmed glasses the rest of the month. I worry about them and their sudden spatial misjudgment.


Holding that bird was endearing, but it wasn’t the first or only time I’ve held a wild bird in my hands. This is actually the second time I’ve held one in my palm in the last three months.


Our big, boisterous dogs outgrew the little doggie door we put in the screened in porch for Sammy, and this summer they took to just tearing through the screens when they wanted in. Grrrrrrr. So, we began keeping the screen door open to protect the porch from further destruction until we move. But this meant bugs could get onto the porch. Whatcha gonna do? We figured we were only going to be here a few more months, so we lived with the bugs. In August, butterflies ekpt getting trapped in the screened area. I tried to save them when I could, but it is a delicate thing. Sometimes, the butterflies would have beaten themselves to the point of exhaustion and destruction against the screen long before I discovered them. And if you touch a butterfly’s wings, they can’t always fly afterwards, which is paramount to death too. I helped them find freedom whenever and however I could.


One day, we were eating dinner and I noticed what I thought was a butterfly, frantically flying against the screen. I excused myself from the table, intending to help the creature find its way out, but when I got closer, I saw it was actually a hummingbird! Well, in my book, a hummingbird is a very special and important symbol of nature, so I was grateful I had the opportunity to save it, especially since my dogs were eyeing it with enthusiasm like it was a Reece’s peanut butter cup floating down from heaven. I shoed the dogs away and cupped my hand around the tiny bird.  He tried so hard to get away he actually got his bitty, pointy beak caught in the web of the screen. I had to pull him off like removing a dart from the bull’s eye of a dartboard. Funny.  I had this minute bird in my hands and I could see him, yet he felt like air, not unlike when you think you have caught a lighting bug. You don’t always know if ti’s there until you open your fist, and then it gets away. If you are smart, you peek inside a crack between your thumb and forefinger to see if your hand is glowing in the cave of your fist, looking for proof you successfully captured the light. My bird was like that. There, but in an unreal way, because he was like a wisp of smoke.


 The hummingbird fluttered a bit, his ultra-delicate wings beating so quickly against my palm it was like an Eskimo kiss (you know, you give an Eskimo kiss when you bat your eyelashes against someone’s skin.) I thought it was so cool to actually hold a hummingbird that I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to call my family out to stare at him, maybe even keep him a day or two to show him off, but I knew I must set him free before he experienced any more trauma. His freedom was more important than my desire to hold on to something special. Hard as it was to do, I stepped outside and opened my hand and off he flew. Had to do it. I’ve believe you must always be willing to let go of the things you most love if you really want to do right by them.


But even though the bird got away, it left something wonderful behind. Our moment together was a glorious thing (for me) – and it swelled my heart. Such an experience serves to remind me that even when our contact with someone or something we love is too brief for our satisfaction, we must rejoice rather than focus on the loss.  If the contact was truly meaningful, the joy will resonate with you long after the tangible association has discontinued.

I need to believe that.


I live a life now where miracles occur every day. In the middle of dinner, anything can happen. I might even experience holding a hummingbird for a few seconds. How often do things like that happen in the hubbub of suburbia? Not often, at least, it didn’t for me. But the beauty of the world is at my fingertips here. Literally. I celebrate this all the time.


One final bird report. Last week, we were at the new house, cleaning to ready it for moving day, and a worker pointed out that we might want to look at the hole in the tree by our front gate. So, as we left, we looked up at this huge, knarly open knot in an oak. And sitting there, was a beautiful owl, which apparently lives in the hole. He blinked slowly and twisted his head unnaturally far (well, not unnaturally far for an owl, I guess). I took a picture, but the way the sun was setting, it came out as just a shadow. (Ding-it. I so wanted to share this with you.) This owl is beautiful, like a character from Harry Potter with beautifully patterned wings and an expressive face. (Now that we know where he resides, we see him everyday so maybe I’ll get a picture yet.) He isn’t very shy, but then, perhaps he senses that we will respect his health and home. I think of him as our friendly family owl. I get such a kick at the idea that we have a new security guard at our font gate, an inquisitive pair of eyes greeting everyone who drives in.  I think we should name him. I’ll tell the family to give that some thought tonight at dinner.


Anyway, today I am thinking of wild birds instead of the birds that have to do with the homework I am supposed to be doing. I should be writing an annotation for the book “The Song of the Lark” – which isn’t really about a lark. It’s a book about an opera singer in 1915 who reaches fame against all odds. It’s actually a literary exploration of art and how a great artist is developed- how the world reacts to them and foils or encourages their gift. My teacher assigned this book because my project explores into the same questions about art and society. It was a good read considering my interests, but that doesn’t mean writing a literary annotation is any the more fun. Sigh. Well, I must get to it. Birdbrain or not.


I hope the day offers you your own sort of private miracle today. They are all about, you know, if you’ve a mind to look for them.




Today is a big day. I am featuring a guest blogger. My husband wishes to post something, and I am honored to provide him space. When I read it, my first thought was, “This is lovely….” my second thought was, “You gotta be kidding me, he can write too?” Shoot me.

Anyway, Mark wanted to share his feelings today and I’m hoping he enjoys the chance to express himself as much as I do. I’ve encouraged him to start a blog of his own, because frankly, I’d love some insider scoop on what goes on in that odd, masculine brain . . . and I think it putting your feelings on paper in any freewriting exercise helps define them – but that is the writing student talking.

Anyway, (gee, if I had sound, I would put a grand fanfare here to mark the occasion.) I am pleased to present my estemed guest blogger. Mark.

Well, I am back in the Georgia Mountains, and happy to be here. I feel so blessed and loved, not only by my family, but by something more, that great equalizer whom watches over us all. I awoke this morning to see the mountains aglow, dappled in autumn amber and red, russets and rusts vibrantly speckle the hills, and the sky is so vivid a blue it is as if my vision is enhanced with a fierce focus that makes everything look more alive, clearer, than ever before. Such is the result of a cool, crisp, fall day. You see, the mountain view outside of our cabin is not ever the same. Like all of us, it is made up of essentially the same flesh and bones, but the atmosphere can change so drastically on any given day, that on a damp, foggy morn, the mountains can actually disappear, and we are floating in the clouds. Different times of the day and year change the colors and shadows, revealing unique views, each one giving me an appreciation for how different things can look, when colored by God’s magic paintbrush.

This is how my day begins, feeling ever amazed at the transformation my life has taken; overwhelmed with the feeling of being blessed. As most married couples know, getting a husband and wife on the same page, or to agree on any given idea, is not always easy. This is especially true for opinionated, strong-willed individuals like me and Ginny. I never cease to be grateful that not only did my wife and I feel finished with what we set out to accomplish in our life long careers at the same time, but we both were compelled to move to the mountains to live a simpler, rustic lifestyle. I am grateful that we both appreciate all the simple gifts that the country life has to offer and both cherish living in a community with solid core values. I marvel that we both love a rustic home, and that she loves that I love making homes, and furniture and art out of trees, as much as I love her making jellies from the berries she picks on the land, and omelets from our own chicken eggs.  All!
This is more remarkable for those who knew us when we were the more urban, fast-lane, city folks. It is a miracle I celebrate every day.  The most fortuitous result of this move is how our children have embraced our
new life. You see, although we made this life change for the entire family, Ginny and I made our choices based on our own heartfelt desires, as individuals and as a couple, and then as parents. Of course we believed it would be good for everyone, but we could only hope the kids would adjust, because they have their own minds and their own lives. We had the most concern for our future choices with this regard, but what a gift it is to see them now, so happy, and for so many reasons. Kent loves his new school, and enjoys playing in the school band, drumming six days a week. His private lessons teacher regards him as a prodigy, “the kind of student a teacher waits for once in a lifetime.” He has made so many new friends, who he believes like him for who he really is.

You see, sometimes our kids wondered if their dance friends only liked them because “Mark and Ginny” were their parents, and now they know they can make friends on their own, and lots of them.
Neva adores animals and always has, but now she actually owns them; horses, donkey, llama, chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs; she is in heaven. We see wildlife all around us, every day, and she is so excited to live so
close to the animals. Soccer was the sport for Neva this season, she really excellled thanks to her unbounded energy, and basketball and softball are next. She is very sporty and this life suits her to a “T”. I first noticed this when one of Neva’s friends invited her to their farm for a sleepover, and I got her back sans shoes. The parent commented that they woulda never know Neva hadn’t been raised on a farm, for the second she got out of the car; she kicked off her shoes and ran around bare feet, through the fields of animals, like she was a corn-fed country girl. She has fit in effortlessly, and she is just so happy here.

So that’s all we needed to work out, and it all has. That is why I feel so blessed, I cannot express my gratitude enough to the Great Spirit for guiding us to this life.

There is another side to all this; there is no light without the darkness to define it. The life we left behind is the other side. Many people we left behind cannot delight in our good fortune, nor do they wish us well. They feel
abandoned, and betrayed, because we chose to leave. We selfishly followed our hearts to go where we felt we needed to be, and for that it seems we are now avoided, mistrusted and/or maligned. I have always said that life is about learning, and I am learning some painful lessons with regards to a great many things, but as long as I can learn, I have no regrets. I have many fond memories of what we had at FLEX, as do so many others; those that love and hate us alike. I hope someday, all this ugliness and drama will fall away, so we can remember what a gift the time we shared was. I knew this would be a difficult transition for us all, I just never thought people could forget who we are and all we stood for so quickly. It is like we’d been gone for years, in just a few months. I guess maybe people thought, “if the Hendrys can just walk away from dance, just like that, I guess we didn’t really know them at all; maybe they never really cared about us”. I will never know why things turned out the way they did, but now, all we can do is move forward, and continue to do what we believe is right in our hearts.

In a recent visit to Flex Performing Arts, I told students they should value their own intuition. That I wish instinct was taught in school, it is so undervalued in our society, because I feel that to follow one’s desires is the
key to a happy and successful life.  I expressed my belief that what might be the right choice for them, may not be the right choice for the person next to them, but we each have an instinctive sense of what, where and who we need to be with and learn from.  I explained how important it is to trust ourselves, and so I must practice what I preach, even now in the face of unpleasantness. I know what I must do is focus on the blessings in our life; and our glass is so much more than half full, it would be offensive not to. I just wish people could join us in celebrating our good fortune, instead of blaming us for their misfortune. I believe we all deserve the good that comes into our lives. I truly do. And for the record, we always have cared about you and will never stop caring, believe it or not. And for that I am grateful, too.

Cookie cooking

Yesterday, my lesson went fabulously with Kathy.

Excuse me for sounding conceited, but I think I am the second best teacher I know.

The first is, hands down, my husband. He can teach anyone anything with such insight and patience it never ceases to amaze me. For example, we took an evening class on sculpted bead making and the next week he decided to share the fun with the family. His lesson was ten times better and more thorough than the original.  I learned so much more than I did from the “professional” bead maker. And I thought, “Hey, what the heck? I was with you when you were introduced to this subject, and I heard and tried everything you heard and tried that night, so how is it you know so much about the subject now and can relate the information so well now?????”


He had done some additional research on the internet and mulled the craft over in his mind, but mostly, he has this innate instinct about visual things. And he relates information in such a logical way, using a building block system to lay a foundation of understanding, that it assures his instruction is not only understood, but can and will be applied by any willing student. It’s amazing. He is like one of those computers that teach itself as it goes – his capacity for understanding things by trial and experiment, rather than amassing information by traditional instruction, is almost eerie.


He did it with dance. I had far more experience and formal education in the art, but I always knew he was a better teacher, technically. He could see a body moving through space and it was as if his mind’s eye removed the epidermis so he could visualize the spine and musculature. He could watch a person dance and he immediately knew what was missing– everything that was out of alignment or lacking in the student was obvious to him. He knew how to fix it too – how to impart the necessary information and/or develop exercises to address the weaknesses. He never taught what he’d been taught as a student dancer, for that road was cumbersome and slow. He was innovative in developing a new approach to the universal problem of teaching dance to people, even though they are often somewhat resistant. Always impressed me- his wisdom and insight and CONFIDENCE in his own methods. Others didn’t trust his authority because they needed “credentials” to trust what he taught. But I happened to have those credentials, and I was blown away by his gift. People trusted me because of my background and experience. But I trusted him, and most of what I learned in dance, I can honestly say, I learned from him.


Anyway, his ability to teach anything is remarkable. I watch him teaching Kent to drive now and I can’t help but be impressed. I’ll be freaking out, but he has this unnerving confidence and faith in the kid as the car plows towards the nearest mailbox . . . and in a smooth voice Mark makes corrections and explains WHY Kent needs to incorporate certain considerations when driving. And I watch the improvement in a flash and think, “Wow, he’s good.” (Mark, not Kent – Kent still tends to sway towards the mailboxes when he practices.)


Mark took up wood working with logs only a year and a half ago, but he is now teaching new techniques to the carpenters working on our house (who have been working on rustic interior finish work for most of their lives) and they hang on his every word. He has been asked to help our builder on his next spec house too, because the builder insists he has never met anyone who can conceive of the things Mark can, and then get the workers to understand it and follow through. It is easy to be creative, but hard to make that creativity take solid shape.


Anyway, where was I going with this? Oh yea, teaching. My husband is a remarkable teacher – but I think I am good too. At least yesterday, working with Kathy, I felt like a good teacher.


I had planned a cooking lesson. I figured, since Kathy couldn’t read and she lives a rather oppressed life, her cooking skills (and materials) might be limited, so I packed up a pretty, red box filled with everything she needs. I bought all the ingredients (flour, baking soda, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, nuts, etc) and a measuring cup and measuring spoons and said it was her “let’s celebrate your progress” gift. I also bought Kathy a blender and a good cookie sheet, just in case. She told me she didn’t have any of the above and was delighted to be given these wonderful kitchen things. Now, to me, a wonderful kitchen thing is a 400-dollar state of the art standing mixer. The idea that this woman has deep appreciation for my 9-dollar hand mixer is humbling to say the least.


I had bought her a cooking magazine too, filled with recipes to browse through later. I was hoping this project would inspire her to practice more on her own and I wanted us to practice reading during this lesson in that thematic vein. I didn’t want her to memorize the recipe we were working on and fake it later– I wanted her to transfer the knowledge and prove she “got it” when she turned the pages of the magazine and saw other recipes she could read too.


The hardest thing about teaching someone to read (who speaks English as a first language), is that you have certain assumptions – you think everyone in America has shared basic knowledge. But a non-reader has been living in a prison of darkness that stretches far beyond her inability to read books. So, without being condescending, I must always approach things with an attitude that my student is clueless about how the world works. And sadly enough, more often than not, I am right.


I began by explaining how recipes work, showing her that the ingredients are listed first as a sort of shopping list. This lets you know if you have all the ingredients on hand. Kathy smiled and said, “Gee it’s nice that they do that for you.”

“Yes, they try to make things convenient . . .” I said, just then realizing it was true.

I pointed out that the second part of the information is the actual instructions to cook the item at hand. I showed her how almost all products you purchase today have recipes on the back. There is a cookie recipe on the back of the package of chips, and a peach crisp recipe on the back of the brown sugar package, and a recipe for biscuits on the back of the flour package, etc…. She thought this fascinating and asked why they bothered to print all that. This lead into a nice discussion of marketing and how companies work to sell a product – but it also made me suddenly aware of all those recipes I come across in my daily life that I tune out. I don’t pay attention to all that writing on the packaging because, as a reader, I am inundated with information in a given day. I fail to notice what is often before my eyes. When you become aware of that truth, you can’t stop noticing everything around you. Like when you buy a new car, and suddenly you swear everybody in town is driving that brand because you are noticing it for the first time.


We spent a long time going over the recipe, working on the words I knew she would struggle with, such as “Vanilla”, or “Blending” or “Granulated”.


Kathy has never cooked anything that requires a recipe. She makes scrambled eggs or fried steak. She heats up frozen dinners. She has never made a baked good from scratch because that requires “detail” that she can’t presume to guess. I had to walk her through the process of baking – such as blending all the dry ingredients first in a separate bowl, then creaming butter and sugar in a different bowl, then adding eggs one at the time. I had to talk about volume and consistency, etc… And as I did, I was vividly aware once again, of all the things I take for granted that I can do, but that a non-reader can’t. She has never used a measuring spoon or cup so I had to explain how that works. We went through the recipe and I had her point to what spoon was used for “½ tsp”, and what line on the cup denoted ¾ cup. And she struggled with it, because this was all new information to her, and her mind is being stuffed full with so many new things she can’t keep it all straight.


I explained that this lesson was not a cooking lesson – but a reading lesson. I really couldn’t care less how the cookies turn out, but I think it is important we see if she can pull the project off on her own – because practical application of her reading skills is mandatory for ongoing success. And if she likes cooking, she can try other recipes (with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, there is plenty to aspire to) Cooking will keep her working on learning new words. It invites natural practice, you see, because her sitting down to struggle over a golden book everyday might lose it’s appeal. That kind of practice is cumbersome and easier to put off. .  .


I reminded her that I know she is smart and therefore, she can follow directions. If her husband or son helps her by reading the recipe, the value of this endeavor will be lost. She promised me she would make the cookies while she was home alone. Making these cookies is a bit intimidating for her, because it’s more complicated than you realize, but she needs things to do, and the challenge of making cookies like the rest of the world will feel like a great accomplishment. She sees examples of things like this on TV and feels badly about herself, as if the whole world has been invited to a party and she can’t join in. Now, hopefully, she will be like “normal” people.


Kathy said she prays the cookies will come out good, because she is invited to lunch with a counselor from court, and she would love to bring a few cookies as a gift, proof of her progress. I pointed out again what spoon to use for the baking soda (the culprit I’ll blame if her cookies bomb.) She stared at that spoon intently and said, “I’ll remember”.

Ha. That’s my girl!


So, today, Kathy is be home cooking. I am sending her good wishes from afar.


I keep thinking about that lesson – it reminds me to be grateful for basic skills, such as knowing my way around a kitchen without a second thought. I pulled out my sugar bowl this morning and thought of Kathy struggling to measure out 3/4 cup for the first time in her life. . . I guess I’ll never make cookies again without the image of this woman coming to mind. I’ll always wonder if today’s batch of cookies is the first in a long life of cookie baking, or the one and only because, the lesson failed to accomplish what I dreamed it might. . .


I am doing a lot to enhance Kathy’s life, but honest to God, she is enhancing mine in the most poignant ways at the same time. You get out of the world exactly what you put into it.  God’s ultimate balance. I trust it.


But this counts for cookies too. You get out of them exactly what you put in – Gee wiz, I hope Kathy doesn’t screw up the balance and overload the baking soda!