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Monthly Archives: December 2006

One woman’s treasures

Today, I went on a treasure hunt – for my own treasures oddly enough. One of the dogs carried my big rubber muck boot off into the woods, as if it were a chew toy. Damn dog. Dixie lost her halter somewhere in the pasture, and a few weeks ago, Dalai lost his halter too. I think they scratch their faces up against a tree or something and it unbuckles and falls off. This is a drag – unless you’ve ever caught and put a halter onto a head-skittish llama, you can’t appreciate the trouble involved.  I keep my livestock in halters because it makes tyeing them up at feeding time easy. I wouldn’t have to do this if I had a barn, but I don’t.

If I don’t tie the animals when feeding them, they get all greedy and pushy and take advantage of my docile donkey, pushing him aside to swallow his portion. Everyone deserves their share of grain. Fair is fair. I don’t tie the llama, and he often becomes a bully that closes in on donkey and begins spitting. He doesn’t spit at me, but he is always covering my poor donkey with seeded llama regurgitation. It is pitiful. I tend to position myself right by donkey as he eats, stroking his ears, my presence enough to keep the aggressor away. I am, above all else, the grand protector of the underdog – or underdonkey as the case may be. 

Anyway, I broke down and bought a second pair of muck boots, because I really couldnt’ survive without, and I figured even if I found my wayward boot, this would allow me to keep one pair out to be hosed down and still have one reasonably clean pair to wear when needed. I put the backup pair on and began my hunt. I walked every inch of our pastures, sinking into the mud without problem, thanks to the boots. No halters anywhere. Perhaps they are buried in the muck by now, only to be discovered in the spring  . . . rotting. Sigh. I did find my missing boot, however, up on the hill by my deer block (the one that no deer will ever get near, thanks to my protective dogs. Damn dogs.) This was good fortune.

You may be wondering about my lack of barn. Actually, a barn is not a necessity in this mild climate. Barns are more for the humans than the animals that are housed there. It gives us a place to feed and groom the animals while remaining out of the elements, a secure, dry place to work and store feed and tack. It provides containment for animals you may want to control, such as when you want to keep a horse clean or separated from others, or if you don’t want to trudge out looking for them (mine come when I call – lucky me) It makes it easy to care for them.  It gives you a warm, dry place to house the animals in times of foul weather or particular need, such as when a horse is soon to foal, or if it is injured. Really, the animals are happiest in their natural state, roaming free in a pasture. That is how nature intended them to live, after all. Even if you have a barn, the goal is to allow them as much time as possible getting exercise and grazing peacefully outside.

Nevertheless, I want a barn. Real Bad! I’ve been lusting for one since we got our first horse – for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is to have space to shelter wayward cats or dogs that need a foster home. When our horse was injured, I pined for a barn so he would heal faster. When it is cold and wet and I sink into the mud knee deep, I also long for a barn. And on those days when my horses are big fat dirty pigs that won’t stop rolling in the red Georgia clay and I’m thinking it sure would be nice to keep them clean before people visit , I covet a barn. When I think of how much more I would ride if I had an easy set up for saddling them, I crave a barn. (We don’t ride much because the tack is stored up at the workshop and it’s a huge ordeal to retrieve and return it, so it deters us from taking a quick ride.  Has to be a big todo to go to the trouble now.&nbsp When I saw Charolette’s Web, I again, wanted a barn. I also wanted a pig, but that is another story. 

Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to afford a barn – other things have taken greater priority, such as having a house to live in and a workshop so Mark can begin his new career in wood arts. And those other damn luxuries, like food or paying the electric bill. We finally made some arrangements to shuffle some money around and refinance something with sincere plans to erect a barn – but we hit some unexpected financial problems, so again, the project was put on hold. I decided I could live with a simple metal shelter, but we decided even that would cost too much at this time. Next, I decided all I really needed was a small shed for a tack room to store the equipment. Ummm… almost got it, but that had to be put on hold too. Drat. It seems the only barn I’ll see for some time will be those on other people’s land – you know, the ones on the roadsides with a big “see rock city” painted on the roof. (Interesting story – that was an innovative marketing plan by Rock City before the billboard was invented. Fascinating bit of American folklore trivia).

Finally, when they were fixing our roads, Mark said we can at least get an area cleared and leveled for the future barn. I was so excited! We determined we could spend a certain amount on this project, even though it was a stretch, to put up something barn-ish, even if it was just temporary.

The fellows with the huge equipment arrived and began cutting trees out by the pasture near the chicken house. They leveled . . . . and leveled . . . and leveled . . . They were out there for days. Mark started getting worried. He said, “What did you tell them to do? This is going to cost a fortune!”
As if I had demanded some high end barn site or something. I stay out of the construction stuff – I didn’t say anything except to say hello one day when I was feeding the horses. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be putting a barn there right away…. but heck, I didn’t start ordering the men in the big machinery around. Who are you kidding?

I shrugged innocently, swearing that they weren’t working there all week because of me. All I knew was they were leveling a space for a future barn in the place Mark determined it should be. I had recommended a different spot that had less trees – closer to the road. Mark told them where to work so this was, in my opinion, his brainchild. He thought the project would take a day, like when they cleared the area for his workshop. Guess again.

Turns out, the grader assumed we would want a big, flat area for a big barn, and we would want proper drainage and the ability to drive up to the building with a horse trailer and such, so we ended up with a beautiful , professionally cleared area, the kind you would have done to put up a house. The trees were far thicker than anticipated in this spot, and it was a major project to level the rocky red soil. Then, they had to lay seed and straw to hold the earth in place. The time and effort all this required drove up the bill ten times what we expected. In fact, it ate up every cent we allocated for the barn project and then some. Damn. There goes my coveted barn again. And my grocery budget….

What can I say? It’s like the gift of the magi. I can have a barn, but no place to put it, or I can have a place to put it, but no barn. The cost of one prohibits the other. Whatchagonnado? So, I do not have a barn. I do have a barn site, however, which is a step in the right direction. All dreams begin with small efforts which lay the foundation for the future, so I am grateful.  Instead of nagging about my lack of a barn, I remind myself the glass is definitely half full – I have a site. A terrific site. That is more than I had to begin with. Some days, I go out there
and stand in that big flat spot, and because it is empty, like a plain canvas, it is easy to imagine my future barn. It will have a nice view of the pasture and be conveniently close to the chickens and rabbits too.  The sky is blue when I look up, and this flat, peaceful area is surrounded by trees, a space nestled in nature’s camouflage awaiting my someday-maybe- with luck- barn. Perfect.

Till then, I will battle mud and the elements without complaint, glad I have two pairs of muck boots to handle it. I will consider hauling that tack in and out of my car a useful workout. I will give thanks that none of my animals need to be confined because of injury or behavior problems, and I will accept the fact that they have incessant dirty coats as the price of owning horses in times when you don’t have perfect, rolling fields of spring green grass. I will remember that a barn is not a necessity, but a luxury, and remember that I have a bountiful life regardless. It is almost a bit much to dare want for more than I already have. (But I still want the barn. Shoot me.). And I will rejoice that I have a barn site, which isn’t a barn, but is the canvas to paint a dream barn onto. It takes time to erect a new world. I have learned that you must trust fate. If you are meant to have something, in time you will have it. If not, you were never meant to have it at all. Live true.

It is raining today, so I will stand outside, cold and shivering, as I feed my horses. My feet will sink into the mud as I stroke the grossly dirty coats of my bedraggled horse friends. I will sigh, but quietly. But it won’t be forever. It is only for now. 

I trust fate.


A few special request pictures.

I keep getting requests from friends to see more of the house. I’d love to comply, but I doubt you’d find it ever so attractive when there are unpacked boxes and mayhem everywhere. Nevertheless, I slid some junk aside and took a few pictures all the same.  

This is my kitchen, or at least the view from the living room. I wanted to share the pix of where we eat, because it shows you the wonderful windows that look out onto the pasture on one side, and the creek on the other. This is where I have coffee and watch my llama everyday. Mark has talked about adding curtains, but I sort of hope he never gets around to it. I love the big open space looking out on the world.

The other picture is of the bar that Mark designed which wraps around the sink and kitchen area. All these logs were formerly young trees on the land. They’ve been debarked and sanded, then pieced together to make this design. The young workers that were helping Mark in this project said it was “weird” and that they thought all the logs should just be nailed on up and down (like a tiki bar). Mark assured them he knew what he wanted. He pointed out that this is a traditional Appalachian design, historically speaking. They said they’ve lived here all their lives and been building, and they “ain’t never seen noth’in like this. Lots of trouble for no purpose.” Satisfying the boss had to be purpose enough.

The top of the bar is a thick slab of raw wood that Mark had cut at the local sawmill from a huge tree. The counter opposite this is another huge, heavy wood slab. We had to mix this murky, thick liquid and pour it on top, then blow out all the bubbles to create a Lucite-like finish that gives it a look like glass. Tools days to dry. It is resistant to damage now. I love how it fills in all the cracks and natural indentations in the wood, so I can work with flour or sugar or whatever and it wipes off as if I was working on a granite counter top. Cool. We do have some granite in the kitchen too. But this wood slab was very cost effective, which was necessary, and it added a unique twist to the kitchen. As you can see, I have under the counter lights, and light up cabinets on top for my “pretty” stuff. Lighting does make a thing seem more dramatic. Works on dances on stage, why not in a house too?

In the end, Mark added the naturally shed deer antlers as supports and for artistic detail. Right away, they started jabbing us when we walked by – partially because we don’t have stools yet (waiting for Mark to make them). You just don’t want to complain about something like that when you know the “artist” is standing by, and he has put so much work into the project, but after the third shirt was torn, the issue had to come out. He moved the offending antler on the corner, and we learned to watch ourselves around that area. I believe Mark will change these antlers out eventually to something like a wood support, but first we will see if stools will keep us from brushing so close to the counter. Ha, the lengths one will go to make a place interesting.

As I mentioned before, my cat finds the entire house one big playground. I guess I do too.
Here is a view of our new rug and the wall behind it. Mark nailed up big roughsawn wood slabs, then covered all the joints with more of those thin natural debarked tree trunks. This adds texture and is a very original look. People come into the house and marvel at this treatment because no one has ever seen it before. It’s a Mark original. I wanted to show you this, because it ties in the bar and the mantel treatment. We have a theme going on here in case you didn’t notice. My brother said, “Hey, what is up with the star thing? Is that some kind of cowboy decor?” 
“Um, no, you big nincompoop. It’s a Christmas decoration.” 
My brother says, “With you two, one never knows.”
Since others may think the same, I thought I might mention here that the big tin stars are just a holiday thing. We will go back to art or plain walls after the holidays. Trust me, after owning a dance school for a million years, we wouldn’t be so queer as to use stars as our primary decorating theme. Eesh. 

 Now for the best room in the house. My bathroom!

Unfortunately, I can’t get it all in a shot, but it is very pretty. The cabinets have been made by friends of Mark who actually have been trying to get him to buy their business. They want to retire. We are not interested. If we open a business, we will do so from scratch. We are from the ground up sort of people. Mark may work with them to learn how to make their style of furniture, but then he wants to do his own thing. The pretty glass sinks, you may see, are above the counter, sort of reminiscent of the old washbowls. Love that. By the way, the antler basket holding hand towels was also made by Mark. He made it before we picked colors, and it just happened to be perfect. Life works out that way sometimes.

The shower, as you can see, is totally clear. It stands across from big windows to the outside. I felt quite conspicuous showering (on display) for the first month before he got around to putting up blinds. Granted, there is no one for 50 acres to see you, except birds and squirrels and the occasional deer, but nevertheless, it was hard to get use to.  The slate and stone in this shower was left to sit in the elements for months because it took so long to build the house, and it got discolored and there are imprints of plants like fossils that can not be removed now. The tile guy said, “Hey, you want to toss this stuff and get replacements?” We were like, “No way! We love the designs in the stone now.” You couldn’t buy that. It was another of those rare, cool strokes of luck.

The tub is stone with huge windows around so I can sit and soak and look out onto the world.  This is a jacuzzi tub, which is necessary for an old fart like me after shoveling horse droppings all day. Yep, my life is glamorous on one hand, but full of shit on the other. I guess it all balances out in the end.

I would show you our offices, but they are drowning in junk. Our dining room is just an empty room filled with tools. No fun to show you that. The downstairs is nice, but still unpacked and sans furniture too.  I found a way to stop losing my glasses however. I place them all over the house in the bowls I made of clay last spring or on this fancy-dancy deer head. Ha. The fact that I like this stupid thing means I actually use it.  
Amazing how easy it is to amuse me.

That is it for the pictorial of our world today. Mark taught me to download pictures from the camera to the computer yesterday. You are all in trouble now!
Have a good day.

An even better Thought for the day

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”
                              – Charlie Parker-

Thought for the day

People travel to wonder
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the seas,
at the long course of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.

~ St. Augustine

An Angora Lesson

It is time for your angora bunny lesson.
Isn’t this blog riviting?

This is one of my new bunnies. Cute, isn’t he? Excuse my work clothes. I am wearing my Christmas gift sweatshirt that says “Yes, I was born in a barn.” Perfect attire for the project, I’m thinking.  I’d been out in the rain, setting up cages before Neva was kind enough to take thess pictures.  E-gad. But you are supposed to be looking at the rabbit, not the chick holding her, so as the wizard said, “ignor that man behind the curtain” and stay focused. The second picture is of my rabbit already plucked –  you can just imagine how fluffy he was when we began!
Angora bunnies fall into 4 basic types. Mine happen to be French Angoras. They have a face like a regular rabbit, but long, wool-like hair that continues to grow about the body. Silkies have long fine hair that is striking, but not so good for spinning. English Angoras have tuffs about the feet and ears and they are a bit less hardy to raise and handle. Giant Angoras are huge rabbits, as the name suggests. They are primarily for show. There is a huge sub-culture for every kind of special interest, as you know, and tons of people show angora rabbits. I actually joined the Angora Society of America, but only because I want the magazine. Might have some usefully information and I’m interested in breeding and other information regarding angora parafanilia now. Who knows, I may end up writing for the publication later. I am always on the lookout for places to send material in the future.

Angora hair must be removed every 10-12 weeks or it will become all matted and felt (which is the process that takes place when wool gets wet and overworked, creating the thick, course fabric you know as felt). You brush angoras every week to keep the hair fine and whispy. This is rather delightful, because they are sweet, snuggly, and oh so cute to primp over.  When the hair is ready to be removed, it starts brushing off naturally and can be found about the cage, a nice reminder if you are slacking in the bunny fur harvest department. The bunnies tend to scratch and groom themselves to help this happen.  You can remove the overgrown hair by shearing close to the skin, but this results in shorter fibers that make it hard to spin. So, instead, you can just pinch sections in your fingers and pull. The hair comes out naturally, leaving behind the new growth. After spending a half an hour or more de-hairing your angora, it looks much like a normal rabbit – at least for a week or two until it puffs out again.

Angoras should only be fed lightly, or their hair will become course and will cease to grow well. They like carrots as a treat – nothing green, and they need lots of hay fiber to combat fur balls in the intestines (which can kill them). Papaya enzimes also help – and these can be purchased at any health store. Go figure. I can shop for us both at a GNC.

Angora bunnies are loving, docile and very, very snuggly. I adore my two. They look like clouds, so I named the white one (female)Cumulus, and the gray one, (male) Nimbus (which is a storm cloud, in case you didn’t know.) I plan to mate them in March for an April litter. Happy Birthday to me. Angoras sell for 50-150 dollars. Since mine do not have papers (I never plan to show them – they are just for fun) they were only 50$ each. That is high for a bunny, but not for a full bred angora.  I plan to keep the offspring I raise for wool gathering, but if I end up with more bunnies then I can handle, I’ll sell a few. I will be selective of homes, or course. Letting go of loved ones has never come easy to me. 

This week, I de-haired Nimbus for the first time. Not his first time. Mine. Cumulus already had her hair harvested just before I picked her up. That was fine, because it was a bit unnerving tackling this project for the first time. I was so worried about hurting the rabbits as I man-handled them. Concern over two bunnies would have done
me in.

Nimbus lay quietly in my lap as I plucked away. I took short breaks to allow Neva to brush out the rabbit’s soft hair with a dog brush. If I would have let her, she would have braided it, I know. Neva thought it was one big hair styling party, rather than a wool collection chore. Ha. We had fun. The bunny was like a little baby, cradled in my arms. The hair just kept coming off. Tons! I filled two big shoe boxes before stopping, and frankly, I think I left quite a bit on. I didn’t want to stress the rabbit too much the first time, and it is cold this time of year. I didn’t want to send him back to his cage naked and shivering.

I felt like quite the rabbit afficiando when finished. I had angora hair, a happy rabbit, and since it was a bunny-bonding experience, it didn’t seem like work. Now, I will brush this angora wool into hanks of raw sheep wool  with carders to prepare it for spinning. All angora is really a mix, because angora is too fine to keep shape alone. This will give me the basis for some very soft, fine homespun yarn that I will knit into a scarf or something. Nothing warmer than wrapping yourself up in someone you love, and if a pair of masculine arms aren’t available to do the job, a nice scarf made from your pet is the next best thing.
Perhaps I should mention here that some angora comes from angora goats, but not much. 90% of it comes from rabbits. Wouldn’t want you to purchase an angora sweater, go to a party, and start conversations about it armed with partial information. I’m a better teacher than that! 

Anyway, I accomplished something new this week and stretched my horizons. I broke in my new sweatshirt, filled a lint brush to capacity cleaning the couch afterwards, and I can boast that I have a big overflowing box of fur in the dining room as inspiration to make something novel (but I am preparing for my residency, so I have no time to actually do anything with it. Sigh.) 

Try something new everyday. This is proof that you can and you won’t get bit.

Growing older should be an adventure.

I thought I’d share with you a family photo of a recent trip to Rock City.

Doesn’t Mark look happy?
Oops. That isn’t Mark, that is my Elf on the side. And by the way, doesn’t my youngest look intelligent? Ahem.

I’ll try again.

Here is my family at Rock City. We were pretty cold, thus the red noses – I was the only one bundled up as well as need be, but then, that is always the case. Sometimes I think they are all lizards – cold blooded or something. 

Now, my daughter looks drunk. A bit too much dipping into the coco, I guess. Denver was, unfortunately, working. Mark’s Sister, Dianne cohearsed a stranger to take the photo for us.
Mark looked at this picture and said, “What? Was it snowing outside? Gee whiz, I am totally white!”
I grinned.   
He snorted and said, “I’m look like an old man.”
“White is considered ‘distinguished’.” I pointed out, thinking that if George Clooney can get away with it, so can he.  The next day, he got a hair cut and trimmed his beard short. Guess he isn’t ready to go all “Grisly Adams” yet. Pity.

Between you and me, I like my men slightly vintage looking on the outside (with a fire in their belly, of course). I have never been one to swoon over Tom Cruise. Give me a smart, soulful fellow like Gene Hackman any day. Besides which, it is all about kind eyes, a sense of humor, and the intellectual property under the surface to me. It is the mind I fall in love with. The rest is just packaging used to hard-sell the product.

There is another fact to consider – I doubt there is a man on the planet that wouldn’t go gray early living with me. I must take responsibility for my portion in wearing a fellow out. Frankly, I am weird that way. I like my husband’s gray hair and his more mature size. It makes me feel he’s journeyed some distance through life, which means he has experience to draw upon when he looks at the world. Age and years of conflict and challenges, makes a person much more interesting in my opinion. Give’s them depth. Wisdom. Humor.

Today is my sister in law’s 50th birthday. Wow. She hates hitting this milestone. She has always lied about her age, and refuses to admit she is over 35. Unlike me, She doesn’t find men our age attractive. She finds maturity on many levels, totally off-putting. I am her opposite. I tend to round up my age, and I am forever telling people I am 50 (I am actually 47). I like growing older. I much prefer telling people my age and having them think, “wow, you look amazing for your age and you’ve done interesting things during your time on earth,” Rather than acting like I am 35 and them thinking, “Gee, you aren’t aging that well because I can see wrinkles.”

All I know is I can’t wait for my 50th birthday. I plan to celebrate big-time. In fact, I don’t plan to celebrate it on American soil at all. I want to be somewhere interesting. Perhaps Scotland, inspecting sheep now that I spin wool, or standing on a pyramid in Egypt. I think the tulips bloom in Holland in April. That would be fun to see. I could stick my finger in a dike. (No cracks from those of you with foul minds) Of course Africa and Alaska are highest on my exploration wish list. When I travel, I am not interested in visiting big cities that look like New York, only with my needing subtitles. The world is getting more and more generic, and in Europe, while the art and architecture is remarkable, the people are not so very different. They have cell phones and I-pods and McDonalds just like us. I think that will disappoint me.  I want to see nature, diverse culture, a mode of living that is far removed from what I understand. Paris would be romantic, but I’m guessing there are places far more brain stirring to visit. I want to see wigwams, and thatched huts, and eat things that are looking back at me. Of course, I wouldn’t mind being in America for the big 5 0 if I was going down the Grand Canyon in a raft. That is big on my desire list too.  I really must do that soon while I can manage to still look good in a wet T-shirt, ya know.  

For this big Birthday, we bought Dianne a gift certificate to the Campbell Folk school for $300. Her mother also bought her one for 150. This gives her plenty of credit to select a course or two she will enjoy. She loves the school and is fascinated with handcrafted arts. I figure the best gift of all is the gift of a remarkable experience. I also bought her a book called “Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures that you Absolutely Can’t get unless you’re over 50.” She’ll probably hide the book. Ha. I think it is wonderful and I want to buy one myself – no reason not to begin planning early, ya know.

By he way, I also signed up for a weekend class in May while I was at the school. The class is only held once a year.Last year I was at the school when it was taking place and I was jealous of those attending. But I was sort of “forbidden” to consider it. I have since worn my husband down and received his blessing to follow my interest.

Ready for this. I’m taking Beekeeping!

Yep, I am going to learn how to manage a beehive. Mark’s blessing was quite a gift, because he has a huge fear of bees. When he was a child, he stuck a hand in a hive and was stung many times. Now, he becomes an  unmanly screaming mimi when a bee buzzes near. Always a funny sight, my big husband running wildly, flapping his arms whenever a little baby bee files near.   But, I understand it.

I figure I can set up my hives in the far corner of the land, so he won’t have to deal with the bees at all. And it is not like we don’t have bees around already. In spring, our blueberry bush looks absolutely alive because thousands of bees swarm around, pollinating it. They say you get up to 100 pounds of honey a year from a single hive. The course will teach me to set up and maintain a hive, give me hands on experience with the tools and equipment (and bees) I’ll be working with, and they even show us how to make beeswax candles and such. Fun! I will have to learn how to cook more with honey, I guess. Now, I can drown my friends in honey along with my blueberry jam (still giving the stuff away….) Sweet. I suppose I will get stung now and again, but I have learned that most things you love will sting you on occasion. If you turned you back on everything that hurt, life might be comfortable, but it would sure be bland.

I am also already signed up for a soap making weekend course in May, but that is OK. I turn my thesis in April 9th, so after that, I’ll have the time to explore other interests. And I’ll deserve the chance to do so. My birthday week, they are offering several classes I would love to take. Book arts (where you make books by hand in the manner of ancient bookmakers) Native American Tools and Culture (a course on Indian studies, which would be useful for my writing) and woodcarving where you make a flute – how cool would that be? But I’ve decided to wait. I might just want to sit out on a hammock and do squat this year for my birthday, considering how difficult working on my thesis has been. It is too soon to tell what I’ll want in April. But I must admit, when I am on the grounds of the school, I tend to want to sign up for all kinds of things regardless of my schedule. Dangerous place, that den of creative leisure. It beckons you like the singing sirens calling Ulysses into the rocks.   

But, in the meantime, I am dreaming of bees. I’ve always been a girl mighty interested in the birds and the bees, and wouldn’t ya know, it was only a matter of time before it manifested
into the literal version. Thanks to the chickens, I’ve got the birds part down pat. Now, I’ll add the bees. Ha. My life will be a tribute to the greatest theme of nature. Suits me, don’t ya agree?


The Gifts that count

Each year, the gifts I have to spend time really contemplating, are those that I send to people I don’t know. Family is easy. Children are quick to hand you lists. Your spouse and close relatives are around enough that you know their personal interests, needs or desires too. But strangers. Well, that takes some thinking.


When I had a business and I could slip a donation into the budget, I always sent a cow for Christmas to someone from a third world country. I have a special affinity for Heifer Corp, because it doesn’t send food to starving people. It sends the means to correct the problem of starvation. Self-sufficiency is the greatest gift you can bestow, in my opinion. It gives people so much more than a finite thing like a box of food -it offers a chance to restore pride, security, and a future. But a cow is a big-ticket item and when my donations had to come from our now limited household budget, I had to scale back a bit. Actually, it was always a bit of an issue when I sent the cow from the business, because we operated under a very tight budget, and my Dad, our financial manager, would always throw up his hands and say, “You bought another cow? Stop trying to save the world with livestock!”  He would harass me for it endlessly, but that never deterred me. I bought cows. Everyone accepted that as one of those quirks in my personality.


Anyway, last year, for Christmas, I sent a goat instead of a cow because that was something we could afford. I had purchased a pet goat for our own family, so I thought it would be nice to imagine a goat in someone’s yard a half a world away. Little did I know then how annoying our goat would be. I can only hope that my goat gift fit the family that received it more than a goat fit ours.


What would be meaningful this year? I could have sent a llama for $120, which is in the range of what I spend, but llamas are used as pack animals, and while I know they enhance the recipient’s life, somehow that doesn’t seem as vital as animals that nourish a family. So, this year, I sent a flock of chickens. This way, when I visit our chickens each day, I will be reminded of those less fortunate, whom, hopefully, are living a slightly better life because of my gift. Then, since a flock of chickens are only 20 dollars (about the same as they are in America – go figure) I bought a tree. Now I know a tree isn’t something you can eat, and it is sort of a weird gift. And expensive. A tree planted in a dry third world country (to help soil erosion and to bring life to ravaged soil) is 60 dollars. But as I thought of all the trees Mark brought down and burned in this half of the world, I thought it appropriate to replace at least one on this earth in a place where it is really needed. I certainly have enough trees surrounding me to remind me of the tree far away that is shading someone needy because of us, holding the earth in place and inviting worms to join it to begin the long slow process of healing the land. I had a remaining 20.00 to spend, so I allocated that to a share of a llama for a needy family. I guess I just bought the ears or something. Nevertheless, I will look at Dalai and think of my part in sending a pair of llama ears half a world away too.  In my small way, I’ve made a dent in the problems of the world. Wish it could be more.


 I sent money to my new friend, Meaza, in Ethiopia too. Lord, I hope that makes her smile. Her sad little picture drives me crazy. I’ve yet to write her a greeting. Perhaps I’ll do that today. I’ll send her pictures of our family with our animals. She can relate to that. Um.. I’ll skip our tree pictures. Might shock her considering the ugly American extravagance. I think of that a lot, you know – the discrepancies with human existence. It’s a disturbing reality.


Anyway, those were a few of my gifts for strangers. There were others, but nothing interesting enough to mention. I made something for a few of our ex-students, those that have shown independence and an endearing respect for us, but I won’t mention it because they may not have opened the package yet. In fact, two haven’t been sent ,so I know they aren’t opened. It was just a token. Wish I could send a thousand of those. . . so many children (of several generations) that I love and miss, remembered with such fondness . . .they are all still dancing in my heart.


I have to go. I am making soup. The cold is finally creeping in . . .

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from the Hendrys. I thought I might post a picture of our Christmas Tree, as a sort of blog Christmas Card. This shows off our pretty mantel (which is just cuttings from our land that Mark arranged with some leaves he painted gold) and, most importantly, the picture of Santa my mom painted. My brother and his sons came for Christmas dinner, and we ended up sitting in front of the fire staring at this picture – critiquing it (in a positive spirit). For example, Sant is holding a little black book in front of his big book of Good Girls and Good boys list . My brother insists that this little black book is where Santa keeps the “Nasty Girls” list, and he’s making a call . . .  Humm…… My brother also commented that if that was supposed to be Santa’s house, he would have a fancier Christmas tree in the background. I called my Mom and “told on him”. My Mom, indignant, said she’ll spank him next time she sees him for daring to make cracks about her picture. Ha. Always loved to get him in trouble. Why stop now?

Getting this magnifient Christmas tree was a trial this year. We only put it up two days before the holdiay (sigh). Our former tree (fake) was very slim and somewhat short, which was necessary to fit in our very slim and somewhat small home.  We wanted to purchase a big 12 footer this year, knowing anything else would be dwarfed in our room with 26 foot ceilings. A real tree was 200 bucks, more than we would ever spend on a temporary decoration, no mater how grand. So we went shopping on the internet for a bargain. We ended up finding a fake tree in Canada (also for 200 – but it would be used for several years so that seemed OK. Excited to get a big tree, we bought it. It took a month to arrive, because as it turns out, it was sitting in a Fed Ex warehouse in Chatanoogo because they had the wrong delivery address. Drat. By the time we figure out what had happened, we wouldn’t get it by Christmas, and who wants a tree after the fact, so we ended up driving 1 1/2 hours to pick it up ourselves. We stopped to visit Rock City and the lovely holiday light display at the same time to make this chore less of a chore. That was nice.

Now, it was two days before Christmas and we had a tree in a box. Time to put it up. 
Turns out this bargain tree comes in a million pieces (260 to be exact). So we begin shaping each and every branch (cussing all the time) and putting it together with the assistance of a huge ladder, because you can’t reach the top by standing alone. It took about six hours to put together this monsterous tree! Then Mark put up lights, but even using every light we own, the tree looked empty. We were determined not to buy anything new this year because we are in a “no-more’stuff” mode, so he resorted to using the big lights we formerly used on our roof in Sarasota. They twinkle, and this looked “disneyesque”, as he hoped.  Pretty (and a practical us of what we already had). That took another 4 hours. The Christmas spirit was now dwindling, despite the holiday music, new badge of fudge I was cooking, and the kid’s jokes about a tree designed to be put together only by rocket scientists. Even “fun work” can become overkill as the hours tick away.  But we kept at it.

We finally got to putting up ornaments. We have a zillion, because we’ve collected them for the entire 18 years we’ve been together. When we were young and broke it was the only thing we could afford. Ha, when we were older and broke, it was also the only thing we could afford. We would take a trip somewhere, and since the trip was all the budget could handle, we couldn’t buy nice souvineres and such. Therefore, orniments became our traditional purchase to remind us of places we have been and experiences we’ve shared. We even used to sneak off at dance conventions when it involved travel, to spend a few moments alone to diffuse, and we would buy something for our tree – something to remind us of family and home in the midst of all the dance craziness. Now, I’m glad that was our habit. It is fun to recollect life’s interesting journey once each year.

Finally, the tree was complete. I don’t know if the picture does it justice, but it is striking. We will probably keep it up ’till Easter knowing how much work it will be to take it down. Ah well, that is the price of bargain shopping. We may opt for a real tree in the future, which smells nice (although, remember, I have no sense of smell so it makes no difference to me, and we always have the mantle for the fresh everygreen smell for everyone else) but I do find the extra mess of a dried real tree (considering we usually put it up early, so it has lots of time to fall apart) somewhat off-putting.

Here is an “arial view” of Hendry’s Christmas-land from Mark’s office.

This shows our pretty chandaliere too. You may note we have these grand looking lions on the shelves of the rock. Believe it or not, they are concrete yard orniments that were sitting in our backyard for about eight years. They tarnished with time, until they are all grey and brown and goldish, just like the rock in the fireplace. A perfect match. But they weight about a sixty pounds each. Mark was determined to wedge them up there, because he thought they would look stately, and we had these empty shelves that required something. 

We looked at them and decided that perhaps they looked elusive, glancing away from the center of the room. So we decide he should reverse them. Back up the ladder he went, sweating and swearing as he changed them to the opposite side. He said, “Is this better?” I barely had the heart to tell him that now I thought they seem to be staring at whoever was sitting on the couch. It looked “closed in”. But I had to be honest, and he agreed. So, he changed them again. I was almost certain he would have a heart attack, and kept thinking, “Who but Mark would die over getting a mantle just the way he wants it?” Anyway, he survived, and now we have these great guardian lions watching over us. I sure like the them. They remind me of our old garden and the New York Public library where I once spent lots of time. I sure love it when my environment is filled with things that have private meaning.

O.K. enough about my fireplace and holiday decorations. I think I will share a few more pictures. Here are some of Neva with our beloved chickens. This, you must agree, is a happy kid.

You can also see our scraggly tree for the birds. By the way, not a single bird has partaken of our lovely birdseed cookies. I guess they haven’t discovered the bounty yet. I told Mark it was time to find our bird feeders and hang them so we can begin inviting feathered guests into the yard. He sighed. I am forever asking if he can find this or that in the huge clump of unpacked boxes in the garage. Patience is a virtue. I am not the most virtuous gal, I guess.

Kent recieved a new professional level drum set for Christmas. This was a very coveted, patiently awaited gift. He knew he was getting it, because it was very costly, so we made it his Birthday and Christmas gift, and he worked all summer picking up worksites to put 500 of his own money towards it too. This happens to be a big step up from his beginner set, and he will never need anything better should he continue developing his talent. The set sounds amazing. He is very proud, and I must admit
, it’s nice to spend money on a gift that supports an interest you feel good about, rather than more video games. We build an alcove in his room that has a loft with a matress above it to help drown out the sound. Perfect. But between you and me, life sometimes feels as if I am in a chinese water torture chamber because my son is always tapping rhythms on something – the back of the car seat, the kitchen table, the fence, the dog, my shoulder….. ahhhhhh!

For Christmas, Neva got a little baby bunny of her own (which she can keep in her room) and … well . . .  video games. Mark and I did not exchange this year. We bought ourselves a TV for the bedroom a month ago and stated it would be our mutual Christmas present. We haven’t watched TV for two years, and frankly, I miss it alittle. But each night we crawl into bed and turn it on and I fall asleep within five minutes, so it is not like I am finding out what the world watches yet. Ah well. I’m trying to keep in the loop of our current American culture, but it is a loosing battle. I deserve to be a hermit living in a cabin in the woods – I embarase myself when any conversation comes up about what is “new” or “popular” in our media or pop culture.  Who’d ‘a thunk that would ever be me? Well, actually my kids (and teen dance students) have always made a pont of defining how queer and clueless I was about what was cool. But back then, I had them to keep me somewhat savvy. Now, I am sadly un-pop-culture-fied.
Here is the drum set. Just looks like drums, I guess, but apparently these cymbols are state of the art. Gee, great. That probably means they are louder. 


Since I’ve talked about my big dogs and all the trouble they get into, I thought I’d share a picture of them too. Obviously, I just cleared out my camera. There are other things I really want to share visually, but that involves being more organized than I’ve been at this point. I will make an effort to take pictures of things I write about in the future. If I only knew how to set the timer, I could even share a few pictures of my grungy self in the throws my country efforts too. I should figure that out, just to give ya a laugh at my own expense.

Today, I must buckle down and begin the reading to prepare for my upcoming (and last) residency at school. I have all the manuscripts of other students to read and critique. Now that I know everyone in the program, it is much more interesting. It’s nice to see their growth and development (and their projects) knowing each individual’s personality and goals.
I must also go with Mark to pick up six huge rolls of hay today, and we have to fix the bunny cage for my new angoras. I have some cooking to do. We have started a huge health kick today (doesn’t everybody the day after Christmas.) I am finally asserting myself and putting my husband on a diet. I swear, he is a walking heart attack, considering some very trying business stress he’s been under. Yep, it is a day for getting important things in order…. I am taking charge.

I did get one lovely pre-christmas gift from Mark (“pre” because we were not exchanging., and there is no breaking the rules) It is a book called 1001 Books You must Read before you Die.” Love it. The only problem is, I’m too busy to read it. Ha.
I said, “I suppose I’ll be embarrased when I read this and find out I haven’t read any of the books I’m supposed to have read (to be considered an intellectual.) Mark laughed and said, “I bet you’ve read more of those recommended books than you know.” Considering the workload I’ve had with school, he may be right. Anyway, I have every intention in June (when I graduate) to begin plowing through the books listed. I am planning to live to 100, which means I must read  18.88 books a year for the rest of my life to complete the list. That is definately a makeable put, don’t ya think? It’s only 1 1/2 books a month, leaving me lots of time for my own selection of reading material. Yep, I now have a new life goal. (Like I needed one more?)

Merry Christmas. I hope Santa was good to you. But remember, we really have to make our own dreams come true. Have faith, inner conviction, know your own heart, and enjoy the journey. Life is so exciting when you realize how much power you have to control your experience on this earth! Make everyday, every moment, every smile, every thought, count! And remember to keep what you love a priority. In the end, that is the path to happiness – the real McCoy. 


Joe’s response

Tell me the internet is not the most amazing thing invented – I’ll argue the point!

I just got a blog response to “my  big chicken workout” entry, something I wrote some time ago. The response was from Joe at the Big Chicken Pawn. I’ve only been in the place once, remember.

I guess someone read my frivilious entry and forwarded it to Joe. Or maybe a friend of Joe’s did a google search and my blog entry came up and they passed it on. Or maybe even Joe does periodic searches on his business just to see if he has a mention. One way or another, this person, many times removed from me, sent a short thanks for the mention. Ha. I got a hearty laugh over that.  

It is amazing how far the internet stretches, way beyond your intentions or the audience you may be aiming for. Sort of humbling. But it does spark one’s imagination. Ah the possibilities…..

Cookie Time

I’m a cookie slave.

I know, I know. Lots of people bake cookies at Christmas. However, not like me. I really AM a cookie slave – my daughter won’t let me stop! You see, I am helping her to make gifts for the people on her list. Well. . . “people” is not the exact word. I helping her make cookies for the ANIMALS on her list.  


We began with birdseed cookies. (Amazing what recipes you can find on the internet.) You make these with stuff like whole-wheat flour, sugar, shortening, baking soda and a cup of wild birdseed. Refrigerate for 4 hours, then you roll out the sticky mess and cut out shapes (we made stars), brush with egg whites and press more seeds to the outer cookie – then bake. You must put a hole in the cookie, of course, to hang the treat from a tree with ribbon. They came out so nice, we actually sent a few to my sister (another bird lover) as Neva’s gift. We looked for a nice Christmassy evergreen to decorate, but alas, they’ve all been cut away from around this house and Neva didn’t want to pick a tree just anywhere on our land. She wanted to watch the birds enjoy the gift from her window, so we ended up decorating a big, dead-looking, stickish tree instead. It isn’t pretty like a normal Christmas tree, but Neva believes the birds won’t mind. I certainly agree.

We garnished our Charlie Brown tree with strings of popcorn and cranberries, and bagels covered in peanut butter and rolled in birdseed (looks like little wreaths. Cute). I threw day old bread at the base of the tree too. The dogs ate the bread and even jumped up to snag a birdseed cookie (jealous fools – not like they can possibly like this stuff, and they had their own treats in the works.)


Next, we made dog cookies. Did you know they have about a zillion recipes for dog treats on the internet? I stopped browsing after I downloaded fifteen.  Neva picked the recipe she thought sounded dog-yummy and we began. Dog cookies have whole wheat flour, sugar, shortening and other normal cookie ingredients, (Some have peanut butter or cheese or garlic, which dogs love and, unlike people, it’s good for their breath) but in our recipe, you add meat flavored baby food. I threw in the drippings from last night’s pork roast – just because that sounded mutt-tasty. We rolled out this interesting concoction and Neva cut out shapes. She was making cookies for my sister-in-law’s dogs, two very fat, very spoiled, very obnoxious dashounds that are treated like surrogate children. Neva adores them. I stared at that recipe, wondering if I could possibly make it low-fat (I’m queen of adjusting recipes to cut fat and calories) but alas, it didn’t seem possible. I just don’t have dog-cooking down pat the way I do people-cooking. So, I encouraged her to cut out very small stars and teddy bear shapes for the little fatties. For our huge dogs, we went with large snowmen, Santa and Christmas tree cutters.


I never give food to a friend without testing it out first – at least, not when it’s a new recipe, so I snuck outside and gave one to our dogs. They went wild, like it was the best thing they’ve ever tasted. I gave a little treat to my daughter’s new puppy (her Christmas present from her boyfriend – uh oh) and it went crazy too. I am on to something here. For one thing, baking for the dogs is pretty easy and it will save me a fortune in store-bought treats. For another, I know these treats are filled with natural, good things and not preservatives or scary left-over meat products they wouldn’t give a human – eyeballs, or lungs and bones etc.. Yep, I’m a born-again puppy chef now, out to convert others to follow my lead to feed dogs healthfully and humanely.


Finally, I turned to Neva and insisted I make some people cookies. Not people shaped cookies for bears or anything. I mean cookies for people to eat. We had arrangements for a cookie decorating party at the house that night. Cookie decorating is a very serious business in this family. People have been known to spend an hour a cookie, hidden behind am arm – a covert operation to maintain design secrets, don’t ya know. Denver and her boyfriend, Dianne, and my mother in law were invited to this highly competitive event. Neva and I made about 5 dozen plain sugar cookies in every shape (I happen to have a laundry basket filled to the top with cookie cutters. I am not exaggerating – another gift item people like to give me. I have cutters for Halloween, Easter, in fact, every holiday, and then all kinds of non-holiday ones too.)  I pulled out my grossly massive collection of Martha Stewart cookie decorating sugars, pearls and eatable do-dads. Then I made a lasagna, nourishment for the troops, you see.


I was on keen alert all day, certain that someone would swing by the kitchen (knowing we were making Christmas cookies this day) and see a dog cookie or a birdseed cookie and think, “gee, that looks interesting” and pop one into their mouth. Not that there is anything foul in the animal treats, but I’d hate to ruin my cooking reputation because someone snagged a cookie laden with seeds or meat products. It did happen, but it was only as a joke. I was almost sorry about that. Would have given me a big laugh to see Mark munching on a horse treat, commenting that it had a funky texture for a Christmas cookie.   Ah well.


Today, I am scheduled to make horse cookies. I found about ten recipes for these as well. Horse cookies are made in huge batches. Well, that makes sense, since horses are huge. They are filled with things like whole wheat flour, bulgier wheat, bran, molasses, brown sugar, carrot shavings etc… These don’t get made into shapes, just dropped in clumps onto the cookie sheet to be baked. Since horse treats are also expensive and we have so many large animals, I am rather on-board for this project. Today, Neva and I are going riding. I am sure we will begin passing our Christmas horse treats around to our four-legged buddies. I bet the llama will like them too, he is getting so tame he trusts most of what I offer. The donkey will eat anything, although he is partial to M&M’s.


I am about to wrap up the Christmas cooking, other than five or six desserts to go with my pastry wrapped beef tenderloin and fixings I’m making for Christmas dinner. 

I’ve already completed several batches of my famous, incredible fudge. It has a hard texture, but melts in your mouth in this amazing way. Takes about three hours to make a small batch, and you must be on your toes, because one wrong move and it doesn’t set right, but it’s worth the effort. None of that gooey, easy, marshmallow cream sort of slacker-fudge for me. I got yelled at for making it (as always). It’s addictive. But when people are admonishing me for ruining their diet, I don’t listen – especially since they are nagging with their mouth full.


Now, I just have to make some snowballs, a delicate cookie covered in powered sugar that is filled with butter and pecans. Georgia is the pecan state, so I have the ingredients for this one covered. It is my favorite, so I make it last. Less time for me to ruin my own diet that way.


Perhaps I’ll make these cookies today. Then I can retire my role as cookie slave and just watch my loved ones partake. The only work left will be sweeping crumbs. That isn’t as crummy a job as it sounds. With a bit of Christmas music in the background, the most mundane tasks seem festive.


And as I write this, my cat just crawled into my lap… Cat? Oh yea. I have two. Damn. Can you make cookies with fish?