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.
Monthly Archives: December 2006
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…..
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?
The “What should I get Kathy for Christmas” dilemma has been solved. I’m giving her a smile. Literally.
I think I mentioned a few months ago that she found a dental assistant who makes false teeth out of his basement for people who cannot afford a regular dentist. I guess he uses his boss’s office supplies on the sly, sends the impressions out to be processed under the business name or something. For all that his actions may not be on the up and up, I can’t help but think he is offering a very important service to people who desperately need it, so I think this guy is a hero – one with a shadow, of course, but a hero nevertheless. (Moral justification, I know, but sometimes we must break a rule to do what feels right.)
Anyway, two months ago, Kathy paid to have her remaining five teeth removed. It cost her $60 a tooth, which was quite an undertaking on her budget. She then put $100.00 down on this set of false teeth. She was to pay $200.00 when the new teeth arrived eight weeks later. She had a plan for saving the money. She was so proud.
Kathy’s lack of teeth has been a serious obstacle to teaching her to read, because she can’t sound out words correctly when she is attempting to spell them. For example “Jumped” sounds like “Jumpt” to her, or “Bring” sounds like “Breen.” She can’t say the words clearly aloud, thinking about how they are actually pronounced, so she is often off the mark when trying to write them. Watching the learning process and seeing her mistakes on paper makes it clear that diction and poor speech is part of the problem, at least part of the problem of fixing the bigger problem of being illiterate.
I have been anxious for Kathy to get her new teeth, because not only she will look great and it will improve her self-esteem, but because I anticipate this will helping us tackle her understanding of words. She was due to get the dentures this week, so Tuesday, I asked if she was excited.
She sort of shrugged and said, “Well . . . I canceled the appointment. With Christmas and all, I really can’t afford them now. I had to buy presents for my son, and I also bought for my brother’s son, because he has been out of work for two months. I spent the teeth money I saved, but that is OK. I’ll get them a few months after Christmas.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. What woman doesn’t put her needs behind those of the family?
I looked at her, smiling at me good-natured, filled with good intentions, and said, “Kathy, Please make the appointment again. I want to buy you the teeth. Let me do that for you for Christmas. I’ve been trying to think of a nice gift for you, but so far nothing seems right. I wanted to give you a gift certificate to a store you might like, but I knew you’d use it for the family, and really, I wanted something just for you. This is perfect. Let me pay off your teeth as my Christmas present.”
She blinked a minute, then burst into tears and sort of collapsed into my arms saying, “You have already done so much.”
I was humbled. I haven’t really done so much – for all that I have given her my time, it has been rewarding to me too on so many personal levels. Her appreciation was very sweet, but I was also a bit embarrassed. Her reaction was far more than I was expecting. The truth is, I’ve thought about buying those teeth from the very beginning, but I didn’t want our relationship to be about me giving her money – I wanted to keep our friendship authentic, based on caring – and I wanted to help her learn to help herself rather than step in like some kind of savoir gracious enough to do things for her (which implies she can’t do them for herself). It has actually been very difficult NOT to offer her money for the teeth. However, in that moment, with Christmas as an excuse, it just seemed natural. Nothing but a thoughtful gift between friends
She cried through half the lesson, holding my hand as she struggled to read the ads in people magazine that I was pointing to. (Funny thing – she has never heard of a Target and her commentary about the antics of stars is remarkably honest. Amazing how silly the world looks when seen through the eyes of someone who has not been conditioned or swayed by commercialism and what is in vogue. That has been interesting.)
In order to downplay the moment, I pointed out that my gift wasn’t so generous, because it was also for me. I knew that her getting teeth would make my job much easier. She flashed me a great toothless smile and said, “If you say so”. I tried to secure that image into my mind, because soon Kathy’s expression will be replaced with a different sort of smile. Both have endearing qualities, in their own way.
This morning, I was putting Neva’s hair up in pigtails for school and she was asking me if I was meeting with Kathy today. She follows my teaching progress and has taken a great interest in Kathy’s learning to read. I’m thrilled by that – I believe we teach our children by example foremost. Anyway, I said that I was meeting Kathy today for the last time until Christmas break was over and that I was going to give her my Christmas gift.
Neva asked what I got her.
I said, “I’m buying her teeth.”
Her face fell. She said, “Mom. How could you? That is insulting. You will hurt her feelings.”
I explained that the teeth were not my idea, but that Kathy had been struggling to get them herself. I was only helping her reach her goals. Neva seemed greatly relieved.
Kids are so sensitive and see things with such clarity. It is inspirational.
Anyway, I am giving Kathy a smile this Christmas. It always feels great when you find just the right present for a friend.
On to the others on my list.
I’ve been absent. Do I need a note from my mother to be excused?
There are several reasons why I have not been blogging, but I don’t feel like justifying my absence. Please trust that I have not forsaken my readers lightly. I will say that for ten days during the transition between homes, I had no internet. We went to Florida to teach in our former school for 5 days. There were other circumstances – I felt moody over a blog response someone sent me (not about me, but about a former friend and employee. It commented on issues regarding our former business.) I chose not to post this comment because it was pretty heated. I didn’t want to invite more negativity into my writing world, and I knew this post would undoubtedly stir up some angry rebuttals. This made me feel guilty because I believe everyone deserves a chance to voice their opinions, and I certainly gave other’s that opportunity. I believe the letter was sent in support of Mark and I and the former FLEX mission statement and management style. Not posting it made me feel as if I was being disrespectful to a friend, especially because, in all honesty, this person’s letter was not off the mark, but it did talk about serious issues that touch on legal argument etc. I just don’t want this blog to become a forum for FLEX debate. Yet, if the only people reading it are ex-FLEXers, waiting for the other shoe to drop, what is the point?
Anyway, like I said, I don’t want to explain my sabbatical. Let’s say, I needed time alone to think about what this blog is for and who is actually out there reading it. I’ve begun to think my blogging is a fruitless pursuit, wandering further and further from its original intention (being a fun method to keep in touch with friends and a vehicle of free-writing practice) But that doesn’t mean I won’t continue writing. All expended effort makes a difference in one way or another, even if isn’t revealed in obvious ways untill a later time. So, pardon me if I play censor at times and try to keep this blog targeted on “non-dance studio” issues. If (when) I blog, it will be to continue to write about our life transition and life perspective.
Enough disclaimers. For those of you who are friends and who miss the on-line Hendry’s-moving-to-the-country reality series, I will do a quick catch-up.
Gee, everyone has missed so much. Where do I start?
We have finally moved into the new house. It’s big.
Our last house was pretty, but it was intimate (in other words, “small”.) Our furniture was scaled down, and everything fit in a snug, neat way. This house is cavernous, with huge ceilings, massive fireplaces, and huge log stairs. As you can imagine, our former furniture doesn’t exactly look made to order.
The first night we slept here, no one could sleep. Mark was up all night. He said, “I feel like I am in some of resort lodge . . . one that is too expensive for me to afford!” Ha. You built it, baby. It is simply a huge leap in luxury for this family- especially after a year and a half in that little vacation cabin. We have always been down to earth people, and while this environment is warm, natural and casual, it is also very elegant and indulgent. Different for us, that is for sure.
Neva said she had a “funny feeling in her tummy” all night.
Kent said he felt as if he was in outer space, because he picked this massive room that has no windows, and it gets pitch black at night so you have no sense of time or place.
I kept hearing sounds in the house, which Mark explained was the logs cracking as they dried now that the heat was on. It was all just weird.
The second night, we all slept better.
The third night, we magically felt at home, and what a glorious home it suddenly turned out to be!
But, like I said. It’s big.
On moving day, I rolled open a rug, which once filled our entire dining room. I couldn’t help but laugh. It looked like a postage stamp. Two chairs that I always considered big and welcoming sat in the corner looking practically delicate now.
I said, “Honey, you shrunk the furniture.”
Ronnie, our builder, was standing by with his hands in his pockets. In his country drawl, he said “I guess he ain’t been water’in it ‘nough.” Then he grinned. He is mighty pleased to have created this lovely monster house with Mark.
We ended up moving that dining room rug to the entryway to serve as a welcome mat. Swear to God. We then had to go rug shopping to get something more appropriate. We chose something very different for us – a woven Indian import thing with vibrant colors that looks somewhat southeastern. With all the natural wood, we decided we needed a flash of bold color. This adds a wonderful feeling of energy to the room.
I can’t describe how happy I am to be living here in this house and on this land at last. We have finally come to the end of the difficult transition period of reinventing our life. In retrospect, I can say it’s amazing we lasted as long as we did during the frustrating shift. When my mother visited, she shook her head and said, “Why don’t you just buy a nice house and live in a more comfortable situation. You can afford it.”
That is something we asked ourselves everyday. However, we knew we wanted something very special in the long term, which meant sacrifice in the short term. By holding off and living in that small, unfinished cabin, with construction and grit all around us, we reserved more resources to pour into our vision for a certain type of creative lifestyle. Some days, I thought we were crazy, and we even fought about it – not blaming each other or losing faith, but just letting the frustration escape by way of bitching. But Mark and I are used to discomfort in the short term to accomplish something important in the long term, (That is how FLEX was built) so we stuck to the plan and kept bucking each other up on those “off” days . Now, as we step forth into the lovely and creative life we imagined, I am very grateful that we didn’t compromise or take an easier route.
This new life is work. My mother also said, “Not many people would take the money you and Mark earned, with a chance to reinvent your life, and chose a lifestyle that is so physically hard. You could just as soon have bought a cushy home on a beach somewhere or taken it easy for the rest of your life.”
I guess that is true, but leaving the dance empire wasn’t about wanting to escape work. I love work. So does Mark. We especially enjoy the sort of effort that is attached to this rustic world. He loves chopping down trees and zipping along in his tractor, (He’s shifted from the sporty dance guy in a baseball cap to a GQ Paul Bunnon sort with flannel shirts to match his dusty beard. Suits him, even though it is an adjustment for me to get used to.) Neither of us is inclined to become the spoiled type who is attracted to ease and luxury. I love wearing jeans and seatshirts (with glamorous earrings, of course. I’m practical, but I’m not dead) walking this land and taking care of my ever-growing ranch/farm/ whatever you want to call it. I don’t mind slipping along the mud or dragging tree branches out of the path to get to my horses. I love taking care of the animals and picking berries, building bonfires, hiking hills, and trying to figure out the complex puzzle of living in harmony with the natural world. It’s a great adventure, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always appreciated contrast as a vehicle to experience something fully. This world is a direct contrast to the suburban (or New York) existence I’ve experienced most of my life.
The day after Thanksgiving, my horses returned from their visit to the trail-riding ranch. We bought Dixie at 5 months pregnant, so I always thought she was just a sweet horse with a rather dumpy body. Now, I see she is lean and muscular. She’s in the best shape ever, as is Peppy, my white horse. They’ve been working daily with the tourists, which means their behavior is at its best, as is their health . I have a very powerful affinity for my horses. Everyday, I stop my work at around noon to visit and feed them. I love walking through the trees to bring the four horses, the donkey and llama treats and to groom them. I work with the baby, April, teaching her to lead. I tenderly pet the donkey. I have lively intellectual conversations with them all. They follow me about like dogs, (our real dogs at my heel), whinnying and snorting in response to my commentary. They stick their noses in my pockets looking for sugar or cookies. They even run towards me when they see my bright yellow jacket, making me feel loved in the most obvious way. The donkey has this loud, silly bray that he lets out whenever he sees me. I love it! I just absolutely adore these animals with a passion I can barely describe. Being with them soothes my soul and makes me feel connected to God or the earth or whatever it is that makes us feel centered.
I’ve always loved animals, and having no limits to keeping them, other than the self imposed boundries of how much work I want to take on, is a particular thrill. I still have fun with the chickens. In fact, we have done some serious scientific research in the area of chicken treating. Neva has concluded that our poultry’s favorite food is powdered donuts, followed closely by McDonalds French-fries. I thought the birds were just pecking away at anything you tossed into the cage, so one day, I brought them some bread to prove my point. No. They didn’t want that. Neva knows her chickens. They really want those sugary, white, powdered donuts. Preferably stale ones. Go figure. The chickens are Neva’s favorite pets now. She sits in the pen and pets them, plays games with them, and talks to them about their behavior. It’s cute. But still, we haven’t seen an egg. Chickens don’t lay much in the winter, so it will probably be spring ’till we have that thrill. I imagine there will be a major celebration upon an egg discovery when it comes to pass. We plan to add ducks this summer. Ye haw!
As the season changes, we are up to new challenges all the time. We just finished dealing with the endless mud, which made feeding the horses a perilous drag. I would sink ankle deep into the muck no mater what I tried to do to combat the ick, but I have my sexy muck boots, so I deal with it with my own sort of sad glamor attempt. Lately, the water in the chicken feeder has been frozen each day. Damn. Neva and I take a gallon of hot water out there every afternoon, chip away the frozen water, and fill it with hot water. Mark points out that hot water freezes faster than cold, but we find it blends with the ice in the jug to make it all tepid. This chore sounds like a drag, I know, but it’s actually fun. I spend an hour a day with my daughter caring for the animals, and this tends to set the tone for great conversation. We talk about school, life, and the natural world. We laugh as we share this mutual interest in animals learning together how to care for them well. We handle the animals, picking up chickens and comment on their changing feathers as they shift into winter dress, getting to know their individual personalities. This kind of easy time together is better than any of our former “quality” time, because in the past, ot was awkward working to create intimate experiences together. Planned time together always felt somewhat construed. Now, meaningful moments happen naturally.
Living in this house allows us to fully enjoy our 50 acres as we dreamed we would. Out of every window, I see trees and the creatures that dwell within. A deer came to my office window the other day. Suddenly, his ears pinned back and he took off. Mark was watching. He thought, “What got into him?” Then he saw our dogs shooting off behind, giving chase – not like they can catch anything, but they have fun trying. Everyday is a party for the family pets living here. The dogs bound along the land all day long, barking at the llama, eating horse turds, wrestling in the fallen leaves. I put a deer block out on the hillside outside my office window, hoping to attract some wildlife. About killed me carrying that heavy thing up the steep mountainside. Don’t’ ya know, my dogs discovered it ten minutes later and decided, “Hum, my master put this here and it looks like something one of those leggy creatures would like, so we better protect it.” Damn dogs lay right beside it half the day. Nary will a forest creature get to enjoy that block now.
Our cats think this house is just a huge playground built to amuse them. They walk along the beams fourteen feet up, jumping to the high window ledges and sleeping in nooks of log and rock. This house brings the wilderness inside, which feels good to them. They have never been so gleeful. In fact, everyone seems filled with spirit and joy as we sprawl out in this big personal space. There is such a sense of serenity and contentment here. Honestly, I’ve never felt that before in my life. Not living in New York, even though I was there pursuing my dreams. Not living in Sarasota, even though we prospered, had a comfortable life and did what we loved for a living. Only here have I learned true satisfaction of the soul. My personality is such that I’ve never slowed down, always felt driven, needed to accomplish more – be better. Here, I am relaxed. I feel more alive. Younger. The world is filled with humor and joy. It is remarkable.
Huge windows in the breakfast nook of our house look out on the pasture and creek. I’ve learned things about my ark, thanks to the view. For example, In the mornings, I stand at the window with my coffee and watch my animals greet the day. My llama lies in the center of the pasture in the exact position every single day. He raises his head in this majestic manner to greet the sun every morning. I marvel that he never moves or changes position. At first, I though, “Hey, llama’s are a middle-eastern animal. Perhaps he is a Muslim (they face east in part of their worship). Then I thought, “Naw, everyone knows the dalai llama is a Buddhist.” I guess Dalai just loves to watch the sun come up just as I do – because it is glorious. He’s my llama, after all.
By the way, he is taking cookies from our hand now, and he has gotten very natural around usl. Sweet.
I watch the donkey and our baby horse play in the mornings when they are feeling frisky. And our dogs wrestle and bound like the overgrown puppies they are along our hillside. I can even see the cats sneak through the grass as if they are lions on a hunt. Looking out my window is the best show on earth.
I cannot hear Joe, the rooster, from the house, at least not in the winter now that our windows are closed. That is a disappointment. But we have a few crows that have taken on the task of waking us up every morning. They caw in a God-awful loud way as the sun comes up. Their song is not nearly as joyful as a rooster’s crow. One of these big black birds keep walking to our glass door and tapping his beak on the glass as if he wants in. At first I worried that he was looking in at one of Mark’s logs and thinking, “Hey, there’s my missing house. Let me in, Buddy. . . I don’t know what this huge box is doing in my forest, but it consumed my tree!” But Mark assured me he didn’t steal any wildlife homes when he was selecting trees, at least to his knowledge. I guess the crow is simply seeing his reflection in the window. But his incessant tapping is kinda spooky.
My kitchen is finally set up and I have begun cooking again. It is fun to have the space and the tools to make whatever I am inspired to try. I have signed up for a wine making class in the spring. I imagine I might do some serious calorie damage with that hobby – I confess, I tend to cook things I don’t like, such as chocolate brownies (I’m a fruity person –um… no cracks). This way I combat potential weight damage because of what I bring into the house, but I still get to cook. But, wine? Forget it. I’ll be grinning in my kitchen, flirting every time my husband walks by if I start making sweet nectar at home. Nevertheless, homemade wine sounds too fascinating not to try. I even have the room to plant grape vines if I feel so inclined. Fun. Anyway, I’m experiences a cooking renaissance now with a real kitchen. Yippee!
Unpacking the kitchen was embarrassing. I had about fourteen boxes labeled “Kitchen appliances.” I kept saying, “This can’t be. What could possibly be left that I haven’t already unpacked?” Then I would see yet another batch of cooking paraphernalia. Now, I must admit, most of this was acquired as gifts. When people know you cook, gift giving is a snap. They just buy you the latest gadget on sale – the more obscure the better because then they assume you don’t have it. I have steamers and rice cookers and pannini grills – blenders and choppers and food processors and mixers – crock pots and ice cream makers and food sealers and fondue sets – electric skillets and electric roasters and smokers and chafing dishes – smoothie makers and juicers and blenders and electric tea makers. I unpacked my super duper coffee pot at last. Yippee. The only thing I imagine I don’t have is a deep fat fryer – but that is because I don’t fry food (health reasons), so thankfully, no one would presume give me one.
I wonder where I kept it this stuff. Fact is, it was all piled in the garage or in a deep storage cabinet. I never could find things or they were so hard to get to I rarely used them. Now, I have everything on a long shelf in sight. It is like dwelling in cooking heaven (if not a bit gross in regards to indulgence – but what ya gonna do -have a kitchen appliance garage sale, then give everybody a chance to start buying that stuff again next Christmas? No thanks.) I just have it on hand for occasional food-play now.
This week, they are building Mark’s new workshop, a big wooden two story work space to go with the metal building he put up months ago to store wood and finished furniture. Next week he will be setting it up, then I suppose I will become a wood widow. I doubt he will exit the building often once he finally gets his lathe and tools set up. Well, at least that means I’ll get a dining room table and a few coffee tables. We are sadly sans tables and chairs now. I only have the upholstered furniture to live with now. Yes, I live in a house with just a couch and my two delicate chairs from the last home. But I’ve learned the best stuff is the stuff you are willing to wait for. This means Mark and I are both excited about this workshop finally being built!
What else? Oh yea. Kathy is doing very well, and our lessons are continuing. She is such an earnest, great student. Working with her is rewarding on so many levels. And fascinating. She is speaking at the high school this week (to the problem students) about drugs and how they destroy a life (she is a success story and people are starting to notice) I am going to go to watch. It is fun being her mentor and friend. I feel good knowing my efforts are making a difference. But I am going crazy trying to decide what to give her for Christmas. More on that later. Kathy deserves a blog devoted just to her, I think.
We went to Florida to teach in our old school. It was a great experience – the kids still enrolled are the best of the best. So focused, respectful and filled with good attitude. Mark and I both thought that if the school was like that before, we probably could never have left. Dancing with those kids was a joy, and it was satisfying to step into our old roles again for a few nights. I’d forgotten what good dance teachers we are. Sounds conceited, but we both looked at each other and smiled knowingly during the class. The material we touched on was signifigant. Later, we talked about how easy it is to fall back into teaching mode – how much we wish we could pour all our knowledge into a kid’s head in a single moment. We could see the holes in their training, and for us, the problems would be so easy to fix. We have a gift for teaching dance in a solid way, and for creating earnst students without ego problems or bad attitudes. Sometimes it is very difficult to leave what you are good at. You feel guilty and out of sorts over it. Anyway, I think our visit deserves a full independent blog too, so I’ll wait to comment on that later. Or not. Just let me say that we appreciated the opportunity to dance in our old school again and our fondness for the students there is tenfold.
My own school has been trying this semester. I’ve actually had a very rough term. I am hot into preparing for my last residency and preparing my thesis now. I won’t go into it because I have to close this blog and get to work, but let me comment that I am progressing and feeling very glad that I chose to get my MFA. Nevertheless, I am ready to get it over with. All my teachers, those that were very hard on me and those that seemed to love working with me, have said I am a very good writer and my work is “publishable”. Humm. Now, I guess it is all up to me. It is never about talent, ya know. It is all about what you do with your gifts.
I have a new confidence now. My formal writing education is a bit like Dumbo’s feather – it was probably not really necessary, but very good for making me feel equipped. In other wards, it was necessary for me, considering my personality. But now, I am ready to stop doing homework and ready to attend to my writing as a professional. Two years is a long hiatus from my love of writing historical romance or sending out material. I inherently believe I will be successful when I return to the books I love to write and I try to get published. Noveling is a hard profession to break into, but I have confidence I will be recognized. Maybe more than anyone expects. Anyway, my writing, while I don’t talk about it too much, is progressing (painfully). My mind is swirling with characters and plots (historical) I am dying to get to.
In retrospect, I think writing a dance book was a big mistake during school because this was a period I was trying to break free of dance. Writing about that subject mater has been difficult, an element of the project which interfered with my heartfelt commitment ( I am usually very prolific and sticking with this project has been like pulling teeth) but it will all be over soon and I will return to romance and history and creating a world of my own making (rather than writing about a world I know too well personally, a world which distresses me). I’ll write now my flavorful historicals with more trained skill now. Can’t wait.
My writing room is a thrill to have too. I have a big oak desk and a black leather recliner to read in – a classy library environment – just as I dreamed. The rest of the room is just going to be lined with bark-edged shelves filled with the books I love (now sitting about me in boxes – sigh). My spinning wheel arrived from Australia and that is sitting in the corner too. All the things I love and cherish are around me, gifts from former students, handmade craft items from our adventures in Appalachian arts, mementos of trips or experiences. I have my dolls that I collect (I buy period dolls that look like characters in my historical novels – a tribute to my beloved characters, sort of, and in this room Mark can’t complain that they are “staring at him” now.) My Eckerd college BA degree, so painstakingly earned at age 39, is on the wall, with a spot for the soon to be had MFA. It is inspirational for a gal that moved to New York to dance so young, who was told she would “never be educated or have anything” if she dared choose dance over college and a practical career. Ha. My office is a grand “Told ya so” to the naysayers now. Not that that is why I love it, of course. I’ve never had my own personal space. It is splendid.
I must go. I have so much to do. Boxes to unpack. We are rooting through not just a household of moving boxes, but years of stuff that was stored at FLEX too. Everything happened so fast when we sold the school we just threw it all in boxes for later. Now, “later” has come. It is daunting, sludging through eighteen years of living. We really believed when we put the school up for sale, that it would take two or three years to find a buyer. It was a specialized business, after all. Then we believed we would be asked to stay on for a year to help the transition. We were sort of aiming for leaving when Kent graduated – that is when our most believed dancers would have graduated too. But the school sold in 5 days, for our full asking price. Not like we could have hemmed and hawed the decision then. And the new owners said they didn’t want us involved – they were ready and excited to take over without us. It was a stroke of luck, but at the same time, a shock. We were sort of forced to jump into the cold water of the new life before we acclimated to the idea. Not that I am complaining, only that it took a long time to get over the feeling it was all unreal . Now, we are facing the aftermath of the quick shift. It is emotionally trying and a load of hard work to go through all this dance stuff, life stuff and household stuff – all crammed into our garage in poorly labeled boxes.
Ah well, with the right attitude, this can be an adventure too, so I keep trying to view it as such.
I have more to say, but I am feeling guilty now for spending the morning blogging.
Balance. Must maintain balance.
Anyway, happy holidays to all.
It is nice to be back.