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Monthly Archives: February 2007

The Garden cha cha

This weekend, Mark and I planted 500 daffodil bulbs around our house. I’m told these may or may not bloom this year. Next year we will get a hearty bunch of flowers for sure. The year after that, there will be an explosion of color that will curl my toes. Can’t wait. I’m not exactly patient. I got annoyed an hour later when I looked out my window and saw nothing in the spot where I’d spent hours bent over and burying those little bulbs.

I said, “This is boring. When will they arrive?”

Mark said, “You just planted them. It takes time.”



This weekend began my gardening education. I am an enthusiastic student, regardless of the fat that Mark keeps rolling his eyes as if I am a total lost cause. Can I help it if I don’t have his keen understanding of all things plant-like (yet)?

He says, “Stomp on the dirt to pack it down. Any air that gets into the root will make it rot.”

So, I stomp on the dirt.

He says, “You don’t have to do a daffodil dance on every one. Just stomp on it.”

I was stomping. Who said that gardening can’t be done with finesse? I prefer doing a little cha cha cha on top of each potential flower. I think the flower gods will like that, sort of like a rain dance, only it is good luck for the bulb.

Mark makes fun of me, says I am a gardening queer-bo. What can I say? You can take the girl out of dance, but you can’t take the dance out of the girl.


Of our 500 bulbs, Mark purchased about 450 of them. I happened to buy some on-line a few months back because they were on sale at the place where last year I bought wildflower seeds. (Seeds that never grew, by the way) I was inspired by the pictures – and the sale. This is not my role in the marriage – being the plant purchaser. Let’s just say I was stretching my horizons.


After we finish planting his load, Mark says, “Whatcha got?” He looks at my purchases and wrinkles his nose. “Mixed bulbs? We don’t want mixed bulbs. We hate mixed bulbs.”

“We do? I didn’t know that. They give diverse color. See, it says so right on the package. Besides which, I think they are pretty.” I say.

They aren’t naturalized,” he says, as if I should know what the heck he is talking about.

“It’s not like they are made of plastic. They are natural, ” I point out.

He explains that in the wild, flowers grow and multiply on there own, so to grasp a look that is natural, you must only use one color in an area. Slowly you blend to a different color. It’s gotta be a gradual thing. Apparently, mixed flower colors are corny.

My opinion is that mixed colors are pretty, and who are we kidding, we are planting the damn things for color, so the naturalization of this planting is just a fallacy anyway. As long as we are in control of what goes where, why not mix it up for fun? Why paint a picture with only a few primary colors when you can mix it up to get a variety?”

He shakes his head as if I just suggested we cover the sofa in the living room with plastic.

I also bought Hyacinths, which I was told are too small for our big expanse of land. And . . . um. . . I bought them mixed. Foolish me.


Mark kept looking around as if he couldn’t figure out where to put these bulbs, like I had bought a mermaid lamp with a clock in its stomach and wanted it in a place of prominence in the house. He wouldn’t dare suggest we not plant my bulbs, because that would be insulting my taste, and he is not one to purposely hurt my feelings or want to dampen my enthusiasm for planting. He is glad I’m interested in joining him outdoors, though I am sure he would rather me be slave labor than someone with an opinion. Anyway, it was clear to me he did not want my corny flower choices around his classy, perfect house.  He is a master gardener, after all, and I have amateur tastes. But he recognizes that it is our house and he wants to be fair, so he would have planted them wherever I wanted if I had made a case of it.

I suggested we plant my bulbs near the chicken house, because I would love to see color there when I am working with the animals.

Boy oh boy, did he jump at that suggestion. He was like, “Great idea! They will look fantastic there!” Ha. He didn’t really think I’d mess with his garden vision did he? I just bought some bulbs for fun – not like I cared where they went. I am aware that he is the one who knows what is what outdoors and I wouldn’t presume to question his concepts.

So, we planted my mixed bulbs on the hill by the chickens. I guess they are corny. Big whoop. I think they will be beautiful. They are flowers for God’s sake, and all flowers are beautiful. Besides which, I tend to pick blooms whenever I see them (can’t resist), and in a vase, no one will care if they are naturalized or not. In fact, I’ll get double the pleasure when I see those mixed flowers now, because I bought them myself and they landed in my domain. Makes them uniquely mine.


Next, we went shopping for trees. Mark said we were going to buy 40. Cool.

I saw the apple trees and said, “How about we get twenty of those?”

His eyes popped out of his head. “You only need one of each apple tree for a grove. You can’t handle any more. Trust me.”

“I want lots of apples.” I insisted. “Enough for loads of cooking and for my horses too.”

“You’ll have enough. Pick four.”

So, I got one gala, two granny smith (because they are small and I slipped another one in when he wasn’t looking), one golden delicious, and one other one that I can’t’ remember now.  We are buying peach trees today. And a plum and pear tree. I may have queer tastes when it comes to gardening, but apparently, I am a big fruit too.


I saw fig trees. I got so excited. I said, “Hey, let’s grow figs. What can I make out of figs?”

Mark thinks a minute and says, “Um…. Figgy pudding?”

“Yea, figgy pudding. “

“I’ll sing, “Bring us a figgy pudding” every Christmas,” he says.

“Good idea! What else can I make out of figs?”

He thinks some more. “Fig newtons.”
O.K. So there are not a lot of fig recipes that immediately come to mind. But I’m thinking homemade fig newtons sound good. I get my heart set on a fig tree. I point out that if we ever want to run around naked playing Adam and Eve, the leaves will come in handy too. But the garden lady blows that dream out of the water when she tells us that in Georgia the fig trees don’t ever really bear fruit. There goes my figgy pudding. There goes my Adam and Eve costume for next Halloween. Drat.


We bought pink flowering Chinese weeping willow trees, and flowering dogwoods and flowering pear trees and other things that will bring color around the house. These, I’m told, are the skeleton to our landscaping, and we will add bushes and annuals later. Fascinating.


I plunked a bag of lime on the counter to amend the soil around my beloved blueberry bush. I thought the blueberries were a bit sour and the bush is getting old. I think it needs some attention. Lime is what our pasture needed, I was told by the County <ST1Extension service. They explained that our soil was lime depraved, a very important nutrient, so I’ve been on a quest to rectify that. As an afterthought, I mentioned what I was doing to the garden lady. Her eyes grew round and said, “You know that lime will kill a blueberry bush, don’t you. Blueberries are an acidic plant (or maybe she said the opposite, I don’t remember). You absolutely do not want lime anywhere near it. Fruit bushes and pastures are very different and have different needs.”


Are you kidding me! I almost killed my most favorite thing in the world. This reminds me of why I don’t garden. When I left home and had my first apartment in New York, I kept buying plants, but they always died. Gave me a complex. I decided I didn’t have a green thumb. It was more a black thumb. So once I moved and got a house with a real yard, I had to be content with just grass. Then, when I got married, I left the gardening to Mark. He had the gift. Seemed the practical choice.


Wiping sweat from my worried brow, I bought the correct plant food to give my beloved blueberry bush a boost and decided that I wouldn’t do anything from now on without talking to the experts. Man, this is going to be a long perilous road, this learning all about how to grow things. It is far more complex than plunking seeds in the ground and watering them a few times a week. I am reading every article I come across about gardening in Georgia and about vegetable gardens etc. It is always fun to learn something new, but this is one big subject and if you screw up, you kill things. You might say, “Hey, it’s only plants”, but still, I think we must each take responsibility for our impact on all things living and I don’t want to be responsible for turning healthy plants into withering crusts.


I tried to get Mark to buy some grape plants (only five bucks a nice size plant) but he asked me to wait. He needs to build an arbor first for them to grow on. But who knows when he will get around to that? So, I’m thinking I might sneak out and buy six or 8 plants later this week and start them on a fence somewhere in the meantime. Without lime. Or with. I’ll ask.  I am also planting some raspberry bushes near my blueberry bush. I want to make that area my berry haven. We took a drive around the land on the four-wheeler yesterday and we spotted all the dormant blackberry bushes. I asked Mark if I should feed them to assure sweeter berries this July but he said some plants grow best in harsh conditions and wild plants often happen to fall into this category. Feeding them might help them produce better. But it might hurt them too. Wholey moley, I’m paralyzed with the uncertainty. I’ve decided to let them be. If it ain’t broke . . ..


Anyway, so goes my venture into the world of gardening. I wish I could flash forward to reap the bounty now, but I know it will take a few years untill these plants are up and producing. At least we have begun. And I’m liking it. Lots. Mark better watch out cause once I learn what I am doing, he will be tripping over all kinds of things growing here and there and he’ll be thinking, “How did that get there?” Ha. He will be inundated with corny flowers and things bearing fruit everywhere- and he’ll be married to a woman cha cha cha-ing all over the place.


Because, I think I’m going to learn enough to be proficient at this. Like the bulbs, I just have to be patient . Seeds have been planted (in my head) and now, time and attention will help them take root. You see, in this chapter of my life, I’m gonna be a bloom’in gardener. It fits.

And for the record, no more eggs yet.

Growing, Growing, gone.

I got an egg!

It broke.

Life’s a bitch.


Yesterday, I dragged Mark out for a walk to visit my chickens. I wanted to open the pen so they could enjoy the beautiful day (it was about 65 degrees out). When we got there, I noticed only two of my new hens were out scratching in the dirt.


I said, “Gee, maybe the other one is in the henhouse, laying an egg.” However, I seriously didn’t expect that was the case. I’ve concluded that I’m one of those rare, sad breed of farmer wannabes – an egg-challenged individual. Just yesterday, Eric C, the fellow who puts up our farm fencing (and who sold us the pregnant horse and donkey, gave us our favorite puppy, and took our goat when we wanted to find a good home for it) came by to move a gate. He stood with us, staring at our chickens. I proudly pointed out my new hens. He shook his head and said, “Those aren’t good laying hens, ya know. They are good sitters, but don’t count on them giving you eggs.”


I said, “Are you shitting me? (Forever a classy broad) What good is a sitter if the chicken isn’t laying eggs to sit on?”

Eric said, “You can place eggs from other chickens under them and they will hatch them out for you. These birds are good brooders for chicks.”

“I don’t want chicks. I want eggs,” I pointed out.

Eric then proceeded to go to his truck and get me a poultry catalogue. (How many of your friends can do that?) He pointed out that I can get chickens for only two bucks if I buy 25 at a time and have them mailed to me. (Now, I ask you, who wants 25 birds that are all the same color and kind? Not me. I prefer to buy them at four dollars a pop and pick them out individually. I am frivolous that way.) But we had a nice time perusing the catalogue. Man, there are lots of different chickens out there in the world.


Anyway, I asked Eric if he wanted a rooster. He said, “Sure”

I said, “You’re not going to eat him are you? Never mind. Don’t tell me.”

Eric laughed and said, “They aren’t big enough to eat. But I have some chickens that wouldn’t mind some male company.” And he picked up the white silkie and put her in the back of his truck.


Back to my tale of chicken woe.  As I was saying, yesterday, I wondered where my third hen was. I went into the chicken house and Voila! She was sitting in a corner all fat and proud, and when she got up, there was an egg underneath her. Considering Eric had me convinced my hens wouldn’t lay, I was surprised. Delighted. Heck, I was ecstatic. I squealed and yelled, “I got an egg.”


Mark says, “That’s nice, dear,” in his droll way.

I said, “Come see! Come see!”

He said, “I get it. You have an egg.”  

“You have to come see it.”

He pokes his head into the shed. “Yep, that’s and egg all right.”

I was seriously confused at how he could remain so calm. I said, “Do you not understand the significance of this egg?”

He said, “You have chickens. Eventually, you were going to get an egg. A few months from now, you will be laughing at yourself for getting excited by this, because you will think nothing of eggs. It’s not that big a deal.”

Baloney. I will always see the miracle.


I did the “I got an egg” happy dance.

Mark said, “If I knew you’d get this turned on by an egg, I would have snuck out here with a dozen and shoved them under your chickens months ago.”

He really is missing the point.


Anyway, after I marveled at the egg I decided to leave it where it was so Neva could see it and collect it herself. We went to pick up the kids from school, and I talked about the egg the entire way. I told everyone I encountered about the egg – like the girl behind the counter at the coffee shop. I even stopped by the feed store to tell the owner I finally got an egg. She smiled in this funny patronizing way, as if I was seven and telling her I lost my first tooth. Then, I called Denver and Dianne to tell them about my egg. I invited them all to breakfast.


Denver said, “You want us all to come to breakfast to share this one egg? How big is this egg, anyway?”


It just so happens it is a rather small egg. That isn’t’ the point. I explained that it would be a ceremonial breakfast and we would share. Amazingly, she said was . . . um . . . busy.


Anyway, after picking up the kids and sharing the big news, I drove everyone back to the henhouse. I had my camera in my pocket to take picture of my special egg too. Knew you’d want to see it. Kent and Neva go inside – I am outside checking my angora bunnies (who are together doing the nasty this week (every five minutes in fact) to make baby angoras).   


Kent calls out, “What egg? There is no egg in here.”

“Of course there is. Right on the ground.” I yell back.

“There is no egg in here. There is, however, a part of an egg shell,” he says, chuckling. Obviously, boys are very heartless when it comes to egg-appreciation. Must be a hormonal thing.


What! I rush in. Sure as shit, my egg is gone. Somebody broke it. There were no birds in the vicinity to take the blame. I wonder if it was due to my hen sitting on it overzealously, or maybe the other hens were jealous and didn’t want me playing favorites. Maybe a rooster thought it was too soon to be a father. Whatever – someone dared break my egg.


I was devastated. There goes my ceremonial breakfast.  There goes my picture.

Mark says, “Well, you will probably have another egg tomorrow. Once they start laying, they keep at it.”


Yea, but I wanted THAT egg. My first. It was special.


Anyway, today I will see if I have any other eggs – if there is one there, you can bet I’ll collect it right away. I am also going to the feed store to buy oyster shell to put in my scratch, because that makes the shells harder and more resistant to cracking. I will combat the obstacles standing in my way of egg success, whatever the cost.


My friend Patti says chicken eggs taste like whatever you feed the chickens. Her sister fed her chickens veggies and her eggs tasted like veggies. This means, my eggs will taste like powdered donuts. Interesting.


But that theory can’t be true, can it? That would mean you’d have to feed your chickens eggs to get eggs that taste like eggs. And that would be cannibalism (shudder). But, just in case, you can bet I’ll be doing some scientific testing on the matter. Gee, maybe my chickens would enjoy a glass of wine – I can get eggs that taste like Chardonnay. Cool.


Anyway – this concludes the joy and pain of my first egg experience. It’s just like life, a dream is just within reach, and something comes along to smash it. You can then choose to give up, or put forth a bit more effort so the next time you see your heart’s desire within reach, you might be able to get a hold of it.  


Today is Saturday. We have big plans. We are going to buy a tiller and plan our spring garden. I read all about asparagus last night. Takes three years to get a crop going, but then it produces for 20 years. Patience is not my forte, but I still want to try. I am hot for tomatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, and more – they will provide more instant gratification. Have big cooking plans, ya know. I have to wait three years for apple and pear trees to begin producing, but I figure time flies when you are growing a new life, so we might as well get started. I sure as shoot don’t want to wake up three years from now and think “I wish way back when, I had . . . .” You only reap what you sow, and now that the sentence applies literally, I’m all for rolling up my sleeves and digging in today for tomorrow’s rewards.   


I am also going to plant a bunch of grape vines next week. This is a part of my new ultimate passion. I am going to make my own wine. I’ve bought books about home wine making and subscribed to Winemaker magazine. I’ve signed up for a weekend course. I figure this is perfect for me. I love to cook. I love to drink wine. I love especially to make things out of stuff I grow on my own land. But wine also is a subject that requires patience. It must ferment for a year or so before you can even sample it. Imagine! You have to wait a full season to find out what you don’t like about what you did with a batch, and as such, it will take years to develop the skill and develope a great wine touch. Ah well, I’m only 47. I have time. I think it would be wonderful to have a dinner party and serve my own wine. I will need a label of course, and a perfect name for my wine creations. (The dancing grape? Naw. Too queer.) Lots to think about. I read that you usually make 30 bottles at a time – And I’m bound to want to try different recipes. Gee, I’ll need to find some serious drinking friends soon.


I told Mark that maybe I’ll get good at the wine making thing, and we can move to Italy and purchase a winery in the next chapter of our life. He said, “Perhaps you should make one bottle first, before mapping out our future or writing up a business plan or anything.”


I guess that isn’t a bad idea, but I did point out that he has been talking about opening a furniture company, and he has yet to make a table. Touché. Guess we think on grand scales – for fun if nothing else. The endless possibilities in life are half the fun of living, you must agree.


Today is about planting. I want tons of sunflowers and other pretty things to attract humingbirds and butterflys. I need things bees will pollunate. (Remember, I am taking a bee-keeping class in 6 weeks. Fun!)We are also going to dig up dirt samples today and label them so Monday we can take them to the Extension office for testing. We need to find out the PH of the soil and know what it needs to get the best results. (It’s kind of like going to school to get a MFA if you want to write. I’m all for doing the preliminary work to increase your chances of success if you want to accomplish something special.) We’re having our earth tested to learn what it needs to make a better pasture, garden, and/or orchard. Can’t wait to learn the gritty details about our dirt. I want to buy worms too. And I think I should make a scarecrow – for ambiance if not for any real purpose. Gee, I have a lot to do. Where is my straw hat?


Anyway, it is going to that kind of day. I need to don my jeans, work boots and a sweatshirt. Funny, I will be wearing my FLEX sweatshirt – my favorite. Talk about evidence of getting hit with a life curveball. Wow. L:ife is wonderfully unpredictable if you’ve the nerve to let it unfold without ironclad control.

Jessica and her amazing flying ponytail

Yesterday, my old student and dear friend, Jessica Smith, looked me right in the eyes and told me I am strong. I am  also”excellent.” I’m  “looking good”. Why, Thank you, Jessica.
Of course, she hasn’t seen me in about a year. She was there with me, however, in a role reversal that had me grinning from ear to ear. Jessica has produced a workout tape on sale through Woman’s Health mag., and yesterday, I was one of her customers.

I work out every day. Sometimes I do my dance warmup. Somedays, Mark gives us both a pump class with weights. That is sort of funny, because he puts on his teaching persona and barks orders at me. One day I answered the phone in the middle of our session and he was so peeved. I was told to “pay attention” in his class. Your class? Um, it’s just you and me dear. Ah well, he gives a good class, so I’m game to any rules that apply.  

On nice days, I run (huff, puff and hobble). But more often than not, I workout to a variety of tapes in my workout room. The closest health club is a 40 minute drive from here, and while I attended for several months when we first moved, I finally gave up. It simply ate up too much of my precious day. That’s when I began walking the mountain, but I found bad weather interviened more often than not and I missed a full body workout. So, I am now a stay at home workout person, which I like. I The social aspect of working out in a health club doesn’t appeal to me, I like the privacy and the freedom of working out alone – it is when I do my best thinking.

I am a fan of DVD’s produced by the Firm for cardio, but I also tend to finish with a Yoga tape. (I swear, I don’t know how anyone without years of dance training can do yoga. It challenges my balance and my flexibility, and I am fairly adapt in both areas. But the meditation is amazing. I always turn off the lights and work in the dark to the yoga tapes.)  I have pilates tapes and exercise ball tapes and you name it.

I find most home tapes are designed for people who are out of shape and lack much self disclipline, because they segment exercises in short sessions that never push the limit. So, I end up doing more than one tape to get a full hour workout.  The day Jessica told me she had a new tape soon to be on the market, I went on line and ordered it right away. Heck, even if I didn’t use workout tapes, I’d have done that.

I got a call from a writer from the Sarasota Herald Tribune interviewing me about Jessica too. Her article came out just yesterday. Here is the site for those of you who are interested. Really, you should read it. Ever seen a writer act more enthralled with a subject? Jessica has a way of gripping people.

You can visit Jessica’s blog too. It’s I can’t critique this, because I haven’t been to visit it. You can bet I will today!

So, now it is time for my video critique. Ha. You knew this was coming Jessica.

Frankly, I can’t be objective. I am so entertained by watching her do her thing, and looking at that remarkable body of hers, (which is nothing like the body I trained for years – dammit) that the actual workout is secondary. But I will say that I did the cardio section, then the upperbody and then the lower body workout in one session, which is supposed to be three days of work. But that isn’t Jessica’s fault. That is the format of these sorts of watered down workout tapes because they are designed for people trying to squeeze in a workout in ten minutes as they get ready for work. If you do more than one day’s session, you can get a nice full workout from this video.

I didn’t like the music, I am afraid to admit. They only play generic  music softly in the background, and you barely hear it, so it is as if you are working out to a voice only. I am someone who craves music as inspiration. But Jessica teaches very well, and in that way, this is a very good tape. I like the sets. The three girls demonstrating look fantastic, and that is inspirational to any woman who works out in effort to get the “body she deserves” . The exercises are great, though nothing remarkably novel. Ah well, classic never goes out of style. Mostly, I was thrilled to watch Jessica. She has chrisima and a sexy way of smiling into the camera that makes me laugh. I listen to her voice, watch the way her body naturally moves,  and I am taken back to years of dance classes – the one’s she’s taken and the one’s she’s taught. She is still the same Jessica. Dynamic.

I especially liked watching her ponytail swing back and forth as she exercises. I liked looking into her bright eyes and fresh skin. She looks beautiful, but better yet, happy. That is what I like best about this video. It is good to see someone you care about in a good “life place”. Obviously, at this particular time, she is happy. That makes me happy too. 

Anyway, I think everyone should buy this tape, even if you want to use it to just sit on the couch eating bon bons while you stare at the teacher.

I would like to say more, a full fledged commercial, but I am late for a date. I am going to the campbell school to see what my husband has created these past few days without me.
Let me just say, I’m not sore from my workout, Jessica. In fact, I feel pretty good. Inside and out. Thank you for that. I’ll see you later today again for the last segment. I’ll try to be “excellent” and to “look good” and to “be strong”  so your compliments won’t be a big fat lie. I’ll also drink water and eat trail mix, as you ordered. You see, I may have been your teacher for years, but I can be a good student as well. At least, I’ll try.

Remember that day when you said to me, “Someday, I want to be just like you . . . or Cindi Lauper.”
Well, Jessica, someday I want to be just like you. I don’t even need a Cindi Lauper fallback. You’re amazing.
Congratulations on your rising career.  

Dance fallout.

The other day, as we were going to bed, my husband turned to me and said, “I miss dance. I miss dance so much it hurts.”


Good thing I was laying down, for otherwise I would have fallen over. You miss dance? Since when? I’ve been wondering if he felt this way, but I really never thought he’d speak it aloud.


I have been in a state of mourning over the loss of dance in my life for over a year now. I don’t write about it (at least not here) but I will tell you that there is a lingering melancholy to my days as I wrestle with my new self-definition. I tried sharing these feelings of loss with my husband when we first retired, but my comments were always dismissed, as if it was nothing more than ranting from someone with an overly romantic nature.  


I’d say, “I feel as if a vital organ has been removed from my body, like I have this huge hole inside. I’m incomplete. I can’t stand it. Don’t you miss dance?”   


My husband would say, “If I never saw another dance step as long as I live, I’d be fine. Dance is just a habit, you simply need to develop new habits.”


Sometimes I’d say, “I miss dance physically. I feel as if my body is asleep, as if it craves movement. I need to stretch to feel alive. I need to feel that abandon that comes with moving naturally. I miss the sensation of dancing. Don’t you?”


He’d respond with, “Dance hurts too much. (And even though he is younger than I, with his arthritic joints, dance does cause him much more pain than it does me). If I never dance again, I’ll be only too happy.”


So, I stopped sharing my feelings about the loss of dance, because frankly, his responses made me sad. We are usually on the same page about things, but in this case, it was clear that our experience regarding this life change was very different. In fact, he made me feel stupid for the way I felt, as if I was weak. Obviously I am having difficulties moving on from the art, but the fact is, I’m clearly too old to stay in it without embarrassing myself. Besides which, what has dance been really except a livelihood for the past many years? In reality, I left dance when I left New York, at least dance in its pure form.


My thesis is a book about dance. It’s a story about a woman in her 40’s who happens to be purists regarding her art. A dance snob, so to speak. She never married, had kids or saved money, because she was obsessed with her art and her career. She gave herself wholly to the art of dance, working for years in concert work, Broadway etc.. And one day, she realizes that dance has left her. It is fickle that way, an art that relies on youth. So she retires. Everyone thinks all retired dancers move on to teaching, but that isn’t the case. For many, teaching is considered a compromise, (those that can’t – teach) and this is the case with my character.  My book is about how she adapts and comes to terms with her loss. She goes through the seven stages of grief, anger, despair, denial, etc… and finally comes to acceptance. The book begins with her bitter and angry at the art because after all her devotion, she realizes she is a middle aged, unaccomplished, ex-dancer now, with nothing to show for a lifetime of work. And she hates dance for it – as if it is a lover that betrayed her – left her for a younger woman. She has no relationship, no money, no future, no skills, just like a woman divorced who never had to take care of herself before.  What was it all for? But through a series of non-professional experiences in a corny neighborhood dance studio, she begins to see dance through different eyes – she is reminded of what drew her to it in the beginning. And her purist attitude, her art snobbery, fades as she rediscovers the beauty of dance. She still must leave dance behind, but it is with love and respect that she does so. And she learns that dance does not define a person, but enhances them. She realizes there is time to live fully, to explore different elements of life beyond art, even though it is scary and she feels inadequate and out of sync with the world. This is all sort of a generalization of the book, but that’s it in a nutshell.


Mark read the beginning and said, “I hate that you are writing this story.” It was sort an outpouring of all my mourning, and that disturbed him.  I guess the book is my way of dealing with the big change. My personal dance therapy – a place to air my grievances regarding the art. It is the “what if” scenario. “What if” I never left New York at 30 to open a dance school? I was a purist – I could have been this character. “What if” I never did the “practical thing” and left the professional field, I wouldn’t have gotten married, had children, made money, ever gotten that formal education that helped me understand politics, religion and how the world works, etc. Projecting forward, I am writing my “what if” story – me on the road not taken (thank God).  As such, this story is real to me. This character is real to me. It’s my alter ego – me in a parallel universe. Me, unevolved.


I have often thought I should have chosen a different story to work on during this MFA experience, because at the very time I am wrestling with leaving dance, I am writing about it everyday, which is difficult, but my teachers like this book and think it has merit, so I’ve kept at it. But let me tell you, it’s been painful.


Anyway, while I am sorting through all my inner turmoil, Mark hasn’t displayed any remorse about leaving dance. He has been rather celebratory of it. Until now.


We have a dance studio/workout room built in our house. I was very excited about getting it complete, because I longed for the space to “find” myself again. The day they put up the wall-to-wall mirrors, I was giddy. Mark acted funny.


He said, “What were we thinking putting this in our home? It exactly like the studio, and it gives me the heebie geebies. I guess I have bad associations to the entire dance thing. I’m sorry I build it now.”


This comment disturbed me for days. I couldn’t stand that he has negative associations to dance, because, while I agree that it was time for us to begin a new chapter of our lives, I have beautiful memories of our past. In the end, we were frustrated, but that doesn’t discount 18 years of good FLEX memories. We had great friends, wonderful times, exciting moments. We learned a lot, grew as individuals, made a difference in the lives of many. Everything we have today can be attributed to those years of creative hard work. Certainly, we can, and should, remember our past with reverence. We should live with gratitude for all dance gave us – personally and monetarily.


When we sold FLEX, I wanted to take every picture off the walls and bring it with me. Mark insisted that the artwork went with the business. “Besides which, what would you do with them?” He said. “It’s not like we are going to hang pictures of dancers all around our log cabin.”


But I wanted them. In the end, we compromised. I took all the articles written about the dancers we trained, or our accomplishments and a few pictures featuring us. I seriously doubted the new owners wanted Hendry paraphernalia around. (and I was right. I later learned that those coveted pictures I left behind were all tossed in the dumpster – I was mortified)  It was difficult to leave behind the pictures of dancers I loved and had such special memories of, but I did. I figured they were not mine to keep – but they were images I would hold onto in my heart.   I packed up everything I could claim was a “personal” article and/or photo, even knowing I may never hang them again.


Mark winced and said, “These pictures are just going to hang around for years in an attic in that box. We are not going to have them in our house.”


But I knew I was going to have an office of my own, and the rule was that I could put anything in it I wanted. So my pat answer was always, “I’ll put this in my office.”

Mark made fun of me, because my office was going to be 12 foot square, but I’d amassed a warehouse of stuff I claimed I was going put there. My little room was turning into a shrine to my dance past and every interest I had. But that was my choice to make.


A staff member cried while I was packing the pictures and said, “You are taking FLEX history away. How can you do that?”


I pointed out that this stuff was Mark and Ginny’s history. Not really just FLEX history. True, “Mark and Ginny” had been FLEX up until that point, but FLEX would go on without us. I was taking those items that defined not just our business, but our romance too. I met my husband at FLEX. It was more than a business for us, it was our dating ground, then it became the field we fought and played on. It was the backdrop decorating our family life, our marriage, and more.

At least, that is how I saw it.


But after selling the business, for a while, FLEX was a four-letter word at our house. Missing dance was not something we discussed. It was as if by dredging it up, we might lose momentum and fail to follow through this brave decision to walk away. So, we pretended dance didn’t exist and we focused on all the nice things we had in the absence of FLEX. Family time, a beautiful home we could enjoy, a chance to pursue varied interests.


Mark was distracted by building his dream house. I think this kept his mind moving forward, out of the past. FLEX was something that he endured for more years than he could stand. He never wanted that school- he just participated to “get the girl”(I was a package deal). Now, it was as if he’d been let out of prison, and frankly, he didn’t want to be reminded of all those years he was contained. Period. So he built his house, enjoying his world of wood and manly pursuits. I wrote a book, which happened to keep me anchored in the past.


Then, a year and a half after selling the school, the dream log cabin was complete, and we moved in. When we came to that box of FLEX articles, I looked at him expectantly, wondering if it would go in the attic or somewhere else.


Mark said, “I think we should put these in the workout room. I know you’d like to unpack them and they’d fit there.” I was thrilled, but I didn’t say much. I didn’t know if it was a suggestion he was making to make me happy, or because he was having a change of heart regarding FLEX images. I was hoping it was both.


The truth is, I wanted our history out in the open. I wanted pictures of students we trained and cared about hanging around. I wanted memories of our years building that business on display. I wanted them as a reminder for my kids of where we came from, and to introduce new friends to an important side of us. And even more, I wanted the pictures of my husband, the dancer, in plain sight for me. I needed reminding that the guy I married did indeed exist, a dancer with passion who was committed to developing a great school. He loved dance, even if he claims now that he didn’t. I know. I was there. I love the new wood guy, but I loved the dancer too.


Then, one day, Mark started watching this show on TV called Dancelife. I was shocked to discover he taped every episode and he began watching it at night when I was falling asleep. He also wanted to see every dance movie that came out, seemingly fascinated with the skills portrayed, and he started watching music videos to see “where dance is going without us”. This was the Mark I lived with for years, as man always curious about the art with a fascination for how it evolved and was influenced by current styles.  


Next, he started dancing around the house. This sounds funny, but I am forever breaking out in a little dance move here and there. He rolls his eyes and makes fun of me. So, I began dancing in the closet (well not in a real closet, although my closet is almost big enough to dance in now, but in the workout room when he wasn’t around.) When I dance, I feel most like me. And I need that, whether I am doing it for a living or not. I left behind a dance studio, not dance per say. Once I put that in perspective, I found myself longing to dance again. I guess you could say, I’d given myself permission to follow my heart.


Recently, my husband came pas de burreing into a room. He did a little spin as he flicked on the light then turned up the thermostat. I blinked and said, “Are you dancing, Dear?”

He grinned sheepishly and said, “Yea. Just a little.”



Mark has begun sharing his real feelings about dance. He says, “I hear music and it kills me. My first reaction is that I have to get this song because I’m imagining the great dance I could choreography to it in my mind. But then I remember that I will never have occasion to choreograph again in my life and I feel such a loss. I miss the creativity of dance. The music. The movement.”


Sometimes he says, “I can’t believe I will never teach dance again. I was so good at it.  I know so much about the art. The idea that I won’t employ that skill ever again feels wrong, like a sin. There are all these horrible hacks out there teaching dance poorly, and meanwhile here I am, so effective, doing nothing. Seems out of balance.”  (This is not him being conceited. He is an amazing teacher with an uncanny ability to impart knowledge. That is just a fact.)


So, after almost two years of denial, my husband has come to realize that in walking away from dance, something has been lost. In truth, something has been gained too, so I am not saying our leaving the art was a mistake. But moving forward means leaving a part of our true selves behind, and that is something to mourn. I hate to think Mark feels the same sadness I feel regarding the loss, but I must admit, it is nice to know that I am not the only one who wrestles with the fallout of our life change.


I told Mark the other day that we had to remember leaving dance was (and is) a choice. We can have dance in our life if we choose. It is as easy as saying yes to the teaching jobs that we still get calls for. Or setting up a dance class. Or for that mater, we could dive back into the field with a vengeance, with newfound energy, after the sabbatical we obviously needed. The only limitations people have in life are self-imposed, in my opinion . Life and the directions it travels, is always a choice. 


But Mark doesn’t want dance back. He just needs to express his feelings of loss and work through them. His reaction surfaced in a delayed fashion, but it has finally surfaced. I guess, he doesn’t have a book in the works to define what he is feeling, so he has to sort through it all internally, his mind racing as he watches dance on TV or listens to music.


At least now, we have come to a place where we both are ready to hang the mementos of dance in clear sight, images that make us smile wistfully. Sometimes FLEX memories make us sigh with bittersweet poignancy, but mostly, they remind us that we have lived a vivid, interesting life. There is nothing to regret. Not in the years we stayed. Not in our leaving either.


I think people are defined by their experiences. Truthfully, we don’t leave anything behind. We wrap all up all the emotions, the learning, the revelations, and take it with us, creating another level of being that becomes a part of the foundation that makes us unique. As such, Mark and I have not left dance. We are still dancers, just evolved, older dancers. I am a dancer that writes books and raises chickens and rides horses and slips down into my private studio several times a week to dance incognito, feeding my spirit what it craves. My husband is a dancer who drives a tractor, builds houses and weaves baskets, a man who dances in his head as he listens to music or watches performances on screen, even though he is wearing jeans and a flannel work shirt instead of his traditional sweatpants and baseball cap.


As long as we keep dance alive inside of us, the music in our soul, we’ve lost nothing. We both miss dance. That is real. But at long last, we are missing it together. And suddenly, I feel far less lonely facing my demons.

Egg shoping

It was a joint decision. Neva and I decided it is time to start cheating.

We were chicken shopping, and needless to say, the babies were irresistable. We chose six various sorts which birds. Neva determined she would name them after the greek gods. I only remember Venus, but she remembers other female goddesses with splendor to match that of our new puff ball chicks.  Meanwhile, outside they had three full grown fat, speckled black and white Brahams that were raised by a little old lady who sat on the porch rocking with her chickens (this sounds like a used car salesman tactic, but I believe the lady at the Chicken store, and I honestly think some old gal really did rock these happy little birds. They certainly seem tame.) Best of all, I’m told these girls are already laying one egg a day.

That’s enough for me. SOLD!

So we just brought home some full grown egg layers. We think. I put them in the pen and the boys went crazy. They kept jumping on the girls, pecking at them. I think the birds were fighting to establishing pecking order because new birds are entering an already established kingdom, afterall. But Neva said “I think the boys are trying to mount them, don’t you?”

I stood there a minute trying to determine how I felt about my daughter using the word “mount” She accepted what was (maybe) going on, awfully matter of factly. Ah well, she is a country girl now. What did I expect?
We watched a few minutes, but had to get to the house to set up the little chicks under a heat lamp. They are only a few days old and so they are delicate. We now have chickens in various stages to observe and raise. We have the three mid-sized Lucy’s (a few weeks old). The greek goddesses, only days old. Full grown hens having a wild time out with the boys….. we hope. Now that I think of it, it’s a fine FLEX replacement. I have my Mini movement chicks, my dance combo chicks and my program chicks. All in different stages of nurturing as I wait for the day they will come into their own.

The store also had some rare japaneese adult girl chickens that lay an egg a day, but they were small, strange looking birds. I don’t mind strange, but  little eggs? I’ll skip that. 

Anyway, tonight I’m wondering if tomorrow I’ll find eggs in one of the nests. Maybe it will take a few days for the new girls to get comfortable enough to leave us a gift – they might need time to adjust –  or maybe it needs to be warmer before they start laying again. But then again, they may just start laying right away and tomorrow Neva and I might be eating a very special breakfast. Yehaw, I can’t wait to see what happens.

So, I guess you can say we cheated and fast forwarded things to get immediate egg-gratification. Will we get lucky? Tonight I will dream of eggs. The question is, will I be eating them tomorrow . . . or simply ploting yet another way to get birds ready to do their duty? 

Missing Chickens and drugged llama’s?- what has my world come to?

The good new is my llama is fine. In fact, the vet said he was the nicest male llama he has ever worked with, and this man is the resident vet for a nearby llama farm so he’d know. He attends 160 llamas a month. He did have to cut away six of Dalai’s fighting molars that pose potential risk, which meant he had to drug my poor llama. By the time I got there, he was leaning against the fence, his chin on the upper post as if the bar was all that was keeping him upright. He was smiling this slurred llama smile, never taking his eyes off me, as if he just consumed a pint of Jack Daniels and I was looking better to him all the time.  The vet, laughing at the animal’s moony grin, told me where I could purchase a female llama for breeding, if interested. My birthday is coming up….. how did he guess?


I was thinking my animal concerns were all behind me, until I found out I’d lost my only chicken. Damn the luck!

Mark was quick to point out that I have five new chickens in the pool table room downstairs (no pool table yet, so I guess it should be called the “chicken raising” room for the time being). But, what I have peeping downstairs are simply baby chicks. I don’t think little fluffs like that qualify as true chickens.


Yesterday, I noticed the door to the chicken pen was opened. I wasn’t sure why or how, but all the roosters were digging in the dirt and eating worms and everyone was sticking close and looked happy enough. I thought I’d let them enjoy freedom for an hour while I de-haired my white angora. It’s cold, so you’d think a thick wooly angora coat would be nice this time of year, but my rabbit is overdue for shedding and all her scratching and licking have me thinking I better get to it. Bits of fluff are blowing about the cage and her coat is starting to felt. Gotta remove some of the excess fur now if I want to use it and it will make her more comfortable – besides which, I want her to look dapper for her upcoming date. I’m going to mate her with Nimbus this week.   I took Cumulus to the house for a bit of hair pulling, and an hour later returned. The roosters had moseyed back into the pen. But my one and only beloved chicken, Pot Pie, was nowhere to be found.


Mark said that with five roosters, she was probably getting more action than she could handle so when she saw the door open, she thought “I’m getting the hell out of here!”


Ha. Not any chicken of mine!

Pot Pie is tiny, a little white bannie chicken. I’m thinking she got picked off by a hawk or opossum. Maybe a neighbor is making chicken soup – I heard a neighbor talking about a chicken soup reciepe just this morning. No one is beyond suspect!  Perhaps a dog decided she might make a good chew toy, but there were no feathers anywhere to suggest a tussle. It’s as if she just disappeared. I took a walk around the area through the woods looking for signs – feathers, a bird crouching in the trees – anything. No chicken leftovers anywhere. I even visited our resident owl in his little cove in the tree. No chicken breath coming from up there. Pot Pie was simply gone, like a chicken twilight zone episode.


So, after school today, Neva and I are going chicken shopping again. I figure, I’m bound to lose another chicken here or there until I get the kinks worked out in this chicken raising thing. We need more future egg-ammo if I’m ever to progress from the raising period to the egg laying period.  I plan to buy another six or seven chicks today, providing the feed store has some interesting breeds for sale this week. I’ve also read about Guineas (which were originally called Ginny Birds – talk about a match meant to be). They’re funny speckled (freckled?) round game birds that eat the ticks that bother horses. I need a gaggle of those, don’t ya agree? So I’m on the lookout for Guinea chicks too. I’m thinking some other game birds would be interesting, like pheasants or peacocks. Turkeys are dumb, so I don’t want those hanging around. But ya never know what will suit you until you try, so I never say never.


My husband is gone for the weekend. He has been invited to be an assistant teacher at the Campbell Folk School for an antler basket class. He is developing quite an artisan’s reputation already, and his natural gift for teaching made it a pretty good bet they would phase him into instruction once they got to know him. He’s gone off to spend the weekend at the school. He is excited because he gets his materials, his meals and a room, as well as a small stipend for his assistant efforts. He could come home, but he’s decided to try the full Campbell School experience. By staying, he can work late into the night and accomplish more (artistically), and he can enjoy the company of other students (and great cooking) at breakfast. He also has made fond friends of the teacher, and I am glad he has the opportunity to foster new friendships. We all need buddies with similar interests and humor. Anyway, it will be a mini paid vacation for him.


Kent has gone to stay with a friend. That leaves me and Neva to do what we fancy. We will buy some chickens, then we are off to by a 5 foot used rabbit hutch in a place called Ringhold (something I saw in the bargain trader that I want to purchase as a backup house for our baby rabbits in a month). We will gorge on Chinese food, and later we will go to a movie, just us girls, and eat popcorn and candy until we pop. I told her she could sleep with me in my soft bed in front of the fire, and she can even take a long soak in my Jacuzzi bath (this is all very exciting, because Mark doesn’t allow our kids to step past the threshold of our bedroom –never – not even to borrow a brush or to say goodnight. They must talk to us from the doorway. He is all about protecting his adult domain from child-cooties. I think it is silly, but if the man wants his own space, a cozy corner of the house for us only, who am I to question it?)


Anyway, I will have a few leisure days alone with my daughter, and I hope to enjoy them by doing nothing with a full commitment to laziness. I have homework, but that can wait. I have some reading I want to do- The 2007 America’s best Essay compilation – but I’ll do that while she sleeps.  We will eat what appeals to us, (Maybe go to dinner at the restaurant Denver works at and leave a huge tip). We’ll do only what we feel like doing, and it’s a sure guess that we will talk. No one can carry on a more vivacious conversation than Neva. I guess we’ll name chickens too.


Valentines Day was fun for her. She got a stuffed rabbit and a box of candy from a boy named Cody that has a thing for her. She was thrilled. Another boy wanted to be her valentine too, but she turned him down – told him “No way – I’m taken”. I reminded her that it is an honor to be liked and I expect her to always be kind to people who like her. She has to remember that others have good intentions even if she doesn’t like them in the same way. She rolled her eyes and said, “I’m nice, but Steven is pushy and he won’t leave me alone. He grabs me sometimes too.”

Pushy? He grabs you? Then, by all means, put him in his place. Want me to show you how to sock a boy in the nose?


All I could think of was how quickly she is growing up and how much others enjoy her company as much as I do. It won’t be long before she will lose her interest in hanging out with me.  So, this weekend, with the inevitable fleeting quality of our time together on my mind, I will enjoy my daughter. Life is short – its blessings are sweet. Gotta enjoy those meaningful moments as they come and treat them with the reverence they deserve. 


As the country world turns

Country dilemma, number 268 (or is that number 200068?)


Yesterday morning, Mark and I were down at the pasture. A man was delivering my new 12 X10 wooden shed. This is going to serve as a tack room for the horse saddles, blankets and paraphernalia until the day comes when we can put up a real barn. I’m thrilled to have it, so much so that I was giddy as it came lumbering through our gate on a huge flatbed. While the deliveryman was setting it up, making sure it was level (this shed is on a wooden sled-rail base, so you can drag it with a tractor – a great convenience. When I actually can get a barn, I’ll be able to move it next to the garden and I’ll have an instant garden shed) I decided to see what would happen if I let the chickens out. Eventually, I want them to be free-range chickens so they’ll eat the ticks and whathaveyou around the pasture. They moseyed out of the pen, sticking close to home. Perfect! Our big dog, Teddy, came bounding up and I waited to see what mayhem would erupt. I told the dog to behave, not expecting much, but although he was mighty curious about the chickens, he trotted up and sat at my feet.


The man setting up the shed said, “Wow, that is one well behaved dog.”

“News to me.” I said, marveling at how well the dog was behaving. We have worked to train him, but it’s only now taking effect. Better late than never. I was delighted to think my chickens will be safe from at least the family dogs. It was going to be a good day.


I then spied our black bunny hopping around the chicken house. This is one of Neva’s bunny’s that had run a way a week ago. Apparently, he is alive and well and living under the chicken house. Since the chicken pen was open, he hopped in, visited a bit, then hopped out again. I put some food for him under the house, thinking there was no reason not to let him remain in his new digs. He must be mighty happy with the new combination of freedom and ongoing care. I knew Neva would be OK with leaving him be, considering her main concern is his wellbeing.

Yep – it was still a good day.


I went to go feed the horses while we waited for the new tack room to be finished. This is when the day went south.


I walk over and see my llama. He is foaming at the mouth! There is some kind of strange hay/dirt/ice thing hanging from his lips. It doesn’t look good. Mostly, I’m concerned with the foam. I stand there a minute wondering, “Is there such a thing as a mad llama?”


I rack my mind trying to remember everything I know about llamas (this takes about 30 seconds). I know they can get tooth problems, that they have digestive needs. I gave Dalai a wormer last month so it isn’t that. I do give my horses a tetanus shot every year, but I don’t think this is necessary for a llama. Does he have rabies?


I go back to where Mark is writing the check for the shed. I ask the man if he knows anything about llamas. He chuckles and says, “Nope.”

I figured that.


I turned to Mark and said, “So, do you want to know what the trauma de jour today is going to be?”

He sighed. “Hit me.”

“The llama is going mad. He is foaming at the mouth. I’m concerned.”

“Call the vet.”

“I will, but for now, will you come look at him?”

“I don’t know anything about llamas, he says calmly. Call the vet.”


Now, I know it is true that Mark knows even less about llamas than I (only because I read about them in various livestock journals and books) but I somehow think his opinion is necessary. I need validation regarding my opinion that this is a sick llama, and I guess I’m hoping Mark might see something I don’t see, like a bar of soap hanging out of the animals cheek, which would explain the foam.


We go to investigate together. He says, “Yep, the llama is foaming at the mouth. We’d better call the vet.”

“What is that stuff hanging out of his mouth?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think I should get that stuff out of his mouth. What do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m going to get it out of his mouth. Do you think I should?”

“I don’t know.”

I stare at my husband. He stares back.

“I can’t catch him without your help.”

“I know.”


Mark sighs again. He is a good soul, so he will help me, but I think he is also considering what a mad llama might do when he is chased. Nevertheless, Mark gave me this llama, and I love the dang thing, so he feels honor bound to lend a hand. Besides which, if the animal up and dies, he doesn’t want me to blame him for not caring enough to try to do something when we could.


Tentatively we go into the pasture and with the help of our dog, we corral the llama into a corner and get him tied up. He is a bit sluggish (the llama, not Mark) which makes this easier than some days. This worries me too.


Llama’s hate to have their face touched, so slowly, I reach up to his head to yank a big wad of gunk hanging from his mouth. His eyes look into mine sadly (the llama’s eyes, not Mark’s). He is trusting, definitely under the weather. I remove as much of the debris as I can but I can see there is plenty more in his mouth.


“Give me a stick,” I say to Mark.

He hands me a stick.


I start digging the stick into Dalai’s cheek and what looks like wads of chewed hay, bark and mud starts coming out. It is really gross. Dalai is like some kind of llama chipmunk with stuff stored deep into a side pocket – only llama’s don’t have side pockets. Not only is his mouth full of debris, but there is still all this foam and saliva spilling out. This is not an attractive llama today.


Eventually I get the bulk of the stuff removed, and suddenly, the llama grinds his teeth together like he is eating rock candy. He swallows and blinks. Now, his mouth closes and I can’t get it opened for anything. I think this is a good sign, so I tell Mark maybe we should feed him and see if he eats.


He chows down (The llama, not Mark).


I believe we have solved the dilemma, and I’m feeling quite the savvy country gal now. It’s not every girl that knows how to save a llama, ya know.


We go about our day, checking the llama every time we pass to see if he is foaming again. He looks great, then at around four, we see he has more stuff hanging from his mouth. And is that foam? Damn. I feel betrayed by the gods of livestock.


So today, we decide to call the vet. Mark wants to call our favorite vet, Dr. Mitchell, but this man is a cat and dog guy. He doesn’t handle large animals. Mark says Dr. Mitchell owns a llama however, so he must know something about them.

We call. Mark says to the secretary, “I know Dr. Mitchell doesn’t handle large animals, but he owns a llama, doesn’t he?”

The secretary says, “He did. But it died.”

This makes me swoon. I don’t exactly have confidence in a vet whose llama died on his watch.

We describe the foam.

“This is very , very, very bad,” says Dr. Mitchell. “You better call Ocoee right away (that is the animal clinic that does handle large animals.)

Now, I have visions of my mad llama lying in the field belly up, with four legs sticking up like a stiff in a bad cartoon. We call Ocoee and they make an appointment for tomorrow morning. The person on the phone said that sometimes llamas get things stuck in their throat, and it was good we removed the debris. We should do that again if we see more of the same. They will sedate the animal in the morning to give him a good check.

I go down to take a look at Dalai again, thinking we will have to catch him and do whatever we have to do. But now, Dalai is happy, healthy and behaving his normal perky self. No foam. No gunk. Nothing. I fed him. He eats like a pig, then goes to the baby horse’s bucket to bully more food. Of course, now that I called the expensive vet, it turns out to be a false call. This big faker llama is NOT sick. The only one mad now is me. Tomorrow, I’ll have to pay dearly for a home visit for a llama who is perfectly fine.

I asked Mark if we should cancel the vet visit but he says the horses need their yearly tetanus, and we might as well see if Dalai needs something too. Just in case. I know he is right and I appreciate that he is willing to spend money on vet care for animals he doesn’t exactly adore in the way I do.

So, all’s well that ends well.


The llama isn’t mad. The dog isn’t going to kill my chickens when I let them out permanently. The bunny is alive and well living under the chicken house. I have a new tack room.   Best of all, I discovered a new talent. I can dig shit out of a llama’s mouth without flinching. I may have left a dance empire behind, but look at all I’ve learned in the process. 


Personal growth comes camouflaged in many things. Today, it was covered in foam.




All things Chicken

I went chicken shopping yesterday. Dianne came over to workout with me in the morning (with those tapes I bought at the Big Chicken Pawn Shop – started a thematic day), after which we went downtown to gorge on sesame chicken at the Chinese restaurant. (God forbid we let the benefits of working out last for more than an hour.) Before we went home, I said I wanted to stop by Browns, the feed store, to talk to Linda, the owner, about my rooster windfall. Dianne was still too dazed by the workout to argue.


Linda is a warm and funny person, who lights up whenever the talk turns to all things chicken. She has pet chickens walking around the store, as tame as a dog or parrot. Linda likes me, because I am a poultry enthusiast – I ask lots of questions about chickens, peacocks and the like. I especially like ducks, but I have to wait for a pond to get them. (sigh) I visit Browns often for advice and to purchase new birds. I tend to buy everything except my horse feed there, to support the shop. (I buy my horse feed at an even smaller place near my house, owned by a man named Rabbit.) There’s a new, fancy, state-of-the-art, feed and tack franchise in town, but I like giving my business to the struggling independents.


Anyway, when I saw Linda, I said, “What are the chances that I would buy unsexed chickens and six out of seven would turn out to be male? Just my luck.”


Her eyes grew round and she said, “You better bring some of those Roosters here. I’ll get rid of them for you. I’ll swap them out for some girls. Do it soon. They’re just now reaching puberty. It’s only a matter of time till you have big trouble.”


Well, I don’t want big rooster trouble, that’s for sure. So, I am in mourning over my soon-to-be-lost boys. I don’t know who I can bare to give up. I love my crowing boys all for different reasons. I have to keep Joe, because he is my loudest and the classic rooster of a girl’s dreams. I like Dylan because he has such an exotic look, and he crows the most. I can’t give up Yang, the black silkie, because that is Neva’s best-friend bird. If I kept only one bird, it would have to be that one. I can give up Ying, the white silkie -this bird was the final holdout in showing his true colors, so I consider him a traitor anyway. How dare “she” be a “he” and kill any hope I had for eggs?  I certainly can’t give up my little bannie, Pot Pie, because the only girl I have is the other bannie, Drumstick, and they roost together every night in this cozy, romantic way. I can’t break up a couple and sleep nights myself.  So, as you can see, I’m feeling very torn.


Mark says, “Get rid of the mean one with the crazy head. And what is the point of two silkies? And that little Bannie is a joke. He can go.”


The man has no heart.


While at the store, I decided it was time to start chicken shopping- the spring chicks are just now arriving. I know it’s still cold, but preparations for spring are everywhere in the country. It’s time to start digging up gardens and planting starter seeds. I’m getting this self-sufficient country thing down now, and I’ve got big plans for produce. Subject for a future veggie blog, ya know.


Chicks must stay indoors under a heat lamp for a few months, so the sooner I get them the sooner they will be out in the chicken house, laying. I’m told in four months, I’ll be collecting eggs. I am spending the big bucks to make sure I WILL have eggs this time. This means I’m shelling out four bucks a head, a fair investment for something that will provide me with two years of egg laying. At an egg a day, that means I’m spending $4 for 730 eggs. That is .005 cents an egg.  Bet you are thinking of getting a chicken or two yourself when you see those kinds of amazing returns!


The first batch of spring chickens that came in this week was Americanos. They are big, fat, traditional chickens, brown and white, that lay big, pale blue-green eggs.


I said, “What do you think?”


Dianne said, “I wouldn’t eat a blue egg. Yuck. Don’t think for a minute you’ll be giving me any of those.”


I pointed out that the eggs all taste the same inside.


Linda laughs and says, “Haven’t you heard of green eggs and ham? Americanos are the best.”


But Dianne wrinkles up her nose and insists she won’t accept any gift eggs that do not look like those you purchase at the grocery store. Unless, maybe at Easter because then she can avoid having to dye them (What kind of holiday slacker attitude is that?)


I ask you, what is it about Grocery store food that makes people feel secure? If you’ve seen it before, you trust it? Ee-gad. As far as I’m concerned, most of the offerings at commercial grocery stores are scary. They fill the products with preservatives for shelf life extension. Many of these items have often been transported and stored for days. Heck, I’m afraid of the tricks used to keep this food looking appealing sometimes too. The more I learn about what is involved with growing and raising food, the more appalled I am at what I’ve eaten in my lifetime.


For example, I buy my hay from a fellow who runs a Tyson farm a few blocks from our home, and he has over 20K chickens. He let us visit the open pens in a huge warehouse one day – talk about chicken madness! He runs the factory that gathers the eggs that quickly (unnaturally)become the chickens we eat.  He explained how this works. These birds walk around in shit all day, are force-fed, slaughtered before they are six weeks old, the carcasses filled with dye, and then plunked into the supermarket case with nary a kind word spoken to them. (That is why he likes being on the egg end of the process.) He even sends the broken or rotting eggs to the Tyson factory because they are used in other products. Fresh eggs are hatched. The soiled eggs are those we eat in “stuff”. All I know is this doesn’t inspire supermarket product confidence for me.


I asked Dianne if she would eat brown eggs. She wavered a minute and then said, “I guess.” So, I turned my attentions to the Rhode Island Reds -huge red chickens that lay extra large brown eggs. I like the idea of redheaded chickens. They all look the same, so individual names might be hard to assign, but  I can call them all Lucy.


I ended up buying two blue egg laying Americanos with different markings (so I can name them) and three brown egg laying Rhode Island Reds (My Lucy trio). Next week I’ll buy some white egg layers too. I want a colorful arrangement of different breeds. They’ll lay different sorts of eggs, which will help me know who is laying what. The different breeds also help me have an individual chicken relationship with each bird. Gotta keep it personal, ya know.  I plan to keep about a dozen chickens, knowing that when I let them out to free range, it is likely a hawk or dog might pick off one or two.


Dianne leaned down and peered into the cage filled with chicks and said, “One egg a day sure doesn’t seem like much. It will take you forever to get a dozen.”


I laughed and pointed out that if I have twelve chickens, I will have a dozen eggs a day. That is plenty. Some days, I easily use a dozen eggs. I make egg casseroles or deviled eggs. Mark has been known to eat six fried eggs for breakfast. I use eggs for baking and such, and sometimes when we are dieting, I only use the whites, so I use twice as many eggs for half as much egg additive. But some days, I don’t use eggs at all. We go out to breakfast, or have pancakes, or we spend a day in Atlanta, so I don’t cook at all. In a case like that, I’ll have twenty-four eggs the next day. And what if I go two days without cooking or leave town for several days? I’ll have 36 eggs waiting for me. And what about when we go to Europe next summer for a few weeks? I’ll be leaving an egg explosion behind me. Seems to me very likely that unless your entire existence is about staying home eating eggs, your egg-stock might build up pretty quickly. I have an extra fridge in the garage, but I wasn’t counting on it becoming an egg facility alone. This is why I asked Dianne if she’d eat blue eggs. I’m planning to supply the family, my neighbors, strangers on the street… whomever, with the excess.


“I didn’t think of it that way,” Dianne said. “I guess one a day is enough. But remember, you can keep the blue eggs.”

“Except on Easter,” I reminded her, because, heck, I have big plans to dye eggs with natural ingredients this year – flowers and such. I’ll need white eggs for that. We can trade then, when our egg appreciation situations reverse.


When I was sharing this conversation with Mark, he said, “Maybe you should just stick to six chickens, and the egg dilemma won’t ever be an issue. Not like you can’t buy extra eggs for 1.78 a dozen when need be.”


That won’t work. First of all, you must wait four months for chickens to start laying, so if something attacks my flock and kills several birds, my enterprise would be easily wiped out. That would mean waiting a long time to get back in egg service. Second of all, I still have to contend with how many beloved roosters I can keep. The more girls I have strutting around, the more boys I can keep. Then, there is the fact that I’d have a fit if I had a guest over and was planning one of my grand, exquisite breakfasts, and found I had to actually buy extra eggs to fulfill my cooking plans. Once I begin doing the homegrown egg thing, I never plan to buy eggs again. It’s the principal of the thing. Seems like I’d be letting down mother nature, and I have every intention of making my guests walk down to the henhouse and collect the eggs before I cook them. Certain life experiences are so much fun to witness city dwellers wrestle with, that I can’t risk losing out on the laugh. All told, I’d rather have too many eggs, rather than too few. It isn’t like extra chickens cost anything to feed or care for. It is only a matter of the tiny, upfront investment, and raising chicks is more fun than work.  


As such, I’ll only be comfortable with a dozen chickens. I’ll get replacements chicks along the way when (if) something happens to the original stock. So, I probably will have a dozen birds, but not necessarily a dozen egg-layers at a time anyway.


Wow, this sounds complicated. It’s not.


The point is, I have begun repairing my chicken problems. I have to fill that expensive hen house with something productive to justify my folly. I have five girls now, peeping downstairs in the pool table room (a good place since we have no pool table as yet). Next week, I’ll add some white egg layers too. I’ll have the house ringing with peeps before the month is out.


Ever see that episode of Lucy where she has a farmhouse filled with baby chicks? Ha. That will be me.



There is no point

My husband’s horse, Goliath, got his foot stuck in the fence yesterday. I had the horses tied up while I was filling their buckets with sweet-feed, and he must have pawed the ground, because the bottom wire of the fence got wedged between his hoof and the horseshoe. The more he pulled, the deeper embedded the fence became.


This is not a good thing for the horse or the fence. Frankly, I cannot afford unnecessary vet bills, or fence repair bills. I swore under my breath and went to free him. However, for the life of me, I couldn’t get the wire out from under his shoe. I ended up climbing under the horse and wedging my shoulder under his leg to keep it off the ground so I could use both hands. I pulled and pulled, but to no avail. The horse was busy eating his feed, so he didn’t give me any trouble, but he didn’t help either. The big lug. Meanwhile, my dogs found the entire situation arousing, so they stood just out of reach, barking and doing their best to agitate the horse so he would stamp and shuffle about. They apparently thought it would be amusing to see me get squished. Damn dogs.


I tried using a horse pick (a device used to clean rocks and dirt out of horseshoes) to help dislodge the wire, but that didn’t do a thing. I cursed, but that didn’t do a thing either. My fingers were frozen, my temper hot. I called my husband (who was on a trip to Wal-Mart) and explained the situation. It is his dumb horse, after all.  


He responded with his usual sensitivity regarding my animal dilemmas. He said, “What the hell do you want me to do about it? I’m 35 minutes away.”


“Where are the wire cutters? I will simply cut the fence away.”


“I don’t have any.”


Baloney. I know he has wire cutters, because he used them to cut away the fence when the baby horse was stuck in it last spring. I reminded him of that. He was silent for a minute and then said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. We don’t own wire cutters.”


Now, I’m assuming he is just saying that because he doesn’t want me touching his wire cutters. He is very possessive about his things. God forbid I ever touch one of his tools, or use his toothpaste or shampoo, or dare leave my girl cooties on any of his clothes. Trust me, when my husband was in preschool, he was the kid who never got the concept of sharing, always hitting other kids over the head with a block if they dared wander over to where he was building a tower.


I told him that since he was at Wal-Mart, then to please buy a good pair of wire cutters for me to keep with my tack for this kind of emergency. He said, ” Wal-Mart doesn’t have any.”


Now, I’m pretty sure our Wal-Mart has basic tools. They even carry riffles at our Wal-mart, therefore, I assume he is saying this because he doesn’t want me to have the ability to cut the fence. Ever. As if I am going to go around destroying it to avoid sweating on occasion.


Mark then said he’d call the fence guy. Maybe he could run over and help me, because if the fence did need to be cut, it would have to be repaired anyway. Meanwhile, I can see the horse getting more and more agitated, pulling at his leg. Snorting. I can tell that waiting is a really bad idea, and there is no guarantee the fence guy is available anyway. This makes me even more frustrated, so lovingly, I hang up on Mr. 35-minutes-away-and-no-help-whatsoever. I return to wrestle with Goliath some more. I don’t accept defeat easily. I try moving the horse from side to side to get a better angle on the snag. I put my foot on the bottom of the fence wire so I can yank harder. I try slamming a piece of wood against the wire. Nothing. The horse is now finished eating. He is interested in what underwear I have on, which apparently is showing as I bend over. I know this because he takes a nibble and gives me a serious wedgie. I am now so pissed I could scream.  Therefore, I do what any resourceful, independent girl would do in a situation like this.


I cry.


I stomp out of the pasture thinking I’ll walk up to the workshop and ransack the place looking for the alleged wire cutters that I know are there. And just then, I turn around and the horse is no longer caught on the fence. His foot is now simply stuck in the weave, but the wire is no longer under his horseshoe. He is stronger than I, so it is possible he just pulled the correct direction and it came out, but I think what really happened is that I loosened it for him, like I do with the lids of jars that are stuck. That is how my husband opens them, you know.


O.K. A horse that has merely stepped into the fence is something I can handle.  I run over and get Goliath loose before he jams his foot into the fence again. He lumbers away nonchalantly. The dogs bound away to find other mischief. I call my husband and say everything is fine now. Don’t fret. I saved the day. I know you are worried over there at Wal-mart as you avoid the wire cutter aisle. He told me he had called my daughter’s boyfriend for help, so he had to get off the phone to call off the posse. Since I am no longer a damsel in distress, I agree.


Next, I’m off to feed the chickens.  On the way, I push and pull to straighten the wire of the fence so that particular issue won’t happen again. I now notice there’s quite a racket going on over in the bird pen. Crowing. LOTS of crowing. I walk over and peer into the fence and don’t ya know the silkie’s are crowing. I blink, as if I didn’t trust what I’m seeing. No, that crowing IS coming from those would-be chickens. Great. Now I have five roosters and only one measly, non-egg-laying chicken. That is so like my life. I want a little cabin in the woods, and I end up in a gigantic personal lodge on 50 acres. I want a nice singing rooster. I end up with a half dozen squawking boy birds. I am the model for the be-careful-what-you-wish-for poster.


With everyone fed and cared for, I return to the house to make dinner. I invite my mother-in-law and sister-in- law to dinner once or twice a week. When I do, I go hog-wild and make a big fancy meal. Not that I have to, but company gives me an excuse to cook. Everyone thinks it’s pretty wonderful that I consider my own family such special guests that they deserve top of the line fare. For example, last week I made soup followed by scallops in champagne sauce and grilled salmon, followed by three layer coffee brownies a la mode.


I’ve told them the truth is, I just like cooking, but if they want to think I labor because they are special, well who am I to burst their bubble? Anyway, this week I was making a Mediterranean chicken dish, sautéed in wine with olives and cinnamon.


Mark hates olives. My mother-in-law hates cinnamon. My kids hate everything that isn’t McDonalds. Obviously, I’m not caring enough to pick my meals determined by my family’s likes and dislikes. For me, it is all about what recipes I run into during the week that look fascinating or offer me something new to try. To appease my guilt over my menu choice, I also made a nice caramel apple crisp. Then, I made a casserole of stuffed shells as my “backup” dish. A back up dish is something you make so people don’t complain all through dinner about your cooking, which can happen when you’re experimental. Granted, Italian shells absolutely do not go with Mediterranean Chicken and a pasta broccoli sauté, but it was what I had in the house and it was a no-brainer.  


Turns out the chicken was a big hit after all. In fact, I’m told it was one of the best things I’ve ever made. Even the kids had seconds. Wow. That’s nice, but those shells are still sitting in the fridge, and I think they will end up in the garbage by tomorrow. We are not much for leftovers, and that is OK with me, because leftovers means I don’t get to play in my kitchen. Whatchagonndo? That is the price of food insurance if you are someone who needs approval at the dinner table.


My mother-in-law loved the Apple Crisp. It is loaded with Cinnamon. She said, “There isn’t any Cinnamon in this, is there, because if there is, I won’t like it.” She said this with her mouth full.


“Of course not,” I said, batting my eyelashes. I shopped for this meal at Wal-Mart. They stopped carrying cinnamon at the same time they stopped stocking wire cutters.


Anyway, it was one of those days. But that night, it snowed. It was our first snow of the season. A whopping two inches. School has been canceled for two days. Gotta love laid-back Georgia. We sat around watching the kids sled down the hillside by the house through our big windows. Neat. Meanwhile I made sausages wrapped in biscuits, fluffy parmesan eggs and steaming white chocolate coco. Snow is a very good excuse for cooking too.


What is the point? There is no point. This is the meaningless drivel that makes up my days. Most is good.  The bad is interesting. And I never run out of excuses to cook. What more does anyone need out of life, other than maybe a pair of wire cutters hidden in the hen house? (Note that is “hen”, singular. You can’t have a hen’s house when you don’t have hens.) But, don’t fret. I am wishing for hens now, which means it is only a matter of time until I am complaining about being inundated with girl birds.


I’m thinking, when dealing with me, fate has a sense of humor.