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Monthly Archives: May 2007

Wine and roses


When you first read wine making books, you get the impression that you need a degree in chemistry to undertake the task. Above is the display my weekend class put out for others to see after our course. Now I know wine making is remarkably easy and there’s a great deal of room for creativity. It is like all forms of cooking. All you need is the basics and a voracious appetite for experimentation and you are ready to go.
 
This weekend, I learned about making country wines, which are blends made with fruits, vegetables and herbs. The only difficulty I imagine from this point on is remembering the details about how to proceed successfully, because the class started sampling wines in different stages of fermentation at 9am, and we kept at it until five, which does not bode well for an academic mindset or clear memory.  I was shocked by how good homemade country wines can be, such as dandelion-chamomile, or kiwi, or strawberry sweetened with fresh lemonade before the final racking. My teacher was wonderfully prepared, and had set things up in advance so we could sample batches of wine right after we made them, then taste what they should be like six days later, then six months. He then gave us a tasting of what those same recipes would taste like in one year. This gave us the full gamete of the process and helps us to know what to look for. Can’t imagine how to cover the subject in a single weekend any other way.


Nearly everyone in the class had made wine before, mostly from kits. I’ve considered starting with a kit, but held off be cause I felt they were cheating somehow. In a kit, all the ingredients are given you in little pre-measured packets and you are guided day by day in what to do to make what will turn out to be foolproof wine. Sort of a no-brainer. Seemed to me as if this would be going through the motions, but not really learning to make wine from scratch. But I feel differently now, because I realize kits allow people to go through the motions to learn basics, and afterwords, they are prepared to strike out on their own to try a different recipes without the pre-measured ingredients or day to day instructions, but at least an idea of what to expect and how to proceed (and some basic tools).


We made strawberry wine and kiwi chardonnay in the class, learned how to bottle it, and make fancy personalized labels. We learned how to cork those bottles and put spiffy gold seal locks on top for a pretty presentation.

We learned all about fermentation and how to sweeten wine and how one batch can deliver bottles of dry wine, as well as sweeter wines if you have a taste for them.  Someone had brought in 10 gallons of wine gone bad, and we learned how to fix it. That was a great “extra” beyond the syllabus, thanks to the fellow with the cloudy, tangy wine who was not too proud to bring it in and withstand jokes about his questionable wine making talent.


Here are the bottles I came away with this weekend. One was designated for Denver, because yesterday was her 21st birthday. What better way to make the day than by giving her a (now) legal beverage made to honor her adulthood?

If you look closely, you can see I put “Hendry Private Reserve” on the lable. La-ti-da!


By around 3:00 in the afternoon, we had finished most of the wine making, and were in sampling mode. This was our designated happy hour, and my teacher had invited friends in from his band (he plays in a bluegrass band and is a songwriter too.) They did a rip-roaring stand up comedy act for us filed with backcountry wine jokes, then played music while we all sampled wine. It was great, casual fun. Two of the friends he invited make mead, so they gave a short lecture on that division of wine making too and let us sample different flavored meads. I was fascinated, because as a beekeeper, I’m already looking for special ways to use the honey I will harvest next year (mead is made with honey).


I must say that learning to make wine hit a hot note deep inside me. I thought, “This is my calling” because there is something so lovely about taking natural ingredients and working with them for a year or so to create something to special to share with friends. My teacher said the greatest thing about homemade wine is the fact that people rarely turn it down. Even non-drinkers will visit will say, “Well, if it is homemade, I guess I’ll try some.” As if homemade wine doesn’t count as drinking. Ha.


As we sampled wines, we kept categorizing them by use . . .”I’d call this a luncheon wine,” we’d say as we samples something fruity and light. “This is definitely a campfire wine,” we’d say about something with a raw kick. And in my mind, I started thinking about what I really like and what kind of wines I would enjoy serving at home adhering to our lifestyle and taste preferences. I love the idea that there is no right or wrong, you can develop wine to your personal idea of what tastes good. 
Here is my teacher. Although he has won some awards for his country wines and meads, he had this great down to earth attitude. He said, “What I want all you to think after this class is not what a great wine maker I am, but that if this simple guy can make wine, anyone can!” 


One of the best wines we tried was wild blackberry. Dave (the teacher) said the problem about making blackberry wine was that it takes so long to pick the amount of blackberries needed. Ha. No problem. I looked at his 4 pounds of blackberries and thought it was nary a morning’s work for Neva and I. We are a blackberry-picking machine in July.


On the way home from the class, Mark took me to see a local wine supply store nestled in a small stone cottage out in the middle of nowhere. Funny how he discovers these kinds of places and stores them in the back of his mind for just when you need them. We went in and met this burly old man who growled that all homemade wine tastes like gasoline . . . then he said, “What do I need to get started?” Yes, he was quite the salesman. We bought all the basic supplies, and I threw in a kit for Pinot Grigio too. I am planning to make some strawberry wine while the strawberries are still in season and get it racked in time for blackberry in a few months. But I will make a sure proven, name brand white wine too for those who are wine palate snobs and will turn up their noses at the idea of country wines. (I will woo them with my kit wine and having won their confidence, I’ll seduce them into trying my experimental lowbrow country wines. I have a plan, you see.) 


Once I was home, I went on line to pick up some basic acid blends and tannins and other wine making ingredients so I can springboard off from the basics and start experimenting with fruit, flower and herb recipes. I also bought a book on homemade vinegars and cordials and I plan to start making those as well. Yes, it is only a matter of time until I have a liquor still hidden back behind my barn.  I even have a hankering to make beer, even though no one in this family drinks it. Nevertheless, hey, I have friends I can use as beer-ginnie-pigs. At this rate, I’ll be all ready to move to a quiet village in Italy to buy that wine vineyard in the next stage of life (a secret destiny Mark and I always joke about when we are stressed out and wish we could disappear where no one could find us.)


The most poignant thing about this weekend was laughing and talking with people who take the time to pursue an interest, whatever it may be. The world is filled with fascinating people who are full of life, a sense of adventure, and who are simply dang interesting, if you pause long enough to ask them questions and let conversation roll naturally. I think my world has been filled with one-dimensional people for way too long. Not that they were not interesting people in their own way, but they were not necessarily diversified and so many years of conversations centered only on theater and dance began to feel like I was living the movie Groundhog day. It made me feel an awful lot of living was passing everyone by, due to his or her tunnel (dance) vision. 
Here are my wine-making friends, all trying something new with a vengeance and such humor it made the experience quite a hoot.


Since sharing my interest in making wine, I’ve discovered many friends have tried it (even my sister – who knew?) Our friend, Vicki, always gave us Kaluaha for Christmas, and I knew she made it herself, but I never paused to consider just how this represented her diverse interest as a person. There were other things she did (ride a motorcycle etc…) which reminded me she was (is) more than a dancer. How many others kept dance in perspective and lived a life beyond? I wouldn’t know, because in my presence, they rarely brought up anything else, forever picking my brain and returning to the subject of dance no matter how I tried to discover who these people were. Perhaps, everyone ‘s life was diversified but mine. Sad reality.


Anyway, I’m very grateful now that I have the time to be more than a dancer myself and  I can see now that the only way to do that was to leave the obsessive environment we had created. Not that I didn’t have interests beyond dance before, or that I didn’t secretly pursue them. I’ve always been a voracious cook, a runner, a crafter, a reader, etc… And although I didn’t share this fact with others, I was writing historical romance novels while running the dance empire for some time. However, there was always this guilt that spending time on anything other than work was cheating someone of something – as if I was not allowed to be anything other than the dance person.  And time was so precious that rarely could we invest it in anything non dance oriented. Even weekends were reserved for rehearsals or competitions as we strove to meet the needs of group after group of dancers. But now,  I feel I have permission to dive head first into any interest that calls to me, and I don’t fret that a weekend playing is taking away from my (self-appointed) role as dance guru. This fills me with a profound sense of freedom. 


Some days, I feel like a blind person who suddenly was given their sight. Because of the path we’ve taken, I am meeting people from all walks of life who have crazy, fascinating interests and who in midlife, have chosen non-traditional paths to pursue, with priorities centered on self-fulfillment and their personal description of happiness. We are not unique in this choice we’ve made, and everyday we meet other couples who one day just up and decided to leave the rat race to seek a more meaningful life. I feel blessed to meet people like this because the siren’s call of work and hanging on to security and making as much money as you can (because that is what we are taught is practical and right) is hard to resist – habit and ingrained social training, I’m afraid. But sitting around that folk school class drinking homemade wine and listening to my teacher sing a song called “Take me away from concrete and greed” while playing his homemade percussion instrument (complete with a tin can, plunger, washboard, bicycle horn and other fine music making instruments attached to a walking stick) reminded me that true joy isn’t found when you are always trying to meet other’s expectations. Happiness is something often found in solitude, where you can discover calm moments of your true self, uninfluenced by others or even your own self-imposed self-definition and/or self-appointed obligations to others.


But then again, maybe all this philosophical mumbo-jumbo is just because I was drinking all day! Ha. I must have polished off several bottles, and lying under a table does make you see things upside down- life takes on a different perspective when you have a lampshade on your head.


Mark joined me at the Campbell school for the weekend, and this time, since there were no other classes that appealed to him; he registered for a class that was entirely different from anything he has ever tried. He usually takes classes working with wood. This time he took blacksmithing and worked with copper.

He liked it more than he expected, and plans to return to learn to make an iron lamp and other metal art. I happen to adore sculpture and I’ve hoped he would venture into the blacksmith shop one of these days, so I was delighted. The Campbell school is renowned for its blacksmithing courses and people come from all over the country to study here.  The problem with that is everyone is so experienced that it makes you feel like a bumpkin to be a beginner. But Mark was willing to try his hand at it.  I myself am quite intimidated by the workshop, because there are huge roaring fires inside and men dunking hot red iron trinkets in buckets where steam rises and hisses. People are in there pounding hammers against anvils so there is noise and heat and loud machinery creating nothing that could be construed as a meditative environment. Everything is covered with black dust – but the most beautiful things come out of there. Blacksmithing done well is such a remarkable art.  
Since this was just a weekend class, they were focusing on flowers made from copper. Mark made a gorgeous rose for Denver (wine and roses for her big 21!). It was so realistic, it was as if he dunked a real rose into a vat of copper and it hardened rahter than being cut from flat copper, fired and pounded into shape. He also made a tabletop sculpture for us with two other flowers. I think it is exquisite for a first attempt. Heck, it is exquisite for any attempt.

He hopes to go back for a week long class to learn more. I am now dreaming of future gift sculptures made from my own horses horseshoes. Talk about something meaningful yet interesting to rest on a desk! It’s a dirty hobby, to be sure. Mark’s hands were black, soot turned the white hair at his temples back to black. When I saw him at lunch, my first thought was to hose him down before giving him the wifely kiss. But hey, I’ve always liked men best when they are dirty and far be it from me to throw a stick at a blacksmith in the bedroom. Call me crazy, but that beats the man in a uniform or any other secret female fantasy, in my humble opinion. 

It was a lovely weekend – and for a moment or two we even got our mind off of the current FLEX crisis. Truthfully, even though we registered for these classes months ago, we almost didn’t go, do to depression. But when you are upset, sometime a change of environment is a very good thing (and a good stiff drink doesn’t hurt either). I think, in this case, spending our weekend in the positive, creative atmosphere of the Campbell Folk School with kind, enthusiastic people was just what we needed.
 
I’ll drink a toast to that in a few months when I crack open those bottles I made. 



 

Bee Prepared

“Better Safe than Sorry”
“Always be prepare for the worse.”
I’m not talking about dance school management. I’m talking about bees.


Today, I went to check on my bees for the first time. It was to be a maintenance check to be sure the bees are still there, building up their home appropriately. I figured I’d go out there in jeans and long sleeve shirt, maybe with my gloves and veil, because I was planning only a quick peek. I ordered a few additional things from the bee company after my class, and they arrived yesterday, so this morning, I spent an hour putting together a cedar hive stand and preparing another style of feeder with sugar syrup “just in case”. I would set these up too.


I put on shorts this morning, but didn’t feel comfortable dressing that lightly. As I go to change, I think it’ll be just as easy to slip on the bee suit. While this makes me seem like a nervous weenie, I figure it can’t hurt to suit up and pretend I’m a big time beekeeper (not as if anyone was around to make fun of me.)


I load up the car with the stuff I need, because the beehive is far from the house. I bring a second hive box with ten wax frames to expand living quarters. I also bring my bee brush to sweep bees out of the way, my hive tool to open the box just in case it is sealed shut with sticky goo, and my smoker, thinking I might as well light ‘er up just to practice. I’m convinced none of this is necessary, but it is fun to play with new toys.


I’m disappointed that no one is around so I can shout, “I’m going in . . .” like they did in the movie Tornado when the heroes bravely ventured into the path of danger.
I’m feeling like Rambo.


However, I’m also feeling silly; because I know I will probably do a spot check for five minutes, throw the new hive box on top, and be good to go. No big deal.


I light up the smoker using pine needles for fuel. It is oozing smoke rapidly, and I laugh because I feel like this is true overkill. I mean, I only have a few bees to peek in on this early in the game. No need to act so concerned about controlling them.


When I pick up the hive top feeder (remember, it had ants in it last week and was full of syrup) I see only dead ants and not a spec of sugar water. That’s good. My bees have eaten my entire starter snack. Sure didn’t take long.


I’m surprised because I actually do have to pry the top unit off. Wow, they’ve already begun sealing things shut. Good work. This almost feels like a real beehive check.


I lift up the top.


Holly Shit! There are about a million bees inside and every one of them stops what they are doing to turn around to stare at me with distain and an expression that reveals their intent to do me in.  (Well, that is what it felt like to this beginner.)


I slam the lid back on and reach for the smoker. I puff little whiffs of smoke inside under the lid and stand back to wait a few seconds the way my teacher demonstrated. When I go back in, the bees have all crawled down into the hive, making it easy for me to maneuver about the top. OK. Smoke is good. I love smoke.

I see that Aunt Bea has been making lots of babies and they are growing fast and working hard, because many of the inner frames are filled with comb. I want to lift one up, but can’t figure out how to wedge it out, especially since every inch of the surface is swarming with bees. I grab my trusty hive tool and use the edge to pry up a corner, then gingerly lift the piece. It has about 2000 bees on it, and thankfully, they are busy working and eating their honey (which is a natural reaction to smoke). The frame is heavy, dripping with honey. Remarkable! I wish I could dip a finger in and get a taste, but now is not the time for sampling. I set it aside carefully. Now, with the space made by removing one frame, I can shift things about to look at the others. Each frame is filled with a gazillion bees. I know I should lift each one to inspect it, and look for the queen, but decide not to, because I’m concerned I’ll crush her like many dopey inexperienced beginners do.


I then remember I came to put the new hive stand under the box, so I move the entire unit to the ground, crushing a handful of bees. Opps. Sorry. Then, when I try to set up the stand, it doesn’t fit on the concrete blocks supporting the hive. Mark promised to build me a stable, outdoor table for the hive, but he was called to Sarasota unexpectedly the day after I set up the hive, and face it, hobby projects are very low on our priority list right now.  I decide to wait for another day to set up the stand and put the box back the way it was, crushed bees and all. I next try to put the new feeder in place. It leaks all over making a huge mess. It will be empty in a few minutes at this rate. For the first time, I notice my hive is on a slant, and clearly, this feeder only works when balanced straight. Crap. So I pour the sugar water (which I can tell is unnecessary anyway, but what the heck, I have it with me now) into the hive top feeder. I’ve been in here about ten minutes now, and opening a hive for fifteen minutes is the suggested max. I’m clumsy and slow.

Lastly, I want to put an entrance block in the front of the hive to keep out hive robbers, since now it is now clear my bee family is making something worth robbing. However, the entrance is swarming with active, annoyed bees. I try to put the device in place, but two bees land on me and try to sting my arm (love that bee suit and I’m glad I wore it now!) Then, I remember the smoke. I grab the smoker and puff at it, but it has burned out. Eeek. I can hear the bees buzzing, as if they are spreading the word that I am without my weapon. Quickly, I bend down and stuff some pine straw inside, squeeze the air vent and smoke rears up. OK, now I’ve learned to keep on top of the smoker status and keep it full of fuel “just in case”.


Finally, I get the hive put back in order and I load my car with my tools. I take off my veil and gloves, pausing to say good-by to the bees. They are swarming all over in the air now, obviously agitated over my tampering with their home. They are probably evaluating the new changes and this puts them in a bad mood. Sorry, friends.


I am not afraid, but only because I’m standing ten feet away now and out of their flying path. It is comforting having some textbook knowledge of bee behavior, but at the same time, I imagine how I will soon have two boxes stacked together and both will be filled with bees outnumbering me by the thousands. It is intimidating and I think perhaps I’ll do some more reading. Clearly, this bee project is going to get harder and more involved as things progress.


Wildflowers have been blooming all week. Usually I pick them for my centerpieces, but this year, I’ve let them be, thinking the bees will make better use of them than I. Glancing around, I see blackberry bushes in bloom, daisies, dandelion, and some other colorful wild blooms. I imagine my bees flying in a two-mile range, returning to this very box to do their dance to communicate where each flower is. Those that were out foraging today will come home to a taller house and hear the gossip about the big redhead who moved things around for no reason and how everybody is hoping she won’t be back. She will be, of course, but not for a few weeks.  You can bet, when she comes, she will be fully suited with a full smoker blasting. She learns fast.


Today, while I wasn’t too graceful or brave about it, I was a beekeeper.  It was exhilarating. Fascinating. And most importantly, it made me feel like I can do anything if I am willing to face my fears. Last but not least, it never hurts to go into something new prepared for the worse. 


Important revelation.   
    
Now, I must go get ready for orientation at the Campbell school. This weekend is my home wine making course. Gee, I hope we get lots of samples. I could use a glass of wine after my harrowing bee adventure. With my first glass, you can bet I’ll make a silent toast. . . “Here’s to the fact that grapes don’t sting!”


 

Our role in Sarasota Dance

Someone wrote to say that obviously “the twist” I implied a few weeks ago was that we were going to pull the rug out from under everyone’s feet to purposely ruin the FLEX recital. Well, at least people are consistent. They immediately think the worst of us. (That makes sense, considering we were such ogres for eighteen years and ran such an awful school . . . And they wonder why we left and moved so far away to live a simpler life.)
I really didn’t want to address these issues before end of year performances had been wrapped up, because in all fairness, I didn’t want to increase anyone’s discomfort. But it seems I have to address events now to help people understand what is happening. 


Let me say first that we certainly don’t want to interfere with FLEX having their show, and have no idea why people are reacting as if we are, because classes leaving the building six days earlier than planned should have no bearing on events. The timing of this eviction was out of our hands once the FLEX management did not meet court-established obligations. That is unfortunate, but at this point, one group rehearsal for the finale can take place as a final class. In fact, Mark and I had to do this one year when we moved the business during the recital season. We scheduled a group rehearsal at a community center and things worked out fine. This is part of the creative solution personality trait all dance studio owners rely on when plans go awry.


If FLEX does not have a recital, it won’t be because of us. There are many costs associated to pulling off a big performance, so the determent would more likely be whether the school has met their obligations in these areas. I happen to know teachers and others are planning to do what it takes to assure a show takes place. The concern about recital should be alleviated in light of this. I even know someone in the wings standing by to step in, should everyone be left in a lurch. Enough said.


Nevertheless, here are some facts about the fate of the building and what will happen beyond the show: Several businesses made offers to purchase the Sarasota building, but “the twist” I alluded to was that we arranged for the building to continue to be a dance school. I thought this would be good news, because all those people who have written me asking for advice on where to train next season now have a perfect solution. SRQ Dance will not be just any school, but one that will be run by a student we trained and mentored. To assure the new school has a sound foundation, Mark and I are giving them guidance, consultation, our expertise in teacher’s training, and we plan to come back in the fall to choreograph. These are all things we offered FLEX management after we left, but our involvement was declined. Things will be different this time around.


Whether or not the owners of FLEX re-open under a new name with entirely new staff and entirely new resources is anyone’s guess. We don’t know how this will be financially feasible, considering they cannot meet the minimum obligations agreed upon in settlement, but that is not for us to say. If the Mendisons do open a new school, we wish them luck with it. We think they are fine people with good intentions, despite what has transpired between us. We don’t understand their business choices, but differences are what makes the world go round.
 
Meanwhile, under the assumption that FLEX would not survive, we have worked with the Boyas’ on their business plan and poked holes in their ideas, testing their organization and intentions. After weeks of this back and forth, I can attest that they have more than a fancy website and promises to offer everyone. SRQ dance is set up to DELIVER what they advertise. I am so tired of dance studio’s bragging about the future- because anyone with any experience or understanding of the complexities of the dance business knows the reality will fall short of the grand promises being made. There is also an inexplicable attitude that the school with the advanced dancers WE trained somehow validates the studio’s worth. How ludicrous. The fact is, a school is only as good as the students THEY train and it will be years (ten or so) until anyone can judge which teacher or institution really knows what they are doing by evaluating the dance student’s skills. Everyone’s focus now is on competitions, choreography, and advanced dance numbers, but the true focus of a good school should be on devising progressive educational programs. The obsession with a plastic trophy as a measurable result to wave around doesn’t point to a very good future for these schools in our opinion.   But then, we are dinosaurs and with old-school attitudes about what makes a quality dance school. Perhaps we were put to pasture just in time.


Nevertheless, assuming we know something about dance education, we are excited about the school Cory and Sharon Boyas will be opening, SRQ dance. Here’s why.


Cory can run a dance school “as only a lifelong dancer can” who happens to have professional dance experience as well as management training in business. Cory was trained by us and like most of our former students, had his glory years as the winner of competitions (Mr. Dance of Florida and others) and as a soloist with the West Coast Dance Project. This makes a fine little bio to give customers confidence, but after this, the important qualifications begin. Cory went on to study in New York. There, he worked with dance companies and for theatrical productions. He was on scholarship with a few of the best schools in New York and went on to tour Europe. His expertise goes far deeper than growing up with FLEX as his single source of knowledge. He has professional associations and connections that will help him to devise a great dance curriculum – not to mention his positive association to us- which means we are an ongoing resource for the school too. On top of this, he is customer service oriented. Thanks to his background, working in management for two of the most prestigious service companies (Starbucks and The Hyatt) for several years, he is very professional and can handle the business side of running a school.  Dance knowledge is important, of course, but to be an effective director you need to be very skilled at the business end too. This is what establishes security and longevity for a school. Cory has impressive computer skills, marketing experience and great instincts, all necessary for his future role as dance school owner.


His wife,  Sharon happens to be a preschool teacher, soon to be certified as a director. This, along with her great organizational skills, makes her highly qualified to manage the preschool and youth education aspect of the school. This couple has noble aspirations to expand SRQ  to become a credited performing arts school one day, and I suspect they could pull it off. But they know to go slow and make changes sparingly with great care. Sharon’s parents are principals of a school as well, so teaching comes naturally to the family. (Cory has also worked on staff at a school).  The relatives are going to be involved too, which brings maturity and experience to the educational divisions of SRQ. As a graduate of the theater department of Booker, Sharon has experience as a theater techie too – which means she has training in backstage management, costuming and lights. As anyone can see, this couple is well qualified to run recitals and other performing events too.  They hope to serve  mostly as directors and office management, but they are fully qualified to sub classes, manage artistic programs and hire terrific staff. They have invited past FLEX staff to join the school, should the teachers find themselves looking for work, but we have made ourselves available to help train new staff if those dance teachers we trained previously make other choices. I can’t see how SRQ can fail to have a good program considering the attention being paid to future staffing issues.


Frankly, I can’t think of a single element of managing a kick-butt school that the Boyas couple are not qualified for. They also happen to have four kids, so they have the parent’s perspective on what really counts in regards to the kind of environment a parent would feel comfortable entrusting their children in. They are investing their life savings on a dream, and for a couple with four kids to educate and raise, that speaks of their serious intentions and commitment as well.


But what really sold me on this couple was not their compiled list of attributes. It was attitude. In talking to Cory, I’ve learned just how decent and earnest he’s become as an adult. Like many of the teens we trained, he had his difficult moments as a young man. But he has hard-earned wisdom and humility now and a great attitude. He and Sharon want foremost to have a high caliber school. They don’t seem nearly as interested in getting rich or being a dance superpower, as they want to influence young people to develop into great artists and great people. They hope to enrich lives through the arts. That is what it is all about, and anyone who operates from this place is bound to build a fantastic school. Most importantly, they despise personal drama and are devoted to diffusing emotional upheavel believing it is non-productive in an arts school. I think people will appreciate that. 


Cory wrote us a few weeks ago, explaining what he thought were his strengths and weaknesses as a dance teacher. He certainly has no delusions about his value or unexplainable arrogance regarding his skill, and that is refreshing. He asked our opinion about how he could improve in the area’s that needed improvement, and wanted our opinion about how to best utilize his strengths. He asks all the right questions and is so open to personal growth.


Mark and I don’t ever intend to shoot down anyone’s dream when we play devil’s advocate or point out weaknesses in a concept, but we did hit Cory with all kinds of questions and obstacles to see what his plans included. We have done this to each other for years, which is how we avoid many pitfalls. Planning is everything.  And every time, he and Sharon came back with carefully researched and well-thought out answers. They are solution oriented, always with an eye on what is ethical, and best for the students in the long term. Their lack of ego is key.  And they have showed us true respect, which is the mark of a generous artist. Most impressive of all is the hard work they have invested already in this, the formative period of their enterprise. They are tireless, enthusiastic and very positive people. In fact, the way they go above and beyond, never delegating the work to others but diving in to do it themselves, reminds us of us in the early years. Mark and I think they will be very, very successful, and it won’t depend on enrolling current FLEX students. This couple will train great dancers on their own, and they will have a progressive school that will appeal to many, many people. They don’t need other people’s students to make it work. But if other dance school options don’t manifest, students will at least have a wonderful new alternative to consider in SRQ.


We are happy because this solution gives closure to our years in dance. In a perfect world, FLEX would have thrived and been successful, and we wish it were so, but in light of the fact that this didn’t happen, what is the next best thing? I think a new school whose vision is an evolution of our past is perfect. It won’t be the same school, nor should it be. A copy of our school would be only that. A bad copy. Better, a school built on the foundation of all that was good before, with a changed and evolved definition to meet the needs of the current dancers in Sarasota. The FLEX of everyone’s past was wonderful – but that was because it met the needs of the dancers of the past. Today, our culture is different, and so should be the school servicing them.


We feel horrible about how things ended with FLEX and wish things had worked out differently. It has been a very painful two years for us. All I can say is, until you are the one forced to unplug the life support on something you deeply love, I suggest people stop passing judgment. Everyone has strong opinions, but they lack the  facts required to understand all that has truly transpired.


Before I close, I’ll tell you what compelled me most to help make SRQ a reality.  In one of our conversations, Cory said to me, “We sure would love to get that building, but if I told you why, you’d laugh at me.” Of course, I made him confess.


He said, “The night I married Sharon (they had a whirlwind romance and got married on the spur of the moment without anyone knowing- seemed risky, but four kids and years later it’s proven the right choice) we drove to FLEX and spent our first night together sleeping in our car parked on the side of the building. At sunrise, we went to take a walk on the beach and afterwords, I drove to your house to tell you and Mark that Sharon and I got hitched (they were both our students around that time). That building is sort of symbolic for us, the place we began our married life, and therefore, very special.”


Of course, FLEX was the backdrop for my marriage too, the place where Mark and I raised our children, built a future and established many wonderful memories. It occurred to me in that instant that here was a couple who would really love that facility with the same reverence and intensity we loved it. Not because they grew up there and it was a part of their childhood history, but because it was tied into their future too. While everyone is quick to say, “business is business”, the fact is, for some artistic types, “business is passion and making a difference.” ( Apparently, I think helpless romantics make good dance school owners.)


That made me think about Cory’s connection to the building. When we first bought it, he was a scholarship student and because he our only a guy, he helped Mark with remodeling construction. I remember we rented scaffolding and Cory and Mark painted the entire back room. They called me and asked me to bring them sodas and a snack. It was 2am. I remember showing up and seeing my boys all paint splattered and punchy from being so tired. They made off-color jokes just to keep awake and because it amused them to get me agitated, (I always reprimanded them like children when they made classless jokes.)  I remember the laughter and camaraderie despite the grueling work, and how much I appreciated there being someone other than me up on that scaffolding to help Mark do this awful job.


I believe in Karma. I think Cory helped us back then out of true appreciation for our tutelage and friendship. But I like thinking he was really helping himself. Perhaps fate was laying the foundation for his future. We all thought he was painting our back room, but really, he was painting what as going to be HIS back room someday, even though none of us knew it at the time. A young boy was helping us accomplish our dreams, and now, it is our time to help him realize his.
Call me a romantic, but this feels so right to me. 


It’s no secret to anyone that I am too sensitive regarding dance and FLEX. So, more than anything else, sometimes it is best to trust Mark’s instincts. He has talked to Cory, reviewed the numbers,  looked over their business plan and discussed artistic goals and how to achieve them with both Sharon and Cory. And after hanging up the phone, he turned to me the other day and said, “I swear, these two could really pull this off and have a fantastic school. I’m so impressed with all they’ve done. They’ve worked harder than anyone else we’ve witnessed so far, and in the end, it is all about hard work and innovation.”


Watching the final days of FLEX is painful, but the rising of SRQ makes closing the door easier somehow. Time to pass on the mantel of dance on to people inflamed with ambition and passion for the job at hand. And for those that speculate, it is important to know we are not selling the school or the resources to them, although that could have been arranged. No, we are giving what we can to a former student whose friendship and loyalty has meant a great deal to us. This couple has a huge head start now for building a dance empire of their own. That means a great deal to us. There was a time we supposed this would happen with another protégé, but we were mislead by her true intentions. It was painful disappointment because we always dreamed that if FLEX didn’t make it, one of our students would step forward, carry on our heritage and make us proud. 
Here he is, folks.  

So, regardless of what others may think, Mark and I are pleased that something good will rise out of all the recent dance disappointments. We have cut our losses regarding former students that chose to treat us with distain once they thought they had no use for us, but we celebrate the former students who remained close friends (many of who visit this blog regularily).
  
We earnestly hope for the best for everyone involved in dance in Sarasota. To those still at FLEX, to those that left to participate in a new school, and to those who quit dance altogether because the volatile nature of the fighting ruined the experience, we want to say that we hope you find what you are looking for and are happy. Keep dancing. In the end, it doesn’t mater where, because it is an internal journey.
I guess, we have all learned hard lessons, but that is something to respect too.  

Now, I am done discussing dance on this blog and I won’t revisit this issue so don’t bother checking in. I’m returning to talk of chickens, bees, literature, wine and horses, which will no doubt thin out my audience considerably. As such, everyone out there must follow their own heart and instincts in regards to dance.
The Hendry’s are old news. 

(The only way I’ll ever mention dance would be in another capacity come fall. I am totally jazzed as I listen to music for my next piece. Lots of ideas clogging up my brain after a two year sabatical. I’m thinking a square dance in beesuits with a bottle of homemade wine balanced on the kid’s heads . . . chicken feathers in the hairpiece, of course. . . Ha.  don’t panic, Cory, I’m kidding.) 


 



 

Letting go

Mark had to fly to Sarasota last night (without notice) to handle some very difficult, uncomfortable business. As many of you know by now, today the doors to our former school have closed for good. Eviction has finally taken place and foreclosure on the business is soon to follow. It has been a miserable two years for us, filled with heartache and headaches. We have flown to Sarasota nine times since December in effort to help the school, re-negotiate terms to help the new owners through the hard times, and to handle legal issues (once it became clear that the fate of FLEX was something we couldn’t fix.) We are so tired of feeling badly about things we can’t control.  We tried to hold off taking action(at our own detriment and personal expense) so they could have their recital, but when the new owners took the issue to bankruptcy court, they suddenly had to answer to a higher court – to a judge. Now, there can be no more lienency for broken promises or avoiding responsibilities. 

They are only one week from their recital, so they can still have their show if they are as prepared as they should be at this point in the season. As for the dancers, well, we sold the building over a month ago to a former student, and there will be a new, fantastic dance school, patterned off ours, come fall. In respect to FLEX and their efforts to hold on until the end, we chose not to make this announcement, but now I think it is time. (I’ll write about the exciting details tomorrow, but in the meantime, go visit www.SRQdance.com for a sneak peak.)  

But that is not what I am writing about at this time. The point is, I’ve been feeling really low all day. I can work up anger or disappointment, but mostly what I feel is intense sadness. It is compounded by the fact that one of us is here taking care of family responsibilities (with no notice to prepare to leave, I had no choice but to stay) and the other one is down there dealing with the grueling, poignantly sad, task of packing up our past alone. It is a very difficult time to be apart.

But just now, Neva came in and said, “Mom, there is some huge bug in the garage. It is buzzing, and flying around really fast.  But, I’m thinking it may be a hummingbird. Only I’ve never seen one up close. Can you come look?”
Sure enough, a hummingbird was trapped, battering it’s tiny body against the glass door. So I carefully cupped my hands around it and softly lowered it into Neva’s hands. Then, I took a picture for her. This is how small a hummingbird is. Remember, this is in little Neva’s petite hands. . .

 
We only held it for a few moments, then we let it go. Neva marveled at how light it was, how delicate and small. She said, “It is like holding a puff of air.”
I explained that sometimes, the best thing you can do for something very special is to let it go.

I need to remember that today.

A Garden of Eden begins with the state of your mind


This is our garden. I know it just looks like a big patch of dirt, but heck, that’s what it is (was.) This is the “before” picture just after we plowed an area of the field for our future garden . I will post another picture in late July and you will see corn and peas, yellow and green beans, yellow, green and banana peppers, four types of tomato, cucumber, yellow and green squash, assorted herbs, carrots and beets (well, these will be underground, but you will see the tops) lettuce and spinach, and strawberries. That’s all we planted for our first year attempts. It will get us by. Actually, this picture was taken before we actually planted seeds and seedlings. Now, there are some starter plants, stakes and tomato cages stuck into the dirt. Very exciting.  My dogs think so too, and they won’t stop going in there to dig up our carefully nurtured plants or to pull up stakes because they think those markers are chew toys. Grrrrr…. Damn dogs.
We will be putting up a fence next week. We are pretending it’s for the deer and other wildlife, but between you and me, it’s mostly for the dogs.

Putting in a garden from scratch isn’t easy. First, a tractor is used to plow up an area. I marvel at how much work it is to tear up land that has been weed-ridden for years, and I can’t stop thinking about early settlers and how they had to do everything without modern machinery. Mankind’s innovation and determination is remarkable.
Next, we used a hand held tiller (sort of like a push lawn mower) to churn up the dirt. We then used a hoe to devise rows for planting, and I was assigned the lovely job of squatting over to toss rocks and clumps of weed over my shoulder into the field. Gee, that was backbreaking fun.

Finally, we got to plant. Neva is a good help here. She likes to lay a single seed in a small hole and push the dirt on top, then give it her famous little pat. Very cute.
Next, had to water. Of course, we can’t reach a hose this far from the house so we have to do it by hand. We pull buckets up from the creek, fill a watering can,  and carefully water the seeds – NOT the aisles, because we want to control the weeds. Yes, we are at war with weeds already, even though not a single one has peeked it’s head up from the earth as yet. We hired a plumber to put in a water source down near the garden, but it isn’t finished yet. Soon, thank goodness. Watering once is a novelty. Having to do so for a full summer, I think I’d quit.

This is our creek. I will give you a “before” and “after” picture here too. The creek picture overrun by weeds is what our creek looked like when we moved here. The nice open creek picture is the “after” shot of what things look like after Mark uses his tractor to open up the stream and hand places rocks in just such a way it gives the water a cascading effect. This is a great deal of work. He’s accomplished about 20 feet of creek so far. He only has 50 acres more to go. Check back in ten years and we may be almost done with this particular project. Of course, by then, he will have to go back to the beginning to start over.

Believe it or not, I’m loving this entire gardening/farming process.  Mark is delighted because he has always been a gardener, but it’s been a lone pursuit. I’ve never taken much interest other than “ooing” and “ahhing” at the lovely environment he created about our homes. I can tell it is more fun for him to have someone working along side him in the sun. Until now, while I’ve appreciated flowers as much as any girl, I’ve never been inspired to give up my precious free time to tend them. I’m not so hung up on the visual that it was worth devoting every weekend to making a pretty landscape. But a veggie garden is an entirely different thing, because this leads to kitchen fun. I am all about food.

I’ve learned that anything remotely connected to cooking interests me. Face it, the reason I am excited about bee-keeping isn’t because I like bugs. It’s the idea of harvesting my own honey and making baklava and other treats that I can’t resist. I think my chickens are cute, but I seriously doubt I’d have them if it were not for the eggs I collect and how that encourages me to find new ways to cook them. You see, for all that I love the outdoors, it is all about playing in the kitchen in the end.

Tending a food-bearing garden is a thrill, because I envision cooking and canning all the home grown product. I had such a good time last year making jelly and syrup from the berries I picked.  I bought a cook book on gourmet canning and have collected recipes for pickles, relishes and all kinds of exotic vegetable mixes. And spaghetti sauce! Mark kept complaining as I added yet another breed of tomato to our shopping cart, insisting I will never be able to use all the tomatoes I’m going to get. Ha! He underestimates me. I have big plans in the tomato department. And the fact is, if we are overrun with more vegetables than we can use, I have plenty of animals that will eat the extras -even those that are slightly bug ridden or brown about the edges. 

We’ve planted plum, pear. peach and apple trees just for the hundreds of future batches of crisps and pie I aspire to make. I snuck in a few raspberry plants, and grapes, for other dessert options. My sourdough starter sits bubbling in my fridge, beckoning me to make bread even though we are on a bread-ban thanks to diets. Well, if that is off-limits, I can lean how to dry and make tea from scratch from home-grown herbs. Can’t be hard. Might be fun.

I know what you are thinking. It would be a lot less trouble to just go to the farmer’s market and purchase homegrown product in season and I could cook whatever I wanted for allot less trouble and a relatively equal investment. But that isn’t nearly as much fun. Heck, that’s like asking why I raise angora bunnies and spin my own wool to make a scarf when I can buy synthetic yarn at Walmart. Better yet, why not just buy a scarf made in Taiwan at Walmart and avoid making anything at all?
See, the point is not that you can’t get a scarf any other way. It isn’t to avoid effort or save money, but to experience the process of creating something from start to finish – to take pride and make an art of the food I present to those I care about.
And there is also the fact that I write about these experiences. I am working on a memoir about an urbanite midlifer discovering the joy of country living now. And more importantly, I will always write historical fiction. What better way to research how my characters lived years ago than by trying my hand at a few of the former necessary life skills? Since these activities are approached as a hobby and not a part of securing our existence (or paying a farm mortgage) I can always stop anything that turns out to be too much work, no fun, or that ties us down too much. For now, it is great fun to try new things. 

This weekend I’ll be taking my three day seminar at the Campbell folk school on how to make wine. Can’t wait. Mark rolled his eyes and said, “If you like this as much as I’m afraid you will, can we at least wait until another season to put in a vineyard?”
Ha. Of course, Dear. In the meantime, I’ll play with juices and store bought grapes, and even try my hand at mead (made from fermented honey) and country wines (made from fruit like apples, peaches and mulberries.) I might even make some beer, just to see what that is all about. 

I think what I like best about
all we can do now that we no longer spend every moment obsessing on a dance school, is that life is seasonal. This summer, we can use the long lazy days to harvest and cook, work bees and enjoy our land. We can horseback ride and go kayaking or boating and really spend interesting time together. The kids and I will both be out of school, and Mark is done building the house, so we want to spend a few months celebrating our first summer of total freedom.  But in the winter, things will be different. The chickens stop laying. Imust leave the beehive dormant for months. Nothing is growing in the garden. It is too cold to boat or ride (well, you can go out on a horse if you enjoy snow and crisp wind). The kids are in school. The house is quiet and dull. That is when Mark and I will travel a bit, and when home, I will buckle down to do some serious writing. He will hole up in the workshop and crank out furniture. It is when I’ll make bees wax candles for Christmas and open up jars of homemade sauce or pickles to see how they turned out when I want to play little house on the prarie.  And there is the fact that we are seriously considering opening another business. We looked at a building to buy yesterday and got all excited and started brainstorming. But we are in no hurry. Why invite that kind of work focus into your life again any sooner than you must? It is only a matter of time until our attention shifts to the world beyond our little hobby farm.

I like having a rhythm to life, and after years in mild Florida, I look forward to every change in season with newfound appreciation. Weather and the shifts in nature’s bounty make every month different here – each season is filled with it’s own flavor and surprises.  Next summer I may not want a garden, or bees or anything else remotely connected to farming. We may be emmeshed in building a new business. But as it stands now, I feel wonderfully connected to the earth and I am enjoying every bee sting, every broken nail, and every cry for Advil after a day of hauling or digging. Nothing lasts forever. It is important to savor each moment as it comes, and to pause to appreciate what you have before it is gone.






  

   

The Art of Chicken Maintenance

I know. Too much of a good thing is too much. Nevertheless . . . Lookie at what joined us today!



Our chicken, Toodie began laying eggs in the same place everyday, and Neva and I thought we’d just leave them alone to see what happens. But another chicken kept going into the nest and laying eggs too, and before we knew it there were 21 eggs under this little chicken. (They average about 7 eggs for a one time hatching.) But dang if we didn’t keep forgetting a pencil to mark which ones that were there first, which would allow us to remove the new eggs. Since we didn’t know which ones were old and which ones were new, we ended up leaving them all – then, when it was obvious this egg explosion was never going to cease, we moved the chicken to her own pen to brood so no other eggs would be added. Now, we had eggs of different incubation timing in process. Ee-gad. 

Three weeks went by. Nothing was hatching. I worried that perhaps these eggs were not fertilized. One of my roosters was still convalescing from the dog attack, and the other is rather young. Perhaps they are not getting it on with the girls with gusto, as roosters are supposed to do. But, after the duck episode, there was no way I was going to toss possibly soon-to-hatch eggs into oblivion. Still, I worried that poor Toodie was wasting her time, hour after hour turning her eggs and sitting there with barely enough food to keep up her strength. Then, yesterday, I heard  peeping. Sure enough there was something under our chicken. I lifted her up. No babies, but I did see some hatched empty shells. Where the heck were the chicks? Then I moved Toodie’s wing, and out dropped the chicks, tucked underneath to keep warm. Talk about cute. Five eggs hatched the first day, and one the next. Only, this late-comer seems awfully tiny and weak, so it may not survive. The problem is, Toodie is now going about business caring for the five robust chicks and the newbie isn’t getting the gentle care and warmth it needs. I thought about bringing it inside to put under a heat lamp, but in the end, I’ve decided to let nature take it’s course. I am a bit overrun with birds at the moment, and fun is fun, but too much is too much. Frankly, I don’t need this many chickens. I already have more eggs than I need. The act of hatching has been remarkably cool, but the idea of being tied down to chicken maintenance isn’t exactly my idea of the good life.

There are still eggs under Toodie, but they are taking space and making it harder for the chicks to fit under Mom. I guess tomorrow I’ll toss those eggs that haven’t hatched. It will take inner strength and a stiff upper lip, but I will do the awful deed. They are being ignored anyway now, so it is unlikely they will survive. Toodie will raise her young, which is a no-brainer for me, thank God. I am finishing up my MFA and preparing to take a trip to Boston in a month, and there is only so much animal care I can thrust on poor Denver, good sport though she is. 

Our chicks are sure cute, all mottled gray and tan fuzz. They are half silkie and half cochen hen, so they will be fat and round and, when their feathers come in, probably shades of black and white. Nevertheless, I am at my Chicken max now (I hope.) It’s been fun, but there is more to life than poultry, even if Neva would disagree.

I am reading a book called, Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance – a funny memoir by a British man who enjoyed trying his hand at raising chickens too. Makes me laugh – at myself and his story. There are universal truths in this entire chicken raising thing. Everyone should try it once. 

Anyway, Neva is delighted. We are discussing names now. We name everything. When I got the bees I said to Mark, “Gee, it’s going to be hard remembering all 40 thousand names.” He said, “Well, I just want to name the queen. Call her Aunt Bee. We do live in Mayberry, after all.” So that is the one bee we named. 

So, this closes my chicken report for this season. I am ready to move onto different subjects (huge sigh of relief from the blog galaxy.) Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t share a peacock report or two along the way. The point is, me and my wonderful partner in poultry crime (Neva) are having a grand ole time. It is nice to share something so simple with a little girl who reminds you what a miracle life is.


 

 

A room of past and present

I talk a great deal about my dance-afterlife. But what is great about expanding your horizons is that life is an accumulative experience, and the impact of living, both the good and bad,  stays with you . You bring what you learned from one experience to the next, and in a case like mine, you don’t easily “let go” and move on without looking back over your shoulder at the same time. Some elements of a person’s personality resonate and fester, and can’t be swept under a carpet, so they ooze out and manifest in tangible ways – sort of a reminder of who you were and deep down, probably always will be.

This is why I thought I’d show you our workout room in the house. It isn’t as large as a dance studio, but it is larger than what most people have for personal use. Currently, it is filled with equipment scattered in corners awaiting better organization and storage. We need to build a rack to hold the workout balls, etc… But still, this gives you a general idea of where we spend some time.    

This is a shot from the treadmill (which is NOT a device designed to hold folded laundry, despite what my friend Cory says). As you can see, we have a TV here so we can watch a movie or show while we walk (to keep us on the machine). The cabinet below is filled with workout DVD’s – everything from yoga and pump to pilates and ball workouts. Of course, Jessica’s workout DVD has a place of honor here.
 
 
When you walk into our workout space, you encounter a wall covered with dance shots and articles that give a pictorial history of our dance life. Denver calls it the wall of fame. I think for Mark it is the wall of shame, because whenever one of the burly construction cowboys steps in and sees him in tights, they can’t help but make a joke about it.  I happen to love this wall. When I am on the treadmill, these images are right before me. My mind wanders to the wonderful people and experiences I’ve been blessed to know during my dance journey. I have pictures from my years in New York (and my first teachers/mentors – forever on the wall as a way of honoring them), pictures from FLEX and pictures of a few of the students that meant so much to us. I can see pictures of my husband back when he was only a student, long before he became my partner in life. He was such a determined, hard working artist. There is the first article I ever sold to a magazine (about dance) and articles written about us and the programs we created. And all of it deserves recognition, because every facet of dance from the beginning is a part of who we are now.
 
When my parents visited last week, I thought they might make a derogatory comment about this wall, because they get aggravated by the way I continue to care about what happens to our school and the dancers in the aftermath of our leaving. They say dance is no longer our problem, and something is wrong with me because I seem to need to keep one toe in the water. Mark gets annoyed too, as if the fact that I care means I’m going to drag him back into a world that was so hard for us to break free from. It’s true, I ponder creative solutions to problems more than I should. But I don’t know why that would be threatening to anyone. No rule says once I shut a door I’m required to pretend I don’t care, when I do. Frankly, It would be disturbing if it was any easier to turn my back on dance and everything I cared about for so many years. It would mean I spent an awful lot of time on something that was, in fact, dispensable. I prefer knowing that I spent all that time, energy and put an emotional investment into something that still is (and forever will be) important in the big scheme. I’ve moved on, but still, I care about dance and our role in it.
  
Anyway, My mom saw the wall and said “I’m really glad you did this. It is lovely to see this part of you preserved, and nice to think you have remembrances of what you loved around you.”
I appreciated her understanding of these pictures and why I wanted to hang them.
Here’s the wall: I still have Westcoast Dance Project posters to hang  somewhere (WCDP was our non-profit regional dance company from ten years ago). They are special and deserve a place of honor too.
 
There are other pictures around the room too, but I can’t stand back enough to take a shot of the entire room in one swoop. The poster of Mark that hung for years in the FLEX lobby has a place of significance on one wall (Don’t pay attention to the loose balls and the steps and risers – we bought six steps, which is more than one household should need, except that Mark occasionally gives a step class to Denver, Dianne, and whomever else wants to get sweaty with us. Remember – the closest health club is a 50 minute drive.) 

The collage I made way back when I first decided to open FLEX (from old unwanted pix from New York) hangs above the treadmill. This picture has been on the wall of FLEX since the first day it opened – in fact, it was the only picture I could afford to hang (made it from scraps) for about two years. I remember I put it up just so my little new school looked “dancy” way back when. I smile when I see how young I was (and how old the poses and style of dance wear). But it is nice to remember that version of me, nevertheless. I was so passionate about the art. That fire burned hot for such a long time. It still smolders. Perhaps it always will. This collage represents so much to me – my New York years, my FLEX years and my history in general.


The nicest thing about this room is that we can go here and do a warm-up or workout privately. Sometimes we play music and dance. It is a space to work on choreography too – which is something we are going to need soon (We are going to give some master classes and set some competition dances in Sarasota in the fall, for a former student and friend who is opening a new school with our help.) We will want to prepare something really dynamic, so having a mirror and open space to play with in advance will be a great help. (And for those of you who are tweaked by this tidbit, I promise to give you more exciting information about what’s to come later this week.)  

Anyway, this is our workout room. Jessica Smith will be proud (and yes, dear, you are on that wall). You too, Jamie. And this is my open invitation to friends to come up and use our treadmill. We might even stage a little class. Why not? We do have a hot tub to soak the tired, old muscles that will no doubt balk at the effort.

Perhaps someday, I’ll want to turn this room into a library or something. But I doubt it. I may be sorry we hung mirrors, because who are we kidding,  the girl looking back at me isn’t getting any younger. But she is a familuar site, and she’s earned every laugh line and sore muscle earnstly. The mirror image of me may change on the surface, but that girl and I are still friends. I have looked at myself in lots of mirrors in lots of studios in my life. This may be the last studio I ever spend time in. I savor it for that reason.