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Monthly Archives: June 2007

Yee-haw. I’m done.

Yesterday, Cory got the financing approved to buy our Sarasota Building. All systems are “go”. There will be another fine dance institution to take over where we left off in Sarasota this fall. We look forward to helping him in any way we can, and the plans we are cooking up together to set his dreams on course are very exciting. It gives closure to dance for Mark and I in the best of ways. We are delighted. But I have no time to talk about it now.  I am leaving this morning to go to Boston to finish my MFA requirements and then to graduate. Yippee for me!

As a person who often assesses meaning and purpose in the coincidences fate tosses out, the timing of my educational experience has been remarkably interesting. Low residency MFA’s are very competitive and difficult to get into. I applied to many schools, but was declined. I was even declined to Lesley. Then, on the very day the soon-to-be new owners of FLEX made an offer to buy our business, I came home to an unexpected acceptance call (I was on a wait list for Lesley and someone had decided not to attend). It was a last minute invitation which meant the commencement of my writing journey would begin the very same week we turned over the keys to FLEX. I believed this was a sign. It provided new opportunity to be excited about, which made it far easier to say “Yes” to the FLEX offer.

Two months later, I attended my first residency, and the very day I began writing classes happened to be the day we closed on the dance school sale. I had to leave a seminar to fax my signature to the closing. Again, I felt that this was a “sign” that I was meant to do something different now. FLEX was no longer ours, and here I was in a writing program I wanted desperately to attend, learning what I needed to know to forage a new career.

For the entire two years I have been in this MFA, trying to focus on writing, I have been pulled back into the turmoil and frustration of FLEX as things went sour. I thought getting my MFA would be a celebration of my freedom to pursue new dreams. But instead, it was an endless time of heartbreak, frustration and financial stress which made concentration on writing difficult. But I kept at it (even though I thought seriously of quitting more often than I like to admit.) And don’t ya know, of all things, I wrote a thesis novel about dance. What was I thinking? (More salt on the wound than even I was ready for.)

The FLEX eviction happened the very week my thesis was due. Talk about two poignant endings to wrestle with at once. Now, this week, I am finally closing the book on our former school. I am closing the book on my book about dance at the same time. It is as all things are pointing to dance being really over in my life. And I find it amazing that the day before I leave to get my diploma, we seal the deal to sell our building to an old student, which finally closes the door to our involvement with our former school forever. We will visit to teach, give Cory our guidance and consultation, but our future is no longer dependant upon the dance decisions someone else is making. Our financial stability and the ability to invest in a new business is no longer limited because everything we have is still wrapped up in that building.  FLEX had a slow and painful death. My entry into the writing world had a slow and painful entry. I can’t help but think the timing of these two significant elements of my life are strongly intertwined. The timing is too coincidental.

Today, as I prepare to go to the airport, I feel as if a huge gust of fresh air has finally swooped up, allowing me to breathe at long last. After this week, I’ll be able to return to writing what I feel inspired to write, with new confidence in my developed skill and understanding of writing as an art form.  I am so ready to “retire” my dance book, or at least set it aside for awhile, to concentrate on something less painfully personal. I am grateful that I don’t have to actively mourn our former school anymore – I will always miss it and feel sad about its end, but the FLEX years can take their place in the vault of important memories and life altering experiences in my mind. And I have every confidence that the new school taking its place will be an evolution of our past that will bring a smile to our face and help heal our feelings of loss.

It seems this is the end of our transition period. No one will even know how difficult it has been for us, or how we welcome a fresh start at long last.

I am going to graduate now. I’ll be back in a week (with pictures.)
Gee, I hope I don’t trip as I walk up to the podium or get tongue tied as I do my first public reading. But if I do, I will keep going and act as if nothing happened. That is something I learned from dance.
We are all the sum of our life experiences. So, for the good and the bad, today, I am grateful.


Water wit

When you make homemade wine, you must use bottled water to assure there is no bacteria or chemical in the base fluid, or it might ruin the batch as it ferments.
So, the other day while we were at Walmart, I decided to pick up a bunch of water for my winemaking escapades. They sell water in big 5 gallon  or 2 1/2 jugs.

I filled my cart with as much water as it could hold, about 8 of the huge jugs and pushed it to the checkout. Mark and Kent were there waiting for me with the things they had picked up in the store.

Kent looked at my cart and said, “Heck Mom, what do you need all that water for? Are you going to start giving bottled water to your chickens or something?”

“Of course. And I’ve decided only to give perrier to my peacock,” I said with a lifted eyebrow.

“Well, it’s a lot of water,” Kent said.

I patted the plastic jugs. “You see, son. I am going to turn this water into wine.”

Mark grinned. “I happen to know someone who got really famous doing just that.” he said.
And he and Kent laughed, and slapped eachother five. “Good one, dad.”

I’m so glad my interests are such a source of such amusement for this family.

Duck, duck, goose?

The ducks I hatched from eggs are proof that life throws you little delightful surprises along the way.

They are going through puberty now. I know this, partially because they are feathering out and changing from tan downy balls of fluff, to rich, earth toned adults. Mostly, it is because their voice is changing. I hear peep, peep, peep, QUACK.  It is sort of like listening to Kent talk. His boyish voice prevails, but every once in a while you catch the hint of a man’s deep vibrato slipping through.

I had six eggs in the incubator when they started hatching. Five hatched within a 24 hour period. Very exciting. But the last egg took it’s time. I could hear peeping from inside, so I knew it was only a matter of time, but we didn’t see the shell crack for another day. Then it took a full day for this duckling to break free. It was all I could do not to peal him out of that egg myself, because he seemed so exhausted from the immense effort.

He was different. His beak and feet were not gray like the others, they were pink. His down was lighter too. It was almost as if he had been in the incubator too long – like when you stay in a bathtub for hours, so you come out with bleached light skin and wrinkles. Neva and I were rather delighted because this one stood out as an individual. We could name it and actually keep track of which one he was. We called him “Johnny Come Lately” for a day or two. Then Neva wanted to name him (her) Rose because of the pink beak. Then, when it was obvious he was going to stay a lighter color than the others, he was named Cheese. The other five were named Quackers.  Now, we had Cheese and Quackers, more specifically: Ritz, Nabisco, Melba, Graham, and Trisket.

As their soft down turned slowly to feathers, we moved them from the little incubator cage inside, to the grand freedom of the creek and woods beside our house. Each night, we lock them in a huge dog crate, to protect them from poultry eating creatures.  It was simple training them – the first night, the entire Hendry family chased them squawking and flapping, shouting as we darted in and out of the woods to head them off, until we caught them and shoved them into the crate. Big ordeal. The second night we repeated that craziness. The third night, I went out there, but I couldn’t find them.  I bent down to discover they were are all tucked in, nestled together in the crate as if they knew it was bedtime. They do this every night now, and all I must do is walk down, whisper goodnight, and shut the door. Mark finds this interesting. He said, “Hey, we could turn our house into a bed and breakfast lodge and train the ducks to walk through the living room every night on their way to the crate. We’ll call it the Peabody Cabin.”
Might be fun.

As the ducks grew, the difference between them became ever more evident. The family would stand there, watching them swim in the creek, speculating on why one was so much lighter than the others.

I said, “Maybe that one is the boy and the others are girls. Nature often makes the boys more colorful or pretty, so perhaps it is a sex thing.”
Denver said, “I think it’s a swan. You have the real life version of the ugly duckling story happening here – that duck is not like the others. I think it’s cool.”
Kent said, “Mom probably just overcooked that one.”
Neva said, “Some creatures are just born special.”
Mark said, “I think the person who sold you those eggs pulled a fast one, and threw in a wild card just to meet the dozen egg quota.”

I wondered about that. I bought a dozen eggs (some exploded, you may recall) but they were all supposed to be of a certain wild breed. I wanted ducks that blended in with the environment, for their safety. But one of my ducks turned out snow white. Perhaps the seller gathering the eggs had no clue that she was including one different breed. Or perhaps the mother duck had an affair with a handsome, white, fast quacking male duck just passing through. Maybe this duck was a family member that drew from some distant gene pool, like me being a redhead when everyone else in my family has dark hair.  Or maybe this one is just an albino, a case of God forgetting to throw in a dose of color when he created this particular creature.

Anyway, I have five beautiful ducks with white and grey feathers, brown breasts, tan heads, and white rings like a necklace about their graceful necks. I have one cloud white duck that looks like a negative of Daffy. I adore them all.

Each morning, at around 6:30, I walk down the driveway in my robe and rubber boots (it’s a sexier look than it sounds) to open the door to the crate. The ducks greet me and waddle out to where I feed them. They move as a flock at all times, never venturing anywhere independently. They are people-shy and nervous, and yet at the same time, friendly. I guess this because they are still so young. They spend the day swimming in the creek, nestling together for naps in the woods when the sun is hot, and staying near the crate and running inside whenever they ever feel in danger. We watch them from the porch of the house, or walk down with a cup of coffee to enjoy their antics. It is amazing how much pleasure can be had from watching a few ducks go about the business of living. 

I have a special affinity for these feathered pets, partially because I hatched them myself, and partially because they are nature’s representatives of peace and freedom – the very elements of life I was chasing when I chose to move to the quiet woods of Georgia. 

Sometimes, it only takes a little thing to turn your world upside down.



This passion picked me

“Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice. Shame on me.”
That is all I have to say to the blackberry bush!

It’s that time of year. The blackberries are starting to turn. Time to plan some serious picking. 

I went out this morning on the four wheeler with Neva on a pre-picking excursion. I had this brilliant idea to bring my loppers to cut down some of the awful pricker plants that are growing with the blackberries. These killer weeds make harvesting a painful experience, so I was determined to remove those stalks now, early in the season, so we could approach the wild bushes with less danger the rest of the season.  I was convinced the thorny stalks were unnecessary, some kind of blackberry sidekick, probably opposite sexed bushes, the kind of plant that exists for cross pollination purposes but doesn’t bear fruit. In other words, I imagined they were lowly boy blackberry bushes, while the girls were out there producing the baby berries we all cherish.

I must have cut down a hundred big stalks in one of our prime blackberry spots. Then, my neighbor informed me that I was cutting down all of next year’s crop, because the year before they bear fruit, the wild blackberry bush begins as one of those deadly blank stalks. Blackberry bushes have no sexual orientation, you see. Duh.

 NOW you tell me? Dammit.

Well, I’ve only done damage to one small blackberry picking area. I have the other hundred bushes still intact and thorny as all get-out. Another learning curve highlight in the ongoing reality series, Hendry’s on the Farm.

Neva and I sampled a few berries, then picked a bowl full of random dark, sweet fruits. Unfortunately, most of the fruits on the vine are still red – a week or two away from peaking and turning  plump and purple . Nevertheless, I will begin my daily foraging now, because I can’t bear to miss a single free, wild berry even if they are currently spaced randomly on the vine.

While picking, you always encounter bees. Last year, I swatted them away with a curse, thinking the last thing I needed on top of scratches was bee stings.
This year I paused to say, “Oh, hello there, buddy.” (After all, my beehive is not far away, so it is a pretty good guess that these are my bees. “Take what you need and leave the rest,” I said, thinking that while I am very greedy regarding blackberries, I covet honey as well. A mutually beneficial aspect like that makes sharing easy, and everyone knows the surest way to overcome prejudice is to really get to know the one you fear. I understand and respect the bees now.  We’re buds.

Honey aside, I have big berry plans this year. Just this week we finished all of the jam I made last summer. Granted, I gave jars and jars of the stuff away, so we certainly didn’t run short,  but this season Georgia had an unexpected late frost that killed all the state’s blueberry and peach crops. As much as I was in denial all of April, the fact is, I am not going to get a single blueberry off of my huge, beloved bush this year. (Been in mourning over that since early march, but I’ve avoided writing about it – to protect my friend Chuck from the painful truth that he ain’t getting any blueberry jam this year.) The great blueberry loss causes my blackberries to take on mythic importance this season, because they will be my only homegrown staple with which to create specialty desserts and such. They will be the prime source for my jam. And don’t forget, I am now also on a quest to make the perfect wild blackberry wine. In fact, I have more than one recipe of blackberry wine awaiting experimentation, and each recipe requires pounds and pounds of fruit.

Not that I have to worry about locating the glut of berries I need. I only have to fret about harvesting the lot.  I discovered a huge thicket of wild blackberries in an abandoned lot at the entrance to our land. Somehow, I missed that windfall last year, but of course, we didn’t live here then, and only visited to feed the horses. I guess I drove by it everyday, totally unaware of the bounty nestled in a ditch a stones throw away. And I kept plenty busy picking on our roads and around our cabin on the mountain as it was. This particular wild berry discovery is located in a thorny maze of overgrown weeds in a marshy dip of land. There is at least an acre of overgrown, fruited wild blackberry bushes taunting me. It is like blackberry heaven – only with hellish thorns.

One day, while passing this area on a walk with Denver and Mark, I stood admiring the white blossoms that are the forerunner to the fruit to come. I paused and said, “It will soon be time. When these bushes bloom, I’m going in.”

Denver said, “Forget it, Mom. You will be torn to shreds. You can’t get in there.”

“I have been formulating a plan,” I explained, as if I was sharing a great conspiracy just between family members. “I think I can suit up to withstand the thorns. I was thinking I could wear my bee suit and cowboy boots. That will protect me.”

“Well, don’t forget to wear your four wheeler helmet to round off the outfit, as long as you are planning to make a fashion statement . . .” She rolled her eyes. “People will see you in that getup and finally know you are nuts. The family secret will be out.”

“Remind me not to share any of my blackberry wine with you, even if you are of age,” I said with a sniff.

Of course, Denver doesn’t understand the limits some people will go to attain a bucket of wild blackberries. She thinks blackberry picking is something you do for an hour as a lazy pastime, the prime purpose being to have a nice conversation with your mom, while dining on the berry bucket. She doesn’t understand the obsessive need to plow through thorns to get to the very back to get those plump juicy perfect specimens hiding in the rear. She can’t comprehend anything eatable worth getting scratched and having pricks burrowed into your skin for the rest of the evening. The cobbler made the next day is nice and all, but hey, you can buy frozen blackberries in the grocery store for a few bucks. Why knock yourself out?

And that, my friends, is proof that the world today has disconnected with the glory of nature and an intimate relationship with our food sources. Don’t believe me? Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She will convince you.

 I’m getting sidetracked. Where was I? Oh yeah.

 Mark stared at the blackberry thicket. “You might be able to drive in on the four wheeler. You’d plow down some of the bushes, but there are so many it wouldn’t hurt and at least that would allow you to get close. You could even pick without getting off the ATV.” (Men are always so practical and methodical about conquering nature.)

 I happen to be a real sissy on a four wheeler. I ride it all over the land on the roads, but I don’t like going off-road where ditches and holes and bumps create an obstacle course that can upturn even a cautious gal like me. Ride it blindly through the murky ditch into a forest of thorns? “I’ll just dress for the challenge and make it work,” I said.

When I get back from Boston, I have every intention of doing just that. But first, I will concentrate on those berries on our own land. I will settle for a scant bowl each day until the season gets up and running. Then, I will suck it up and go to war with the thorns for the big kill.

 I plan to freeze my early pickings, because I will use these early berries for wine. When you melt sugar and hot water it is smart to add frozen (though fresh) fruit to the mix to help bring the temperature down to activate the yeast. (I am ever so scientific when cooking now.) Just a helpful tip from a winemaker teacher I know.

Anyway, my blackberry picking frenzy is beginning. I can feel the obsessive need to go outside and forage stirring in my gut. For all of June and half of July, it is like I am enchanted by the fruit – under some spell that keeps me at it day and night. I can’t stop.  I want my freezer bursting at the seams with blackberries, carefully proportioned out for future cobblers. I want jars and jars of homemade jam cluttering the shelves. I expect at least two 6 gallon jugs of wine to be fermenting in my mud room for the next few months. (60 bottles.) I will rack them by Christmas, ready as gifts for my brave friends with strong stomachs.

I am already bemoaning the fact that I must go to Boston for eight days next Wednesday. Do you know how many berries I will miss? The birds will fly off with them, or they will shrivel like ugly raisins on the vine because I’m not here to snatch them up at that prime moment when they are ready. Kills me. But I will make up for it by putting in double picking time when I get back. I’ll be a graduate then, so I will come home smarter, right? I’ll probably lift one finger and come up with some brilliant plan to harvest all those berries with nary a scratch, just like the scarecrow started reciting brilliant formulas in the Wizard of Oz moments after the wizard presented him with a diploma.  Yeah, it could happen.

Anyway, today we began blackberry picking. I am in the throws of finishing preparations for my senior seminar next week, working on a full scale business plan and doing reading and research for our future enterprise, writing as always, and concentrating on other grown-up responsibilities. But dang, if I don’t have to put it all aside each day to adhere to the sirens call of the wild blackberry. Guess we all have our weaknesses.  Mine is a tart, morsel that shouts, “I dare you to come in here to get me!”
I never could resist a dare.

Nothing is as Easy as it looks

I know you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, (poultry-wise) so here’s the end of the peacock adventure.

The day we went to Florida happened also to be the official hatching due date for my peacock egg’s. My one white Peacock, Early, (who was originally carried around in my dogs mouth the day it arrived) was now alive and well and two weeks old. Nothing happened with the other eggs since then, so I had some strong doubt about their potential. Still, it was not as if I wasn’t going to give those eggs a chance. Therefore, on top of feeding all the animals, Denver was left with the task of checking my incubator everyday in my absence. I also set up a cozy little cage with food, shavings and a heat lamp “just in case”. 
Everyday I’d call home and ask how our animals were doing.

The forth day, Denver said, “Bad news.”
I imagined peacocks exploding.
“Something ate your seven baby chicks and killed the mother. Why does this always happen on my watch? You are going to think I am irresponsible. Please, don’t be mad.”

I explained it wasn’t her fault. Something always seems to die when we leave, and it has nothing to do with our being gone or her being in charge. It’s because our DOGS are gone. (We put them in a kennel). When we are home, they scout the land all day and often in the night and chase away all those pesky creatures that dine on chickens and ducks etc… When the dogs are gone, it’s a wilderness free for all.

“Did you check the peacock eggs?”   I asked everyday.
“They are not going to hatch Mom. Accept it.”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“It stinks in there, Mom.”
“It’s your imagination.”

When we got home eight days later, and the eggs were still lying in the incubator, I admitted defeat. I started wondering what happened and began cataloguing all the things I might have done wrong to kill those potential peacocks. Suddenly, Early took on epic precious standing. He is not just my only pretty peacock, but tangible proof that I am not a complete idiot in the incubation arena.

Neva was devastated by the death of her little, homegrown chicks and cried bitterly at the news. She had named them all, and the mom was her favorite chicken. Now, I had to tell her I was going to throw away the peacock eggs too.

She sighed and agreed it was time.
“We have to open them first,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Oh Honey, I can’t. I don’t want to see half-formed peacocks. What if there are birds inside that were almost ready to hatch? It will be too sad.”
“We HAVE to open them,” she insisted. “That’s what the book said. It’s the only way to determine where a mistake was made so you learn from it. Without knowing, we might do the same wrong thing and we won’t be successful next time either.”
Next time?
I argued that it would be too gross.
Mark pointed out that dead, rotten eggs would stink to high heaven and whatever we did, we better do it far away from the house. (Always a sensitive man regarding the issue of poultry life and death.)
In the end, Neva was so insistent that I caved. We would open the eggs. . . far away from the house. However, I wouldn’t promise to open my eyes.

I can’t tell you how much I was dreading this. Neva was skipping along beside me as if this was a grand adventure. She was totally excited to see what was inside. I was sick at the thought.

We brought a small garden shovel and first dug a grave for a communal bird burial. I thought this would be appropriate in case we found dead baby peacocks, but also, it would cover up the smell.
We crouched beside the hole and I picked up an egg (one of the blue peacocks), still warm from the incubator.
“Are you sure? We could just burry the eggs whole.”
“No way, Mom. Crack it open.”

Therefore, I did. Kind of like when you are cooking, only the egg was firmer.
Out slipped a gooey yoke that looked like any egg you might open from the supermarket.
Neva frowned. “It must not have been fertilized.” She bent for a closer look and dug into the goo with a stick. There isn’t even a vein of blood. This egg never had a chance. Try another one.”
Swallowing, I picked up a black shoulder peacock egg and cracked it open. Again, we found nothing but goo.
“Bummer.” Neva said.
I thought so too, but not because we were cheated out of discovering interesting bird embryos inside. I was thinking someone sold me the Brooklyn Bird Bridge, cause these eggs never even started forming. EBay. What do you expect.
We opened the last three eggs. In two of them, the insides were thicker, like a dab of pudding was plopped in the middle, but that might have been just because the yoke was getting so old. There were no signs of those eggs ever beginning to form beyond a day or two. Moreover, no blood, which is your proof of fertilization.

Apparently, I spent 39 days turning those puppies four times a day for nothing. Well, it was for Early, I guess, but still, it was a disappointment to think they never really had a chance.
I was pleased to discover that their failing was not due to my inadequacy. I thanked Neva for making me open the eggs. Knowing is better than not knowing and/or feeling guilty or losing confidence – things which might deter me from trying again.  She gave me a “told ya so” grin.
Anyway, we are now a one-peacock family.
You may ask what a person does with a lone peacock.
Well, you buy them a chicken, of course.
Early was so lonely (they are flock creatures, you know) that I asked the feed storeowner  what to do. She suggested I buy a chicken the same age and size so they could grow up together.
“What will happen when the peacock gets big and magnificent and the chicken is just a little chicken?”
“Wherever the peacock goes, the chicken is sure to follow,” she said. “They will be best friends.”

I kinda liked the idea of a peacock hanging around with a lowly chicken. It would be like the big star, Batman, and lowly Robin, the comic sidekick. Amusing.
So, I bought Early a pal.
But when I put the baby chicken in the cage, it attacked him – kept pecking him and being aggressive. Early clearly has been robbed of a chance to develop relationship skills, I admit, so it may be partly his fault. He cowered in the corner. I felt like a bad peacock parent for sure.
Our housekeeper was there that day and she pointed out how cute the chick was. I said, “Glad you think so,” and made it a part of her tip.
I went back to the feed store and explained what happened. “Don’t you have a nicer chick?” I asked.
Linda suggested another breed, so I brought home another chick pal. This one was a fancy chick with a strange puff on his head. Maybe because he was slightly exotic, they were better matched. This time, the two birds just stared at each other. Bingo. A day later, they were best friends.

So, now I have this graceful young bird, already feathering out with elongated, crystal white feathers and a puffy, scruffy chicken with strange hair. They are inseparable.
Even though they are happy, I still will want a second peacock so I can raise eggs of my own. I’ve already made arrangements with our fence man to come build me a large peacock aerial pen for safety. I will allow the birds roam the land in the day, just as our chickens do, but at night or when we are gone, I want them all tucked in a safe fortress. I must confess, I adore Early. He is delicate and personal and very, very special. His protection is a high priority.

I don’t know if I will try the peacock-hatching thing again. I have to wait until I return from Boston to consider anything that demands ongoing attention. Perhaps I will just buy a baby peacock for 50 bucks when the opportunity presents itself. That would guarantee success and in the end, it would be cheaper than buying five bargain eggs if they turn out to be duds.  But then again, I did hatch one out of six and my self-hatched bird is so special, maybe I should try my luck again.

I can also just buy adult peacocks for a bit more and then know if I’m getting a boy or girl. Whatever Early is, I can buy the other for a matched set. And do I want another white peacock so the offspring are pure, or should I go with a blue peafowl, and see what interesting babies come from a bi-bird-racial union?

E-gad. So much to think about.

But today, all I can think about is my MFA seminar. I am putting it all together and preparing notes for the class. Can’t wait to get this off my plate.
By the way, my master’s cap and gown came. I can’t figure out how that weird cloak thing goes on, because it has this strange square piece sticking to the side, like it is designed for a cone-head to wear or something. This is nothing like my last graduation outfit. So much for feeling smart as I don my higher-learning dress.
Just goes to show, nothing is as easy as you think it should be.


In my Mother’s Eyes

My mother painted a picture of me and presented it to me when we were in Florida last week.
As is her way, she prefaced the gift with, “It’s not very good, but it leaves you something to remember me by.”
Like I’ll ever need a picture to remember my mother.
It is hard to receive a picture of yourself, because no matter how much it looks like you, you stare at it thinking it could be better. My first reaction was, “Gee, couldn’t you have made me look a bit more like Michelle Phieffer? I mean, did you have to make my nose so big and my chin so prominent?”
“It looks exactly like you,” Mark said.
“Well, that’s the point. Does it have to look so like . . . .me?”
“You don’t like it,” my mother said.
“I LOVE IT.” I quickly corrected, and I meant it.
I love it because she painted it herself. And honestly, I think she did a great job. It is hanging in my office now, and I keep staring at it, thinking it is an amazing likeness – remarkable considering she’s primarily a hobbyists painter- she never really studied art seriously.  
When I look at this picture, I imagine my mother spending hours dabbling over that canvas, remembering my face, trying to capture the quality in my smile that she remembers from when I was small. Something humbling in that.
I do look young on the canvas. I guess in my mother’s eyes I will always be her little girl. 
I said, “Thank you for leaving out the wrinkles, and playing down the freckles.”
“I guess I don’t notice your wrinkles,” she said, then added, “Maybe you can’t tell, but I put you in a leotard too, because that is how I will always think of you. I thought it fit best.”
Sure enough, she did. That makes this picture even more endearing to me. Not that I care what I have on, but I’m pleased that my mother chose to represent me in the way she felt was most authentic. I guess, deep down, we all want our parents to accept us for who we are. In my case, I feel my mother is honoring my identity in this small act. 

My mother wanted to leave behind something to remember her by. I can’t imagine a better gift. Not only does this picture prove she knows and loves me- heck, even when I am 500 miles away, she can see my face and every detail in her minds eye to capture just who her daughter is –  but it also captures who she is: a woman who is talented and caring, who loves her children and wants to leave something behind for them. Perhaps this is symbolic, because what she is leaving behind in truth are children raised with enduring love – children she armed with confidence and an artistic eye all their own . That is a great accomplishment for any woman, I think.

I have other pictures my mother painted hanging in our house- mostly landscapes. I have also made a request for a picture of our horses, but she is waiting for me to send a photo, so I’ll probably add those to our personal art gallery someday too. But my Mother will never paint anything that, to me, is as touching as this special canvas.

When I look at it, I don’t just see myself. I swear, I also see my mother looking back at me.


Good quote

It’s like, at the end, there’s this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave
my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid?
-Richard Bach, writer (1936- )

Starting Over begins with cleaning up

Every time I mention that four letter word (FLEX), my site gets a thousand hits. Emotions are stirred. People get riled. Some in defense of us. Some in defense of their own actions. Some people write responses to the blog. Many write me directly, wanting to keep their comments private. As result, despite lots of emotionally packed experiences these past two years, I’ve avoided sharing most of my feelings regarding interaction with our former business, except in cases where I was really goaded into saying something. Anyone who knows me understands I get impassioned about the things I care about and  react accordingly. Sue me (actually, people have tried this year. Go figure.) The thing is, to not mention the “unmentionalable” is difficult since this blog is random and based on life experiences. FLEX continues to be a big part of our world, like it or not, so it is hard not to include comments about it occasionally.

In a way, not saying something is also a way of saying something. I want to avoid people making assumptions and projecting their own opinions about what we are doing and why (and this turning into some sort of folkloric “fact”) so I am more comfortable speaking for myself. So I’ve decided to address the FLEX mess in one more post. Then, I can move on to more “life in Georgia” posts, which my good friends say are the real reason they tune in.  

As many people know, we have had a difficult week and a half, (which is why I haven’t been blogging). I’d like to go into detail about my experiences because writing about things helps me work through them. But due to the vast, critical audience I’ve gained, I have learned to avoid too much detail and gut honesty about dance or FLEX. Still, to avoid the subject altogether makes this a very incomplete representation of our world. So, here I am again, addressing this situation, but consider it simply an overview for friends.

Mark and I went back to Florida yet again for the unpleasant task of dismantling our former business. FLEX took eighteen years to build, and only eighteen months to destroy. Packing up that school was a poignant, heart rendering task that took every ounce of fortitude we could muster. The emotions connected to such a task are so complex and personal that it defies description.  It’s like burying someone you love, experiencing a release from prison, and tearing out your own heart, all wrapped up into one disturbing act. 
We were watching the movie “You’ve Got Mail” last night, which I’ve seen dozens of times and really enjoy, but it had a different meaning in light of our current experiences. Before, it was just an entertaining, endearing love story, but this time I was sensitive to the subplot.  In the movie, Meg Ryan is forced to close a business that has been a significant part of her life for many years. She is devastated, but has no options due to the financial situation she finds herself in. Obviously, I can relate. No mater how much you love a place, you can’t hold on forever when in operating the red.

Tom Hanks says, “I’m sorry. It was only business. It wasn’t personal.”

And she responds with, “It was personal to me. If life is anything, it should begin and end with being personal.”

I cannot stop thinking about that nugget of wisdom.

A few days ago, we filled a 30-yard dumpster with useless, unnecessary (foolishly expensive) boxes and boxes of over-ordered brochures, programs, stationary and marketing paraphernalia. I admit, I felt rage. This was symbolic of what has been going on for some time. Our business, so carefully tended for so many years, was thrown away – for foolish items acquired to impress others. Rather than paying rent or building the reserve we impressed as so important, or budgeting for meeting normal business challenges and consideration of long-term security, the new owners focused on purchasing art, computer and high tech toys, investing indulgently in all sorts of surface esthetics. They bared no expense in all the areas that had nothing at all to do with dance. Meanwhile, in the dance rooms I found materials that were tattered and worn, holes in the walls and/or plaster repairs that remained unpainted after two years. The hallway had a spiffy new wood floor (very impressive), yet the dance room floors had not been professionally cleaned in over a year (very offensive). There was gluttony of overstocked supplies like construction paper in the preschool shelves, but the playground was in disrepair with broken equiptment, tattered canvases, and two year old, faded, mulch. The choices that have been made regarding the allocation of financial resources defy reason from a business or artistic sense.

It would be different if FLEX fell into hard times because our directorship had been missed, or because students fled because the ownership changed. It wasn’t outside influences, like a change in economy. Mismanagement drove staff and students away and began a breakdown of pertinent quality programs. The obvious evidence of just how frivilious the decisions made were, caused me to cycle between despondent melancholy and fury, touching upon every gray area in between. I ended up somewhere with resolve and apathy in the end. Like the T-shirt they gave Mark at our last recital that said: “My Give a Damn is Busted” –  I think I’ve became so emotionally exhausted I cannot feel anything anymore. So I went through the motions, doing what had to be done like a robot on automatic pilot, trying to second guess what my husband was thinking and feeling, and knowing he was doing the same about me.

We loaded old costumes, trophies and ruined dance and preschool materials into the dumpster, trying not to implode over the inner turmoil each bag of trash stirred up. Mark watched me like a hawk, expecting me to fall apart every other minute. Meanwhile, he had this vacant look in his eyes and his breathing was shallow and distressed. Fair to say, next to losing a baby, this was one of our most distressful experiences as a couple. 
For the most part, Mark and I were alone. It seemed oddly appropriate. We had time to talk, air our personal feelings, cry, and even laugh a bit over old memories. However, after the first day, we also had wonderful (and much needed) help from Cory and Sharon (who will be taking over the building and opening a school based on our format) which was very much appreciated. Cory is one of our students from way back. He was around in the beginning, helping us set up this studio. How appropriate that he was there in the end, a sweet reminder that our time as FLEX owners had come full circle. As we hauled crap to the dumpster, Cory paused to play my original warm-up music. It blared through the halls making the school seem alive again. This dredged up endless memories of students I loved and dances I created. I felt like the star in my own sad movie, wallowing in my misery as I waded through the remnants of a life. Meanwhile, Cory and Mark made bittersweet jokes – they always had a funny, inappropriate shared sense of humor when together. This isn’t the first time I’ve watched them turn misery into a form of dark comedy to help make it easier to swallow. It was a uniquely poignant experience, Cory’s beginning and our end somehow wrapped up in this work, a mutual act of love and respect for the past, the future, and a celebration of friendship and mentorship. I will always remember this student’s role in this significant passage of our life. In some ways, his being involved healed much of the hurt we were taking away – because while he is only one of our many beloved former students, he was symbolic of a generation. And even if he is a single case, perhaps, knowing we really meant something to one person is enough to validate those years. But I know it isn’t just one, for many students have gone out of their way to express their appreciation for our past influence, and for that, we are grateful.  

While throwing out trophies, Cory brought one down that had 1992 on the label. He said, “Hey, if this is from 1992. I m
ust have been in this dance! Oh, it’s 3rd place. Um… probably because I didn’t point my feet. Sorry.”
Mark flashed a fleeting smile and said, “No, that trophy was for Heather Kaboble. Ginny choreographed the piece in her street people dance. Heather did a fantastic job – deserved to place higher. But we didn’t care. We were so proud of her.” Then he sighed.

What a memory that man has. Every dancer, every dance, every joke, and every fight with a parent is prominently etched in his mind. Snippets of his vivid recollections (which proves how important these people and events were to him) slip out at random moments all the time. I wondered if he was looking around the room, cataloguing memories of every single dance and dancer that each of those thousand trophies represented. How I wished I could crawl into his mind to share those thoughts.

Kent is a young man now, and a great help when muscle is needed, so we asked him to pitch in on the last day. At one point, a trophy fell from the shelf and broke and he bent to pick it up. “Steam heat,” he said (this was a dance he was featured in that won a national award. “I would have like to keep that,” he said sadly.
I felt badly because I know how important this school was to him growing up and it is a bitter pill to swallow to participate in the dismantling process. I asked if he was O.K. He shrugged and said, “This part is kind of killing me, Mom.”

“Me too.” I said, which was true in general, but not really true in this specific circumstance. Many things were killing me about dismantling our former business, but for me, throwing out those trophies wasn’t one of them.
In some ways, throwing out those trophies was healing. It is no secret how much I’ve always despised competition. I acknowledge the benefits, but the cons are significant. Competition always twists people into knots. Great dancers lose heart because they are not successful in the competition arena and they end up lacking confidence. Dancers who are very “competition oriented” win and become arrogant and filled with self import, which makes them far weaker dancers and practically untrainable. (Once you think you are great, you lose the humility and determination to grow, which means you peak too soon.) Parents get crazy, making judgments about what constitutes “good” choreography, passing judgment about who is talented, determined by the stupid results of this commercial endeavor-  which for the record, is designed not to promote dance education, but to cash in on everyone’s gut desire to validate their talent. It is a money making scam, in my opinion, which eats the resources of time, money and staff attention that would be so much better served allocated to other dance endeavors. Anyway, Mark and I have never liked competition. We’ve participated begrudgingly, learned how to play the competition game to win, but deep down, we are always vividly aware that it provoked surface glory in place of earnest artistic development. A few years back, we decided to take a stand. We held firm and stopped taking the kids to competition all together. These were the years we focused on our regional company (West Coast Dance Project) and our best dancers and greatest work derived from that period. Most of the students who went on to become professional dancers (and are now in professional companies or are teachers) were from this era. However, as parents balked and students started loosing interest in dance without the competition glory, we caved into customers wants. We just got tired of fighting everyone and decided to give them what they wanted rather than what they needed. Guess that was the beginning of the end for us.     

FLEX closing has significant impact on many people’s lives. It is so sad – for students, staff, the new owners that now must live with the result of their mistakes, and for us. Furthermore, the financial implications have left us in a serious bind. It means we have to go back to the drawing board and think through what we were going to do about tomorrow. We set up our new life based on certain expectations that now will not materialize. In other words, we can’t afford the life we created. So what are we going to do about it? I’m not pretending we are without means, because we are selling the buildings and this provides us capitol for a new enterprise. But that is all. On top of all else, we were dealt a might blow when we found out that as Georgia residents over a third of all we make will go to taxes.

Upon hearing this news, Mark actually asked our accountant, “How about if I divorce Ginny. Can I be a Florida resident then and get around it?”

I was like, “Excuse me. You are willing to divorce me to save money!?!  Better watch it, buster. I may not want to take you back!”

He shrugged and said, “Please. Who else would have you?”
Good point.

Anyway, it is true we’ve been lucky in the big scheme, and it would be an exaggeration to say FLEX closing means we have no future.  We sold the school thinking it would live on, even if it swayed towards new directions, which made leaving it somehow easier. We also believed we would remain involved, able to dip our toes in the dance waters occationally to choreograph and enjoy working with our former dancers during the transition retirement years. These things didn’t work out, which was a disappointment, but losing the monetary rewards too takes away another degree of what we dreamed was a perfect graceful exit from years of dance. Keeping our land and house is now going to be difficult. It is sort of like the gift of the Magi. We can walk away from this chunk of land and all the natural freedom and quiet it represents and probably even make money doing so– but the only reason we would want to make money is to design a life of quiet and natural freedom. Money itself has never been important to us, but the freedom and opportunity to pursue a creative lifestyle IS something we covet. Nevertheless, complaining about our situation really proves how spoiled we are. The problem is, I feel not unlike Scarlet O’Hara, ready to grip the dirt of her homestead and vow to do whatever it takes to keep it. I love the house my husband created and I want to live in it for more than six months. I love my animals and my garden and my bees. I love the solitude we have in this 50 acres. I love the art my husband has yet to make in his yet to be finished workshop.  Mostly, I miss dance and I know these things are not just flippant interests. They fill the empty spaces in my heart where dance once took residency.  So shoot me. I am not ready to give up the ideal if there is any way around it.

Talking about our dilemma in the quiet, dark hallways of a school we loved, surrounded by powerful memories of everything we have missed this past two years, inevitably lead to the subject of returning. I can’t tell you how close we came to making the decision to move back to Florida to put FLEX back together as a path to saving our Georgia home. Cory and Sharon certainly made the idea seem too easy  when they offered to work as managers under us to learn the business firsthand for several years with a plan to shift ownership carefully, without risk to the business, later. They presented a case for our running it from afar, which could actually work.
We sat down and crunched numbers. Figured out what we would have to do to repair the damage. We made calls. We contacted staff members, who immediately expressed a desire to return under our directorship, and made a plan to hire new blood (calling in favors from old New York acquaintances) all the while amazed at how simple it would be to not only fix the school, but perhaps make it even stronger. We talked to a few former students. They expressed wild excitement at the idea- certainly nice for our wounded ego after months of people discrediting us and throwing parties as a public show of disrespect. As the word leaked out that we were considering returning, we even got a call from a few students who had “defected” to the school we
will call the “Flex Alternative”. They said, “Please understand that we made what we felt was the best choice out of two very unpleasant choices. However, we are not happy. We would come back if you came home, as would about 95% of your students . . . that is, if you would have us. How mad are you at everyone?”
This made us laugh. We were never mad. Disappointed. That is different. Nevertheless, we would hope everyone would stay wherever they landed. No reason to invite more drama into a world that has been drama engorged for too long. People like us simply don’t have to covet other people’s dancers, even if they once were ours, because we are capable of making more. We have always been more comfortable focusing on new students, fresh faces, because they don’t come to the table with baggage and they haven’t been confused by alternate styles of training or guidance.  

The idea of dealing with that element was not something we wanted to consider anyway, so we stuck to issues regarding how to reinforce the quality of the school, and how to manage it even better in consideration of all we have learned. Distance puts things in perspective, and we do feel grateful to have been given this wonderful gift of seeing the true mettle of people. Those who remained friends during the past two years of conflict are so dear to us now, we even felt pulled to return just to enjoy those relationships fully.
The idea took shape.  We looked around at places we might rent if we wanted to try the duel residency thing, then looked at houses in case we decided to move back totally – “just in case”.
While resurrecting FLEX was a makeable put, all the while we grew more and more depressed. We started fighting. The fact is, while returning is a practical solution to the financial problem, (and honestly, we have missed so much about our prior life there were other reasons to consider it too) it still had some major flaws. We figured we could repair things easily in one season, and this would take us . . . where? To being exactly where we were when we decided to leave.

We already left financial security and all those elements of dance we loved once. The fact is, there was a cost to that life which we determined was too high considering our age and life priorities now. There are elements about the dance school business that will never change no matter what we do to diffuse and control it. With two years distance, we understand exactly what was good and bad about our previous life. We know what we would do differently if we thrust ourselves back into the fray. But, we also know our personality quirks. The fact is, for all that we might decide to return as owners and directors  only, for business reasons, we know we will never be able to control our personalities. Where ever you go, you take yourself with you. It is only a matter of time before we get sucked in and start caring – only a matter of time before we are personally involved again,  feeling emotionally ravaged and torn, obsessing about the quality of the school and the kind of dancers we create. We wouldn’t remain in Georgia no matter how much we love it. In the end it is a good bet that we would end up returning to Florida full time because total involvement is the only way to run the school correctly. We simply can’t do anything halfway.

As such, we decided that we are not people who can go backward. Been there, done that. Time to leap into the unknown. We just have to leap a bit sooner and farther than we thought we would due to the sudden change in our fortune.

So we declined Cory’s generous offer and put to rest the ongoing debate. We decided to revisit the complex issues regarding getting this building and business into Cory’s hands alone (with our friendship and guidance helping him navigate the waters). He had hit a snag in financing, but we had a creative solution so it could still work out for him. We told him our one rule is we didn’t want to hear anything more about the dance school politics, the recitals going on in Sarasota or anything else regarding our former customers, students and/or school. But we would love to talk to him about what it takes to make a school great and help him to create a fine school he could be proud of. But that is the limit to our involvement. No more drama.
As for us, we are now brainstorming, determined to create a new world that is perhaps less ideal than puttering with writing and woodworking at our own pace, but exciting in its own way. Fact is, we have discovered we are way too young to retire, and we don’t like the alienated feeling we had being removed from the work world in our 40’s. It isn’t natural to us to live without struggling somewhat to survive. And when your friends are still in production mode, you feel out of sync with a cushy existence and too much time on your hands.

I’ve always said, “Be careful what you wish for.” When I had left the dance empire I had more time to write, but I wrote less. Go figure. All I wanted in life was time to pursue my dreams, but when I got that time, I lost the discipline to take advantage of it. I guess it is a matter of supply and demand determining value. They always say, if you want something done, ask a busy person. I need to be busy again, so I can fight to find the time to write. May not make sense, but it is true. I do have my MFA, and in that sense, I’ve spent the last two years well, preparing myself to write better. Now it is time to use what I’ve learned.

We now are visiting dozens of creative ideas for piecing together a new sort of future. It is time to go back to work, and build a new business – one that is less personal we hope.  We are at our best when we are in the creative think tank mood, so at least we are in a positive place. We are formulating a plan and every day it gets more vivid. Oddly enough, the pallor of melancholy that has been ever present these past two years is lifting too. Limbo was never good for us.  Working together is something we understand and this makes us feel grounded for the first time since we moved.

We are bidding on a parcel of land in town for what we hope will be for our second groundbreaking. Never imagined we’d do that twice in one lifetime. This time it won’t be a state of the art dance studio we will build, but a rustic lodge coffee house and art gallery. Mark is designing a remarkable freestanding building in his mind, something we will market as a “vacation destination”. The style will be not unlike our home with geode incrusted fireplaces and leather couches and natural log details. The shop will serve organic coffees and pastries and huge log stairs will lead into an Appalachian arts gallery filled with crafts and furniture – much of it made by Mark. We have some unique features I will not go into now, such as a small stage for open mike readings (poetry and folk music) and a children’s tea party room (leave it to me to be thinking of the kids – old habits die hard). Anyway, we have some fun ideas we are tossing about to create a very different sort of place here in this land where no Starbucks exist. 60K people are dropped off by the train every year in a town without much to do or see. Our lot is across from the station. I see that as great potential for selling a lot of cups of coffee to tourists as well as locals.

We can work out the kinks (working like a dog, no doubt) by owning one such store, then open others if it is successful. Heck, we may franchise someday and have more log cabin coffee houses in other adventure areas. Ya never know.  We were asked to franchise the FLEX children’s program many times, but for all we explored the possibilities with investors, lawyers etc… we never could get around the quality control issues when the school expanded beyond our direct control. This will be a different ball of wax – anyone can pour coffee and ring up a sale of a wood bowl, right? And I don’t see parents telling you off because they don’t think you appreciate their little coffee drinker’s talent. But it takes time to build a bu
siness from scratch, and there are no guarantees it will work. I also understand that there is a learning curve to every new endeavor. Still, we are entrepreneurs at heart, and have a knack for making creative concepts manifest. I have faith that things will work out.

Meanwhile, Mark will build a house on our creek lot. He’s been meaning to get to that someday – well, it’s time. Later, if we have to, we figure we can even build a house each year on three acre lots at the outskirts of our land. I guess even Scarlet would release a bit of Tara if it was the only way to keep the bulk of it intact. This would still leave us 30 acres to play farmer upon so I can still have my bees and peacocks and chickens and horses and llama and donkey and garden and blackberries. It’s a plan, man. Filled with obstacles and what-if’s but hey, that is what makes life interesting.

The point is, innovation is key to hanging on and carving a new existence when a wrench has been tossed in the mechanics of your life. This is the route we’ve decided to take rather than retreating to the security of what we know. Such a decision takes faith, and a willingness to roll up our sleeves and dig in wholeheartedly from point zero all over again. But, when we think back about our happiest years at FLEX, they were the early years when we were struggling. There is a message in that. We must focus forward and not pause to feel resentment or frustration over past disappointments, or questioning this alternative path once we decide to give it a go. Can’t be wishy washy about your choices, for they are yours to make and stand by .

While I have felt depressed and sorry for myself now and again this past two years, I’ve decided to see this whole experience as a gift. Life tests you to see what you are capable of – and as result, you often discover the best elements within.

So, that is the scoop regarding the closure of our past life. We dismantled FLEX (leaving behind everything Cory and Sharon will need to begin their dance empire, of course). It was a dismal, sad end that broke our heart a hundred ways coming and going. I cried all the way home (eleven hour drive), and Mark kept stopping at rest stops claiming he felt sick. He said, “I don’t know why, but I am shaken up and I feel like at any moment I’m going to fall apart.”

“Me too”, I said.
“Me too,” Kent said.
“Not me. I’m glad it’s over,” Neva said. She’s always had a certain, remarkable wisdom of her own.

Since we are not the type to indulge ourselves in “falling apart”, we kept driving. Then, we came home, let the serenity of our world here take effect and made this much needed attitude adjustment. After two years of frustration, we are finally closing the book on our past. A grueling ending. But, God willing, a beginning too.

Sigh. Glad to have this sorry news update behind me.  Now, I can return to “life in Georgia”.