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Monthly Archives: July 2007

Lots ‘a Lamas

I got a new llama!!!!!
She is black like Dali, with a white mask. Sort of looks like a negative of the lone ranger.

The other day I saw a llama for sale in the paper. It was female, fully registered and papered. I thought there might be a misprint, because she was going for 400 dollars, and usually a registered female is five to ten times that. I’ve wanted to buy my Dali a girlfriend for ages, but didn’t think I’d ever get one because the girls are simply too expensive for a live pet yard ornament, which is all they are for me. I use the hair for spinning, and I delight in watching them, but I don’t train them to work as pack animals (although that would be fascinating) and I’m not a breeder or anything. I’m an animal hobbyist, with limited resources. Nevertheless, I keep looking at female llamas, just wishing I could afford one. I figure Dali deserves love, ya know.

Anyway, I go see the llama, expecting her to be 100 years old or something, but she is the same age as my male, only 5. And she is beautiful. Regal. Not a mean bone in her body. Doesn’t spit or misbehave. I ask why the fellow is selling her.

He tells me she was purchased as a guard animal for his sheep, but he has sold off the sheep to a local spinner and he has no need for a llama now. He wants to let her go so he can get some horses.

Horses, you say? Well, it just so happens I have horses for sale. Let’s make a deal.

I’ve been wanting to sell three of our four horses (one is my dearest animal soul-mate, and I’ll be keeping him for life) but the others I’m ready to let go. Four horses are too many. The work load and expense far outweighs the benefits, sad to say. I had romantic visions of the family going for an evening ride after dinner, but the fact is, we don’t and never will. Neva and I are the only two who ride, and I alone take care of the horses – more than we need or use. It is becoming such a chore that the romance is starting to fade. Time to scale back to keep my love of horses alive. I would far prefer being able to spoil two horses and have more upscale horses than kill myself trying to meet the needs of four.  Quantity is not a good thing here so much as quality.

We bought Mark a horse, but with Mark’s arthritis, he simply can’t ride. And the animal he picked (which I told him was not a good choice) is high strung, spirited and a bully to the other animals. He is the prettiest dang horse you ever did see, but looks aren’t everything. I can ride him, but it isn’t pleasant because he demands such a firm hand, and he likes boys best anyway. I wouldn’t dare put a guest on him unless they have experience.

Our mare is lovely, but she is rather petite and a simple country horse. Not as well trained as I’d like for our use. Her baby, April, is a year away from being old enough to train, and it will be a costly investment for a simple country horse. So, I’m selling all three, hoping to purchase a higher quality quarter horse with manners and training. I’m hoping to find an eight to ten year old pinto (love the way they look) with some horse showing experience. I feel we need two bomb-proof, well mannered horses that I can put kids or guests on without fear, that way Neva can ride alone with friends, and I can be relaxed when riding with her, focused on her instead of my unsteady mount. Anyway, that is the master equsterian plan.

The hardest thing about selling a horse is the fear that you are sending it to an unhappy home. I took one look at this fellow’s (his name was Rick) pure green pasture (looks like a golf course – ha, won’t look like that for long when he puts horses out there) and found out he is opening the new organic food store for pets, and KNEW I had to sell this guy a horse. The horse will be fed well, taken care of, and loved. You simply can’t be sad about that.

I asked why the llama was so reasonably priced. He wanted to be honest and told me that she had a baby last year, and refused to nurse it. The owner (a breeder) got mad so he sold her cheap. he used her for a guard llama, but Cayotes killed his two baby lambs, so she wasn’t perfect in that capacity either.  He doesn’t know what to do with a llama now that his sheep are gone, so he just wanted to get her out of his pasture. I knew at that moment I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Yippee!

I asked if the baby died, but he said they “tubed her”. If you don’t want to be bothered bottle feeding an orphan, you can stick a tube in their throat and force the food in fast. He said if I have a male and I was looking for a mate, I’d probably not want this particular llama as a mother. It might be inviting work into my animal world.

Are you kidding? Bottle feed a baby llama and make her tame as can be? That is supposed to turn me off?

I asked Mark what he thought of our having a llama baby if it is possible the mother won’t do her job. He said, “Neva will be thrilled to bottle feed it. I don’t care, if you don’t. It will be interesting.”   


The next day, Rick delivered her. She moseyed into the pasture, her ears back as if she was highly agitated. It usually takes about ten days for a llama to calm down and accept new surroundings. I was curious about how Dali would respond to a new llama in his field. I figured they’d take some time getting to know each other – sniff and stuff, then hopefully they would become friends and eventually, mate.

He saw her come into the pasture, made a loud grunting sound (llamas don’t usually make sound) and came running. We were all like, “Wow, he sure is interested…” Then, he jumped right on her and they began doing the nasty – which really isn’t nasty at all. Sort of sweet, in my opinion. But there was no “hello”. No “nice to meet you.” Just instant carnal animal love. I figured it was love at first sight. An instant soul mate sort of thing.

Actually, I was a bit embarrassed for her. We were all staring. The poor thing didn’t get a chance to even look around at her new digs and this horney guy was all over her. Not that she seemed to mind. She was amiable enough.

They mated for about an hour, Dali grunting out loud in the most obnoxious way the entire time. Rick laughed, Neva stared. I made excuses for my sex-crazed boy llama. After a while, the girl laid down, obviously bored with this long ordeal. Llamas don’t go “in season”, and as such, they can get pregnant any time. So in eleven months, I’m quite sure I’ll be watching a baby llama come into the world. How exciting is that!!!!

Meanwhile, Rick looked at our horses, fell instantly in love with Mark’s horse and bought him on the spot. Didn’t even have to ride him. I had a lump in my throat the size of a baseball.

It was sad seeing Goliath get loaded into the same trailer that brought our llama (the name on her papers is is Pualani and we will keep it. It’s a nice name.) but I was relieved too. It is hard to let an animal go, but I know my limits and I’ve assessed our needs and a few less horses (especialy this one) is for the best. I’ll admit, I can’t stop thinking of Goliath though, and I couldn’t sleep the first night, imagining him lonely and missing his herd. He was very attached to his ladies here. Finally, Mark told me to drive by Rick’s pasture so I will feel better. Clearly I have separation issues.

That evening, someone else came to ride Dixie (our mare). They may take her OR our baby horse, April,  and will let us know in a few days. So it looks like horse number two will be going soon.  Pang goes the heart.

I thought Neva might be upset by the changes, but she was accepting of it all. She is mostly worried that if baby goes, donkey will be lonely. They are best buds. But she is excited to get a replacement horse, and the idea that we will have a baby llama seems to sweeten the deal. I seem to be the only one sad over the natural evolution of our hobby farm. Guess I’m not as “country” as I pretend, because I take all this to heart and worry so much about these animals and their happiness.

Other changes have occurred. Joe, our rooster finally got over his dog attack, but it changed his personality drastically. Suddenly he started attacking us – mostly Neva. Um…. That is a quick way to get in a stew pot. It got to where we had to hold up the garbage can lid as a shield whenever we went to feed the chickens. It made us laugh, but it was a drag too, and we were getting gouged badly on the leg when we didn’t see him coming. So I offered him to one of the construction workers building our new barn (more news yet to be revealed) and he took Joe home. He now spends each day crowing on the fellow’s roof. He is still a pet, but for someone else now.

Meanwhile, one of the guaranteed female chicks I bought grew up to be male. There is one chance in 1000 of that happening, I’m told. My luck. It is like the universe sends me chicken boys – ahem –  I mean boy chickens. So one of my Rhode Island Reds, formerly named Lucy, is called Mr. Lucy now.  We have a new rooster, and as yet, he isn’t a mad, attack rooster. Knock on barn wood.

Speaking of which, since we sold the Sarasota building we are finally getting a real live barn. I scaled back  from my origional plan to have a big ol monster barn, to a more modest two stall barn with a tack room and feed room , open area in between and an upstairs area to house my baby chicks and other projects. There is a hay storage area on one side, and a roofed corral on the other (for donkey). I’m so excited. I didn’t want anything too big because there are other things I want in life (like travel) but I sure wanted an indoor area for working with these animals. I figure my peacock can roost there too. It is going to be a really nice barn, perfect for my needs but not overwhelming to maintain.

Here is the skeleton of the barn… I’ll show you it in each level of progress so you can experience a true modern era barn raising….

It sounds funny, but I’ don’t crave a pretty deck or fine furniture for the house like other ladies might. I’ve been longing for a barn above all else ever since we moved here. I’ve been out there taking care of animals in sleet and rain, stumbling around in the dark, wondering why I keep at it without the proper facility. But that commitment earned me a barn in the world of hobby-karma, I guess.  Yippee. I fear there is no limit to my animal experiments now that I have a home base. Uh Oh. I sure like getting dirty out there, and I rather think it will be fun to be able to ask my husband if he wants a roll in the hay and to really mean it!

Early, the peacock, is doing fine. People have asked for an updated picture, so here one is. I let him out each day, and he hangs around with the chickens, but he never goes far from his pen. He will have a new, bigger pen with a little peacock house built along side the chicken pen, as soon as the barn is finished. It’s next on my never-ending list. Hopefully, by then, I’ll know if his future buddies have hatched (the eggs are still in my office in the incubator, cooking). Early is only two months old, and it takes three years for a peacock to fully mature so he is still just a baby. We won’t see if he will have long male tail feathers for a few months. The anticipation of authenticating his sex is killing me. He is sure sweet and easy to care for. I let him roam the barn area, but when I want him to go back into his pen at night, he walks right in. Good bird.

His chicken buddy is never far from his side. She looks like Cruella Deville (thus her name). She is hyper and not so very loveable. Ah well – not all poultry personalities are created equal. 

Anyway, to finish the llama tale. . . I thought perhaps the llamas, having discovered their passion for eachother, might be going at it on and off – like rabbits or something. I imagined them snuggling together in the field, basking in friendship or love or what have you. I took my camera up there a few hours later to see if I could get a picture of them together (I thought mating llamas would make good blog fodder to keep everyone from getting bored.) But alas, they were at two opposite sides of the pasture. Hun? I was flabergasted. Was this a one night stand thing? How mortifying. Not like they can go their seperate ways, stuck together in a field. 

I haven’t seen them acknowledge eachother even a tiny bit since that first moment they met and got it on. In fact, Dali sort of stays far away from Pualani, and when it is dinner time, he will walk all the way around the pasture, as far as he can, to avoid going near her.  She presses her ears back and hisses if he even looks at her, and he lifts his eyes to me as if to say, “What have you saddled me with, Gin?” I guess, the real Pualani is a bitch, but she waited to get what she wanted to let it show. She used him for llama sperm, and she is done with him. Sad.

This is the closest they’ve been to eachother since that first day, and it takes a half hour for Dali to venture this near to her. They sure look like a matched set, don’t you agree? I would have prefered a white mate for my black llama, hoping the babies would be multicolred, but beggers can’t be choosers. And the offspring still may turn out any color. You never know what will come out of past breeding and Paulani does have some white in her coloring. 

I hope time will make them more congenial and better friends. Otherwise, what was the point? But I am a romance writer, so no one knows better than I that the relationships that start off rocky and full of distain (yet with smoldering passion underneath) are the ones that become the fantastic love stories that make you sigh in the end.

I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll keep my camera on hand . . . just in case something “interesting” occurs.

I’m behind on blogging – oops

Last week, Neva went away to Girl Scout Horseback riding camp. In addition to riding, this camp also features sailing, canoeing, snorkeling, and all kinds of scouting fun, like campfires etc… I am always very grateful that our life now has room in it for non-dance oriented kid experiences. I see my kid’s lives as fuller with new adventures feeding their understanding of the world and the different sorts of people in it. Sure makes them excited about life.

Kent was at Band camp all week from 1:00-9:00. He’s getting to be a dynamite drummer and this year he has been moved to the quads – the position where they place the better drummers. He says the quads are heavy, but fun to play because they can make a lot of noise and they are the backbone of the marching band –I’ll be able to hear him up in the stands at the football games even if I am wearing ear-muffs. Yeah . . I think.

I figured, with both kids busy, I’d get a lot done this week. I had visions of plowing forward on my book and getting some serious writing done. But I haven’t sat down at my computer once, except to write a daily e-mail to Neva and to check messages. Go figure.

It has been a busy week, but productive in its own way.

I spent the first day going to Atlanta with Denver for a big Cancer Walk expo. I haven’t mentioned it lately, but we are both walking 60 miles this October, raising money for Breast Cancer Research. It’s time we get on the ball with our training and fundraising. (Sigh.) I will be talking about that soon, hitting readers up once again to donate to this worthy cause. (And if you are one of those “I’ll do that later” friends, with good intentions to help us out  even though you gotten around to it yet, and if you feel inspired at this moment, don’t let the feeling go. Just go to to give us your support. It would be much appreciated. (and it will alleviate the guilt that I’m sure is keeping you up at night!) We took a few pictures with our phone, but they came out fuzzy and bad – ah well – it proves we were there (Mark sometimes accuses us of stealing off to go shopping instead of saving the world, so, when we really DO go where we say we are going, we bring home proof)

Denver and I are big weenies who share a deep sensitivity towards the hardships of others. It is a personality trait that is sometimes admirable, but usually, laughable. For example, we go to this big pep rally sort of event and see a tent set up with a light glowing from inside. It is there as a celebratory thing- last year’s memory tent placed in public to get people focused on why they are walking. Each year, a blank tent is erected at the campsite for walkers to sign. It gets filled up by the end of the three days with inspirational messages.

We say, “Hey, lets go check out the tent.” We walk up there, read about two of the short comments on the tent, (comments like, “we only get one mother. I lost mine last June. Today, I walk to save yours…..) our low lips buckle and we are both crying. We look at each other and laugh. We are such saps. But at least we are saps together.

The rally taught us what to pack for the three days of walking/camping. It helped us understand how to train. And it reminded us how important it was to be creative in your fundraising attempts. Now, we are making wonderful gift baskets filled with Appalachian crafts and goodies to raffle off as a fundraiser. We are raffling off a piece of beautifully framed artwork, one of some 50 works of art that we inherited when FLEX closed (don’t get me started on THAT one.)  Denver talked to local businesses near the train station and they offered to let us place the baskets where many tourists come by and we have them in stores frequented by local residents. I am filling baskets with homemade pickles, blackberry jam, some homemade cordials (the wine isn’t ready), candles and (soon) homemade soap. I’m including my glass and clay jewelry, and Denver has made hand beaded jewelry as well, including some inspirational earrings featuring a beaded breast cancer logo. Very nice. We are trying to finagle some of Mark’s handiwork too, trying to convince him to donate one of his gorgeous baskets or turned bowls for a good cause.

Once we close on our building in Sarasota (in about ten days) Mark and I will be buying a lot across from the train station in McCaysville for our future coffee shop/art gallery. Denver and I plan to set up a booth there to have a bake sale a couple of weekends to raise money too. I will cook for two days straight and fill the table with muffins, brownies and other fun snacks for the tourists – and we will sell jelly and pickles for fun too. I plan to write an article about our activities for the local paper, to bring awareness to our projects and to stir up some donations. Then, when people see us walking they can toot their horn and wish us luck (small town etiquette, ya know.) It is fun working together at this project for a variety of reasons – beginning with spending time with my daughter, and ending with feeling as if I am doing something worthy to make the world a better place for the women of the future. I think of all the kids I’ve taught over the years, innocent little girls in pink leotards who made me look at the world as an exciting place. Considering the national odds, I know more than a few of them will battle breast cancer in their lifetime. So, I walk in honor of my mom, a breast cancer survivor, but I walk for them too.  

Oops. I didn’t mean to go off on that tangent. The thing is, we are on fundraising and training mode now. We walked 7 miles yesterday. It is nice training here, despite the hills, because you see cows and birds and can go miles without a car passing. It’s serene.

The next day was Mark’s birthday. I gave him a brick. (I know, he thought it was weird too). This happens to be a brick with the words “Mark Hendry” that will be placed in the walkway of the new multimillion dollar performing arts facility, the Cobb Energy Center of the Performing arts in Atlanta. (considering how upscale this facility is, I wonder why they needed to sell bricks out front… hummmm……) Now, everyone can walk all over my husband for years to come. How’s that for a unique present. I also bought him tickets to see the Broadway tour of Dreamgirls at the Fox Theater. We were floored when we went, because this theater is more striking and bigger than any Broadway theater I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in most of them). It was remarkable. The ceiling is cast in blue light with pin points of light like stars, and the walls are castle – you could swear you were outside at a Roman coliseum. Thus far, we’ve always gone to the Alliance (another big theater in Atlanta) and hadn’t discovered this one. Wow. As we left, it occurred to me that I have access to more “New York lifestyle” here than I ever did in Florida, and yet within an hour and a half, I am home in the wilderness. It is like the best of both worlds at the end of my fingertips. We are lucky.

We went to a fantastic restaurant/bar before the show where all the tables are set in small booths with couches. Sort of bohemian and holistic in decor, with some interesting art on the walls. We ordered wine and hor de erves and had a ball watching the other patrons and discussing the design of the place. Someone very artistic, or very weird put that place together.

Earlier in the day, we had gone window shopping in a quaint, artsy area filled with unique stores -about as far removed from your typical franchise shopping as possible. I hate shopping UNLESS it is in original, individually owned stores, because then you see novel merchandise. I could browse for hours in unique stores. I have an earnest dislike of malls and generic shopping where you can look at stores in Atlanta or Boston and it is all the same – Victoria Secret, Clares, Express or Macys. Yuck.

We had homemade Italian Gelato from a local chef with wild flavors like Vino and Viagra (didn’t try that one). We sampled dips and salts made by a renowned Atlanta chef who opened a small store for his special sauces and rubs. But mostly, we marveled at the antique and art stores. One store had odd décor items for sale. For example, they had a trashcan hanging upside down on a chain with a light bulb inside and they called it a “urban chandelier” .It went for 2 grand! They had 5 rusty disks on a wall as an art piece for 3 grand. I swear, you couldn’t PAY me 3 grand to hang that junk on my wall.

Mark lifted one eyebrow and said, “Honey, take me to the junk yard, I’m gonna make us rich.”   No kidding.
We stared, trying to see the “chic” or “artistic” quality in this stuff, but honestly, it was simply ugly, simplistic, and a sad commentary on people striving desperately to be different . Next, we went to a holistic store and sampled pillows filled with buckwheat. Ouch. This may be organic, but it sure isn’t comfortable. They had robes made of bamboo too. I’ll stick with cotton, thanks.

I guess art is in the eye of the beholder, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine anyone paying for, or wanting to live surrounded by these unattractive, dismal items. And yet, while we were there, someone came in and paid 350.00 for an old glass bottle. Our eyes bugged out and Mark looked at me and said, “We moved to the wrong place if we want to open a new business.”

I thought of what he could do with that very same trashcan and light bulb, create something truly striking and worthy of hanging,  no doubt, and agreed.  Ah well, who wants to sit around selling trash all day, regardless of what you title it. A rose by any other name……

The next day, we drove to visit Cades Cove, a national park in the Rockies with another couple that we are good friends with. We went looking for the black bears, which are usually everywhere, but we kept missing them. A fellow would pass us on a trail and say, “Watch it, there are six black bears up ahead 50 feet. Too many for me with the kids.” And we’d run on ahead, but they’d be gone. I was disappointed. Happened about three times. We did see lots of deer, however, including one that was only about two hours old. The mother sprinted a safe distance and we went up close to take a picture. Didn’t disturb the baby, of course. That sweet thing hunkered down into the grass trying to be invisible, his legs too wobbly still to follow mom. It was so beautiful.

I marvel at Ronnie and his wife, Louise’s, attitude. They have a deep reverence for nature, taking pictures and commenting on how beautiful the deer are. And yet, they are both hunters (he uses a gun, she hunts with a bow and arrow) and in a month, they will be out killing deer just like these. It is a sport, true, but they eat the meat – always. I find it fascinating that the same people who hunt deer have such deep respect for them. You’d think the opposite would be true.  But their attitude is not far removed from Indian philosophy, to respect what you eat and to honor the earth for it’s nourishing gifts. They also raise their own cattle, garden, etc…. I’ve learned a great deal from them, and I admire their connection to nature and food. Talking to them always makes my mind spin, challenging what I’ve been taught to believe and accept as right and true.   

We shot over to visit some of the shops in Pigeon Forge since we were right by there, and on the way home, we visited a workshop where a man makes art out of trees. I was enthralled by what he can do with a chainsaw and knife. I want to put these kinds of things for our coffee shop when we finally get around to designing it, but Mark said, “Only if you can sell enough coffee to pay for it.” Harrump.  I might be better off trying my hand at making a totem pole myself – one more excuse to get my pink chainsaw (or is it gonna be green and purple….)

The rest of the week was filled with winemaking, and gardening and a few other adventures, but I’ll save them for subsequent entries. Some news deserves a blog all its own.

It is good to be back.


Ladies who Lunch

My mother in law, Sonia, has been lonely since her husband died. Luckily, she’s made a few new, widowed friends (also in their 80’s), and they go out for lunch at least once a week.

Eve is from Scotland. A few years ago, she flew to London to have lunch with the queen. English people who happened to be born on the same day as the Queen’s 80 years ago, were invited to a rare and special lunch in the palace as part of a grand celebration.  Since Sonia is also English, this impressed her mightily, and they became instant friends. Eve is very independent, vivacious, and likes driving nice cars. She keeps buying new cars so she can give her old ones to her grandchildren when they get their license. Cushy deal for the grandkids, I’d say. 

Titine, is Belgium and even though she came to America 50 years ago, she has a thick lolling accent when she talks. She makes wine from scratch and happens to drive at least 40 miles over the speed limit everywhere she goes. When officers pull her over, she says, “What did I do wrong, darh’ling”. She invites them to her home for chocolate cake and coffee and tells them she has lived here 50 years…. all alone since her poor husband, God rest his soul, passed on. She says, “My son bought me this car a while ago, and I told him it goes faster than my old one. Isn’t that horrible. I’ll tell him to take it back!” Naturally, they let her go. She and her friends find this hilarious and tell rousing stories of how she gets pulled over all the time but she bats her eyelashes at the nice young cops and they wave her on. Yes, being old and seemingly innocent has its perks.

Titine happens to ALWAYS wears lilac. Sonia ALWAYS wears pink. It is funny to see these elderly women all decked out in pastels making their own kind of fashion statement though unyielding single color commitment.

I think it’s remarkable that in a quiet country place like this, three relocated Europeans found each other and sparked a friendship. They meet for tea and talk about British royalty and such. They also like to frequent thrift stores. They love a bargain, not because they need one (for they are all well enough situated) but finding a good deal is a challenge they find entertaining. Sonia doesn’t like thrift stores, however. She misses Target. Every opportunity she gets she complains that the problem with living here is the lack of civilized shopping.
 I say, “What do you need?”
“Nothing. But I like to shop everyday anyway.”
Shopping for me is a drag, certainly not entertainment, so I just can’t relate to her misery. I let Diane take over the necessary one hour drive trips to malls and Target to keep her happy. I find different ways to spend my time with my Mother-in-law if possible.

Considering this, I decided it would be nice to invite Sonia and her friends to our house one day for their weekly lunch and yesterday, they came. I wanted to organize a fancy, English Tea, so I set the dining room table with white linen, candles and flowers, and set the table with the English China my mother-in-law gave me when we moved to Georgia- a symbol of family heritage that I didn’t necessarily want, but I do appreciate for its family significance.  Sonia has always been an avid English china collector, and she has several complete sets of expensive china. She gave a set to Diane, one to me, and still has several sets at home. Funny, considering you can only eat on one set at a time, and she really never did much entertaining other than the traditional holiday dinners. Ah well, I suppose more than a few people think my interests are impractical too.  Anyway, while the china certainly doesn’t fit this rustic cabin house, it makes a very pretty table and I was glad to finally have a reason to use it. Just as I guessed, it impressed the white-haired trio for they felt they were being treated as special guests.

I cooked chicken in a creamy mushroom and broccoli sauce poured over a puffed pastry, like a fancy smancy chicken pot pie. I served this with honey sautéed carrots and rice pilaf, two types of homemade bread (buttermilk and whole wheat cottage cheese bread – sounds weird, but it is earthy and great) and for good measure, threw in some zucchini muffins (because I must cook zucchini every meal, don’t ya know, due the fact that it won’t stop growing and I’m on a quest to use every thing that comes out of that blessed garden.). I diced watermelon and cut fresh lettuce from our garden too for a homegrown fancy salad. First time I’ve used any of our own lettuce- exciting. This meal was served with some local Georgia peach wine, a very fresh luncheon wine (I’m all into buying local now – besides which, I am checking out the competition and setting benchmarks for flavor since I am making wine from produce grown in the same kind of soil as these small vineyards are.)   I topped off the meal with a chilled rainbow fruit pie, made from diced fruit in an orange glaze, poured into a homemade crust. And, of course, tea.

The ladies spent three hours at the table, swapping stories and enjoying their leisurely, fancy meal. I learned all about Titine’s style of making wine (she uses fruit varieties or muscadine grapes, which she crushes herself). She told stories of how her mother taught her the craft, and how once she was transporting gallons and gallons in the back of her car in this bible-belt dry county, and of course got stopped by a police officer because she was (naturally) speeding again. She thought she would be arrested but sweet talked her way out of it, feeling like a liquor runner. Ha.

Titine also makes cordials. I showed her my blackberry cordial tucked in a dark cupboard, working its magic. This gained me total approval. She convinced me to try peach cordial next time. Titine makes wine without yeast – don’t quite understand how, despite her lengthy explanation, and she doesn’t measure her ingredients. Considering the highly sensitive nature of wine in the fermenting stage, I was surprised. Can’t wait to try some to see how it differs from the batches I’m make. It was interesting to talk winemaking with someone who has done it for years and years, having learned it in the “old country”.

We talked history and books and cooking and how to best buy a car. And sitting there, watching these elderly faces filled with animation, listening to them share their vast experience and intriguing lives,  I was impressed. They are wonderful conversationalists, far better than many people my own age who seem to have lost the fine art of intimate communication, talking more often of the latest movies they’ve seen, or what cell phone gets the best reception – subjects that are far more generic and surface oriented. There is something to be said about growing old, for if we are indeed the sum of our life experience, growing old really is the equivalent of evolving into a more complex, interesting person. A few wrinkles and brittle bones is a small price to pay for a mind swimming in wisdom and personal stories.

 I’ve spent a lifetime with kids (which I still adore). Somehow, this makes spending time with the elderly now a poignant and novel experience for me. I really am fascinated by people in the advanced stages of life. In fact, I’m planning to organize a writing class for older people – memoir writing, so they can leave stories behind for their family. I’m talking to the local college about it now. I want to put my degree to good use in a way that gives something back to the art I love. Mostly, I think it will be wonderful for retirees seeking an interesting activity that isn’t physically challenging, and a learning experience for me too, but this is subject for another blog.

Anyway, after lunch, the ladies wanted a tour of the house, so we went from room to room, viewing the house Sonia has told them so much about. We held hands as they maneuvered the big log stairs, and I realized for the first time this is not a house for the feint of body. It occurred to me that we better enjoy it for the next ten or twenty years, because eventually, we will get old and find it cumbersome too.  The tour was perfect after-lunch entertainment. These ladies notice details and ask earnest questions. They were curious about how and why Mark did the things he did as he planned and built this home. I suppose people in their 80’s have seen a zillion homes in their day, and they’ve owned more than a few, which helps them appreciate the artistic and original facets of the house. They certainly thought it was beautiful and different.

We’ve had younger friends walk through the house and express appreciation. They whistle under their breath and say, “Nice digs. Cool. Where’s the beer?” But with these women, it was different. They would walk up to the mantle, adjust their glasses and stare up close at the wood work, asking what kind of tree it was made from. They’d make guesses determined by of the grain and color, then shake their head and say, “of course” when Mark revealed the true nature of the wood. They’d ask how long it took, and why he chose one particular design or tree over another. Looking at the geodes in the rock of our fireplace, they’d ask if we’d thought to get some original stone from the copper mines (we live near Copperhill where they had working mines up until the late 70’s and for years, big chunks of natural copper could be found in area stones). We were sorry to say we didn’t think of that, a shame considering the historical significance. But we promised we would try to find some for the fireplace in our new rustic coffee shop/art gallery that we are building, and Titine told us where to go and who to speak to when we were ready to find some. Gee, old people are a walking wealth of information. They pointed out the different crystals saying, “What is that, I’ve forgotten the name.” And Mark would say, “This is amethyst,” or quartz or what have you.

The ladies noticed the turned wood bowls on the mantle and the antler baskets and the furniture Mark has made, and asked about these too. Mark stood about, answering their questions, receiving their heartfelt praise – I don’t suppose he ever never felt so appreciated! They noticed my spinning wheel, and this spurred a conversation about llamas and spinning. They peered into my incubator to see my Peacock eggs and marveled at our “diversity”. They also kept commenting about the windows and how everywhere you looked you saw trees and birds – so serine.
They said, “You have your own estate here! How wonderful for your children!” I thought it particularly sweet that they saw our home not as a “good investment” or a sign of success, as people our age tend to do, but as a precious haven for family rearing. I guess after 80 plus years, you tend to remember what is enduring and important in the big scheme.

The funny thing was, I think this was the first time Mark’s mother really looked at the house closely or saw it as something special. Seeing it through her friend’s eyes made her suddenly see the house as an accomplishment, something remarkable created by her son. She said over and over, “You know, this really IS an amazing house. It’s not as dark as you’d, think being made of wood and all, and the view is nice even though it is just trees.” (Before this, she was always saying, “Why anyone would want to live in a log house the wilderness is beyond me. You could have a pristine condo in Florida right by the beach! I’m sick of trees and mountains. That is all you see around here.”) And we’d say, “Yeah, trees and mountains. Hum-bug. Who’d want to be here instead of Florida, with neighbors living practically on top of you? The problem is, where would we put the donkey?”
She’d give us that, who really needs a donkey? Look.

It was a nice afternoon. It ate up the entire afternoon, true, and I was exhausted by the end, but I know how appreciative Sonia was to be able to show-off to her friends. She is now the gal with the great daughter-in-law, who cooks and is a gracious host, and the son with the amazing building talent etc.. etc.. Laying claim to successful, thoughtful offspring seems to count big in the 80 year old sect. 

Mark later thanked me for making the luncheon for his Mother a big deal.
I said, “Anytime. It sure beats spending a day at the mall or driving her 2 hours to Sam’s to stock up on toilet paper (her other favorite pastime).” You see, it is not that I’m such a great daughter-in-law. I’m just maneuvering my way out of doing things I despise – replacing them with something I like doing. Cooking and good conversation is more fun than driving and shopping for un-required things – at least for me. It’s a win-win situation.

I think the most important thing about a day like today, is what it teaches my own children. My son, who was only there for a few minutes before being whisked off to band camp, kept smiling and saying, “I feel like I’m in England having lunch. Grandma must be out of her mind happy about this.” He gave me thumbs up for the meal (having snagged a plateful in the kitchen.) My youngest daughter got all dressed up and joined us at the table, sipping orange soda from her fancy wineglass and delicately eating her lunch. To her, this was nothing more than an exciting grown-up tea party and she was thrilled to participate. She stuck with the conversation for as long as she could hold out, then went off to play, returning a bit later with some of her original poetry to recite. (She is constantly writing poems and they are spectacular). Couldn’t have hired a more perfect, young participant to add flavor to the afternoon. Almost seemed staged, but it wasn’t.

The point is, my children were gracious and polite to these elderly guests. And they witnessed their parents going out of their way to do something nice for older people too, which will be important when I am an old broad wearing the same color everyday and I have friends who need an afternoon’s entertainment.  I hope I’m teaching my children how to behave when they become adults – to be caring individuals with patience for the elderly, not so self-involved that they can’t pause once in a while to give time and attention to people who are lonely and not “useful” to their lives in obvious ways. I think it’s important to be the kind of person you want your children to be. And this involves the big stuff, like working hard for what you want and always trying to improve your mind and living an authentic life, but it includes the small stuff too, like being kind to others and pausing your busy life once in a while to do something that doesn’t have any measurable returns for you personally.

It’s the things you bother to make time for, even when they “don’t do it for you”, that often will resonate and impact your existence long after the moment is over. In the end, will any of us close our eyes for the last time remembering all that laundry we did, the great deals we closed at work, the money in we accumulated in the bank, the movies we sat through or the chores we thought were such a priority? While all this feels so important in the moment, it isn’t. I believe what counts is the people we impact, the moments we share, the non-material things we leave behind, even if they are sometimes invisible, subtle influences on the lives of others.

Yesterday, I fell behind on my chores, fed my hungry, ornery horses in the rain later than scheduled, missed my hair appointment (oops) and spent half a day pulling out (and later putting back) a ton of china from awkwardly high, inconvenient shelves, even though I had perfectly good dishes a short reach away that would have sufficed. 

And yet, this was all a part of creating what was really a very good day.  Nice surprise. And an important lesson to remember.


Pied Pals

This is a Pied peafowl. It is sort of a hybrid of a blue peacock and a white one, and considered a new species. You can see the bird is primarily a traditional blue peacock, but it has slashes of white in the tail and on the body. Sometimes, these birds have glorious white breasts, or they have big streaks of white along the tail giving them an even more mottled look. This particular peacock recently had eggs, which were thrust onto e-bay for a quick one day sale.

Of course, I bought them.

My two pied peafowl eggs should arrive tomorrow, where I will carefully nestle them into my incubator and begin the 31 day watch once again, becoming a slave to turning them four times a day and checking the temperature and humidity. I figure it’s now or never – or at least, it’s now or I have to wait until next spring due to seasonal complications. Early needs a spouse (and a spare) and I can’t expect him to wait a full year for some warm feathered friend to nuzzle with this winter, can I? This time, I will set up the incubator in my office so I can spend more quality time with the eggs. I’ve just started re-writing the first novel I ever wrote . They say the first book is like a pancake, good for seasoning the pan, but really it is best to just toss it in the trash and chalk it up to a learning experience. The problem is, I still like the story and want to give it some attention- perhaps a few peacock embryos in the room will be good luck  – for us both.

While I was at it, I made another bid for four additional “surprise breed” eggs for a different seller. This person keeps blue, white, purple and pied peacocks in one big cage so he can’t determine which eggs come from which birds. It will be a surprise! I like the idea of that- a potential hatch and the anticipation of waiting for the birds to feather to determine just what breed they are. My bidding will go on for a few days, but I am only going at it half heartedly.  When I told Mark that two new eggs would arrive tomorrow, he rolled his eyes and said, “Why don’t you just buy a chick so you know you have something for your investment.”

He doesn’t get it. I’m not buying peacocks. I’m buying the experience of hatching peacock eggs, trying my hand at raising a new pet from seed, and forming a special relationship with the bird due to it. Perhaps this is just a romantic’s view, but that’s how I see it.  Anyway, we are building a big ole’ peacock pen, and it seems a waste to do all that for one young bird (and his chicken buddy).

Early is doing fine, by the way. I moved him out by the chickens to a bigger, makeshift pen. There is a small support beam in the corner, and he perches there as high as he can. Peacocks like to perch far up off the ground, which makes sense considering the length of their tails when fully grown. It will take Early three years to mature completely (it will be a while until I can confirm that he is indeed male). But he still looks wonderful to me, snow white and strutting with pride despite his puny size. (I don’t have the camera today, or I’d post a pix). 

Anyway, I’m diving back into the peacock hatching game, hoping for better luck this time. When at first you don’t suceed……. drive your family crazy until you do.  

the Art of Spending a Day well

Yesterday, Mark and I found ourselves in that rare and wonderful state of having no kids. Neva was spending the night with a friend and Kent was invited to Six Flags with Denver. There was a time when a quiet house meant our fancy would immediately turn to romance, but in this case we gleefully said, “Let’s DO something.” (Sad isn’t it.)

 I’ve been wanting to go to Atlanta to the High Museum of Art every since we moved here, a concept that gets painful winces from the kids. The museum is currently featuring an exhibit from the Louvre in Paris – a three year cultural exchange with different elements of the exhibit arriving each October. I keep telling Mark that if he doesn’t get me there to see it, he will be honor bound to take me to France to see the exhibit in its entirety. We actually enjoy art museums, so he was the one who suggested we take advantage of the day to go. I was thrilled.

 I happen to adore European painting and sculpture from the sixteenth through eighteenth century, because not only is it romantic and soulful, but I’m fascinated that the work has been preserved so long, through wars and changes in social attitudes and just physically surviving wear and tear and decay. Further, I’m impressed with artists doing such miraculous work considering the limitations of the times. They didn’t have electricity to light their way, glasses to help them see if they were older than 40, factories producing canvases or acrylic paints. They didn’t even have dyes to color those paints, but used ingredients from the earth. The tapestries are so detailed with such fine threads, I can’t help but stare, imagining someone sitting on a hard stool set upon a dirt floor, leaning over a hand made loom, threading the machine hour after painstaking hour with delicate, hand spun wool threads which already represent hundreds of hours of creative labor. I stare at the marble statues, so elegant and sexual, imagining a man chipping away without power sanders or progressive tools to do the job. Heck, the printing press wasn’t even invented to provide written instruction – each artist learned from others spending years as apprentices and/or a student supported by the crown.

 People did these stunning works with only base methods at their disposal, producing representations of humanity and their culture in such painstakingly detail – at a time when even the simple act of making dinner or getting something to wear was a huge, cumbersome task. The idea that mankind made art a priority back when survival alone took huge effort, says allot about the role of art in their society. They were not nourished with an expansive arrangement of foods to provide balanced vitamins as we are today– and in fact, may have been riddled with disease. And their fingers were no doubt frozen half the year, slick with sweat the other half considering the barbaric living conditions of the world.

 The respect artists earned (and the cushier life) says a great deal about the social castes and the imbalance in wealth too. My mind spins with curiosity about how we got from a starting the point where we were all equal Neanderthals pounding each other over the head with a club, to a world where select individuals became Monarchs making the rules and living so extravagantly it makes Bill Gates look common, while the masses were poor, lived a subsistence lifestyle and accepted their inferiority to the ruling class.

 History reveals just how strange humans are at the core.  

 Anyway, we enjoyed the exhibit. Bought a season’s pass so we could take our time and see the entire museum over the course of months. We did check out about two floors of the museum in addition to the Louvre exhibit. One floor was contemporary art – neither of us like that style much. We simply can’t appreciate a huge white room that features four canvases’ that are nothing but squares painted the primary colors. I mean, I can read the meaning of the display and understand the symbolism intellectually, but I don’t buy it as true art. If contemporary art is something I can do without training or talent, it just doesn’t impress me. There were LOTS of pieces in this area of the museum that look less complicated or developed than the work our former preschool students produced. Contemporary art is just not our thing, I guess.

 I love early American Art, with bronze sculptures of American Indians and paintings of the west and Victorian furniture and glassware and art. But just as we were enjoying this wing, the museum closed. Sigh, next time.

 On our way out, a renowned Atlanta jazz band was playing under a canapé for museum guests. It was part of a “family day” celebration at the museum. Since it was starting to drizzle, we ducked under the tent, took a seat and listened for awhile. The only thing I love more than old art is great, vintage jazz. I was in heaven, but a half hour later, the set was over and the band started packing up. It was time to head for the car.

 On our way home, we were going through Marietta, so we met up with some good friends for Dinner – thus rounding out the art theme of the day. The wife, Patti, is a basket artist (we met her when she was our teacher in a class at the Campbell school, but she eventually became a good buddy of Mark’s. They go to basket conventions together now and share all kinds of enthusiasm for wood and basket art. She is taking a soap making class at the Campbell school with me in Sept., but really, she is Mark’s best buddy. She introduces him to others as “my twin” which is comical because he is 6/2” and square, and she is 5/2” and round. ) Her husband, Mark, happens to be the one and only artist who draws Spiderman for Marvel Comics. He actually travels the globe to sign autographs and represent and promote the company and their current projects. He primarily stays home drawing all the time. It takes effort to get him to go out – usually this involves luring him with the potential game of pool and/or a cold beer – his obsessions.  His primary obsession, however, is his work as a cartoonist – yesterday he mentioned that he is happy his character isn’t someone lowly like Stretch man, but a bonafide superhero everyone knows and loves. (And no, the hit movie did not boost sales or secure his job in any way – I couldn’t help but ask.)

 We had a nice time. I couldn’t help but ask him about this work (which I’m told he likes to talk about, thank goodness, because it is an endless fascination to me and while I think it bores his wife, I can’t resist asking him questions). We had a rousing conversation about the new Harry Potter movie (we all don’t like the new Dumbledore) and talked about their last trip to Italy (Mark and I are going to Italy next fall,– we were considering France, but have heard such negative things about the local’s attitude towards Americans, we’ve decided it is probably not the best place to go for a FIRST trip abroad. We’ll wait until we are more travel savvy to tackle that one).We talked of raising kids and grandkids and our dreams and ambitions and everyday likes and dislikes. It was natural and simple and lovely – but we stayed too long considering the long line awaiting tables outside. Oops. 

 Anyway, it was a good day – good art, good friends, good music and a good meal. Laughter, wonder and NO KIDS. Doesn’t get any better.

 Today – well, that is a different story. I’m cleaning up after animals, and weeding and cooking (that part is not bad) and doing laundry. But somehow I am distracted so the work goes by with ease. I am thinking about Louis the IVX through VIX and how spoiled Marie Antoinette was and how she must have been frightened and indignant and furious when the lowly peasants dragged her up to the gallows to decapitate her. I’m thinking of those tapestries and the meaning in their design, and wishing the nameless people who made them (and some with names we learned) could have known how, hundreds of years after they died, their creations hang in a place of honor where thousands of people admire them – and not just royalty. Bet it would have made them proud.

 History is better than any fictional story – because if you really consider the details, not just the general facts, it is simply a collection of stories of individual people. And their stories are so authentic and remarkable it moves you beyond description. At least, that’s what it does for me.


B & B

Every Thursdays from 6-9, throughout the summer and into the early fall, a park down the street from us features what they call “Pick’ in in the Park”. This park runs along a curve in the Ocoee river and has park benches, picnic tables, a playground, and roofed pavilions. Most impressive is the rolling river and graveled walkway beside the water. It is a quiet, simple place with striking beauty, more remarkable because you never see more than a few people (if that) at the park. Except Thursdays, of course.

“Thursday Pick’ in in the Park” is simply a night area musicians are invited to come play. No group is formally scheduled as entertainment for the community. No one puts out jars to take donations or advertises a CD or upcoming performance either. Yet many musicians come, just because they love music and camaraderie and the informal audience.  They show up with banjos and fiddles and guitars and what have you (the occasional mouth harp and washboard show up too) gather wherever they land and jam. Sometimes, the musicians all gather in one area around the pavilion for one big makeshift band. Other times, they form various clumps around the park, so you can walk from one end to the other and hear different groups or even a solo folk guitar. People gather around any area where music is being made. A couple hundred people show up with lawn chairs and blankets. Kids run in the grass playing, dogs chase balls into the river as they play fetch; people spread picnics on the grass. It is very casual. You could swear you’ve just been dropped into Pleasantville.

When we go, I always pack a picnic dinner. Last night, we spread out blankets and I set out the food. Neva was playing with neighbor kids in the river, catching crawdads. Denver and her boyfriend had not yet arrived. Mark and I were sipping coffee and enjoying the music. I couldn’t help notice people kept staring at our “station”. I wondered what was up with that, because lots of people picnic here. Yet we kept getting the “double take” look. Finally, it was made clear when one fellow walked by with his dog and chuckled and said, “That is one pretty presentation!” 

I looked at our picnic and saw what others were seeing. I had made saucy chicken wings and tortellini and a big ring of deviled eggs with fresh cherries heaped in the middle. We had peaches and cheese. The food was so colorful, glistening in the early evening sun that it looked like an article out of Southern Living Magazine. It happened to be a very pretty picnic set up. Yes, we have landed in Pleasantville, everybody.

We ate and our pretty display was soon nothing but empty Tupperware. Then, my neighbor walked by. She told me that last night a bear was on her porch. She just wanted to let me (and my chickens) know. Heck with the chickens. It’s my angoras I will worry about –Last summer a bear tore open my bunny hutch and ate all my rabbits. It was a devastating carnal explosion, with wood and wire ripped not at the seams, but broken apart like a tornado had come through, only it was massive bear hands doing the damage. There was blood and bunny fur everywhere. Pissed me off.

Yesterday, I moved the peacock and his chicken buddy down near the chicken house, as a transitional move while I build a formal, permanent pen. I thought the chickens free ranging might go up to the cage and say hello so Early can begin making friends. Now, I have visions of Early becoming bear fast-food. Do I need to mention how this will set off a war between me and Yogi?

The worst part is that I like bears and I think seeing one on my own porch would be about the coolest thing on earth. So I have mixed feelings about it all. I just don’t relish the idea of any creature thinking my animals are an all you can eat buffet. A bear also stole my horse mineral block. Twice. Those blocks weigh about thirty pounds and I can barely lift them, but the bears pick them up and walk away with them like they are Twinkies I set out for dessert. Damn bears.     

Then, there is the issue of my bees. My beehive is set up only two hundred feet from my neighbor’s porch. Bears happen to be the number one enemy of bees because they tear apart the hives and eat every spec of honey inside. (This is why they tell you not to wear black when working with bees, because the insects automatically sting anything black as an instinctual move against bears.) It would take me another year to get a beehive started due to the seasonal nature of this project. As it is I have to wait a full year until I can harvest any honey because it takes a full season for them to build stores and create a home of honeycomb for themselves. I have a second hive ready to set up, but until I build up my bee population to divide them or order new bees in January before the suppliers are all sold out, growth in this project is on hold. If a bear comes along and wipes out my bee playground, I’ll not take it lightly.

As such, I am on bear alert now. I will have to have a discussion with my rabbits today and tell them to lay low and get ready to run if need be. I’ll tell my bees to keep quiet and stop buzzing so much and to get their stingers ready.  I will tell my dog, Maxine (who happens to be a plot hound, a breed bred to chase and fight bears) to stop snoring on the porch and to start paroling the grounds. She will ignore me, or course, but still, I can try.
All I know is that we have plenty of succulent blackberries around. A polite bear could do fine with those.  I’ll hope this is a polite bear.

When we got home from Pick’ in in the Park yesterday, it was still light out (love those long summer days) and Mark suggested we stop the car to check out the garden and how it was doing. I had spent the morning out there feeding the plants, weeding. I’d brought in a few squash, but that was all that was out there. I told him there wasn’t much to see. Nevertheless, he goes out with the kids.

He is out there about two seconds when he says, “Um….. why didn’t you pick the beans?”
“What beans? We don’t have any beans.”
He bent down and came up with a handful of wax and green beans. “Do you even know what a bean looks like on a plant?”
Obviously not.

With squeals of excitement, Kent and Neva started helping Mark pick beans. I joined in feeling rather like the bumbling garden idiot. We were all oohing and ahhing about how cool it is to pick beans right off a bush. Everyone was making fun of the fact that I would have ignored them until the wildlife ate them all or they shriveled up and died on the plant with my savvy gardening instinct. Yeah, well I didn’t see you out here this morning gently tending these plants, so give me a break. Besides which, I think they just “appeared” magically in the last few hours while we were out. I’m quite certain these beans were not here this morning.

In other words, who you calling a garden idiot?

I rest my point!

While we were expressing our excitement and picking furiously, Denver drove up (to retrieve some laundry she had left yesterday for the Mommy Laundry Fairy). We shouted for her to come out and see! We wanted her to share the fun. We said, “Come pick some beans! This is so cool!”

Her boyfriend blinked drolly and said, “I’ve picked beans before. Who hasn’t? What is wrong with your family? I think their enthusiasm is just a way of making fun of country people.”

Denver said, “No, they respect and admire country people. Tbhey are not making fun of anyone. They are genuinely thrilled with picking beans. You know how I know that? Because I want to pick some too!” And she ran out and we all picked beans together marveling at how bean plants produce, looking with furrowed brows at the beetle holes on leaves, checking out the other plants.

Her boyfriend stood by sighing, bored, thinking we city folk are too queer for words. Denver picked a squash with as much excitement and tentative concern as she displayed the first time she drove a car. We walked over to see the pumpkin vine all in bloom and talked about how exciting it will be if we can carve a jack-o-lantern from our very own garden pumpkin this year. My mind was swimming with pumpkin recipes (I happen to be the queen of pumpkin cooking – no joke.)

The laughter and excitement the family was sharing was truly refreshing. I thought of how only two years ago, living in a different environment, my kids were “too cool” for just about everything. Then, designer clothes and electronic devices ruled their existence.  Now, they have fun in unabashed, down to earth ways and they care little about what is “cool”. (Well, we are not in school at this moment which, let’s face it, might make a difference.) Nevertheless, they see the wonder in life basics and suddenly have respect for the earth, our food sources, and family time. How I appreciate the opportunity to stand right beside them when they discover new things and react with unaffected delight. Between you and me, I was really more focused on that then the beans.

We came in and Kent took a picture of last night’s harvest to add to our other fine family memories, like vacation photos. (I included the berries we picked on a short four wheel drive too, just for the color contrast). At eleven last night (inspired by the bean discovery) I made two batches (19 jars) of blackberry jam. (Now, Chuck can rest assured he will have jam with his pickles when next I go to Florida, Patti.)  I’m on top of the jam thing, so I’m going back to seeking ways to preserve beans – pickling, canning, freezing … hummmm what exciting things can I lean to do with beans other than cook them now – ‘cause at the rate they’re coming, no normal human consumption could keep up.  I am going to buy a food dehydrator this week. I want to try drying bananas and apples to make my own health mixes. Speaking of which, when WILL those dang tomatoes start turning red?

I keep wondering if I should try a batch of fried green tomatoes. Made a pretty cool movie, but I can’t imagine eating them. My lifestyle may be “country” but my palate is still “city”. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Growth begins with keeping an open mind and not making judgments on things you do not have first hand experience with.

Anyway, that is the Hendry country update. Bears and beans. Boo-ya!

Tell tale nails

My fingernails (lovely tapered French manicured tips) are black around the edges and no matter of scrubbing seems to help. I was pulling weeds in the misty rain for two hours in the early morning. Two days ago my nails were stained blue due to blackberry picking and wine making. The day before, I banged one so hard on a horse bucket, it almost pulled off and my finger started bleeding underneath the nail. Cussed to high heaven. The horses barely blinked. Guess they are used to my temper.

When I went to have the nail repaired, my dear manicurist, Tracy, shook her head and said, “What you always do that nails so bad?’ (she is Vietnamese and struggles with English. Nevertheless, I ask her questions about her life and how she came to America and fell into the nail profession all the time. She has made an important appearance in my thesis novel due to these conversations.)

I shrugged and said, “Hobbies.”
At this, she lifted an eyebrow. I know she was thinking I should take up knitting. She’d be right if I really wanted to look polished all the time. Of course, another alternative is to simply stop trying to keep up with nail grooming and accept my inevitable farmer’s hands. I do trim my nails “active length” but nevertheless, every week I come into the shop looking like I tried to claw my way up a mountain. 

If I was practical I’d stop primping and having my nails done every week – at least in the summer when my activities revolve so heavily on outdoor work. But I can’t seem to make that jump into “au natural”. I think I have some latent concern that the next thing you know I’ll be forgoing makeup and stop shaving my legs. I’ll never “go country” or organic in that way, even if I end up a hermit in the woods. The fact is, I don’t care if no one but my Donkey sees me, I want to look nice. After all, I’m still me, just in another place doing new things.

We went tubing the other day, and I apologized to Mark that I was going without taking a shower first or putting on make-up. He rolled his eyes and said, “Are you kidding. It’s tubing. I’d think you were weirdo if you came looking any different than this. No one is going to see you anyway.”
He often says things like this, making fun of me because I’ll be out in a pasture shoveling dung with pretty jewelry on, but I always think, YOU see me, you big boob. That counts. I was relieved when Diane showed up with her hair all frizzy sticking up out of a headband. In Georgia, every day is a good hair day for lucky me. That counts for something when all the other feminine elements have passed the “mystic” phase and gone on to “mysteriously missing”.

I have considered taking a few more pottery classes to refine my basic skills. I sometimes imagine getting a wheel and perhaps building an outdoor brick firing kiln. We certainly have the space and I adore hand thrown pots and the remarkable possibilities of clay. But honestly, the thing about learning pottery that was difficult for me was taking off my nails. My fingertips felt raw and they hurt with the constant pressure of spinning clay against the bare fingertips. My acrylic nails are not just for looks, they are a strong protectant (and they are good for prying stickers off of things or opening flip top cans). Besides which, I just don’t feel pretty without nice hands. Pretty is as pretty feels. I’ll conveniently avoid the question, How pretty are nails when they are rimmed in black, stained blue, or they have been broken by feed bags, saddles and cages?
Pretty enough for me, apparently.

I am on my way to teach Kathy this morning. We haven’t had a lesson in three weeks due to my graduation. I’m looking forward to seeing her and catching up. I bought her a Boston shirt and a few new workbooks. She was invited to lecture in the jail last week, and I can’t wait to hear how that went. Seeing her progress, watching her life improve, always gives me a jolt of joy. I’ll run my grubby little fingers along the pages of a book and listen to her faltering recitation of the lines with true pleasure.

It will be a symbolic reminder of a simple truth – You can’t wait for someone else to get a job done if it is important to you. Sometimes it is best to just dive in, get your hands dirty, and do what has to be done.  That is how you make a difference in the world. For you and for others.

Happy birthday Sonia.

Mark sent me a message asking if I wanted to join him at the Daily Grind (our one semi-local wine and coffee shop that we like to visit for wine tastings and such) to hear a band play on Friday.
A night out? Like a date? Are you kidding? Do I get to get gussied up? Yippee.

The band is called the Hot Poker Dots (very classy) and here is their myspace site

I particularly like the song “Happy Fuck’in Birthday To You.” I’m just a girl who can’ t resist country sentiment.

Where, I wonder, was that song when I was scrounging the universe for Birthday Party songs for FLEX ballerina parties.

Today happens to be Mark’s mom’s birthday. The family is coming over for dinner – I’m making a spectacular Chocolate Marvel cake with raspberries. (I traditionally use Birthday’s as an excuse to make something fancy regardless of people’s diets or desires to keep things “simple” – yuck, simple is for sissies).  I’ll serve it while playing the Hot poker Dots song…. well….. maybe I’ll just sing it in my head.

So, I’m off to make a fancy dinner. If it was six weeks from now, I’d be devising this meal all around the pickles. Principal, ya know.  Instead I’m going to make it more in line with Sonia’s favorite things – strip steaks and all the trimmings. Fancy side dishes. Lots of chocolate.    

For entertainment, I’ll drag everyone into the mud room to see my Pinot Noir percolate as the gaseous fumes eek out of the fermenting pot (makes an exciting bubble action in the release valve). That 5 gallon tank will be sitting there for months, so might as well introduce it to the clan. If everyone begs, I’ll even allow them to stir the blackberry wine, which is as dark as oil and kind of scary. Hummmm……….. we’ll see.

Gee – I hope I don’t poison anyone during my Renaissance of new discovery. Might almost put a damper on the creative kitchen fun. . . Almost.
La, la, la. Happy fuck’in birthday, Sonia.

Surf’s Up

You may ask, what do the Hendry kids do for fun now that they are living in a place without a mall or a beach?

You’d be amazed.

Yesterday, Kent and a friend were hanging out for “band practice”. They have a band now, and honestly, they are getting pretty good. Later, they asked if they could go four wheeling. I said “Sure, if you will stop and pick a few blackberries.” They didn’t mind devoting a half hour to “the cause” if I’d promise to give Jake a bottle of wine later (for his family, of course) so we came to a bargain. Then, the boys proved their manhood, by returning with a huge bowl of juicy blackberries and only one hornet sting. It allowed me to make my blackberry wine – VERY labor intensive with 30lbs of blackberries, 11 pounds of sugar, 1o pounds of boiled banannas and …. well, that is another story. 

Then, Kent said, “Mom, we’re going surfing. Be back later.” 
I was busy making wine AND pickles at the same time (country multitasking) , so I didn’t think anything of it. About ten minutes later, I thought ,”Surfing?”

Later, Kent made a video of his adventure to amuse us. I told him to find a way for me to share it with friends, so he put it on a site and this is how you can see it.

Check out the brilliant talent, natural grace, and inovation of young master Hendry. This is how my kids spend a Sunday in Georgia.

I bought this dumb seven dollar snow disk last November. My kids have used it endlessly, for snow, mud, and grass surfing. I used to buy things like 500 dollar wii’s. Now, it’s a generic  plastic disk that gets grins. I’m telling ya, simplifying has more perks than you can imagine. Part of this video was shot at night, because they had so much fun, they went back for more later. The dogs are my son’s sidekicks. Go everywhere with him. You haven’t seen fun until you see Kent in a flat out snowfight with his dog. Perhaps with his new video camera, we’ll get a video of that too this winter! This is by the site for my future barn. The horses watch, blinking, and you know they are thinking, “Humans are weird. This one in particular…”  

Today, we are all going tubing. We will sit in huge inner tubes and float down the occoee river watching the clouds go by and sharing stories. My son will amuse us with physical antics (he always does) and Neva will spend the day seeking out and pointing to every live creature she can spot. Fish, raccoons, lizards, you name it. I will write books in my brain. Mark will stare at trees and mentally plan his next house. Dianne will squeel when a rock hits her butt. This will cost us exactly the fifty cents worth of gas to get down the river which happens to be right by our house (we own the tubes – I’ll pack lunch). You see – we don’t have a mall, but we do have fun.

Who’d a thunk it was possible in a place so remote it doesn’t have even a single Starbucks to put it on the map?  


You have GOT to see this:

I am excited for Cory and Sharon as they gere up and get ready for his first season as the perfect “post flex” school.
Almost everyday, Cory talks to both Mark and I, bouncing off ideas and seeking advice and/or assurance that the concepts he wants to impliment will work. It is not that he doesn’t have a wealth of experience of his own, (and talent) but that he respects our years of experience, not only with dance and that particular facility, but  also an understanding of most of the customers he will be catering to – their needs and desires. 

Frankly, we are very proud of him, and it’s a wonderful feeling watching someone we trained, now so innovative and committed to art and education, taking over where we left off. He has the energy, enthusiasm and lofty ambition – all steeped in idealistic goals that we can’t help but admire. These are the elements our former studio needed as it charged into a new decade, one that presents difficult challenges regarding youth arts education. (One of the reasons we left was simply exhaustion – we knew what the studio needed to keep on the cutting edge, but we were no longer fueled to keep up. It was our awareness of exactly what a truly progressive school needed- and our understanding that we were no longer interested in making the sacrifices required, that we left. Our bailing was an act of love, in a way.)

As Mark and I read Cory’s e-mails, check out the website, and discuss with the Boyas’ their plans, we can’t help but grin and feel at peace. More than anything else, I am impressed by how Cory and Sharon are commited to NOT letting scandal, rumor and unproductive emotional sabotage be a part of dance. A great deal of non-admirable behavior has conspired in the Sarasota dance world, which makes stepping in and remaining removed from it all quite an undertaking. But they are commited to building a great dance school in the tradition of the one they loved as a youth, however long it takes. And they will do so with integrity, constraint, and respect for all dancers, teachers and parents. Now THAT is a former student to be proud of!

SRQ has gotten calls from former FLEX dancers, feeling out the waters and suggesting that a staggering migration (again) may be at hand. “Who else has contacted you?” they ask, as if they are one communal mind rather than individual artists seeking the best training venues.

Cory calls us and says, “Why are people asking me to share registration information? Feels like answering would be an invasion of privacy to the individual customer. Besides which, I don’t want all the problems of the recent past coming here. Sharon and I don’t want to be a part of that mess. We want people to come here happy and filled with positive attitudes. How do you think I should respond?”       

I say, “You know us, our opinion is, people should think for themselves. It’s not like you are soliciting students from anyone or anywhere else, so you are not inviting or instigating a personal war. The heck with other people’s dancers. If you are truly a good school, you can make your own. And your own will have the discipline, attitude, and generosity of artistic spirit you choose to imprint. Great dancers are not made with steps or competition trophies. They are not to be coveted and wooed from where ever you can get them so you can take “credit” for training them. Great dancers are made by balancing training with the proper attitude. It begins and ends with respect. Respect for dance, for the school, for teachers, and for yourself.  Having true grace means more than perfecting pretty dance steps.  It’s a state of mind.
     If former dancers come, consider it a privilege and a challenge, because it means they are seeking something they are not getting elsewhere. Can you give it to them?”
“Yes I can. And more.” 
“So, make a great school. That is problem enough for one man to wrestle with. Let everything else unfold as it will without interference or influence.” 
“Okey dokey.”

Ha. That’s the spirit!”

So, SRQ is soon going to be up and running. The “Master Series” begins with the Parson’s dance company visiting, and even if only a few dancers take advantage of this exciting opportunity, it is promising that Cory is already thinking about important and significant extra-curricular dance experiences.

Mark and I will be down there for the opening, as a friend, benefactor, and to revel in our new title: “Artistic consultant” (ha, not like we need or want a title – but that was sweet. . . and. . . ahem . . . I think he will make us work to earn it.) In fact, I believe we are teaching the first two master classes and helping judge the competition team auditions. Fun, considering we will be setting a dance for these groups later as well. We will help train incoming teachers, at least in the beginning. I’ve no doubt Cory will impliment a training program of his own soon enough, perfectly modeled for his personal studio vision. And Sharon has impressive plans for the preschool as well. In fact, it will be interesting to see which division of the school can boast of being the strongest by next season, because they are getting equal, intensive attention.

We are giving Cory and Sharon a huge step up as they enter the dance studio business by way of teaching materials, store stock, preschool fixtures and advice. But they are giving us the graceful exit we dreamed of when we first decided to let FLEX go. It’s lovely really. A positive, exciting energy blankets our exchanges.  And we are all having fun without the damper of actions being misconstrued as some kind of threat. It is just a case of artistic personalities, the ones exiting and the ones entering, working together to build something wonderful out of the past, with no limits for the future.  We even disagree sometimes, and that is fun too. 

We said, “Cory, August 4th is pretty soon – what if you don’t have any dancers yet to audition? Who in Sarasota will know what you have to offer by then? “
“We have enough students already signed up – even without advertising – so we are bound to have some dancers wanting to participate in competition teams … and won’t they be the lucky ones. And if the audition takes only a half hour, we can go to Bennagins and toast to the future – unknowned as it may be.”
Heck yeah – I’ll bring the wine. You bring the teachers so we can pick their brains and do a pep talk.  

Things seem to be falling into place for lots of people now. I guess a dance studio is like raising a peacock. You can tend eggs and brag about how fantastic your birds will be, but some simply don’t hatch because they were never properly fertilized to begin with. The one that does hatch might be slow to grow, delicate, and will need love and care, but that doesn’t mean it wont be a spectacular bird in time.

Well, I must go. I have wine to make for this opening – and music to listen to if we will be teaching again. I need to get alone in that studio we have downstairs to begin some creative planning and to get in dancing shape. Don’t want to disappoint the big boss, ya know. He has high standards! No that I am complaining….  those of us who live in glass houses . . . .