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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Salad Lament

I am a very good cook. No one will argue the point. But recently, my family has finally decided to slam me with the bitter truth. I make sucky salad.

It’s true. I will spend six hours creating a masterpiece of a meal, complete with soup, entre, elaborate side dishes, gourmet desert, and wine, then open a bag of precut lettuce, throw in a few cherry tomatoes and slap three bottles of Seven Seas dressing on the table. When I’m feeling particularly charitable, I’ll toss in a few stale croutons.

“Don’t knock yourself out, Babe,” Mark will say as he spoons some withering lettuce onto his plate and shakes the month old dressing so the nasty oil that has risen to the top will blend with the milky chemical laden froth below.

To top off this offense, I actually complain when my family proclaims they’re full from my savory cooking and don’t have room for salad. I nag them into eating the greens because I bothered to make them (or open the bag, as the case may be.) They chew with an expression like I’ve dished out a serving of Donkey’s hay, which now that I think about it, probably would taste better.

So, there it is. Ginny makes sucky salad. And like I said the other night to Mark when he gave me the heart to heart “salad talk”, I can live with that.

Only, I can’t live with that. It is bugging me. Not that I make bad salad,  because I’ve always known that I make bad salad – I didn’t care enough to bother improving the silly side dish. I just can’t stand the fact that my family has noticed enough to mention it. Sort of feels like I’ve been robbed of my cooking extraordinaire status. Salad, it turns out, is my Achilles heel, my kryptonite . . . proof that I am inherently lazy in the kitchen. 

Now, in their defense, my loved ones confessed their feelings for my lackluster salad with humor. They were teasing me because every other food-related item I present is usually rather good. Salad jokes round out the meal, don’t ya know, and take away any awkwardness over why I keep presenting these elaborate meals on an average day … serving bad salad with a great meal is like wearing a beaded gown to the supermarket, but going in tennis shoes so everyone knows you don’t take yourself too seriously.
I can take a joke, especially when it ‘s deserved, but certainly they know this was throwing the lettuce gauntlet at my feet.

You want good salad. I’ll give you good salad.

Today, I spent the morning on Amazon looking up salad cookbooks. I know, you don’t cook salad (at least, I don’t think so), but there are indeed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of cookbooks that focus on salad alone. Go figure. I bought several. For the next few days, I’ll be busy with Thanksgiving dishes, of which salad, even bad salad,  plays no part (one more thing to be thankful for). My new books will arrive just when I’m ready for them. I’ll do a quick study, start with some proven recipes, and get a feeling for overcoming the salad quandary. Then, I’ll start experimenting. Don’t doubt it; I’ll end up the best salad maker this side of the Atlantic. I have a way of over-compensating when I feel inferior. It’s my curse and my gift.

It takes many years for a woman to come into her own. What can I say.  I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all? 
Salad handicap? I shall overcome.

Spinning Spoils

This week, I received my 200.00 prize money from New Southerner for winning the essay contest. Though I feel guilty that I haven’t been contributing to the family coffers, I couldn’t help but feel I should do something for myself with this, the first check offered for my writing. I want to commemorate the occasion, so perhaps I should buy myself a pretty piece of jewelry – a silver llama charm to wear on a chain or something. The essay is about spinning, but I don’t spin at home for lack of some needed equipment. Maybe I should buy myself a carder, which I’ve wanted for eighteen months now, so I can start spinning more as a reward for my writing about the subject well.

The problem is, the idea of buying myself this sort of gift just doesn’t do it for me. What I am feeling about my little ego boost is gratitude, so I want to use the prize in a way that reflects gratitude.

So yesterday, I pulled out my Heifer catalogue and I asked Neva to help me chose how to allocate the spoils. She wanted me to buy a pig, but when I reminded her the money was received for a piece about spinning, she agreed sending a llama to a needy family in a third world country would be most appropriate. This left us with an additional 50 bucks to spend, so we also bought a share in a “knitting basket”, which is two llamas, two sheep, and training to begin a small wool business. A family half way around the world will soon be spinning, not as a hobby but as a life sustaining occupation, because of my writing. They will pass the first born from their gift livestock to another needy family, making this is a gift that keeps on giving. Perfect.

Neva perused the catalogue and said, “Hey, they have donkeys in here, but they are only offered with an entire ark, and that costs five thousand dollars. Maybe when you sell your book we can get one of those.”

Ahem. I wish.

Positive responses to my Donkey book are now filtering in everyday from agents. I am floored. Humbled. Thrilled. The problem is, they all want an exclusive to read and consider the manuscript, so I have to go slow and pick someone I feel will be the best match for me, then prepare for the waiting game. Meanwhile, I worry that the other agents will lose interest if I don’t react in a timely manner. I probably shouldn’t have queried more than a few at first, but I had no idea the book concept would be received with such enthusiasm.  Nice to have this kind of problem, but I worry about shooting my wad of opportunity in one frenzied tumble. Best to make love to your book slowly, I think.

I keep going through the book, tweaking it a bit here, adding a bit there. I need to let it go and begin a new project and I know what I want to write next – another memoir, but this one about teaching someone to read. The book will be about self-education with parallels between growing up a dancer and growing up illiterate, two things that severely narrow a person’s world. I know it sounds like a stretch, but this will be a story about two women with diverse life experiences that actually have a great deal in common. They both overcome their limitations by opening a new door and expanding their horizons. At least, in my head, the idea has merit. We’ll see.

I also keep returning to my historicals. Writing those gritty stories is how I party in my head, lose myself in adventure and romance and spin tales to make my toes curl. Yes, in the end, I am a romance and history junky with a great love for another time and place. So shoot me. Man, I wish those were the books that had agents fobbing back my query balls. I still think I would be a kick butt romance writer with books that you could sink your teeth into (rather than silly costume dramas). Maybe someday . . .

Today, the family is going to Atlanta to see Ain’t Misbehavin then to a display of 100 decorated Christmas trees at a holiday expo. I saw this show on Broadway about 25 years ago, so I will probably leave feeling nostalgic, missing dance and the former, younger, me. I figure the Christmas trees will counteract any funk the Broadway fix might trigger. How’s that for strategic planning?

I am eager to put up our own Christmas decorations. I feel a need for festivity. I think it makes the cold easier for me to bear. Granted, I love the change of seasons and any excuse to pull out all those great layered winter clothes. I happen to think I look sporting in a turtleneck . I don’t mind cuddling in a sweater in front of a fire or driving around doing errands in a car with my butt warmer on high. But man, having to go down to the barn twice a day to crack the ice on the water buckets and wrestle with a stiff hose with frozen fingers gets old fast. Tis the season for lugging water from home because the pump doesn’t work outside, sinking into the mud and ruining your shoes, and getting dirty changing light bulbs in the chicken pen to keep the younger birds from freezing. Tis the season to pick ice icicles off of Donkey’s nose and battle the mice that suddenly discover the feed room the only dining hall open this time of year. Yeah, for the next three months it’s all big fun for Ginny.

Ah well. We all know the saying . . . . be careful what you wish for.

Hey I know! I should write an essay about the cold and it will win a contest so I can buy a heater . . . for some needy family living in Antiartica. That would warm my heart, if not my own tush. It’s a plan, man.


Luck is Lurking at Long Last

It has been a crazy busy week. We flew to Miami for a former student’s wedding (which was very, very lovely) and the day we returned, got a call that someone was flying in from West Palm Beach to view our house.

This meant dropping everything to get the house ready. Not that the house isn’t in good shape, but I still had pumpkin decorations and fading mums on the porch and other remnants of fall that were past their prime… So, we hustled to spruce everything up to be show-room ready. That afternoon, my mother called to say she and Dad decided last minute to visit. They would arrive the next day. Some people may want more notice for a family visit, but the house was going to be clean anyway, so this seemed awfully good timing to me. I was delighted. We enjoyed a fun three days.

I had applied to the Georgia wild life commission to receive fish to stock our lake and was told to bring three 20 gallon containers to a specific place at a specific time to retrieve them. The lake has been left alone for a year to get ecologically balanced and at long last is ready to support fish. Mark was working, but since my parents were here, they joined me for the two hour drive to get this bounty. We argued about whether we should take the truck and if our containers were big enough to support all those fish on the long drive home. We wondered if they would smell or splash water, and speculated all manner of fish related issues. When we got to the hatchery, the game warden went to a tank and started weighing fish that were half the size of minnows. I was thinking, “Gee, they must be giving me these bate fish to feed the bass, brim and catfish I’m hear to pick up. But no, this was the stock. I received about a teacup of minnows, which considering their size might indeed be a hundred or more, but still, the paultry handful of fish seemed silly for those big containers.

“Is that all I get?” I asked.  The warden claimed my teacup of fish was all a one acre pond can support. I was lucky they approved my application. Had I purchased the fish from a private hatchery, they’d cost twice as much and still be this size. Well, there ya go. Ya learn something everyday.

My dad and I couldn’t help but make jokes about these itty bitty fish that we drove so far to get, but the man assured us they would be full size and laying eggs by spring. He even said he gave us sixteen additional fish, just to be nice.  I can’t imagine these minut fish ever being big enough to catch, but whoever buys our house will have a fully stocked lake, or so the theory goes. It took a full day to get the fish and introduce them properly to the lake, and considering I won’t be living here, you might wonder why I bothered. Well, if the new owners don’t want to feed my ducks, I know my beloved birds will always have something to eat. Besides which, it was a new experience and it’s always fun to see how these things are done. Now I can say I’ve stocked a lake. Check off another item in the life experience column.

The showing went well, and the woman viewing the house seemed impressed. She asked if she could schedule a second showing as soon as her husband could arrange to fly up. That seems promising. That night, we got another call from a gentleman’s secretary. He was one of the power executives we mailed our fancy brochure to, and one of his staff members was calling to arrange a future conference call with Mark to discuss the house and another showing. I’ve made jokes for years about “I’ll have my people call your people,” and dang, if this isn’t proof there really are people calling people for people. Ha. We next got another call from an agent who said she had someone who might be interested if we would consider taking less.  Well, all I can say is thank you Mr. Obama for finally sending the message across America that the world may turn once again. After the last few dismally quiet months, the sudden interest in our home is much appreciated.

While we were preparing for the house showing, I got another call. This was from the New Southerner Literary Magazine. Apparently, I won their essay contest. When I applied for the fellowship, I was dismayed to note how inadequate my résumé was in the literary department, so in a last ditch effort to validate myself, I sent a few essays out to some literary venues. I haven’t sent anything to contests in years, and frankly, I’d forgotten about it, but dang, if my revised essay Threads of Meaning didn’t win.   They called to tell me my prize check will be in the mail and to ask if they could change one thing. In the piece, I didn’t state where I lived, and they thought readers would want to know where in the country the story occurred (it is about spinning wool fiber). No problem. Sure. Change away. I am now to sign a contract that promises I’ll give credit for first publication to New Southerner if I ever have the essay reprinted. This essay happens to be a chapter in my new memoir, so I don’t see this as a problem. The publication rules are all new to me and I learn as I go. Fascinating.

Before leaving for the wedding, I sent out 40 query letters to agents to introduce my new book, (finally finished) called My Million Dollar Donkey. I was hoping one or two professionals would agree to read the material and consider representing it. The first day, I received three bounce back messages from agencies not accepting material. Bummer. Even though I knew this probably wasn’t a reflection on my work, it made me feel low. What if no one will read this book and it lies dormant like the historical? I’m proud of the memoir. It deals with important issues in a fun way and I have high hopes for the project. If it ends up collecting dust, I’ll be gravely disappointed.

A week later, I started getting responses. I’ve heard from 7 agents so far and five of them are asking for partials, a synopsis and author’s bio. Though I’ve had  great faith in this project, I didn’t expect such a wealth of positive responses. I’ve been conditioned to expect rejection, I guess. This is a grueling business to break into. So all week, I’ve been preparing more material for agents. A request for material is a long way from selling, but it’s a very important step in the process. I’m grateful agents are taking me seriously enough to at least give the book fair consideration.

My two no’s were by mail. Today, I went to my file to make notes about them and realized one of these agents was never sent a Donkey query. Ha. This rejection is for my other book. So, I’m batting even better odds than I thought with my memoir. Of course, just as I closed the file and went into my e-mail, there was another “the concept sounds intriguing, but I think I’ll pass” response. Ah well. So much for my blooming overconfidence.

Anyway, this is a week filled with promise and hope.

Perhaps the house will sell. Our new house is half finished, standing at the other end of our land like a beacon of the hoped for the future . . . if only . . .    We put construction on hold until our current home sells. I can’t describe how good it will feel to see that construction cranking again and see Mark covered in saw dust, his most becoming state in my opinion.

I can’t help but feel with all the darts being tossed at my writing dart board something is going to hit soon. I care about this book. I can’t wait ‘till it is in the hands of someone who can help place it with a publisher. Perhaps an agent will be my Christmas present. 

I won a literary contest. Cool beans. I will let everyone know when and where they can read the publication. I’m validated now – sort of.

My historical novel, which I lovingly refer to as the Albatross (because I can’t seem to let it go even though it drags me down into despair and frustration constantly) is sitting on a senior editor’s desk for a huge romance publisher. Well, to be truthful, she has only a partial. We met at a seminar, had a lively conversation about commercial fiction and how it clashes with a formal literary education (she was in a PH.d program and left it to be a romance publisher) and she requested the book. I should be excited, but I’ve gotten so use to rejections and comments like, “This is a good story but it is not a romance,” that if the book ever did get published I’d probably have a heart attack on the spot. And yet, I keep flinging the albatross back into the world. I am persistent if not practical. So, since I am counting blessings, I’ll throw this one in for good measure.

Even an exciting week has its low points. Here it is. I ran over one of my chickens. Squashed her flat. About ten little hens were crossing the road (to get to the other side, no doubt) as I was driving down to feed the donkey. I went slow, mumbling “Get a move on chicks.”
They usually scurry aside when a vehicle comes through, but when I got out of the car, I looked back and dang if there wasn’t a chicken pancake. Oops. That’s a first. I would feel guiltier except I’ve decided she must have been a very stupid chicken anyway.  Nevertheless, I’m stopping the car next time I see a chicken speed bump before me.

Donkey is fine. Peacock is still laying. Mark eyes every omelet as if I’m out to poison him.  The horses are dirty. Washed them on one of the last warm days of the season and they went out and rolled in the mud, looking worse than ever within the hour. I gave them the cold shoulder for two days because this means I’ll have grubby horses till spring, but I couldn’t stay mad. Dirty, happy horses are better than clean, disgruntled horses, after all.

Pauli, the baby llama, is so tame you’d swear he was a wolfhound rather than a camelid. He rubs against my legs and gives me kisses whenever I go into the barn. What a cutie. Did I say I was going to sell my llamas? I take it back.

My angora rabbit is due to have babies any day now (Ready for new homes for Christmas) and nothing has been picked off by a predator (unless you include cars) for months. Yes, the barnyard is well adjusted and in harmony with the universe. I dug out my gloves and I’m gearing up for the searing cold ahead. Time soon to crack the ice on drinking buckets and to cuss when the metal gate closures freeze shut. Lots of good times ahead.

Now, I must make three cheesecakes for a huge open house we are having for 40 realitors this Thursday to show off the house. I’m planning my desert table and appetizers in advance. My mother in law is coming for dinner tonight too, so I have an excuse to make something fun – think it will be chicken in a creamy sauce on a puffed pastry with a salad. Perhaps a pie.  Cooking still brings me joy. If I was smart, I’d be writing cook books – less tormenting to the heart, I suspect.

Back to work.


Go Mark.

Driving into Blue Ridge, you may get a sneaking suspicion that Big Brother is watching you. Then you realize, nope, it’s just that guy Mark. He moves mountains. Gee, he must be strong.

On a big, obvious billboard on hwy 575, the main drag into town, my husband has a billboard announcing his new avocation.  This may seem odd to those of you living in a place where realtors don’t personally advertise, but he happens to be one of the five or so house-selling superstars that make their presence known to people visiting the mountains in this fashion.

The billboard has been up for about a month, and already he has become a household name (or face) in our small town. The other day in the local coffee shop, a fellow stopped him and said, “Hey, you’re that real estate guy, right? The mountain-mover. I recognize your picture.” Then, he talked about a piece of land he wanted to sell. The billboard works.  

Neva told us that one day while she was in the office at school, the woman working the desk looked at her name and furrowed her brow and said, “Hendry . .  . hummm. . . your dad isn’t Mark Moves Mountains, is it? I’ve seen his face everywhere.”

So, there you have it. We used to be Mr. and Mrs. FLEX. Now we are Mr. and Mrs. Markmovesmountains. I guess a person’s work defines them in integral ways. That would make me . . . um. . . Mrs. Writeandgetnowhere? Ah well.

Years of owning a business taught us just how important branding is to establishing a reputation and so Mark has begun the process of defining both an image and a catchy slogan. Not a day goes by that people don’t mention his smiling face looming over the highway. Of course, occasionally, he’s encountered some interesting feedback.   One day, when he was tired and “dressed down” because he was working out, a person said, “Hey, you’re that Mark guy. Wow, how long ago was that picture taken? You must have been a lot younger.”   Mark actually had the friend who took our dance pictures for years snap the shot only a few months ago. He was like, “Thanks, buddy. You run a dance school for eighteen years then switch to selling houses and see if you can avoid turning gray.” 

But he has had some positive comments too. We sent a few thousand brochures showcasing our house to executives and a woman called long distance and said, “My friends in the office dared me to call you. We want to know if this picture is really you. Are you truly this handsome, or did you just put a picture of a cute guy on the back so people would read the brochure and want to buy this house?”
Mark sort of laughed and said, “That wasn’t my intention, but hey, if it works . . .”
She said, “Do you really look like this?”
He said, “That’s me, but in real life I probably have bags under my eyes.  So, what did you think of the house?”
She said, “Oh, no one bothered to check out the house. We just were ogling the picture.”

So much for the brilliant house-marketing brochure.  But it’s nice to know that if he doesn’t make it in real estate, he has a potential future as a male escort. Might even be able to use the same business picture for his next brochure.

Since he was getting good feedback from his billboard, we went ahead and put another two sided one (albeit smaller) up on our lot in McCaysville just opposite where the train lets off their zillion customers. We are actually going to sell this property now that we have changed course and decided not to open a retail business, but until we do, the land will serve as another marketing resource. Better than having it just sit there.

Mark truly loves real estate, and he is doing well considering the market is at an all-time low. He is entering the field when everyone else is getting out, which demands a great deal of diligence and faith, but he has both in abundance. He is a natural. He loves houses, knows a great deal about building, has a remarkable eye for design, both interior and structural (so he gives fantastic advice for improvements for sellers), has years of experience in marketing and finance, and good people skills.  His broad life experience gives his the uncanny ability to comfortably communicate with all walks of life, and he builds instant report with people whether they are millionares or simple country folk, so he can service both with equal respect. Heck, he even speaks Spanish in case a foriegn buyer needs help. 

He is working 7 days a week, 14 hour days. I am proud and appreciative of his commitment to establishing a new career, but I admit, I miss him. He says this endless time commitment won’t last forever, but sometimes, I wonder. We used to say that about FLEX, but the harder we worked, the harder we had to work to keep the machine purring. When you deeply care about the quality of your work, that tends to happen.  But we learned some poignant and valuable lessons from our many years at FLEX, both about ourselves and our relationship to work, so I trust that when life evens out a bit, he’ll find balance. As long as he’s happy.

In the meantime, I can go see his smiling face looming over my car as I careen down the highway anytime I need a Mark fix.
Go Mark.