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A bit of this and that

The winter issue of New Southerner, a literary magazine of alternate living, is now available on line at www.newsoutherner.com. You don’t want to miss this year’s award winners, primarily the essay Threads of Meaning, by yours truly. Check it out. I read the bios of the fiction and poetry winners, and I must say, I’m in good company. Since this essay is a chapter in my memoir, I couldn’t be more pleased. The timing is great considering several agents have shown an interest in the book. Makes me seem like a promising up and comer, or so I like to think. Anyway, I just wanted to share.


Winter is here. Ho Hum. This is when I wonder what the heck I am doing with all these animals. My fingers are perpetually frozen as I crack the surface of water buckets each day. I have to exchange rabbit water bottles for ones from home because they freeze solid each night. Even my hose and water pump is frozen solid, so I’m back to carting gallon jugs to the barn so my nursing llama has a plentiful supply of fluids.  I watch my diminishing hay supply with concern . . . I’m probably going to run out by March –crap. Something picked off over a dozen chickens, (my favorites, of course) in one week, so now I’m keeping my flock in the pen. This makes for cranky chickens and a peacock with a rotten attitude, but I’m determined to keep them alive till spring. When the food supply grows short, chickens are sitting ducks, so to speak. My ducks, on the other hand, are thriving. I bought more ducks than I wanted or needed this fall, because I figured a few would inevitably get picked off. Apparently, as a group, they are survivors. I have this huge quacking click of always hungry birds parking themselves on my dock now. Just goes to show, you can’t control nature and shouldn’t even try to second guess it. I have two mallards which started out as solid black ducklings. Their heads turned green last week and their body colors are changing. I am always fascinated with watching different breeds of animals change as they mature, so these birds are my entertainment de jour this season. My raw “nature education” never grows dormant here.


We put up our Christmas tree last week. It’s a monstrosity of a thing – twelve feet high with a billion branches that require shaping and fitting into individual brackets. After hours of working to put it together, we got to the last few rows and the plastic branch brackets started crumbling. Apparently, our fake tree didn’t take well to the heat and/or cold of the attic. Oops. Suddenly, the tree started wilting and  branches started falling off. It looked like Charlie Brown’s tree, only the blown up version. There was a time when we would have shrugged and gone out and bought another tree. That’s not us anymore. We were determined to make it work for a variety of reasons.
• We have at long last adopted the “Use it up and wear it out” country mentality and we’re no longer comfortable or interested in a disposable lifestyle, so we don’t want to replace the tree for financial or ecological reasons.
• We don’t’ believe we will be living here next Christmas, and since this spectacular tree is designed for this spectacular house, we certainly don’t want to replace it for a single season. The next house will require a different size (and less laborious) tree – maybe we will even go  back to something real.       
• We’d already put two hours into erecting the dang tree, and the idea of taking it apart and having to start over with something else another day was unacceptable. Besides which, we were planning to decorate and take pictures to send to a magazine for next year, and the plan hinges on using what have and know works. 


So, Denver, Kent and I decided to get creative. We started with super glue. That didn’t work. We tried rolls and rolls of duck tape. No good. I suggested we try tying the branches up to the base with a complex series of pulleys and supports hidden in the branches. In the end, a combination of all three things allowed us to rig the tree for one more season. For three hours, we coaxed, manipulated and cursed at the tree, begging it to hang in for one more season. We bullied it into submission. Lights, ribbon, and ornaments hid our cheating machinations, and voila, the tree is as pretty as ever, just so long as you don’t peer inside to witness the mishmash engineering involved. Between you and me, I like knowing we are getting one more year out of this baby… it’s the principal of the matter, but I imagine taking it down won’t be much fun. Perhaps I should ask for a hatchet for Christmas.


After getting the tree up, I turned my attentions to gifts for business associates, neighbors and friends. Mark has a long list of people he wants to acknowledge this season since he is working again. Last year, we brought wine to everyone and it was a big hit, but I hate being easy to second guess, so this year I decided to put a twist on our family offerings. I made dozens and dozens of jars of wine jelly and made up baskets with a variety of other canned goods (since wine jelly is an acquired taste, I thought each basket deserved something more traditional too.) I especially like my raspberry, cranberry conserve made with apples. Nice discovery – almost hate giving it away. I’ve been in the kitchen with the holiday music cranking, watching the clock because I musn’t forget to feed the animals early, before the dark sets in and makes the task more miserable than need be.   


More news. . .my son has a girlfriend now. We adore her. She has snow white hair, and a lithe, lengthy body. My first thought was, “Wow, I would have adored having that body in dance class.” My second thought was, “What the heck is that girl doing holding my son’s hand?” Humm… Later we were told about the budding romance. It’s been flourishing for a few weeks, but my son took his time sharing the news, either because he wanted to be sure the relationship was going somewhere, or because he though it was going somewhere and he didn’t want his queer-bo family to embarrass him sooner than necessary. Anyone’s guess.


He really likes this girl. I know because he brought her over and showed her his dance pictures. That’s a first. Why do I like her? For starters, her family raises and trains horses and this girl has been showing for years. She is an avid reader and when she came over, I was finishing up A Thousand Splendid Suns, and she smiled and said, “I read that book months ago. I liked it better than the Kite Runner, how about you?” She reads a book a day and loves animals. Bingo, we have things to talk about. Besides this, she makes my son blush – that alone means she had me at hello. She plays in the band, is a model student, and has a sense of humor. She still has to pass the ultimate test, of course, which is whether or not she can decorate a Christmas cookie well enough to pass muster, but till that’s been established, she’s OK in my book.


Neva is playing the trombone now. It is quite a sight watching her practice, her short arms barley able to stretch far enough to maneuver the horn’s sliding parts. But she has a knack for band, good wind, and other than the fact that she has to carry the instrument to school each day and it’s bigger than her, the trombone suits her. On Sunday, we went to the first and only concert that both my kids will play in together (because this is the only time the sixth grade performs with the high school). It was spectacular. Mark and I still can’t believe that in the tiny town of Blue ridge such a progressive and impressive music program exists. We are delighted Neva is giving band a shot – it was touch and go for a while there because she didn’t think it was “cool” enough. Eesh.


Kent has turned out to be quite the drummer, and so he was selected for the honorary position of drummer in the school’s specialty jazz band. They will perform on Thursday, and honestly, they are as good as any jazz quartet I ever listened to in clubs in New York. Yes, the music area of our lives has been rewarding since moving to Georgia.  


Neva caught the Twilight bug last week, and finished all four of those big books in four days. Her Christmas list is now filled with paranormal teen romances. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? If you want to read romance, why not try a historical?” She rolls her eyes as if to say, “Vampires are sexier than men in cutaway jackets and top hats.” Foolish girl. I’m hoping it is a phase that she will pass through – I’m not a big paranormal buff personally. I did steal away last weekend to take her to the first movie of said book and she spent the time leaning over and whispering what was wrong with the story because the book did it this way or that. I nodded and pretended to be interested as a good mother should. Ah well, I’m just thrilled she loves to read and her delight over discovering the appeal of romance amuses me to no end. She’s a passionate kid. Love that about her.


I should probably talk about Denver too while I’m on the subject of kids. She is doing well and has two jobs and a new boyfriend we very much approve of. But there is a small drama unfolding at her place of employment because she chose to handle a moral delimma in a professional manner. Until it is resolved, I think I’ll leave the subject of Denver for another day. I will say she is maturing and becoming a very, very socially conscientious young woman. She applied to be a volunteer for the Peace Corps last week. Don’t know if anything will come of that, but I am proud of her activist bent and passionate nature too. She still aspires to go to California to study jewelry design and is working towards that goal.


Now, I have to get to work. I’m working on my thesis novel again. Ugh. This is a book about dance, and because dance is a subject I feel still feel strongly about, it is hard not to be preachy or melodramatic or . . . well, this is a hard book for me to write. But I also think this particular book is one only I can write, and my professors say those are the books we are born to wrestle with, so, I keep returning to the manuscript. Cranky but compelled. When I get too exasperated, I’ll go back to the historical novels – my vacation from life. I think the dance book will be years in the making.


The point is, I keep working, working, working, even if I feel like I am on a writing treadmill going nowhere. At least I have my little essay to feel good about this month, and since that circles me back to the beginning of this blog, it makes for a good ending subject. So –  Bye.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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