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Monthly Archives: July 2016

The honest book review.

IMG_2820I’ve been getting some beautiful messages in response to my book’s release. People I know – and people I don’t know – have read the story, been moved by the message, and taken the time to contact me to share feedback. I’ve received great reviews on Amazon and been positively featured in several book and/or reading blogs that reach thousands of people. I’ve been asked to be the featured author in a public open mic forum called “Wordier than Thou” in both St. Pete and Sarasota. I’m learning a great deal about writing, publishing, and myself as the process of writing a book and taking it to full fruition unfolds.

Almost every review mentions how honest the book is. “Brutally honest” they often remark. Odd, because when a section of the book won the New Southerner Award, the judge said that “honesty” is why this story stood out from many others. And the editor  at Hillcrest Media, who wrote the back jacket, used the same term. Of course, I hammer home how important writing honestly is in my memoir classes, and I endeavor to be as forthright as I can be, both on the page and in my life, but the fact that the most memorable element of my story seems to be brute honesty has me wondering about honesty in the bigger scheme.  Honesty is a great virtue, but “brutally” suggests a raw and possibly unkind version of a tale that leaves damage in the wake. That certainly is not my intent.

So, concerned, I asked a few readers if they felt the book was unkind, or the message stinging or unfair or TOO honest. So far, everyone has assured me that the honesty they are talking about is refreshing and forces a certain degree of truth from the recesses of their gut as they see parallels in their own life. They appreciate how I admit my own flaws or mistakes, and that I seem to be striving to recognize and overcome personal delusion rather than pointing fingers at others or acting the victim. Since self actualization is my intent when writing, I’m glad that comes across. In the end, it is not that I’m ultra sensitive about reviews or commentary, but I sure do want to listen to people openly to really hear what they think and feel, so I can consider if I am sending the message I’m trying to establish  with my words.

At the end of each month, I’m sent an accounting of how many of my books were sold on Amazon and I can’t help but wonder about the strangers who may live many miles away, that felt the urge to pay for and read my story for no reason other than being curious or because they find the subject matter appealing. Such a long literary reach reminds me how important it is to deliver a truly valuable reading experience to people who have so many choices for their precious leisure time nowadays. It is an honor to have someone devote hours of their life to consuming your words.

Suzanne Schoenholt hosts a well-known blog called “Serial Reader”. She is one of the professional readers who reviewed my book and posted a very positive review on Amazon. Before I witnessed her “official” commentary, she wrote me to let me know she had read half the story. I opened my phone message to the following:

I love it! I am working in Minnesota and at the end of my long days, I curl up in the air conditioned bedroom on the third floor of a house I am taking care of, with your book. 

I love it for all of the following:

  • Walden quotes
  • Education about what it means to eat a pig (I haven’t since 1978!)
  • Kathy
  • Your incredible understated humor
  • Your humility
  • Your great writing!!
  • Education about country life in Georgia
  • Half-backs

 I am not sure how far I am along. Have just witnessed chicken funeral and your great humor about your urge to grab your 7-year-old daughter’s hand-drawn tombstone for a scrapbook!

The rest of the message is not necessary to share, but I was  honored that she not only read and reviewed my book, but bothered to tell me what she enjoyed. Taking the time to contact me was an act of kindness to a writer, a woman, and a fellow literary aficionado.

The ability to connect and forge respectful friendships with people I’ve never met and may never meet is humbling. Writing can forge boundless connections between people, no matter where or how they live or how diverse their personal circumstances may be. While I’ve always know this intellectually, witnessing it experimentally is profound.

I’m also floored by how people find out I’ve written a book when I haven’t sent them notification or done anything to promote it. Students I haven’t spoken to in 15 years write to tell me they picked the memoir up with little expectation, buying it  out of some sense of loyalty, but then find they are moved by the story and my writing. Means a lot to hear that from people who are a part of your ongoing life story.

The other day I received a Facebook message from someone named Ben who wanted to congratulate me on writing a book. The moment I saw his name, I recognized it , but I just couldn’t place him. I assumed he was a writing student or perhaps a father of a former dance student.  I checked out his face on Facebook hoping this would trigger my memory, but I didn’t recognize his face  I showed his picture to David who also didn’t recognize him and we speculated a bit about what area of my past he might be from. But a second message from Ben came and suddenly memory clicked. Ben is the man who bought our house in Georgia and who owns it now! We’d had some communications many years ago over disruptive details regarding the sale and a few months after he moved in, he found something very dear to me, a handmade collage of every dance picture I ever had from my years in New York (and no copies) that Mark had tossed out by the barn. Recognizing that the item was very personal, he contacted me and put it aside so I could pick it up on my next trip to GA.   Even ruined as the collage was, I deeply appreciated that someone, even a stranger, cared enough to understand that such a thing would be important to someone who was so deeply connected to dance and her artistic past.

I checked Ben’s Facebook page to be sure my guess was accurate, and sure enough, spied many photos of a very happy Ben enjoying life with other upbeat people in what was my former dream home. We sold the place furnished, so the furniture, rugs, and general ambiance that sets the scene of his photos is exactly the same as photos of my past family Christmases etc…  only in this case, the faces standing before the mantle or in my kitchen are of strangers rather than my family. Weird, that.

The timing of Ben’s message seemed remarkable, because I had been thinking all day about who owned the house now- years later. Just that evening, David and I ducked under the gate and hiked up the winding road to put a copy of my  book on the porch. This was my very last visit ever to Blue Ridge and leaving my story behind was a part of my closure and  symbolic that, once and for all, I could leave the sad memories of that place in the past where they belong. I left a note with the book saying that I felt anyone living in this house should know the story behind it. My book is a part of the legacy of the house now, and I sincerely hope the ongoing narrative of every family who passes that threshold knows joy, appreciation and a collective appreciation for the beauty and good intention that were a part of the original foundation of the home. How odd that I was thinking of Ben all day, and he randomly  felt moved to contact me after 7 years of non-communication. I told him he didn’t have to buy the book, I’d left it as a gift on his doorstep. The energetic lives of people are so interwoven, through shared experience, history, or thoughts – they do seem to create our reality.We must always treat others with respect and care, for they are likely to reappear in our lives in one form or another.

Anyway, I deeply appreciate those who have read my book and taken the time to reach out to let me know about their reading experience. More than anything else, this has kept my creative fires burning. I write now with a sense of the sacred importance of my words, knowing someday, they may land in other person’s lap and might make a difference – to them or to me.

For readers past and present: thank you for being my muse, my support, and a testament to right intention .

A few blogger reviews to cut and paste if you are curious :

My Happy Hippie Husband

People often stop by Heartwood to see the beautiful grounds. They marvel at the brick walkways and the beautiful trellises filled with flowering vines. But inevitably, their eyes shift to these weird hanging bottles stuck in the oddest of places. They never comment, but I can feel the question they don’t feel comfortable giving voice to.

I always smile to myself and offer, “those are organic mosquito traps. My husband puts them all over.”

“Ah… I was wondering…..” they remark, too polite to ask why trash seems to be dangling from limbs in the midst of our well-orchestrated beauty.

When I met David, I found it remarkable that, even though he had never been exposed to yoga, he was so yogic…. He naturally lived by principals and ideals that I personally had to work hard to embrace. He is and always has been, at heart, a happy hippie. And yet, he is functional, responsible, and I never feel threatened by his non-conservative approach to life.  I love the complex combination that makes him such a “controlled free spirit” because our life is enhanced by his commitment to living naturally, rather than stagnating or being encumbered by his desire to live outside of rat race norms.

Our property includes a rushing stream that lies a 30 foot drop down on one side of our property, and we have two forested acres across the stream that serves as a buffer from homes – a bit of wild growing thicket that protects the sense of privacy and quiet.  Heartwood is loaded with ferns and lush oaks and garden spots. So, like it or not, we have mosquitos and other annoying Florida bugs that tend to drive our nature loving yoga students indoors during certain seasons. We can always spray the grounds, and sprinkle dust or grains of bug killer to keep the problem at bay, but when you want to garden organically and you are committed to avoiding chemicals that will seep into the ground water supply, or might harm bees, etc… you can get rather frustrated with the challenge of pest maintenance.

David is often online reading about natural remedies and tricks to make gardens comfortable without being toxic to people or the natural world. And every so often, he slaps on his inventor hat and tries different things. This year, he hung all these plastic bottles filled with rotting Georgia peaches from a batch I brought home after visiting my daughter. We didn’t finish the peaches off in time and they turned brown and David couldn’t hide the fact that he was thrilled. He couldn’t bring himself to spend good money on fresh fruit for a rot project, but now he had guilt free peaches! He combined the fruit with boric acid and other things that I’m afraid to ask about, punched little holes in the bottle and hung them in inconspicuous places. Apparently, the mosquitos crawl in but can’t get out, and the bottles are filling up with nary a whiff of DT or toxic fumes to offend the organic senses.  Just today, David came into the yoga training and put two big bottles of lemonade on the counter and said, “Please drink these.” I must have looked at him funny, because he then added, “I want to make an organic wasp trap and it didn’t work when I tried the apple juice container. I think these will be perfect. Ha! Yogis, ever accommodating, drank lemonade with lunch for a cause.


The other day the kitchen counter was filled with all manner of items that certainly didn’t look like something we were going to eat. Later I came home to find the counter covered in jars filled with beige cream. David explained that he had been making organic bug repellent. He’d read about it online, and the key ingredient was beauty berry, which we have growing on the property, so he took a hike to forge the leaves, then cooked them with beeswax, essential oils and a few other things to make this lovely body cream that actually repels bugs (while making the skin feel great.) Pots of this stuff now rest in our bug repellent basket for our guests, next to the deep woods off (a product that does work but is filled with all kinds of scary chemicals). I’m always interested to see who goes for the homemade stuff and who is more comfortable with a familiar spray that they “trust” will work. Embracing a natural lifestyle takes time for many of us, and I’m not judging anyone’s selection, but I’m pleased to see David’s supply diminishing quicker than the store bought stuff.


The other day I told David that our Hibiscus is growing out of control. This plant is 20 feet high and the branches grow haywire in every direction. The bush is situated on a corner of the house that blocks a walkway during growth seasons. I trim the bush drastically a few times a year, but I just haven’t gotten around to cutting the plant back lately. I asked David to chop it down, but the bush is in bloom and looks great. David can’t bare hacking away at a plant when it looks pretty (whereas I am ruthless when it comes to pruning because I’ve faced the issue of plants out of control that I’ve waited to handle because they look lovely, and the next thing you know, I have to replace them entirely. Trial and error has assured I’m no softy when it comes to gardening.) Anyway . . .

“You can eat hibiscus flowers, ya know.” David said. “Red zinger tea is made of hibiscus flowers”.

I was like, “Whatever. The plant is out of control and attacks me every time I walk through that section of the yard. It’s gotta go. Besides which, these flowers are not red. My red Hybiscus are not in bloom, and this flowering monster is blush colored.”

That night after I was done teaching yoga, David said, “You look thirsty. Here, try this.” He handed me a refreshing glass of homemade tea. When I remarked that the drink was wonderful, he pointed out that I was drinking our Hibiscus flowers simmered with some brown sugar and spices. This tea may have been made from a simple peach hibiscus, but the fresh, light and deeply satisfying flavor proved I shouldn’t judge a plant by its blooms.

Another case of David’s patience and gentle approach to life proving valuable.


Lately he’s been talking about the fact that Water hyacinths are eatable. We have multitudes growing in our pond, all from one little plant we brought home from a lazy canoe outing last spring. The plants double every month, and they bloom beautifully, but we have to wade into the pond to collect and toss a few dozen every couple of months or they would take over the little koi pond. I’ve listened to David share information about the plant’s nutrition value and how the hanging roots cleanse the water for the fish etc….. I know it is only a matter of time until one of these babies end up on my dinner plate as a “David experiment”.

At least I know  if we ever have to survive a total societal crash, David will be a partner that can figure out how to feed us – and keep us from betting bug bites in our little corner of the world.  In the meantime, I stand amused by the funny way people’s eyes shift to our hanging bottles with that unspoken look of “What the heck is that?”

That, my friend, is proof a happy hippie husband lives at Heartwood.


The Chicken Haven!

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The other day, David said he was finally ready to build us a chicken house. The weather in Florida this month is just too steamy and grueling hot for outdoor projects, but he has a window of time off from working and he wants to take advantage of it, so off to Home Depot he went. Hours later he came back with the truck laden with all kinds of odds and ends he would puzzle together with materials leftover from other projects to create a chicken house unlike any other.

I already have the chickens. We bought 5 baby chicks in the spring knowing they would quickly grow large enough to join my 4 chickens and a rooster. Those more mature birds were purchased on craigslist in Feb as a source of free range eggs and we housed them in a small but cute prefab chicken house that we picked up last winter because it was steeply on sale and, while small, too adorable to resist. Building a new chicken house has been in our long range plan since we bought this property, so all along the tiny hen house was considered temporary. The cookie cutter design is meant for 6 chickens at most and really doesn’t have room for any sort of healthy ranging. I’m a girl with big chicken fantasies. so a worthy chicken house seemed important for this lifestyle.

We bought the chicks thinking we had plenty of time to get around to building a more formal chicken house, but as is often the case with busy people, we blinked and suddenly faced a pressing need to get something built because our little house is smack dab in the way of a new parking lot that we are building. I love my free ranging chickens, but they make a mess of the grounds, and while a few fluffy birds pecking around the yogi’s feet is cute, upwards of a dozen free ranging chickens chasing people to their cars and a rooster that likes to crow whenever we are meditating is more than a little annoying- especially when those same birds uproot my mulch and eat my flowers. David and I both agree the time has come to keep the birds contained.

David is a research guy, and innovation is in his DNA, so of course he wouldn’t dream of building a clunky shed sort of thing with a pen attached. He read some chicken magazines began his contemplation. He asked me about what I liked least and best about my former chicken set ups (which wasn’t a very high set bar, I confess.) He looked at chicken houses on the internet. Eventually, he came up with a design incorporating a little of everything he thought would be important.

David’s chicken house not only had to be practical, but well built. He would use reclaimed materials to be environmentally conscientious and cost effective. This would also help us get rid of things building up behind the barn – a bonus! For foundation walls, he began with four big, reinforced stage units we built for the yoga festival three years ago. He decided to use the big rolls of fencing wire we have rolled up behind the barn, remnants of the old fence that we saved after putting up the new wood fence. He configured a nifty system where the pens pinwheel around the hen house so I can let the chickens range in one 12 foot area each week, then rotate the birds so the ground has 3 weeks to recover before the chickens revisit the area. My chickens will never be scratching around in hard packed dirt, which is often the case in chicken pens after they pick the ground clean. He arranged nifty doors in each side of the hen house that can open and close from outside with pulls.  I can direct the chickens to any area with a shift of the hand and don’t need to go inside unless I want to collect eggs.

David used the heavy rolling door he made for our barn a year ago, before he upgrading that building, and repainted a screen door rescued from an old house remodel to use as an entrance. Three other screen doors were made from scratch to provide a separate entry to each of the pen sections. We already had nifty chicken nesting boxes with removable (and cleanable) tile bottoms from when  we first moved here and built chicken housing in a stall in our barn. David’s new brilliant design includes a nifty air handler on the roof to keep the hen house aired out, as well as open space along the bottom of the building so the shavings never smell. He’s added lights for winter, and an automatic waterer, and hung a great big feeder so when we’re busy, we don’t have to worry about the birds going hungry. The food and water is protected by a slanted panel under roosts.  This chicken house even has a small hose rolled up so I can conveniently keep things clean, and a bin for food. There’s even a small box to keep whatever little keepsake might need to be tucked away . My former, little cute chicken house is now situated by the big pen as a housing area for any nesting chickens, or for times when I want to purchase new chicks.

When yogis go out to see David’s newest creation they all comment that the place is big enough and nice enough to put in a bunk for overnight lodging. They marvel at the spacious interior and the windows and the fact that it is cool inside despite the summer sun. We’d certainly love to build a few cute caravans for yogis someday, but for now, we are delighted to have finally created a chicken haven for our feathered friends.

I do love chickens. Not only do I love collecting free range eggs daily, but there is something calming and natural about a chicken-friendly lifestyle. I plan to situate a couple of comfy Adirondack chairs out there so people can hang out and watch the cute antics of the birds. I’ll be there with a cup of coffee more often than not, I suppose.

The only problem is, this new chicken house is so fantastic and so big and so user friendly, that my ten, humble chickens don’t do it justice. Having one measly rooster and a few uneventful brown hens out there in such a grand chicken haven seems like a poor use of resources.

So, I’m checking out Craigslist every day…. Looking for some fancies. I need a sportier robust flock as the final garnish for David’s fantastic chicken endeavor.   I’m thinking a few Frizzles, a Silky or two, some exotics…… And don’t ya know, the darn housing is big enough for peacocks or pheasants. Ah, the possibilities!

The house isn’t complete just yet. David has a few final touches and fencing to finish off. I bought a big metal chicken sign for the building and my metal chicken sculpture must find a place of honor. But soon, this chicken haven will be a part of Heartwood that feels familiar to everyone who visits, and in no time, it will seem as if the grand chicken house has always been here. That is how it goes. We work, change and evolve this property, and every addition feels like such a natural fit, we quickly forget the “before”.

That is how the best of dreams unfold, I’m thinking.




Book Release Party

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The other day, I had a book release party for my new Memoir, My Million Dollar Donkey. June is probably the worst possible month and Wednesday evening the worst possible time for such an event because people are traveling and working and such,  but due to the date of the book’s publication and my crazy busy summer teaching schedule, a mid week night in mid summer seemed the only option to launch the book.

About eighty people showed up, and oddly, not the people I expected. I have certain students, friends and family members I thought would fill the ranks out of obligation or a sense of friendship, but few of them bothered to make the trip out for the event. Yet, many others came to voice heartfelt congratulations and enthusiasm, and I felt deeply honored that so many people paused their busy summer to show me respect, interest, and support. I learned a great deal about who cares about me on a certain “respect” level, and will be forever grateful to those who made the night successful for me.  David worked so hard to make the evening wonderful, even giving me an introduction worthy of a star.

I wasn’t sure what to plan for such an occasion, but David, Soraya, and I set up the evening for a variety of activities and despite a threatening weather report, the evening went off smoothly in every way. I did a reading out by our gazebo which got great feedback, and people wandered out to the labyrinth and to see our new Before I Die board. Refreshments were served in the yoga studio where we played the book trailer. I signed about 50 books. David later asked what it felt like to sit at a table with so many people in line waiting to get your autograph. “Humbling” was all I could answer. We gave away some prize baskets filled with my homemade wine and items that are reflective of the book’s themes, and had some great conversations about writing and living off the grid.  When the evening was finished, David and I had a glass of wine and talked about writing, life, and how the little moments such as this make hard work worthwhile.

Years ago, I decided to shift gears in my life with a dream of  writing full time. I changed careers, went to school to be formally trained and relocated all with an eye towards setting up a writing life. While I had a perfect plan in place, life threw me a curve ball and instead of opening space for my writing, life took a direction that all but killed every morsel of opportunity for me to continue that journey. It’s hard when you make great personal sacrifice for something you deeply care about, and end up, despite the best of intentions, losing it all together. But that is life.  It’s taken 6 years to reclaim even a sliver of the opportunity to attend to writing again, but at long last, I’m able to revisit my latent dreams.

The book release was just a start. I am teaching classes and writing retreats at Heartwood now and have a great student body of about 350 people in the Heartwood Writers collective.. This fall I begin 10 classes per term (3 weekly) at ACE – which is the Adult Community Education program at Vo-tech college in Sarasota. I’m teaching journaling, memoir, fiction and Writing Spiritual Wills. The best thing about teaching is that it keeps me deeply involved in the creative process, so I write more myself.

I’m working on three book projects now. A craft book about writing memoir with yoga sensibilities directing your flow and purpose to make the process kinder to self and to the world. A second memoir about building Heartwood  – a continuation of my recently released book where I pick up the pieces of my life and build something out of nothing. And I’m revisiting the first book I ever wrote, a historical romance that had great promise but never really hit it’s stride. The story is still intriguing, however I admit, I’ve evolved so much as a writer in the last fifteen years since I first penned that manuscript that I’m having to rewrite the entire story to do it justice. Still, I assign special meaning to getting the book right after all this time. I’m someone who doesn’t give up easily on anything she starts, so seeing this project to a good conclusion feels like a nagging need.

My book is selling, steadily but surely. A few book bloggers are reviewing it on some big book sites. It is fun to get messages from friends and people I don’t even know, telling me how much they loved the story. Many people relate to the themes of the book, and I’m proud I’ve captured that universality. But as is the case with most art endeavors, I can’t help but think that, while I’m proud of this first publication, I can do better next time. Perhaps that is all a part of the process. Hitting one’s stride is never an obvious, linear thing. Mining your gifts happens like a labyrinth, with curves and turns taking you closer and further from the goal. You just have to keep putting one step in front of the other on the path, and trust the process. Eventually, by continually moving forward, you’ll come to the center.