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Category Archives: Family matters

Here we go again . .

Our house is now officially for sale. Sigh.
Since not everyone has had a chance to visit, it might be fun to check out the website we are working on as a marketing device. It features all kinds of pictures of the house and if you click the link to the virtual tour it’s like standing in each room and seeing it from all angles. If you had a glass of Ginny’s homemade wine in hand, it would be exactly like hanging out with us here in Georgia. Anyway, this is the house that Mark built.

Click on “home” and you can see Mark’s new realtor website too. It’s a work in progress so you might want to check back later, because eventually it will be linked to his “other business” of rustic furniture and heritage crafts. Everyday he is adding features, learning about his new business. As he grows more confident and learns from others, he is even starting to implement his own creative approach which is interesting to watch.

A few fun details (so you can fully appreciate this final Hendry house show and tell)
All the rustic furniture in the house was built by Mark too –he turned all the bowls and made all the baskets and brooms on display. He made the rustic shelves, coffee tables, chairs etc… One reason we’ve waited to take pictures of this place for the magazine and for selling it was because we needed furniture. It was a great house – but empty! This week, he whipped off the porch table, the dining room table and a few other much needed pieces. Needless to say, I am now at a loss of what to nag about. Gee, what a dilemma. At long last, my article about the dancers who moved to Georgia to “Choreograph a house” (I know, corny me) is finally in the mail to an editor. And I finally have a place to put my coffee cup when reading out on my porch. All is perfect on the home front at last. . . except that if this place sells fast, we will be without a roof over our heads AGAIN. Ah well, what ya gonna do? We assume a house this size will take time to move, but then, we thought that about our business and it sold in 5 days and we were told to get lost immediately, which taught us you can never “assume” things will unfold at a pace you can keep up with. Take it from me. Be careful when you start rolling a snowball down a hill.

We cleared the lot on the other side of our land and started building our new home last month – this will be more of a big farmhouse style home. The setting for the new house is just as beautiful to me – only without the water feature. I will miss my ducks, but we’ll still be surrounded by trees and wildlife and cool breezes and crickets, so complaining would silly. Our decision to go this route rather than sell all our land and starting over means Mark will be able to keep his workshop. I’ll have my barn and bees and animals and garden. I’ll have another office for writing, and even a space in the basement for storing wine. We’ll have 35 acres to sprawl out on, and the new house may not be a “lodge” but it will be big and functional and knowing Mark, it will end up a lovely living space too. There are great houses on the market for a song right now, but building again so we can keep the other things we love on this land is the compromise that sits with us best in light of the wrench thrown in our original plans. 
This is the foundation for the new house. The actual house will sit above this. 

From the back . . .

This is my new back yard. Can’t you just imagine lots of shining eyes peering back at you from this forest like in a cartoon? The entire area where the house sits was dense forest a month ago. We couldn’t use the land as it was because it was too dense even to walk through. In some ways, building here is going to enhance the land by making it useable.

This is what the front view will look like. We took out a milion trees and turned it into a sort of yard – it gives us room for outdoor living. We made a huge circular drive by connecting two short roads that were cut in when this was going to be a development. Makes for a nice drive in and sections off this house site in a nice way.

The drive which is off to the side of this cleared area.

The other day Mark told me someone he worked with said all people were either builders or nesters.      
“I am definitely a builder,” he said.
“I am a nester,” I said.
“No, you aren’t. We wouldn’t be here if we were,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that I am flexible when I have to be. Life is too short to lament about what you don’t have. Gotta celebrate what you do have and move on. I don’t look forward to moving again, and I dread that transition phase and the temporary loss of my office and routine if that occurs– (cause, I’ve learned I’m just not very productive when life is up in the air) but I am ultimately glad Mark had the opportunity to build the house he always wanted to build, even if we didn’t get to keep it. After all, it is the process that counts.  As he once said, “This is the grand recital of houses. I was in heaven being able to just unleash my ideas and finding out what I’m capable of.” I guess it is like a dance. You are totally engrossed with the creation of the thing, but then you must let it go for others to enjoy.

Anyway, back to the tour. The dining room table is sort of amusing to ex-Flexers – because those benches are former FLEX benches, purple until last week. They sat in storage outside of FLEX for about a year after we closed our third location to open Lakewood Ranch. Mark decided to haul them all the way up to Georgia because the new owners had no use for them and he couldn’t bear throwing them out knowing they cost so much to build due to the spring seat design. When we were packing up the moving van with FLEX stuff,  he said, “You know, I might use these benches some day. The darn seats were a thousand dollars apiece to have built. I’ll cover them with an animal hide or something,” And he hoisted them into the truck.

At the time, I thought he was going to a lot of trouble to haul these heavy benches all the way to Georgia where they would no doubt sit in storage for years. But we had room in the truck, so what the heck.  Then, we thought we might use them at the coffee shop, but  that idea was shelved. And don’t ya know, when he needed something for the dining room in a hurry, down came the purple benches. He put natural wood legs on them and we covered the purple seats in orange ultra suede. Voila! Seating for the new table. I guess all those years of making costumes out of whatever we had on hand certainly trained him well.

When we sold FLEX, staff members told us the new owners always referred to us as “the Cheap Hendrys”. Boy, that stung. We’ve always been frugal about resources because we spent so many years struggling to build a business without any funds to work with that we had no choice. We made a habit of finding ways to use everything we had at hand to give the world an impression that the school was professional and well funded when in reality, we were always frantically trying to come up with creative ways to meet the never ending needs of a growing school. Even when we started earning enough to relax a bit, tossing out the things that could have a second life was hard for us because we knew how hard it was to earn the money that bought them in the first place. And needless waste goes against our world view – because a disregard for resources is ruining our planet.

It killed us to watch the new owners frivolously dumping FLEX educational materials, stock, paper products, furniture etc… when it was all serviceable and sometimes in perfect condition, only because they wanted a different color or a new look or to add things that were not at all necessary to the educational product just for show. It was painful for two old timers who had to scratch and make sacrifices to see such waste, and their indulgence foreshadowed exactly what was to come. But what can you do? We watched that train wreck, sick at heart, long before anyone else saw trouble coming. But then, we knew what it took to keep that place humming, and even at it’s most sucessful, there was little wiggle room for such indulgence. Heck, if that school made enough to allow the owners to write a check for anything they desired, we would have kept it. Alas, there was no goose in the back laying golden eggs – just two very tired, overworked dancers who were so out of steam they couldn’t keep the balls in the air anymore.  Ah well, – that is another (retired) story.

The point is, creativity was our means to an end for years and years, until it became an ingrained habit. You’d be shocked to learn how much of this beautiful house was done  for a fraction of what it would cost a normal builder, thanks to Mark’s ingenuity and creative talents. We’d never had had the resources to build this if it wasn’t Mark at the helm working his magic. Limitations are frustrating sometimes, but for him, it inspires creative solutions and great things happen.

Back to the tour. My favorite “pano” is the one of the porch because it shows off the setting of the house. We had the fireplaces cranking (to show off the house’s potential) even though it was 86 degrees outside. Could barely get it to draw since there was no cool air to create draft in the flue. Smoke filled the porch, and we had to wait for a breeze to come along to take a picture.  Were out there coughing, laughing, trying to showcase the “perfect life” as we were bending over with smoke inhalation. If anyone notices that there are sunflowers growing in a pot next to the roaring fire, they will recognize the ruse. Ha. But in truth, in the fall, this room is magnificent. 

There is a lovely hammock by the hot tub too, but when you sit in it your butt hits the floor. Again, this was erected last minute for the pictures. I implored Mark to fix it so we could actually use the hammock while we are still here. He said he would, but in the end, only because he is motivated to create something wonderful for others, not for us.  I’d have to put my homes up for sale all the time if I ever wanted to live in someplace finished. Ah well. Life is not a page out of Martha Steward Living even if sometimes I wish it was.

The workout room and pool room is now filled with pictures we inherited from closing down FLEX. I must say, it wasn’t easy to hang them, considering what they represent. But we are selling the place furnished, so we wanted to take down all the personal pictures and artifacts that have meaning to us. So, if you recognize the wall hangings, know they were put up just this week with mixed feelings. They are definately for the next guy – and again, it was a matter of using the resources on hand. 

Oddly enough, we are not sad about selling. It would have been wonderful had things worked out with the sale of our business as planned, but since it didn’t, the “lodge” has become a source of stress and a symbol of disappointment. It was the perfect Hendry dream house, true,  but in the end, it is just a house and there are more important things in life. I certainly want my world to be about more than acquisitions, so when it came to a decision of working like dogs under stress to try to keep it, maybe even opening another dance studio, or to let it go and downsize to continue living a life with creative options, there was no question.

Mark is busy with building his new real-estate career now, working 7 days a week. This won’t last forever, he assures me. I miss him, but I am proud that he is committed to forging a new career, and I honestly believe he will be very successful. He is out with buyers viewing properties today and he’s already started to acquire listings. People trust him, and well they should. He is very knowledgeable. For one thing, he has always loved land and houses and he has a creative eye which means he sees the potential others might miss– for another, he has a builder’s knowledge to recognize quality and he always makes some pertinent suggestions for improvement. Last week a woman listed a cabin on a creek with him, but the entire creek was hidden behind tons of mountain laurel. Mark went out there and spent a day cutting it all away to reveal 360 feet of creek. Changed the entire property. Not many realtors give that kind of service, and don’t ya know the place had three showings this week and they might be getting an offer today. 

He has a big ol’ billboard with his beaming face going up on the highway this fall and we are working together to develop a marketing plan for him. After being Robin to Batman at FLEX for so many years, it is very nice he has something of his own for the first time ever – good for his self esteem and sense of pride. He’s never felt better about work.  I’d shoot myself in the foot before I’d sell houses for a living, but that is what makes the world go around, right?

I am diligently working on my new book, a memoir called “My Million Dollar Donkey” about our experiences and just how difficult the simple life can be. This story is filled with comical scenes about a city girl going country, beekeeping, horse training and the works, but also contemplates how difficult it is for Americans to shed their consumer mindset and social expectations, despite how wholesome living and an earth friendly existence is all the rage. What is romantic in theory is filled with shit in truth, but what a great adventure life can be when you are willing to sink ankle deep in crap.  I am pretty happy with the project and think it has potential. I am also dabbling with rewriting my second historical romance – big project, but one that keeps beckoning me.

My first book (historical) came back from the agent with a nice note that said the writing was wonderful (whew) and they even passed it around so several people in the firm could read it ( a very good sign that they seriously considered taking it on) but they didn’t like my heroine because she was too resourceful and independent for the time (1848). That is a fair criticism. I agree, and yet, I can’t imagine her any other way considering her circumstances.  I was depressed for a day, then I sent the book to the other agent who had put in a request for a full manuscript. It now sits with her, a long shot, perhaps, but at least it is still in circulation. With each rejection, I learn something new, about myself as a writer and the Achilles heel of my stories.  I am ultimately convinced anything I write now will be much, much better, so really, I am trying to move forward and shelve my early attempts– chalking them up to learning experiences.

Now, it is all about having the discipline to sit my butt in the chair to create something new rather than moseying down to the barn to play Dr. Doolittle. It’s a trial having turned off that constant revving engine that used to reside in my gut making me constantly achievement oriented. Perhaps it is age that is slowing me down, or the slow whisper of the breeze surrounding me out here, but I just don’t feel pressured to prove anything anymore. I guess there is good and bad in that. I may not rock the world with amazing feats, but I certainly feel at one with it now.



As I explained earlier, my duck has been sitting on unfertilized eggs. They were starting to rot and turn green, yet still she guarded them like the queen’s diamonds. She is a wonderful, diligent mother, but obviously unwilling to admit defeat. I decided I should take the eggs away from her so she would return to the pond (and thus I could reclaim my barn) but this caused a moral dilemma. If I took them away while she was out for her ten minute food break, she’d return to find the nest marauded and might feel guilty for being irresponsible. If I destroyed her coveted eggs in front of her, she’d consider me a threat forevermore. (No comments please – Mark has already heckled me, reminding me it’s just a duck, not an elephant with a memory or conscience.)

Anyway, in effort to find a gentle solution, I went to the feed store and purchased three baby runner ducks. Runner ducks have long necks and graceful slim bodies. (I think they’re reincarnated dancers). I then put a cage over the mother duck and scooted her off the nest and removed her eggs. I cracked a few on a hillside just to be sure they were indeed dead eggs. They were – the insides were all green, foaming ooze. Yuck.

I reached into the cage with my baby ducks and rubbed them all over the mother duck, scooting them under her wings and belly. She didn’t like it a bit and the baby ducks weren’t exactly thrilled, but I was trying to get the mother’s smell to saturate them. Then, I put the babies in the cage with the mother duck and waited.

At first the mother rooted around the nest looking for her eggs, not falling for the idea that these ducklings were hers for one minute. The baby ducks happened to be a week old already, so they didn’t seem to take to Romer as their mother either. I guess when you are born in an incubator; the concept of “mommy” is alien. Everyone kept to opposites sides of the cage and I figured it was a stupid experiment. I watched for about an hour, just to assure the baby ducks would be safe and for the most part, they seemed to be. Then, Romer started pecking at them and I got uncomfortable.

O.K., I thought. The duck caper didn’t work.

So, I removed the baby ducks and put them in an empty chicken run, thinking they could live there until full size, then I would release them at the pond. But no sooner had got I them situated than Romer flew out and frantically tried to get into the cage.
Now, I started to think she had attached to them after all and perhaps considered them her ducklings. So, I open the door, but she didn’t know how to get inside. A bunch of curious chickens wandered in, however, scaring the ducklings. (Why is it everything turns out more complicated than it’s supposed to be?)

I try to catch Romer, but she evades me and flies back to the barn. A moment later, she returns and wants in the cage again. Back and forth she goes, checking her nest to validate that her eggs are missing, then flying back to stare at the cage as if unable to accept that these big babies were hers. It took me about an hour, but I finally chased her into the run and shut the door. I had to go inside, stooped and slipping in the mud, to catch the chickens and get them out. What a pain.

Romer hisses at me, hating that I’m in her space. She also doesn’t seem happy to be reunited with her adopted ducklings, because she goes to the opposite side of the cage and ignores them.
Now, I don’t know what to think, but I decide to leave them together just to see what happens. They coexist.

A week later, it’s hot and the cage is full of flies. The ducklings follow Romer around like she’s their mother, but she is very aloof. I decide it isn’t fair to force motherhood on her so I open the cage door to see what she will do. She just stares at me and doesn’t move. I go to the house, thinking I’ll come back and check on the situation later. Moments after I’m home, Romer lands in the lake, swimming and playing in the water as if in celebration. She looks giddy to be finally free.

Neva says, “Mom, what if the ducklings followed her and got lost half way to the pond? We better check.”

So, we take the mule to the pen and find the ducklings are playing in a tub of water I provided, happy and secure in their home, totally uninterested in the open door. But should I now close the door or leave it open? As we wrestled with this decision, Romer shows up, walks by us and returns to the cage so she can continue ignoring her adopted ducklings. Now, I figure she’s just a very reserved mother, devoted in her own way.

I don’t know if she considers these babies really hers, but she has clearly taken responsibility for them.  I suppose when they’re old enough, she’ll lead the ducklings to the pond and they’ll all take up residence. The other ducks will wonder why Romer’s offspring is tall and graceful, considering she is short and plain, but everyone will accept things for what they are. I guess this is the ugly duckling story in reverse.

Why do I share this tale? I guess as proof that I put a god awful amount of energy and time and attention into farm experiments in the name of curiosity (and kindness) but all it does is reveals my middle aged insanity. Ha. I need to get back to work.

Meanwhile, I shall now share the sad tale of what happened to my llama on the lamb.

For two weeks, I’ve had a lost llama announcement in the paper. I’ve put up numerous posters and talked to everyone within a mile radius. Rabbit, the man who owns the feed store, is convinced someone stole Dali, and I starting thinking so too. Nothing explains a llama up and disappearing like that.  Still, it would be a hard heist to pull off, because someone would have to chase the llama all over the pasture and have a trailer in the waiting, and I’d see that going down. Even if it occurred at night, my dogs would make a racket. I just couldn’t imagine it working.

Then yesterday, my dogs dragged a big hank of animal pelt home. Neva said, “Yuck, they found something dead.”
We got out of the car to check what it was. Was it a squirrel? A rabbit? A bird? No, it was a large black animal pelt that looked remarkably like the black wool of my llama.

I called Mark to ask if he had bought an animal pelt to cover a chair or something. Perhaps he dropped it and the dogs picked it up. He said, “Of course not. Ginny, are you sure that’s not your llama?”

I put it in the garage to study. I went out there a hundred times to look. The more I looked the more certain I was that this was what was left of my beloved Dali.

When Mark got home, I had him inspect the fur. He sighed and said, “That isn’t a dog or a bear.  The fur would be different – silky and straight. This is from a big wooly animal. Poor Dali.”

I made Denver look.  She said, “Of course it’s Dali. You can tell. Throw that away Mom! What are you going to do, send it to a lab to be tested just to be sure it’s him?”

I’d like that – and while we’re at it, I want a DNA test to find out who the murderer is so I can press charges at Mother Nature’s court.

So, now I have to deal with the fact that something killed and ate my 300 pound llama. I called the man who sheers my llama to ask his opinion. He’s a llama expert.
“Could it be a bear?” I asked.

He said it might be a pack of coyotes.
I pointed out that llamas are often purchased as guard animals because they attack coyotes. They are natural enemies, but the llama is the bigger, so how can a coyote kill a llama.

He argued that if a llama is outnumbered, he can surly be killed by a pack of wild coyotes. Still, I’m betting it’s the bear.

Now, I know why my female won’t come out of hiding. I thought she was just pregnant and hot.  Now I’m convinced she knows something I don’t. I’m thinking I should buy one of those motion censor cameras and set it up down at the barn for hard core proof of what is endangering my beloved pets. Then, I’ll be better prepared to find solutions.

This was the first time I had my llamas separated from my horses. Yesterday, I put them back together, thinking there’s safety in numbers. Donkeys are powerful coyote fighters and they can kick any canine’s butt so I feel better having him near. Just in case.

Late last night, a friend of Denver’s came to deliver some hay I bought to my barn. I told the boys I’d go down and turn on the lights and wait for them with a check. Denver had a fit. “You can’t run around your property at night. If the bear will attack a huge llama, it will think nothing of attacking you too.”

“Are you kidding,  I’ll kick that bears ass if he dares show his face,” I said in my best tough gal voice. As I drove down the lane in the dark, my eyes scanning the forest,  shadowed shapes jumped out at me from the dim light of my mule headlights, I imagined if I saw a bear, I’d run it down. I truly did love my llama. Now, I have his baby llama due on July 13 (yes I’ve been counting down the 340 days of pregnancy like a kid in anticipation of Christmas) I worry that both the mother and baby are at risk so my mind is racing with concern.

I’ve decided it’s time to catch Pulani and put her in the barn where I can keep close watch. Then, I will start preparing, like Rodeo Rambo, to strike out with a vengeance at anything that dares threaten my herd. Who’d have ever believed these would be the kind of problems I’d be focused on during this semi-retirement period of my life? Not me, that’s for sure.

Mark is now working full time at Century 21 In the Mountains. He’s putting in 12 hour days to set up a new career (more on that and an introduction to his new website soon). This leaves me racked with guilt, so I’ve dived into my current writing project with tunnel vision (thus less blog time). Getting productive is easy for me under these conditions, because I don’t feel comfortable pushing the responsibility for family support on one person. I’ve talked about getting a job – perhaps getting my Georgia teacher’s certificate so I could teach English and creative writing at the high school – or even opening another dance school (don’t say it . . . Mark already pointed out how misguided that idea is.)

My talk about potential work opportunities really annoys him. He says, “You’re supposed to be home writing. That was the deal when we sold FLEX. You said you were a born dance teacher and didn’t want to ever have to do anything else for a living, and I promised you wouldn’t have to if we left dance behind – except to write and/or teach in your chosen new field. Don’t you have faith that I can support us?”

Of course I know he can. I just don’t believe he should have to. We made “the deal” expecting certain outcomes from selling FLEX , but they never materialized. That is not his fault. Life is what it is. You make compromises and do what must be done and adjust along the way. Marriage isn’t every man out for himself, but two people working together as a team to accomplish shared goals. At least, that is what it should be.

I’ve always been a primary contributor to our household. To step out of that role plummets me out of my comfort zone and now I’m wrestling with all kinds of feelings ranging from embarrassment over my selfish, indulgent existence to feelings of total inadequacy as a non-contributor to our finances. I simply can’t sit around playing with animals, making wine and writing while my husband has his nose to the grindstone, worrying about real life issues. For now, I’m pouring all my discomfort into serious writing. Perhaps that’s my instinctual way of moving in a new direction–challenging my inner potential to see what comes of it. It was far easier for me to write when I was squeezing pages into busy days filled with a wealth of stimulus and surging experiences than now that I have endless quiet hours stretched before me and my muse has long since abandoned ship.  Funny, that. Every writer’s dream is a life filled with time and opportunity to record the endless stories in their head, and here I am living that dream, but suddenly paralyzed and feeling empty of words. Luckily, I have a way of forcing myself to move when stuck.

So, here I stand, crowbar in hand, thinking it’s time to unwedge myself from the rut I hadn’t noticed I was creating. And as long as I have a crowbar at the ready, I think I’ll take a swing at a bear.  Rodeo Rambo has been unleashed. Not a moment too soon.


Neva doesn’t think anymore.

The other day, Neva came in to the kitchen and said to me, “I can’t handle this blog I created. I think I’m going to end it. How do you kill a blog? ”

I smiled. She’d only had the blog for a week and made a few entries. “You love to write and you’re very good at it. Why stop blogging?”

She rolled her eyes dramatically. “I feel so much PRESSURE. Like I have to be interesting all the time. Life isn’t that exciting. And blogging takes so much time.”

I pointed out that the best writers are those that can make mundane, common things interesting through perspective. My favorite writer currently is Michael Perry, and he writes about the most common things. It’s not like a blogger has to have a fascinating experience to write about everyday – just rambling about life is good practice. Besides which, I happened to find her blog interesting because her voice is interesting. I also pointed out that it was summer and she had plenty of time for a blog project. She only needed to write once a week or so to keep blog readers checking in.

“I can’t stand it. It’s like homework. And the worst part is, you sit down and do all that writing and you don’t know if anyone is going to bother to read it anyway. You feel stupid, like what is the point? Do you ever feel like that?”

“All the time,” I said. “Blogging is fun at first, but in the big scheme, it takes discipline. That is the hardest part of writing- it’s so easy to just stop or do something else. There is no guarantee that the effort will ever manifest into something with a tangible return, other than the self satisfaction that comes with creation. Everyone loves the idea of writing, but to actually sit down and write can be grueling. I often feel no one is reading my blog – that I’m sending messages out into the silent world like someone tossing a bottle with a note inside out into the ocean. Fat chance it will ever be picked up. But then, a good friend will leave a comment and I’m filled with a sweet sense of appreciation, because someone is out there and they care enough to check in and see how things are going in my world. One reader is enough. In fact, none is enough, because writing isn’t like oral conversation – you don’t need two people to communicate. It serves you even if you are alone, because it is a way to make sense of the world and to clarify your mind.”

I thought my argument was quite compelling and insightful. Apparently, it wasn’t inspirational enough. She killed her blog that night. She said, “Maybe I’ll start another one in the winter when there isn’t so much to do.”

You see, she is very busy on her computer playing with these webkinz all day. An eleven year old has got to get her priorities straight.

I was disappointed, because I thought her blog was delightful, but I understand the complexities and the frustrations of keeping a blog. And I understand how, in a moment of weakness, a writer can bury one. It only takes a bad mood and a swipe of the hand. Honestly, we can wipe out just about every lovely, extraordinary thing in life with a flippant decision and/or a lack of caring. Hanging in there is hard, no matter what it is you are hanging onto.  

So “ no longer exists. But there is a correct time for everything. Now is this free spirit’s time to live fully . . . . later, with years behind her and some perspective, she may wish to write about it. 



Boys, boys, boys

For years, my life was awash with girls. We worked with a thousand dance students each season, less than a handful of boys in the mix. Since my own children spent so much time at the studio, their lives entwined with dance, this skewed population was somewhat disconcerting. It made for an unbalanced life for my son and I worried that he was missing out on the typical male bonding and camaraderie men experience while growing up with peers. Most of his friends were girls and he was constantly involved in activities that are considered feminine by nature, dance competitions and performances rather than sports or camping or whatnot. His was a world of sequins rather than grit with the wrong kind of hormones raging all around him. It wasn’t a choice; it was just a result of the limitations of our lifestyle.

Now, it seems my son is hell-bent to rectify that former imbalance. He is filling his world (and mine) with males. And dirt. And noise. And a different kind of raging hormone altogether. I’ve been around kids all my life, but this is a novel experience for me, let me tell you.

Kent has dozen of friends in Georgia, good, down to earth, earnest kids who like him for who he is. He and his friends go swimming in the lake. They come home bruised and sore and laughing about foolish escapades. They go camping, tubing, play soccer, fish, argue and wrestle, make a racket playing loud, violent video games. He’s never been more at ease or happier just being a normal guy. No one here knows Kent once danced. I’m forbidden to mention it. I think that’s silly, but I respect his wishes knowing someday, with maturity, his negative connotations to dance will subside and he will understand that it’s a part of him, like all our life experiences. 

The nicest thing about seeing Kent with his new friends is knowing that the speculation that once hovered over his friendships no longer exists. In the past his friendships were always questionable –  he couldn’t help but wonder: “Do my friends really like me, or (because they are all dancers) are they sticking around because my parents run the school, and they think being nice to me might influence just what kind of dance experience they’ll have?”

Not that Kent’s friends in Sarasota weren’t adorable kids – only that peculiar things occurred. For example, they would all take up a collection and present him with a $200 electronic device as a birthday present (even when we didn’t throw a party to establish a reason to give a gift) but we were never asked to pitch in for a collection for one of the other kids – they were not all honored with expensive toys on their birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, the gift was generous and thoughtful – but we worried about the message that went along with it. Our kids were not celebrities or born into privilege but their lives were slightly out of balance as if they were. It is hard to raise children to have wholesome values, a normal perception of what life is all about, and humility when people are so quick to offer you special treatment.

Perhaps it was payback for how often they were ignored due to the pressing nature of our work. Perhaps people felt sorry for a boy stuck in a girl’s world and they wanted to be extra nice to compensate. There is only so much inclusion for a boy who is a constant member of a girl’s dance click, and you can’t blame the girls for trying to keep him involved. Anyway, I longed for a simple life where my kids learned true life lessons in a natural manner.  I wanted them to have easygoing friendships based on mutual interests and because the kid’s personality’s click. And I wanted my son to grow up to be comfortable in his own male skin. This was obviously going to be a challenge while Kent’s entire social world was wrapped up in FLEX. 

Now, Kent has this large, eclectic group of friends, and none of them are a result of his involvement in dance. He hangs out with boys primarily, but girls are always calling too. He acts annoyed that so many females like him but I think he’s delighted. For the record, he isn’t interested in any of them because he says none of the girls in Georgia can hold a candle to his former FLEX flames. Perhaps we got out just in time for other reasons – I’d hate to imagine my teen son running amuck with the hearts of our dear dancers. Talk about a sticky wicket.

Anyway, now Kent is the sort of fellow that doesn’t fit into one specific click, so he dwells on the fringe of many- a friend to all. He is very popular – I believe it is because he is so decent and laid back and truly non-judgmental of others. It doesn’t hurt that he is a straight a student, has a nice car (which he upkeeps himself with a steady job), is suddenly tall and lanky and getting muscular with adorable dimples and he’s become a talented drummer with his own rock band. Above all else, his friends love him because he’s funny. He has a bizarre sense of humor and it’s getting more defined each year. He is quick to see the humor in a situation, make light of things that might set another person off, and is a constant source of entertainment with physical humor. When he was younger – I thought he acted weird to get attention – and perhaps he did. Now, he is very much his own man and I must admit, he has a powerful wit, a quirky side and I enjoy his company more than I can describe. He is simply a “feel good’ sort of person to be around. He makes me laugh.

I now have a collection of teenage boys hanging around – boys from Kent’s school band, boys from Kent’s rock band, boys from Kent’s job, and boys who don’t fit into any category other than the fact that Kent met them at school and they’ve become fast friends.

The other day, I had six strapping male teenagers sleeping downstairs. I crept down in the morning to wake Neva and they were sprawled out on the couches, beds, and floor. Males certainly take up more space than females and they are far less fussy. They sleep where they land, chests exposed while wearing day old jeans.

Kent says, “You don’t have to feed us – we’ll scrounge and get by.” Yea, like I’m gonna let 6 young men run havoc in my food pantry. I made them a big vat of ziti, a batch of tollhouse cookies, a gallon of popcorn and I cut up a watermelon. This held them off for an hour or so. Of course, they were working up an appetite. They had dragged out my two kayaks and spent the afternoon racing across the lake, diving off the dock, seeing who could stand the cold water the longest and then they decided to erect a rope swing. I told them there wasn’t a tree limb hanging at an angle to support a swing and to give it up, but boys can’t resist conquering the impossible. They knocked over two trees, cut down another that seemed to be in the way (I made them drag the branches off into the woods so they didn’t leave a mess for us to deal with later) and when they finally threw a rope over a tree, it got stuck AND the tree bent over like a wilted flower. Eventually, they were so sunburned and cold they did give up and elected to get into the hot tub – then they ventured inside to scream and yell over the video game they were playing – a rock band game. More food was required. Girls were discussed.

They left the next day for various responsibilities– some went to work – others went to see the high school graduation. Band members had to play at the ceremony. At dusk, they convened again. Apparently, they had not finished their web game or finished talking about girls and cars and music and whatever. More food was needed – we were getting down to grilled cheese sandwiches now. As I explained to my son, I need more than a ten minute warning if he wants me to entertain his friends in the banquet style to which my family is accustomed.

“We are fine,” Kent insisted, reaching for the last box of hot pockets from the freezer. “You don’t need to take care of us.” He says this with a smile, of course, because he knows it’s impossible for his mother to resist any opportunity to feed people. 
Yesterday, the boys decided on a moments notice to go camping (outdoor recreation is a popular, common pastime here in the mountains.) I zipped together a cooler filled with drinks and candy and a bag of salty snacks – throwing in marshmallows of course, (I believe in being prepared for all eating emergencies and my pantry is kept like an independent grocery store – people kid me about it.) I received a big hug from Dylan. He said, “You’re like . . . perfect.”
Yes, these boys are easy to impress. They can be bought with marshmallows. Love that.

They happen to be useful too. I never cease to find a chore for them to do. This weekend they moved a huge tabletop from one room to another for me. Been wanting to get that heavy glass top moved for ages but Mark couldn’t do it alone. It took several muscled sets of hands – but no problem-o when Kent’s friends are around.

I am far more comfortable with my son under roof than off who-knows-where – and I like having the chance to really get to know the young people he’s spending time with. I adore boys – they are fun to watch, fun to listen to, and ultimately they can’t help but be flattering. I’m told I’m their favorite mom – I can “smoke Dylan’s mom in the kitchen” (This is apparently quite a feat because his mom does cook, meaning this is a compliment and not commentary on how well-done I make my hamburgers).  I’m told I’m interesting, as moms go, not because I am intelligent or talented or have a colorful gamut of interests, mind you, but explicably because I make wine. That is a cool Mom hobby to a teenager from the Bible belt, ya know.  One boy (I call him Muppet because he looks like one) is impressed because he never met anyone with a library in their house. He is referring to my office which is a far cry from a library, but does contain a few walls of books. Ha. No one will ever accuse these boys of being intellectual – at least not for a few years.

I worried that when we left FLEX I’d grow old quickly – like leaving a time capsule and having all that preserved time you held off by living in that controlled environment suddenly hitting you at once- aging you double time. Kids keep you young, and I couldn’t imagine my life without teenagers challenging me to keep up with what was “in” and “cool”. Not that I’m cool, ‘cause lord knows, I’m not. The kids at FLEX always had a heyday pointing out how clueless I was about what was “in”. I’m the last to recognize new music, understand high tech gadgets or to follow pop culture fads. But I was considered cool for my own unique reasons – primarily because I could move in a unique way. So, even if I’m not “cool” in a conventional pop culture way, I’m not boring either and I gel with young minds easily. I think it’s because I’ve retained that veracious lust for life that is common to the young- I’m still interested in adventures, so I’m not stodgy. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and it just feels that way. Does any stodgy person really see themselves as such? I’m probably a delusional, certifiable old fart.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to keep up my teen-relationship skills with my own kid’s friends. It’s a comfortable place for me to be, drowning in kids, answering questions, philosophizing, laughing with them. And it can be done without dance. Who knew?
Lucky me, I have another child coming up to the teen ranks soon, so my practice field won’t fade anytime soon. I’ll even get to circle back to the world of girls soon. Of course, these girls don’t dance and teen girls don’t eat so much, so I won’t have my current secret weapon to win their hearts.
But all girls love horses…. (Grin)
I’m in like Flynn.

And so it begins . . .

Yesterday, we broke ground to finally start building our new business. It has taken a great deal of time to get things in order, permits and finances etc…

This is not the first time we’ve broken ground to begin a new enterprise.  Last time, we were building the grand Lakewood Ranch dance studio. We posed for the local news with our employees and the area business association was so delighted they hosted a fancy buffet in our honor. Pictures were in the paper. It was big news.

This time, we didn’t even plan to attend the ground breaking on the morning our builder started the preliminary work to lay the foundation for the future Bean Tree. My parents had had just left town after a short visit and last week was our school’s spring break and we’d gone to Nashville for a few days with the kids, thus setting us back on work related chores. We had a day chalk full of errands to run. But ten minutes after work was supposed to have  begun, we got a call from our builder that “The neighbors are caterwauling’. Better get down here.”

Mark sighed and said, “And so it begins.”

We drive down. The bull dozer is parked center stage. In front of our little lot was the mayor, the police chief, a representative from the business association, and a few interested spectators (because an argument between neighbors is about as interesting as a fire in these here parts.)

Apparently, the fellow who rents the little building next door for a barbeque joint had taken exception to our moving the bushes and two trees that separated our neighboring  lots. He claimed he was renting the bushes (which lie on the property line) as well as the building, so we better not dare touch them. The trees and bushes are mostly on our property (as well as a corner of his building, but we let that go) and we had secured permission to remove them months ago, so we were taken off guard by his reaction. Unfortunately for him, there was no question that we had to remove these obstructions – our lot is small and the only way to fit our building on it is to build to the property line, which requires some room to work on the outskirts too. We made sure to get a variance from the mayor and an agreement with the adjacent property owner before agreeing to purchase the land. Nevertheless, we do want to have good report with our neighbors so we chose to be sensitive to his distress. We explained that the owner of the property he is renting gave us permission to remove the bushes and trees before we even bought the lot and we showed him our permit and the variance.

Barbeque man said that he didn’t care if Hitler bought the lot, he wouldn’t stand for anyone touching a leaf of a plant near his business. (I couldn’t help but note the negative connotations of his chosen metaphor. Sigh.) 

At the sheriff’s suggestion, we called the county appraiser and when he heard the mayor was involved, he came down himself (very impressive, because he is a very busy man who usually sends assistants for these kinds of things). Turns out our property was two inches wider than supposed, which made our case even stronger.

The barbeque man was going ballistic, saying that if we build a business next to his, it’ll ruin him. He doesn’t like the kind of coffee that costs 1.50 a cup, or people who drink it. The mayor pointed out how good it will be for the town to have an upscale business like the one we’re designing. He and many others have been waiting for someone to take the risk and be the first to invest in the area, because then they believe others will follow suit. The town is full of tourists, thanks to the train, but no one is taking the initiative to service them with better quality stores– which is turning out to be a detriment to the future of the town. But barbeque man said he liked the town the way it is and he thinks we should just forget our project and leave the lot empty. Yeah, sure buddy.

We spent three hours trying to appease the man. Mark offered to replant some landscaping on his lot (just to be nice, not because he has to). But the barbeque man remained steamed. The police chief took me aside and said, “These old country boys hate change. He’s just squaller’in because he’s bored. He hated the people on the other side when they moved in too, but two months later, they’re getting along fine. Forget the old fart and do what you have to do.”

In the end, Mark said, “What can I do to make this a better situation, because we’ve invested in this lot and now we must build here to the specifications of the permit, and that means the bushes must be removed. But I’m willing to work with you.”

“There ain’t nothing you can do to make me happy but to go away,” the barbeque man says.

Mark says, “Well, in that case, we are finished here. If you don’t like what we’re doing, we can go to court to settle the dispute – and let me tell you, after what I’ve been through the past few years over my former business; this won’t be a drop in the bucket.” And he motioned for the man in the back hoe to begin and sure enough, bush number one ripped from the earth like picking a flower.

I guess the moment Mark stopped trying to apologize and being nice, the man decided to let it go. He didn’t really want a fight, just wanted to make some noise. He said “Nevermind.” Then goes to sit on his porch to watch the work in progress. 

The street was now filled with interested spectators as if watching bulldozer move dirt was the best entertainment in town – and on some days around here, I suppose it is. In ten minutes the bushes are removed and frankly, this increases the visibility of the man’s barbeque place, which is so tucked in the back away from the street that even after 9 months of living here I still had to have Mark point it out.

Mark was kind enough to write a document promising to do some landscaping and to leave the neighbor’s property visually appealing, just to reinforce his good intentions.

Everyone thought he was being more than fair, so they wandered off content. A few hours later, Mark asked it he could borrow Barbeque man’s broom to clean it some dirt on the sidewalk. The man refused, so Mark walked across the street to the grocery store to purchase one so he could sweep the neighbors walkway. (I suppose I should write “dentistry fees” into our business plan because it looks like Mark will be grinding his teeth a great deal in the coming months . . . and so it begins . . .)

When Mark got into the car, I praised him for handling things so diplomatically and with such steady calm.  He looked tired.  Sometimes I wonder if the emotional scars left by FLEX will ever heal. Life goes on, but man, do we all carry baggage around from it.
I said, “Everything worked out easily enough, if you think about it.”
He said, “I just feel raw inside when things like this happen. It kills me. I wonder if this going to be like owning FLEX where everyone always seems to hate you because you run the place. You can’t win, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing.”

I pointed out that back then, people hit below the belt, attacking us in ways that were very, very personal. You couldn’t help but be hurt when you’d knock yourself out to create a great dance experience and people got mad over things you never suspected would be a problem and they attacked your character for it. Like them blowing up because their child was not given a role they wanted and accusing you of favoritism, or going ballistic because we had to reprimand students for behavior problems that disrupted the learning process. They’d say things like “You’re unfit to be around children!” which always stung. They’d say, “I know you are punishing my kid by having her stand on the back line because we asked for more rhinestones on our costumes last week. You just love humilitaing kids. You get a kick out of it. ” Or some other nonsense.  The allegations were always so off the mark it would be funny if it wasn’t so disheartening.

Add to that all those constant digs which revealed everyone’s resentment towards us for being successful, as if we were “taking advantage” of children rather than being modestly rewarded for hard work and talent. There was this attitude that we should devote ourselves to dance out of a love for the art and a commitment to children – that we were not deserving of a good enough livelihood to raise our own children well or to secure our future retirement. The constant snide comments about our personal finances and disgruntled fury about any progress the business made wore our soul flat over time – especially since we made less than almost everyone attending our school  – whatever we had was invested back into the studio to make it a nicer place for all. Eventually, we just decided it isn’t worth it anymore. Living a life now without all that madness I realize we probably lasted longer than most people could have under those conditions.

This is different, I assured him. Now, we are fighting about bushes. There is no reason to take that personally. No one is going to scream that we are unfit to be around a cup of coffee – and few people will think we should work 60 hours a week and not get paid decently because we’re supposed to do it out of a love for the brew. And if they do, hell, we’ll sell this business too.

Mark sighed and said, “I suppose you’re right. Still, I wish I could just go about doing my thing to the best of my ability and not have to deal with insane people causing a stink because they don’t understand what it takes to keep a business stable and secure.”
Ha. Would be nice.
But we know that every business in America comes with its share of yucky crap. It is just a matter of making sure the crap you have to handle is crap you can stand to live with.
So, when you look at it that way, fighting about bushes is really no biggie.

The good news is, the construction has begun and we are on our way back into the world of small business ownership – for good or for bad.   
We are inviting a slew of headaches into our lives again – a constant need to be creative and diligent – to work as hard as it takes to do a job well. We do not want to be slaves to our work this time around, but we do know our personalities well enough to expect we’ll soon be feeling fairly passionate about our product, service and employees. And we have so many ideas to incorporate in the other areas of the store, like art gallery creations and event planning and a literary center and/or newsletter. Like it or not, that means a great deal of work ahead. Ah well – it makes you feel alive to be building something you believe in and can be proud of.

About two weeks ago, we went to Atlanta to this huge Dessert Expo for people in bakery related businesses. We enrolled Kent and Denver in a professional barista training program and they learned all about latte art, the origin of coffee etc… We thought this would be helpful in case they end up working for us (and they both hope to), but even if they don’t, barista skills will help them get a job in any major city – it’s a great college job. If nothing else, it helps our mature offspring understand what we are doing now and allows them to be a part of it which is important to our family. They loved learning about coffee from a serious angle. Kent came out, put his arm around me and said, “Let’s get this Bean Tree built already. I’m ready to be a barista champion and I need a place to start inventing great, original drinks! This is cool. I love it!”  He’d never had a cup of coffee before the class. Now he is ordering cappuccino’s everywhere to judge the quality of the barista and learning about coffee roasters. Ha.

While our kids took eight hours of coffee class, Mark and I spoke to vendors. I was fascinated with all the bakery products, pre-made pastry shells and fancy containers for displays and serving. I especially like the logo imprinted chocolate disks you can order to stick in a fancy pastry to make it a signature dessert.  Mark was researching point of sale equipment and security systems. When we all got together for lunch, we took the kids for a stroll through the vendors to sample the weird and fun things we had discovered, like glittered chocolates that taste great but look like balls of sequins (man, where were they when we had a dance school!)– or the hot, spicy chocolates that leave your mouth on fire, or rum cakes that pack a punch, and all kinds of other unusual products. We sampled a dozen flavors of gelato and argued if getting a machine to make it from scratch was worth the expense. It’s one of those “on hold” ideas.

Through it all, we marveled at the subculture of coffee and how crazy and obsessive people can be when they are “into” a vocation.  Every interest seems to have a glut of specialized products that you never knew existed before you get seriously involved. I’ve been shocked to discover dance isn’t so unique a business after all – it’s just one more subculture in a world of special interests, and they all require intense involvement and creativity if you wish to excel in the profession. If anything, I’ve learned that every business is specialized and requires serious research to understand it’s uniqueness.

After we couldn’t stand to sample one more sweet nugget, we ate lunch. Needed some “real” food – in this case, a hot dog. (grin)

Denver said, “We’ve been to hundreds of conventions before, but never anything like this. No one is demanding your attention or complaining or crying and there aren’t kids running around everywhere, disrupting conversations or needing to be told to settle down or parents coming at you with fire in their eyes. Everything is mellow and so novel and . . . well, it’s fascinating.  I love being here as a family, discovering new things and getting excited about your new enterprise   – thanks for inviting us.”

I felt both good and bad about her comment. Good because I like how this new business can be pursued in a way that is non-intrusive of our personal lives – it’s nice to be in a profession that doesn’t hinge on ego stroking or trying to meet wild expectations that inevitably lead to disappointment for those involved. But bad because it reminded me of how difficult our former life was for our children.  For all that dance is exciting and fun for customers; it meant constant sacrifice for our family. Even though our kids had fun when they were in the role of “customer” as dance participants – it still meant they were orphans at every dance event – which meant an underlying level of disappointment for them regardless of how other parents tried to step in to assure they made it on stage prepared. Everyone else had their own parents at their side – but they had us too, because we were always FLEX directors and choreographers first and Denver, Kent and Neva’s parents second. My kids never had anyone. No way around it because staying on top of the endless needs of others required 110% of our attention.

The point is, our choice to make a life change was very good for them, and I’m reminded of that all the time by things they say and do.

Anyway, it seems the past few years of prep for “something else” are all coming together now and we are going to thread all our newly acquired skills with the old to create a new life quilt.  The hub of our work related interests, the Bean Tree, has finally begun taking root, which was all we needed to put this discombobulated life puzzle together.

In addition to my literary pursuits and our studying the business of coffee and art, and Mark taking woodworking classes and all that, a few other coals have been simmering on the fire that I might as well mention since they are interrelated to our work world.

This week Mark got his real estate license and he has signed with the biggest broker in town. They said, “You don’t have to bother with putting in many hours at the office, because that coffee shop stuck in the heart of touristville of yours is going to be a gold mine. Put a few pamphlets out, make it your home base and you’re good to go.” He has always wanted to be involved in real estate, and he has such an eye for the potential of land and buildings, I’m thrilled he finally followed through and got a license. He will take that ball and run with it – who knows where.  Already he has his mother’s house (and ours) to sell – and our builder plans to use him for future listings too. And tapping into the local real estate world means we can market the Bean Tree as a place for business meetings in this subculture too- so that is good in it’s own way as well.

Mark has also received several orders for custom made cabinets for a builder and he’s busy with that too. It is obvious he will be inundated with wood work projects for as much time as he wants to devote to it. He is busy making all the tables for the Bean Tree from scratch and they are striking, (as all his artwork is) He’s designed a building for the Bean Tree that will be an impressive example of his artistic building design, so we expect the Bean Tree will be the best advertisement imaginable for his other new company, as a build/design team for luxury log cabin homes. So, as you can see, we are already tossing multiple balls in the air for our new juggling act. (We sold FLEX to simplify our life? Ha. What happened? Oh I know, we brought ourselves with us.)

I really need to clone my husband a few times so he can do all he wants to do. And that might even mean I could see him for some personal time too. But that is just a fantasy at this conjuncture in our life. Sigh.

The moral of the story is – Life goes on. What are you waiting for? Stop this attitude that you have to “get a life” because the fact is, you are currently living the only life you have – whether it be good, bad, filled with joy, or boring as sin. Your world is the one you created by every decision along the way. But there are still decisions to make and therefore, endless possibilities.
Live fully.

Happy birthday to me

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?
The same as the years it takes to train a husband to buy a good gift for his wife.

While I never believed I’d get to the center of this dilemma (because I get impatient and take a bite out of the candy first) I can finally say that it takes 20 years of marriage to train a man to buy the perfect gift. And that is only because I happened to marry a man who was easy to train. To the rest of you ladies, I say, good luck.

Today is my birthday. My husband bought me a mule. Not the kind that eats and poops. The kind you drive around a farm to get a job done. I’ve been begging for one for two years.

He traded in our two four wheelers to purchase it – something we discussed and felt was a good idea because we are convinced someone will eventually get killed on those ATV’s. Our kids are pretty responsible, but every time we have guests visiting, the friends go wild and end up crashing or rolling the vehicle. It has been an endless investment in repairs – not to mention the panic attached each time I hear the four wheelers roar down the driveway. My brother’s son had a close call last time he was here, and that was “it” for me. The problem is, I use the four wheelers every single day. I toot around to pick blackberries all June, then cuss because balancing the bowl on the front grate is precarious at best. I zip down to the barn tying a bag of my kitchen scraps to the handlebars, but this gets messy and I end up with jeans damp from leaking spaghetti. I try to balance hay bales or a bee super on the back, but it rarely works on our hills and I roll along slowly, frustrated because some things are simply too heavy for me to carry a long distance but my car gets destroyed lugging stuff around through our fields. Worst of all, there is NO place for a cup of coffee on a four wheeler. That sucks. But I make do. Mark bought me a little cart to put on the back for hauling manure and that has been a help, but still – it was clanky and made backing up hard and well… it was no mule.

Neva loves sitting behind me on the four wheeler and together we roar around our 50 acres on summer mornings (her still in her jammies) just to check on the animals or the garden or to snag some blueberries for our cereal. And of course, I’m a safe and wimpy driver, so there is no danger here. I do love the feeling of her little arms wrapped around my waist and the way she buries her face in my back when the air has a chill.  So the idea of getting rid of the four wheelers just because others misused them was frustrating. But we hated to play the heavy and say “no” to the kids using them for pleasure rides- seeing two fun four wheelers sitting in the driveway with a “disallowed” reputation was torture to Kent and his friends. Made us feel like stick in the muds when we said “no”, but irresponsible when we said “yes”. And as I said, I use them every single day weather permitting, so we so recognize how useful they are in a lifestyle like ours.

So, for a long time now, I’ve talked about a mule. A mule is a four wheeler that is built like a golf cart, tank style. It has the power of a four wheeler, but instead of straddling it like a motorcycle it has two seats for comfortable riding (good for Mark’s arthritis or when my aging parents visit and I want to sport them around to see what we’ve been up to on the land). It has two cup holders, so I can zip around with a cup of coffee. Most importantly, it has a small loading bin in the back for holding whatever it is I want to cart around – 80 pound bee hives filled with heavy honey, a bale of hay, bowls of berries, plants – you name it. I can drive out to the pasture and fill that puppy with manure for fun (no cracks) or fill it with chicken droppings to pour over the garden too. I can use it to haul pumpkins home from a garden if I am lucky enough to grow pumpkins this year. It even has a nifty lift to help you empty whatever you load, like an itty bitty dump truck. Whenever I’m browsing horse magazines, I see ads with pretty, well-dressed, non-sweaty women driving perfectly clean mules with a leisurely smile and I think – that could be me! Of course, I’d have mud all over my t-shirt and a spilled cup of coffee on the floor of my mule, but I can dream, can’t I? 

(Neva took these pictures. I am not going downhill… at least not literally…ahem)
People around here often purchase mules for hunting. These vehicles can go anywhere in the woods and the truck bed is apparently good for hauling out a slain deer. For me, it is simply a perfect work vehicle, and I’m not just being over-indulgent. I really spend a lot of time outside doing nasty work and could use something to help me get these jobs done. Now, I have it. Happy Birthday to Me!

This is the second perfect gift my husband has given me lately. On Valentine ’s Day, after ten years of asking, he bought me a one-man (one woman) kayak that only weighs 35 pounds. I can lift that puppy myself! Every summer when tourist season begins here, cars go by always with TWO of these easy to handle kayaks on the roof, and I grumble jealously and pine for a boat of my own. We have a monster of a two-man kayak, but it is very heavy and I can’t handle it alonel – if you can’t budge a thing, you are unlikely to take it out for a quick paddle.

It is not that these light weight kayaks are very expensive as recreational toys go, but there was always something else to buy and Mark didn’t think I’d really use it considering our lives have always been so busy.  But I really wanted one and so I asked for it every year. When he gave me the  boat at Valentines Day – a brilliant red one like a heart – I was shocked. I kind of gave up the idea of ever owning one, and if I did, I expected I’d be buying it myself and having to make up excuses and justifications for my actions.

He said, “I know you want two (no one wants to kayak alone), but let’s start with one. There are other holidays to come and you can get another one eventually if you really use this one.” It was a true sign of love to me.

Now, I don’t want to give anyone the impression Mark has ever bought me thoughtless gifts. He has never been an idiot giving his wife a vacuum cleaner or a toaster for Christmas. He would buy me beautiful pieces of jewelry or some other feminine, lovely thing that was lasting and meaningful – I think he was proud to finally (after years of our being scraping by) in a position to buy me something real that you don’t need to look at with a microscope. I happen to be a woman who dresses nice, and I have a certain style that would suggest I’m meant to own jewelry. The problem is, these are gifts traditional women would love, so he assumed they were a proper and thoughtful things for a man to give a woman, but I’m not a traditional woman and jewlery never impressed me much– so while I treasured these things because my husband gave them to me, and I wear them all the time, I have to admit they didn’t twist my pickle or have me ecstatic when I unwrapped them. I do appreciate them, but they just weren’t “me.” He bought me an oil painting once. That was a very romantic and dear gift and I treasure it still. More “me”. But for some reason – that kayak meant so much more than any pricy, classy gift I’ve ever been given before. It felt as if he was saying, “After 20 years, I finally know you. I understand you are complex and somewhat weird, but that’s OK. You look like one kind of woman, but inside, you are another, and I’m willing to accept and support that .”

You see, giving someone a kayak as a gift isn’t just giving them a boat. Because it is a gift that implies more – that boat has to be used, and Mark (who does not happen to be sporty in that way) knows I’ll want to drag him out on the river. So this is a gift of tolerance as well.

Anyway – I couldn’t be happier with a Porsche than I am with this damn mule. I wouldn’t be more thrilled with a ten day cruise on a fancy yacht than I was with my bright red, liftable kayak.

Today is my birthday. My husband left at 5 am to take a cram course in real estate because he recently finished his 9 week course and he takes his state exam this week. I encouraged him to go. It is just a day, after all. He missed my birthday last year too – he was in Florida handling the FLEX mess.  I figure I’ll save next year for something really special.

It’s raining out, so I think I’ll take the kids to Atlanta to the museum of natural history (my idea of great fun- not theirs necessarily,  but hey, it’s MY day.) We will all meet up with Mark later for dinner and perhaps a movie.

I am 49 today. Nothing very remarkable about it. 50 will be something to celebrate but 49 is just another birthday. I don’t feel old and adding another year to my life roster doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve accomplished enough to keep from getting depressed. One good thing is getting older makes me less of a liar. I always round up, so I’ve been telling people I’m 50 for about two years now. Mark says he doesn’t want me to turn 50 because I’ll then start telling people I’m 60. He’s exaggerating of course. I’ll tell them I’m 55. (I round up in 5 year  increments.) Just seems easier to toss out a nice round number.

Time to start the day. I’m going to go wild and eat pancakes till I bust! Yipee!

mud and water

For those of you who think I exaggerate, I thought I’d share a proof of my mud….. This is the trek I walk to open the pasture gate twice a day.

And imagine what your dogs look like at the end of the day after romping in this…. not to mention my kids…

a panaramic view of the barn from the street (backside). We are clearing trees and burning brush, which opens the view. More mess of course…. but I can ride through the woods now come spring… The mud inside the gate where the animals hang out is even worse! I won’t take a picture of it because currently, there is a dead chicken out there. Long story.

I was waiting to reveal the lake until spring, but why wait. You might appreciate it more with a before and after shot……
This hillside has been sprayed with wildflowers so we will have a billizion flowers everywhere come spring. Special surprise for the bees. We also planted 100 dafodiles along the banks of the lake, which will multiply each year until we turn our Kansas into OZ. Cute deck, nice place to nurse a glass of wine and feed the ducks. I’d read there if I only had a chair . . .(she bursts into song to the tune of “if I only had a brain”) I have a chair request on Mark’s never ending wife’s wish list. I’ll drag one here from around our fire pit one of these days when he isn’t looking – he doesn’t like the bright red color of the adarondik chairs that worked so well in our Florida garden, but I’m thinking of visuals from my perspective looking over the water, not of people looking at the dock. (And that is the difference between us.) And besides which, I think the chairs are pretty. What do I know….

The water is controlled by a valve hidden under the dock so we can drain the lake if we ever need to. It constantly overflows in a system into the creek which begins at the base of this muddy hill. Best of both worlds if you like a water view. No fish yet, because we finished the lake the very month you must stock fish (fall) but you can’t put fish in a pond that hasn’t had time to develop algee and other food sources. So, if we are here next season, we’ll get fish. Sure would be nice for my ducks to have something real to dive for.  

The lake begins at the far tip in the trees, because that’s where the creak spills into this pond. My ducks like to stay nestled in that far cove most of the time, but they have taken to hanging out (and pooping) on the deck. Lovely. More evidence of brush burning on the bank…. not very pretty, but you can’t imagine the mess clearing a thousand trees makes….. This, like everything in our world, is a work in progress. Sigh. In the far distance that skinny white thing is my two seater kayak, which shows that this is a sizeable lake for a private backyard sort. It’s soothing (at least to me) to live sandwiched between water and trees.

In the distance, you can see my four ducks swimming towards me. I already fed them leftover angle food cake moments before, but they must be looking for something else.  Good thing for them I have a few corn muffins in my pockets . . . not like I was going to feed them my camera.
By the way, it’s a gloomy day and all this is going to look far prettier when the grass and flowers and trees bloom . . . might even have a few baby ducklings by May….
I’m cranky today because something ate one of my leghorn chickens. Some monsterous creature has been catching one every two weeks or so and eats only the head, leaving feathers and yuck behind. I found the hole it lives in…. I’m calculating a master plan to rid the beast (catch and release, of course, I can’t kill anything, but I sure get inspired to pour gasoline down that hole when I see one of my beloved chickens turned inside out.) This is war!