Building Community

Many decades ago, people lived in a society that was considerably less mobile than the one we currently enjoy. We delight in being able to load the kids in the car and head for the beach on Saturday and then up to the mountains on Sunday. This mobility allows us to make friends, attend church or go to school on the other side of town or even in another city because it is easy to jump in the car and travel to where we want to go. But is there a cost to this disconnect from our immediate locale?

When a person has gas and can move around, he is not really forced to get along with his neighbors or engage in his community. In the “olden days,” people helped each other with barn raising and quilting bees. And what really brought the community together was a Saturday night community social dance. The local fiddlers would rosin up their bows, and as the lively music played, neighbors of all ages would work together to create something that was intricate, graceful and beautiful. A social dance where the participants are weaving in and out with their partners and other couples brings people together and unites them. You really have to learn to honor and cooperate with the other dancers for the movements to be a success.

Today, there are not many places where the whole family can come together, including the kids and grandma and grandpa, and share and interact in a multi-generational experience with not only their family, but their friends and neighbors as well. People have a deep need to be connected to others, and it is harder today than ever. Even if a family is all sitting in the same room, often dad is working on his ipad, mom is looking up information on the computer, Jr. is playing Xbox and the teenage daughter is seeing what is happening on Facebook.

I have been hosting dances for my friends and family for many years. In 2013, I want to take that vision of bringing people together, building community and teaching traditional values and etiquette to the greater public. Therefore, I am offering classes through the Atascadero Recreation Department this year on Tuesday nights at the Lake Pavilion at 6pm. Later in the year, I will be hosting a Grand Community Ball with the Colony Days Committee for Atascadedro's 100th Birthday. You can find more information about the dance class at I hope you will invite your family, friends and neighbors and join us!

Dancing in the Rain

Earlier this year on a drizzly afternoon, I was wandering about an antique store in Morro Bay and came across a plaque that said, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to end. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I’ve adopted this phrase as my motto this year. In 2011, the rain poured down on my family (and our nation), and I found myself not smiling as much, waiting for the rain to end.

In 2012, I find that, although the storm has lessened in some ways, it continues to rain, or at least drizzle, and probably will for some time to come. But I am learning to smile and dance anyway as I learn to be content in all situations.

I found another great quote recently, and it has been attributed to several authors including Mark Twain.

"You've gotta' dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.

Next time it rains, look for me. I’ll be dancing.

Eagle Scout

My son, who is an Eagle Scout, joined Boy Scouts when he was thirteen years old. Through the years that followed, he took leadership classes, went on campouts and even learned to scuba dive. Most of his dear friends and their younger brothers were also involved, and, slowly but surely, we watched almost all the boys attain the rank of Eagle Scout. Our dear friend Douglas is the newest in our group to achieve this prestigious rank. His parents threw him a party after the Eagle Scout ceremony complete with a delicious BBQ and a dance. Douglas is a veteran of our Civil War Balls and usually attends looking quite handsome in his tuxedo. But there was just something extra special about seeing him dance the Virginia Reel in his Boy Scout Uniform – with his very proud mother.

Love and Grace

Many years ago, my daughters wanted to try Civil War Reenacting. My eldest daughter found a Civil War pattern and made a dress. I didn’t have the time, so for my younger daughter and myself – knowing very little about Civil War Era costuming- I purchased completely incorrect dresses at the thrift store.

We stayed in a hotel and attended the reenactment at Fort Tejon on a Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, we brought our canvas and aluminum camping chairs to the early morning church service. As I looked around, I realized that everyone was sitting on wooden chairs and dressed very differently than I was. But still, the re-enactors were encouraging, friendly and helpful, and they did not expect me to be perfect. Because I was not discouraged or judged, I continued to observe and to make more effort to be period correct at later events. It took some time (and money) but now our family portrays a fairly correct time period when we reenact.

I received several emails a few months ago about the costuming at the Civil War Balls. One gentleman was upset that, although the ladies were spending a lot of time and money buying, renting or making gowns, the gentlemen at the Ball were not making as much effort to be period authentic in their outfits. Another person commented on the fact that a lady at one of the Balls last year was not as modestly dressed as our standards indicated she should be, and she wondered if I had confronted that particular lady about it.

My hope for all of these events is that everyone has a fulfilling and uplifting time. For the gentlemen in particular, it helps if the ladies are modestly dressed. But when it comes to the dress codes, I only teach and encourage modesty, but I do not have a costume police. I find that when a person comes for the first time, they might not quite understand why we have dress standards, but as we offer people love and grace, they come again with a better understanding of the expectations.

The only thing I’ve ever been able to do at the Balls is offer an event where good times are possible, maybe even probable, but certainly not guaranteed. In a gathering of imperfect people, we have to accept imperfections sometimes. I am thankful when people offer me love and grace as I stumble through life, and I want to do the same for them. I will continue to encourage people to attend the Balls, whether they are perfectly dressed or not, focusing on the happiness in the dancers’ faces rather than the clothes they are wearing. Some people will make a larger effort in dress than others, but the costuming is not the biggest part of these events to me. Building a loving and grace-full community is really what it is all about.

Big "Little" Events

I’ve organized and orchestrated a lot of big events in my life including Grand Civil War Balls for two to three hundred people, some complete with white linen table clothes and silver punch bowls. But some of my smaller events have been every bit as meaningful and memorable. For my youngest daughter’s 16th birthday, I started out with the question, “What is your vision for your party?” She wanted an elegant al fresco dinner party with a group of her dearest friends. And then came the detail questions. “How does one become elegant?” Clearly, facial masks and cucumber slices would be needed. And as a party favor, each girl received a pair of jeweled bobby pins to place in her hair. And, of course, food is very important. “How many courses should we prepare?”
The party went off perfectly. We had special guests (my daughter’s older siblings) who played the parts of the server and maitre d’. All the food was lovingly homemade by my daughter’s busy parents in the kitchen. We all wanted to give my daughter the gift of an amazing memory that she will keep all of her life. There were only eight guests at the party, but it was a Big Event!

Family Reunion

In our society, it is not unusual for family members to be far-flung across the country or even across the globe. My parents and siblings reside in Tennessee, Missouri, Colorado and California. This makes it difficult and expensive for all of us to get together. We all gathered for a reunion for my birthday this summer, and the sacrifice of money and time indicated just how important it is to reunite with family.

Since the reunion was at my house, I got to plan the event. And I love to plan events! We started off the first day by heading to the local pottery painting shop where everyone made themselves a reunion keepsake to take home. Then it was off to a concert to see my daughters perform in San Luis Obispo. Wine tasting in Paso Robles, beach walking in Cambria and a creek side picnic were experienced and enjoyed during the week. But my favorite part was the day of our pool party and BBQ. I had written down everyone’s names on a chart and bought prizes so that we could have Ladder Ball and Ping Pong tournaments. Dads competed against sons, aunts teamed with nieces, and those who were waiting their turn clapped and cheered. As I watched the smiles, I knew – making memories is priceless.

Playing School

When I was a small girl, I looked forward to the end of the school year with excited anticipation. I knew that the teachers would be going through their files and throwing away old math and spelling worksheets, and they would let me go through the piles and take home whatever I wanted. During the first week of summer vacation, I set up a “schoolroom” in our house where I gathered my siblings and neighborhood children to “Play School.” I had a lot of fun “teaching,” but for my “students,” the novelty of having a peer be their teacher wore off after a few days, and we moved on to other fun activities.

That was a long time ago, but I realize that I have always enjoyed helping, directing and teaching. I finished twenty years of homeschooling recently, and now I fill my days tutoring other homeschool students and private and public school students in a variety of subjects. I still use math and spelling worksheets, but I also get to do chemistry labs, assist with essays, and help students figure out those difficult algebra word problems. But for me, the subject doesn’t matter – it can be be English, math, science… or dance! Helping someone acquire a new skill or master a new topic is every bit as much fun today as it was those many years ago.  


My daughter, Melissa, wanted to play the violin from the time she was a tiny girl. She began teaching her own violin students when she was fourteen years old, and here we are ten years later with Melissa teaching more students than ever. Her students range in age from as young as three years old to adults who are taking on new musical challenges.

One of her adult students owns Shadow Run Winery and has named a new wine after Melissa. When I asked the winemaker about it she said, “I will share with you how Melissa (the wine) was named.  First, white wines are much tougher to make than reds.  Red wines are typically more expensive than whites based on time in barrel, but universally, wine makers will tell you that a perfect white is really, really tough.  The flavors are more delicate and mistakes are more obvious. 

I looked at your Melissa one day and realized that she personifies a perfect white blend of Grenache Blanc (bright high notes), Roussanne (a strong core or structure) and Viognier (floral notes).  She has a core of strength, bright high notes, and of course a sweet feminine side.  All together, the perfect white blend.  Because Roussanne can sometimes be overpowering, we are experimenting with achieving "structure" with fermentation in new French oak barrels.  Anyway, I won't bore you with the wine making details, but suffice to say that the person Melissa gives us an ongoing goal for the wine, Melissa.  The labels for Melissa will also evolve over time although there will always be a violin as the shadow under Shadow Run Vineyards.
As a mom, of course I know that producing bright, balanced children (who become bright, capable adults) is even tougher than producing a nice wine.  I salute your success!”

This blog is dedicated to my beautiful Melissa who has a birthday next week, the day after Mother’s Day. We will celebrate together with a glass of wine named for her!

The Importance of Chaperones

Years ago, there was a family who hosted Civil War Balls in a similar way that my family is currently hosting the Balls. Those Balls started out as family events just as our current Balls are family events. However, being that there were no rules in place about chaperones, in time, teenagers began coming without their parents. Later, entire church youth groups were brought in by the van loads and dropped off with no adult supervision. The people who were hosting the Balls could not do all the work to host and also supervise all the young people - some of who definitely need their activities monitored. That family finally gave up and said that they would never host again.

When I began hosting these events six years ago, some of the "old timers" from that first set of Balls warned me to always make sure that every teenager was chaperoned by an older, responsible adult. I have heeded these words and found that our Balls have remained pleasant and controlled, allowing me to focus on the dancing instead of worrying about whether or not the attendees were getting into trouble. I have found that everyone has happily complied with our chaperone rule for the mutual satisfaction of all.

On the Road

My musician husband often tells our daughters, who are also musicians, that playing music has the additional benefit of allowing them to visit new places and meet people they would not have otherwise. That sentiment is true for me as a dance caller as well. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to call dances for an outdoor church event on the grounds of a beautiful Byzantine church in San Luis Obispo. Last night, I traveled to the historic adobe fort in Taft and called dances for about fifty high school students. The event was sponsored by a local ministry in the town, Higher Impact, which provided the venue, dance calling and a lovely buffet for the students. None of the students had ever experienced a Victorian style social dance before, but they worked hard to come up with costumes for the event and danced with enthusiasm. One of my great delights is sharing with new groups my passion for bringing people together through social dance.

Victorian Cards

In the Victorian Era, many ladies used their leisure time to create paper crafts to give as gifts and mementos to friends and family. When I have the opportunity, I enjoy browsing through antique stores in search of old photos and cards. For me, they tell stories. Some of the post cards that I have purchased have intriguing messages. I bought an old autograph album (with the back cover missing) that was full of poems. Antique photos are my favorite, and I have many that were handed down to me from my grandmother. Old photos tell stories of love, adventures and family. I sometimes copy these old photos and cards and incorporate them into gifts for family and friends, adding my own twists and changes, using their stories to make new memories.

Writer's Group

My two daughters have always had a fascination with mechanical typewriters and have purchased several at various garage sales over the years. For them, there is just something satisfying about putting down thoughts, dreams and stories to the clickety clack of typewriter keys. Of course, the mood for writing can be enhanced by a row of candles, a vase of sunflowers, a string of pearls and perhaps sealing wax to close up a letter to a special someone. But probably nothing is as inspiring as having a group of friends who want to read your stories – friends that love you and love writing stories themselves. They understand the desire to write, the hard work of the process and the sweet success of a well-received story. My girls and I have been in a “Writer’s Group” for over five years with lovely ladies who inspire, encourage and cheer each writer on. Just about every month we meet to share laughs, food (lots of that!) and the stories of our lives.