Monthly Archives: November 2012

Drowning in Regret vs. Boogie Boards









No mice sightings or captures to report.  However, I have put a note by the kitchen window as a reminder to take a look in the live trap.  One year I forgot to check and later found three dead mice.  I will always regret that even as I see some humor in the irony of it all.   It’s a strange thing, regret, weighing you down with memories you don’t want.   It is said (and I tend to agree) that we are more likely to regret the things we didn’t do than the things we did.   I fear it comes from a lack of courage on my part, an inability to get rid of those worst case scenarios that are swimming around in my head, those terrible things that could happen if I leaped into the water with both feet at once.  And when that’s happening, when I know I’ll regret what I didn’t do, I so desperately want to be the Ann of my childhood dreams, a cowgirl on her pinto pony, galloping across the hills in search of adventure and, of course, animals to rescue.  Sometimes, however, I get a taste of her. Today I wrote a poem about regret and boogie boards.


Regret can pull you down

like the silent undertow

that takes you out to that deep place

where you stop fighting.


Or drags you along the sand near the shore

filling your nose and mouth

with the age old grit of bad memories.


This is the undertow that makes you fearful

to go in the water

that makes you watch from the shore

and later makes you regret your fear of regret.


Be like the woman

who at 56

wearing a two piece tankini

over her rounded middle

borrows her daughter’s boogie board

and heads into the sea.


Who tries to catch a wave

that will take her back

in one exhilarating ride.


Who is swept under

again and again

soft skin scraping the rough bottom

gasping for breath when she reappears

whose daughter asks her to get out of the water

admitting she’s afraid for her mother.


Who is amazed by her own desire

her craziness that won’t let go.


Who walks out of the waves and says

to the young stranger watching her

that she hasn’t felt this alive in years.



Helen’s boogie board






10,000 Hours of Playing Possum









It’s Sunday morning and I just received a text (wrong number):  “Please tell Jim I am having coffee with the Duke.  Ready to get to the rat killing.”   Well, I’m having tea beside Jack and Kosmo and not getting ready for rat killing.   Quite the opposite, if you’ve been following this blog.   Since last writing I have captured mouse “Theodore” and released him in a field of cut sorghum.  It took me several days to get to that, and what with my constant check-ins to see how he was doing, I think we grew rather fond of each other, or at least I like to imagine it that way.  But in spite of my attempts at kindness to the local wildlife, there was some violence here last night.  The dogs, now lying on the couch pretending to be quite innocent of their recent exploits, captured a possum.   After I called them off,  I did a not-so-close inspection.  There was lots of dog slobber but no blood that I  could see.  Before moving to the country, I would have been wondering what to do with this limp hunk of wet fur.  Was it suffering?  If so, would  I be able to do what it took to stop the suffering?  But I know better now.  It was “playing possum” and likely not hurt at all.  Sure enough, before going to bed, I checked out the spot where Kosmo had been forced to drop it… possum.

I have read that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, but when did this little guy find that many hours to perfect the art of looking dead?  Really, it’s uncanny and something you need to see to believe.   Could those 10,000 hours come from the practice of its ancestors?   Are the hours stored as cellular memories?  I need to research the lineage of possums.  Birds come from dinosaurs and maybe that’s why they’re so bright—all those millions of hours of practicing one thing or another.    O.K., I admit I’ve recently been rather negative about the intelligence of chickens, but they used to peck at me as a young girl on my grandmother’s farm and I’ve never quite gotten over that.  But think about it—-birds can fly!  I have had dreams where I am flying and there is nothing better, and birds do it all the time (O.K., forgive me, but not so much with chickens).

If you got to this blog by way of my portfolio page, you will know that my latest artwork is about birds.   Birds in trees.  Birds on the ground.  Single birds.  Courting birds.  Flying birds.  (Yes, even one with chickens.)   Before I started all this, I didn’t think about how birds had played a role in my life.  But now I do and I explain that in my artist statement:


“So Many Birds….So Much Magic

I went to an encaustic workshop this past summer with a dear friend.  At first I didn’t see what the excitement was about, as I found the wax unwieldy and the results often less than attractive.  But as the four day workshop continued, I began to see the excitement involved in encaustic and all the many possibilities of using it.

But why a series on birds, a subject I’ve seldom used in previous art?   My favorite piece from the workshop was the back cover of a small book, showing several robins in the snow.  As I looked at this, I began to think about birds in my life.   The little female goldfinch that I believe started my journey into adoption.  The poem I wrote about the robin that came to my mother’s door every morning one spring and how she said to me, “I don’t need anything for my birthday….and besides, I have a robin.”  The way nothing quite moves me as watching the birds feeding outside my window in winter.   The Anne Lamott saying that keeps me going, telling me to accomplish my goals “bird by bird”.   And so, bird by bird, the series began.

Perhaps birds are magical because they represent our own humanity:  our vulnerability in what can be difficult and cruel conditions, our potential to bring joy and beauty to this world, and our desire to soar to great heights.  My hope is that, as you look at this series of bird images, you are reminded that nothing is too small or too commonplace to hold great magic.”


This series is now up at Strecker-Nelson gallery.  Each bird comes with a quote under the title card.   My favorite is one from Emily Dickinson:  “I hope you love birds too.  It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”  I love my birds and I don’t mean just the images.  I feel connected to them as if they were real.  The two bluebirds nestled side by side.  The gold bird sitting in a tree with red berries.  The robins looking for food under the late spring snow.   Especially the robins in the snow.  So many birds….so much magic.

Meanwhile, Bobby  likes to pose with some flowers that friends gave me at the show opening.  This replaces any thoughts of rodent scaring.   And I don’t really mind.  If there’s another Theodore, we can have a conversation through the metal  holes of his little home away from home.  And Bobby can watch the birds outside the window, where she can’t reach them, but can only wonder at how they got to be so smart.


Fresh Lenses for Thanksgiving

Our prodigal cat Noel continues to luxuriate in the comforts of our house, including my warm bed at night.  We are rather concerned about certain digestive issues and wonder if these are caused by her excessive appetite or parasites she picked up on her mysterious walkabout.  Meanwhile the mice seem to have become quite savvy about the live trap in the kitchen cupboard and have moved upstairs.  Someone suggested I cut the cats’ food in half to make these lazy felines more likely to hunt, but I wouldn’t last long against their pitiful meows.  Instead, I am considering sitting them in front of an instructional YouTube on how to scare rodents away, with possible bribes of tuna on crackers (for the cats, not the mice).

But the big event this week is a film crew of two college students working on a short documentary for a K-State journalism course.  A friend who’s in the class suggested that her group’s topic be a single mother who quit her job to follow an art career, with me as the main subject.   So I’ve been interviewed about life and art and kids, taped making encaustic birds, and “portrait” shot sitting on the front porch swing staring rather vacantly off into the distance.  They also wanted to include my daughters and Wayne, so filmed us while eating dinner.  I was rather horrified by what they might catch on camera, but in the end it went fairly well.  There was less burping at the table from Helen and Rose didn’t run off screaming when she was told to eat with her mouth closed.  Maybe we will even come across as a pretty nice family.

And that thought leads to a memory of a Thanksgiving dinner 25 years ago.  I had begun to dread those traditional dinners, shared with only my aging parents and rather quiet brother.  But a good friend, Sylvia, was newly separated from her husband and needed a place to go for the holiday.  I worried that she would find the meal less than enjoyable and I would only feel more stressed.  But it turned out very different than I had anticipated.  Instead of obsessing that my father might choke on a turkey bone, I shared his concern that Sylvia get a second helping of mashed potatoes and homemade gravy (complete with giblets).  Instead of bristling at my brother’s teasing remarks, I found myself learning things about his work I’d never known before.  Instead of worrying if my mom was feeling under-appreciated for all the work she’d done that day, I noticed how she sparkled from the compliments of someone new to her cooking.   As I saw my family through another’s eyes, I saw a group of people who were bright and funny and kind and who cared about each other in their own unique way.

When I get to see the finished class video, I will try to view it through the eyes of others.  It may show what’s mainly the best of us, but the best of us is also part of who we are.   It is as much of what our family is as the sibling rivalry and meltdowns (include me here) and days when I wonder what it’s all about.

And perhaps that’s what makes Thanksgiving a valuable day to celebrate.  As we look around the table through the fresh lenses of others, we may surprise ourselves to see a family we want to be a part of.  Yesterday, my brother and I and the girls ate a Dillons “Family Chicken Meal Deal” with my 98 year mother, now in an assisted living home.  As we were leaving, she took my hand and told me what a wonderful family she has.   “Yes,” I found myself replying.  “Yes, we are.”















Mice and Prodigal Cats


Rose petting Noel the black cat


Mice and Prodigal Cats

It’s November and the mice are back, leaving that distinctive smell in the bottom cupboards of my kitchen.  Yesterday I set up the live trap and had two before the end of the day, seeming quite happy with the glob of peanut butter set to lure them in, now decorated with tiny black droppings.  Rose and I walked them out to where our woods meet the neighbor’s hayfield (“They are field mice,” Rose reminded me.) and watched as they jumped out (one more hesitant than his sibling) and disappeared in the dry grass.  I wondered if they’d start their new adventure together and if they would soon be repeat offenders to our house.   I need to drive the next ones farther away, but that doesn’t give me the excuse to visit the woods when it’s at its best, when the cash crop of poison ivy has withered back to the roots and the hanging spiders seem to have retreated from their summer homes above the path.

This morning there was another arrival at our door.  Standing among the other barn cats waiting for their breakfast was Noel, the black cat that came to us several years ago.  She was a kitten then and immediately was comfortable indoors, making me think she was dumped on the road near our house by someone who quickly tires of pet chores.  We let her stay inside, loving the way she put her ear to the stereo speaker and walked on the piano keys, as if music were her thing.  But gradually she got fat and lazy and much less interested in entertaining us with her own style of sonatas or her once silly playfulness.  When she disappeared on one of her regular jaunts outside, we decided she was likely just too slow to escape the owls and coyotes.  She’s been gone for months and now, running through the door and right to the bowl of cat food still placed in the back hallway, looks much younger and thinner and energetic.  I like to think she somehow ended up far away and made her way back to us, like in that movie The Incredible Journey, but we will probably never know the true story.

We don’t need another indoor cat, for they never seem to keep the mice out anyway and their jealous battling to be “top dog” creates accidents that smell much worse than the mice droppings.  But Helen scooped her up, hugging her close, and Rose (home sick with a cold) has been keeping watch over her all morning.   Now Noel is lying next to me, asleep on an orange wool couch throw.  She is like the prodigal child, not the greatest in habits and motivation, thought to be gone, but welcomed with such excitement and joy when she finds her way home.

An Introduction to This Blog, Spiders from Heaven


This is my blog, Spiders from Heaven.   It’s named after a book (my first and hopefully not my last) that I have written about my experience with adopting two daughters from Asia.  In this space, I plan to write as often as I can about what’s going on around me, what’s important to me at the moment, and the thoughts and ideas that come from this.

I live on a small acreage outside Manhattan, Kansas, and recently retired from a lifetime career of teaching English as a Second Language.  I want to now use my work time for art and writing.  At an interview that will be used in a short documentary for a journalism class at K-State (that I plan to post when it’s done), I was asked why it’s important for my creative endeavors to go public.  I could only answer that if you believe you have something of value to say and to give the world, in whatever unique form that is yours, then it makes no sense to keep it hidden.  I hope you will find here something that is worth reading, something that may add to your day and your own dealings with trying to make the most of your time here on earth.   And remember, even spiders come from heaven