Pollywiggle pollywog

Pollywiggle Pollywog

I have a soft spot for amphibians, partly because they’re so soft and vulnerable. Ask me my favorite animal, and I’ll say “salamander.” Unless I’m holding your Jello-boned cat; then he’s my favorite animal. Or watching the blonde squirrel in my yard; then she’s my favorite. But all the other times, it’s salamanders.

They’re also known as mud puppies, or snot otters. They’re associated with barefoot-smooth stones and the sound of rushing water; they’re the animal of a lazy day mid-summer day at a clear mountain stream.

My kids have a book, The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, in which a little boy wants to keep a salamander in his bedroom. His mom points out that salamanders have needs, and the boy re-designs his whole room, his whole life, to accommodate that salamander. He might love them a little more than I do, but I get it.

All amphibians are pretty cool. They’re also, according to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, the most endangered class of vertebrates (animals with backbones, as opposed to bugs and such). That’s beating out the more photogenic critters – like giant pandas, trash pandas, and red pandas, only one of which is an actual panda.

Amphibians include salamanders, toads, frogs, and newts. Only. Just those. And almost all amphibians go through a tadpole, or pollywog stage. Everyone loves to watch pollywogs change into frogs. Maybe we can relate to the idea of changing yourself so dramatically, you’re not even recognizable as the same creature anymore.

I’ve kept tadpoles numerous times, for my classes and my kids, with the goal of observing metamorphosis (tadpole to frog), before releasing them back into the wild.

The first time, I learned that you have to provide raised surfaces, because they change into frogs all but overnight. One second, they’re gill-breathing wigglefish, the next, they’re drowning land animals. Nothing like returning to school in the morning to an aquarium full of dead frogs. That doesn’t earn you any teacher-of-the-year points.

I also lost tadpoles, just three days ago, to contaminants in the water. Amphibians are partly endangered because they’re so sensitive to water pollution – their skin is thin and porous. They’re an indicator species, in that they indicate whether the water is clean.

I’d kept a bucket of rainwater so I could change out their habitat when it became murky and smelly. I cleaned out the tank over the weekend, but unfortunately, the rainwater had changed somehow in storage. I imagine the bucket leached chemicals into the water. All the tadpoles died. No mom-of-the-year points. I loved those poor pollywogs to death.

So, this post is their eulogy. And I’ll end it with a poem by Mary Ann Hoberman (she’s brilliant; buy all of her books).

“Frog” by Mary Ann Hoberman

Leaps on
Long legs
Jelly eggs
Sticky tongue
Tricks flies
Spied by
Flicker eyes
Wet skin
Cold blood
Squats in
Mucky mud
Leaps on
Long legs
Jelly eggs
Laid in
Wet bog

Yelling at Traffic

Yelling at Traffic

I was driving home from church last weekend, my Bigfoot husband squeezed into the passenger seat, the kids strapped into the back, when someone cut in front of me.

“Watch out! Geez! Lucky for you, I was about to switch lanes! But you didn’t know that. You would’ve just ran right into me! You got right where I was; you almost hit me! Look where you’re going!”

Had the kids not been in the back, my language might have been more colorful. As it was, it was…it was….


Did you know it’s National Poetry Month?

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to join Malaika King Albrecht for a workshop on epistolary poetry at the Carteret Writers conference. The whole conference was phenomenal, but you can’t beat poems in a garden with Malaika.

Epistolary poems are in the form of a letter – written to family, loved ones, people you could never speak to in person, yourself, inanimate objects, parts of your body, etc. There was laughter; there were tears. There was me, taking it too far.

Malaika shared poems to get us going, and I especially enjoyed Kai Coggin’s letter to the flappy bat wings under her arms. Clearly, those bat wings are never going to write back. But what would they say if they could?

It got me thinking about other letters never meant to be answered – like diaries. I have a friend who journals every day, letters to her future self, a meticulous practice spanning decades. It’s probably a good idea, but the thought of all that material on my to-read shelf is overwhelming.

And letters to Santa. Maybe you get some gifts, and that’s your answer, but he never writes back.

Which is why, when my seven-year-old said he wanted a letter from Santa for Christmas next year, I didn’t know what to say. The whole Santa thing confuses the tinsel out of me anyways; it’s too complicated.

His hopes were high because the Wild Kratts brothers, Chris and Martin, replied with a signed postcard when my boys sent them fan-mail. They idolize the Kratt Brothers; they want to be the Kratt brothers. And if the Kratt Brothers can do it, surely Santa can.

“But how would you know it’s really from Santa?” I asked. I was imaging how I’d fake this convincingly, if this will be the candy-cane-swirled straw that breaks the back of Ol’ Saint Nick.

“Well, only Santa could send a letter from Santa.”

Thank goodness. I can fake that.

Now back to the road rage rants.

They’re just like epistolary poems, only never written down. It’s slam poetry, delivered to the steering wheel microphone. It’s a letter to the other driver – never sent, never answered.

And then there’s prayer, our letters to God. Most of the ones I’ve sent have been answered, and the rest will be, in the next stanza.

Art Gone Wild

Gone Wild

I like art.

My husband says he did not know this about me, like it’s some nasty habit I’ve developed since we married almost ten years ago, or the harbinger of a mid-life crisis. But that’s not true. I’ve always liked art. In fact, a piece of art features in the story of how we met.

He was working for a marine contracting company, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard – building bulkheads, bridges, ferry terminals, and other structures. He spent his days cursing like a sailor and playing with giant building blocks.

He was just supposed to be in town for six months or so, replacing the bridge fender system. Then, he would move on to the next massive sea wall, the next fully furnished house all to himself.

His company had rented an old building by the bridge to use as their work shed, where they could store equipment and fabricate the fenders. The building had once been a seafood market called Sandy’s.

I know it was called Sandy’s because someone had painted “Sandy’s” across it’s metal roof, so big and bold, you couldn’t miss it. Sandy’s was part of my daily drive to and from work, part of the best part – the view from the bridge. I loved Sandy’s.

So, I was devastated to learn that my new boyfriend was going to destroy Sandy’s. He was contractually obligated to knock it down and throw it away at the end of the job. 

I had second thoughts about that boyfriend. In fact, it might have all turned out very differently, if not for one saving grace.

In the months that we were dating, before the fenders were ready to fend for themselves, while Sandy’s was still standing timelessly by the bridge, I found a little watercolor painting at a yard sale, of a weathered brown building with the word “Sandy’s” painted on its roof.

When the fender job ended and Sandy’s was no more, I still had two mementos of its existence. 

One was my husband, the wrecking ball. The other was a painting, hanging near my back door, where I could see it every time I came in from the yard.

So you see, I liked art then, too. But I’d go a step further – I’d say the real art wasn’t that painting, but Sandy’s itself. The reason my love for art may not have been clear, is that the art I love doesn’t always look like art.

Like Sandy’s.

Or this beautiful seahorse I found in an old boatyard last month, made of a caulk blob and drips of paint and grease. Or the graffiti that I saw by a creek near my mother-in-law’s this week.

“Seahorse” (Artists: a boat repair guy and a leaking tube of caulk)
“Creekside Graffiti” (Artist: Rose et al, apparently)

My favorite piece of art in my house is a rendition of Van Gogh’s Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saints-Maries-de-laMer, made entirely of string. It makes me feel like anything is possible.

And all this talk about odd art reminds me of Mary’s Gone Wild.

Back when I lived near the NC-SC border, back before kids, I was out driving one day – you know, just fooling around, no big rush to be anywhere, in my leisure time, when I spotted a roadside sign with the word “art” on it. It had a lot of other words, too, hand-painted close together and impossible to read from the fast, winding, two-lane road. I turned around.

I pulled into the driveway and parked around back, behind a not-so-white wooden house.

There was stuff everywhere – 100% hoarder conditions, but there was also a bottle boat – a boat made entirely of bottles, cemented together. There was art amongst the junk.

Following the welcome signs, I walked around a string of little storage sheds, painted in cute colors and trimmed with gingerbread details. Each building was slam-packed full of stuff.

Next was a series of ramshackle houses, joined together by breezeways and porches, the walls mostly made of windows. On the porches hung paintings on windows – of mermaids, flowers, and animals – in bold colors and thick lines. I went inside.

It was like being inside the rainbow – on the walls, ceilings, floor, tables, everywhere, were these colorful paintings. Since much of it was on glass, the light shone through. It was like you’d finally found the end of the rainbow, took one step, and found yourself standing inside its arch, looking out at the whole world colored and transformed by prismatic brightness.

Here is a video tour of what I saw:

Mary’s Gone Wild Folk Art – Supply, NC

In one of the rainbow worlds, I came upon Mary Paulsen herself, painting. She welcomed me, then went to back to work. When I asked if the art and objects around the place were for sale (nowhere was this obvious), she said yes, and pointed me to an article on a welcome table, telling of her history and mission.

Mary had a vision from God to build a children’s village, in order to raise money to feed children worldwide. She built the village, and the visions continued, leading to the current paintings and bottle structures.

The village.

It had been vaguely visible from the road, a jumble of wooden structures half-hidden by trees and shadow. Now, I rounded the corner of the front porch and saw it in its full glory.

There were a dozen small buildings made for children – the library had real books, the school had a chalkboard. Everywhere, decrepit baby dolls posed and slowly decayed. It was creepy. I loved it.

There was a second story, with bridges joining extra rooms and lookouts. There were stairways a foot across and with a foot rise, pitching you into two-foot tall fences and dead ends, and junk scattered everywhere. It was all painted in greens, blues, yellow, purples, reds – all the colors – with those same animals, flowers, and mermaids.

Here are more pictures.

It’s creepy, yes, dangerous, and crazy.

But Mary says: “I’ve talked to all kinds of people. Magazines and reporters come out here, they always say I’m crazy…Folks say, ‘Why would you do all this?’ But people come here, and it makes them happy. And if it makes people happy, it’s not crazy now, is it?” (PortCityDaily)

Before I left, I bought a set of flower pot stakes, for no real reason other than to own a piece of that place. And I took my husband there when we were dating, around the time he knocked down Sandy’s.

Yes, I’ve always liked art. How about you?

Hazard Lights

Hazard Lights

Last week, after dropping off my first grader at school, I swung by a local produce stand for fresh strawberries. The U-Pick fields aren’t open yet, but you can buy them by the tray if you get there early enough. I wanted some for my preschooler’s classroom and more for sharing with friends, family, and neighbors. They are so good.

Shortly after I turned onto the five-lane highway in the busiest section of town, I saw an older man and woman standing in the middle of the road. They looked, bless their hearts, bedraggled – like it had already been a tough day, at 8am.

They’d just huffed across a few lanes of traffic and needed to cross two more, including the lane I was in, to whatever destination they had in mind. The speed limit was 35mph, changing to 45mph – people speed up there. The couple was in the way of cars turning in either direction. They were in danger.

There was a truck behind me and traffic behind him, in both lanes, as far back as I could see. That truck had tires so big, my preschooler called it a monster truck. He really likes monster trucks.

I tapped my breaks, put on the hazard lights, and braked fully so the people could cross. It wasn’t fast; I didn’t slam on breaks – I had space and time to do it slowly so those behind me could stop safely.

At first, the monster truck swerved into the other lane, planning to gun it and pass me. I don’t know if he saw the people; I don’t know what he saw.

But no sooner had he switched into the other lane and hit the gas than he changed his mind, slowed, and also came to a stop. Everyone in both lanes slowed, stopped, and waited as the couple shuffled across the road. They weren’t young; they weren’t fast. They shouldn’t have been in the middle of the highway, but there they were. My hazard lights blinked.

They waved, they smiled, and we all went on, the monster truck taking the lead.


The day before, my husband witnessed a horrific traffic accident.

He was driving home from work through a section of five-lane highway, where the traffic had been shifted for road work, creating a four-lane road with no turning lane.

My husband was in the lane closest to the middle. In the oncoming lane next over, a man on a motorcycle had stopped to turn, planning to cross my husband’s side. Because there wasn’t a turning lane, everyone behind him needed to stop and wait for him to turn, or switch into the other, outside lane.

Maybe my husband could have stopped and let the man turn; I don’t know. Instead, he watched the car behind the motorcycle switch to the next lane, quickly, without stopping, without tapping brakes, without hazard lights.

Behind it was a truck, a truck that had been tailgating. It did not know the motorcycle was stopped. It did not have time to switch or brake. I won’t write any more about that.


This is not a traffic report, nor is it another warning story about motorcycles.

It’s a story about hazard lights.

There’s a red button on your dashboard, large and temping to push if you’re of a certain low-digit age. Yet, I rarely notice people pushing it.

It doesn’t cost anything to push that button, and there’s no commitment involved. You can un-push it at any time. In fact, you should – it’s only supposed to be used temporarily.

But when you push it, your car lights up like a beacon that other motorists notice, over the din in their (our) heads, the phone, the radio, the sunlight, the backseat preschoolers.

Huh? Why do they have their lights on? Is there an emergency?

You can push it when you’re driving by a road biker that’s hard to see – whether or not they should be in the road. They’re there, and they’re people.

Going by construction workers, when they don’t have the big flashing signs up. Maybe they should have more safety signs, but they don’t. And they’re people.

Or if you see a dog, wandering by the road. A drunk, stumbling. A car malfunctioning. A sudden stop, anything that could cause an accident.

I hit the lights if I find there’s a spider in the car with me, because I’m about to go crazy, and I can’t guarantee I’ll be a safe driver until that spider is gone.

Slow down and pay attention, those hazard lights say. There’s people here, and right now, they are not safely zipping around in their fortresses of metal and fiberglass. They’re in danger, and I need your help to protect them.

I suppose there’s a risk of overusing the hazard lights; then they’ll become less meaningful and effective. But as far as I can tell, that risk is all but non-existent. Months go by without me seeing anyone else’s lights. The laws concerning hazard lights vary by state, but in my state, you can use them at will.


I’m currently reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. It’s the first novel I’ve read in a long time that I just can’t put down. I won’t lie; I’m a little mad at myself right now because I’m typing this instead of finishing that book. It’s exceptional.

American Dirt is about the immigrant experience through Mexico to the US, especially as it relates to human and drug trafficking. The story follows a mother and son as they struggle to reach Estados Unidos. They ride train tops, they hide, they suffer – they are being hunted by a cartel. They are without protection, vulnerable and afraid at every moment.

There is controversy around this book and its author, telling a story that wasn’t hers to tell. I am just glad someone told it and others listened.

American Dirt is a set of blinking hazard lights, bringing attention to migrants and cartels. Slow down and pay attention, it says. There’s people here, and right now, they‘re in danger. I need your help to protect them.

I suppose there’s a risk of overexposing the plight of immigrants, that Americans could become desensitized by all the coverage. But as far as I can tell, that risk is all but non-existent. Months go by without me seeing anyone else’s hazard lights.

I’m paying attention now, thank you. Please keep flashing those lights.

Picture courtesy of Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons