Saving Kittens

Saving Kittens

Now I have you.

Cute baby animals are a guaranteed attention grabber, especially if they’re in danger.

“Don’t play with me,” you say. “Are there really baby animals in danger?”

No. Not in this blog post. But yes. Just ask the Animal Cops.

I’m not allowed to pick TV shows in my household anymore. My privileges were removed due to poor choices. I was just watching Animal Cops and Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team. Every movie I selected was so bad, it was almost good, like Rhinestone Cowboy. No one was happy with my viewing selections, not even me. So, for the benefit of myself and mankind, I released the remote.

I couldn’t help it – Animal Cops had me hooked. I’d keep it playing in the background all day, every day. Will that dog be ok? How about the pig with the limp? The cat in the bottom of the well? And look how cute that stray dog is now! It’s the hardluck stories turned happy ending that kept me coming back for more. I love a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my friend Emily Carter rescued a young cat on the Atlantic Beach bridge. Perhaps the cat wandered up there on its own. More likely, it was left on purpose. I went all Animal Cops on her and demanded to see an “after” picture of the happy cat. Now I want weekly updates on its condition, with a video of it smiling and enjoying its new life.

I have lived with pets my entire life up to this point – mostly dogs. Here are their names in chronological order; omitting any animals smaller than a rabbit (sorry, Dish the hamster):

Misty, Sprite, Max, Bracken, Mattie, Mutley, Trixie, Squirrely, Poo-Bunny, Sunni, Dixie, Triton, Sebastian, Honey.

But I haven’t had a pet in six years, unless you count some hermit crabs and tadpoles. And those didn’t end well. We want a dog, soon. Life is not complete without one.

Sean of the South wrote recently about how everyone talks to you when you have dog. He’s right.

I’ve been typing this at a coffee shop, where an elderly couple have been sitting beside me, enjoying caffeine, conversation, and overpriced pastries. I’ve barely noticed them. When I’m writing, the world around is only tiny specks flitting at the corners of my vision, like those floaters in my vitreous humor. Still, I thought I saw a teddy bear walk by.

As the couple left, there it was in full view – a shaggy Lhasa Apso, a toy breed made of more fur than dog. It had been silently sleeping on the floor the whole time.

I baby-talked the dog, and it’s owner lit up. “Isn’t she just the most well behaved thing? We got her as a rescue; she was used for breeding. She hadn’t been socialized at all, and now I take her everywhere with me – to the store, in the car, around people, and she’s so good!”

“Lucky lady,” I said, of the dog, and of its owner.

I also rescued a dog that had been used for breeding, a senior beagle of the smallest size, whose belly almost grazed the ground. She had second stage heartworms. I put her through the poison injections to kill them, knowing there was a chance it could kill her, too. She survived. I don’t know exactly what her life was like before that, but her later years were all couch cushions, beach walks, and snuggles.

Currently, I’m re-reading The Best of James Herriot. I first read his stories when I was in middle school. I can clearly remember sitting on the carpeted library floor, in front of low wooden bookshelves stained a light oak color, with a James Herriot book in hand, and deciding I would be a veterinarian. There’s a reason they’re classics – his writing is relatable, funny, and features cute animals.

In the story I just finished, Herriot comes across a dog kept chained in a shed without light or room to move for the entire first year of its life. It has sores and feces covering its frail body; its bones shown through. He considers euthanizing it.

But a lady is standing nearby, and she takes the dog home, nurturing it into a full grown, healthy golden retriever. She takes that dog everywhere, brushes its coat to sparkling, feeds it the choicest of morsels, and makes the remainder or its life atone for that first year.

A few months ago, I participated in Fantasy Week from ProWriting Aid. One presentation by Jessica Brody was on using the “Saves the Cat” method to revise your work. Saves the Cat is a tool for outlining and plotting a story; I am currently using it to revise my magical realism novelette, “Immortal Medusa.”

Saves the Cat is named for the plot point at the beginning of your story when your character should do something memorable and likeable – something heroic, like saving a cat, so the reader likes them.

It doesn’t hurt if you save a cat in real life, too, or a dog. Others may like you, but the pet will love you.

Sports Ball

Thank you, Dollar Tree, for validating my lifelong ambivalence towards sports. Who knows what team plays what, when they play it, the equipment they use, or most obscure of all, the rules of the game? Not I – they’re all “sports ball” to me, and I’m not afraid to admit it. What I am afraid of is the sports ball.

Everyone knows this about me. We had my mother and mother-in-law over for a cookout last weekend, and I overheard my mother saying to my kids:

“Your momma ain’t afraid of nothing, except balls flying at her face.”

It’s true.

It’s not that no one tried to teach me. I wasn’t raised in a sportsless environment – I wasn’t made to wear dresses, practice my curtsy, and darn socks in my free time. I just had no interest.

In rookie soccer, I sat in front of the goal and picked grass (I ate it, too), hoping the ball wouldn’t come my way. I remember once making the mistake of running around the field, trying to kick the ball, when somehow it flew up and hit me in the cheek. That’s it. Sports are for fools.

In gym class, I finessed my way to the end of the line, then melted ever-backwards, never quite making it to the front. When that failed, I did a bad job as quickly as possible, so I could hide at the back again and slowly slink away.

Given the least chance, I’d tiptoe off to a corner with a book and avoid the whole scene. My clearest memories of gym class are of the back field, with the three-leafed clover, and the top left corner of the bleachers.

Perhaps the gym teachers didn’t notice I’d disappeared. Or, maybe it was an act of mercy. I was all thick round glasses and baggy t-shirts, greasy hair and social awkwardness. My nose clearly called out for a book.

They left me alone, all except for one.

It happened after school one day in fourth grade, while I waited in the gym for piano lessons. There was a small room off to the side, little more than a closet, where a teacher taught piano basics. Another kid went before me, and while I waited, I read.

A PE teacher came into the gym. “Hey. Would you like to shoot basketball while you wait?”

“No, thank you.”

“Oh, come on. It’s something to do. I don’t mind. Here, I’ll pass you one.”

He thew it at me; I covered my head and ducked.

“No. I’m afraid of the ball.”

I don’t know why I admitted it, except that we were alone, and it wasn’t gym class or sports ball practice. This was a dark, anonymous, empty space.

“Oh. Well, that’s ok.” The athletic went right out of him like a deflated balloon, and something softer took its place.

“I have a bouncy ball back here. Let me go get it.”

He brought out a lightweight ball and showed me how to throw it with one hand instead of two. He smiled. He acted like my uncoordinated, fearful handling of that ball was totally normal. He left me to shoot hoops, and I did.

When it was my turn to play the piano, I was still afraid of the ball. But something had changed.

Still, sports for the rest of my life were limited to swimming and beach soccer. I didn’t go to the ball games in high school. I didn’t go to any in college. I didn’t watch them on TV. I don’t have a favorite team. I don’t know what sport your favorite team plays.

And now – boys and sports.

“Mom, wanna play basketball with me?”


“Mom, can you throw the ball so I can practice hitting?”

“Sure, no problem.”

I try not to duck and hide; I try to keep the terror from my face, so they don’t see it, so they think I’m having fun. Because it’s sports ball, and there’s no crying in sports ball.

However, I did learn yoga, and I absolutely love it. It’s not a sport, but it is sports-like. It counts, right? I’m currently creating a yoga teacher training for senior populations, and one book I’m using is Relax into Yoga for Seniors (Carol Krucoff). It’s primarily for those over sixty who have never done yoga before, may have preexisting health conditions, and are wary of exercise.

I can identify with these folks. I want to pass them the bouncy ball. I’ll throw it gently, I promise, and not at their faces.

Tobacco Barns

Tobacco Barns

I was born in 1982, or as my seven-year-old calls it, the “nineteen hundred and eighties.” No, you may not call it that. It wasn’t that long ago. It was just the other day. It was “the eighties” – we can all agree to that, can’t we?

The eighties were the last decade of tobacco’s long and glorious reign. I just made that up; it’s not written in stone. But then again, nothing is, because it didn’t happen that long ago. We had paper in the 1980s. My dad even worked on computers, though they were about the size of a car and used floppy disks that resembled square records. You know, records? With music? That you put on a record player? This was just the other day, I’m telling you.

And in that golden age of tobacco, North Carolina shined brightest amongst the brightleaf cultivators. We grew so much of the stuff, it became the tar coating our heels. Cigarette smoke clung to our mountains in fine white wisps. Tobacco stained our soil a rich, sepia brown. (As an aside, did you know that sepia is the Latin word for cuttlefish, since it’s the color of their ink? Now you know.)

Tobacco barns still dot North Carolina roadsides, picturesque in their obsolescence. The photo at the beginning of this post hangs in my five-year-old’s bedroom. I don’t display any other smoking-related memorabilia in his room, but old tobacco barns are art, and they won’t last forever. These gently leaning wooden relics hold snippets of songs, the babble of babies on blankets, and the goodwill of neighbors helping neighbors, in one hundred degree harvest season heat. They hold histories – like this one recorded by David Cecelski, or this one, in Our State Magazine. But once the tobacco curing process became mechanized, the barns were left to slowly decay.

Yet, North Carolina is still #1 in tobacco, producing 250 million pounds in 2022. You can still drive by fields of wide wavy leaves, and you can still buy NC-made cigarettes at the gas station.

Also, you can still drive by hospital staff in scrubs, puffing their cancer sticks by the second busiest road in town. I can only assume they’re not allowed to smoke on hospital grounds, and I’m awed by their commitment to the cigarette break, no matter the cost. Was there ever a job that needed it more and allowed it less?

They’re not the only ones still smoking. It’s the lady driving the car beside me, a fella outside the grocery store, one of your relatives. The other day, I went into the women’s bathroom at the park where my kids play baseball, and it smelled of cigarette smoke. It smelled of the past.

Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco’s harmful effects, most of us have moved on – to vaping or abstinence, quitting or never starting. I hope my kids never smoke, of course, though I myself breathed the dragon’s breath in my youth. Mine were clove cigarettes – both worse for you and more alluring. I once ordered a variety case straight from India, a mixed box of spiced tobacco chocolates. I think about those cigarettes and feel nostalgic – they look better from a distance. We look back at the age of tobacco through sepia-colored glasses.

Lately, I’ve been noticing when music mentions smoking in the past – here are snippets of two great songs, with cigarettes:

Jason Isbell, “Something to Love”

“I was born in a tiny southern town
I grew up with all my family around
We made music on the porch on Sunday nights
Old men with old guitars smoking Winston Lights”

Lori McKeena “People Get Old”

“Someone said, ‘Youth is wasted on the young’
I spilled every last drop of time that summer in the sun
My daddy had a Timex watch
Cigarette in his hand and a mouthful of scotch
Spinnin’ me around like a tilt-a-whirl on his arm”

Now doesn’t that just take you back in time to the nineteen hundred and eighties? Me, too.

Super Power Cultivator

Super Power Cultivator

Our neighbor gave my son a “Super Power Cultivator” for his fifth birthday. Here it is, in its Power-Concentrating Box:

“How do I use it?” he asked.

“Use your imagination,” she said.

So, he speaks into it and tell it what superpowers he wants to gain.

“I want to go faster,” he says, and the echo of his own voice inside the shell works magic. His feet feel a little funny – that’s the superpower working. Then, he zips off down the hallway, twice as fast as before.

Is it really that simple? And if it is, what superpower would you choose?

Would you choose to fly, move at the speed of light, climb tall walls, change from a tree to a person (I’m looking at you, Groot), or have superhuman strength?

“Superpowers aren’t real,” you say. “Those are just stories.”

Well, then, let me tell you a real story.

About fifteen years ago, I was on a road trip with a friend, driving home through the farm fields and flat-lands of North Carolina. On one side of the road, tobacco. On the other, cotton. The sky was endless.

My dog was with us, and it was time for her stretch and pee break. I chose an open field without a single structure in sight except for an old tobacco barn. Long leaf pines rose to the heavens on one side, preserved as a windbreak between the fields. Those pines looked like they’d never been cut, the kind of pine celebrated in the official North Carolina toast.

I let the dog run.

Scattered along the edges of the field were rocks, some about palm-sized. They’d likely been tossed there during plowing and harvesting in years past.

My friend and I were in our mid-twenties. Her build was slim and short – shorter than me, and I’ve never topped 5’5, no matter how hard I’ve tried.

She picked up a rock, weighed it in her palm, ratcheted back her arm, and threw that rock over the top of the long leaf pines.

I’m not saying she came close to their tops, a hundred feet in the air. I’m saying that rock soared over their tops, with room to spare. It did not disturb a single extra-long needle.

“Did you just throw that rock over those trees?” I asked, my mind refusing to believe my eyes.


And she did it again. And again and again and again.

It was a superpower, as sure as I live and breathe.

I recently finished Aimee Nezhukumatahil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. In each chapter, Aimee honors a different plant or animal and connects its life to her own in mesmerizing, meaningful ways. I enjoyed every single essay in this book. As I was reading, I kept thinking how poetic her writing was. Turns out, she’s a poet with multiple poetry books published, so now those are on my to-read list, too.

Late in the book, after you already trust Aimee with your life, she confesses to a dark secret:

She can talk to birds.

And I don’t mean whistle or make chirpity gibberish – I mean she talks to the birds and they talk back to her. They hang out. They have conversations. They reach a mutual understanding. She becomes part bird.

This is revealed in her essay “Potoo.” Now if you don’t know, a potoo (po-TOO) is a gremlin-like bird that lives in Central and South America. I didn’t know that, but I’d heard the potoo before. Not only had I heard of the potoo, I’d heard it sing.

And you’re going to thank me for this: I’d heard the potoo on Bird Song Hero.

Bird Song Hero is a game on the Cornell Bird Academy website where you match short recordings of bird songs to their spectograms. Spectograms look like earthquake graphs or heart monitors – the lines go up and down with the bird’s pitch. You listen to the birdsong and find its graph. Yeah, I know – super fun. Did I mentioned that I was a science teacher? I also like timelines and pie charts.

The potoo is on Bird Song Hero, and it’s call is memorable (also easily identifiable, like the human whistler). And now here it comes again into my life, like “po-TOO! Here I am!”

Aimee describes spending quiet time outdoors as a small child and learning to “call cardinals and have whole conversations with them when I was six.”

At this point, I’m thinking she was whistling to the birds or talking to them about her dreams the night before, where she’ll live when she grows up, and singing her favorite songs to them, like my kids will to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

But she elaborates. She received a cardinal whistle from her father and learned its sound so well, she began to mimic it on her own, expanding to whole cardinal conversations in their native tongue.

I still wasn’t convinced, until she told of the time her husband caught her in the backyard “having a lengthy discussion” with a couple of cardinals. When the birds become upset she “answered them back a little glibly,” then they flitted off, and she was left to explain to her husband of ten years that she could talk to birds.

But I suppose that’s the way it is with superpowers – if you have them, you hide them. I’d ask you if you have a superpower, but would you tell me? Probably not.

My son says that my husband turns into Ironman whenever he taps three times on the edge of his glasses, and who am I to say it isn’t true?

You’ve been warned: superheroes fly amongst us.

Chick & Biscuit & Sean of the South

Chick & Biscuit & Sean of the South

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A firefighter? A ballerina? President of the United States?

Or maybe a rock star? A singer on the radio, in front of a crowd, belting out lyrics with everyone swooning – doesn’t that sound great?!

Me, too.

And I still do; some dreams never die. I love to sing. I’ve memorized so many songs, I can sing for six hours at a time without running out of material. Only one problem:

My voice.

That’s ok; I’ll just be a groupie.

I’ve followed bands before, a little too closely – touching their guitars, wide-eyeing them and inching ever closer at the after-party, screaming like a howler monkey when my favorite song begins. It’s not pretty; I’m not proud. But that won’t stop me from doing it again.

My most recent opportunity to live vicariously through other musicians came in the form of a husband-wife duo, Chick & Biscuit.

“Chick” is Emily Carter, whose blog “A Chick’s View,” continues to strike my southern-loving heart in all the right ways and make me think as much as it makes me feel. Her April essay, “Homecoming,” is a favorite; I am right there with her in that uncomfortable pew and scratchy dress, itching for that heavily laden potluck table.

“Biscuit” is John Carter, whom Emily calls “Smoking Hot Love Biscuit.” He doesn’t mind; what man would? John plays guitar and sings in a band called Old Age & Treachery with another fella, Dave Livesay.

Together, Emily and John have been writing songs. One of their songs, “Made to be Played,” won 4th place in the Nov/Dec 2022 American Songwriter Lyric Contest. I have been blessed enough to hear them play it a few times now. I cried both times.

“Made to be Played” describes an old guitar and its desire to be strummed, not shut away and forgotten, like our own desires to live out our passions, not keep them locked in a closet – our own childhood dreams, yearning to see daylight.

“Made to be Played,” is so Townes, so Prine, so folk-country, so Sean of the South.

I’m new to all things Sean of the South, and I’m late to the party. Sean Dietrich is a writer, singer, guitar player, and really nice guy. He’s a newspaper columnist and author of a handful of books. He has a novel coming out; I don’t know when, but I’ll be reading it. He’s prolific – I’ve joined his email list and am getting essays daily. They are all 10/10 on the heart-string scale; they are all great writing. I don’t know how he does it. I’d give you one of my favorites, but I CAN”T CHOOSE. There are too many good ones.

I’ve been reading all of his newspaper columns, which stretch back to 2014. In “The Streets of Decatur,” from February 2020, Sean describes his old (1919) guitar, which he found broken. A carpenter friend pieced it back together, and Sean got to play it on stage. I hear he’s even been on the Grand Ole Opry.

It reminds me of Chick & Biscuit’s song, and it reminds Sean of another carpenter, who put the pieces of his broken life back together again. What do I want to be when I grow up? Sean of the South.

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

A Love Letter to Oysters

A Love Letter to Oysters

This post is a love letter to oysters. But you should just read it to yourself. Oysters have mouths but no ears; they won’t hear a thing.

We hosted an oyster roast over the weekend, one in a long string of oyster roasts I’ve hosted, attended, or crashed. Once, I hovered over a table of steaming bivalves and did not know a single person there. I don’t know whose house it was; I’d just heard there was a big roast, invited myself, and brought a knife. Those oysters were delicious.

They’ve all been delicious. I like tiny ones, like last year when a friend emptied out his beds in the sound near us, bringing the last few bushels of the season – singles with deep cups – each a sweet bite of the beach. I like big juicy ones, too, ones as long as my middle finger (or my husband’s pinky – I have tiny hands). I stab them with an oyster knife to let the excess saltwater drain then dip them in cocktail sauce (extra horseradish, please), dangling them shamelessly over my mouth before letting them slide down in one gulp. My favorites, though, are mid-sized, midway done, jiggly but not oozing, firm but not chewy. I’ll eat those without any cocktail sauce, butter, hot vinegar, hot sauce, or whatever other abomination you’re putting on yours, thank you. And with dark beer – it’s winter, after all.

We eat oysters in the “R” months around here, both because there’s less chance of contamination or bacterial growth in cooler (and less touristy) waters, and because the randy little bivalves mate in the warmer months. They turn gamey when they mate, lean and focused on the continuation of generations, releasing seed and eggs into the water. The resultant babies, or “spat,” settle on hard surfaces (preferably other oysters), and everyone plumps up for my winter eating pleasure.

Oysters don’t appeal to everyone. They’re filter-feeders that eat the plankton (tiny floating critters) in the water. I suppose, during mating season, they eat their own babies. They clean the water as they filter – they can clean around a gallon of water an hour, which is not what one generally wants out of their food. No one’s trying to chew my humidifier filter.

But they’ll line up and pay good money for a taste of an oyster’s salty, unique merroir. That’s a real word, and it’s fun to say, if fancy-sounding for a snotty little ocean scrubber. Merroir is the flavor of the sea; it changes depending on the oyster’s source. Oysters from Stump Sound (just north of Wilmington, NC) are much saltier than Rappahannock river oysters (in the Northern Neck of Virginia), for example. If you suck down a VA river oyster after having been raised on NC salty sounders, you might accidentally “act ugly.” It’s not polite to insult someone else’s oysters, but what is there to taste in Virginia?

Now that’s Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern oyster, native to the southeast coast of the US. Sure, it has “virginica” in the name, but Virginia’s doing it wrong. I guess the pilgrims once guzzled down some Virginia bags of bacteria, and the name stuck. But once they tried NC oysters, they knew they’d tasted saline superiority. They’ve been jealous ever since.

They’re not the only species of oyster. There are five species harvested commercially worldwide and hundreds more out there. I wish I could say that I’ve tasted them all, or even one more than Crassotrea shouldbecarolina, but no, I’ve only sampled my own geographically limited merroir. If you have an oyster to send me, I’ll eat it.

I learned a lot about oysters from reading A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobsen (also, I cheated – I was a marine science teacher). Rowan ate all the oyster species, lucky fella. Before reading his book, I was content with my gnarly gray goobers. Now, I will spend my life wondering what I could be missing.

I was missing their potential for ecological art, that’s for sure, but others found it. In the North River of Carteret County, Carolyn Henne created a 3D art installation from a special material made to grow oysters; you can see it from the air or a boat. She colored and sculpted the material to create an octopus and several large sea stars. As oysters grow, the structures will be altered – like those art-that-interacts-with-its-environment projects you learned about during “Intro to Art” class.

Oysters are surprisingly hard to grow – they need just the right salinity, intertidal range, wave action, water quality, temperatures, and then, if you want to eat them, about two years of waiting time. A storm or any disruption in their needs can ruin the harvest – not that harvesting them is easy. They’re sharp, muddy, heavy, and cemented to each other and their substrate.

Still, people do it anyways, because oysters sell ($60-100/bushel – about 100 oysters depending on size). Oysters are good for water quality, they protect shorelines, and they create habitat. Oysters are sexy. Living shorelines, oyster farming, and name-brand oysters are trending. Plus, they’re supposed to make you feel sexy. But that could be the beer talking.

If you want to host a roast, invite whoever you want, but jot down how many oysters they will eat. There’s a big difference in preparing for a 1/2-busheler like myself versus a “maybe 6 or so” saltine sampler. Get your oysters, ice them, keep the raccoons and possums out, then spray them off with the hose before cooking, so your hands and mouth don’t get so muddy.

You have several options. One option is not to cook at all and crack those calcified fortresses open with sheer willpower (and maybe throwing them onto a hard surface; I think it disorients them and makes them easier to crack. Also, it’s fun.). They will be cold and extra snotty, but you won’t lose any flavor or texture to the fire.

If you’re just feeding a few pigeons, throw them in a deep pan (not your favorite pan) in the oven with a half-inch of water or so in the bottom. Cook them until they open, adding water if it dries out and turning on the exhaust fan.

Don’t want them in the house? Do the same thing but on the grill. Benefit: you can put wet oyster rags on the grill top to dry while they cook.

Because you need rags, a big pile of cut-up old towels, to lay across one hand while the other hand wields the knife. The rags will protect you (from the oyster but more importantly from your own knife), catch some of the leftover marsh muck, and allow you to handle the shells hot off the grill. If you wait any longer, I’ll eat them all first.

More people? Get a steam pot. We got a 53qt one this time; your ability to lift it while full of oysters is your limiting factor here. Rags can also dry on the pot lid.

About a hundred people? Invite me. Might as well; I’ll show up anyways.

You need a pit (and a keg). Stack cinder blocks to make a rectangle or square, leaving spaces between them for airflow. It doesn’t have to be very high.

Steal a large metal street sign or wait for a hurricane to knock one down. Have a teenager stab holes in it with his/her unfocused rage. Put your oysters on that, over a low fire in the pit (again, wait for a hurricane for firewood). Throw a few wet burlap sacks over the oysters (you can get these at the feed store) until they open.

Pour out your oysters onto a table, break out the knives (I’ll bring my own), and dig in.

They may have better oysters in France. But at my house last weekend, I got tiny plump pea crabs in at least one out of every ten I opened. I love their quick crunch. I got three half-inch long cuts on my right hand, four dark craft beers, a half-bushel of friends, and I got to laugh loudly over a table full of Carolina’s finest. Lucky gal.