Monday, October 12, 2009


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So, I have previously mentioned #1 daughter’s fear and disgust when she even catches a glimpse of a baby doll. I’ve tried to trace this back to see what may have triggered this trepidation when it comes to this most popular of toys. When I was a child, I adored dolls and had quite a collection; a collection that I displayed on top of the wardrobe standing across from Lily’s crib. Oh… Did I inadvertently traumatize my eldest for life by placing these replicas of human children high above her infant form long before she possessed the ability to express her terror and request that I remove them? Oh, bad, bad Mama!

Once she could speak and articulate her fear, the dolls were quickly moved from her presence and have remained boxed ever since, but I fear the damage is done. She has never like them, never wanted to play with them and shuns the site of them. In fact, as mentioned in a previous post, she claims the site of them causes her to lose her appetite and make her feel sick. Weird. Now, Barbies, Brats, even Meika’s new Ling doll, she enjoys to a limited extent and when I ask her why this is so she tells me because they represent teenagers, not babies. The Ling doll, which really is quite beautiful, now resides on top of the wardrobe, the former home to all those other baby dolls, but because Ling is not a ‘baby’ Ling is admired rather than met with apprehension.

Stuff animals she has galore and plays with them endlessly, Lily loves critters, she loves them all… except monkeys. When asked, she will tell you she doesn’t like the way they move, or that she just doesn’t know why she despises them so. But I, the Mama think that again, it was me who, though not purposely, none-the-less instilled an abiding fear in my dear child. At the time of her adoption a friend sent a life-sized, crouching, very realistic looking monkey as a gift for her. It was the same size as she was, she being less than a year old. One day I set her and the stuffed monkey on the coach to take a picture of them together for my friend. She took one look, one very recognizable look of shear panic, and started screaming her head off. I quickly removed the beast, but I think it marked her for life. Again, bad, bad, Mama! We still have the monkey, but he is locked away in the attic, and frankly, when I go in there and see him hunkered down in the corner I shutter myself.

This summer, we discovered a fear that Lily has that is so distressing to her that it can paralyze her in a fit of fear. What scares her so? What causes her to stiffen in panic and screech in utter terror sending lightning bolts of dread and dismay through her mother? It is this, the discarded casings of cicadas. For some unknown reason, below the surface of our backyard reside a city of cicadas, and each spring they emerge to latch themselves to the bark of our trees and transform into their winged and green, twittering selves. I rather enjoy the seasonal sounds of cicadas; a calm inducing night time chorus starting from hushed and slow beginnings and gradually building to the satisfying rapid chirping that denotes a hot and peaceful summer night. And indeed, Lily has absolutely no problem with the winged creatures, it is their casings, left behind clinging to trees, the fence, blades of grass and even to our house that send her into hysterics. I initially had no idea she had this aversion until one day this summer she was outside getting ready to feed the dog and she started to scream. The kind of screaming that denotes either extreme terror, severe pain or that one of the Jonas Brothers has just come into our yard. The kind of heart stopping don’t-even-stop-to-think-get-yourself-to-your-kid-NOW kind of scream. I was only a few feet away on the patio, and turned to see her standing in the middle of the yard, clutching a dog food can with both hands until her knuckles were white, her eyes closed and her mouth wide in that horrible cry of sheer terror. All sorts of things flew through my mind in that split second; is she hurt? Don’t see any blood; is there a snake in the grass? Don’t see a snake. Did she cut off a finger on the can of dog food? See all ten fingers. And in a few seconds I am standing in front of her shaking and still screaming form trying to break through to her, but she isn’t stopping and she isn’t telling me what is wrong, she just goes on shrieking and shrieking. Neighbors come out of their houses and start yelling too, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?! I have to actually take Lily by the shoulders and shake her a little to get her to TELL ME WHAT IS WRONG!!! She pries one of her hands off the can of dog food to point at the spot in front of my feet. Sitting in the grass is one single cicada casing, all fragile and lonely. “What? I don’t see anything, what?”

“That BUG! AAAAHHHH!!!!”

“What? This?” and I pick it up. Her eyes widen to colossal saucers and she screams some more. “You have GOT to be kidding me! THIS is what you are screaming about?! This is just an empty shell, honey, watch.” And I drop it and step on it and crush it into non-existence. She stops screaming, but she goes on shaking and crying. It takes a while to calm her after I shout to the neighbors that it is alright, it was just a cicada casing and rolling my eyes in embarrassment. But Lily’s fear is real even if it seems exaggerated to me, she is genuinely petrified. I can’t help but chastise her for making me think that she was in real danger. I tell her that I think that she is overreacting a bit.

“But Mama, aren’t YOU ever scared of something?”

“Fair enough, you’re right, I’m sorry. But you scared the livin’ daylights out of me you know.” So we spend the entire summer with her pleading dreaded cicadas in order not to have to go into the yard to do any chores. I tell her she needs to work it through and confront her fears and so watch her pick her way slowly across the yard to reach the critters every day; see her examine the swing in minute detail before sitting on it; stare for long minutes at a time at the gate before touching it. But she muddles through while I run around the yard when she isn’t looking stomping into oblivion any casings I see. I just don’t understand what is so scary about an empty shell. This is a child who regularly carries around worms, and daddy long legs and toads. I child who would gladly run into a cage of crocodiles if it meant she could touch them, and she is afraid of this wisp of insect carcass?

And then, one day not long after this incident I am in the laundry room, minding my own laundry business when something hits my knee. I look down to find myself staring at and being stared back at by a CAMEL CRICKET! Now, many people who are reading this are probably not familiar with camel crickets, in fact, I was unaware of their existence until I moved south of the Mason-Dixon, so let me tell you, I am a fan of the cricket, the normal, black, chirping cricket. The kind in Mulan. The Jiminy Cricket kind. If I find one in my house I leave it, sighting the old Irish lore that they are lucky to have in your home. But CAMEL CRICKETS! Ha! These horrid creatures should not even BARE the name cricket. Okay, they have big old legs, in fact, their legs are freakishly large, and they sort of have a cricket like head, but these mutants are EVIL! SHEER EVIL I tell you! They are one of those bugs that seem to have intelligence far beyond what a bug should have. They are downright aggressive! They like damp and dark, so they like those soggy towels in the laundry basket. They like the shadowy, creepy corners of a tiled room. They like the big old bowl of cat food sitting there inviting them in. And when you unsuspectedly open the door to the laundry room, flip on the light and see them gleefully hopping across your floor? and this is the WORST! THIS is what makes them so evil; they don’t run and hide, they stop. They stare back at you. And then…oh I can hardly bring myself to utter the words…they don’t use those big back legs to chirp, in fact, they don’t make any sound at all, they use those big, horrible, hairy legs to JUMP ON YOU! Yes folks, these creepy-crawly fiends JUMP RIGHT AT YOUR BODY. Frankly, the mere sight of them totally makes my skin crawl. I mean it, it crawls, and just the thought of them makes my whole body do that trembly thing all over. I am absolutely terrified of these bugs. The picture I have attached to this post? Each time I glimpse it I convulse.

So, this summer, for the first time in this house, there is an infestation of camel crickets. I read up on how to get rid of them, why they are in my house, where they could be coming from. Apparently, they creep in through cracks and windows, but I don’t have cracks or open windows, so the only place left is through the drier vent. Oh horrors! To think that they might be creeping into my dryer and are being tossed about with my clean clothes is just too much. Each time I open the door to that room, I flip on the light and scan the area before setting one toe in. If I spot one, well, that is bad enough, but if I want it to die it means I will have to try and stomp it, and that isn’t easy because they SEE you coming, they anticipate your every move, they gang up on you, and while you are busy trying to flatten their creepy butts, they are leaping at you! It is battle full on! Screaming ensues on both sides and I am sure I look like a total fool hopping around in Wellington boots, a plunger in one hand, a golf club in the other trying to smash these huge and horrible creatures. And yes, if I succeed, because they grow to such great dimensions, there is then the almost equally disgusting disposal of the body to deal with, causing me trauma and non-stop quivering for the rest of the day.

But the absolute worst of the worst was one day, while going about my business; I went into the laundry room to get something. I forgot to case the joint first and walked in, retrieved what I was looking for and went back into the kitchen. I was standing at the counter reading a recipe when I spot something move out of the corner of my eye. Something move ON MY SHOULDER! I reacted swiftly and like a ninja, I didn’t bother to look at whatever it was first, because it was BIG, I just swept it from my person onto the floor and THEN I looked. Yup, you guessed it, the biggest, fattest, hairiest camel cricket in existence was eyeing me right back. THA-WAP! I got him before he got me, but the resulting hysterically trembling, creepy crawly skin and whimpering that resulted lasted for hours.

So what do I do now when I see one of these mutants of nature? Why, I call Lily of course, because camel crickets don’t bother her in the least. Nope. She will deal with them for me. Oh the shame, I must call my nine year old to come and smash the big bad bug because I cannot stand the site of them. And she will want to pick it up and take it outside. “NO, NO, NO! KILL IT! KILL IT!”And she says to me, “Mama, don’t you think that you are overreacting a bit?” And I say, “NO! No I am NOT overreacting. And I will never say another word to you about your fear of cicada casings. Never! Deal?”

“Deal Mama.”

©KKW 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009


To say that the town in which I grew up, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, has a large Catholic population would be an understatement; when I was growing up in Parma it was just assumed that you went to one of the gianormus Catholic parishes in town. While in high school I had only one friend who went to a protestant church. One. She was Lutheran. After spending one Saturday with her, my friend’s mother offered to drive me home, but first she needed to drop something off at their church. She asked if I wanted to see their sanctuary and I replied that I would. I thought it was lovely and simple and very blue, far different than the pomp, marble, gold and spender of Saint Chuck’s (Charles) Romanesque architecture where my family attended. When I mentioned my amazement at the simplicity of their church building at dinner later that day my father totally freaked that I had been take to, and been physically present in, a church building that was not Catholic. A building that had not been ‘blessed’ and sanctified; its pews and dais liberally drenched in holy water. I had no idea that it was against Catholic law to set foot in a protestant church. He threatened to call “this woman” and straighten her out about exposing my poor innocent soul to the corrupting influence of a Protestant church building. Fortunately, my mother calmed him down, but thus was the atmosphere of being raised in a Catholic family in a town full of them.

Once I had moved to the south after college, Catholic churches became a rarity, they are speckled here and there, but the Baptist and Christian churches seem to be favored here. A few years ago while visiting Ohio during the Christmas season, Lily having never been in a resplendent Catholic church building, I thought that she would enjoy it and so we attended a midnight mass with my aunt. My daughter was used to a lot of socializing before the services back home in the realm of the plain and simple churches that we had attended. The silence as we sat waiting for the mass to begin that Christmas Eve and the sheer splendor of the building in which we waited was unnerving to her. My kid is just NOT used to having to be quiet…for anything, but the stillness in this gothic marble space was so overpowering, and the sites so brilliant and foreign that for once she was relatively quiet. At least that is until the mass started and the questions began. Most were asked while the chanting and singing were going on, so her urgent questions and my whispered answers were not much of a disturbance. But then came the communion with all those around us going up to the front of the church to receive the host and wine while Lily and I stayed seated. She watched and she waited and then while a reverent hush lay over the congregation she indignantly asked “Hey Mom, why do THEY get a snack and juice and we don’t? Not fair! I want a snack too!” Now in a southern church anyone hearing that would laugh freely, but in a Catholic church people either tried to pretend they hadn’t heard her or we were given the evil eye. And I KNOW that everyone heard her because the acoustics are really good that way in such a vast gothic hall.

Anyway… I had not visited the town in which my father lived during the summer time for nearly twenty years, if I was able to make it to Ohio it was usually during the frigid winter holidays. So it was with much delight that I discovered yard sale signs popping up all over the neighborhood at the end of the week that I was there. I am a total sucker for a yard sale, and as we were attempting to leave early on a Saturday to head back to Virginia, the van just didn’t get very far as we encountered sale after sale after sale. The signs and set ups of these suburban sales were truly amazing. The yard sales I am used to where we live are sort of slapped up affairs with all the stuff thrown on a blanket in the yard and you have to ask how much everything is, which is fine, no worries, it’s a yard sale, but let me tell you, Parma, Ohio knows how to put together a yard sale sister! Everything was so organized and clean and all the stuff had price tags. Items were neatly laid out for viewing on tables and grouped by category, it really was dreadfully impressive, and it was like this at every single one. PLUS, there were SIGNS that had the date on them and actually led you to the sale, unlike the signs in the country where we live that might have been up for months because apparently it never occurs to anyone to date them or to go back and take DOWN their signs after the yard sale is over. The drooping florescent posters in Lousia could lead on a many miles long and winding trip to nowhere. Wasteful and incredibly frustrating! Once you’ve gone down one of our country roads, you might drive for days before encountering a crossroads or a highway sign. It’s like a short story by Stephen King; the-never-ending-country-road-to-nowhere-that-you-can’t-get-off-of. I’ve actually ended up several counties over on occasion by following one of these errant signs, and rather than turning around because I have already come so far, I continue to remain optimistic that I will come upon another road in which to put my hope and in so doing end up in West Virginia. Ah, but I digress yet again…

So there I was in suburbia, perusing the racks of children’s clothing and shelves of chotskies when I spotted ‘Toddler Jesus’ in the free box. TODDLER JESUS, in the FREE box y’all! He is adorable AND FREE?! He is by far the cutest Jesus I have ever seen and I quickly snatched him up and held him tight. One of the women having the yard sale sees my delight and comments on it; I tell her that I haven’t seen one of these since moving to the south. “Well then, you might want to keep it hidden.” She says facetiously, “You could find a burning cross in your front yard some night.” Oh dear, she doesn’t exactly have a very positive picture of the south now does she? I assure her that no one will place a burning cross in my yard if I take home Toddler Jesus. She then asks why I am in town if I live in the south. I tell her I am there for my father’s memorial service. She asks what parish the funeral was done at and which priest performed it. SEE? SEE? She just ASSUMES. All I know to tell her is that the priest is called Father Russ, and was a friend of my father’s. “Oh!” she replies, “He is at Saint Leo’s. He’s wonderful!” All righty then, glad she approves.

Having appeased the church ladies, I departed with my treasure back to the minivan and looked him over. It had been so long since seeing one of these, and never had I seen one so cute! He is dressed as a little king in a red, lace trimmed robe, cape and crown and is holding a sphere with a cross on top in one hand while giving a two fingered benediction with his other. (Sure, MY toddler stands around like that all the time). I was so used to having seen this version of wee Jesus that when daughter #1 asked why he was dressed the way he was, I had to admit that I really didn’t know, I’d never really thought about it. She was quite puzzled though and asked, “Mama, why is he wearing a red cape? Do they think he is Super Man?” and before I could answer that I didn’t know, she continues with, “Well, I guess he sort of is, isn’t he?” She then wanted to know what you were supposed to do with him. I told her that when I was a child many people attached them to the dashboards of their cars and I demonstrated. “But why?” She wanted to know. “Well, I guess they thought that it would protect them from accidents, kind of like a good luck charm, but I have always thought that if you are going to attach him to the dash he should really be facing this way so that he can see where he is going“, and I turned the little statue to face the windshield. A sigh and an “Oh Mom.” Is what I got in return. But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know why he was dressed in such an elegant way, or why he was being depicted as a child in the first place rather than an adult Jesus. It is just one of those things that you grow up seeing around you so often that to actually think about the ‘whys’ never occurs to you. After all, I grew up in the land of ‘Bathtub Marys’ and plastic pink flamingos in every other yard, so baby dolls dressed up in lacy finery meant to represent a young Jesus was just something you saw all over the place. Toddler Jesus watches over restaurants and bars from perches high on a shelf next to the TV broadcasting the sports channel. He peers from shop windows, peeks from behind cash registers and gazes down from fireplace mantels in private homes. But it did spark a need to know, so once back home I set to finding out what I could about this dapper little guy even though I had no idea what this kind of depiction of the Christ child might be called. Still, it didn’t take long to find the information I was searching for on the internet by entering in a brief description, (bless the web’s little mechanical heart).

Apparently, these statues are meant to be copies of The Infant Jesus of Prague which is housed in the Church Of Our Lady Of Victory in Bohemia ( it certainly makes since that he would be so popular in northern Ohio since most families in the area have roots in eastern Europe and Italy). The Infant of Prague is considered a “miraculous image”, and here are the basics of the story: in 1620, Ferdinand, Emperor of Austria won in a battle against the united Protestant armies near the city of Prague. He attributed his success to the infant Jesus because just before the battle, as he and his Catholic advisors were preparing to attack, the priest that ministered to them, a learned Carmelite priest called Father Dominic, held high a painting of the nativity of Jesus and exhorted the emperor to go forth in unwavering confidence in the all-powerful help of the infant Jesus. Apparently, they did so and interpreted their victory as reward for their faith. In gratitude, the Emperor founded a Carmelite monastery at Prague. So things went along for a few years, the infant Jesus not really playing much of a part in the life of the monastery until one day, a noble lady came to the city to visit her daughter, the Princess Polixena. She was presented with the gift of a highly prized family heirloom; a wooden statue with a wax coating representing the infant Jesus in all his majestic splendor. He was clothed in a well decorated dress and mantle, and held a globe of the world topped with a cross to represent his kingly sovereignty (called an Imperial Orb), and his other hand held in a sign of peace. Later, the Princess decided to give the little king to the Carmelites with the direction to honor the infant so that they would never be wanting. Through these early years, the image came to be associated with the fulfillment of answered prayers, thus it being venerated as “miraculous”.

Unfortunately, in 1631 the Swedish Protestant army invaded Prague and Catholic churches and monasteries were pillaged, the wee statue was tossed upon a pile of garbage where it lay for seven years, its tiny hands broken off. When once again the priests were restored to their monastery, there came a novice named Cyirlus who remembered the statue and searched for it until it was found once more. He claimed the statue spoke to him and commanded that its hands be restored to it. Once he had recovered from the shock of being addressed by a wooden doll covered in refuse, he set to finding a benefactor to pay for the restoration. He found one that gave him so much money that he decided to replace the entire statue. When the imposter was set in the original’s place however, it was quickly struck down by a falling candlestick and broken to pieces. The prior became very ill and had to resign and everyone took this as a sign that the original statue was very displeased that it still did not have its hands after SPECIFICALLY asking for them to be given back. The new prior set to restoring the hands to the original statue. Once happily re-establish and given a new gold plated shrine, the little statue once again set to dispensing its favor and in recognition of this, was given a crown to complete his regal ensemble in 1655. And there he has remained to this day, being reproduced by the millions and distributed throughout the world. Wow.

Have I mentioned Lily’s revulsion towards baby dolls? Dolls depicting teenagers or women are apparently fine for some reason, so Barbie and Brats are no problem, but baby dolls totally give her creeps. Lily claims to be so repulsed by the site of a baby doll that she can’t eat if one is in the same room. She claims that they make her sick. My Toddler Jesus has remained in the minivan since I acquired him and Lily claims that the site of him is causing her great distress. Even if I turn him around so that he is facing away from her, she still protests. So I guess that Toddler Jesus is going to have to find somewhere to reside out of Lily’s site. Perhaps I could use him as a guard to keep my kid from ‘borrowing’ my stuff. Can you imagine? Every time Lily goes to peek into one of my drawers out pops Toddler Jesus. No, I am not so cruel as to use him for such a purpose. Although, to rig something up where a disembodied voice moans “My hands! Give me back my hands!” when an off-limits drawer is opened IS quite tempting. But no, it won’t be gold plated, but I will find a shelf somewhere in the house for ‘TJ’ to rest upon. I will keep the little guy close at hand so that when I am confused about a decision that must be made, he will remind me to ask ‘What Would Toddler Jesus Do?’ WWTJD y’all.

©KKW 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A year ago today I was handed a screaming, terrified two year old half-way around the world and sent on my way. After five minutes, I don’t think either of us has looked back even once. It still amazes me to think about how I became a parent, I still sometimes just shake my head in wonder….and bewilderment…..or maybe that is just caused by sleep deprivation.

Monday, September 14, 2009


On September 8th, Lily became nine years old! Wow, where has my baby gone? We celebrated quietly at home the day before with a chocolate-chocolate cake and she opened gifts from her Grammy, Miss Nan and Mama and Meika. Grammy sent several gifts, but the most special is a brooch that Papa Dewayne had given to Grammy that belonged to his mother of a most beautiful dragon with pearls and turquoise, both Mama and Lily had a time of it keeping the tears from their eyes since Papa Dewayne has been gone from us now for three years. Lily having been born in the year of the dragon also makes the gift quite cool!

Miss Nan sent her always beautifully wrapped gifts, she has added to the sea shell collection she started for Lily a few birthdays back and sent some exceptionally beautiful specimens along with a book to identify the shells. She also sent another of the huge box of crayons, which is fortunate, since Lily had decided that her little sister didn’t need so many crayons when she got a box like it for HER birthday and had absconded with half of them. She sheepishly retrieved her sister’s box and replaced it. Does M
iss Nan know this girl or what?

From Meika she received a whole pile of books and declared that her sister really knew how to pick out some good books (and the Mama just happened to hit a dollar sale at Borders too). From Mama she received a new WII game to play together (if the Mom ever finishes this years drawings for Corning and can do some fun stuff), and several new outfits which included a real silver necklace that Lily had admired one day while out shopping.

She would have like to have her friend Rya over for a sleep over since she has been bugging the Mama for years to have a sleep over, but having just gotten back from the memorial service in Ohio for Kim’s dad, we didn’t have time to plan it despite the cries of ‘NO FAIR’ from the birthday girl (and the Mom just didn’t have the energy to stay up all night refereeing). So that will have to be sometime in the near future.

Happy Birthday sweet daughter, I’m glad you are mine!!

©KKW 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009


Meika celebrates her third birthday today, her first with her family! On Sunday our friends Jennica, Rya and Teak came over for cake and gift opening. Meika received a very lovely Ling doll from her friends, one the Mama had read about and admired before they ever came out. Even Lily, who is not fond of dolls, decided that she could make an exception for that one, so the Mama had to place Ling up high for her own protection.

From her Grammy, Meika received some wee dinosaurs that grow when they are added to water, an alphabet puzzle, which she and Teak immediately set to putting together, a very cute glass alligator which had to be quickly put ‘back to bed’ in its box so as not to loose any limbs, a sweet little heart box filled with M & Ms which Meika generously shared with her party-mates and the flamingo plates and napkins which we were using to serve the cake.

Miss Nan, a friend of Mama’s from
the old days at Colonial Williamsburg, sent the biggest box of crayons any of us had ever seen, plus two brand new coloring books, yummy animal crackers and the most beautiful dress up shoes, tutu, crown and wand, all of which Meika wanted to sleep in that night.

From Mama and sister Lily, she received ‘Ni Hao Kia Lan’ toys, a real find since they are normally somewhat hard to get hold of, but we hit the local Target just at the right time one Saturday and sc
ored two play sets, a bubble maker and a DVD.

So, all in all, quite a haul for one so young. Last Christmas, Meika having only been home with us for three months, the concept of presents was a new one and though she was happy to play with the resulting toys, the idea that they were just for her was one she didn’t quite grasp. Not so this time around, she got that the brightly wrapped presents were for her and her alone. She realized that she was suppose to rip off the pretty paper to reveal a hidden treasure; and no help from anyone, thank you very much. Though very willing to share her treasures once unwrapped, the actual unwrapping part she wanted all to herself.

And then of course, there was cake, no explanation needed there, she sat smiling and pleased as we all sang the birthday song and quickly understood what she was to do with the candles. And later at dinner time, once the Mama told her there would not be another piece of cake for dessert unless all the vegetables were also eaten on her plate, those veggies were quickly gobbled up and birthday cake devoured lickety split. Today she will be taking cupcakes to preschool and I am su
re, more attention will eagerly be lavished upon her. What fun! Happy Birthday Meika, we are glad you are ours!

©KKW 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


My father, Edwin John Wagner, died today, two days short of his 83rd birthday. He had been battling cancer for several years and waged a valiant fight. Since he had been ill for so long, my brothers and I had time to prepare for his going, never the less, the death of a parent takes a piece of a child’s soul with it.

My dad wasn’t the perfect figure of a father. He expressed to me several times that he had never intended to be a family man; never intended to or had any interest in having children. Still, here we are, myself and two brothers with children of our own. I do not know why my father felt the need to tell me, his child, that we were essentially unwanted by him. I can speculate, but I’d rather not since he did not tell me this in anger or regret so much as it being an excuse for his shortcomings. We are what we are and we work with what we have. Hopefully, we give the best that we are able.

My dad was a high school teacher when I was young, but when I started kindergarten, he began law school and became a lawyer when I was in 4th grade. He was a liberal through and through and as such had a soft spot for the down trodden. He seemed to take the cases no one else wanted because of their inability to pay and as a result, he was not an attorney of means; he made a middle class living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. M
any times he would barter for his services and some guy would show up at the house to fix the furnace, or the roof or mow the lawn or work on the car.

He loved to golf above all else, and my brothers and I will be scattering his ashes at his favorite course
soon. He made many of his friends on the golf course and I am sure, spent his best hours there in the sunshine on the green of a closely cropped lawn, whacking the heck out of that little white ball.

My children did not know him well since he lived in Ohio and we in Virginia; Meika, my youngest, has never met him, but Lily has spent time with him and can remember for her sister. In his battle with cancer his right ear was removed several years ago, there after Lily would get on the phone with him and each time ask if his ear had grown back yet. This made him laugh, and I’m grateful that she did so; to be able to laugh at one’s self is an estimable quality.

I have always heard my father introduce himself as ‘Ed’ Wagner, yet curiously it seems many of those outside his family called him ‘Eddie’, even those who had just met him. I was amazed to call the hospital recently
and when a nurse answered the phone and I asked to speak to him I heard her say, “Hey Eddie, it’s your daughter on the phone.” It made me wonder, what made him ‘Eddie’ to so many? It remains a mystery to me, but there must be a reason and perhaps someday I will know what it is. His siblings and parents called him ‘Bud’, which was short for ‘Buddy’. When my dad arrived on the family scene in 1926, his older brother Harold began calling this new playmate his “little buddy” and the nickname stuck. I think I was about ten years old before it occurred to me to ask my Grandmother why my dad was being referred to by the name ‘Bud’. (That's him on the right with several of his siblings)

My father was quite talented artistically, but didn’t often use his gifts. There remain a few paintings and drawings and I believe that from him I inherited my artistic abilities. It is those abilities that have led me to a career illustrating books and several years ago I contracted to illustrate an archaeology book written by a well known archaeologist here in Virginia. He had grown up in Ohio and it turns out he attended the high school my father taught at in the 1950s. My father coached him in football and he told me that my dad had been an enormous influence on him in those early years of his youth. That ‘Coach Wagner’ had advised him and supported him when he desperately needed someone to do so. He also knew my mother and her family; his elder sister was my mother’s best friend in high school. And here I was thirty years later illustrating one of his books; a book he said that he was able to be successful at writing in part due to my father’s encouragement and lessons in determination. Wow, talk about full circle!

He coached a lot of athletic teams in his school teaching days and as a young child I would jump at any chance to be with him. He went to every basketball game at the high school at which he taught, even if he wasn’t coaching and I always asked to go just so I could spend time with him alone. To this day, the sounds of a basketball game; the pound and squeak of sneakers on a highly polished wood floor, the ping of a well inflated ball, the overly loud buzzer sounding the end of the game, and the smell of popcorn takes me straight back to standing in the door way of a high school gymnasium, my dad towering above me, arms folded, shouting encouragement or insult in the direction of the game.

There was also a time when my father decided to attend Mass each morning before work in addition to
Sundays, and I would drag myself out of bed in the wee hours of the bitterly cold Ohio winter mornings so that I could go with him just to have him to myself. We never spoke, I just tagged along in silence, but it was enough just to be with my dad, hoping to win his approval in any way I could, kneeling beside him in the nearly empty, echoing church.

I know that I have spent much of my life seeking that approval and attention from my father; his praise did not come easily, and I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, but it did, it trailed after my life silent, but ever present. It mattered. And then after adopting my second daughter Meika almost a year ago, he told me more than once how very proud he was of me, that I was a good and loving mother to two children who needed one. I had waited fifty years, but in the end my dad was proud of me and told me so. And look at what he was proud of me for, not for any accomplishments of career or fame or fortune, but for being a parent; a good parent, the very thing that he professed to have not wanted and claimed not be good at. Circles of living experiences. Circles of deep emotion. Circles of life. Within me and my brothers and our children the good in my father will live on.

©KKW August 19, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I’ve been exceedingly tired lately and have developed a twitchy eye. I’ve come to the conclusion that these are due to the ceaseless, non-stop badgering of my own psyche. Does everyone have such a noisy mind? If I wake up in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom, my brain just can’t pass up the opportunity to cause me grief.

“Oh, you up? Great, I was thinking…..”

“Shut up! Just shut up will you? Let me go to the bathroom in peace, it’s the middle of the night for crying out loud, I can’t do anything about anything right now. Dang, leave me alone!”

“No, seriously, I was thinking about your schedule for tomorrow, or is it now today? Anyway, at lunch you need to….”

“Shut UP! Leave me alone, can’t you see that I am trying to go back to sleep? Stop talking already!”

“Oh, sorry, my bad. Go back to sleep. See you in your dreams.”

“Wait. No! What?” Because yes, even my subconscious is not safe from the badgering of my ever present infuriatingly noisy intellect.

Sometimes I am successful in maintaining only a semi-state of unconsciousness, just long enough to stumble to the bathroom and back to bed and fall back asleep quickly, at other times I am doomed to lay there staring into the dark while my brain bombards me with useless information and imaginings. Once awakened in the morning, I haven’t even opened my eyes before the list of what needs to be done that day is being shouted at me by…well, me.

Meditation helps, but the practice of trying to think about nothing has been a difficult one for me to master. My attempts at clearing my mind usually result in a blank slate for my subconscious to throw things at, yet I persist and it is helping.

Lists help as well, if I can order my tasks on paper it frees up some of the free-flowing perpetual nagging. Sheesh, I am being nagged by myself, how pathetic. But there is a lot to have to tackle in a day and even more to keep track of. I am a single Mama with two young daughters, a full-time day job which I commute to an hour each way dropping the kids off at two different schools. There are their activities and friends; shopping, food preparation, laundry, house cleaning, yard work. There is my free-lance work that needs to be worked on in the evenings after the kids are in bed. The pets need attention, the kids need attention, my poor aching brain needs attention. And then there are all the things that I would LIKE to do that don’t get any attention because there is no time left over, like creative projects, painting, drawing, sewing, writing, practicing on my musical instruments. And building projects; the small deck that has remained incomplete for four years, the swing set my children want built, the repairs needed to the critter’s pens, the expansion of the vegetable garden. There just is so much I want to accomplish and the days are so short! As a result I create and build things in my head while driving, or while working on a drawing at the office. These blog entries? Totally written in my head and then quickly typed up when ever I get a few minutes to myself; a rarity. The benefit to this ultra reviewing of all creative projects though is that once I am able to devote any time to them, they have been well worked out and planned for so that I can jump in like a frog on a live wire and get it done; power tools buzzing and dust flying. While I am typing this up I am also working out the details of the raised beds I want to build for the veggie garden.

And it isn’t just about what I have to do, or need to do or even what I am doing at that particular moment, it is a constant, running dialog about EVERYTHING, news, the world, people, my kids, television shows, books, this blog, music, poetry, art, world hunger, how to build a tree house, what the word “atherosclerosis” means, the design of the latest web site I am working on, the best recipe for brownies, what I am going to have for lunch, do I even have time for lunch, no? then what errands need doing at lunch, why does the name ‘Pia Isadora’ sound so familiar but I don’t remember who or what she is, what ever happened to that red raincoat I had when I was seven, what was the name of my first grade teacher, wonder how old she is now, maybe she’s dead, what was that dream I had last night, what did it mean, why did I dream about praying mantises taking over the world and making us all tap dance, do I need to get gas? Milk? A sedative maybe?

I’ve heard the statement often: “I don’t know HOW you do it!” Usually, I just smile, but what I am thinking is, “Yeah, neither do I.” Or more truthfully, “I don’t! It’s not all getting done! Life wasn’t meant to be this hectic! I want time, more time for fun stuff! I want to take the kids camping, I want a pedicure, and I want a clean house, clean laundry, my lawn mowed. I want to paint, write, and draw. I want to try and remember how to play the hammered dulcimer, I want to read more to the kids, build them their swing set, cuddle more and bake cookies with them more often. I want the stupid deck finished and I want time to sit on it with a cold iced tea and a magazine. Somebody heeeeeeeeeelp meeeeeeeeeee!!” Oh, sorry, I feel better now, really. Just needed to mentally throw a bucket of cold water in my face.

I’ve actually argued with myself about whether sleep is really a necessity. “Surely you don’t need to sleep tonight; just think about all you can get done!”

“No, I need eight hours to function properly.”

“No, no you don’t, three would be just fine, you can do three.”

”No, I need at least seven.”

“Seven? No, three, four at the most.” But what usually happens is that I just go until I can’t go anymore and fantasize about what it would be like if there was someone who could carry me to bed because once I reach that point I am hard pressed to drag myself up the stairs, brush my teeth and collapse into unconsciousness.

So, what my brain has been working on most lately is how to remedy this situation. I feel myself building to some sort of breaking point. No, don’t worry, I am not in any danger of freaking out, ‘breaking point’ is probably not the correct phrase, ‘break through’ would be more like it. I need to figure out a way to change the status quo, a way to live the life I wish for myself and my children. I – need – a - plan. How to accomplish this, I am not sure of yet, but my brain is working on it. It’s working so hard that my twitchy eye is madly twitching at this very moment. And when I have figured it out you’ll be the first to know. Cheers!

©KKW 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009


I have a huge drawer full to the brim with underwear that I have never worn and will never wear. I have been going through it recently and attempting to part with what I do not need because it is ridiculous to continue to rifle through an entire draw of clothing each morning just to find the few pairs of undies I will actually wear. Kind of weird though giving away underwear, even to the thrift store, I mean I don’t feel comfortable selling it, even if it’s new on Ebay for heaven’s sake. (Although, who knows, maybe there is a market for middle-aged women’s granny pants. Eeeww, too creepy to think about, forget I ever mentioned it!). Finding underwear that both fits and is comfortable, as all women know, remains a life’s quest. If you find a brand you like, stock up, because they won’t be available next month due to changing styles and materials. Even if the store allows it, trying them on there just isn’t something I want to do and when they end up being ill-fitting or uncomfortable, I end up with a drawer full of stuff I will never wear.

I used to be young and thin and was utterly unaware of my blessed state. I rarely thought at all about my body image and ate what I wanted. But with the onset of age and the removal of my thyroid for medical reasons, on came the weight. My body is a pretty equal opportunity kind of girl, the fat distributing itself fairly evenly on all body parts, so suddenly I have breasts for the first time in my life, something I thought that I wanted when I was a wee thing, oh foolish, foolish girl.

When I was young I didn’t really need to wear a bra, my breasts were fairly small and stayed where they were suppose to stay. I wore a bra or camisole solely for modesty’s sake. In fact, while I was in college the camisole wasn’t yet available (although a “teddy” was, remember those? Totally impractical!), so I went to the children’s department of J.C. Penny’s and bought girl’s undershirts and wore those. Wow, I used to be so tiny! And anemic. Now however, between the effects of gravity and weight gain, my going bra-less w
ould NOT be a pretty site! Walking down the street this way might cause folks to run screaming in the opposite direction with their hands over their eyes. What cruel twist has Mother Nature wrought that when slender and young I am barely an A cup, but in order to enjoy being busty I must also endure being fat. Not fair!

In my opinion, bras are hateful things, who the heck decided that breasts ought to be imprisoned in such an uncomfortable way? Under wires, over wires, side support wires, goodness, my breast aren’t wild animals that need to be confined for pete’s sake! Does steel actually need to be involved in a piece of underclothing? At least for the moment, my breasts still point forward and not down at the floor, so it isn’t like I need a cage built around each one in order for them to stay in the general area to which they originally grew. Something in a nice natural fabric like cotton would be nice, but most under things are made of synthetic fabrics for some reason. Why, oh why would I want to place hot, unbreathable, restrictive synthetics up against the most delicate parts of my anatomy? And I live in the south, where come August all fabric, including cotton ends up feeling like latex against one’s skin because of the combined heat and humidity. I might as well wrap myself in plastic wrap and be done with it, because that is about how comfortable the average bra is. So it got me to thinking about who, in all his vast wisdom, invented the bra and why.

Throughout the last two thousand years of history most women in the western parts of the world wore a chemise under their many layers of petticoats and dresses, this doubled as an under-garment as well as a sleeping gown. Linen and wool were the most commonly available materials for fabrics; both are rather uncomfortable in there own ways, even linen. And if you are thinking of the lovely silky smooth linen of today, think again, I’ve made linen from scratch (I really have, it was part of a job I once had at a museum I worked at many years ago) it is made from the flax plant which has a tough outer husk and when prepared by hand the process is not only tedious but imperfect; bits of husk invariably end up in the finished product causing skin irritation. A popular fabric of the day was called ‘linsey-woolsey’; it was a blend of both linen a
nd wool. So for the price of one skin torturing textile, you could get two competing elements for who will be the prickliest and drive you to go commando first. There was of course cotton, but it was expensive owing to the high cost of picking the pods and then plucking out all those cotton seeds, and much of cotton early on was imported from the East.

Up until the early 16th century, most breasts were free to be breasts in all their resplendent, dangling, perky or downward
s pointing glory. Then began the reign of the corset and suddenly breasts were made to contort themselves into shapes and places that didn’t come naturally. Some corsets pushed the bust up, some down, some pushed them in and some just squished them flat, and thus it went for several hundred painful, breath stealing years. And to add to the restrictions of the upper torso, women’s underwear also included hoop-skirts and fanny rolls and even bust padding. One of the more bizarre styles to have developed, in my opinion, was the idealized figure of ‘The Gibson Girl’ around the turn of the 20th century; a miniscule waist, a stuffed bust that ran from waist to neck and a padded back end, all of course fabricated with corsets, bone, metal and many ties. I’m having trouble breathing just thinking about it. (See the photo at right, is her posture the style of the day or is her nose seeking out much needed oxygen? It appears even her hands are beginning to curl up from lack of the life sustaining stuff!)

The invention of the cotton gin and the spinning jenny in the second half of the 18th century made cotton more available and affordable and this allowed for the making of mass-produced underwear in factories. Suddenly undergarments were available in stores instead of having to make them at home.

In the late 19th century the union suit was invented in Utica, New York, it was a one-piece front buttoned garment usually made of knitted material. It had long sleeves that extended to the wrist, legs that extended to the ankles and buttoned up to the neck. Oh those inventive repressed Victorians! Great in the winter I suppose, but a bit warm for some parts of the country. And though it had a buttoned flap in the back to make it easier to access body parts that needed regular attention, I can’t think that it was very convenient, especially for women who also had layers upon layers of skirts to deal with, and in a limited confining space such as in an out-house. Thus long johns, a two-piece version of the union suit, soon followed.

Finally, in 1913, a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob created the first brassiere using some ribbon and two handkerchiefs. Apparently, her original intention was to simply cover the whale bone sticking out of her corset, it being visible through her sheer dress. She then began making them for friends; the word spread and within a year Jacob had a patent for her design and began marketing it in the States. A woman invented the bra?! And here I just assumed that I had a man to thank for this torture device because I didn’t think that who ever invented the thing must have ever actually had to wear them. But then again when I think about the time in which the modern bra was invented and the original materials used, Mary’s idea could actually be considered liberating. (In actuality, bra-like clothing had been worn for thousands of years by women, just not regularly and no one until Jacob had thought to launch a marketing campaign). Couple the popularity of the new brassiere with women beginning to take an interest in athletic pursuits such as cycling and tennis, plus a metal shortage due to the First World War and soon the demise of the corset was assured. (Praise be.) Leave it to war to be the mother of invention!

In the 50’s and 60’s manufacturers began experimenting with synthetic fabrics (blast them!), as well as with color and style. What used to be simple white pieces of under clothing suddenly became colorful and stylish. The bust once again began to be emphasized and the ‘bullet bra’ inspired by Christian Dior’s designs hit the market. I remember my fifth grade teacher Miss Augustine favored these. Miss Augustine was a very, um, ‘healthy’ woman of perhaps forty. She had a flaming red bouffant, a big, very round behind and a breast shelf that you could balance a family of acrobats on. I remember watching her each morning as we pledged our allegiance to the flag as her hand came up to rest upon the vast expanse of her conical projections. I stood spellbound as only a nine year old girl could be, imagining the wonders still in store for me as I matured. Alas, the likes of which Miss Augustine displayed were never to appear upon my person, for which I am now quite grateful. Whew! dodged that bullet...bra.

Of course th
e 60’s also had that brief few years of young women declaring their desire to burn their bras, although I have always suspected that it may have been more the influence of the young men in the crowd encouraging that craze. Or perhaps women just felt a little left out with many combat aged men burning their draft cards during the Vietnam War, and searching quickly for a symbol of their oppression grabbed what was closest at hand; their brassieres.

And so, after this long history lesson on unmentionables, we arrive back at my personal dilemma; finding comfortable, natural fabric, inexpensive bras and undies. I had seen on Oprah that the “experts” suggest that women have
a bra fitting at least every few years and that she needed to have at least seven bras, one for each day of the week. I held this information in my head for quite awhile before one day while finding myself in a large department store with my eldest; age seven at the time, I decided it was time for a fitting. (For me, not my seven year old).

I explained to the “fitter”, who was a dead ringer for Miss Augustine, that I found bras to be quite hateful. She seemed to take offense but quickly shook it off and hustled me into a fitting room while pulling her tape measure from around her amble neck. When I striped to the waist in the presence of this stranger my young daughter gasped. “Mama! We are not supposed to show our privates to strangers!” she cried in horror. Before I could respond the fitter declared that she had seen “thousands, maybe millions of pairs of breasts, no big deal, dear.” I added my reassurance to my little one that it was okay; that this was the woman’s job. “It’s her job to look at breasts?!” she almost screamed, and I am sure that her high little outraged voice carried all the way to the store’s main floor. Oye. I told her that I would explain it later and to just sit there quietly please. Did you know that a blush extends all the way to one’s breasts? Well, it does, now you know.

After measuring me here, there and all around, a size judgment was made and dozens of bras were brought before me to try on. It was horrible, I hate trying on clothes as it is, but bras, ugh! We had to rule out all synthetics, lace and spaghetti straps, that left about three bras; at least the vast numbers were quickly diminished. I decided that there were two that were okay and then looked at the price tags. Now, if I had just looked at the prices to begin with I would never have put myself through this torturous process in the first place. $100.00 for a bra?! $55.00 for a single pair of underpants?! No way…. Seriously? I tried not to show my shock and picked the least expensive, which was $75.00 figuring after all this trouble I should at least give the thing a chance to change my figure…and it dog-gone better change my life in some positive way as well at that price! I took it home and figured its horrid under wires might be more comfortable after I washed it. I was wrong. I have never actually worn this particular bra for more than a few minutes; there is sits, sad and lonely with all the rest of the underwear rejects in the afore mentioned dresser drawer. I can get rid of the rest, but this one is brand new and too recently purchased; it will have to sit in that drawer a while longer before it finally meets the fate of all the rest of the castoffs. Silly, I know, but it’s my way. Fortunately for me I made a wonderful discover at Target last week, a soft, cotton, wire-free, lace-free reasonably priced ($16.00!) bra that fits and is comfortable. Thank you Gillian O’Malley (brand) for hearing my silent scream, er, plea. Once I had actually worn this version all day and had not been tempted to shred it from my body while at work since it is really quite comfortable, I went back and bought the requisite seven bras, one for each day of the week, just like the holy experts instructed. I have considered going back and loading up because I just know they won’t be there the next time I am ready to buy, but I will try to restrain myself. And that expensive one from the department store? I think I’ll burn it and symbolically liberate my breasts. I’m sure if they could they would dance for joy, or if not dance, they can at least dangle with delight.

©KKW 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009


A year ago on April 15th I received & accepted the referral for my second daughter who was living in an orphanage in Chengdu, China. A few weeks later, on May 12th, the devastating earthquake hit Sichuan Province and horror at the loss of life and anxiety for my two year old daughter whom I had not yet met consumed me. It was three days later that I received news via a kind stranger in Beijing who personally called the orphanage for me at her own expense, that my new daughter and all others at the orphanage were safe but living in tents outside the buildings worried about frightening aftershocks.

In September of 2008, four short months after the earthquake, I and my eldest daughter along with my best friend traveled to Chengdu to finally meet & I adopt my second daughter from China. Though we saw no obvious evidence of the earthquake in the city, it was not far from my mind as I know it will live always in the minds and hearts of all of China. There were bill boards with words of thanks for the relief efforts and signs of remembrance, not just in Chengdu, but in the other areas of China to which we traveled as well. I am so grateful that my daughter, the other children and kind caregivers remained safe and strong through all the months that they spent in tents. But my heart still breaks for those families that lost their children, parents, siblings and friends. Due to the one child policy in force since the 1980s, probably in most cases families had lost their only child. I look at the faces of my children, who are mine in part due to this very same policy, and bless their birth parents and grieve with those who lost the most precious of gifts.

While in Chengdu I wished desperately to know how the people were recovering, but didn’t want to cause more grief by asking. Our guides seemed surprised that we were so well informed about the disaster and that we cared so much. I explained how well it had been covered in our media and about NPR having had reporters already in Chengdu during the quake and their amazing reporting efforts. Still they seemed surprised at our knowledge.

I remain so very impressed with the people of China; their strength at pulling together to help each other and their resilience. Their persistence in trying to find out why so many school buildings collapsed causing the death of 10,000 children. Their willingness to both help each other recover and accept help from the outside.

Those who have survived this tragedy will hopefully someday recover, if not fully, at least enough to again find joy in life. My own little one, having endured the initial quake as well as weeks of strong after shocks remains frightened of loud rumbling noises, but fortunately, that seems to be the only lasting anxiety for her. But back in her place of birth there remain thousands of children left injured, physically and emotional, I encourage you to visit for more information on how they are helping the children work through the grief & fear brought on by this tragedy.

With the anniversary of the earthquake comes media coverage, I was watching a documentary on Sunday night about the children killed while they were in their classrooms at school and the efforts their parents made to bring to justice those responsible for the inadequate construction of the school buildings. As the tears ran down my face my eldest who is eight came into the room and seeing me crying asked why. I tried to explain to her that I felt so sorry for the parents of the hurt children because I could imagine the pain that they felt, I could imagine it because I had children too and would feel such pain if anything were to happen to them. “But Mama, we’re fine, we’re okay, don’t cry.” “I know baby, this is also why I am crying, because I am grateful that you are okay.” I reached to take the tissue that she had just pulled from the box but she insisted on carefully wiping away my tears herself. How very scary loving someone this much is. The Dali Lama has said that ‘great love involves great risk.’ And I think that this statement is especially true when it is applied to one’s children; to love a child is to risk one’s own life, heart and soul, but also to be so enriched that the risk seems as nothing to the gain. With the recent addition of my second child I have doubled that risk, but I’ll take it willingly and gratefully every moment of our lives.

©KKW 2009


What am I to my children?
Well, sometimes I feel like nothing more than a blanket, bed, chair or pillow;
a cup-holder, spoon and source from which all food comes;
a communication devise which translates, delivers messages and interprets;
an encyclopedia and fount of all knowledge;
a tissue, napkin and towel;
a maid, servant, cook and laundress;
a toy, playmate, jungle-gym, entertainer and audience;
a doctor, nurse, psychologist, and pharmacy;
a hairdresser, stylist and social secretary.
I am a clock and time-keeper, scheduler and taxi driver.
But I am also a teacher and a coach.
Protector, bodyguard and private investigator.
The listener, the adviser, the shoulder to cry on.
I am comfort, discipline, rule maker and sage.
I need to be strength and provider, wisdom and understanding.
I must use good judgment, good humor and good intelligence and insight.
I mustn’t be too tired to laugh at silly jokes or to harsh in correction or to busy to hug.
I am a home, the port in a storm, the lap to crawl into when life hurts.
The title of mother has never felt so exhausting or challenging;
but neither has anything compared to its rewards and sense of satisfaction.
No other earthly role takes so much and gives so much back to the soul.
No other responsibility has caused me more heartache, sleepless nights or worry,
and no other has brought more joy or contentment.
What an amazing challenge and tremendous honor it is to be a parent.
Now could someone please add a few more hours to my days,
send me energy enough to compete with my kids,
clean my house, order me take-out, and send a masseuse to my house occasionally
and I’ll be just fine.

©KKW 2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Three weeks ago, I got myself my first brand new riding mower. Now, it probably says something about me as a woman that I am excited about this, more so even that I care that it is my favorite color, red. Should I care what color the dad burn lawn tractor is? It isn’t that I like lawn work very much, it’s simply something that must be done, I would much rather tend the flowers and patio plants. But after years of paying someone to do it, then a couple more years feeling horribly guilty about my wonderful next door neighbor doing it and not letting me pay him for it, I finally had to buckle down and spend the money. It had to be a riding one since I have several acres to mow and I once tried to do it with a push mower last year when the weather was still cool and I barely finished just the front yard before conceding defeat and collapsing in a heap of sweat and lost breath, covered in a think layer of pollen. I just couldn’t do that every week during a sweltering Virginia summer without it seriously affecting my physical and mental health.

My new mower was delivered on a Saturday morning and once daughter #2 was safely napping in her bed and daughter #1 was equipped with a walkie-talkie in order for me to check on her while still keeping her inside the house and away from the mower, I hopped on to do my duty as a home owner. It was almost a pleasure zipping back and forth across my property, the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, the grass clippings in my teeth. My only complaint is that in taking my foot off the brake to round corners or stop, once started again the thing would take off in earnest, causing my head to whip back and my hands to grip the steering wheel in a panic so as not to topple off backwards which might wound more than just my pride; precious body parts would be at stake!

Once I finish with the lawn, I still must start up the push mower to get at the smaller spaces where the riding mower won’t fit. Finishing that, I should then use the weed wacker to trim the edges of everything, but at that point I am done-for and usually quit, I don’t really care if there are a few raggedy edges. My next door neighbor however, usually comes over with his weed eater and does mine after finishing up his own yard, he is so amazingly helpful, or perhaps it just makes him crazy to see the frayed edges of my lawn.

After coming in from my first successful lawn cutting experience, I headed to the shower. My dirty clothes were left in a heap on the floor until I finished and as I gathered them up to take downstairs to the laundry room I discovered that more than just grass clippings were carried in on my pant legs; a large host of tiny ants had also hitched a ride! I stomped the tiny beings and threw the clothes into the washer to be done immediately, but by that night word had apparently gotten out through the ant grapevine and the little critters were arriving in droves. Now I know that I did not bring this many ants into the house with me, so I am amazed at the speed with which the diminutive creepy-crawlies passed along that there was a new place to hang out. I am also mystified as to why they would want to, it’s a bathroom for pig’s sake, there is no food in there, nothing to interest an ant; I just don’t get it. Not to mention the fact that it is the upstairs bathroom, do you have any idea how far those wee bugs had to travel to go and tell their friends about the novel resort they had found and then trek all the way back? And for what?

Ants are actually very complex creatures, there are 20,000 species of ant. They are social, and live in colonies, the adults caring for the young and their queen. They are divided into specialized groups and castes; there are reproductive castes (the queen and her boy toys) and the nonproductive caste (the workers, all female). The queen ant has wings until her first mating, which when once completely she tears off (ouch!) The males keep their wings, but their only purpose in life is to mate with the queen, once a guy succeeds in doing so, he dies within two weeks .(Dies of what I wonder? Did that little tryst with Queenie take so much out of him that he must now lay down and die? Harsh.) The female ants do all the work; they raise the kids, gather the food, and build, tend and defend the nest. Huh, so the boys live in a little ant harem at the beck-and-call of the queen, but if they win the grand prize and mate with her they die, while all the women raise the kids, gather the food and do all the work. Not really sure who has the better lot in ant society.

For a couple of days I let them be, I figured that they would discover nothing of interest and move along. If I don’t have to participate in a mass extermination, even of insects, then I would just as soon not. Besides, I don’t like bug sprays in the house, especially with curious young children and to this point we hadn’t needed any. But after two days the crowds of tiny black dots had grown and it was obvious that not only were they not deterred, but that they quite liked the place. Was the trip to my bathroom some sort of adventure for them? A holiday away from the colony? Or just something new to investigate and report back on? I just couldn’t figure on why these petite creatures would desire to visit my toilet so badly.

So I tried placing a paper plate full of sticky honey in one corner of the bathroom thinking that they would come, gorge and then get hopelessly stuck like a fly in amber. It sort of worked, but as the air dried the honey out a bit not all of the ants got stuck, they just came….and gorged….and invited their friends and family. In no time at all there was a major highway of ants marching down the wall, across the floor and having the party of their lives right there in my tiny loo. It was at this point that I lost it and started searching the house for a simple can of insect spray, but because of my afore mentioned hesitance to use such a product, none was to be had. ‘Think! Think!’ I frantically thought to myself as I raced through the house grabbing the spray bottle used for ironing and a bottle of Dr. Bonner’s liquid peppermint soap. I mixed, I aimed, I shot. And shot, and shot and shot. At last, success! Those little buggers finally went belly up, and since most likely a large part of the colony was merrymaking in the paper plate, they were conveniently congregated and effectively wiped out in one soapy battle. And as an added bonus, my bathroom got a much needed cleaning.

For the next 24 hours, the occasional stray ant would wander into the previously fun-filled area, but I had my trusty spray bottle filled with minty deadliness at hand and soon my bathroom was my own again and smelling decidedly refreshing. I imagined one lucky little gal, for remember, all the foot soldiers in an ant colony are female, sent to find out what happened to the queen’s explorers and actually making it back to report due to my being elsewhere in the house at the time and therefore unable to shoot her with my spray bottle of annihilation. “Your highness, I have traveled far, but no trace can be found of my many sisters. Oh woe dear queen, our colony is a ruin! What horrible evil has offered up such sweet riches only to snatch it away along with the lives of our brave soldiers?”

As annoying as it is to have vast amounts of tiny insects crawling around one’s bathroom, it was, non-the-less, interesting to watch them. In fact, I kept having to prompt my eight year old to leave off the ant gazing and come and eat dinner. When I went to take a shower I would find myself staring in fascination at how each wee being greeted all others that she passed. What information was being transmitted I wondered. Ants communicate using pheromones. These chemical signals are more developed in ants than in any other of their insect group. They perceive smells with their thin, mobile antennae which provides information about the direction and intensity of scents. They leave a pheromone trail that their sister ants can follow. When an ant foraging for sustenance finds food she marks the trail on her way back to the colony; then the other ants follow her trail back to the food and in turn reinforce the trail when heading back with the goods. (well, this explains how and why the ants were able to invade my bathroom so quickly, but doesn’t explain what they found so interesting. Did the sweet smell of soap perhaps confuse them into thinking there was something good to eat?)

Pheromones are not just used as trail markers though; a crushed ant emits an alarm pheromone that sends the message to nearby ants to attack and attracts re-enforcements from further away. (ah ha! This explains why my stomping on them did not make them go away, but sent even more ants!). Some species even send out “propaganda pheromones” to confuse enemy ants and cause them to fight amongst themselves. (How very interesting! Political ants making little pheromone propaganda posters!) Ants even exhibit interactive teaching, which makes them the only group to do this outside of mammals. An experienced ant will take on a naïve nest-mate and she will follow along and learning from her tutor, step by tiny step.

Not all ants are pests though, weaver ants are used as a biological control for citrus cultivation in parts of China. Ants also perform other ecological roles that benefit humans, such as keeping down other kinds of pesky insect populations and aerating the soil. In parts of Africa and South America large ants are used as sutures to close wounds. Any one else see this demonstrated in the movie “Apocalypto”? The wound is pressed together and ants are applied along the cut, the ant “bites” the edges of the wound with its mandibles and they lock in place. The rest of the body is then cut off at the head leaving the closure. And anyone ever drink rooibos tea from Africa? The seeds that comprise this tea are too small for human collection; ants do it and then store the seeds in their nests. Humans then raid the nests of up to half a pound of seeds.

Ants are also eaten in many parts of the world, not only by animals and other insects, but by humans. In Mexico there is a dish known as escamoles that consists of two kinds of ant larvae. They are considered a kind of insect caviar and are priced accordingly. In Colombia they are toasted; In India, Burma and Thailand, a paste is made of green weaver ants and served as a condiment and ants and larvae are also used in salads. In Australia they are mashed up in water to make a lemony tasting drink.

Okay, so it didn’t occur to me to make a meal of my little visitors, but perhaps another time, honey covered ants anyone?
©KKW 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


With spring break’s arrival I decided we would go and visit my mother in Florida. It actually makes more sense for me to take time off of work to do this than to pay the high cost of day care for Lily in addition to Meika’s, for some reason it is ridiculously expensive to do “out of season” daycare, I guess they know they’ve got you where they want you; desperate and in dire need, so they can charge whatever they wish. But the availability and affordability of quality daycare in this country is a whole other subject and I was rambling on about vacation. So…

After the many hours spent packing (for some reason we needed more “stuff” to go to Florida for a week than we did to go to China for a month), we set off at 3am on Saturday morning, and being that I now have a vehicle that I am not terrified to travel more than ten miles in, it made for a much more pleasant driving experience. I choose to leave in the middle of the night because it seems to work well with small children, they still have several hours of sleep ahead of them and it is still dark with nothing to interfere with them falling quickly back to sleep, giving me several blessed hours of quiet in which to drive. Plus, the traffic is quite light in those wee hours before dawn. And I need that silence, it is thirteen hours of actual drive time to arrive at where my mother lives in central Florida, plus all the stopping that must be done in order to use the restroom, eat, stretch and just maintain sanity. Once I pass South of the Border I know that I am nearly halfway there and that past this point there will not be another Starbucks for 400 miles, so get it now sweetheart because Mama needs that liquid fuel just like the van needs petrol.

We had no particular plans other than to just hang out, my mom has a pool, which Lily would spend all waking hours in if allowed, and anything that I got to do that didn’t involve going to work or our usual routine is a vacation to me. I hadn’t been able to sit down and read even one magazine since adopting Meika last September, so I had brought along a huge pile of unread material to try and get through…I succeeded in whittling down the pile by one, oh well, it was far more relaxing just to sit at pool side while Lily swam and watch the sun go down.

The Easter Bunny arrived a little bit late, guess he slept in (or due to driving so long forgot what day it was), fortunately, he was actually prepared, just delayed in his delivery. Then, another set of Easter Bunnies hid eggs and more baskets in the front yard and several other children and grandchildren of friends showed up and we had an egg hunt! What fun! It didn’t take Meika long to grasp the concept and hunt down her quarry. Lily of course was a blur as she raced around the yard searching for her eggs. That Easter Bunny was so cleaver that he marked all the eggs so that the kids only gathered their own.

Then a couple of days later the Grandmas and Mamas and girls of these families all went to have a tea party at the local tea house, which was quite lovely. For the most part, manners were well observed.

On another day we went to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park where there are mermaids! The Seminole Indians named the spring, which means “little spring” or “winding river”. The bottom has never been found because it is so deep and each day 117 million gallons of fresh, 72-degree water bubbles up from the subterranean caverns. It is in the basin of the spring, lined naturally with limestone, that the mermaids swim 20 feet below the surface. A theater that sits sixteen feet below the surface of the spring allows visitors to watch the show in a dry environment. Opened in 1947 by Newton Perry as a roadside attraction, he found the spring filled with old rusted refrigerators and cars. He had it cleaned out and being a former Navy SEAL, Perry experimented with underwater breathing hoses which supplied oxygen from an air compressor rather than an air tank strapped to the back of the diver, making the feat more dramatic and theatrical. He then scouted pretty girls and taught them to use the air hoses and smile at the same time as well as to eat and drink while underwater and perform aquatic ballets.

We saw two shows, one was “The Little Mermaid” and the other was a demonstration from the Mermaids of their abilities. Lily spent most of the shows mumbling to herself and trying to decide if they were real mermaids or not. She could see the breathing hoses, but still….I suggested that perhaps they were half human and half mermaid because no ordinary person could hold their breath for that long. And indeed, one mermaid held her breath for almost 3 full minutes in order to swim down to the deepest part of the basin, it was quite a feat and very impressive!

After the show we had a chance to take a picture with one of the mermaids, but Meika decided that she was still not comfortable being handed off to a total stranger, even if she was a mermaid! It wasn’t just children having their likeness taken either, the park offers a photo service; they will take your picture with a mermaid and having her autograph it. There were several older adult women having this done. Huh. What exactly do these women do with this photo once home? Is it placed front and center on the mantal? And what can one say about it once framed, ‘Take a gander at this picture Mabel, me and a busty mermaid! Honey, it was the highlight of my trip!’ Okay, to each her own.

Following are some more photos of the day; that’s my mom in the shell with the girls. Lily has got the mermaid pose down just right. And that’s Maggie, my mom’s fiancé Dennis’ dog, she and Lily are real pals.