When the best Christmas gift ever was an ant farm…

It’s funny, the things that motivate a person to keep blogging. I’m pretty ambivalent about the process these days because. although I find the updates about other people’s lives- snow storms, giant cows, RV interiors- to be consistently interesting (I’m serious, I love them)- rehashing the details of my life is sort of boring to me. I guess in that regard I don’t really play well with others. But Bonnie checked in and I also got an e-mail from a new visitor and fiber artist, who lives near the Asheville house so those were both rewarding enough to get me back here in fairly short order.

I commented last post on how I was channeling my mother’s perfectionist tendencies. Bonnie used to write, “Call your mother!” Conversely, my mother calls on me and not always in favorable ways. I’ve said often enough before that she wasn’t all that big on mothering and it was only later, after we fell out of that relationship and into one of friendship that we grew close and then she didn’t stay alive long enough to suit me. But here was one of the really neat things about my mom: she always let us have just about any pet we wanted. We had felines and rodents and bunnies and fish and all manner of creatures. The least warm and fuzzy but one of the most interesting was my brother’s ant farm that he got for Christmas one year. I was insanely jealous but he was unusually hospitable about letting me in his room and together we watched those industrious and organized busy bodies for hours. I’m sure, more than 50 years later, my memories around the ant farm have been revised but it seems like it came fully stocked with ants and they lived a really long time. I remember watching them hustle up and down, up and down between the clear plastic walls, endlessly rearranging white chunks of inorganic stuff, sustained only by the daily addition of  sugar water.

This year, Rich and I exchanged very small gifts and it was just right. He gave me some very cool sparkly pipe cleaners and sheets of colored foam and a box of crayons, all items that stir my creative juices thinking about how I can incorporate them into my fiber art. He also gave me a jar of Smuckers butterscotch ice cream topping that I can eat in bed late at night while I read. I don’t like ice cream, just the topping. But in addition to those gifts, it seems I got my very own, very extensive ant farm for Christmas. It’s in the bathroom. What started out as a minor irritation has now grown into a somewhat alarming fascination and I find myself studying these ants with the same intense curiosity I had as a child staring at Bruce’s ant farm.

Here in Florida there are more insects than you can ever hope to eradicate, should you choose and more and more I’m getting into mass extermination. I found dry wood termites in a piece of antique furniture- that was a horrific little mini nightmare. The garden has behemoth grasshoppers, there are banana slugs the size of apple slices and the mosquitoes are vicious high velocity whiners. Feeding the raptors, I encounter all manner of biting, stinging, flying, creeping, crawling bugs and a recent necrotizing lesion on my hand was diagnosed as  from a venomous spider bite that I know for certain was lurking in the gauntlet I wear  to perch the hawks (I know, you want pictures and frankly, a month later it’s still gross and itchy but I’m not posting photos). That one tipped me over the edge and I’ve become a serial killer when it comes to anything with more than four legs. Except butterflies. So. When ants appeared again in the bathroom- they come and go every few months depending on the weather- I decided to erradicate them. Especially since I am now convinced that of the insects that are either eating me or eating the house and furnishings around me, it’s probable the ants are doing both.

I went to Home Depot and revisited the pesticide department to find the most deadly product available against ants. I settled for one that “Kills the QUEEN and the ENTIRE COLONY” by luring those little worker guys into carrying the poison back to “the nest.”  I put the baits out right near the wall by the toilet and now that I turn the light on in there at night (because I have to make sure they aren’t climbing up my legs and biting me while I pee) I’ve started watching the action. And here’s the thing: I don’t think that poison is working the way it’s supposed to. When on Christmas Eve, in the true spirit of the season, I put those ant traps out there were a few ants wandering around in seemingly aimless circles on the bathroom floor. (Only seemingly because ants are never aimless; they always have the purpose of colonizing first my bathroom and then the world). When I got up during the night on Christmas I paid close attention for about ten minutes and that was when I realized they were just like those industrious critters in my brother’s childhood ant farm. They were definitely coming in a straight beeline ant line from a specific tiny spot under the molding and heading for the bait, going into it and then going back from where they came. Ah, hah! it’s working, I mistakenly thought. I checked on them several times during the day yesterday and they were still coming, always six or seven of them and for all I knew, it was the same six or seven. I was also pleased to see that there were some stumbling around drunkenly and there was a small assortment of tiny ant corpses here and there and I made a mental note to sweep them up later. Well, last night, as I watched them in the wee hours (I think that’s a pun) I realized that the dead ants were gone and then I saw a couple ants carrying ant bodies away under the molding. There was a curious little crowd of them gathered in one spot and I thought maybe they were holding a funeral or saying mass or something. I was just considering the organization involved in ants carting off their dead when McCloud came in to meow for a midnight snack and he snuffled the bait trap. As I started to nudge him away he bumped it and-horrors!- about, umm, a thousand ants came racing out and headed for the woodwork. Seriously. A thousand little ants were in that bait trap. They all disappeared quickly and this morning when I went in there were the same six or seven ants going steadily back and forth between the trap and the wall. They had tided up the place nicely during the night, carting away every speck of dust and ant carcass and for all I know there are still a thousand in that ant bait thing. I’m afraid to touch it so I’m just going to watch it closely for a few nights.


Did I mention that the last, youngest child graduated from undergraduate school? Yes, she did. She graduated from the honors college at USF, a dual degree in environmental science and policy and foreign languages (Russian, Spanish, Latin, Greek, both ancient and modern). She was recognized for pursuing an exceptional full blown international research project on coastal ecology and sustainable ecotourism as her thesis and she’s very excited to continue her research while she works on a PhD. She’s waiting to hear to finalize her plans for next fall and in the meantime she’ll keep working at Fisheries and Wildlife on developing a classification key for some certain kind of Gulf shelled cephalopod. She’s come a long way from declaring she wasn’t going to college and would rather pursue a career as a student painter. (Even when I was pissed off at her for two full years she was cute.)


Felting. I’ll be back at it tomorrow after taking a few days off to enjoy Christmas. I would have enjoyed felting right through Christmas but at some point it made sense to put away all the fleece around here. While I was interim knitting away, I started thinking about a larger (BIG) project I’m working on for submission to a juried exhibition coming up in February. I’m going to be incorporating a lot of fused silk and cotton gauze along with the wool and I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty challenging. I’m feeling cautiously excited.

My work with fibers has become more and more a part of my life these days, as I teach and work on my own creations. I’ve considered breaking off to a separate blog as a place to share that but then I think I might abandon this blog altogether so I’ve decided instead to just incorporate some posts about felting along with everything else and it’s just fine if it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But if you’re curious, stick around. Tomorrow I’m going to make a felted bag out of some really luscious angora/alpaca/wool blend that I received as a Christmas gift from my good friend, Marion. Because some of you have asked, I’ll take step by step photos and show you the process from start to finish.

I hope you’re having a lovely holiday break from work and day-to-day. There’s snow tonight in Chicago and Ann Arbor- and I think some still in Asheville. None here. A night time snowman project would be fun right about now.

11 responses to “When the best Christmas gift ever was an ant farm…

  1. Congrats to Abby that’s HUGE news!!!! I hope that all is well out there in Florida, I’m sure you’ve seen the news hopping here in Ann Arbor/ Detroit. So the question becomes will I ever see you?

  2. So glad you are incorporating the felting with the weaving of the stories from your life. 🙂 It seems very appropriate to me. Love the photo of Abby. Again, a huge congratulations to her from me. I’m very happy and also cheered as a mommy going through some of the pissed of stages of my own. *sigh*

    So good to hear from you!

  3. Congratulations to Abby and her parents!!

    You can incorporate anything here, fiber or otherwise and I’ll still be reading and looking at photos!

    It occurs to me that the ants like very much whatever is in the bait and don’t realize the lethal qualities. Eventually they will all expire because they are carting it back to the nest.

  4. I would love to see your felting techniques!

  5. I’m glad you decided to continue blogging. I understand your dilemma about not wanting to post when your life just feels like “blah, blah, blah”–after blogging for 4 years I’m there. I think some of it was our first Christmas without my mother and being so far from “home” now that the “home” has been sold. I’m hoping for a bit of rejuvination in the coming months as we head into warmer climes.

    While I know I will probably never get into felting, I find your work fascinating, artistic and delightful so I would really enjoy seeing what you do to create such beautiful and fun pieces. So yes please, how-to posts!

  6. So, here’s the thing–it isn’t so much WHAT you write about as the way you write.
    Although, now, I will be fearful of getting up at night to pee–how can one NOT do that?–and will instead be looking for colonies of ants. (By the way, my brother says that song “Help Me Make it Through the Night” takes on new significance as one grows older.)
    Seriously, I love reading about your. . .life! Keep blogging. I think we’ve all gone through this–writing up a storm at the beginning, then running dry and thinking–is ANYONE out there really interested in the minutiae of MY life?

  7. Ah, to blog or not to blog, that is the question; and whether it is nobler to blog about nothing (as I do) or something (as you do) or to simply and quietly let this virtual world slip away. I’m always so glad to see a post here, I vote for you to continue with felting posts, beautiful graduating daughter posts, even ants in the wee hours of the morning posts. All good.

  8. Proverbs 6:6: Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise! You learned this lesson well, sweet, tireless Vicki!

    Mother Smucker! No Sanders?

    Your graduate is far too beautiful to be such an intellect!

    I love it when you’re cautiously excited about being felt.

    Happy 4th Day of Christmas! Would your dear mother have allowed you to have kept 4 calling (colly/European black) birds? They represent the 4 gospels, of course.

    Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
    Bless this bed that I lie on.
    Before I lay me down to sleep,
    I give my soul to Christ to keep.

    Four corners to my bed,
    Four angels ’round my head,
    One to watch, one to pray,
    And two to bear my soul away.

    I go by sea, I go by land,
    The Lord made me with his right hand,
    If any danger come to me,
    Sweet Jesus Christ, deliver me.

    For he’s the branch and I’m the flower,
    Pray God send me a happy hour,
    And if I die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take.


  9. I understand ants … but, here’s my dark secret … I don’t really understand “felting”. I mean, I know what felt is … like in bulletin boards, and things like that. I can see that what you are doing is lightyears beyond that stuff, but I don’t know the “how”.

    I really don’t know what you do when you “felt”. I realize I am the only one and it is a symptom of my neandertaliness … but could you explain it in a post sometime?

  10. Every single comment here is delightful, but as always, Bonnie takes the cake. She is a genius when it comes to creating an artful mix of sexual innuendo, bible talk, and poetry.

    I laughed out loud when I read about the ants. I clucked proudly when I read about Abby. And I sighed when you mentioned feeling ambivalent about maintaining the blog. I love it when you update, dear one.

  11. Can’t show this blog to the dear missus. Even if one ant enters our home, it’s bug bomb time. If she knew the problems you were having in Florida, she would swear it off as a wintertime destination. And I’m already tired of the cold and flurries here in Michigan.

    I remember we stayed one night at my grandmother’s trailer somewhere in Florida and there was a dead Palmetto bug there. That thing was huge. Coulda been an extra in one of those giant insect sci-fi movies. Bugs are the only things I don’t like about Florida.

    Well, the snakes too.

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