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Rattlesnakes and Late-Night Potato Pancakes

by Niki Hilsabeck in Recent Posts
Newsletter 3/31

What do rattlesnakes and potato
pancakes have in common?  Well, according to some people, both are
edible—but I’ve been vegetarian for 25 years now, so I won’t be eating
rattlesnake any time soon!

I’ve had a couple of hard life lessons in the last week.  I promise you, a connection to art will surface by the end of these stories.

Rattlesnakes have been on my list of familiar fears since we moved to Temecula when I was about 10 years old.  I’ve seen a few on our current property, but usually from afar and well aware that they were a likely presence.  A few days ago, I reached down to pull a weed, and lo and behold: a baby rattlesnake sleeping inches from my hand. 

How could that be?  I’d found one close to the house before, but it was under a board and gave full warning when I stepped nearby.  I’m always on the lookout, particularly in the spring.  Still, the adrenaline shock I get when I come across one catches me off guard every time.  Until I get a hold of some sort of infrared snake detector that monitors every snake on the property, the sight of a rattlesnake will always catch me off guard and renew my sense of vigilance.


Can you spot the baby rattlesnake?


Follow the arrow… 

A few days later at about midnight, I was elbow-deep into life lesson number two.  I’d signed up to bring potato pancakes to an Easter breakfast, although I’d never made a large batch of those before.  I waited until the night before to begin cooking, hoping to keep them fresh for the morning.  Following a method I’d previously used, I made a large bowl of batter and began frying.  It was dusk and I was using olive oil, so it took me until about 8:00 at night to discover that the potatoes had oxidized and turned an unsightly shade of almost black, rendering the potato pancakes edible but unappetizing.

Having failed many times at projects, I decided to learn from the experience and start over—making small batches of fresh batter every half hour or so (and stopping to clean all my cooking utensils in between).  Exhausted, I tucked the potato pancakes into the fridge at about one in the morning.

How do these experiences connect to art?  Well, I’ve been out of the art scene for a while, but have been easing back into teaching, which has brought some new opportunities and challenges my way.  Although teaching is familiar territory for me (as is living with the presence of rattlesnakes), each new encounter is like a shot in the arm, heightening my senses and re-opening my eyes to what is in front of me.  It’s easy to think you’ve seen everything and know what’s out there, until something unexpected pops up in your life and renews your perspective.

And the late-night potato pancake escapade?  Well, I bet if you’ve ever realized you’ve failed at a project (or painting), there’s been at least one time where you had to tear the whole thing apart and start from scratch.  I was tempted to give up and go to bed, but I knew that using my newly found knowledge to start over would bring a much greater chance of success.  I also needed a good reminder that patience is indeed a virtue, since my batter failure had come mostly because I’d tried to make less work for myself by making a large batch all at once.

If you’re feeling like your artistic senses are dulled or you’ve hit a plateau, remember that there are surprises out there waiting for you.  And even though you might realize you’ve failed and feel too exhausted to try again, don’t forget that the hard-earned knowledge you’ve extracted from your failure is like an elixir, all but guaranteeing you a more successful experience if you give your work another shot.


 “Twist” Pastel on paper– had to start over and redo this one a couple of times to show my cat mid-twist with the pastels.

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