Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Life of a Poet - Annette Mickelson

Kids, you know those movies  about first love, when the two leading characters marry other  people, and then get back together again at the end of the movie? Well, that's the love story we have for you today, only in this case, the "end" of the movie is just the beginning of a fantastically wonderful sequel. Sigh. I so enjoy a good love story! So come along with me. We are visiting Annette Mickelson  of  Hoofprints In My Garden  today. The late afternoon sunlight is filtering down, wine is being served on the gorgeous terrace, the animals are  artfully arranged in the paddocks, and we are about to get a peek in at what happiness looks like at Aspen Meadows.

Poets United: Annette, would you tell us  about  your ranch, your family, your animals? I know you call it “my piece of Paradise”. How wonderful to feel that way about where you live.

Annette: Hi Sherry!  Yes, I do feel like I live in paradise.  My husband, Brett, and I have a small ranch in the coastal mountains of Southern California.  

We live in a small equestrian community that is surrounded by National Forest and high enough to get weather, (a dusting of snow, icy winters, cool nights even in summer), which I just love.  We built our ranchette ten years ago and call it Aspen Meadows after my husband’s favorite tree.  

Aspen Meadows

Annette and her horse Winston Churchill

We started out with two horses and one dog but I can’t say no to animals – and Brett can’t say no to me – so now we have three horses, two miniature donkeys, rabbits (technically my daughter’s but she’s off to college now), chickens (the BEST eggs), a barn cat, two dogs and goats (just for fun).  I have two children, Kyle and Camille, who are both in college.  I also have three wonderful stepchildren and six grandchildren from Brett.

Camille and Kyle

Poets United: Your life sounds - and looks -  totally fabulous. Did you grow up in Southern California?  Were you a great reader as a child, as so many poets were?

Annette: I grew up in Glendora, which is a suburb of Los Angeles.  It is a quiet town nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. 

I was a total bookworm from the time my parents started reading me Dr. Seuss.   You know the kind, sneaking books into class inside a notebook and ditching the family TV for my room and “Little Women.”

Poets United: Yes! Me, too. Did you have a horse as a child, or did you make that dream come true as an adult?

Annette: I fell in love with horses when I was nine years old, hanging out at a stable up the street from the suburban neighborhood where I grew up.  There were no horses in my family, and no money for me to have one of my own.  I saved my pennies to ride horses at rental stables and basically would beg, borrow and barter for the opportunity to ride.  I bought my first horse when I was 40, at the urging of Brett, when we re-united....and I haven’t looked back.  They are truly a passion of mine.

Poets United: I read the moving poem you wrote for Starman, about his death,   Trifextra: Endings. I know he was a special horse.  Would you tell us a bit about him?

Camille and Starman

Annette: Starman was a very special horse.  He was my second horse.  The first horse I bought had been abused and was dangerous.  I thought I could fix him but I really didn’t know enough to handle him effectively.  He bucked me off twice and the second time, he tried to kick me while I was on the ground.  I had been a very confident rider up until then; jumping and galloping – bareback even.  But, after that last fall, I was shattered.  

I traded the big angry horse for Starman, who was the pony sized neighbor to my horse in the barn (this was before we built in the mountains, and my horse was boarded at a riding school).  Starman was a lesson horse at the time, and he hated it.  A few months after the trade, we moved the horses up to our ranch.  Starman gave me his whole heart, and I swear he read my mind.  He gave me back confidence and joy.  My daughter learned to ride on him, and he would stand for hours while she wove ribbons in his mane.  We bought the donkeys to be companions to him when he was retired, so he wouldn’t be left alone when Brett and I took our horses out.  We lost him two years ago.  I still miss him.

Grandson Christopher and the just-for-fun goats

Poets United: Some special creatures leave such a big absence behind, don't they, kiddo? What is your field of employment, if you work out of the home?  Does working and caring for livestock limit the amount of time you have for writing? (I note you seem to have had a recent injury to your toe – how are you doing?)

Annette: I work full time in healthcare.  I am fortunate that I am able to telecommute a few days a week so that helps – my commute is almost 150 miles round trip (the price of living in paradise).  Between work and the animals, my writing time is limited.  However, I’ve never been a TV person so I write poetry and blog about our ranch in the evenings.  

I tend to jot down ideas and then play with the words in my head as I drive to and from work.  Mornings are a better time of day for me but they are almost always crowded out by other activities.

The past four months of broken toe-ness have been the most prolific for me since college.  I broke three toes, jammed the joints and tore ligaments, so it’s been a long haul getting back on my feet and in the saddle.   My husband’s horse, Flash, tried to kick my horse (who was being a bratty youngster) – unfortunately, I was on my horse at the time and Flash kicked my foot instead of my horse. 

On vacation, the day after breaking my toes. 
This is how I spent the rest of the week-
not too shabby!

Poets United: Yikes! I’m so sorry for your toes! Do you have a special place where you like to write?

Annette: On nice days, I like to write on the front porch of our home where I can feel the breeze, hear the birds and enjoy the sounds of the mountain.  In the winter, I write from my corner of the couch facing out the windows so I can see the wind in the trees. 

Poets United: Such a beautiful spot!! And I love your dog! When did you first begin to write?

Annette: I started writing at a young age; poetry and horrible fiction.  When I was nine years old I wrote a poem at school and my teacher made a big deal of it – sending me off to be tested as some gifted thing.  I didn’t pass the gifted tests and I didn’t save the poem.  All I remember about it is that it involved the color green and mountains. 

Poets United: You can’t go wrong with that combination! Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Annette: There are two people who had a huge influence on my writing.  One was my English teacher my last year of high school.  She taught me how to write; how to construct a sentence, and about metaphor and simile.  She also introduced me to T.S. Eliot and small productions of Shakespeare, both of which I still love. 

The second was my poetry professor during my years at university.  He stretched me and he encouraged me.  I was in a tortuous relationship at the time, and it gave me great material for my poems.  

When I graduated, he told me I had to keep writing and that I could be published......and then I got married.  The then-husband found the poems (not about him, hidden in the trunk of my car) and tossed them into an undisclosed dumpster.  I was crushed and I stopped writing until I met up with that first love again (and married him) in my late 30s.

Poets United:  I so love it when true love wins out! Do you have a favorite well-known poet?

Annette: There are three poets who have been very influential to my writing.  The first is Robert Frost who I discovered in grade school and love to this day.  His writing is full of nature and, while the subject matter can be quite philosophical, his words and style are very accessible.  The second poet is T.S. Eliot who painted pictures (such as The Preludes) that stuck in my brain.  Lines of his poetry play in my brain.   And thirdly, Mary Oliver is just amazing.  She doesn’t sugar-coat the wildness of nature.  When I read her poetry, I find myself pausing and thinking.  ...and then re-reading them.  All three of them have influenced my poetic voice.

Poets United: Great choices. Mary Oliver is my Total Fave Ever! Have you penned a poem that you feel reflects who you are?

Annette: I think my recent poem, Crowded, is a good reflection of who I am.

My crowded heart
is bursting with bushel baskets,
spilling family memories
laughter and tears;
quiet happy days
and sudden passion;
soft horse muzzles brushing my palm;
dogs with bright brown eyes
and ears at attention;
daffodil springs
and pomegranate falls;
distant thunder
and drenching rain;
crisp apple mornings
and soft peach nights;
a pool of burgundy
swirled in a glass;
lunch nestled on a terrace,
a quiet village in France.
All jumbled and tumbled
stacked up tall;
my heart so crowded
there's no room for walls.

Poets United: Sigh. Written from a replete, contented heart,  and so lovely. What makes a poem “sing”, for you, your own and others’?

Annette: Singing is the perfect word, Sherry.  I love it when words play together; alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme (internal or end), images, and surprising turns of phrase are what I love best in poetry.  

Poets United: When did you begin blogging, and what has that done for your writing?

Annette: I started blogging about my horse and our other animals on News From Aspen Meadows     in 2010 at the suggestion of a friend.  I’ve enjoyed creating that blog, forming friendships with other bloggers and writing a kind of memoir as I go.  I started adding poems here and there, but my readers were horse people, for the most part, and just not interested in the poetry.  

So, I started another blog for the poetry, as a place that I could post poems on any subject matter and where I could get feedback from other poets.  Participating in the writing prompts posted by sites such as this one has been a wonderful way for me to stretch and grow.  I am able to read poetry every day and to discover new poets through the links.  I love the feedback, I love the community, I love that so many people read my poetry and like it.  Maybe someday I will get my act together, create a decent manuscript, and try to get published.  But, really, I get the affirmation and feedback I need from my blog readers.

Poets United: That’s exactly how I feel, too. You mention on your blog that you love to travel in France.  Would you tell us about that, so we can live vicariously?

My favorite place in France -
my friend Sylvie's country farmhouse
in Paimpol, Brittany

Annette: I adore France.  I’m not a city person, so I’m not a big fan of Paris.  I have a very good friend who lives in Brittany.  We go to France every few years and stay with her.  I like the rhythm of the small villages in France, buying fresh produce every day, creating meals while we are walking from the boulangerie to the fish market to the cheese market.  Brett and I will often rent a car and drive around a region, exploring the villages, and we love that.  One year when we were exploring Provence, we came upon a small village at noontime.  We parked the car and started looking for a place to have lunch.  There was a small terrace restaurant,  hidden behind the street shops, with trellised vines and every table full.  We waited for a table to open up, and had the most amazing lunch of olives, asparagus and fish. 

I am also in love with the French language, so I enjoy being on our own, without the friendly crutch of my French friend, talking to locals who don’t know much, if any, English. 

Poets United: It sounds like heaven, kiddo! What  activities besides writing might we find you involved in, if we were to drop by unannounced?

Annette: In addition to writing and riding, I love to cook and to garden.  So, you might find me pruning the fruit trees, or in the kitchen making rustic bread.  I love making bread, and I love eating it.  I think I could live on bread.

Poets United: Me too, fresh from the oven, dripping with butter. And then bread and jam for dessert! And a muu-muu for my attire! I've seen mention, somewhere in your blogging, that you are a spiritual director. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?

Annette: A number of years ago, I went through the formation process to become a spiritual director.  Although I am not actively involved with directing anyone at the moment, I was opened up through that process and learned to slow down, to be observant,  -- to be contemplative.  It very much informs my writing, my spiritual health, and my well-being. 

Hmm, what led me to being a spiritual director… Well, initially it was a dead marriage (laughs).  I was married to the father of my children and felt empty.  I talked to a good friend, a priest, about it, and he suggested that I work with a spiritual director.  I found myself with the most wonderful, outspoken, warm, funny, open-hearted nun.  She was my spiritual guide for about fifteen years and helped me rekindle the spark of the divine inside me – which led to my divorce, of all things.  But it also led me to take the risk of contacting my first love, the guy I never stopped loving, and here I am today happily married to him.

Poets United: I so love stories like this! 

Annette:  One day, she suggested to me that I consider going through the formation process (three years) to become a spiritual director.  The people in my class were from all faiths: Catholic, protestant, Jewish, new age… we were quite an eclectic bunch.  It was a time of awakening for me; I learned to meditate and to approach life in a contemplative way; I learned to recognize the divine in all things; I was exposed to all kinds of ministry.  My heart was cracked wide open, and I allowed myself to feel instead of hiding like an emotional hermit. 

my heart was cracked wide open......

Poets United: This is often the way of it, on our spiritual journeys. In fact, it is likely a most essential catalyst.

Annette: After receiving my certification, I began working as a spiritual director at a woman’s prison.  I worked with a woman there until the time of her release.  I am not currently working with anyone formally – I’ve been concentrating on my family, which is a ministry all by itself.  Work, family, horse training, writing, gardening and playing in the kitchen take up all my time at the present. 

 After I retire and the kids are fully launched, I may formally come back to the ministry.  Of course, people do come along who are struggling with a spouse’s death, end of life issues, or some other life challenge, and I work with them informally. In the meantime, I practice a contemplative faith which keeps me centered, grounded and definitely informs my writing. 

Poets United: This is just so interesting. Working with a woman inmate, one of the forgotten. Way to be a human being!

To wind things up, do you have any advice for beginning writers, perhaps some who might have their efforts or their voices squashed, as happened to you? 

Annette: Practice, practice, practice.  You can’t improve unless you write so just do it.  Not everything you write is going to make you happy, and that’s okay.  There are a variety of wonderful blogs out there, such as this one, that provide prompts for subject matter and form.  Pick some that appeal to you and participate.  I have found, for myself, that it was tremendously helpful to learn how to write in strict forms that use specific rhyme, syllable count and stanza composition.  I hated them while I was in school writing, but they have given me internal meter and a feel for words.  When I started posting my poetry, I didn’t use my name.  I was shy and embarrassed.   But it was a good way for me to start getting feedback on my writing, and it felt safe.  Eventually, I felt confident enough to attach my name.  Do what feels right for you.  Just write.  Play.  Have fun.

Poets United: Wise words. Thank you, Annette, for this very enjoyable visit. Now when we read your poems, we can clearly picture "the person behind the pen!"

 Well, kids, there you have it: yet another amazing poet's remarkable life. Every week, someone's life story blows me away and helps me remember it  really is such a wonderful world.  Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Another very nice interview, Sherry. Annette, I always enjoy your blog and your poetry. How lucky you were to grow up where you could at least be AROUND horses. I always wanted a horse when I was a child too, but unlike you I didn't fulfill it as a grown-up dream. Enjoyed learning about your training as a spiritual director, about how you came to find the love of your life (again) and the poets you enjoy! Keep leaving those footprints!

  2. Hello Annette! Thank you Sherry for introducing her!
    I love the photos of your spread and extended family. And I particularly enjoyed the Joy in your poem "Crowded" which will take me to your site Hoof-prints!

  3. Thank you so much Poets United for the interview. It was a lot of fun! Sherry, you have a real knack for putting people at ease and asking great questions.

  4. Oh Annette - you are living my dream life ... not entirely (I do have the love of my life, and my family, and that's huge) - but to live on a ranch with horses, surrounded by such beauty ... yes, I am envious ... and your spiritual life is fascinating as well. Thanks Sherry for another grand interview and introducing us to another fine poet ... as always, you've hit one out of the park.

  5. Great interview. So nice to see a slice of the life from a fellow blogger who I read regularly at trifecta and other sites.

  6. Annette and Shery,

    Another gem of an interview. You do keep producing such wonderful interviews Sherry, thank you:)
    Annette, it was a delight to read about your life in this interview. It puts a name to the Blog and to the poems!!!
    I simply loved your very real love story. Just great.
    I also found your Ministry to help others very interesting and commendable.

    Best Wishes,

  7. Annette, congratulations on living your dream and letting your heart crack wide open. It is a wonderful thing. Your poetry is lovely and full of joy. I too discovered horses at 9:-) Then took a bad fall at 50 and decided that I'd be the official carrot-giver and love from the ground :-)

    Sherry, you are a talented interviewer. I always love reading these snapshots of life. You bring out the best in people :-)

  8. Great interview ladies!
    I loved how you Annette's spirit was captured here ;D
    Annette, I love the view you shared and how your words capture n' dance in so many arenas! Thanks for showing us a glimpse of your wonderful world :D

  9. As always, it was pure pleasure for me to put this together. It is like writing a wonderful love story where you just know they're going to walk into the sunset together. And a lovely ranch and horses....Sigh. I so enjoyed my "visit"!!

  10. Fantastic! Your interview and the pictures above just prove how fun and great it is to live in a ranch! :D I envy Sherry as she was able to visit and see your beautiful ranch. I also want to experience living in a ranch, even if only for a month. I would love to see the different plants and animals, especially the horses! And I really feel that I’ll surely enjoy engaging in different recreational activities there.


This community is not meant to be used in a negative manner. We ask that you be respectful of all the people on this site as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive