Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spiders for Your Halloween Shivers


I was taking a turn on the boys' slack line a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed something large and gray and furry hanging out under the webbing. My first reaction was full-body shudders, but my second was to grab the camera, because how often do you see a spider the size of a cherry tomato?


I decided to take the opportunity to learn more about spiders (with help from this article) and go through my photo archives in search of more spider pictures (because apparently that's a thing I do).


I took this picture (above)in our bathroom a few days ago (using my phone and the cool little phone macro I got C for his birthday). It's of a cellar spider--the type of spiders that make grungy old cobwebs. They like to hang out in the corners of houses and eat whatever happens along and gets caught in their messy and non-sticky webs. They are not to be confused with daddy longlegs, which, though arachnids are not spiders, and have only a single body segment (and, contrary to urban legend, do not have venomous bites). We had a daddy longlegs on our bathroom ceiling one night, and by the next morning, it was caught in a web and this guy was dining happily on it.



Look closely at the opening in the web above and you'll see a little grass spider, a type of funnel weaver whose webs you never notice until a dewy summer morning when they appear all over lawns. These spiders hang out at the mouths of their funnels and when the web is disturbed, they either run our and snatch their prey or scurry back inside their funnels to wait for an intruder to pass on.



When you think of the classic Halloween spider web, you're thinking of the web woven by an orb weaver spider. My little (big) furry friend in the first picture is an orb weaver (possibly spotted or cross).





More commonly seen, though are these black and yellow argiope, who hand out during the day and weave a zig-zag shape, or stabilimentum, in the center of their webs.

I've always known these as "garden" spiders and if you find one near your garden, you're in luck, because they will help control and pests that might come along to try and eat your produce.


I'm guessing Charlotte was an agriope.

If any spider can be considered "beautiful" by human standards, it is the argiope, and perhaps the next spider on our tour, the goldenrod crab spider, which hangs out on yellow or white flowers and can change its color to match its home.


I'm not exactly phobic of spiders and I try not to kill them (thanks to this book, which was a childhood staple, but which I have inexplicably never gotten ahold of for my own children), but I don't love them running around my house and I try to evict them to the outdoors when I find them (which, in January amounts to a death sentence, I suppose). The worst was when Z and E were playing blocks when they were about three and I came into the living room and saw Z watching a big brown spider (I think it was some type of nursery web spider) crawl up his arm, over his shoulder and down his other arm. "Let's take that spider outside," I said, taking his wrist and tugging him toward the front door. "He my pet," Z replied as I hustled him to the front step and brushed the spider off. I still get the shivers picturing that spider scuttle all over my baby. I know it's aesthetic and irrational, since the colorful and pretty spiders don't make my skin crawl at all. I'm working on it, but since today's Halloween, the shivers is a perfectly reasonable reaction.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Nostalgia

As I was putting together Z's costume, I couldn't help thinking back to Halloween six years ago--the last time I put a lot of effort into costumes, or perhaps the last time I had fun costumes to work on.


E insisted he wanted to be a butterfly. A friend of mine brought me a fairy costume--complete with pink tutu, gauze wings, and a magic wand--from a thrift sale she had been to, but I had something else in mind, and made big, felt monarch winds, instead.


Z planned on being something else--I can't remember what--but at the last minute, he decided to be a butterfly, too. When I went back to the fabric store with the wool felt (a tiny, one-woman place), it was closed while the owner was away. So I pieced together the scraps into a black swallowtail, staying up past midnight October 30, and spending all day Halloween sick on the couch with the flu.

Meanwhile, M was still in his money phase, so I made him a bow tie and handkerchief out of coin-printed fabric, and we glued play money to the inside of his goody bag, and, with a hand-me-down double-breasted jacket, he was transformed into a millionaire.


That year was the birth of our hayride trick-or-treat tradition--I couldn't face trading carseats for wings for carseats at every stop along our circuit.

Our butterfly wings are long gone--borrowed and never returned--the jacket is long outgrown (and possibly never again worn) by everyone.

We still take the hayride on Halloween, and we still visit the chainsaw massacre yard. We still manage to come home with gallons of candy, after visiting only a dozen or so homes. We've moved into more sophisticated costumes (Z's Legolas) or more traditional Halloween costumes (E will be a skeleton). That's fun, too, but I can't say I don't miss those adorable little butterflies and the swanky millionaire.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Legolas in Hobbitland

It's not always that fun to make Halloween costumes for boys.

They want to be army guys or grim reapers or zombies.

But luckily this year, Z is still somewhat interested in the Lord of the Rings. 

And, really, we couldn't let all that long, golden hair go to waste.

He already had a Leaf of Lothlorien pin and pointy ears from his birthday.

I make a cloak, modifying this pattern (whose directions I found extremely hard to follow, and ended up winging it).

And a tunic (or jerkin, as I learned this garment is called) somewhat along these lines.

We then went to a nearby woodland called Hobbitland to take pictures.

Well, actually Hobbitland is not its official name, but it's what the locals used to call it, and how C introduced it to me when I first moved here.

Somewhere in the woods, there is supposed to be a stone table and chairs, just the right size for Hobbits.

I've never been able to find them, but the stone bridges and big trees are enough to make the place feel enchanted.

I think Z had fun swooping through the woods in his cloak.

And I couldn't get enough of taking pictures of it billowing out behind him.


I've also decided that the jerkin is a look that needs to come back for little boys.


I used to go to Hobbitland all the time when M was a baby and we lived nearby, and again when E and Z were little, because it has a good double-stroller-worthy trail. But it's been so long since we were there than Z had "not a glimmer" of recollection. I think we need to get back in the habit of hiking here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Free E-Book--Motherlode: Essays on Parenthood

"The lead singer of the band has blue eyes and blond hair that curls long and shaggy past his ears. His wiry body stands relaxed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. He sucks in his cheeks when he plays the guitar, his face an impassive mask of concentration, but once in a while one corner of his mouth lifts. When I catch his eye, I smile at him and he looks quickly away, as if he never saw me. I’ll be taking him home after the show."

So begins my essay, "Here Be Dragons," in the newly released collection, Motherlode: Essays on Parenthood.

This essay has been in process for nearly four years. The first kernels of it began sprouting not long after M started guitar lessons. It lived in an earlier version, called "The Boy in the Band" (thanks to a writing prompt from Lisa Romeo) in Issue 12 of GEMINI. During the last semester of my MFA program, I worked on it with my mentor, the indomitable Aaron Hamburger, after we got all that pesky fiction out of the way. And then I worked on it some more and some more and some more.

I wrote it as I lived it and lived it as I wrote it. All the while, more experience fed the writing, as I worked through the situation and into the story. In the end, I think it's an essay that asks (but does not answer), how do we keep our children safe in the face of unknown dangers?

And now I'm very happy to share it with the world in the new collection, Motherlode, which you can get as a FREE Kindle e-book today through Sunday (October 24-26, 2014) here (No Kindle? You can download the viewing software onto your PC).

Alongside my piece are several wonderful essays: Stephanie Vanderslice on that painful but inevitable growing apart that happens when your child reaches a certain age; Ann V. Klotz on being an expert on teenage girls, but still struggling to raise teenage daughters; Julia Poole contending with her own fears and prejudices when her son joins the wresting team.

I would love it if you got your free e-book version and came back here to let me know what you think. And if you'd rather read a real actual book made out of paper that you can hold in your hands, you can get a copy here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wandering, With Children


This weekend I bribed the children to go wandering with me.



All it took was a slice of pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting that one of C's clients had given him.



It was an easy bargain to make; C doesn't like frosting and I don't like pumpkin.


My intention was to head south from our usual spot along the river and find the beaver lodge.

We made our way down to a part of the river we usually only see in winter, where the water meanders through tall grasses and ancient willow trees.

But soon we found ourself sprung back out into our back field.

We took a break and played a game of "still hunting," in which you're supposed to sit very still and silently and wait for wildlife to come to you.
Everyone but E, who curled up into a ball in a patch of sunshine, was very bad at it.

Z prowled around like a cat and M climbed trees.

We then made our way across our neighbor's field and into the woods behind his house.

Hoping to find the beaver lodge from another angle.

We crashed around in the woods and the tall river grass for a while.
We found lots of sign of beaver--chewed down stumps and long trails to the river where branches and maybe whole logs had been dragged.

We saw deer poop and ant hills and old tires. Berries and seedpods and fungus. But we never did find the beaver lodge.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Corn-mazin'

Sometimes I overthink things.


Sometimes, I think, "Oh, we should go do such-and-such," but then I can't quite triangulate the two free days a week to fit such-and-such in.

And though most of the time it's nothing very important, or life-changing, like a corn maze, it's nice to get out of my own way now and then.


The last time we went to a corn maze, M was three years old. The next fall, I had two babies. A corn maze was out of the question. And all the falls since, I just never could get around to it, even though there's a farm with a corn maze only fifteen minutes away from home.

Then a friend suggested we go to a different corn maze--one an hour-and-a-half away--on Halloween.  And because that was way more daunting than the corn maze down the road, that I hadn't mustered the energy to go to in then years--and, let's face it, because I like to be in control of the situation and do everything on my terms--I got it together and we headed out one late Sunday afternoon. 

The boys got their money's worth--running up and down the rows of corn with their friends for nearly an hour, eating ears of roasted corn, making friends with the chickens that free-ranged in the maze. I wandered the rows, a bit in awe of this grass--grass--growing higher than my arm can reach. It's not much of a corn patch, by Iowa standard, I suppose. But it was a pretty amazing place to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain

"While it can be maddening to hike with a small child who stops to examine every bug and begs to be carried only to run circles around all of the adults who have collapsed after the end of a long hike, it can also be eye-opening to put away the binoculars and get out a magnifying glass. That is, forget about goals and destinations and get down on the kid’s level, slow down, and take in the world one pebble and caterpillar at a time. So it takes all afternoon to travel a hundred yards of trail, so what? The important thing is that you and your child are enjoying the world together and, while you’re at it, you are learning (or relearning) a whole new way of seeing the world."


I'm thrilled to have my essay/article, "Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain: The Labor and Love of Hiking with Children," in this month's issue of TrailGroove magazine. You can click here to read more.
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