Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddamian Rhapsody

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Saddamian Rhapsody
(To be sung to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody," with apologies to Freddie Mercury)
Copyright 2006 - 2007 The Token Hippie

Is this the New Iraq
Is this just fantasy
Condemned by infidels
No escape from judiciary
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see-
I’m just a despot, I get no sympathy
And now it’s easy come, easy go
They‘re hanging me, this blows
But even though this blows, doesn’t really matter to me
To me

Allah, I killed some Kurds
Rained down gas upon their heads
Ethnic cleansing, they were dead.
Allah, my fun had just begun
When Bush came in and drove me away
Sunnis, oooooo
Hear my battle cry
I won’t be back tomorrow but
Let violence carry on, carry on as if my death didn’t matter

Too late, my time has come
But I’m not gonna whine
Like I did in court that time
Goodbye everybody - I’ll just hang here
And leave you all behind to face the troops
Allah, oooo (anyway the sand blows)
It’s my time to die
I sometimes wish I’d never invaded Kuwait at all-

I see a hooded silhouetto of a man
Oh Shiite, Oh Shiite. I’m sure he’s not Baath party
Oh and now they’re videotaping, this is irritating to me…
Gallow-dayo, gallow-day,
Gallow-dayo, gallow-dayo
Gallowdayo, oh no.
I was once a poor boy nobody loved me.
He was a poor boy from a poor family.
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
I’m the rightful leader here --will they let me go--
(Iraqi government) We’re in control. We will not let you go
(Bush) We’re in - I mean they’re in control. They won’t let you go.
(Kurds) Whoever’s in control will not let you let him go
Will not let you go-let me go
Will not let you go let me go
Be that way, be that way don’t let me go
Cause Allah akbar, there's virgins set aside for me, for me, for me!!

So you think you can hang me and make it all right
So you think you can hang me and end this big fight
No way, no fucking way
It won’t change a thing, won’t change thing over here

It won’t really matter
Anyone can see
Killing me won’t matter, this will end up as World War III.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A poem that came to me

Copyright 2006 The Token Hippie

We stand facing one another, two warriors glaring
across the kitchen table battlefield.
Your barb has found its mark and I steady myself
with fingers gripping pitted pine surface

My calculated retort is the arrow in my bow,
poison-tipped and designed to harm.
I prepare to release for maximum effect,
feeling tension on a tongue eager to let fly.

And then, nothing. I drop my gaze
in a universal sign of surrender and look past you -
past your set jaw, past your squared shoulder
to where children play, unaware, outside.

How did this happen? How did I lose my taste for battle?
I think it is because as the child of warriors
I remember well watching them exchange fire
until, becoming impervious to arrows,
they switched to stones - the only thing
that could bruise battle-scarred facades.

They lobbed so many that the pile became a wall between them.
At night they retreated from the fight and mulled it over;
in separate camps, separate beds they plotted how
to better bludgeon those tender marks next time around.

We are not there yet. We can still feel the arrows. There is hope.
Raising my hand I unconsciously put it to my breast,
feeling for the wound. I look down,
half-expecting to see scarlet stains on white fingertips.

And then you are there, your regret
a reassuring mantle around my shoulders,
your desperate hug a tight tourniquet
that stops the flow of pain.

Let’s be done with war, we say,
for the sake of the alliance
for the sake of the prince and the princess
for the sake of love

The kiss that seals the treaty is so much sweeter
to the mouth than bitter words
and so much stronger

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Selective compassion

Yesterday I posted a picture of Joe the hawk preening in his aviary. In the post I attributed his good mood to Joe's having just killed a rat, and noted that while I had taken photos of his eating it I would not be posting them.

Erik, one of my most thought-provoking and cherished readers, took me to task for my decision. Why, he wanted to know, was it OK to post all those up-close photos of Octavia the spider dining on grasshoppers but withhold photos of Joe eating a rat?

It was a fair question, and the answer I gave him reveals something about compassion - or inequality of it - as exercised by many people, myself included. "Grasshoppers," I wrote, "are generally far less bloody fare than rats, and it's been my experience that public sympathy runs higher for small furry creatures than it does for scaly, six-legged ones."

When I wrote that, it hit me. It does seem that we humans base our compassion for other creatures - and even our fellow humans - not on their worth, but on how we feel about them. But why? Below is a picture of Joe with his rat:

No, it's not a pretty sight. Not at all. But I didn't shed a tear or even flinch when I tossed the rat into the aviary. This is particularly ironic given that last week, after live-trapping a house mouse I spent several minutes marveling at its enchanting button eyes and trembling whiskers before taking it in the back field and gently setting it free.

So what's the difference between the mouse I set free and the rat I threw to the hawk? I refused to look at the rat; I shut off the part of myself that would let me feel anything. I distanced myself. With the mouse, I allowed myself the "luxury" of being sympathetic.

Is that cruel? Is it hypocritical? If it is we're all guilty. How many of us had steak for dinner this week? Or picked up a burger in the drive-through. Before that meat was on the grocery store shelf or formed into a patty, this was how it looked:

Before that, of course, the animal had to be killed. Erik and I debated a bit over which fate was worse - that of the rat or the cow. I told him I felt sorrier for the cow, since the rat is dead before it knows the hawk hit him. I believe anticipation of death is worth than death itself, or at least must be the most painful part of the process. But the above picture doesn't upset me as much as the following one, for I feel less for the dead cow than I do for the terrified cow heading down the chute to its death:

But still, we distance ourselves from that reality. The slaughter of animals is necessary to feed humanity, people say. But then, throw this into the equation:

In Korea, where dog meat is a popular dish, this picture sparks no more sympathy than the picture of the slaughtered cows do to the average U.S. citizen. That's because to Americans, the idea of slaughtering dogs for food is a travesty. Why? Because dog's are Man's Best Friend. Again, our compassion for the dog has little to do with the dog itself, but rather how we feel about dogs.

If you're looking for me to wrap this all up with some wise and pithy conclusion, I'll just have disappoint you. I really have no answers, only more questions today on how I am able to dispense my sympathy for other living things in such a haphazard way.

Knowing that I'm not alone in this brings me no comfort. In fact, knowing how we humans are able to turn our compassion on and off like light switches gives me some insight to what is wrong with the world in general. I mean, in some way it's necessary; if I felt sorry for the rat I couldn't feed the hawk. But still....

For once I'm at a loss and not sure where to go with this. So please, jump in. I'd love to know what you think.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A review of that fucking cowboy movie

I know many of you will think I've been under a rock since I have just gotten around to seeing Brokeback Mountain. After all, critics heralded as the Best Thing Ever when it came out and the Academy agreed by honoring it with no less than five Oscars - including a Best Director's nod for Ang Lee.

So excuse me when I say that by doing so the Academy reamed Brokeback competitors harder than Heath Ledger reamed Jake Gyllenhall during their first sex scene in the pup tent.

Before I launch into my review, let me issue a disclaimer. I have no problem with gays. I have no problem with gay relationships. If you are gay, and want to marry another gay person I will come and dance - gaily- at your wedding. I have no problems with gay sex. Go right ahead and Toss That Salad. Give 'em the ol' Thirsty Altar Boy. Back that ass up. Ride 'em Cowboy. Whatever.

I don't even have a problem with gays being depicted in movies or on television. David from Six Feet Under is one of my all-time favorite small screen characters. I root for him, pardon the pun, even in reruns on Bravo. I don't have a problem with the honest depictions of gays or of the discrimination they face.

What I do have a problem with is giving an Academy Award to a director who turned a good story into a heavy-handed propoganda piece that assumes the audience is too dim to pick up on the characters' angst without being helped along by excessive imagery.

In Brokeback Mountain, whenever the main characters Jack and Ennis are together, it's always against the backdrop of mountain splendor. Whether they were gazing at one another over the campfire or frolicking half-clothed through some grassy meadow, the setting is always perfect. Natural. Beautiful.

But at home, in their heterosexual marriages, the settings are much different. Ennis' home is depicted in drab shades of browns and grays. There he is forced to endure the domstic hell of constantly crying snot-nosed babies and mediocre sex with his mousy, sad-eyed wife. Jack's home, while a little brighter, is equally depressing in its own way. It's cold and sparse, with boxy, uncomfortable looking furniture. His wife is superficial and overmade, his in-laws uptight and overbearing. His kid is a non-character, barely a ghost.

Later, after Jack's death, when Ennis goes to visit his dead lover's parents even their house is depicted as ramshackle and drab and they are portrayed as sad, bitter hulls of heterosexual humanity.

The message of this imagery: Homosexuality is beautiful, natural, liberating. Heterosexuality is a drab, stifling artificial social construct.

The truth is, neither is better than the other. They're just different. I would have preferred to have watched the story of Jack and Ennis unfold without being bombarded with non-so-subtle visual cues the director thought necessary to stimulate the happy/sad responses in my brain. I didn't need them. The story could have told me all I needed to know if the director had only allowed it to.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Crafting Holidays

Given our discussion on holiday shopping, I'm wondering if any of you give handmade gifts for the holidays.

I suppose someone with four sewing machines and floor to ceiling shelves filled with fabric and a myriad assortment of crafting materials qualifies as a Crafting Geek. And this time of year I reach the Zenith of Crafting Geekiness.

My latest project are these little dolls made from pipe cleaners, embroidery floss and wool felt. (Just click the link to see them in Photobucket.) There was a fairy doll but Jessica, my 21-year-old daughter, fairynapped her. So now there's just Fiona the village girl, Minerva the wise woman, Rowan the herbalist and Brother Todd, the village priest. I'm partial to Rowan, with her little leaf-shaped apron. But for some reason almost everyone loves Brother Todd. I think it's the tiny cross hanging from his belt; I found it at a bead store and thought it would be perfect for him.

I thought it would be nice to make sets of these as holiday gifts. They're fun to make, although I do get a bit of a headache when embroidering or sewing beads onto those tiny outfits. Ultimately it's worth it, though. I'm considering giving them not to children, but to adults. Everyone could use a little whimsy in their lives.

My more complex holiday projects include these Christmas stockings I made. The crazy quilt one is made from vintage handkerchiefs. The snowy owl on the other stocking was fashioned after a drawing I did. I put little snowflake buttons all around him.

Of all the stuff I've bought folks for Christmas over the years, the one that I made myself about fifteen years ago was the one that was the most appreciated. It was for my mother. Money was really tight that year and I couldn't buy her anything. My mom is like a kid; she loves gifts so I felt terrible.

I had like five bucks so I went to the store and got a back of thirty Thank-You cards. Then I sat down and - picking out thirty of the best memories from my childhood - wrote her a note thanking her for each one. I thanked her for teaching me to draw my first bird when I was four. I thanked her for all the hours we spent horseback riding together. I thanked her for the incredible stories she told me and my sisters. I thanked her for the good feeling it gave me to come home from school and find the house warm, clean and smelling of homecooked meals. I tied the bundle of notes with a pretty ribbon and told her to open one note a day for the next month.

My mother never forgot that gift. And she told me recently that she still takes out those notes and reads them. That makes me so happy.

If you haven't done all your Christmas shopping yet or - if like some of us - you're emphasizing quality over quantity and expense, consider making something for your loved ones. Don't worry that it has to be perfect. I still cherish the hand-knitted scarf I received last year. It wasn't quite even on the ends but its imperfections are part of the charm and it will always be special because it represented the first knitting effort of the person who gave it to me. She knew I loved knitted things and took the time to give me something from both her heart and hands.

That's the perfect gift.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thank you for shopping with Jesus

My friend Eaglewood has taken me to task for mocking Christians who think Wal-Mart shouldn’t have abandoned its “Merry Christmas” message in favor of “Happy Holidays”:

You are also mischaracterizing the "Merry Christmas" thing. It is not that we
wanted to force them to say merry Christmas any to allow their employees to say
it if they chose to without repercussions. At least that is where I came from
being someone who works in the retail industry part time.

With all due respect to Eaglewood, who is one of the most truly committed and thoughtful Christians I’ve ever met, he’s missing the mark here. The Wal-Mart “Merry Christmas” debate wasn’t just about the freedom of greeters to say “Merry Christmas.” Right wing groups also threw a fit because stores replaced their “Merry Christmas” banners with ones bearing the more generic “Happy Holidays.”

Here’s the question I have for Eaglewood and other Christians who insist that the “Merry Christmas” message ring throughout the retail world:

Tell me, please, what Wal-Mart has to do with the Christian meaning of Christmas? What does shopping have to do with it for that matter? Can any of you please explain how racking up holiday debt for DVD players, video games or other frivolous gifts honor Jesus? Is shopping a religious activity? If you see shopping as a secular rather than a spiritual activity then isn't Happy Holidays more appropriate than "Merry Christmas in a retail setting?

If you ask me, having a greeter wish you a Merry Christmas as you prepare to max out your Mastercard in the Name of Jesus just mocks the whole message Christ came to preach. People argue that removing the "Merry Christmas" message from retail stores is an attempt to remove Christ from our culture. I'd argue that it's the other way round. Associating Christ with shopping does far more to cheapen His name.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Bubble Lights!

I cannot believe I actually found some bubble lights but tonight we were at the home improvement store and there they were. Thank heavens for all this nostalgic marketing! I was so sure I'd never be able to find any that were both functional and affordable.

Every Christmas for as long as I can remember I've gotten wistful just recalling the bubble lights my grandmother used to put on her tree. I've tried to describe them to the kids - to tell them how I used to stand mesmerized as I watched the tiny bubbles boiling in thin globes tucked between evergreen branches. But they never could quite understand what I thought was so great about those lights.

Now they do, and in a way they have the cat to thank. If Piper the Cat hadn't knocked down our ancient Christmas tree today, gotten tangled in the lights, drug the whole works six feet across the floor and destroyed it in the process, we wouldn't have been forced to go out out tonight to find a replacement. And I wouldn't have found the bubble lights. So there you go. It was fate.

So tonight, we bask in a bit of early Christmas cheer brought to us by our new bubble lights. And really, it's a much better way to kick off the season than by writing about my racist nativity scene which is what I'd planned to do before all this happened. I'll save that for my next post.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these pics of John, Alex and Lucas decorating the new tree. We're quite pleased with it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Alone for the holidays?

Thanksgiving is less than two days away now, marking the beginning of one of my favorite times of the year. But then again, I’m one of the lucky ones with a family. There are so many this time of year who aren’t so fortunate. So many this year will spend their holiday season on the outside looking in:

The elderly widower facing his first Thanksgiving alone. He’s never cooked before and will end up ordering a pre-cooked dinner from the grocer. But it won’t be the same. Perhaps he’ll fall asleep looking at his late wife’s picture and clutching her pillow, trying to recall the sound of her laugh, the smell of her hair. Trying to recapture the feeling of the days when he was Most Thankful.

The young couple down the street who can’t afford to make it home for the holidays. Perhaps a job brought them to town, or the desire for a new start. They’ll eventually be OK, but this first holiday will be hard as they suddenly realize how much miss their relatives, even the annoying ones.

The single woman in her apartment with nothing but her cats and houseplants for company. She’ll haunt the blogs on Thanksgiving, but there won’t be much traffic; the only ones with time to write will be those like her - the lonely and alone. Over her dinner-for-one she’ll silently observe that another year has ticked off the biological clock as couples her age mark the growth and latest achievement of their beautiful children. She’ll want to be happy for them, but it will be difficult, even as she chokes out a short comment of congratulations. Their togetherness is a knife in her heart. In them she sees the happiness that has eluded her.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being alone, if you want to be. I know a number of people who truly don’t seem to mind or even prefer it that way. But if being alone isn't your choice, isolation can be a painful thing made only more painful this time of year. The jagged edges of loneliness poke through, causing hurt. And no amount of public denial can’t file them down.

We all know someone like that, I think. They’re tucked away in our own communities but are especially prevalent in cyberspace, where they seek validation and love from strangers they fancy will grow to love them back.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Perhaps, like us, you’ll have extra food or room at the table to share with someone in your community. If nothing else, fix a plate of food and take it to them. Top it off by sending an email to someone far away, someone whose primary link to the outside world is through their Internet connection.

There’s no need for people to be lonely this time of year. Not if we all reach out. So do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chow mein, anyone?

Irrational decisions

Octavia's death must have affected me more profoundly than I realized. This morning I downloaded a Justin Timberlake song. Justin Timberlake. I hate Justin Timberlake! But now his song Sexyback is on my iPod and I can't stop singing it.

God, what if someone I respect gets ahold of my iPod? How will I be able to explain having a Justin Timberlake song on there? I guess I'll just have to tell them I was going through a period of intense grief over the death of a spider and briefly lost my mind.

Until I get over the loss of my pet spider I'm clearly going to have to refrain from making any major decisions.

In the meantime, please note that I have added links to the complete Octavia Files to my blog. To latecomers who want to read about her from start to finish, you'll find the links at the bottom left of the page.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Eulogy for a spider

I have sad news for you today, readers. Octavia, Arachnid Queen of the Greenhouse Realm, is no more.

We got in from Baltimore last night around 10 p.m. and after running a gauntlet of ecstatic house pets I went straight to the orchid room to check on my eight-legged pal. When I saw that her web was empty, I looked for the lines of silk she always spun on her way to a new location, the lines I’d follow in my own personal game of Find the Spider.

When I couldn’t find any I knew. I knew my spider was dead, even though it would take some searching to find her halfway down the wall, suspended upside down by one delicate leg, the others curled in and around her crumpled body.

Is it silly to mourn a spider? Is it silly to cry? Perhaps. But I can’t help myself. For a brief but magical period, I was allowed a glimpse into Octavia’s world - a world that snared and held my interest as firmly as the webs that snared and held her prey. Octavia was a creature with an amazing work ethic, a terrible beauty who reminded me that how one perceives something depends on how one is willing to look at it. Where some saw a brutality in her feeding behavior, others came to see a timeless, exquisite dance of life and death.

I will miss Octavia. I will miss how she blithely ignored me as I stood each morning, coffee cup in hand, to marvel at the web she’d created while I’d slept. I’ll miss the way she allowed me to occasionally brush the bottle-brush tufts of hair on her leg before either scurrying away or warning me with a threat display. I’ll miss standing on a chair with my camera, getting the shots that I’ve used to document her life.

Above is my last photo of Octavia. I had misgivings about posting it, but ultimately decided it was fitting, since her death is part of the story and as much a part of the natural order of things as the death of her victims. And since I wasn’t here when she died, writing this last chapter is how I shall say goodbye.

So goodbye, Octavia. Your egg sac is safe in the corner of the orchid room, which this morning is not quite the same. But it gives me some comfort to see it there. Next year I shall write of your daughters.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More trip pics

These eyelash vipers are among my favorite snakes. There were some really nice one in the frog exhibit.

This fish did not look at all happy, despite his nice surroundings. I guess he just has one of those faces.

The Australian exhibit was the firt place we visited at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I kid you not, I could have walked out after seeing these giant flying foxes and still have felt like I'd gotten my money's worth. Ever so often they'd take off and fly around the place. With their 4-foot wingspan they are jut amazing.

I got this shot of this somersaulting dolphin just as it landed in the water.

Here's another frog from the frog exhibit.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Notes from the road

I had intended to post yesterday, but as is often the case with trips that combine visiting relatives with family outings, the fantasy of kicking back and relaxing is just that - a fantasy.

Even so, we're till having a great time. We went to the aquarium last night, taking advantage of an off-seaon special that got us all in for eight bucks apiece. The downside was the low light in some of the exhibits that made my photographs come out a bit below my high standards. But some did come out OK, so here are are some shot from our visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

The dolphin show was spectacular. I've seen it several times and the quality of the show depends on the enthusiasm of the dolphins. They were very enthusiastic last night. John enjoyed the show most of all, I think.

There's a new frog exhibit at the aquarium. It's really nice. Below is a type of poison arrow from called a Tinctorius, and a tomato frog.

Many people think that even in captivity poison arrow frogs are dangerous, but because they get their toxins from the ants they eat in the wild, the ones born in captivity are perfectly harmless.

I have other photos of fish and of the amazing, amazing giant fruit bat we saw in the Australian exhibit. I'll try to post them later, but for now have some other things to do.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Traffic Court

Well, that was easy enough.

Although court wasn't scheduled until 9 a.m., I arrived at 8:20 and sat in my favorite seat which - considering my number of appearances - should rightfully be reserved for me, and proceeded to read a book while I waited. I've learned from experience that the earlier one arrives for traffic court the quicker one will be able to leave, and I always feel smug when the administrative stuff is over and I walk past the long line of people who I know will probably still be standing there at noon.

Because I live in an agrarian county that's also experiencing a lot of development, we have a growing population of Latin American immigrants. I will, for now, withhold my opinion on the obvious need for immigration reform and only say that the influx has resulted in one good thing locally - the hiring of a Latin American assistant district attorney. He's tall, has a moustache and goatee and sounds exactly like Antonio Banderas. At the sound of his voice, the eyes of every female in the courtroom glazed over with undisguised passion. Well, almost every female. I'm not sure about the lady with the crewcut who was sitting beside me; the burly female bailiff by the door seemed more to her liking.

As all us poor traffic offenders sat there waiting, the assistant DA stepped up to explain the process. He told us that we'd be divided into two groups - those with last names beginning with letters A through K and those with last names beginning with letters L through Z. Then he said the most beautiful words: "If you had expired inspection or operator's license and can supply proof that you have corrected those things, those charges will be automatically dropped." Only he said it with an accent, which made it even better.

That left me with just one charge to worry about - the seatbelt violation which, according to my ticket, should have cost me $60 plus $110 in court costs. Because I arrived early enough to get my near-the-front-row seat, I was one of the first to gain an audience with Antonio Banderas, who was handling everyone with the last name beginning with the letters L through Z. I cast a sympathetic glance across the room those poor, deprived females whose names ended in A through K - the ones stuck with a pinch-faced female assistant DA who did not look like she was having the best of days.

Antonio Banderas looked over my tickets and proof that I'd indeed renewed my license and registration, bantered with me for a moment about what sorry luck it took to get three tickets in one stop, and then dismissed those two charges. He then scribbled something on my third ticket - the one for the seatbelt violation - and that was that. I'm not sure what he did, but when I went to pay the fine it wasn't the $170 I expected, but $100. In the end, I walked out paying about $200 less than I feared I'd have to pay, which was awesome, because I'm quite sure I need the money more than the state does.

So that's my traffic court story. And I'm off now to prepare for a Weekend Away, which I'm now actually starting to look forward to. I shall be taking my camera and laptop, and since I'm going to major city with hotel that no doubt will have a wireless connection I shall perhaps have a chance to blog from my trip.

Until then...

PS. Bobb, thanks for the traffic court meditation; I believe it made quite a difference in the outcome. :-)

Monday, November 06, 2006


I shall have nothing interesting for you today, due to illness. I woke up this morning to find that while the cold that pressed me into the couch most of the weekend has weakened, it's still hanging on with enough force to slow me down.

I rarely get colds or viruses. Everyone in my home at work can be heaving and hacking and I'll remain unscathed as I stroll through them surrounded by my invisible anti-viral force field. I wasn't so lucky this time. So I suffered and woke up this morning dreading what is probably going to be a Bad Week consisting of traffic court on Wednesday and a trip out of state later this week that I do not want to take but will be forced to take nonetheless.

So all I really have to offer you is a few recommendations of a book I enjoyed during my semi-conscious weekend. It's called The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and is Susanna Clarke's follow-up to her wildly successful Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Both books are fun, witty, magical and fantastic.

I recommend reading Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell first, as The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of short stories that contains characters or references to characters from her first book. Oh, and did I mention that The Ladies of Grace Adieu is illustrated by Charles Vess, who also illustrated Neil Gaiman's classic Stardust? And did I mention that Charles Vess is amazing and Neil Gaiman is brilliant and if you haven't read Stardust you should? And while you're at it, pick up Charles Vess' The Book of Ballads, which is a collection of old English ballads translated into graphic art form. It's one of my favorites.

And thus concludes this mediocre offering. Sorry it's not more exciting but it's been my experience that even when things seem glum, a good book always brightens the picture a bit.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Blob Zombie

So a couple of weeks ago I purchased this book called The Biology of Spiders. It's been a good read and one of the things I've learned is that spiders don't just suck the insides out of their prey, but some spiders also chew.

Last night, after the Great Locust Massacre was over (details and links to photos can be found in the post below) I went into the orchid room to fetch the cat who knows she's not supposed to be snooping around in there. While I was looking for my errant feline I kept hearing what sounded like chewing noises in the vicinity of Octavia's web.

I passed it off to imagination. If spiders can chew, I thought, it's likely a function performed in tiny, silent nips. So imagine my horrified fascination when I found this hanging in the web, like something out of the Night of the Living Insect Dead. Apparently, the sound I heard was chewing. Eeewww!

Not that it diminishes my admiration for Octavia. My sister emailed me this morning to comment on my latest Octavia photo spread. Here's a little of what she wrote:

The pictures of Octavia or absolutely INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The best
you’ve done yet. I must admit I feel for the poor grasshopper, but that’s
nature. The picture showing the webbing coming from her body is awesome. In most pictures Octavia looks so menacing, but in one shot, she’s so delicate, and
I think she hit on what I like best about Octavia: her duality. I told my sister the spider is like a velvet warrior, beautiful but still capable of Terrible Things.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Octavia's Victory Wrap

Blogger is being wonky and won't let me upload pictures. Again. So if you'd like to see the photos that go with today's post just click this link to my Photobucket Slideshow. The photos load at three second intervals. If you enjoy being creeped out by the ongoing Octavia saga, these shots won't disappoint.

It’s days like yesterday that make me glad that I'm a writer. Because if I had a real job and was out doing that instead of being here writing then I would have missed the Spectacular Nature Drama that unfolded in my greenhouse.

Octavia - the giant golden silk spider who lives in my orchid room - feeds about every other day. She’ll eat anything, and her diet has even included other spiders. Recently, another spider - after laying her own egg sac - tried to eat Octavia. But the Reigning Arachnid Queen of the Greenhouse Realm wasn't having it. Instead, Octavia raised her legs in a truly intimidating threat display and vanquished her would-be opponent, who went away and - too weak to build another web - died.

After Octavia eats, she leaves her web and just spins enough silk to hang out in the corner. When she’s ready to dine again she builds an elaborate prey web. Yesterday she built one in front of the door between the orchid room and the playroom. When Larry came home for lunch, he brought Octavia lunch, too - a giant locust.

Octavia has had locusts before, but none this large. Or strong. This one refused to go gently into that good night. Pardon the pun, but it got the jump on her and bit her just as she bit him. If you’ve ever seen a locust you know what big mandibles they have, and Octavia was clearly wounded. If you look at the photo of her biting the locust, you can see a droplet of spider blood on the side of her head.

I almost had a heart attack, for I adore Octavia. But I didn’t feel that intervening was the right thing to do, since if she didn’t vanquish the grasshopper she’d likely refuse to eat again.
Octavia retreated and waited as the locust slowly succumbed to the paralyzing poison. As she sat there, ocasionally she’d raise a graceful leg to wipe away the droplets of blood that kept oozing from her wound.

Ever so often she’d stop and go tap her victim. If he moved too vigorously she’d back up. And wait some more. She's very patient. Finally, when the locust could only barely wiggle one leg, she descended on him.

Over the next hour or so, she fed, stopping occasionally to wrap her meal in silk, and each time I checked in I noticed she was in a different position. Sometimes she was under her prey, sometimes on top. slowly draining him. And there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

Is it me, or is there something sexy about spiders in a female vampire sort of way?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Where would a decent witch be without a couple of black cats? Or an indecent witch for that matter.

So these are our Halloween costumes. Alex and Lucas are black cats, and are so cute I can hardly stand it. I am a witch, which will come as no surprise to my haters.

Larry - the prima donna- is still getting into makeup so I'll have to post his picture tomorrow. He's going as a zombie and is probably going to get us kicked out of the party we're attending later this evening since his "outfit" consists of a live tarantula and a live snake. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm being out-freaked. By my own spouse.

I'd kind of hoped Larry would go as my all-time favorite Halloween movie hero, Ash from Army of Darkness. I could have threatened to steal his soul and he could have said, "Yo, she-bitch. Let's go."

God, I love that movie. Everytime I watch it I want to run out and buy a pump action shotgun. Maybe next year.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


It gives me no pleasure to read of someone being hunted down for tax evasion. But at the same time I have a hard time buying Vox Day’s defense of his father, whom he now attempts to cast as some sort of renegade warrior folk hero.

According to the Star-Tribune article, Robert Beale went on the lam rather than face court over the $1.6 million in back taxes the IRS seeks to collect. Vox contends that his daddy's running away proves his bravery.

I’d say that’s all well and good if you don’t leave behind a family to take the heat you refuse to face yourself. Apparently this “brilliant” businessman realizes - in retrospect - that running from a problem won‘t make it go away. Authorities are now badgering Beale’s children in an attempt to find the fugitive CEO, who briefly sought refuge in a Wisconsin mobile home. According the article, Robert Beale told the mobile home's owner, Martin Chapman, that he needed a place to stay because he was having trouble with his wife. The article didn't say whether Chapman questioned why a rich CEO having trouble at home didn't just get a hotel room. (Not too long ago, Vox stated that his dad considered communication with people of ordinary intelligence a form of hell on earth. One has to imagine if the elder Beale has had a chance to reflect on the irony of his snobbery, given that he was forced to turn to an easily-duped trailer dweller for protection.)

Like most Americans, I’m no fan of the current tax code, which places an unfair burden on most Americans. It should be amended, and working within the system is frustrating. Change - if it does come - comes slowly. Robert Beale was in a position many Americans do not enjoy - he had the resources to fight back. The amount that Beale owed is a drop in the bucket for a wealthy man. He could have paid it and devoted himself to fighting the tax code. It surely would have made more sense than slinking away into the hills and leaving his family to be tossed about by the waves of worry, government harrassment and public humiliation. When considering which of our treasures is worthy of protection, the treasure of family should always come first.

I can’t imagine putting my family through that kind of worry for $10 million, let alone the $1.6 million Beale seeks to protect. Facing a dragon like the U.S. Government is daunting, to be sure. It takes bravery to stand and fight, especially when you know that you may not win the first round. But to leave your family to deal with the fallout alone? No, that’s not bravery. Not even by a long shot.


It's been brought to my attention that two posters have come out at Vox's blog to dispute his notion that Daddy is Brave. For their efforts, they are being accused of being me, Morgan, posting under another name. It's understandable given that his blog is largely an echo chamber.

Of course, it would be easy for Vox to set the record straight as he already unwittingly has done with the person posting as IRS, whose physical location isn't anywhere near the Southeast, where I live. He could easily do the same with the person posting as Ladybug, since he can easily compare my ISP - which he recognizes - to his/hers.

Oh, and it appears in a fit of anger, Vox publicly posted IRS's IP address and laughably threatened to turn him/her over to the government. Can you believe that? Well, I can. It seems he inherited a certain whiny fugitive's sense of irony.

The question is, will Vox set the record straight? Or will he allow his readers to assume that only one person disagrees with him and is posting under a variety of names? Don't hold your breath. My guess is that he will allow them to believe only one person believes his father took a cowardly route, thereby proving that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Friday, October 20, 2006


So today we decorated for Halloween. I'd put it off until we could find fake spiders big enough to prey on Barbie dolls and - Pagan Gods Be Praised - we found some at the den of iniquity which is A.C. Moores craft store. May Jesus have mercy on their souls for selling this kind of garbage.

I know some People of Faith wrestle with observing Halloween, but I've never been one of them. Good Christians fret that there's too much pagan symbolism, and claim paganism is Evil because it is predates Christianity. But that begs the question: "What part of "pre" don't they understand?" The pagans didn't know anything about Christianity or Christ because it hadn't been introduced to them. I'm not sure how now knowing about Christianity makes someone evil. So far no one has yet to explain it to me in a way that makes any sense.

Of course, when the pagans were converted, it wasn't always willingly. So when they were forced to build churches they snuck carvings of their own gods into the architechture. And the church threw them a bone with Mary, who was the closest thing to a goddess they could allow. To bring the pagans along, the Christians co-opted the pagan holy days and turned them into Christian ones. Yule became Christmas, Eostre became Easter and so on. If you think Halloween is ful of pagan symbolism, try investigating the origins of your Christmas tree sometime.

And if you really, really want to blow your own mind, look into old pagan myths of the sacrificial king. It may remind you of Someone You Know.

So can you still be a good Christian if you celebrate Halloween? Sure, especially if you already celebrate Easter and Christmas. Besides, I'm pretty sure God approves. Why else would He have allowed candy corn?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Octavia sucks

So we have - had - six golden silk spiders in our orchid room, all happily hanging out. We call them all Octavia, but the biggest one - the original I photographed eating the giant grasshopper - has been turning down food for the past few days. Larry speculated that she busy making eggs, and it did indeed look like her abdomen would burst any minute.

This morning I went out to see the spiders and found Octavia's web empty. I accounted for the remaining spiders and found them all except for her. I came in and told Larry and a few minutes later, when he went out to water the orchids, he yelled for me to come into the greenhouse. And here's what we found: The original Octavia, her abdomen deflated from laying eggs, was preying one of the other Octavias. She'd crawled right down into her web, grabbed the smaller spider and was busily pumping her full of venom.

Yuck. And damn. If she'd just have waited we would have gladly given her another grasshopper. But I guess egg-laying is depleting work and it's easier to just crawl into someone else's web and eat them than it is to build your own web and wait for something to fly into it.

My first, irrational though was to do something to save Octavia's victim. But then I felt silly. It was too late. And besides, this sort of thing happens in the wild all the time. So I left her to suck her sister spider dry and did the next best thing. I took some pictures. Yes, yes, I know it's unnerving. But when I brought the spiders home I told myself I'd document everything they did, and that' what I've done. Just think of gruesome spider pictures kind of like pornography. No one's forcing you to look at it.

On the upshot, Octavia has laid her eggs. We aren't sure where, but it'll join the two other egg sacs we've already found in the greenhouse.

The pregnant spiders who laid them disappeared. Like I said, egg-laying is apparently pretty demanding work, and the others lacked Octavia's resolve to do what it takes to stay in the game: cannibalize your neighbor.

So that's the latest in the Octavia files. Stay tuned. I know how much you all love reading about my spiders. Especially Suspect and Erik.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grave impressions

More photos from the cemetery trip, including those of some of the graves mentioned below, can be viewed on my Photobucket Slideshow.

Are you afraid of death?

I used to be afraid of the experience of dying. Since I've had a family I'm still afraid, but more of their dying than I am of my own. Now, when I think of my own death, I think of it in terms of how it would affect my family, and I fear the not the pain of dying, but the pain of pending separation and the grief it would cause my loved ones. But still, that fear pales in comparison to the fear of losing one of them.

So on Saturday we visited a local cemetery. It's very old, with a rich and storied history, populated by the remains of fighting men from every conflict since the Revolutionary War, by generals, by sailors, by slaves, by politicians, by civic leaders. And by ordinary folk. And families. Whole families who entered the family plot over generations or - in some cases - within short days, months or years of each other during epidemics.

Larry and the kids and I were joined on our outing by our friends, Elizabeth and Johnathan and their children. Johnathan is also a photographer, and we'd been talking for some time about shooting some of the old headstones. We all started off together but soon Elizabeth and the kids and I broke away to visit the plots of families who had endured our worst fears - those plots where children lay.

Larry and Johnathan avoided the children's graves; Elizabeth later confided that they upset her husband so that he couldn't even bring himself to photograph them. Larry would only say they made him too sad. But Elizabeth and I were drawn to them and stood there, emitting silent condolences to the parents who had to wait many years before being laid to rest beside the children they'd lost.

One family plot held the remains of four children. Robert lived from 1834 to 1835. Eleven years later, in 1845, Edward was born, but died a year later. In 1850 came Caroline, who also lived but a year. All share a joint headstone. But the final child, Robbie, was with them longer. But not long enough. He lived nine years, and you can almost feel the lingering pain of his passing as you stand by his headstone. The top is carved with the image of a little dog and a riderless pony. Under his name are written the words, "Our last born. Our little pet."

As we stood before the plot - one of many such plots from that time period - Elizabeth and I pondered our good fortune to be living in the 21st century.

"All those wee babes," Elizabeth said. "You have to wonder how their mums went on."

But they did. And they did it without grief counselers, self-help books, anti-depressants and friends urging them to seek "closure." Somehow they endured. Somehow they faced every parents worst fear to go on.

We continued to walk through the cemetery - the late-afternoon sun throwing dapples of light over the weathered stones as our children ran and laughed among them. Why, we wondered, were we here now in a time when we could realistically believe our children will live to see adulthood? Why had fortune smiled on us? It couldn't have been because of anything we'd done.

Elizabeth, who is Irish, is deeply spiritual and one of the most loving and genuine people I've ever known. She and I share a rather broad view of God. We both believe we're here to teach and to learn and that our earthbound existence is just a temporary blip on an eternal journey of the soul. We wondered as we walked if the dead still lingered where they lay, or returned to host visitors to their final resting places. We certainly believed we felt something. Some plots - like the ones that held the Robbie and his three siblings - were surrounded by a strong aura of sadness and loss. Others felt light and peaceful. This feeling increased when our children came up to visit the stones. Could it be that the spirits enjoyed the company of children? It made us wonder. I'm still wondering. Perhaps what we felt was projection. Perhaps what we felt was real.

Now, dear readers, I didn't write this as a segue to some theological debate. Those have all been done, redone and will never end. And regardless of whether you believe in Something or Nothing, ultimately none of us will really know what happens in the afterlife - or if there even is one - until we die ourselves.

But something did happen as we left that deepened the mystery for me.

The cemetery gates close at dusk, but as we were driving out, something caught my eye in the newer section of the cemetery.

"Stop!," I implored Larry. "I want to see one more grave." There was just something about this one, something that beckoned me. Something that said, "LOOK!"

It was the grave of a 24-year-old man - a grave that had been lovingly tended, and recently, at that. A marble vase held cheery sunflowers. At the base of the vase sat a carved wooden angel, a rabbit, a seashell, and the wilted remains of a lily. Above his grave, a set of windchimes played the most peaceful and melodious notes I'd ever heard. I felt love at this grave. Love of the people who tended it and something else. The appreciation of someone who knows they're still alive in the hearts of their family. Appreciation, and perhaps a bit of pride.

"Wow. You were loved," I said to the young man. "You're still loved." I asked silent permission to take a few shots, not feeling a bit silly for doing so, and then just stood there for a moment, enjoying the sound of the chimes. But then, as I aimed my camera up for a shot of the chimes I noticed something odd. There branches and leaves were perfectly still. There was no breeze. The chimes were moving on their own.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Have you ever felt like you were being watched?

Larry was home for lunch today and observed that we had a Peeping Tom. "Look," he said. "He's looking in the playroom window."

I went to grab the gun, thinking it was Tom Foley, but it it was just a snake.

More specifically, it was a smooth green snake, and it was on the potato vine that runs up the corner of our house. It was just sitting there, staring in the playroom window. If you can ignore the dirty window (I hate doing windows) try to enjoy the shot of our little visitor.

Why he was staring in the window I don't know. Maybe he heard we provide creepy crawlies with shelter against the coming cold snap. We didn't bring him in, though. Unlike the Octavias, green snakes are common to our area and will soon find a warm place to sleep. Outdoors. Where he belongs.

I did get a good shot of his face before he left. He really is such a little beauty. I love his big eyes!

So tomorrow Alex has a homeschooling event - some Colonial sewing thing. While she's at that, Lucas and I are going on a spider hunt. The temperatures are forecasted to dip into the low 40's here tomorrow night; the Octavias won't likely survive, so we're going to try and collect what we can and release them in the greenhouse.

I told Larry I'd like to set the original Octavia up in this huge hexagon aquarium we have. It would be pretty neat to put it in the corner of the bedroom, I think, with a flourescent light on it. A spider night light. Yeah, that'd be way cool.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Good Doctor

So today I took Alex for a checkup. Her outrageously expensive asthma medication runs out next week and we needed a doctor's order to renew the prescription. There's a new general practitioner in the small town nearby, and we've been looking for a GP closer to home, so I took Alex there today, figuring we'd give the guy a try.

He was wonderful. At nine, Alex is at the age where she's a bit more body conscious, and he put her at ease during the examination by talking to her about her hobbies. He pronounced her healthy afterwards and then he and I began discussing her history of asthma.

The doctor decided, based on Alex's records, that renewing the prescription was warranted. As he jotted down the order in his doctor's scrawl, I commented on how expensive the Advair was, and how I felt fortunate to be able to scrape together the $150 a month it took to purchase the medicine. I told him I'd gone on the GlaxoSmithKline website and found that Advair wasn't one of the medications listed in the free-or-reduced-cost drug programs the company offers to the uninsured.

The doctor rolled his eyes and said that was because drug companies were greedy.

Excuse me? Did I hear right? A doctor criticizing drug companies? Of course, I asked him to elaborate and he told me that the reason Advair wasn't offered through the programs is because there' s no competing generic. With no compeitition, GlaxoSmithKline can charge whatever they bloody well please.

I asked him what uninsured people who couldn't afford the medicine did. He shook his head sadly and said they either took half the prescribed dose or risked going without. I told him I hoped I'd never have to make that choice, but as a freelancer I know how work can be there one day and not the next.

"Hold on a sec," he said, and left the room. A few minutes later he came back with four samples of Advair - a four month supply. I was stunned.

"In case you run out of work," he said. "You seem like a really caring mother. I'd hate to see you have to make that kind of choice."

I almost wanted to cry, but managed a smile and a 'thank-you' instead. I paid my $93 bill and walked out with my $300 worth of medicine for my little girl. My faith in the medical profession has been restored, and we have a new family doctor.

My concerns prior to the visit weren't completely unfounded. My editing work has dried up, I've finished my lucrative summer screenplay project - and used the money to renovate my house and purchase a much needed laptop and professional grade camera. Not a whole lot of money is left over. And not a whole lot of work was on the horizon.

Then within an hour - via cellphone - I'd gotten two great assignments and learned a payment I'd been hoping would arrive had done just that.

Life is funny. Just when you think you need to worry - a futile thing to do - something happens and you find some little glimmer of hope. And hope, today, was just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Terrible nightmare

I had the most awful dream last night. I was driving on a bridge - one of those big bridges with the center divided by a concrete barrier. There was a guy in the car with me. All the sudden we notice cars going the wrong way in our lane. The drivers look frantic and after a few moments we realize we'd better turn around to.

In a typical dream move that makes no sense, I'm able to manage a perfect three-point turn. But as soon as I do I realize why the other drivers were fleeing. A series of explosions are rocking the bridge - and they're getting closer. Everyone is trying to get off the bridge before the whole thing collapses. I hit the accelerator and careen through traffic. My passenger clings to my arm and tells me that no matter what happens, we are in this together.

The really, really scary part of my dream: My passenger is Sean Hannity.

After that I'm afraid to go to sleep again....

Monday, October 09, 2006

Octavia in Love

Look carefully at the picture above. It's a web spun by our latest "Octavia." There are six of them now. We picked up five more females on a nature trail Saturday and released them in the orchid room the next day to join the Original Octavia. By this morning, one had spun a web in the greenhouse, two are MIA (probably hiding) and three had made their way up to the rafters and outside, where one spun a web under the eaves. The two others built lairs closer to the ground. Larry spotted the Original Octavia, engorged by her grasshopper feast, creeping along the top edge of the greenhouse last night. We're hoping she was looking to spin an egg sac and fill it with eggs.

We have high hopes that we'll get at least one egg sac. Again, I call your attention to the top photo, specifically the upper left hand corner. Do you see him? He may not look like much but that diminutive little guy is a male Nephila clavipes. We were lucky to snag two males along with their mates, but we saw many, many more. Some webs had a female and two males. The biologist I interviewed last week said males are a good sign; the presence of the shorter-lived males this late in the season means the golden silk spiders will establish a permanent population. Prior to this they were very rare as we were on the very tip of their range of this tropical genus. Provided we keep having these mild winners in a couple more years the spiders won't even be a novelty anymore.

But even if they aren't, I'll still be fascinated by them and hope to have them establish here on our property in the coming year. After all, how can you not be charmed by a spider who spins a web of gold?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What I saw at the zoo...

I read a comment on another blog today about how what happens on the Internet can hurt real people. The writer - a talented lady obsessed with what she considers her own betrayal - was correct. What one does on the Internet can often hurt real people - even little ones you've never even met. And of all the vile things one can do, I'd respectfully submit that causing turmoil in a home where children are involved is the vilest of them all.

You know, I've been picking apart personas for some time now, and discovering underneath people - both married and single - whose inability to function makes it easier to shut themselves away and communicate with strangers than it is to find satisfaction within their own families or communities.

I went to the zoo recently and found the polar bear habitat particularly depressing. The enclosure was nice, with lots of rocks and cool water but despite their well-constructed surrounding those bears were very unhappy.

Observing the characters I've commented on lately is like watching animals pace in the zoo. The self-imposed captivity of the Internet recluse is not unlike the artificial state of a zoo. Sure the captivity provides a level of comfort. You can be viewed briefly as a Perfect Specimen without being seen as you really are. You can present your good side to the crowd so the scar you got in the circus doesn't show. You can even arrange an artificial mating construct, which is so much easier than the rejection you've so often found in thew wild. But ultimately, when the Internet recluse takes an honest look at the reality they've created, they know it's not REAL.

To that end, I've done a bit of house-cleaning and shall move on. I'm fortunate to have a family to love, work for and appreciate. The world is full of people who have and will continue to do things I wouldn't do. I sure can't expect them to change because I think they should.

Greenhouse 101

Erik has a questions about greenhouses:

Since you quite obviously have a very green thumb, I was wondering if you
could enlighten us on what is needed for a good greenhouse. From the pics I
think I can figure out the materials you used (tho I dont know what the "glass"
is called)What all is needed in there? What temp do you keep it at, if you heat
it at all? Humidity? etc.

I wish I could take credit for the beautiful orchids you see in my spider post but I'm not the one with the green thumb in the family. I can write, take nice pictures, and sew. But I have no natural ability with plants.

Larry is the green thumb in our family, and what I do know of plants I've learned from him, much of it through osmosis. He's a natural teacher and people love to just talk to him about plants because he's knowledgeable and very good at explaining things.

Our two greenhouses he built himself.We have a large one made of two layers of industrial grade plastic stretched over a wooden frame. The layers of plastic are inflated by air, which provides the insulation. That greenhouse is huge; I forget the dimensions and the heater I bought him as a gift a few years ago towers over my head. It keeps the greenhouse warm in the winter. There are also massive fans across the back that pull out the air in the summer months, to keep it from getting too hot. It's where we keep our big tropicals. It never gets below 60 degrees in there.

Our little greenhouse is my favorite. It's an enclosed patio off our bedroom. That's where we keep the spiders. It's not glass that covers it, but twinwall, a polycarbonate plastic that's thin, lightweight and provides great insulation. The temperature in there never drops below fifty degrees and is heated with a small gas heater.

We are in the process of preparing a site for a third greenhouse. It's a complete glass and aluminum greenhouse. They sell for about $3,000 but we got ours for free from a guy who said we could have the whole thing if we took it down. Larry and I are really good at finding bargains; he got the twinwall used from one of the area arboretums. I found the offer for the glass and aluminum greenhouse tucked in among the advertisments at the local health food co-op.

With greenhouses, you can be as elaborate and expensive or as simple and low-cost as you like. I'd suggest checking the want ads first; people who move onto property with an old greenhouse will often sell it for very little. Just about everything we got for our greenhouse - from lights to watering systems we found below cost.

Kits are available through gardening supply catalogs, and again they vary in price and can be from a basic frame to a turnkey system. What temperature and humidity you choose for your greenhouse depends on what you are going to grow. I'd suggest starting small with one from a kit or a small one you build yourself through plans you find online or in a book. Magazines like Countryside and Mother Earth News often offer greenhouse plans.

I love our greenhouses, even if the plants cringe when I walk by. I don't prefer them as much as I like the outdoor gardens in the spring and summer, but it is nice on a frosty morning to find a dozen blooming orchids peeping at you from their shelves.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Octavia earns her keep

Giant spiders in the greenhouse. Good. Giant grasshoppers. Bad. With apologies in advance for creeping out Suspect, here are a few shots taken during Octavia's morning meal. (Click on the photos to enlarge for an even gorier look).

Today we go to collect more spiders. I can hardly wait! If one is this much fun, imagine what ten will be like.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Meet Octavia

I got such an awesome assignment earlier this week - to do a piece on the abundance of golden silk spiders in our area.

They are impressive creatures; the females grow to about 4 inches in length and build elaborate webs that span three to six feet across.

So was it really wrong for me to bring back a souvenier from the garden where I photographed the spider? I coudn't resist. I brought Octavia home in an empty plastic sack and let her loose that night in the orchid greenhouse off our master bedroom. By yesterday she'd tucked herself away in a corner in a temporary web. This morning I found her in a permanent one stretched between the wires that hold up the shelves in our greenhouse.

If you look very carefully at the top picture, you can see her, and note her size in relation to the pot. Isnt' she lovely? Of course, I figured you might want a close-up, so here's one at the right. (Enlarge the photos for a better look.)

I think we need more of these awesome arachnids. Golden silk spiders tend to cluster in groups. I figure our small greenhouse can handle two or three more. And the big greenhouse out front could handle about ten. So this weekend we're going spider hunting. Hopefully we can find a few males so they'll breed and produce little ones.

How cool would that be. If you're afraid of spiders, it's probably not cool at all. But to me, it is.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Roland and Luke have a tiff

It's over politics. Luke (Thimscool) criticizes the current administration. Roland counters that Luke is just Bush-bashing, and challenges him to name one good thing President Bush has done. Luke points to Bush's dogged persistence as what he sees as a Bush strong point:

It is important for the leader of the armed forces to be able to weather
the storms of public opinion. In spite of the vultures like Cindy Sheehan, he
has remained above the pettiness, and seems to have a genuine respect and care
for the military and their families. He does not try to exploit our dead
soldiers…But he happily exploits the dead of 9/11 every chance he gets. And his
fiscal policies (borrow and spend) are an absolute nightmare for our country.
The Dept. of Homeland Security has made Wyoming much safer, but it ignores
gaping holes in our port and border security.

To Luke's credit, he's at least open-minded. I'd wager there are fewer rabid conservatives who can find one good thing to say about Clinton than there are rabid liberals who can say one good thing about Bush. That's because most rabid, mouth-breathing conservatives are so wrapped in their flags that they can't spew anything beyond the latest line fed to them by Sean Hannity.

As for me, I've not only just about had it with both political parties (and the fringe Libertarian kooks), I've just about had it with politics.

Roland and Luke, I'd respectfully submit that there's not one politician - anywhere - who's not corrupted by power. I've seen it even in really good people here who've gone from local commissioners to state representatives. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering, special favors and tricks they employ to keep themselves in power boggles the mind. Those things increase exponentially the higher up that political ladder one goes.

My theory is the more political power you get, the farther away you drift from the people who put you there. Politicians can talk about what they do "for the people back home" all they want. Their actions are take are geared towards providing good political ads for themselves, not good leadership for constituency.

I used to think my vote meant something. I don't think so anymore. Influence isn't something you gain in the voting booth, it's something you pay for under the table. Don't tell me for a moment there's a whit of difference between Clinton and Bush in that regard.

Luke says we're in a bad way, politically. "Poor us," he says. I agree, only I'd abbreviate his last word. Poor U.S.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Creating Income

As of this morning, I can move another one of my hobbies into the "business" category. My camera investment, it seems, is going to pay off sooner than I'd imagined. I'm now, officially, a working freelance photographer!

Yesterday I visited a local vineyard to snap shots during the final days of the grape harvest. The grapes came in early this year and the vines are nearly picked clean. A few old women trudged around, picking what they could find. The light was perfect, and the remaining grapes were like jewels on the vine. I shot for about an hour, came home, went through the photos and this morning submitted about a dozen of my favorites on spec to the newspaper.

The editor emailed me later to say she wanted four, and the paycheck will be enough to make up for more than half the cost of the telephoto lens I recently purchased. What's more, I've been given an assignment to find and shoot interesting people in a nearby rural community!

This is a Big Deal to me because I find photography to be the perfect complement to writing. Capturing a moment in both words and pictures is artistically gratifying. Getting paid to do either is a privilege; getting paid to do both is like icing on the cake.

Today I feel....blessed.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Next Best Thing

If celebrating the birth of my children has been the most wonderful part of my life - and it has - then celebrating the birth of a dear friend's child is a close second.

Yesterday Larry and I were visited by our dear friends and their beautiful nine week old daughter. The mother of this little angel has been one of my best pals for years; I met Cece when Alex was about a year old. Cece has always doted on Alex, and Alex has always adored her. When Cece and Scott got married, Alex was the flower girl in their wedding. Just watching Scott and Cece interact with Alex and our other children, I knew they'd be great parents.

When Cece announced her pregnancy last year, we hoped for a little girl, although she and Scott would have been thrilled regardless. Even before he knew the gender, Scott proudly displayed the first ultrasound photos of the unborn baby they'd nicknamed "Bean."

I was one of the first people they called afer the baby was born. I knew Isabelle would be beautiful, and she was. When I held her, I realized that I'd called it correctly after Lucas' birth when I'd said that five was enough for me; if this perfect baby didn't make me want Number Six, nothing would. (Of course, this was fine with Lucas, who loves babies but has made it clear that in our family he is committed to holding that position. )

Yesterday I was honored to shoot pictures of Baby Isabelle. I got some nice ones of her with her beaming parents, but my favorites were the one I shot of Scott and Cece's firstborn daughter and our youngest daughter - one a shot of their faces and the other of their holding hands.

"Our girls," I said. "I'm taking pictures of our girls. Can you believe it?" It made me so happy I almost wanted to cry.

There's so much to be cynical about in today's world. Yesterday reminded me that there's also so much to celebrate.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A good day for a cat nap

Isn't this sweet?

I've had one of those perfect days, the kind made up of a string of sweet, easy little moments. I finally got paid, which is nice, so now I can pay my bills and won't miss my fabric sale this weekend. I talked to a long-lost work associate, answered a string of neglected emails and took a nice stroll in the yard, making note of the deepening change of seasons.

This afternoon Lucas fell asleep with Piper. I walked in to find them holding "hands." While they dozed, Alex and I went out, roused the ponies from their lazy routine and subjected them to a walk and some grooming. Now that the weather is cooler, it's time for them to start working again. Alex has nearly outgrown her Shetland, Lyric, but doesn't want to admit it. I told her she's welcome to share my Haflinger, Guinevere, but she's now angling for something in between, perhaps a shorter Haflinger. We shall have to see.

In her English lesson today, Alex worked in her Wordsmith Apprentice book on a lesson that required her to write Help Wanted ads. One was for the President of the United States. Here's what she wrote:

HELP WANTED (PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES): Must be interested in world peace, must be good at decision making and must be smart. Salary is thirty dollars a day.

Well, she's a bit off on the pay scale, but the rest of the ad sure makes me wish we could find someone to fill the job to her specifications.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

All sewn up

I finally finished the wall hanging I'm planning to sell to benefit Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture. Hopefully I'll have more time tomorrow to take some better ones that show the detail, including the crocodile's hand-stitched teeth. I actually have to take some better ones, not just of this wallhanging but several other handmade items so I can post them all on my Website. I won't be selling anything until I update the site, which is due for a complete revamp. I guess that's what I'll be doing this evening.

Since Larry turned one wall of our bedroom into a sewing studio for me, working on projects has been so much more enjoyable. Before I had to set everything up on the kitchen table and pack everything away at mealtimes. Now I can just leave projects in progress on the machine and come back to them as I need to.

I've worked on this project off and on since yesterday afternoon. The wallhanging depicts a crocodile looking out at a horizon, in which is written the word "Conserve." As with everything else I make, I didn't rely on a pattern. I started with an idea and sketched everything out on paper, decided how big I wanted it to be and patched it all together piece by piece. I use a formula for making dresses and skirts, again all without patterns. If you look behind the picture at top, you'll see a turtle sketch. That's my next applique design. I think it's going to be on a skirt or something. I haven't decided.

But whatever I decide, my new sewing studio will make the project flow more smoothly. The work area holds both of my machines - one regular sewing machine, one sewing machine with over 100 embroidery stitches, and one serger - as well as fabric, notions, etc. There's even a place on the end for my art supplies - paints, watercolor pencils, sketchbooks, canvases, etc. And a stereo, which is probably the most important part of any creative person's workspace. Today I listened to a lot of Jack Johnson. Yesterday it was a hodgepodge assortment of stuff my oldest daughter burned for me over the weekend.

There's a major sale at the local fabric store this weekend. I was supposed to get paid for a writing job earlier this week but so far I haven't. I'm hoping the money will come through by Friday; it would suck to miss the sale. But I'm not going to worry. This particular employer is very reliable, and I can't imagine I'll have to wait much longer. It's just always so much nicer to have the money sitting in one's account rather than on the way. Especially when there's a sale on autumn batiks. *sigh*

Lessons in death

Sometimes a closer look at death can demystify it. The garden spiders are dying now, in droves. I found this one in the greenhouse this morning, and brought it in for Lucas to examine. He took it to his bed and laid it on his pillow in a beam of light. I helped him move it back and forth as he got his first real close-up look at the object of his months-long fascination. A fragment of webbing could still be seen emerging in her spinarettes, enough to anchor to the web until her dead weight snapped it. Her tiny black eyes, the miniscule fangs that brought a season of death to unwary insects who entered her web, spiky black hairs on her eight jointed legs. The abdomen left flattened and saggy after expelling eggs into a silken sac now anchored to the greenhouse wall. Hundreds of them dot our property now, the eggs inside waiting for some secret signal to develop and emerge.

"Are you sad?" I asked Lucas as we examined the spider.

"No," he said after a moment. "I think she's sad. She died when it got too cold."

She didn't look sad to me, but who knows. A child's eyes see what we miss. If I were to die, I would be sad not so much for my own demise, but because it would take me away from my family. I think about that sometimes, more often since a health scare I had last year.

Suspect commented after my last post that spiders are simple creatures incapable of anticipating or worrying about their own deaths. He says that's why spiders build webs and we, being more complex, build grander things, like the Great Wall of China.

I've studied spiders and would respectfully argue that building something like the Great Wall of China is perhaps easier that building a web. Man has yet to figure out how to make a material so thin but so strong as a strand of spider silk. Or to pass along the skill so dispassionately as they fade away, neither demanding nor expecting accolades for their short life's work.

Would I trade spaces with the spider? No. I admire them, but I don't envy them their existence. My fear of loss and leaving is a byproduct of my love. Detatchment is valuable in some areas, but not when it comes to one's family. Life for humans is like licking honey off a thorn. We have to take the sharp with the sweet, and the pain of parting is the price we pay for the joy we find in the company of others.

The web of life is diferent for us all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On sewing and spinning

I had a good weekend, workwise, if you define good as finishing a two-day job that gave me enough money not to take the next seven off.

But the thing about working for yourself is that you never really feel comfortable doing that. I'm always thinking ahead - not frantically, mind you - just thoughtfully. It's important to consider the "what ifs." What if this project is canceled ? What if that job I have lined up falls through? So even when I don't need to work, I find myself either doing it or planning something. When you're your own boss, you can't afford to get complacent. When it comes to freelancing, the key to getting fed is to stay hungry.

This week I'm reviving my erstwhile sewing business, which pleases me to no end for I love to sew almost as much as I love to write. Sometimes more. I have a number of interests, and a nack for turning them into little income generators. It helps the family and makes me feel less guilty for splurging on fabric, lenses or laptops. When I taught myself to sew a few years ago, I picked up on it so quickly that before I knew it I had a little sideline business sewing and selling bohemian clothing and handbags.

I dropped it over the summer when all my sewing stuff went into storage during the Giant Home Improvement Extravaganza. But Larry just finished my almost-favorite part of the project - a sewing studio.

So I've started sewing again and have made enough that my Web site will have to be updated. One of the things I'm working on isn't going to make me any money - it's a wall hanging I'm going to sell with all the proceeds going to the late Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors. The thought of Irwin's death still makes my heart twist into a tiny, painful knot. It just seems so surreal to me.

The weather has turned nice, and the signs of a dying summer are increasing. Our female garden spiders have completed laying their eggs, transforming their taut, large abdomens into what now look like deflated striped balloons. Lucas loves the garden spiders, and sits on the cedar chest in front of the picture window to talk and read to them in the morning. I've told him why they are moving slower and not eating now, and show him the egg sacs that hold promise of next year's crop of spiders. But I don't think he understands. He says they are his best friends, and the cycle of death in the garden is hard for four-year-olds to grasp, especially when next spring seems so, so far away.

But do any of us ever comprehend it really, this cycle of birth and death? It's no easier for me to understand the demise of Steve Irwin than it is for Lucas to understand the death of his beloved spiders. The spiders seem to understand it all better than we do, or at least don't waste time worrying over it. They spin, they eat, they breed and they die without obsessing over whither and why. Having survived their season on this earth, they hang suspended in their webs and wait with grace for what will happen next.

Perhaps we can learn something from them....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Small Wonders

I was so impressed with the big cats I saw at the zoological park on Sunday. I remember standing there, mentally juxtaposing my diminutive housecat's slight musculature against the powerful feline structure of the mountain lion.

It's was nice to be reminded that nature is capable of wonders on such a grand scale. But it was equally nice to stroll through my garden this morning and see the wonders in miniature. It's easy to pass beauty by, unless we learn to stop and look. Here are two tiny creatures I captured for you, digitally speaking. Enjoy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Zoo Photos!

So we spent yesterday at the N.C. Zoological Park. It was wonderful fun, and while I'd like to go into detail about what we saw and experienced, I have kids to educate and paying work to see to.

Alas, that means no time for extensive blogging, but I did manage to upload these pictures to Photobucket, so enjoy them!

I will say that my newly acquired Canon Rebel XT performed well, and I'd recommend the Canon EF 75-300mm to anyone as a bargain lens that does the Canon name proud. That's not to say I'm not eyeing more advanced lenses - both telephoto and macro. But they're pricey, which gives me good incentive to work. :-)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A closer look

I had a feeling this photography thing was going to be expensive, but I'm exercising some restraint.

Since I got my camera a week ago Thursday, I've been researching zoom lenses and can now report that one could easily go broke buying equipment. One can spend thousands - yes, thousands - on a good lens. But half that will buy you a good one, and around $250 - $300 can get you an entry level Canon EF 75-300mm, which is what I ended up buying yesterday. At Best Buy, for $251.34, tax included.

I could not wait to get it home, but alas I had to because I had to pick John up, run to the fabric store and do various and sundry other little errands that whittled away at my time. It was around 6 p.m. when I pulled into my driveway, but still light so as soon as I got the kids indoors I put the new lens on my camera. Larry came in to check out the new hardware and suggested I put the polarizer on, which I did.

And outside I went to take pictures and quickly became one disappointed photographer. The lens seemed to have a real problem focusing and the shots looked out of focus in the viewfinder and even worse on the display screen. I came inside and tried shooting in a brightly lit room. No better.

I went online and re-read the reviews, which - as for any lens - are mixed. The negative ones came mostly from people who'd bought a $250 lens and expected it to perform like a $1,500 one. I didn't put a whole lot of stock in the criticism. I wasn't expecting spectacular pictures, but I didn't expect them to suck as bad as they were sucking on my initial shoot. The favorable reviews said it was a good entry level lens, and some experienced photographers praised it as an excellent bargain. So what was wrong? I figured my problems - and the negative reviews - had more to do with the operator than the lens.

One of the biggest criticisms of this particular lens is that it doesn't perform at its best in low light. So this morning - early - I got up and went outside to shoot. Again, it was a major letdown. The pictures were soft and the ones that had some clarity lost it upon being magnified. I came back in and put on my thinking cap.

On my second cup of coffee it occurred to me that the problem might not be with the lens, but on it. Could the polarizing filter be reducing the light so much that it was throwing off the focus? I took the polarizing lens off and started shooting again. And this time, I started to get really good pictures.

I shot the picture of the corgis playing across the yard at 300mm and was pleased with the result, although some reviewers said getting decent action shots or even stills at 300mm was impossible without a tripod. I shot stills of the horses from across the paddock that were so clear they picked up small knots in my Haflinger's mane. When I came in, I shot from the kitchen into the playroom, the zoom enabling me to get some candid shots since the kids didn't even realize they were being photographed.

The lens still has deficiencies in low light, and shots taken in deep shade, at dusk or in dark interiors - even with a flash - aren't going to meet my standards. But for the price of this lens I'd highly recommend it and am really looking forward to taking it on our family photographic outing scheduled for tomorrow.

Now, you may be wondering why a post about photography contains no photos. I'll tell you why. Because Blogger is being a fickle bitch tonight and won't let me upload. But take heart. After my outing tomorrow I shall post some on Photobucket and provide the link.

So there you go. My unillustrated story about the travails of photography.