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I have moved my blog to Blogspot, and revamped it a bit.  You can find me at “A Crab Among Perls”  I am finding the interface MUCH easier to deal with, and posting pictures is quite simple — unile the new format here.  Come check me out please!

Outta here

Hello all three of you who subscribe to my blog.  I know that it has been a very long time since I posted — I have had a crazy semester, and all of my free time has been spent teaching myself enough psychology to then go ahead and teach it to my students each week.  And while I was gone, WordPress went and completely changed the posting interface, which seems to make it impossible to post both text and photos together.  I don’t like it.  At all.  So I think I’ll be moving to another blog host soon.  Not to mention, the blog needs a rehaul, since I’m not an archaeologist anymore.  So once I find a new home, I’ll let you all know.  Hopefully I can get back to posting regularly soon, just in a new location.  See you there!

A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

I know that I have been neglecting this blog for months.  This has been a particularly difficult semester for me, since I need to teach myself enough psychology each week to teach two 4-hour classes.  It sometimes feels like every waking minute is spent lesson planning.  But I took a break over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Since there are just two of us, and T isn’t really into turkey, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had in my recipe box for over a year: Alton Brown’s cornish hen with bacon and onion.

Knitting Season Begins

I can finally get back to blogging about my craft projects!  I don’t want to go anywhere near knitting during the summer, but almost overnight we went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees around here, so suddenly knitting seems like a good idea again.

I have a lot of knitting projects lined up — mostly Christmas decorations and presents — but I had a few projects that I needed to get out to people quickly.  A good friend from high school (K) has a 3-year-old daughter, E, who has been having a rough time recently.  I decided that I needed to knit her a hat and a toy to go with it.  Another friend’s mom is going through chemo, and she put out a request for hats, so that seemed like another good project to work on quickly.

I had seen a yarn store not too far from my house a few months back, but I hadn’t been in yet.  I decided to go check it out, both to get yarn for the toddler hat, and to scope out whether or not there was a knitting group nearby.  I have definitely missed having a group to knit with, and I figured it wuld be a good way to try and make some local, IRL friends.  It turned out there is a knitting group that meets at the shop on Thursdays, so I got to kill two birds with one stone — make new friends, and knit E’s hat!

I wanted something very soft and fuzzy for E’s hat, and I found an unusual yarn.  I discovered later that it is designed to knit up like terrycloth, but this is what it looks like:

fuzzy yarn

I haven’t worked with a lot of fuzzy yarns before, but I knew that it would be a little challenging.  The fuzziness makes the individual stitches impossible to see.  It also could be less yarn than it looks like, so I asked the shop owner whether I could get a toddler hat out of a single skein.  She said to buy a second skein to be safe, so I did.
I got to the knitting group late, and missing most of my materials.  I had all my needles, but forgot the rest of my toolkit, and the pattern book I typically use as a guide for hat measurements.  But I have knit so many hats in the past, I figured it would be no big deal to do this one off the cuff.  I did have to ask the store owner for the appropriate circumference of a toddler hat so I could get started, but that was no big deal.
The first problem I ran across was figuring out my gauge.  I started to knit a swatch, but I couldn’t see the individual stitches to tell how many I had per inch.  I tried to guess, and was waaaay wrong the first time — when I saw the knitting start to curl up on my round needles, I knew it was much too big.  When I took it off the needles, it was at least 40″ in circumference!  So I eyeballed it, and the second time I got roughly the right size.
Then, as I started knitting, I realized that I was going to have a hard time ribbing the edge of the hat, since I couldn’t tell my stitches apart.  I typically use ribbing or seed stitch on the edge of hats to keep the rim from rolling up.  But I had a hunch that this yarn might not roll.  More consultation with the store owner and looking up some patterns using that yarn confirmed that it shouldn’t roll, so I could do stockinette stitch for the whole hat.  And the best part of the yarn was, even though I was halfway through my first row, no one would ever know that I was switching from ribbing to stockinette!
The last problem I ran into was the decreases.  I first learned to make hats by doing regular decreases up to the crown, making a smooth, beanie-style top, rather than the gathered top that is created by doing a rapid decrease at the end.  I never use stitch markers for this, and don’t even own any, because I am used to being able to see where my decreases are.  But that was impossible with this yarn.  So I needed stitch markers to keep tabs on where my decreases would go.  And the great thing about knitting in a yarn store — I was able to buy stitch markers on the spot!
Despite having to start twice, I had most of the hat done by the time I left the sit and stitch.  I just needed to switch to double-pointed needles for the final decreases.
On Saturday, I sat down and decided to finish E’s hat.  It took less than half an hour.  I realized once it was done that I hadn’t upped the number of decreases quite enough at the end, which had resulted in a pointed top, but it looks adorable, so I decided to keep it.  The best part is, it looks good whether you roll the bottom or keep it straight.

straight brim

rolled brim

In the process of gathering up my knitting materials for the sit and stitch, I had discovered an unfinished hat I was knitting for T last spring.  So I picked it up and started working on it again.  Apparently, I had run out of the black yarn I started with, and continued with a different black yarn.  It resulted in a black striped look that I really like.  Something awfully strange had gone on with the knitting a row or two below where I picked the project up again — it looks like I pulled out sone stitches and picked them back up twisted — but it took a while for me to notice it, so I didn’t go back and fix it.  It took an hour or so to finish this project, and when it was done, it looked like this:

black striped hat

Finally, I decided to work on the hat for my friend’s mom.  I hadn’t used the whole first skein for E’s hat, so I decided to use the second skein for this.  I know that it will look goofy instead of elegant, but I thought the yarn would feel really nice against her head.  But I was afraid that there wouldn’t be *quite* enough yarn for an adult-sized hat.  So I looked through my stash, and found some super-silky fuzzy yarn that I picked up during a stash swap.  The green would go well with the baby blue yarn, and I thought a stripe would help the hat look a little bit more grown-up, while also helping stretch the terrycloth yarn.  This time, to get my gauge (since I never really figured it out last time around), I knit a swatch of 10 stitches.  Ten stitches was a little less than 4 inches wide, so to make a 21-inch circumference hat I cast on 56 stitches.  The silky green stuff was SO silky it was difficult to knit with — I was glad that I only had a few rows worth of it.  But I think the finished hat will be really nice and cozy!  I tried not to make it too long, so she wouldn’t have to roll up the brim.  I also went with the quick decrease, so there’s a little bit of gather at the top.  Even after making a full-sized hat, I still have some yarn left over.  I hope it fits and she likes it!

chemo cap

The next thing I need to make is a stuffed toy to go with E’s hat — I have a pattern for a cute little frog that I think will be perfect.  And my plan is, with the little bit of fuzzy yarn I have leftover, I will make him a hat that looks just like hers.  I don’t have enough green yarn to do him all in the same yarn, so I decided to wait until next Thursday and buy a new skein at the next sit and stitch.  I can hardly wait!

We Are the Yanomamo

Yanomamo village from the air

Before I was an archaeologist, I was a cultural anthropologist.  I even have a master’s degree to prove it. Cultural anthropologists love to study other cultures around the world, ostensibly for the purpose of bringing back observations that shed light on our own culture in comparison.  And one of the tribes we studied was the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo are a hunter-gatherer group that lives in the Amazon rain forest.  Their villages aren’t made up of lots of individual homes; instead, they build a single, shared shelter for the whole group.  There is a ring-shaped roof with a single wall along the outside of the ring, roughly divided into sections where individual families live, sleeping in hammocks and cooking over open fires.  The center of the ring is a large, flat shared living space where most community activities take place.

Surprisingly, unlike American towns and cities, Yanomamo villages tend to all be roughly the same size.  Of course, young people get married and their new spouses move in, children are born, and the village grows over time.  But at a certain point, when the populations gets too large, the village divides.  Squabbles add up over time, factions develop, and one faction leaves to build their own village.  Maybe it’s a function of too much genetic distance between people — I’m willing to sacrifice for my parents or siblings, but not for my second cousin’s wife who I have no blood relation to.  Maybe as the number of people increases, the local resources — food, building materials, and other supplies —  become scarce and people begin to argue when there isn’t enough to go around.  Whatever the cause, larger numbers means more bickering, and eventually it gets bad enough that someone moves out.
We Westerners tend to think of hunter-gatherer groups like this as less developed than we are — primitive, backwards, uncivilized.  The truth is, while their technology may be less developed than ours is, their way of life tends to be perfectly adapted to their environment.  They maintain groups of just enough people to support themselves nicely based on what they can find nearby.
Meanwhile, here in the US, we are in the middle of a recession.  There aren’t enough jobs and money — resources — to go around these days.  And I have noticed, while we are living in an environment with scare resources, we are doing an awful lot of squabbling.  We’re dividing into factions.  There’s rich vs. poor, Republican vs. Democrat, Tea Party vs. liberals, citizens vs. illegal immigrants, working poor vs. welfare freeloaders, fiscal conservatives vs. social safety nets.  I see lots of people who are angry at Them, and They are the people who are competing for the resources we don’t have.  And it’s not just the U.S. — look at Germany vs. Greece, the British people vs. youth mobs, American vs. Chinese workers.  If we were the Yanomamo, this fighting would result in a division, one faction would leave, and then there would be enough to go around for the people who were left.  The problem is, we spend all this time dividing into factions, but there’s nowhere for us to go.  We have created a globalized economy, and there is nowhere that anyone can go anymore where they wouldn’t still be sharing the same global economic pie.  No matter how much we fight with one another, we’re all still stuck in this mess together.
Do you know why Americans are so often obese?  Because we are genetically adapted to love high-calorie foods — sugars, fats, and salt.  This was a great adaptation when we were hunter-gatherers, who spent most of our days walking from place to place and engaged in physical labor, and food was sometimes scarce.  Even as we changed and became farmers and herders and even city-dwellers, the amount of physical work we needed to do and the scarcity of these foods meant that we were still in pretty good shape.  But now that we have machines to do our work and carry us around and our jobs have us sitting at desks most of the day, while at the same time those high-calorie foods are easier and easier to obtain, that adaptation isn’t working for us anymore.  It’s making our situation worse, and our health along with it.  The trait that was helpful in one setting hurts us now that our circumstances have changed; it’s called an evolutionary mismatch.
I think our tendency to point fingers and fall into factions during bad economic times is another mismatch.  And the longer the economy stays bad, the more we point fingers and fight with one another, when what we really need to do is overcome this tendency towards anger and division, and work together to find solutions.  Just like many of us need to eat lower-calorie, high-nutrient foods, and do more physical work during the day in order to lower our collective health risks.
We all know that we need to eat right and exercise, yet it’s often really, really hard to do.  So is there any hope that we’ll collectively realize that all this political infighting is hurting us as a nation, and start working together to solve our common economic woes?
I’m afraid the answer to that question is, fat chance.


Half of my students are currently getting a D or an F in one of my three classes.

That’s 11 out of 22 grades, exactly.

This makes me really upset.

Any time a student is doing badly in class, there are only a few possible reasons: 1) the student is not applying him- or herself, 2) the student is not capable of completing the coursework accurately, or 3) I am not teaching the material well.  Realistically, it is often a combination of all three.

Do my students apply themselves?  Sometimes students are genuinely lazy and they don’t want to do their homework.  Maybe passing with a C or a D is good enough in their book.  Often, they never learned good study habits in high school, they are accustomed to having assignments and deadlines spelled out for them repeatedly, they simply don’t stay on top of their work.  In a 12-week term, there is often time to catch back up.  In a 6-week term, it’s a lot harder.  You don’t check the syllabus, you fall behind, and suddenly, the class is done.

For reason number 2, I originally phrased it as “the student isn’t capable of learning the material,” but most of the time that really isn’t the problem.  The reasons why they can’t complete the work are legion.  My students often work 40+ hours a week, have children to raise, partners and family members to spend time with, household chores to do, and on top of that they are trying to get a degree.  So often there isn’t enough time to get everything done.  Add to that the fact that, in my computer classes (which account for 19 of my 22 students), many students don’t have regular access to a computer at home, or the Internet, or both.  They are expected to do 2 hours of homework outside of class for each hour they are in class — that would be 16 hours of homework each week.  And many of them need to do it on a family member’s computer, or a friend’s mom’s computer, or at the public library, or during the few hours they have on campus just before or after class.  If they have a computer at home, they may not have Internet to allow them to email me their homework assignments.  They may not know how to install the trial software that comes with their book.  Even if a computer is readily available, I have students who don’t speak English as their first language, so the directions, “Point to the Title cell style in the Titles and Headings area of the Cell Styles gallerty to see a live preview of the cell style in cell A1” is extremely confusing.  Even I find it confusing!  Hell, despite the fact that I have walked them through the process at least one time per class, I still have students, on Day 8 of class, who don’t know what to do when we are in Word and they need to send me their assignment as an attachment to an email.  They can’t remember how to open Internet Explorer and navigate off the home page and go to their online email provider.  I have students who have had so little exposure to computers during their life, they can only type roughly 10 words a minute.  So whether it is because of a lack of access to computing resources, or reading comprehension skills, or previous exposure to computers, many students are unable to complete the work I assign them.

But I always, always worry that the real reason my students are failing is because I am not teaching them what they need to know.  I know that computer classes are difficult to teach in a large group setting.  I know that I have students of all skill levels in the class, so some are surfing between steps during demonstrations because they are so bored, while others are completely lost.  Knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier when you see your students failing, and you don’t know what you can do to help them.  When there are dozens of zeroes in my grading spreadsheet, is it because they are too lazy to turn their work in, they can’t do the work, or because they don’t understand what they are supposed to do?

I don’t know.  And without knowing why they are not turning their work in, I can’t help them.  And that’s the worst feeling of all.

Guilty Pleasures

I got trapped in a “Sex and the City” marathon last night when I should have been going to bed, which inspired this list of my Top 10 Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Reruns of “Sex and the City” (duh)
  2. The Twilight book series (but NOT the movies)
  3. Marshmallow Fluff, eaten off a spoon
  4. Cotton candy, which I buy every time I see it, even in those horrible foil pouches at gas station convenience stores
  5. Reruns of “The Golden Girls”
  6. Cheesy romantic comedies with preposterous premises, like “When In Rome”
  7. Eating a whole jar of olives in a single sitting
  8. Standing in a hot shower an extra 5 minutes
  9. Costco churros
  10. “My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding”

Class Personalities

Every teacher knows that different classes have different personalities.  When I was in school, I thought that the personality of the class was set by the teacher.  But now that I am teaching, I think that it is really the students who determine how the class runs.  This seems more pronounced the smaller the class is.  And it seems that a single person with a strong personality can really influence the tone.

Strategies is my smallest class — 4-6 students — and this is where I have seen the most variability in class personality.  My first Strategies class had 2 men and 2 women.  One of the guys was very open and willing to share his thoughts and feelings about coming back to school and the choices he had made in his life.  Because he was a very open, friendly guy, that class became good friends.  They teased each other a lot, and had a good time in class.  I had the timing of my lessons down perfectly, and I could count on a lot of conversation when I threw some discussion questions at them.

My second Strategies class had 2 men and 3 women.  One of the men was a jokester, and I thought he would set the tone for the class, but one of the women was very reserved.  She tended to stay disengaged from class, and would give short answers when asked to participate in a discussion.  She and the jokester would bicker good-naturedly in class, but she had the ability to shut him down.  With this class, getting a discussion going was like pulling teeth, I think because of her reserve.  I often found myself with extra time at the end of class, and had to have exercises on hand to fill in.

My third Strategies class has 4 women in it.  They are much more comfortable putting their thoughts onto paper than speaking out loud.  I have a hard time hearing many of them when I ask questions, because they are uncomfortable raising their voices.  Once again, I think I will need to have additional exercises on hand, because discussion will not fill up our time like it did with my first class.  I have been a little worried about how I will get this class to engage with me, since their class personality is so subdued.

But on Thursday, we had a student appreciation barbecue during class, complete with a DJ, out in the school parking lot.  Most of the students went through the food line, and then sat on the curb in the shade along the building.  Several staff members got up and started dancing to the music, in a little clump, but despite a lot of encouragement, most of the students wouldn’t get up to dance.  A line-dancing song I didn’t know came on, and the quietest of my students got up.  She got the group of staff members and a few more students to start doing this line dance.  During the remainder of the barbecue, she got all of my students to get up, dance, and have a great time.  I was so proud of her for inspiring her classmates, including one woman who said she hadn’t danced this much in her life, ever!  Other students were dragged onto the dance floor by staff, only to go sit back down as soon as they had a chance.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t brave enough to shake it in front of my students and coworkers.  But I hope she becomes the inspiration for the rest of the class to follow.  And that she learns to raise her voice.  *smile*

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad

I like to make pasta salads in the summer, but it’s hard finding the right balance of ingredients.  This time though, I think I really hit the nail on the head.  So I figured I’d pass along the “recipe” in case anyone else needed a little dinner inspiration!

I started by thawing some boneless chicken thighs and marinating them in some cheap Italian salad dressing, with garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, some salt (because I knew the dressing I was using was on the sweet side) and pepper.  While that was marinating, I cooked up some tricolor bowtie pasta.

For veggies, I chopped one medium zucchini, some broccoli, and some cauliflower.  To keep them from being too crunchy, I steamed them for a few minutes.  Then I de-seeded and chopped two tomatoes, and for a little extra protein I chopped a few string cheese sticks into rounds.

When the pasta was done, I threw several ice cubes on top and ran it under cold water to cool it down.  I tossed it with more Italian dressing, added some garlic rice wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and parsley flakes.  Then I threw in the veggies, tomatoes and cheese to soak up some of the dressing.

I then heated up the grill, grilled the chicken thighs on medium for a few minutes on either side to get some nice grill marks on them, and finished them with indirect heat on low for a few more minutes.  I put the chicken in the fridge for to cool, then cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Everything got tossed together — pasta, veggies, tomato, cheese, and chicken.  The veggies were tender-crisp, the cheese softened a little from the residual heat in the pasta, and the char on the chicken complemented the zing of the dressing.  Yum!

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

I saved a spider today.

My relationship with spiders is complicated.  I usually go with the standard line about them scaring me, but there’s a lot more to it than that.  Because, in a lot of circumstances, I can tolerate them, and in some circumstances, I am quite fond of them, and in other circumstances, I ask my husband to kill them for me.

My thoughts about my relationship with spiders started on Tuesday, when one of my coworkers brought a small black widow spider into the herp society as a gift for our boss’s kids.  (I assume there had been some previous discussion that I was not a party to, because it seems to be it would be a pretty odd gift without one.)  It was in a small jelly jar with holes poked into the canning lid.  The boss didn’t seem the least surprised, the kids seemed pretty delighted, and since it was in glass I was totally cool with a venemous spider in the same room with me, but I sure didn’t go and take a close look.

Now, working at a herpetological society means that you are likely to be working with people whose ideas about the organisms around us do not sync with the average person’s.  I had noticed a number of small spiders lurking in odd nooks and corners in both the office and the warehouse.  In particular, there was one spider with a web that ran all the way along the wall of the bathroom, right next to the toilet but down at ankle-level.  The proximity to my vulnerable, peeing ankle might have made this spider a threat, but it always sat, motionless, in its web, which was underlined by a neat line of discarded gnat carcasses on the floor, all approximately 1/2 an inch from the wall.  I assumed that no one disturbed this spider and the others  due to their important role in the local ecosystem.  And, honestly, I respect the work that spiders do for us, getting rid of all kinds of irritating, flying bugs.  That’s part of this complicated attitude of mine, which I’ll get into a little more.

But on Thursday, a different coworker of mine, H, had accidentally scattered bits of paper from the shredder all over the floor of the main office.  And so the ancient canister vacuum was broken out for cleaning.  And she went on a spider hunt.

Spider in the bathroom?  Sucked up and gone.  Three more in the main office?  Also gone.  Spiders, webs, dust, paper bits, and dead gnats were all sucked up and disposed of.  And H and I had quite a long conversation about our mutual dislike of spiders (although we both agreed that, for some reason, tarantulas weren’t nearly as scary as house spiders *shrug*).

Now, here’s the thing.  I actually had become somewhat fond of the bathroom spider.  I felt a little bad that she had gotten sucked up and was gone.  Not bad enough to stop the arachnicide, but there was a twinge.

And here is where my complicated relationship with spiders comes in.  When I am outdoors, spiders in their webs fascinate me.  Even the ones that are 2″ across.  If one crawls on me, I will flick it off, and that is that.  No screaming, no disgust.  And I have observed some fascinating spider behavior in those settings.

I once watched a small spider building her web in a corner next to a larger spider’s web.  She was trying to make room for herself, and one of the lines of his web was in her way.  I watched her pluck at the offending strand three times in succession, each time making the larger spider shake his web, while she stayed motionless until he was done.  After the third pluck, she quickly and cleanly snapped the strand without disturbing him in the least, and then continued making her web.

I once saw what I thought was a yellow jacket wasp struggling in a spider’s web, and went over to watch the process.  The spider was smaller than the wasp, and I was wondering how he would wrap the larger wasp up.  Turns out, the spider was actually the one fighting for his life.  The wasp grabbed the spider out of his web, flew to a nearby branch, and ate him, head first.  Talk about a surprise!

The summer I lived in Portland, OR, we lived on a hill and didn’t have a driveway, but we did have a steep flight of stairs and a walkway from the sidewalk to the front door, surrounded by ivy, bushes and trees.  When we first moved in, I hated being the first person leaving the house in the morning, and the first returning in the evening, because spiders would make their webs across the path during the early mornings and evenings.  You would catch a dozen or more webs across the face as you entered or left the house.  But after a few months, I was coming up the steps one evening when I realized that it had been quite a while since I had been hit by a web across the face.  I turned and looked behind me, where the evening light was turning all the webs gold.  I realized that there were still dozens of webs going from one side of the path to the other, but they canted at different angles, creating a tunnel that we walked through.  By taking out all of the webs that were within our walkway, we had “trained” our spiders where to make their webs!

When I worked for a planning firm in Redding, CA, there was no break room to eat lunch in.  As a way of getting a mental break, I would sneak out into a pass-through in the building that went behind our offices, and eat lunch in the shade on the concrete steps.  The pass-through was rarely used, and there were a lot of spiders back there.  Once day, I realized that there was a small black widow on the ground, curled up and dying.  I didn’t see any others around — most of the other spiders were daddy longlegs, another species of spider that I am not afraid of — but I reminded myself to keep an eye out when I was back there.  The next day, I noticed one of the daddy longlegs hauling the dead black widow up into her web.  She fed off it for the next three days, and when I came back on Monday, the empty black widow had been discarded on the floor.

So that’s rule #1 for me: outdoor spiders are okay.  I think the rationale is, I am in their space, therefore I should respect them.  Or something.  All I know is, when they are outdoors, they are much less likely to freak me out.

Rule #2: hard-shelled spiders are much less gross than soft-bodied ones.  I don’t know why, maybe because they tend to have better markings, maybe because they seem more mechanical and less squishy, they usually don’t creep me out as badly as the meaty-looking ones.  Hairy is better than naked, too.

Rule #3: a spider that keeps to itself is okay.  A spider that’s hanging out in a web, in a corner, not moving, just doing it’s own thing, is fine by me.  I mentally declare a truce, tell it to mind its own business, I will mind mine, and everything will be okay.

Rule #4: a moving spider is a threat.  While just looking at some spiders grosses me out, what gets to me the most about them is the way their legs move.  That is why I do not watch movies like “Arachnophobia,” or “Eight-Legged Freaks.”  In fact, just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.  *shudder*

Rule #5: most of the time, I cannot get close enough to a spider to kill it on my own.  If a spider is not following rules 1-3, then I will ask someone else to do something about it.  My grad school roommate was the type who would lovingly scoop it up and take it outside.  My husband squashes them with a tissue.  I don’t really care either way, as long as there isn’t a looming spider, running around over my head anymore.

Rule #6: when attacked directly, I will take a spider out.  Usually, this happens when I am wearing shoes and a spider runs straight at me.  They simply get stepped on.  Occasionally, this happens in the shower, and I flush that itsy bitsy spider right down the water spout, and keep running water hard into the drain until I am SURE it is gone.  In fact, about a month ago, I woke up in the early morning hours to pee and get a drink.  I filled the cup that sits in the bathroom for that purpose, and just as I got it up to my lips, there was just enough light for me to see that there was a spider floating at the top of the water.  I dumped it and ran that water for a good 5 minutes, on hot.  And I now make sure to fill, swish, dump, and then refill my cup before taking a middle-of-the-night drink.

Rule #7: if a spider obeys rules 1-3, I can actually begin thinking of it as a pet.  The first time this happened was when I was living in Portland.  We had a little daddy longlegs living in our bathroom, tucked into a corner by the back edge of the sink.  He was a plain, gray daddy longlegs, and at first I kept a close eye on him to be sure he wasn’t going to make a move while I was brushing my teeth.  But after a while, I got used to him.  The one day, I realized that his abdomen seemed to be shrinking, and he was turning a paler and paler gray.  I didn’t realize that I was actually getting attached to him until I walked in a few weeks later to find him fat and dark-colored, with a bug wrapped up in his web, and realized that I was relieved the little guy had gotten himself a meal.

In the Pacific Northwest, we get spiders with large, orange abdomens and black legs, that are known as pumpkin spiders.  During my second year of grad school, we had one of these spiders living in the rafters just above our front door, on the underside of the upstairs tenants’ stairs and entrance.  It was an ideal spot, right next to the front light, which attracted a lot of bugs.  During the day, she would tuck herself back into a corner, but in the evening, she would come out and gorge on gnats and midges.  She was quite big, but hard-shelled, and her colors were lovely.  My roommate and I found ourselves keeping an eye on her, and making sure she was still there when we got home in the evenings.  Well, Halloween rolled around, and we had a handful of trick-or-treaters.  One of the last groups of the night was a rowdy, noisy bunch of teenagers, who we gave candy to.  We could hear them fooling around outside our door and making a lot of noise for several minutes, and then one of the girls started shrieking, the boys were laughing, and there were several loud thumps up high on the wall.  Our spider!, I thought.  I was furoious, and literally ran to the front door.  I was fully prepared to yell at the kids if they had done anything to hurt our spider, but they were long gone.  Her web was torn up, but after a few anxious minutes I found that she was still there, tucked back into her corner.  I was surprised at the ferocity with which I was willing to defend her!

So now to get back to the start of this story.  After Tuesday’s spider gift at work, and yesterday’s spider massacre, I had to deposit my paycheck on the way into work this morning.  I walked into the vestibule to use the ATM, since the bank wasn’t open yet, and sitting on the counter with the chained pen and the deposit slips, was a clear plastic drinking cup with a spider in it.  He was a meaty, brown one, the kind that look like they’re wearing boxing gloves on their front legs, the worst kind.  And he was running around the bottom of the cup.  It seemed pretty odd to intentionally place a captured spider in the vestibule of a bank, so I assume the cup was left there and he fell in, and then wasn’t able to escape.  I thought about what I should do as I completed my transaction.  And then I picked up the cup, carried it outside, and laid it on its side in the planting bed right next to the door.  I left the cup there, so in one way, I was littering.  But in another, I was helping return an important critter to its alloted place in the local environment.  It made me feel pretty good.

But if he’d climbed up the side of the cup at me?  I totally would have taken him out.