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okay…so now I want a pet tarantula

IMG_1043No joke.

We did the coolest thing after school yesterday! Our local library hosted a session with Travis Potts, local “Spider Man.” Not the kind that swings from building to building rescuing damsels in distress and battling villains, but a hero to the public, just the same. He’s a tarantula fanatic, and he brought his pets to share with us.

I have a morbid fascination with spiders. I think they are super creepy, but, yet, I can’t take my eyes off of them. Kind-of like a train-wreck. And there’s Charlotte. Who doesn’t love Charlotte? Spiders are completely enchanting. So when we heard that there were going to be spiders at the library, I was completely pumped. Porter, my six-year-old son, was excited, too. And Campbell, my four-year-old daughter, told me she didn’t want to go, but I made her, anyway, and when they opened the door to allow us to approach the spiders, she shriveled and cried, but, because I’m such an awesome mom, I drug her in. Yeah, I suck a little. SPOILER ALERT: She lived. And she loved it.

Travis brought four live tarantulas, and we got to view them and ask questions.

He shared all sorts of information about them that I didn’t quite absorb because I was keeping my eye on the creepy buggars, but as he talked about them and answered these crazy kid questions, the spiders became less creepy to me, and to Campbell. Porter dove right in. He asked tons of questions, and then when Campbell finally let her curiosity get the better of her, she asked more than tons of questions. I think she may have driven Travis insane. He got a small taste of what I deal with every day:

Excuse me. How much venom do they have? Excuse me. How many spiders do you have? Excuse me. Do they bite? Excuse me. What are their names? Excuse me. I think the baby one is really cute. What is her name? Spidey? Excuse me. What do they eat? Excuse me. How old is this spider? Excuse me. What is her name? Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me…

My daughter is a total chatterbox, but at least she’s semi-polite. With the excuse me bit. The first question of hers that Travis addressed was “how many knees does a spider have?” I chuckled a bit because spiders don’t have knees. So I made eye contact with Travis to let him know that Campbell was so naive to ask about spider knees. How cute.

Travis answered Campbell’s seemingly absurd question and explained in all seriousness that spiders have eight knees. And, better yet, if a leg gets caught in something, they can purposely separate at the knee to preserve themselves and then grow back the leg gradually with each molt. Huh? Yeah, that’s what I was totally thinking. I learned today that spiders have knees! Wow!

Porter asked some really valid and well-timed questions. So between the two of them, we learned a lot. And then I asked some questions, too, like how he got into this whole mess. He chuckled a little bit and explained that he took his son to a reptile show about four years ago and ended up with his first tarantula, Rosie. I loved hearing how he just stumbled upon being the local spider man. He taught us about their warning signs…how they “kick their hairs.” Porter was fascinated with that.

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Porter questions Travis while Campbell tries to edge in.

The spider with the knees that Campbell asked about was his first, named Rosie, because she’s a Mexican Red-Knee (the official name to officially slam it home to me once again that spiders have knees). She was really beautiful, once you got to know her. According to Travis, her breed is one of the ten most docile tarantulas, and a great one to start with, if you’re going to go arachnid. We even got to see her feeding.

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Rosie.

There were others. L.P. was an abbreviation for his scientific name–it escapes me–as well as being a “little Potts,” and he will someday be 12″. Wow! He ate a cockroach right in front of us and spun some silk to make himself more comfortable while he ate.

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L.P. eating a cockroach.

And, then, there was Max from Argentina who was named after Travis’ friend, Max, from Argentina. Max was huge. Impressive.

Max

Max from Argentina.

Campbell’s favorite was the “so cute” baby one who hasn’t been named, yet, because Travis wants to get to know her, first. Well, that’s awesome. Campbell took it upon herself to attempt a name, but I think Travis is looking for something more original than “Spidey.”

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Baby no-name.

I am beyond thankful that my children and I had this opportunity to experience tarantulas up close. What was once creepy is still creepy, but not quite so much. Travis talked about how he can hold Rosie, and it made me want to hold her. And for the first time in my life, in the presence of spiders, I didn’t have the urge squeal as if I was in a horror movie.

So I asked one last question, which, is of course, the ultimate FAQ: “Have you ever been bit?” His response: “Not yet. But I know it will happen.” And it’s worth it to him. And that is completely awesome.


the wild horses of the Arizona desert

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There is a stretch of road–the infamous highway 347–that stretches between Phoenix and the city of Maricopa through the Gila River Indian Reservation. As a day-in day-out commute, the desert’s beauty can sometimes lose it’s luster, but there is one main attraction. If you’re lucky enough, you can catch a glimpse of the wild horses.

We’ve all seen horses, so it may not seem spectacular, but it is rare to see so many at once in the wild. They come out predictably just after the rains that stimulate the brush to be as lush as it can be in this parched climate.

Since it rained a lot last week and we had to drive that stretch of highway a couple of times this weekend to visit some animals, I thought we had a pretty good shot at catching a glimpse of them. Searching for them keeps the littles occupied during what would otherwise be a long, dull trek. There are only so many cacti a kid can take.

Typically, the horses appear as tiny figurines in the distance, their movement and grazing barely perceptible. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to catch them running. The tell-tale dust cloud is easy to spot, but when it’s so hot, they are usually still, conserving their energy.

What a fantastic surprise it was to see them grazing just yards from the road yesterday!

Since I’m always telling the littles that it’s far too dangerous to stop on the 347 if they’ve dropped their shoe or graham cracker, they were amazed when I pulled over. They could see just fine from the safety of the air-conditioned minivan, but I braved the spectacular danger of standing inches from cars blazing past, commonly at 90 mph. There were several of us parked by the road in awe, and I’ve seen some fantastic pictures–far better than mine–posted on my friends’ social media feeds. What a treat!

We could see their sinew and ribs, but they seemed strong and powerful. And so calm, considering they had human spectators and screaming-fast cars just yards away. The sight of them was truly spectacular.


catch-and-release cricket

We are fortunate enough to have very few problems with pests in our home, so we opt not to call in the chemical guy with the big guns in the interest of preserving a healthy environment for all and our children’s reproductive freedoms…and stuff like that. We do, from time to time, provide shelter to a cricket or two (and, yes, I realize a thousand more in the walls, but I don’t see them), especially during the monsoon season, when they’d like to get out of the rain for a spell, as would any rational being.

So tonight I’m in the bathroom just after tucking the littles in, and I see the tiniest little thing on the tile floor. It’s a baby cricket! Adorable (yes, I realize this means they are multiplying)! I roused the littles out of their almost-slumber.

“You have to see this baby-cricket-cutest-thing-EVER!” I said.

Truly, they were impressed and wanted to keep it for a pet. I did, too. But, truthfully, I have never pet-sat for a cricket (I have fed them to other charges, though). So I wouldn’t know how to care for one. Not knowing how to care for a creature leaves it out of the pet category, and I feared it might perish before I could do sufficient research. I opted for the catch-and-release.

It was easy enough to do a gentle scoop into my hands, and I tossed the little guy out the bedroom door into the back yard (“garden,” for my UK-ers…it has grass and flowers).

“Bye, crickey!” bellowed the littles.

“But, Mommy?” Po questioned. “You tossed him from pretty high up, like if we were jumping off the Empire State Building, and I think that wasn’t very nice and it might have hurt him.”

“Oh, baby,” I responded, “I totally get why you would think that, and you’re right. For his body size, it was a really high toss. But bugs can do some crazy sky diving tricks, so I know he’s okay.”

Po contemplated. “But he didn’t have a parachute.”

I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity, as I often do when my children call me out. “Very true, but I know he’s okay. You have to ask Daddy why, because I don’t know about the physics and all of that, but I promise crickey landed softly and he’ll be just fine.”

Long live crickey. And a lesson for me about insect physics is in store.

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I did not take this photo. I did not have some super-crazy-amazing camera on my bathroom floor at bedtime, so I did not capture the moment. This is a super cute baby crickey, though, right? Photo credit: photo.steves-digicams.com.


future vet camp at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is one of our favorite places to go, especially to escape the summer heat in the desert. We last visited during companion animal month, when we participated in all sorts of animal-related activities.

ImageThis past Saturday, the littles participated in the Banfield Future Vet® program at CMoP. The interactive program is designed for school-aged children as an introduction to the field of veterinary medicine, and was a great activity for our animal-loving family.

Dr. Molander, a veterinarialn from Banfield Pet Hospital, led the class of about a dozen with assistance from Dr. Duncan, also from Banfield, and Dharti Patel, a student in veterinary medicine from Texas A&M participating in the student job program at Banfield. Service dog Benson and his person, Justine, from Pet Partners® were also on hand to participate in a sample examination. Dr. Molander interacted with the kids right from the start, giving them the opportunity to talk about their own pets. Molander, Duncan, and Patel shared with the class the reasons why they wanted to become veterinarians. Dr. Molander related a childhood story about watching a vet stitch up her injured horse, saying “I want to do that!” Dr. Duncan told the kids how veterinary medicine was the perfect combination for her two passions, animals and science, and Patel told us that she loves animals, but was never around them growing up, so she wanted to learn about them and work with them. They made it clear to the kids that people arrive at the career choice from different backgrounds and for a variety of reasons. The kids also learned that becoming a veterinarian is a lot of work and requires four years of school.

Dr. Molander talked to the kids about what vets do, and aside from taking care of injured and sick animals, the students learned that vets sometimes travel to large animals who won’t fit in the office, such as farm animals and zoo animals. Veterinarians also spend time teaching, researching, and performing tests to further the field of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians also do meat inspections–something I learned–to help keep people who eat meat healthy.

Dr. Molander displayed posters on various topics and allowed the kids to come up and mark correct answers. They drew pictures of what a pet would need to stay healthy and discussed individual symptoms and whether they meant that the animal was feeling well or not well.

Things really got fun when Dr. Molander called Benson, a gorgeous English Golden Retriever, up for a mock examination. She described what she does and why as she looked Benson over. “I start the examination before I even touch the animal,” she explained. Whether or not the animal greets her when she walks in the room is important. She notices the animal’s balance and gait and looks at the eyes, all before she makes contact with her hands. The kids learned that veterinarians do a nose-to-tail examination, and Dr. Molander showed them how she feels different parts of the animals’ bodies and what she looks for. Benson was quite cooperative and seemed to enjoy the attention.

Dr. Molander examines Benson.

Dr. Molander examines Benson.

Dr. Molander further illustrated her examination with models, showing the kids what goes on inside a dog.

The models allowed the kids to see what goes on inside a dog.

The models allowed the kids to see what goes on inside a dog.

After Benson’s exam, Dr. Molander talked to the kids about what they can do as a pet owner to make sure their pets stay healthy and happy, including making sure they have twice-yearly exams, helping control the pet population with spaying and neutering, the importance of vaccinations, nutrition, regular teeth cleaning, exercise, parasite control, and identification such as microchipping. I’m glad that Dr. Molander talked to the kids about the importance of identification for our animals, as I just wrote about a revolutionary app that hit mobile devices for the first time last week.

Dr. Molander also talked about how to handle pets in the heat of our Arizona summers, telling the kids that although exercise is important, we need to be careful that we don’t push our pets too much when it’s hot and we need to be careful of their paws on hot outdoor surfaces, another subject I touched upon recently. She also explained that just as we increase our water intake during the summer months, so do animals, so, as pet owners, we need to make sure that we are providing our animals with plenty of fresh water.

The kids had great fun learning all about veterinary medicine, and were awarded for their efforts with a graduation ceremony.

They received working stethoscopes, graduation certificates, and a bag of goodies that included bookmarks, stickers, and an activity book. My kids love “stuff,” so they were thrilled.

FutureVetCertificate

After the ceremony, the kids got to get their feet wet by examining ever-patient Benson.

Good boy!

Good boy!

When the kids were done being vets, we enjoyed exploring the rest of the museum, as there is always something new going on. In fact, on October 19, the museum is hosting 5K and Play, which will include a 5K, 1-mile Fun Run/Walk, and Toddler Trot. Registration includes admission to the museum on the 18th, 19th or 20th, healthy post-race food and drinks, and a t-shirt. All race finishers will receive a unique handmade piece of museum artwork, and the top three finishers in each five year age group will receive prizes. Sponsorship opportunities are available. All proceeds will benefit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. It sounds like an awesome, healthy family activity!

The Banfield Future Vet Program was an amazing experience for my kids, who are true animal lovers, and all of the kids in the room seemed to really enjoy themselves and get a lot out of it. The program is designed for children aged 4 and up. Though very interactive, it is a true classroom-style affair and may not be suited for younger kids without classroom experience. My four-year-old daughter, Campbell, enjoyed most of it, but did get antsy every once in a while. Porter, my six-year-old son, soaked in every minute and described the experience as “totally awesome!” The Children’s Museum of Phoenix offers the Future Vet program periodically. Reservations are required, but the program is free with paid museum admission.

Disclaimer: We received admission to the museum in exchange for my honest opinion about the Future Vet Program.


animals who reduce, reuse, and recycle: Jeremy Jackrabbit takes over Phoenix

Now that kids know how to use a touch screen by three months of age, you might think puppet shows old fashioned. Retro, at best. The littles have been enjoying the Phoenix Public Library Summer Program, and yesterday’s event was a puppet show put on by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about it, so I planned to read during the performance. And…the littles debated about whether or not to go. A puppet show? Off we went, despite our reservations.

Po's book. And some dried play-doh I neglected to collect.

Po’s book. And some dried play-doh I neglected to collect.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the puppet show was “Jeremy Jackrabbit Recycles the Can,” based on the Jeremy Jackrabbit book that Porter brought home from school a couple of weeks before summer’s onset. He was super excited when he got to keep a copy of the book and rambled on and on about how the story was great and how the girl who illustrated it was just a kid, and she came to his class to read the book. I pretty much thought he had his story mixed up, but then I did a bit of research.

Jeremy Jackrabbit Recycles the Can was written by Sasha and Rodney Glassman of Phoenix and illustrated by student artists of Phoenix, all from local elementary schools. One of the illustrators was from Porter’s school, so she did, indeed, read the book to the class. Duh, mommy. The authors sound pretty amazing, as noted on the back of the book:

Sasha and Rodney have a passion for education, helping children, and making their community a stronger and more sustainable place to live, work, and raise a family. With these goals in mind, their vision of writing children’s books, illustrated by students, to educate future generations on issues of sustainability was born.

Jeremy Jackrabbit’s adventures center around a lesson in reducing, reusing, and recycling. He meets lots of animal friends along the way, and together, they preach a message of sustainability that is fun for kids. The story is simple, yet the message is clear, and children really enjoy the peer-created illustrations, which I believe support an “I can do it” spirit.

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Jeremy Jackrabbit looked right at me!

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater (Sasha Glassman serves on the board) has brought a current theme to the old fashioned puppet show, and the audience yesterday was delighted. Jeremy Jackrabbit and his friends interacted with the kids, and the crowd went wild. Heck, even I put down my book to take a quick, possibly unauthorized video of Mountain Lion Michael’s song.

Michael’s voice could be considered irritating by many, but the kids loved that shit. And I have to hand it to the puppeteer, who gave irritating voices to multiple characters simultaneously and singlehandedly. She was a true professional in her craft.

I must apologize for the odd angle of the video. As delightful as librarians can be, there is one who takes her job–puppet show security–quite seriously, as if expecting a mosh pit to erupt at any moment. I was able to capture this behind-the-scenes footage by hiding behind a pirate ship set so said librarian couldn’t see me. Outlaw at the puppet show–that’s me

In multiple formats, Jeremy Jackrabbit has hippity-hopped into our lives and is having a positive influence on the children in our community, preaching a valuable lesson in sustainability. He’s captured our attention, and I love it! Now I wonder if the puppets are made of recycled materials…


reptile adventures at the library

When you think “library,” do giant reptiles and squealing children come to mind? If not, then you have not been fortunate enough to witness Rich Ihle’s Reptile Adventures this summer. The Phoenix Public Library hosts a fantastic kids summer program, where nearly every weekday there is someone cool presenting something awesome at various libraries across the city–and it’s free to attend! We go to our local Ironwood branch every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. to catch the fun. Yesterday’s presentation was our favorite!

Rich Ihle, the creator of Reptile Adventures brought his friends, small and large, for families to oooh and ahhh at. The kids were all pumped, and Rich delivered. His funny, friendly attitude, coupled with the confidence and sternness to keep the kids’ energy from getting out of control made for an incredible experience.

Rich began his presentation by telling everyone a bit about himself and how he came to be the “reptile guy.” It seems he had a deep love for these creatures from an early age and would spend all of his money on reptiles. He encouraged the kids to find their passion and open books to learn all they can about it, as he did, which I thought was a wonderful message. He also expressed the importance of caring for pets properly, and how much work they can be. The guy kept it real.

Like all good entertainers, Rich brought out the little guys first. We met Sunset the Bearded Dragon, Slim the Blue-tongued Skink, and Freckles, the Leopard Gecko, among other friends.

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I was totally impressed with them, but had no idea that the big guns were waiting in the wings.

Enter T-Bo the Rhinoceros Iguana.

He was incredible! And incredibly huge! Rich’s interactions with him were nothing short of a headliner at The Comedy Spot. The kids (and adults) were squealing and shaking with excitement. Rich took him for a ride on his cooler, a giant-iguana RV, of sorts.

T-Bo

Just when we thought we’d seen the grand finale, out came Sunshine, who we got to touch.

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What an experience! You can still catch Rich and “The Ultimate Reptile Experience” at libraries around the valley during this week and next, the last week of the program. I would highly recommend it, even if you don’t have kids! Rich and his friends are also available for birthday parties, school presentations, and special events.


i broke down: Shamrock Farms’® new flavored sour cream

A couple of months ago, I was invited to tour Shamrock Farms, a leading local dairy farm. The farm is fairly large, and, as I expressed when I toured, I think that, while at the facility, the dairy cows are treated very well, considering the production volume.

ImageWhen I visited, I was invited to try Shamrock Farms’ newest product, then in development, their flavored sour cream. The three exciting flavors were released into stores this week (I saw them at my local grocery store, so it’s for reals), but my family and I had the privilege of sampling them a couple of weeks ago (’cause we’re just cool like that).

As you may know, I’ve been working toward living a vegan lifestyle, so, yes, I was a bit conflicted about consuming sour cream, not something I frequently do, but in the name of product research and deliciousness, I caved.

The flavored sour cream comes in three varieties: Creamy Ranch, French Onion, and my absolute favorite, Zesty Jalapeño. I thought about making something fancy and complex, but reconsidered. I wanted to taste this new product for what it really was, especially if I was falling off the wagon in it’s honor. So I made tacos.

ImageWe frequently make vegan tacos, but this time, we went vegetarian. I use a “meat-ish” base of tempeh, onion, and taco seasoning, and even our meat-eating friends think it’s delish. They don’t just say that. They actually have seconds. We put on all the trimmings, then topped each taco with a large dollop of zesty jalapeño sour cream.

YUM. I loved this flavor best because it is so flavorful, with real bits of jalapeño, and, well, zesty, as described, but just when you think it’s going to be too spicy, the creaminess mellows it all out. Even our littles loved it!

Shamrock Farms’ new flavored sour creams are currently prominently displayed on a front end-cap in my local grocery store, and I noticed when I was there yesterday that each one had a nice little coupon attached. You can also print a coupon from the Shamrock Farms Web Site. If you visit the site, you can also check out serving suggestions. And if you’re so inclined, enter the “Dip. Mix. Top.” contest.

Enjoy! And if you’re falling off the wagon like I did, don’t feel too guilty. Sometimes it’s worth it!

Disclaimer: Shamrock Farms provided me with sour cream samples in exchange for my honest opinion.