Saying TTFN to Immigration Series


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Dr. Laurie Hamen, MMU president, speaks Nov. 17, 2016 at final event of Fall Faculty Series in Chapel of Mercy.

The topic, of course, goes on. This past week was the end of the 2016 Fall Faculty Series on immigration at Mount Mercy University.

image-of-logo-colorThe series, called “Building Walls, Building Bridge: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation” was well worth doing, I think. It brought out lots of information on an important topic.

And it was popular. As I noted Thursday night at the final event, my rough count is that, all told, more than 1,000 attendees were at series events this fall.

That’s not “unique” people—if a person came to two events, she or he was counted twice—but still, that’s a lot of people going to faculty talks and other events.

The penultimate event was the Barbara A. Knapp Business Series, given by Rue Patel, plant manager of General Mills. It was interesting to me, partly because I have an indirect personal connection—a family member who works at that plant.

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Rue Patel speaks Nov. 16 at MMU.

Patel spoke of moving to the United States at age 12 in the late 1970s. In school, sometimes classmates would ask ridiculous questions, such as “did you ride an elephant to school today?” Children can often be cruel, and one concern that we have now is they often echo the cruelty of their parents and are influenced by the larger culture.

Well, anyway, the Sisters of Mercy University Center was packed for the event. Thanks, business, for making the business lecture dovetail so well with the immigration series.

Thursday’s program included a speech by Laurie Hamen, Mount Mercy president. She talked of how important events like this series are to giving students a chance to become engaged in important ideas. As I said at the event, I appreciate that President Hamen has been so supportive of the idea of a series all along.

Two students gave readings, I presented some thoughts on the series and then we had a panel discussion from several of the faculty speakers.

All in all, it was an interesting event. It was the first time I tried to summarize the content of the series this way, and it wasn’t a bad idea, although I think last year’s poetry reading session was good, too.

Anyway, while the immigration issue is particularly important now, I am glad that the series is over. I’ll miss it, but this may be the final one that I coordinate, at least for a while. I’ve asked if another faculty member could step forward, and I think someone very capable is seriously thinking of the idea.

Which I think would be a healthy thing—someone new can revisit the way the series is done and maybe inject the idea with new life.

So, so long, for now, Fall Faculty Series. But I think you have a bright future.

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The Bottom Line? It’s Complicated, but Good


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Dr. Amyan Amer, associate professor of economics at Mount Mercy University, speaking Nov. 15 on the economics of immigration.

So, is immigration a net plus or minus for our economy?

It depends on who you ask and what you’re asking about. There is no single, simple answer.

“It’s complicated,” said Dr. Ayman Amer, associate professor of economics, who spoke Nov. 15, 2016 as part of the Mount Mercy University series on immigration. “You can’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to what?”

Still, after an extensive analysis of the many winners and losers, both in the U.S.A. and other countries, I think Ayman reached a conclusion about this country.

“GDP is my proof,” he said near the end of the presentation. “Two hundred years of GDP growth.” The U.S.A. has become the richest nation in the world partly due to the dreams, desires, energies and aspirations of her immigrant peoples.

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Two faces in the audience.

And, Ayman said, it makes a big difference where you start and stop your analysis. For example, if you are talking about immigrants themselves, their net economic impact seems to be either a wash or slightly positive. There are many who benefit and many who do not—for example, because of how taxes work and what the different levels of government pay for, the immigration population is a net plus to the federal government, but a drag on the state and local fiscal picture.

That’s the tax question, not net economic impact. As Ayman said, most analysis seem to indicate that immigrants themselves don’t have a huge economic impact one way or another—but that’s ignoring an important reality.

image-of-logo-colorYou also need to consider the next generation. The children of immigrants are parented by driven, motivated people who came across the world to make a new home and a better life—for their children. Those children tend to inherit their parent’s drive to work hard and succeed—and that first American generation is more educated than their parents or the population as whole, less likely to use social services than their parents or the population as a whole.

If you expand the analysis beyond the immigrants themselves to that first American generation raised by immigrations, it’s much harder to argue that America isn’t much richer due to the “teeming masses” that have been welcomed to these shores.

I felt that Ayman gave a very careful, balanced analysis. But he finished with poetic lines that cre carved in the base of the Statue of Liberty and an image of that statue. It was a fitting way to end. The bottom line may be complicated, but I think it’s still accurate to say that the U.S.A. has greatly benefited, and continues to benefit, from immigration. They don’t come here to take our jobs, they come here to build lives, and that life-building process grows our economy, and our culture.

And that’s to our benefit. As we argue over the right balance in our immigration policies, that’s a key point to keep in mind.

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Dr. Amer answers questions–final slide was fitting, showed Statue of Liberty. He noted that immigration is more than an economics question, and is important from an ethical point of view. An immigration from Egypt himself, Dr. Ayman Amer is an example of how this country benefits from immigration.

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A Timely Immigration Reminder from Jesus


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Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of philosophy, Mount Mercy University.

Two days after the candidate who trumpeted he would “build a wall” won the American presidential election—to our country’s great shame, in my opinion—Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, gave us a timely reminder.

As part of the Fall Faculty Series on immigration, Cross spoke about what the Catholic Church says about the ethics of the immigration issue. It’s no surprise that the church doesn’t exactly line up with Donald Trump.

For one thing, scripture is full of references, from Abraham serving passersby to the parable of the Good Samaritan, of the Christian obligation to treat all humans as having worth—of the “other” being also our neighbor. That “welcome to the stranger,” Cross said, is central to Christianity. He backed that point up with multiple quotations from Catholic saints, popes and scripture.

As it says in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Mexicans included. And Muslims from Syria.

image-of-logo-colorBoth the global and American parts of the Catholic Church are very clear on several points, Cross said. Humans have a right to migrate when necessary for their safety or welfare, and families have a right to stay united. While a nation can control its borders and limit immigration for valid reasons related to the common good of that country, “emigration and immigration should not be impeded.” Especially not out of blind fear or needlessly.

In particular, the church specifically rejects categorical exclusion—the idea of banning all Muslim or all Syrians from the U.S.A. is simply against Catholic teaching. Catholics are instead required to practice hospitality. Welcome to the stranger is “an essential condition” of Christianity, Cross said.

“If you seek absolute security, you will not be able to engage in hospitality,” Cross noted.

Cross was careful to distinguish between patriotism—a healthy love of country that allows for other people to also love their countries—with nationalism, the insistence on promoting one’s own country over all others. A patriot may love her country, but she will aid the stranger. For example, the Good Samaritan was not a Jew, but recognized the need to aid a fellow human, a member of an antagonistic national group (the Jews) who was in need.

And countries, under Catholic teaching, have a particular obligation to not only treat migrants with respect, but to be especially helpful and welcoming to refugees.

Well, the crowd was larger for this presentation than some other recent ones in this fall series. I can’t but think we wanted some words of wisdom in the wake of the harsh new political landscape that is settling over this country. More than 50 people listened patiently to Cross. I wish you could have been there. Most of all, I wish DJT had been watching. It was quite a lot of material to absorb, and I’m afraid I am not doing it justice.

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But the crowd listened attentively. There was a subdued mood, a somberness to the group. Catholic teaching, it seemed to me, on this ethical point was both clear and balanced. And, sadly, our country has chosen a man as president whose campaign promises were often actively in the opposite direction—not welcoming to the stranger, not treating the least among us well at all.

“Build the wall,” he cried. And I couldn’t help but think of Gabriel, who spoke so eloquently in earlier events in our series—a DACA student at MMU who is facing an uncertain future. A gifted artist who has lived almost all of his life in Iowa and who is on the cusp of earning a bachelor’s degree—exactly what would we gain by exporting him to Mexico? Nothing. It would make us poorer as a country.

It’s crushing. It’s a travesty.

If I were to Tweet about Trump’s repeated calls for anti-Christian actions, for his approach to immigration that is directly opposed to central ideas of Christianity, I suppose only one word comes to mind, and it seems inadequate.

Sad.

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The Rhetoric of an Immigrant Building


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Dr. David Klope speaks.

The Mother Mosque, the oldest standing mosque in North America, was built in Cedar Rapids in 1934, used as a house of worship until the early 1970s, and then fell into disrepair until it was renovated as a historic building in the 1990s.

And, according to Dr. David Klope, the building “speaks” to Cedar Rapids. That is, the associate professor of communication at Mount Mercy University made the case Nov. 1, 2016, buildings can be thought of as a medium of communication that send messages.

For example, he noted the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C, communicates by its design and location that it represents an important and integral part of the American experience.

The mosque is in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood south of the Cedar River. The way it is designed and located, Klope said, communicates that Muslims are long time neighbors in Cedar Rapids, part of the immigrant quilt that built Iowa’s second city, an integral and accepted part of the fabric of our community.

image-of-logo-colorThe presentation tonight, part of the MMU Fall Faculty Series on immigration, was attended by about 40 people—a good turnout for a Tuesday night. It also brought the first reporters to one of our series events—which is a bit of a surprise to me. The Gazette, KCRG, KWWL, KGAN, WMT, Mediacom—they all have had material about our series, but primarily small announcements of upcoming events, or, in the case of The Gazette, guest columns by speakers. Here is a link to Dr. Klope’s column.

While I’m grateful that the fall series has generated some local media buzz, I’m a bit taken aback that the first journalists to attend a series event are from Japan. Julia Masuda, from Yokohama, and Akihiro Yamamoto, an NTV production coordinator from Japan but based in New York, were at the forum tonight. I don’t know for sure what story they are working on—they actually were speaking with Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque when they learned of the MMU event—but there you have it. Journalists have arrived. I guess I just assumed when that happened, they might be from KCRG or The Gazette before they were form Yokohama.

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Akihiro Yamamoto, a production manager, listens. Two journalists attended the presentation tonight–both from Japan.

Anyway, I found Dr. Klope’s presentation to be engaging and interesting. I had not thought of the way a building itself is the convener of messages, but I think he makes a valid case. His rhetoric sold me.

But the best line of the night, I think, was from Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque, who spoke after Dr. Klope finished. Tawil recounted a bit of his personal journey from Jerusalem to Cedar Rapids, and reviewed, as did Dr. Klope, some of the history of the Mother Mosque. He also invited all of us to call him someday and tour the Mother Mosque, something I hope to do soon.

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Taha Tawil, Imam of The Mother Mosque.

Anyway, Tawil finished the night with some thoughts about American Muslims and politics. He noted that Muslims in America are a diverse group whose members have more political opinions than “the colors of the rainbow.” And he noted that it’s a terrible error to paint all Muslims with the same brush—to say, for example, that ISIS, which he condemned, is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s like saying the mafia represents Catholics,” he said.

Yeah, that was it. Valid rhetoric, I think.

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Vang: A Great Play You May Have Missed


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Photo of nature hike I took today at Indian Creek Nature Center. Seems to fit mood of Vang.

There were seven of us in the audience for the play Vang at Mount Mercy University tonight, and it’s a shame because I think what the seven of us experienced will stick with us for a while.

Vang is a Hmong word for “garden” or “farm.” As you probably recall, the Hmong were a southeast Asian people, a minority in Laos, many of whom sided with the Americans in the Vietnam War. When Communists took over South Vietnam and Laos, many Hmong fled and eventually made their way to the United States.

In a happier time when Iowa’s Republican governor declared the state a haven for refugees, some Hmong settled here, and a community centered in Des Moines sprang up that included a couple who ran both a tailor shop and a small farm.

The play Vang actually recounts four immigrant couple’s stories: Toua and A Vang, a Hmong couple from Des Moines; Joseph and Haime Malual, Sudanese immigrants—he was a PhD student at Iowa State when the play was written; Beni and Ramona Chavez, Mexican immigrants and farmers from Marshalltown; and finally Jan and Dorine Boelen, Dutch dairy farmers who basically moved farming operations form The Netherlands to Iowa.

The play was a collaboration between poet and writer Mary Swander, who interviewed the people depicted and wove their stories into the play script; and Dennis Chamberlin, a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer who shot images of the people Swander interviewed.

The play is presented by an actress and actor who at first depicted Swander and Chamberlin, and then, in turn, each couple, as images of the “real” people are projected onto a screen. Each couple whose story is told has a poignant tale, often including harrowing adventures to get to the U.S. (although the Dutch couple basically had money from their farm in Europe and didn’t have the problems on the journey that the others shared). It was interesting to not only hear the immigrants’ stories, but also a bit of the back story of how Swander and Chamberlin struggled to find subjects for the project.

It was also interesting how similar and how different the immigrants’ stories were. One similarity: the people from Somalia, Laos and Mexico all were a bit shocked by Iowa’s winters. Joseph Malual, the Somali man, is quoted as saying, “How can people live here?” as his reaction to his winter-time arrival in Iowa—but when Iowa turned green in the spring, he realized how life here is possible.

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Prairie grass near Indian Creek Nature Center.

Like the Germans and Irish and Scots and English and others who settled here in the 19th century—and the Native Americans who lived off of this land before that—the new immigrants all seemed to have a visceral, positive reaction to the black, fertile soil of this place. Iowa—whatever else you can say about this unpretentious, rather dull patch of the United States, there is something about the earth of the Earth here—what grows here surprises you and seduces you and makes you want, like a prairie rose, to send down deep roots.

image-of-logo-colorOr at least that’s what I was left feeling after seeing Vang.

The Fall Faculty Series this year has included several Saturday events, and so far, I would have to say that innovation has not exactly been successful. While many parts of the series have been popular, getting MMU students or faculty to show up to a Saturday event seems dicey.

We don’t yet have a University social climate that supports weekend events, or so it seems to me.

And that’s a shame. Vang was grand. I wish you had been there.

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The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate


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Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, speaks about the immigration election.

It was a little depressing to hear recent U.S. history. As part of a presentation tonight entitled “The Immigration Election: How Has Immigration Become a Hot Topic & How Has It Been Discussed,” Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, recapped some past election cycles.

Presidents who promised immigration reform included Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Presidents who delivered immigration reform? Well, all of the previously mentioned resorted to changes in immigration policy via executive order because Congress failed to act.

And today, in 2016, we have two candidates who both promise changes to U.S. immigration policy. Don’t hold your breath.

For one thing, one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is running his campaign like a reality TV star. He makes broad, evocative statements that are good sound bites and, usually, both unsound policy and reflective of an odd alt-right “reality” that isn’t real at all.

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Well, at least there were lemon bars.

Thus, Trump promises a wall (it won’t be built) that Mexico will pay for (no way, hombre). And if Trump did somehow get the magic southern wall with the best technology built, how well would it work? It wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is to score TV ratings and inflame the passions of his base—and on both of those points, if not on any sound public policy, Mr. Trump is very good.

He calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He says all incoming Muslims should be banned. He wants “extreme vetting,” whatever that is.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talks like she lives in the real world, and has an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, immigration plan. But can President Clinton II get it through Congress?

The first President Clinton couldn’t. Granted, the Nasty Woman running today has some advantages over The Bill—she was a Senator and has some resulting connections that Bill Clinton never had. I’m betting President Clinton II would have a better chance than President Trump of actually doing something on immigration, but I would also bet that the odds against her accomplishing anything on this issue are also pretty steep.

And that’s partly what I talked about tonight. I was the other half of the show. Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly ended her remarks by sharing a compelling anecdote from her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, in which she and her mother accidentally ended up harboring an illegal immigration girl that they found wandering the streets as they exited a store. They ended up taking the girl to their local Catholic parish, and aren’t sure how the story ended.

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Me, photographed with my camera by Dr. Joy Ochs, English professor and chair of the MMU faculty.

Then, Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly talked movingly about her experience of voting this year. She didn’t need it, but she felt compelled to take her birth certificate with her. She was worried about the rhetoric this year, and how she would be treated.

She is Hispanic, and looks it. She is also a fourth generation American citizen, which, if that’s the standard you use to measure these things, makes her more American than I am (third generation—grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants).

The election this year has taken many twists and turns, but the odd and extreme rhetoric that has characterized the campaign mostly comes from one source—Donald Trump.

His followers think he is a refreshing breath of fresh air, willing to speak the truth. Most reputable fact check sites, on the other hand, find him to be consistently and wildly off base. The best way to understand what Trump says? You know he lies because his lips are moving.

But, while Trump has warped our political discourse, on the other hand it was President Nixon who began an organized attack on mainstream media and who also laid the groundwork for the “Southern man” strategy that has benefited the GOP for two generations. To some extent, the Trump candidacy is the illogical outcome of that trend going to its extreme. And possibly ending, if Trump goes down in flames—as seems likely, but we won’t know until after Nov. 8.

And Trump may be the most extreme example of egregious nonsense on the immigration issue, but it was Rep. Steve King, who it pains me to admit is a Republican from Iowa, who in 2013 said the U.S. is in danger from Mexican immigrants who have calves like “cantaloupes” from hauling heavy loads of Mary Jane through the arid Arizona badlands.

King was crazy and still is. But his remark showed the kind of rhetoric that the most deplorable of Republicans were getting into three years ago. And so today, we now have Trump.

God helps us. The American people will express their will in less than two weeks. It was painful for me tonight to read Trumps convoluted, inarticulate and borderline racist words when talking about his rhetoric.

America, I have a favor to ask. Please don’t make me do that for four more years.

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Update on Project Milkweed


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Common milkweed seeds, gathered from a ditch in Ames Iowa next to the apartment building where my son lives there. I separated these out Friday and also planted them.

I haven’t coordinated a planting effort on the Mount Mercy campus, so I’m not sure there will be many milkweed planted there this year—although I do have an envelope of seeds saved, and may inquire about at least planting those in a few established garden spots.

The final three workdays of this week were fall break at Mount Mercy, and they flew by. On Friday, we invited four grandchildren over for a sleepover party—they spent all day Friday with us and will go home midday Saturday.

I want to describe part of our Friday—but first, a minor word of caution. This post will end with some fall photos, and my cohort in crime for the garden milkweed planting did point out an arachnid, which I did photograph. So the very end of the post is not spider safe. If you are averse to spiders, go ahead and read the post, just don’t scroll to the end of the photos.

Our busy grandchildren day included trip to Half-Price Books followed by Thomas Park, lunch at McDonald’s and them home to pack up bicycles, which we took down to Cedar Lake for a ride (it was warming by then, I’m happy to say). After that, some of the grandkids walked up to HyVee Drugstore with grandma to get bread sticks to go with pasta for supper, while I stayed home with the others.

Amelia, a 5-year-old granddaughter, wanted to help me plant after she saw me separating out milkweed seeds from the bag Audrey and I had collected near our son’s apartment in Ames, Iowa.

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Amelia, ready to plant seeds.

I had two sets of milkweed to plant—an envelope with a generous supply of seeds (I kept a second one for possible MMU use) and a bowl of all the white fluff and leftover pods, which also had many seeds left in it.

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“Extra” seeds and pods. I did not try to be very efficient gathering seeds–I knew I was going to scatter all the rest behind my fence anyway, in the hope that Mother Nature’s way of planting milkweed will yield some results.

First stop was the woods behind our fence, where I scattered the “extra” seeds and pods, mostly at the edge of the tree line, hoping that sunny spot will promote milkweed growth.

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Seeds in the air, edge of the woods behind my house.

After that, Amelia brought the seed envelop down to me so we could plant in the gardens. But when I opened the envelope, only about 1/3 of the seeds where there.

Amelia looked a little sad. “Some of them blew out,” she said. I interpreted that to mean she spilled some, because the seeds in the envelope didn’t have their white silky wind catchers attached, and it wasn’t especially windy.

No matter—1/3 of the seeds was still quite a few, and in the back of my mind was the thought that I did not have to save my second envelope. So, we planted—basically we used a trowel to scape soil in several small areas, scattered some seeds there, and then covered them with a very thin layer.

Milkweed seeds don’t go deep into the soil, and are best planted in fall. The seeds want to overwinter before germinating, or so I’ve read on the internet. Honestly, I’m not the person to consult on this—although I’ve tried for several years to get milkweed going, I don’t have much success.

Anyway, after we got done I didn’t bother to get the second envelope right away. Instead, Amelia and her brother and I simply enjoyed the later afternoon in the backyard, playing various games. When it was starting to cool and I thought it was going to be time to go in soon, I have them the usual 5-minute warning.

Amelia went off by herself and sat on some stone steps that lead from the upper to lower yard. “Grandpa,” she called. “Come here!”

I ambled over, and asked what she wanted. “This is where the seeds spilled,” she said. I moved some leaves on the steps—and sure enough, hundreds of milkweed seeds were just laying on the steps.

So I swept them into my hand and we did planting, round two. And I didn’t feel the need anymore to break into my second envelop. Maybe a small-scale planting at MMU can still happen this fall.

To finish the story, here are some random fall photos taken while Amelia and I were planting, with the caveat that this is where the spider sensitive need to leave this web page:

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Fall mum in bloom in garden (and Amelia and I planted some milkweed next to it).

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Vine creeping over fence is turning colors (above). Oaks (below) starting to look like fall (maples and tulip tree don’t have the memo yet, crab apples are taking on fall hues).

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“There is a big spider,” Amelia said. I looked, and sure enough, right on the gate handle, this big spider was sitting. The board it is on is the one I just slid to lock the gate. I was a bit startled at first–but it’s kind of a pretty looking hunter. And I always figure spiders outdoors are good news–anything that eats mosquitoes and flies is welcome in my gardens!

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