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The Zoo Keeper

"Boo at the Zoo"

Layla Watkins

The other day, Gavin (my 3-year-old) decided he needed a toy sword to go with his pirate hat. We usually save presents for special occasions or as a reward for an accomplishment, so I was hesitant to comply with his request. But as I thought about it I realized that now would probably be an easy time to find a sword because Halloween costumes were starting to fill the store shelves. I also realized that since he already had a pirate hat, if I got him a sword we'd be that much closer to having a Halloween costume for this year. So, I agreed to take him sword shopping.

I had to go to the craft store for a few things anyway, so I figured we'd start the sword hunt there. Sure enough, they had quite an assortment of swords, daggers, sickles, and other weapons of mayhem. Gavin spent a few minutes excitedly perusing the sword section and finally settled on a relatively simple one. I thought "Wow, that was easy," then I looked at the price tag - $15. "What? Fifteen dollars for that? You've got to be kidding." I started looking through them myself and found prices ranging from twelve to twenty-five dollars.

I was all for getting him a sword, but I was not going to spend that much money on a 2-foot piece of plastic. So I explained to Gavin that the swords at this store were too expensive and we would find him a sword somewhere else.

Bless his heart, his sad little face showed his disappointment but there was no whining, no complaining, no tantrum, just an "Oh. Ok Mommy." He was such a good sport about it, I was tempted to just buy it anyway, but in the end we left the store empty handed.

We made our way around Frederick stopping at toy stores, discount stores, and party stores. Everything we found was either ridiculously over-priced or so flimsy it would never last until Halloween. I had all but decided to go back and get the first one from the craft store when I thought, "Hey - why don't I just make him a sword myself!"

Creativity 101

"Where are we going now, Mommy?"

"We're going home."

"But what about my sword?"

"I'm going to make you one myself."


"Well, I'm not sure yet, but it's gonna be super cool!"

As we made our way home, I was lost in a flurry of brainstorming, trying to figure out just exactly how I was going to create this "super cool" sword I had promised my son. When we pulled in the driveway, I was no further along than when I'd started.

Once home, I headed up to the attic in hopes of finding some inspiration among the assortment of old furniture, baby stuff, and home repair supplies. "Hmmmm, what could I use…" I started poking around some old paint cans and that's when I hit the jackpot - I found an old stirrer for a 5-gallon bucket of paint. "Ah-ha!"

The wheels of creativity were rolling! I grabbed the stirrer and a cardboard box and headed back downstairs to create my masterpiece.

The stirrer was great, but the sword needed a point so I cut out a cardboard triangle and duct taped it to the end. Then I cut out another piece of cardboard, put a slit in the middle of it and slid it down the stirrer for the "hand guard" part. More duct tape. Next I wrapped the stirrer in tin foil and then wrapped the foil with clear packing tape so it wouldn't tear apart. For the handle, electrical tape gave it a shiny look and some cushioning for little hands. And…

…Viola! One super cool sword for one patient little boy!

The Ghost of Halloweens Past

As I sat in the kitchen working on Gavin's sword, I started thinking about some of the homemade creations from my childhood and reminiscing about Halloweens past.

When I was little, the store-bought Halloween costumes were not nearly as elaborate as they are today. They mostly consisted of a plastic mask that covered your face with an elastic strap to hold it on. For the body, you got a plastic cape-type thing, imprinted with a picture of your hero. Remember those?

Anyway, when I was about six or seven, I was completely and totally in love with Batman and Robin (especially Robin!). That Halloween, I remember shopping with my mom and seeing a Batgirl costume. I absolutely had to have it. My mom's response was "No way am I paying that much money for a bunch of plastic."

Well, I don't remember for sure, but I'm guessing I was not nearly as accepting and compliant as Gavin was when I said, almost verbatim, the same thing about his sword. My mom did not make me a Batgirl costume, but she did get pretty creative on our limited budget. I ended up going as one of my other favorite things - A Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

It's amazing what you can do with a cardboard box, some paint, and a little imagination. The best part of the costume was that instead of brown face paint, I had an actual Reese's cup smeared all over my face, most of which I managed to lick off before Trick-or-Treating even started.

So off I went in search of candy. No flimsy little plastic pumpkin for me (what is it with me and plastic?) - I was ready for some serious loot with my blue-flowered pillowcase.

Sometimes I'd get lucky and someone would leave a whole bowl of candy on the porch. I'm sorry, but if you aren't going to pass out candy, don't expect the candy in the bowl to last very long! Other times, much to my mom's horror, I'd sweetly sing out "Trick or Treat, Smell my feet, Gimme something good to eat!"

Ah, the good ol' days.

Trunk or Treat

Trick-or-Treating today is not what it used to be. Between the threat of poisoned candy and the fact that we don't live in an area conducive to Trick-or-Treating, I've sometimes wondered if it is really worth all the fuss. But you know, Halloween just isn't Halloween without Trick-or-Treating so in the end, of course it's worth it.

Fortunately, we've found a way to keep the tradition alive - We "Trunk-or-Treat."

Each year our church, Brook Hill UMC, has a "Fall Festival," part of which includes Trunk-or-Treating. Church members report to the parking lot with their trunk (which is usually the back of their mini-van or SUV) decorated. Kids then trick-or-treat from car to car.

The first year we participated, I decorated our car with pumpkins, Indian corn, and your basic fall foliage. Last year I got a bit more elaborate and instead of decorating the car, turned our horse trailer into a spooky cave. The kids could walk through it (if they wanted to) and navigate their way around bats, spiders, bones, assorted bugs, and the like. I'm not sure who had more fun - me or the Trunk-or-Treaters.

I haven't yet decided on our Trunk-or-Treat theme for this year, but I'm going to shoot for something "super cool" with the hope that my kids, as well as all the others, will someday think back on it and smile. Who knows, maybe it'll even be while they are making some non-plastic accessory for their own kids' Halloween costumes.

Read other article by Layla Watkins