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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stinkbug Redux

Two days ago, the number of stink bugs on the porch was halved.  Yesterday, halved again.  This morning, there were only five or six of the little stinkies.  While in my heart, I believe this is due to the end of a hatching cycle, I like to think that my attempts at buggy genocide with the wand of death (as I like to refer to my hand vac) were at least contributory to the dwindling population. 

In the afternoon, we can look up at the skylights, and they won't be crawling with a stink bug infestation.  When I take my paper and coffee out in the morning, I won't first be vacuuming up little, dead crusts.  God's creatures are a wonderful thing, but, well, stink bugs?  I mean, I ask you. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stinkbug Armegeddon

On these idyllic summer mornings, I take my coffee, Post and mini-vac to the porch.  Before sinking into my soft cushions of my Adirondack chair, I aim my mini-vac and, with a sneer, flip the switch. 

There aren't many stink bugs out in the mornings; they seem to prefer the heat of the afternoons.  And we can't figure out how they get under the screening.  Our best guess is they drop from the over-hanging pine trees and climb in where the screening is secured to the posts.  They don't get in the house, which is a mercy -- a BIG mercy. 
We long ago learned not to squish them for when so treated, they emit a disgusting, semi-sweet, rotting stink that lasts and lasts. Yesterday one got under my shirt, and, in a thoughtless act, I smushed where I felt something.  I had to go take a shower. In more mindful moments, you can capture them loosely in one hand and give them a hard toss into the toilet and flush them away. It has to be a hard toss because they have sticky little feet that will first cling to the screen and then to your hand, grasping on for dear life. I don’t blame them, but resistance in futile.
A more efficient way to kill them was to spray them with Raid. This worked fine as far as the death thing went, and then I'd vacuum up their little, brown husks.  Unfortunately, if I was spraying high on the screening (and our porch has a cathedral ceiling), I’d get a good lungful of poison and then walk around all day in Eau de Raid. It’s not that they bite or even fly into you. No, they make a pilgrimage up the screens to the sky lights and by early evenings there is a crawling, interweaving swarm. You’re sitting on the porch enjoying a chilled Chenin Blanc and make the mistake of looking up. Bleh.

A more efficient method, I found, is to skip the Raid and go straight to the vacuum.  They don't realize there is a chase; they neither fly from the loud, vibrating noise or the large, black shadow.  They just sit there until you suck ‘em up. You have to be a little careful or the hoosh of the vacuum a few inches away disturbs their equilibrium and they fall away. Instead, you have to carefully approach from directly behind and pop the tip over them. If you’re practicing for the Zombie Apocalypse, this can be accomplished on tip toe, whomping the nozzle directly on the unsuspecting bug and screaming, “Die, damn you, die!” It releases a lot of pent-up anger, and who’s to know? Hey, it’s not like the little four-year-old next door will be irreparably damaged, 'um, right?

They can't escape out the nozzle, either (or at least, they don’t), and stay in there visiting their friends until I dump the whole disgusting mass into the toilet.

They die on their own, too. Every morning, before I begin battle, I clean up ten or so dead, bug bodies, stereotypically lying on their backs, little buggy feet reaching for the sky. The regularity of their deaths gives me pause about the speed of their reproductive cycle.

I’d estimate I flush 100 stink bugs per day. That’s a lot of bugs, and you’d think it would disgust me. Instead, I get a bizarre sense of accomplishment. In an odd reverse of the normal, though, I plugged every small tear or slit in our screening yesterday, hoping for a little less accomplishment and a little more uninterrupted wine drinking. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Imagine It: Kangaroo Bean Bag Hop

First the build-up. The bean bag game sits carelessly by the couch as though left there by an un-scheming Grandma. Suzie is too excited to see us to notice it when she gets home from school, but when Alan arrives home, he hones in on it.
“What’s that, Nana?”

“It’s a bean bag toss game for us to play, Alan.”

“Can we play now?”

“Not right now; we’re going out to dinner. We’ll play tomorrow after Day Care, okay? Suzie will play, too.”

“Okay. I will play, and I will get the bean bag in, and I will get three points!” So young, yet he already knows the game.

Friday is a long day, and when we pick up our boy, the young women tell me, ‘We hear you have a bean bag game to play.”

“Yes, we do. We’re going to play as soon as we get home.”

“I’m going to win! I’m going to win!”

I’m a little bit worried about his focus on winning. I mean, he’s three; is he going to be able to toss the bean bag into the net? Will he be crushed if he can’t?
On the way home, our plan is crimped. I had thought we would take the it outside in the lovely sunshine. However, dark clouds gather, and it begins to rain. When we get hom, Suzannah and Papa are playing an i-pad game, but Alan and I carry the game up to his room.  He's pretty excited about it and pretty excited that he'll be able to play without sharing, too.

We unpack it. In their wisdom, the manufacturers have included TWO small tables of targets. Alan helps me jam the legs into the odd-angled receptacles. I am sure, in his newly-found masculinity (“I’m not cute; I’m COOL!”) he will want the three blue bean bags, but he opts for the red ones.

He is still small enough that his fingers seek the tag on one bag, stroking it, holding the bag by it, letting its weight swing. He cradles all three in his arms and walks right up to one target. He drops a bag in each the five point netting, one in the 10 point netting and one in the 15 point netting. “I win!” He dances around, yelling with triumph,“I got three points! I won, Nana! I won!”
Now it is my turn. I stand four feet away from my own target – a distance from which it is nearly impossible to miss – and toss in my bean bags.

There is not a begrudging bone in Alan’s little body. The dance is repeated with the same ecstasy and glee. “You won, Nana! You won!”

We play for another 10 minutes before Suzannah joins us, and the bean bags instantly morph into baby kangaroos who have to go to sleep in the target nets. They are stuffed in with pieces of fabric tucked around them for blankets. The lights go off. Alan climbs into his cot, pulls up a quilt and then jumps up and turns the light on. With great satisfaction, “I was naughty!” There is mad hopping all around and much screaming and laughter. I think Kangaroo Bean Bag Hop may be the best game I ever played.

And guess what? We won!

The perfect grandchildren with their peanut butter-banana caterpillars.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Torture and Torment, a Guide to English Ivy

It’s been established to my satisfaction that torture does not get adequate returns in terms of information. Besides that, no one puts forth the argument that torture does very bad things to the torturER. I would like to see that issue addressed more seriously, especially because I, myself, was recently accused of torture. It happened like this.

English Ivy is considered an invasive species in Virginia. (Bear with me, I’m getting to the torture part.) Close to eighteen years ago, before anyone cared about such things. we moved into our current house. The front slope is 100 feet wide and 12 feet deep with a slope of 45 degrees. It was purportedly planted with grass, but the few weeds that actually grew on it were not enough to prevent the loose soil from eroding away in gullies. In order to save the slope and to present more attractive curb appeal, I nuked (i.e., used Round-Up) the slope and planted 144 English Ivy plants and 24 Periwinkles (Vinka). It was summer, it was hot, and I still remember the gnats and mosquitoes going at me while the sweat dripped off me as I dug the little holes and popped in the plantlings.

The following spring was worse. Yes, the ivy and periwinkle were slowly growing, but so was the crab grass. Every morning after the kids got off to school, I spent an hour weeding. That entire season, I had nightmares about weeding crab grass. It didn’t help that the nightmares were simply re-runs of my mornings.
But then the glory! The ivy grew thick and shiny. We mulched all around it so that it wouldn’t creep onto the lawn or into the woods, and it covered the slope with the little purple, periwinkle flowers blooming amidst the green. The year before we went to Russia, there were some brown spots, and the man at the garden shop recommended we use a fungicide, which I duly did. The brown grew worse. I used it again the following year when we visited home from Moscow. Needless to say, upon our return, nothing had improved. In fact, one local gardener currently stands in awe of me because he has never before seen anyone who is able to kill English Ivy. Well, we all have our talents.
I’ve been nursing that ivy along for four years now, and I finally sought expert advice (which I thought I HAD sought from the garden shop man, but it seems he was WRONG. *@#(^) This year an ivy expert from a different garden shop told me that I had been TORTURING AND TORMENTING the ivy all these years. I hung my head. Oh, the SHAME! It seems all it needed was regular fertilizing. How was I supposed to know? When you plant ivy, all anyone ever tells you is that you’ll be sorry; soon you’ll be beating it back. No one ever warns you that it can die. Next year we are supposed to mow it back (hey, we planted it in the first place because you can break your leg trying to mow on that slope!) and fertilize annually.
Damn if the ivy isn’t looking up. Hardly any of it is really, really dead. You know, like in the Princess Bride, it was only almost dead. So this year I got the recommended lawn fertilizer and a few more periwinkle to fill in some of the dead spots (seems the periwinkle does better with neglect than the ivy).

The stakes here, unsuspicious, non-spaient vegetation, were about as low as they can get. Still, I have to say that being so blind to the fact that I could torture ivy through neglect has left me feeling sheepish and rather stupid, a little diminished for being clueless. How much is a person diminished who tortures human beings?

[And, oh, crap, when did I grow so serious? These entries used to be all fun and giggles. Am I growing up? No, say it isn’t so!]

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Strange Collection

I’ve collected feathers for a long time: plain gray feathers I’ve found in the yard from house wrens and more colorful ones, the from cardinals and blue jays. Sometimes I’ll find a stately black feather from one of the crows that protect our house and call hello to me in the mornings. Five or so years ago, when I parked at the mall, I saw a flock of molting geese on the berm. I was the only shopper who walked out and picked up the long, swooping feathers. (Can you imagine?  Everyone else passed the opportunity by.)  Hiking in western VA one lucky day, I found a wild turkey feather. I keep them in vases and cups around the house, subtle bouquets of un-dying flowers.

But, you know, feathers lead to the hard stuff, right?  Like a kid, I began to hide pretty stones in my pocket. They’d end up on window sills and chalices and old ashtrays. Even rinsed off, they soon lost their sparkle, and one year, although I still appreciated them and remembered why and where I picked each one up, I took a fit of sanity and tossed them into the woods, an offering to the dryads of the trees.

About twelve years ago, my friend found a squirrel’s tail just sitting around in the grass. How often do you see just a squirrel tail?  There wasn’t a dead squirrel in sight. (Perhaps like Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, it had thrown it at an invader. At least, wasn’t that the story?) The following year – and I couldn’t make this up if I tried – I found a squirrel's tale on the grass divider in the parking lot at the school where I taught. Again, no dead squirrel to be seen No dead squirrel, no blood anywhere – it was a mystery. I brought it home because it seemed like it shouldn’t be left just lying there, and after all, if Jan had one, shouldn’t I have one, too? I kept it on my bookcase for awhile, but unfortunately, Elaine took an avid interest in it, and I felt it best to throw it away. All that’s left is the tail. (Get it? Tail – tale? Ah, well, I amuse myself where I can.)

This week nature gave me the weirdest gift of all. First, you have to know that I live in very suburban suburbia. Yes, we have a strip of woods behind the house that’s behind us, and yes, the woods encircle our entire development. We have deer and foxes aplenty, raccoons and turtles, but we don’t have any serious wild life like coyotes or wild cats. And yet, and yet last Tuesday I stepped out of the neighbor’s, leaving from her side door of my next-door neighbor's house, through her garage, and right on the lot line, right next to her knock-out roses, was the jawbone of a deer. At least, I’m goin’ with the jawbone of a  deer.  I held it up next to my face (yes, I picked it up with the kleenex in my pocket), and honestly, it’s too big for a human jaw (and don’t think that thought didn’t cross my mind for a minute).  All the teeth are all flat, vegetarian teeth (and I have no idea what long-ago science lesson that knowledge arose from), so it has to be a deer, right?

It had been picked clean, (as clean as the bone we had to soak in a Clorox solution for my daughter’s high school biology class) perhaps by crows and turkey vultures? There were no other parts of the skeleton around, so the question becomes, how did it get there? As I said, we don’t have coyotes or wolves. All the dogs in the neighborhood are good, suburban dogs, restrained by fences, visible or invisible. Do foxes drag bones around? I have no idea. All I know is, I looked down, and there it was.

Did I bring it home? C’mon, I’m the person who brought home a squirrel’s tail. Of course, I brought it home. It’s out on the screened-in porch. Truthfully, it freaks out my husband, and he wouldn’t want it in the house, so the porch seems like a safe compromise. It’s half hiding under the leaves of a houseplant, and I’m wrestling with the off-again on-again urge to sneak it in and brush its teeth. Really, what is WRONG with me?