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Three weeks later I received the second shipment of twenty thousand ladybugs. Surely this time experience would guarantee I made no mistakes.

At 6 AM sharp I carried the refrigerated ladybug container into the garden, where I carefully clipped off the box’s protector tab and proceeded to gently place handfuls of the cool ladybugs in various choice garden locations: some on the ruby Swiss chard, some on the zucchini squash, some on the turnip greens. More here. More there. Chilled ladybugs everywhere.

The ladybugs sat, clustered together for several minutes testing their wings in the warm sunlight. They were already wandering around looking for a meal! How cute they were, hunting in the dappled sunshine. Then —  one by one —  twenty thousand speckled ladybugs took to the air and disappeared in a reddish swarm over my back yard fence, gone from my garden forever.

A week later a shipment of one hundred preying mantis EGG CASES arrived at my front door.

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Tim says, Ladybug recap:

  1. turns out the ladybugs were THIRSTY from their postal travels. Had I read the instructions more carefully, I would have discovered I was supposed to have watered the garden BEFORE releasing the ladybugs.
  2. It took months to vacuum up the dead and dried ladybugs who had managed to gain access to two floors of the house, as well as the attic and basement areas.
  3. When they arrived, each one of the preying mantis egg cases had to be fastened (tied) to a scattering of bushes and shrubs.
  4. About a month later I had a slew of juvenile preying mantises crawling everywhere. Within a short while there was a conspicuous absence of bugs in my garden. Which worked out well because — once the bugs were gone — the growing preying mantises began devouring each other.
  5. The price of ladybugs has gone up!
  6. Ladybugs are not necessarily welcomed.
  7. Preying mantis egg cases are still available, too.

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Tim says: Over the past fourteen years of Simply Tim history, “Ladybug, Ladybug” has been one of the most requested stories I’ve written. It just so happens to be one of my favorites, too.

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Ladybug, Ladybug

I had an invasion of ladybugs, once, years ago, in the early 1970s. Well — not really an invasion, I guess, because I willingly invited them into my home. At that time I was a dedicated organic gardener who couldn’t pass up the Organic Gardner Magazine advertisement for twenty thousand live ladybugs delivered right to my front door. Ladybugs, it turns out, had voracious appetites and a reputation for mercilessly devouring gazillions of garden-pest insects, entirely eliminating the need for using pesticides.

I was sold!

The ladybugs arrived in a cardboard box perhaps two feet square. The sides of the shipping carton contained breathing vents covered by mesh similar to window screening material. Placing my ear against one of them, I could clearly hear scratchy bug noises emanating from the dark interior. Instructions dictated immediately placing the ladybugs in a refrigerator and chilling them for a day or two. This was supposed to calm them down in preparation for deployment in the garden, where they would proceed to scour the growing vegetables and dutifully consume any and all insects foolish enough to await the unstoppable flurry of creeping, carnivorous polka dots.

I scheduled “the invasion”, as I called it, for two days later at precisely 6 AM.

At the appointed hour I carefully removed the ladybug container from the refrigerator and snipped off the protector tab from the box’s lid. As I passed through the kitchen — heading for the back door overlooking my garden — I slipped on the discarded cardboard tab, scattering a bewildered mass of frigid ladybugs into my living room, where the container tumbled across the floor. Like a scene from a Stephen King novel, the writhing red and black-speckled hoard expanded like a demon fog, momentarily shaking off the effects of the cold.

Then, the orange cloud of TWENTY THOUSAND helicopters buzzed off to all areas of my home in a dazzling display of flashing color intermixed with splashes of morning sunlight streaming through the Venetian blinds.

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Several times through the years Mom has asked me to venture into the attic or some other dark place to retrieve what she calls her “Keep Forever Box” — an unassuming carton containing dreams and precious memories acquired throughout her lifetime. From time to time she even lets me take a peek. By golly, there’s a tiny handprint of mine, set in plaster of Paris with “1952” carefully etched into the stark white surface. I recall that day when my Yokohama, Japan kindergarten teacher splayed my fingers apart and pressed my hand evenly into the shallow, plaster-filled dish. Like most kids, I was more interested in making a mess than I was storing the significance of the moment away in my bubbling and growing gray matter. Over there in a different corner of Mom’s Keep Forever Box is a frayed, crayon-construction paper drawing of a stick-Mom standing next to a stick-tree underneath a stick-sun that says “I love you, Mom” in squiggly and sometimes backwards handwriting.

Like most folks, I didn’t realize I had my own Keep Forever Box until the other day when I was cleaning out a section of basement and came across a tattered cardboard box filled with filing cabinet-drawer contents accumulated through decades of moves and casual house cleaning efforts. By golly, there’s a blue folder filled with poetry written way back in my high school days when that same bubbling and still-growing gray matter was filled with notions of girls and ideologies and change rather than common sense. And — suddenly, right there in my hand — I discover a torn scrap of paper on which is written in pencil so faintly visible I almost toss it away, a  note that says: “See ya, Timbo. Take care. Rich.”

Instantaneously I am whisked back to the day my friend, Rich left for Viet Nam without fanfare. I was not home when Rich stopped by, but I can plainly see him tearing off a piece of scrap paper from a pocket notebook he always carried with him, scribbling the note in his half-printing, childish sort of way, slipping it under my door before walking away from youthful dreams and into a future that was no more certain then than it is now.

Funny how gray matter works.

Thanks for making it back safely, Rich.

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A couple of evenings ago I was drinking a few beers with some friends at the Harbor Inn, my local, Maryland crawling-distance hangout. As is often the case, the lights had been turned off in the bathroom and the door had been left open. Stepping inside, I shut the door forcefully before flipping the light switch.

The light didn’t turn on.

I felt my way along the humid-sticky wall back to the door, which was jammed shut tighter than a clam about to be dropped in a steamer. Outside in the barroom, I could hear mingled conversations and bar noises. I decided to shout for assistance rather than wait until the next bathroom traveler happened along, but then again, what do you say when you’re held prisoner in a four by ten-foot bathroom?

Luckily — because there is one nature all brew-drinkers hold in common — I didn’t have long to wait: someone needed to use the room I occupied.

“Door’s jammed!“, I shouted. “Get me out!”

“Huh?”

The Harbor Inn is frequented by all sorts of people, all of them my friends, many of them electricians and carpenters and professionals with opinions and lots of tools locked in their pickup trucks. Like board members crowding into a conference room preparing for a meeting, all of these types of patrons collected in front of the stuck bathroom door, each one banging here and there with their hands, trying to force the door open while each one expounded on how the task might best be accomplished and with which tools to do it.

While I waited patiently in the dark with my legs crossed, it took Harbor Inn’s finest twenty-six minutes to pry open the door with brute force and a crowbar. The jam was yanked completely off the wall, and when the bulb was replaced and the lights came on, I noticed I hadn’t done too badly targeting the invisible urinal in the dark.

“Next round’s on me!”

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I’ve been an avid bass fisherman all my life, so I travel out on Lake Gaston in all kinds of weather. Below-freezing winter days provide a particularly macho fisherman’s playground for discomfort. I can tell you, zipping along at sixty miles an hour in twenty-five degree weather will flap your pink ears upside your head and turn your cheeks to mortuary gray quicker than you can say, “I can’t feel my face!”

On such days, ski masks and goggles are mandatory equipment.

On really cold days, a fishing rod’s eyelets will freeze shut during a lure’s retrieve, which can be nullified by occasionally dipping the rod in the water. But, when the sun is shining — even in the bitter cold — and while fishing in a sheltered cove away from the wind, solar radiation heats up clothing articles to the point where shedding jackets and scarves is a necessity. That’s when I used to roll up the ski mask to the top of my head.

Once, many years ago, I fished for many hours in a quiet cove under similar conditions, enjoying the sun’s warming rays…

Later that evening I noticed three circular patches of sunburn triangularly centered on the top of my bald head. Ah, yes — the ski mask! I had rolled it up in such a way that the eye holes and curved mouth-slit exposed my naked, winter-white, bald-headed flesh. It was the worst case of sunburn I have ever experienced. Blisters formed and eventually peeled, and for weeks I was the brunt of every bald-headed smiley-face joke imaginable.

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FRIDAY FOOD THING

“You Know-Who Stew” (Wink-WINK!)

1 medium-sized (skinned) squirrel
2 large potatoes
2 medium onions
1 dash garlic powder
1 dash onion powder
6 ripe TOMATOES!

Braise, broil, fry, or boil. Add eye of newt and graveyard soil…

Tim says: relax! We all know humor works best one on one, face to face, and is often lost entirely in the written word, where eye-wink-winks simply don’t work. When I originally published this episode 7 years ago, I received a slew of hate-email concerning today’s “You Know-Who Stew”. By golly, the title even rhymed (wink-wink!).

Buster is alive and well! He is too smart to be caught by me a second time. I could never eat Buster’s grizzly carcass. I don’t even like squirrel. Grandpa used to hunt squirrel from time to time and then cook them in a huge cast iron pot over an open fire outdoors because Grandma wouldn’t let him mess up the kitchen with flea-ridden critters or gamey aromas. If I recall, Grandpa made a Brunswick stew sort of thing with potatoes, onions, garlic, and a weak clear gravy. Everyone knows squirrel stew is much better with SHALLOTS, not garlic. And plenty of GREEN TOMATOES!

Truth is, old age is catching up with Buster faster than October frost pouncing on a pumpkin. He seems to have totally lost his enthusiasm for chasing young sweethearts, and his hoary coat has turned all gray. His whiskers are bent and uneven, and his tail-twitching lacks the intimidation it once had. Just like mine. With that said, Buster seems to be spending a disconcerting amount of time educating a young male squirrel whippersnapper who looks remarkably like Buster: the family resemblance is frightening and — portends great dread.

New Kid on the Block

However, it has been difficult of late to ignore the arrival of the stunning new kid on the block, who is not at all partial to tomatoes, red or green. After a year of catching glimpses of this adult bald eagle — whom I’ve since nicknamed “Rudy” — staking out his territory and hunting in my cove, I finally managed to snap this regal portrait of him overseeing his domain: a humorless subject, dead serious and single-minded, intent on culturing a varied and expanding menu, just like me.

The Buster clan had better look out.

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(circa 2005)

Today, as Buster looked on, I snipped down 9 of my remaining 10 tomato plants and carried them to the compost pile. I could hear Buster chattering nervously overhead while I turned the pile over with a pitchfork. The final tomato plant is still about one month away from bearing tomatoes. Who knows, could be Old Man Winter will put an end to them before either Buster or I get to enjoy them.

I have begun raking freshly fallen acorns around my deck into a pile far removed from my garden — a peace offering of sorts. But Buster has so far chosen to ignore the acorns and prefers watching that last tomato plant, instead. Buster Boy, my advice to you: forget the tomatoes and start collecting as many acorns as you can because it’s gonna be a cold, hard winter, and those whiskers fringing your nose have already turned snow white.

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