That Time I Bought Ladybugs by Mail

Years ago, Daniel and I made friends with this guy named Vinnie who lived in one of the apartments over the garages behind the cluster of rowhouses where we were living at the time.  His apartment was small and shabby, but he’d chosen it because it had a large yard, and he loved gardening.  In the winter, he brought a lot of his plants indoors in pots.

Unfortunately, one winter his plants became infested with aphids and scale insects simultaneously.  Vinnie tried spraying them with various homemade concoctions, but nothing was working well enough, and the plants were dying.  Somehow a farm-supply catalog had made its way into his urban home, and he noticed that the catalog said ladybugs would eat these pests.  You could buy them by the pint.

Vinnie is a person who stubbornly resists The System: He likes to work informally as a landscaper rather than having a “real job,” he’s often lived without a telephone or a bank account, and he’s never had a credit card.  That’s why he asked me to order his ladybugs from the catalog.  I used my phone, my credit card, and my address, figuring I would take the bugs to Vinnie when they arrived.

A week or so later, I came home from work, and my housemate said, “You got a package.  Why is it labeled LIVESTOCK?  It’s not very big.”  The package was a small wooden crate containing a canvas sack.  When I held it up to my ear, I could hear tiny moving noises.  I explained to my housemate, and we speculated about how many ladybugs are in a pint–that crate might be small by human standards, but it was very much larger than a ladybug; there must be hundreds in there or thousands….

After dinner, I took the crate up to Vinnie’s place.  He was excited.  He immediately got some tools to pry open the crate.  Then he lifted out the bag, ignoring some folded papers that were underneath it in the crate.  One end of the bag was bunched together and secured with a twist-tie.

Naturally, Vinnie untwisted the twist-tie to take a look at his new beneficial insects. Read more of this post

That Time We Ate Million-year-old Dust

This is a story my cousin Tiffany recalled during a recent family gathering when my mom asked us what we remembered from the summer my parents were away a lot, leaving me and my brother and cousins to fend for ourselves.  As soon as she mentioned the dust, I remembered that picnic too, and we were able to reconstruct the story.  I decided it’s entertaining enough to tell in public.

Twenty-seven years ago this month, I was 16, my brother Ben and cousin Tiffany were 13, and Tiffany’s brother Mark was 10–and our grandmother (Janmother) was hospitalized suddenly.  My dad, Ben, and I rushed to Oklahoma City, where she lived (a 3-hour drive from our home), to be with her while she awaited the test results that showed her cancer had recurred.  She would spend the rest of that summer in the hospital having treatment.

Meanwhile, Tiffany and Mark, who lived in Tennessee, had non-refundable plane tickets to visit us–arriving just a few days after Janmother went to the hospital!  We drove from Oklahoma City to the Tulsa airport to get them and took them right back to Oklahoma City at first.

Then we began the pattern that defined the rest of the summer: My dad, who couldn’t take much time off from his job, spent weekends in Oklahoma City.  My mom, whose work was mostly during the school year, spent weekdays there.  Every Sunday night and Friday night, they switched places.  This meant that one of them was always on hand to supervise Janmother’s care–which proved frighteningly necessary in that hospital!  In order to overlap so that they could update each other on Janmother’s condition and the state of things at home (and have a little time together, for gosh sakes!), they left us home alone for 7 or more hours each time.  We also were alone every weekday while my dad was at work.

We were responsible teenagers!  We didn’t have any wild parties, burn down the house, or get seriously injured.  We just got a bit more silly than we might have been with supervision. Read more of this post

That Time I Drank 33-Year-Old Grape Juice

My family has an ancestral home, a place that’s been owned by our family ever since it was built in 1910.  It’s a large, elegant, three-story brick house on the main street of a pleasant town in Ohio.  My maternal grandmother grew up there, and although she itched to leave that town because of the stifling social climate, she enjoyed coming back to visit.  Her sister inherited the house and passed it on to her children.  My cousin-once-removed lives there alone now but cheerfully welcomes all of the extended family to big gatherings for special occasions and smaller visits whenever we’re in the area.

I was there for a medium-sized gathering in 1997.  My mother and her Japanese storytelling colleague were passing through Ohio on a tour and spending a weekend at the ancestral home, so my uncle and his two daughters came over from Indiana, and I took a bus from Pittsburgh.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were still alive at that time.  They were the kind of people who like to save things.  Read more of this post

That Time I Caused Trouble in Sunday School

This is a story I’ve told my son Nicholas many times.  It’s entertaining for him, but it’s also a story that really gets him thinking about right and wrong, temptation and resistance, punishment and forgiveness, what those kids who get into trouble all the time might be thinking, and many other interesting issues.  It’s inspired some great discussions!

I’ve been thinking for a long time about writing some “storytelling” style posts like this, to share some of my better anecdotes from my visit to Earth.  Please comment below or contact me if you would like to read more stories like this!

I was a mostly well-behaved child.  I liked to learn rules and follow them.  I liked to do things that made adults approve of me.  Sometimes I was disobedient or obnoxious at home or in other familiar places with familiar people, but because I was very shy my behavior in public situations like school was calibrated to attract as little attention as possible.  It was very rare for me to “get in trouble” in school even enough to have a teacher take me aside to speak to me, and I certainly never got sent to the principal or anything like that.

This was true also in Sunday school, which I attended at a church so large that there was a separate class for each grade, which might have as many as 50 names on the attendance sheet and 20-30 kids present on any given day.  Our classrooms were much like those in a school, with a big chalkboard at the front and small bulletin boards alongside it.  Each grade had a different curriculum theme, but they varied widely–some were vague, so the teachers scrambled to put together random activities to keep the kids busy and maybe sort of relate to the theme; other years had structured activities and worksheets for every week.

Fifth grade spent the entire year pondering the question, “Why Do Bad Things Happen?”  This was a Unitarian church, so each week we studied the perspective of a different religion or culture.  One of the first ideas presented was that bad things happen to bad people who deserve them.  That idea was quickly refuted by kids thinking of examples of good people who’d had bad things happen to them, and vice versa.  But there was also a tangential discussion of whether people who do bad things are always bad people and whether there really is any such thing as a bad person, or we’re all just people who sometimes do bad things and sometimes do good things.  Many of the kids talked about believing that they were basically good people, or at least medium people, but once in a while “something comes over me” such that a bad thing just had to be done and they were powerless to resist.  When a later lesson brought up the idea of evil spirits that possess people and force them to behave badly, most of the class agreed that even if this weren’t literally true, it was a good description of what the urge to misbehave is like.

I didn’t argue aloud, but I was skeptical.  I was a good girl, and badness was not tempting.  Read more of this post