When the ants go marching in

I was suspicious the first time I saw them. But I slapped on a happy face and agreed to give them a chance. Still, I wondered if they wouldn’t overextend their stay—or worse—go where they weren’t wanted. You never know about ants.

It was the second ant farm among the grandkiddos. The second one didn’t impress me any more than the first. I don’t care how educational they are; ants should never be in a house without being accompanied by a large bottle of bug spray.

I’ve never understood why anyone would deliberately bring a household pest into a house, encased in plastic or otherwise. They assured me it was impossible for the ants to escape.

Fine, but check your pantry anyway.

“First we got the farm and then they sent the ants,” one of the kids said.

“Lovely,” I said.

“And then we put them in the refrigerator.”

“Of course. And why was that?”

“So they’d want to get in the ant farm.”

Yes, I imagine you’d have to refrigerate most living things to make them want to crawl into an enclosed plastic container.

“They’re worker ants,” one of the kids proudly said.
“What kind of work do they do?” I asked.
“They move grains of sand up and down the tunnels and then they make new tunnels and carry grains of sand through them.”

And so they did. The ants scurried up the tunnel and back down the tunnel. They were working, but what were they accomplishing? It reminded us of when the girls went on a mission trip to Haiti as teenagers. They spent a week moving rocks from one end of a property to the other. The husband suspected that the next group of kids to arrive moved the rocks back to the other end of the property.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a dead one. When one ant dies the other ants just crawl over him.”

What are you teaching these precious children? These ants are sick!

“We fed them a tiny bit of a blueberry yesterday. There it is, right there.”

“No, that’s not the blueberry,” another said. “That’s where they go potty. They all go in the same place.”

Well, that was worth the cost of shipping.

Several weeks later it still did not appear the ants had created anything remarkable. They just kept traveling the same tunnels over and over, carrying grains of sand back and forth.

Then I happened on an article by scientists who studied five worker ant colonies for two weeks and concluded that worker ants are – and I wouldn’t tell this to the kids –well, worker ants are slackers. Just as I had suspected. Only 3 percent of worker ants always work, 25 percent of ants were never working and 72 percent of the worker ants were inactive at least half of the time.

The ants began dying off one by one.

“Eventually they will all die,” my daughter said. “You know, worker ants—they work themselves to death.”

That’s what she thinks.

Take-out from the first Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared that first Thanksgiving feast in 1621, they not only gave us a great model of community and friendship (at least for a time), they also hosted the original potluck.

The blueprint they left for hosting large gatherings is relevant even today.

For starters, note that everybody who attended brought something—and it was something substantial – deer, a string of cod or a half-dozen pheasants. Nobody tried to slide by with a measly 2-liter or a bag of chips.

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Also, there was no prolonged and painful analysis over food origin. It was organic. All of it. Some of it was so organic that it was still warm, wearing feathers and had a faint heartbeat. We think we’re pretty original today, but the Native Americans and Pilgrims were the first farm-to-table fresh food people.

Their eggs were free-range, their chickens were free-range and so were their kids.

Dietary restrictions hadn’t been invented yet, so nobody dissected the carb count of the corn pudding, questioned whether the milk was whole or skim or announced they weren’t eating the pie if it had sugar in it.

What’s more, nobody put a damper on the meal by wearing a Fitbit to the table or checking calorie counts on a mobile device.

They came to the table and did what you’re supposed to do at the Thanksgiving table. They ate. And ate and ate and ate.

“More sweet potatoes, please.”

“We didn’t get any squirrel or rabbit down here.”

It probably also helped that they had a serious language barrier. Nobody was able to blow the day up by talking politics or rehashing the election. They didn’t talk much at all; between courses they went target shooting and had wrestling matches. If things get tense at your gathering this year, consider switching to a foreign language. Or challenging someone to a wrestling match.

“Where’s Uncle Joe?”

“There he is out back wrestling. Looks like he’s giving cousin Rob a run for his money. They’re both sure red in the face.”

“Aren’t they though? More pie?”

It was also genius that they hosted the meal outside. They not only captured that woodsy, rustic ambiance so popular today, but clean-up was a cinch. What the dogs didn’t eat, the bears and raccoons took care of at night. If it’s above 50 degrees where you live, think about it.

We could learn a thing or two about simplicity from that first feast as well. Not a single woman pondered whether to use the everyday dishes, break out the good china or go with paper plates. For the most part, they ate State-Fair style—food–on-a-stick. Nor did they spend half a day devising a clever theme for the get-together. In those days, every meal had the same theme – survival.

Nobody had to be called to the table twice, nobody picked at their food, nobody had to be told to clean up their plate and nobody worried about running out of ice.

Despite differences in food traditions, backgrounds, ethnicity and language, they shared a profound appreciation for the bounty provided by the divine Creator.

Thankfulness was like food—a shared bond and a universally spoken language.

 

 

 

 

Drive-by fruiting teaches perp not to mess with Grandma

I was the victim of a drive-by fruiting last weekend.

I was buzzing about in the kitchen vaguely aware of a small shadowy figure on the other side of the door leading to the garage. Frankly, there are a number of shadowy figures when 22 of us are together, so I didn’t think much about it.

Then I heard BAM! BAM! BAM!  I looked at the door to see cherry tomatoes exploding, sending juice and seeds sliding down the glass. Sliding, sliding, sliding. The tomatoes looked remarkably similar to the cherry tomatoes dropping from the half-dead vines in the raised bed in the backyard.

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And to think some grandmas hold grandchildren on their laps and read them stories.

My sister-in-law, married to my brother and the mother of two boys, clucked her tongue and quietly cleaned up the mess. She knew that at a different time, in a different place, it could have been any of hers doing the drive-by fruiting.

I was reasonably sure I knew who the offender was. OK, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. I raised the kid’s father. They have the same DNA.

We got lunch on the table and everyone was seated and eating when I calmly announced there had been a crime wave in our neighborhood recently. The perp briefly looked up from his PBJ with big eyes, then immediately looked back down.

“We ourselves were a victim of crime this very day,” I said. “I was working in the kitchen, preparing lunch for all of you, when I heard BAM! BAM! BAM! at the kitchen door.”

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The perp continued nibbling his sandwich, avoiding eye contact. All the other kids were wide-eyed and transfixed. Some nuts are harder to crack than others.

“I turned to see what it was and saw cherry tomatoes splattered on the door to the garage. Can you imagine how shocked I was? I was stunned!”

He’s not buying it. He’s knows it takes a lot more than a hit with three cherry tomatoes to shake this grandma.

“I thought about reporting the crime, calling the police. Then, just as I was ready to dial 911, I had second thoughts. What if the person who did this, did it on an impulse without thinking? What if the person who did this was sorry for what he did? (I was narrowing the field with the male pronoun; he still didn’t budge.)

“I’ve done some things I regret. And I’ve had some second chances along the way. Maybe the person who pelted my door with tomatoes needs a second chance. Maybe he’s sorry right now and wants to say so.”

No, he did not want to say anything.

“I believe in second chances,” I said. “Does anyone else around this table believe in second chances?”

His hand was the first to shoot into the air.

Later that afternoon he was outside and one of his uncles lifted him up to see in the kitchen window. A line of cherry tomatoes sat ripening on the window sill directly beneath the window.

You bet I did. Two of them. You should have seen him jump.

The knowing grin on his face said it all: “She’s smarter than she looks.”

 

 

 

 

The Fix-Its hustle when company is coming

My brother and his family are coming to visit, which explains why we are hustling to spruce up the place. Not that the place is a dump, but we never seem to pay attention to detail like we do when company is coming.

The rotting window box with the caved-in side beneath the kitchen window hasn’t bothered us since late summer, but all of a sudden we feel compelled to fix it. Or at least disguise it so you can’t tell we are comfortable with a certain level of neglect.

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I just shot some WD-40 into the hinges of the folding doors to the washer and dryer. They’ve been squeaking with the piercing cry of a banshee for weeks, but for weeks I lived with it, flinching every time I opened the doors to throw in a load of laundry. I no longer flinch. I like it.

I first realized that nothing makes the husband fly into gear like having company come when we hosted a party for our Lamaze Group after our son was born. Couples and babies were arriving and the husband was nowhere to be found. He was fixing a lock on the back door that I’d been after him to tend to for weeks. Prior to that, he had trimmed a rosebush on a trellis that had never been touched by shears in the previous three years we lived there.

This is why I jump at the chance to host baby and bridal showers. Sure, it’s fun to fete someone celebrating a milestone, but it’s also a reason to vacuum behind the sofa, clean bugs out of the entryway light fixtures and sweep the cobwebs off the porch.

I’m not sure if this rush to action is a desire to look better than we are or simply that we are more motivated by outside forces than we are self-motivated.

It’s the Fixing-Up-Your House-to-Move syndrome. A house never looks better and functions better than when a homeowner is ready to sell. As a matter of fact, when we patched dead spots in the front lawn and painted the trim on the house this past spring a neighbor stopped to ask if we were moving.

“No, just had a burst of energy.” She nodded with an understanding look.

For the past 10 days I’ve been letting my gas stove get dirty. Crumbs and grease now cover the surface beneath the iron grates like pebbles lining a creek bottom. I’ll clean it once I know my brother and his family are in the car and on their way.

I’m not sure what we’ll do about the garage. My brother is one of those guys who can fix, build and repair anything and has a large Morton building filled with all kinds of tools keenly organized by shape, size and purpose. We’ll probably just bolt every entryway to our garage. That one is beyond motivation, from ourselves, friends, family or even royalty coming to visit.

Unless, of course, one day we move.