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 It’s time for my annual article on “signs I might be getting old.” Here’s my new list:

>> I’ve seen many generations of dogs go from pup to adult to old dog to gone-to-doggy-heaven.

>>When I’m in a good mood, I’m amazed at how many brown hairs I still see on my head. When I’m in a bad mood, all I see are gray ones.

>> I’ve been getting those “you’re over the hill” birthday cards for decades now.

>> The last time I could wolf down a big meal and exercise, well, John Travolta was striking a pose under a disco ball.

>> Eulogies for my high school classmates have gone from “He passed away too young” to “He lived a full life”.

>>I sometimes use 60’s slang around teens just to mess with their heads. “Hey man, that sure is one far out pair of bell bottoms!”

>>I’m convinced that an Apple Watch will one day save my life.

>>When I go down the hill, I always take a jacket because sometimes it gets nippy. Also, I use the word “nippy.”

>>I look like a corpse under those godawful overhead fluorescent lights. 

>> When I started Home Defenders in 1996, I paid absolutely no attention to those godawful overhead fluorescent lights.

>> I went jogging last week, and, though I didn’t find any bullet holes, I’m sure a sniper shot me in the back of the leg. 

>>I’ve got those heat/cold wraps for almost every region of the human body.

>>I think gray hair looks cool and sexy on every head but my own.

Finally, I know I might be getting old because I’m retiring my “might be getting old” theme for a new one: “I woke up this morning and finally had to admit I am old.”

I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it. Especially if you’re still young.

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Today, I’m going to write about something that adds a great spice to life. It lives in every article I’ve ever written, but I’ve never dared write about it, lest the writing gods strike me dead.

What on earth am I talking about? I’m talking about that sense of mystery—the feeling that you don’t know what’s coming next. Will this article be about pests, or…dogs in India or whatever I write about when I’m on a tangent? Has the mystery of it caught you, like a curious mouse, in the jaws of its snap trap?  

Speaking of mysteries, twenty years ago I got a call for a routine bat estimate. Arriving at the home, I heard a chorus of squeaking sounds coming from a wall—a sure sign that dozens of bats were living inside the wall void. To get them out, I needed to find the opening on the outside of the house that the bats use to come and go. Not finding it, I came back at sundown when bats fly outside to feed—but saw no bat fly outside. I returned the next few evenings, but I never saw a bat. 

Then, on the third evening, a funny thing happened. When the homeowners answered the door, they said, “Mike, we don’t hear a peep anymore.” I grabbed my handy stethoscope, put it to the wall, and listened intently. The silent verdict: the bats were gone. And they never came back. Weird.

Hey, homeowner, do you have bats, rats, mice or other problem critters? In over thirty years of pest management, I’ve only seen one pest problem solve itself. Just like casinos in Vegas, Mother Nature has stacked the deck in her favor. Call Home Defenders today!

Now, how will I end this article? Will I come up with a witty punchline? An insightful thought? Who knows, just sit back and enjoy the playful mystery of it all.

The afterglow is really good too, huh?

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Get ready, everybody, because I just saw an adorable scene of baby animals cavorting with their mothers. As I watched them, I thought, “If you went into the forest looking for these critters, you’d rarely find them. Even if you were lucky enough to find them, well, where’s the magic in that? Like that old Candid Camera TV show revealed, the best things in life happen spontaneously.”

Before I reveal the cute baby animals, let’s get the ad over with now. And please don’t skip ahead to the next paragraph. You’re on your honor. (OK, I know half of my readers have already skipped ahead…I think I’ll mess with them and reveal the baby animals right now. They’re expecting, “Be sure and call Home Defenders,” but I’m not going to write that. Wait…I think I’ll fool those cheaters by pretending that I’ve already revealed the baby animals. Shh. Don’t tell. Ready?)

Gosh, readers, wasn’t that a great story about the baby animals? Wasn’t it awesome when they waddled to my feet and chirped away, as if to say, “Hey, two-legged giant, let’s be friends.” Wow! That’s a once in a lifetime experience!

OK, OK, I admit it—I’m just messing with you cheaters who skipped the ad. Ah, I forgive ya! Who likes ads? Not me.

Anyway, yesterday evening, on a Big Bear hiking trail, I saw a large group of quail—three mothers and twenty little ones. The mothers were leading the young with gentle chirps. I sat on a log and watched them as they slowly blended into the underbrush. The call of the mothers played on—forest music for the fortuitous hiker. As the lively group foraged, I wished them luck in Mother Nature’s unforgiving game of survival. Finally, as their happy chirps faded away, I headed for home.

Sometimes, on a great day, our forest goes “chirp” and says, “Smile, two-legged giant, you’re on Candid Camera!” 

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Where have all the ants, spiders, and rodents gone? Did we do something to offend them? Are we the only pest free community on Earth? Like the nutty guy in old Dracula movies says, “If this is true, it’s the most fantastic thing in the world!” 

But no, it’s not fantastic, pests are crawling all over the mountain, as usual. I just haven’t written about them lately because it’s more fun to write about grandpa’s chicken house, grandma’s rhubarb patch, homemade peach cobbler, and all the other back home things I’ve been writing about lately. Well, summer is almost here now and my mind is firmly back on bugs, so bye, bye, Americana cobbler, hello, pest advice for homeowners:

Only you—Hot summer days drive thirsty pests into your home, so if you see pests, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. And if you are the only one who doesn’t see pests, well, then…you’re the only one.

It was the Trilateral Commission, man!—Homeowners are usually correct when they say, “Mike, I’ve got bugs!” but when they try to identify the pest they ramble like guys who stay up night after night watching that Zapruder film. Here’s what our technicians need to know: a) What exactly are you seeing, hearing, or smelling? b) When did it start? Please, folks, save yourself a lot of teeth gnashing and let us identify the assassin, er, pest. 

Just the frass, ma’am—If you see a pile of droppings or sawdust, called “frass,” please don’t clean it up before our tech arrives. If you must tidy up, put the evidence in a baggie. Pest management is like a murder investigation and we Home Defenders need to see as much evidence as possible. 

And for you readers who prefer my articles to be about down home, Midwestern stuff, don’t worry—I’ve got a great story about my grandma’s sweet potato pie and my cousin Bobby’s ’67 Mustang that I’m just dying to share.

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Father’s day is around the corner and it’s time to sing the praises of dear old dad. Well, to be honest, I don’t have many praises to sing. Dad never started a business, let alone a pest business; he never had to drum up money for payroll in the dead of winter; he couldn’t write a newspaper article if he hired a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters working night and day. Dad had no skill at fixing anything—he even struggled to change the oil in our family car. When my scoutmaster assigned us kids to build little wooden race cars with our dads, Team Nolan came in dead last. 

So, did my dad teach me any practical skills? Absolutely. From the time we could walk, Dad threw batting practice and hit fly balls to all the kids in the neighborhood. Dad taught baseball.

I loved judging the arc of those fly balls and I would call out to Dad, “Hit the ball higher!” But after I was about twelve he couldn’t hit it high enough. Dad taught us the game mostly by pointing out our mistakes, and his words are burned in my brain: “You’re stepping in the bucket … you threw your head out … your shoulders aren’t square.” After games, he’d go over what I did right and what I did wrong—with an emphasis on what I did wrong. He wasn’t mean about it, that was just his way of coaching.

Now I’m a grown man and I realize that Dad did actually teach me practical skills beyond baseball. He taught me to take criticism and see my own mistakes. What could be more practical than that? From that tiny seed, I grew my own company, Home Defenders.

No, my dad didn’t teach me how to build little wooden race cars, but the lessons he taught me on those green Illinois fields could take a man to the top of the world.

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Haven’t we all burned down a barn or two? Maybe not. Last week I wrote about Uncle Keith burning down a barn on my grandparent’s Illinois farm. Well, when I was a kid, I too caused a barn fire on the farm. Here’s the story: 

At a July 4th family gathering, my younger brother and I were horsing around and lighting fireworks in an abandoned chicken house near the main farmhouse. The small structure was Uncle Keith’s old clubhouse, and it came furnished with a ratty old couch. Suddenly, we saw a mouse run under the couch. Well, this was our clubhouse and that critter’s impudence would not stand! After dangerously short deliberation, I decided to smoke the invader out. I pulled some stuffing from the couch, got it smoldering with a match, then shoved the smoking wad under the couch. Adios, mouse! We headed to Grandma’s house—her homemade peach cobbler and chocolate chip cookies beckoned.

Twenty minutes later, just as I savored that last morsel of peach cobbler, Grandpa burst through the kitchen door bellowing, “Who set the chicken house on fire?” Aunts, uncles, cousins and toddlers all stopped what they were doing and rushed outside and watched as the flames violently whipped skyward. My brother and I stood far behind our astonished kinfolk, guilt written all over our faces. Luckily, no one looked back.

Everyone knew we had been playing in the chicken house, so they sat us down at the kitchen table and the grilling began. We just kept blaming it on the fireworks. After a short trial, Grandpa rendered his verdict: not guilty, for lack of evidence. Dan and I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a handful of cookies, and went back to playing with fireworks. Life on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm was always good.

 And now, here’s this week’s punchline, sponsored by Home Defenders, “We’re not just bug guys, we’re Home Defenders!” And the punchline is: Well, at least I got that mouse out!

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Why do mothers and fathers hog all the love? Shouldn’t they share? Mother’s Day is around the corner, Father’s Day is coming, and I’m wondering why we can’t have an Uncle’s Day. Don’t those guys deserve their day in the sun, too?

My most colorful uncle is Mom’s youngest brother, Keith. When he was a kid back on my grandparent’s Illinois farm, Keith once lit a fire in the barn to keep warm … and burned it to the ground. A few years later, he made a homemade bomb out of gasoline, then detonated it in a secluded field. Grandpa saw the fireball and, despite his bad knees, took off after him. Keith won that chase, but he had to come home eventually. That was one fireworks show I was happy to miss.

I mostly remember Keith as the leader of his own private club, called the Mud Pud Club, comprised of Keith and my rowdy older cousins. I was just a little kid and I avoided those Puds, but that doesn’t mean they avoided me. One time, in full Mud Pudlian fever, Keith caught me and my older brother, Dave, and tied us to a metal pole in the basement. Then he went upstairs and turned out the lights. We screamed in the dark until Grandma came to our rescue. The last thing I remember seeing was Grandma chasing Keith with her big leather belt in hand. Keith won that race, too.

Hey, homeowners, are rowdy pests invading your own Mud Pud clubhouse? Is grandma not around to protect you? Then call Home Defenders and we’ll chase your pests like Grandpa chased Keith after he detonated that homemade bomb. Only we don’t have bum knees and we’ll catch those critters and belt ‘em good!

Well, I guess I just made a sound argument against having an Uncle’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all. And momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be Mud Puds. Please!

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This is it. This is my moment of truth. I’m seconds away from discovering the silver bullet against gophers I’ve been searching for my whole career at Home Defenders. Fame and fortune, here I come!  

My parents are here visiting from Illinois; Mom, unlike me, never left home seeking fame and fortune, grew up on a farm back there and has gardened her whole life. Won’t she have the answer for gopher control? I decided to ask her.

Mom and I are on my back deck looking at my yard when I dare pose the life-changing question: “Mom, look at all those gopher mounds littering my yard. How did Grandma get rid of gophers?” 

Mom’s learned eyes are gazing over the kidney-shaped piles of dirt. She’s as silent as a Buddha statue … her eyes gaze skyward in reflection … the tension is building. Finally, she’s ready to speak: “Gophers? What the heck are gophers?” 

“Uh, well, Mom, gophers are … gophers. They’re furry rodents that live underground, dig tunnels, and eat plant roots. They’re the scourge of every gardener west of the Rockies.” 

“Well, I’ll be dogged,” she says in her country accent. “They sure made a mess of your yard.”

Well, Mom’s no gopher expert, but that doesn’t matter. Back home, she’s always kept a big garden, growing sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, blackberries, you name it. She even has a strawberry patch—yum, fresh candy on the vine—so I was brought up on garden vegetables and homemade jam. Yep. I’ve been to the mountaintop, folks, before I moved to our San Bernardino Mountains.

Mom breaks my reverie, “Mike, I have to get back to the kitchen. The peach cobbler is almost done cooking and oh, I got some vanilla ice cream to go with that.” 

“Oh, boy, Mom … one slice of fame and fortune coming up, ha, ha!”

“What the heck does that mean, Mike?”

“Oh, nothing, Mom. It was just a dream I once had.”

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 Help Wanted: Job duties include typing termite reports, scheduling service calls, answering the phone … and telling the boss he’s wrong. Contact Home Defenders Pest Management.  

Writing these articles is fun, but it takes a lot of hard work. I learned to write them the same way I learned to be a professional exterminator: Being told that I hadn’t gotten the job done. 

A paying customer will readily tell you if those ants are still raiding her sugar bowl, but finding someone to critique my articles is difficult. My secretaries proofread them, but Alejandra, Nicole, and Isamar usually play it safe with a mechanical, “It’s good.” I learn nothing from that. Luckily, I have a secret weapon secretary. Her name is Erika.

Erika has worked for me for fifteen years and she cuts me no slack. One time she read a rough draft and as soon as she finished she handed it back to me and said, “You can come up with a better punchline than that!” Deep down, I knew she was right, so I came up a stronger punchline; the article was better for it.

Another time, Erika argued that the whole premise of an article was weak. This time I had her, though, and I explained in painstaking detail why she was wrong. She sat at her desk with a smug smile that declared, “You’re wrong, Mike.“ The next morning I reread the article and realized Erika had been right all along. I scrapped it and wrote a new one. I had gotten the ants out of that metaphorical sugar bowl.

As a small business owner, I have no boss correcting my mistakes and I make my living getting things right—a man like that had better admit it when he’s wrong. Thanks, Erika, for having the guts to critique the man who signs your paycheck.

(Hi everyone, this is Erika, and I approve this article … but Mike could have made it a little better.) 

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Have you ever noticed how quickly gray squirrels can eat a pile of sunflower seeds? Those critters can rip through a hundred seeds like a kindergarten class through a bowl of M&M’s. And then the bravest of the bunch is peeking in my sliding glass door as if to say, “Hey, Mr. Human Man, cute squirrel here—more seeds, please!” And then, still dressed in my pajamas, I put out more seeds. I fall for that trick every time.

Have you ever wondered how squirrels eat seeds so fast. Think about it. They pick up a seed, chew off the hull, grab the meaty part, then eat it. And they do it all in about a second. Squirrels are to eating sunflower seeds what the Dodgers are to smacking home runs.

Squirrels breathe life into our forest, and they’re fun to watch, but when they gain entry into homes, especially attics, they go for the jugular. The beasties seem to take pleasure in chewing the insulation off of electrical wires—though there’s not a morsel of food in an electrical wire. Outdoors, I’ve seen squirrels destroy deck handrails and roof shingles. Yeah, they’d better be cute for all the damage they can do.

If squirrels are turning your home into a chew toy, call us Home Defenders and we’ll give you a free estimate on stopping them in their toothy tracks. And don’t worry, animal lovers, we never harm them. Our furry friends have a right to live, too.

Tomorrow morning, the little beasties will be back on my deck running and fussing and waiting to see me in pajamas with black oil sunflower seeds in hand. I’ll put out a few piles and they’ll run some more and fuss some more and jump for joy warmed by the slow orange sunrise in our beautiful San Bernardino Mountains.

Now that’s the best part of waking up!