Thursday, January 31, 2013

Invasion of the Stink Bugs (or Spring Preview)

Will someone please tell me when the Invasion of the Stink Bugs will be over? How is it we’ve made it through countless centuries without these nasty little pests reaching our shores, but now they are crawling out of every crevice? The temps around here recently scooted above 50 and it brought out the stink bugs in force.

Last night at 2am I was awoken by a stink bug crawling across my face. Yes. I know. Unbelievably disgusting. It’s amazing I didn’t put an eye out (or wake anyone) with my frantic batting, flinging, shrieking, and shaking. Then I spent the next two hours lying there wide awake leaping out of bed and searching the covers every time I imagined I felt a tiny leg or got one whiff of that lovely stink bug odor. I finally feel asleep for a few hours and when I awoke the first thing I saw was a stink bug crawling across the shade above my pillow. (I suppose my hubby is happy he’s currently on the other side of the planet for work. Otherwise he would have spent the night chasing down the real and imagined stink bugs with me.)

It gets worse. When I brushed my hair I realized the smell of stink bug was coming from me. That bug must have been nesting in my hair half the night before it felt compelled to check out my cheek bones. I’ve washed my hair and the sheets and I still have the willies.

I thought it was over, but when I picked up my water glass a few minutes ago a small gray shield shaped bug was floating in it. Will it never end? I suppose I should be happy that today’s 60 degree temps are about to give way to the high twenties again tomorrow.

Feeling powerless to overcome the tiny beasts, I did what I always do; I searched for answers on the internet. I found these ten ideas for ridding your home of stink bugs on a site called the Columbia Patch.

Here are ten ways to get rid of stink bugs:
1. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the bugs - UMD Bulletin. (We actually have a small shop vac designated for stink bugs and after vacuuming them up, empty it in the chicken pens. Chicken’s love stink bugs. Too bad mine aren’t housebroken.)
2. Cut the top of a half gallon or gallon jug, fill it with soapy water and use a piece of cardboard or a napkin to whisk the bugs into the water, which will drown them - UMD Bulletin. (I generally catch the nasty little critters with toilet tissue and flush them down the nearest toilet, but now I’m wondering if since we have a septic tank, I’m just relocating them temporarily.)
3. Seal up cracks around windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping. - UMD Home and Garden Information Center. (Last summer, my husband actually used bright blue painters tape to seal the edges of our screens. This looked horrible, but did seem to help.)

4. Take out window-unit air conditioners; stink bugs can easily get through these. - UMD HGIC. (But what about the summer when you need the a/c? Which is worse – sweating through the night or living with stink bugs in your home?)

5. Plant or move fruit trees and vegetable gardens, especially tomato plants, away from your home to prevent stink bugs from landing on the exterior of your home. - UMD HGIC. (Sorry, this ain’t happening. The gardens and fruit trees were here before the stink bugs.)

6. Squish stink bugs outdoors--the odor warns other stink bugs to flee. - Bayer Advanced insect control. (I had no idea that stink bugs were that organized.)

7. Hang a stink bug trap outside your house to catch them. - UMD Bug Guy, Mike Raupp, YouTube. (I truly believe the stink bug traps are a complete come-on for those of us feeling desperate. Save your money, if something actually worked, we’d all know about it, plus just like Japanese beetle traps it probably attracts as many new stink bugs as it kills the locals.)

8. Hang a damp towel outside your home overnight. In the morning, stink bugs will blanket the towel, and you can use a vacuum or knock them into a jug of soapy water to kill them. - Bayer Advanced (Interesting idea, but the damp towels hanging all over my bathroom and children’s floors have yet to attract a ‘blanket of stink bugs’)

9. Although most insecticides are ineffective against stink bugs, some do work, but the bug must be clearly on the label. Insecticides are never to be used indoors - UMD HGIC (Bad idea all around. Insecticides have always done more harm than good.)

10. Check your attic for holes or gaps and close them up. Stinkbugs often enter through attics - Mike Raupp, UMD Bug Guy, YouTube. (This is the best advice on this list. We did check around and discover some gaps in our crawlspace and filling them did significantly reduce the number of stink bugs getting in.)

So what’s a stink-bug-freaked-out-woman to do? Tonight I’ll scour the room with the bug vacuum and wait until I’m ready to sleep before putting on the clean sheets. Tomorrow, who knows, maybe I’ll start working on house-breaking my chickens. Seriously, I think stink bugs are here to stay and we need to find a good use for them. This little break in the weather has provided a sneak preview of what's coming this spring and if we think the worst is over, as my kids might say, "We're seriously whacked."

Monday, January 28, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Four: It's Not Just Personal, It's Sacred

The best thing about shopping locally is the people. Now that I’ve become a bit of a regular at the Central Market, I’ve gotten to know some of the vendors there. I truly enjoy talking with the sellers about the products and the market.

The people who own, manage, or work at the stands and small businesses I’ve visited are passionate about what they sell or the service they provide. They have to be because none of them are in it for the money, that much is obvious. I appreciate people who feel strongly about what they do. Confucius said, “Choose  a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I find that to be just about the best advice I’ve ever encountered. It’s rarely been about the money for me in any job I’ve held, and I grow weary when I encounter the opposite.

I’ve learned a lot from the store/stand owners I’ve gotten to know. I‘ve learned how to cook purple rice – freaked the kids out. I learned that if you quickly pour off the water you run through your tea the first time, and then add new water to steep, you’ll remove much of the caffeine. I’ve learned to appreciate all the ways vinegar can enhance the food you cook, without adding calories. And this week I learned the difference between golden and brown raisins. The golden ones are sulfured the same way as apricots. That’s what makes them soft and plump – more marketable and more expensive. The sulfur is only for aesthetic reasons and many people have reactions to sulfur.

I had an interesting discussion about the differences between four different types of fingerling potatoes at another stand. And laughed at how gnarled and bent their carrots were – just like the ones I grow in my rocky soil. When I purchased my pork loin, the butcher asked how I planned to cook it and we discussed the benefits of using a crock pot. After I paid, he said to be sure to stop back and let him know how it turned out. I can’t imagine anyone at the Giant supermarket asking (or even caring) about how I planned to prepare my dinner that night, except maybe my friend Liz who works there, but only because I know her in other realms besides Giant.

I stopped to buy coffee beans and thought of the comment my husband had made the day before when we talked about his coffee needs. He said he was using his expensive fair-trade coffee beans from the market more sparingly because he knew what they cost. He also said that every time he made coffee he thought of the friendly guy in the Rastafarian hat who sold him the beans and wondered how much money he made at his little stand. Buying local makes every purchase personal.

It also makes it somewhat sacred. While my husband feels a kinship with his coffee guy and I adore my tea lady, the kids view every Cheezit bag as hallowed and they dole out the servings mindfully. No longer do they abandon entire bowls full on the counter to go stale and be fed to the chickens. They know every Cheezit box may be their last since I’ve only found one locally owned store that offers them and it’s not one I’m inclined to patronize that often.

Farmers Markets don’t just offer fruits and vegetables anymore. Many offer meats, cheeses, breads, and grains, plus dried fruits and nuts, honey, coffee, even wine. We often think of farmers markets as a treasure of the past, but in fact Farmers Markets are increasing in numbers every year. According to the USDA, there are 10% more markets in 2012 than the previous years. The number of markets has nearly doubled since 2004. And the more we patronize them, the more they will continue to multiply and offer more days and hours to shop.

Shopping at Local Markets where you can meet the seller, and many times the grower or baker or butcher, is rewarding not just for the body, but for the mind, and most especially for the soul.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting a Little Nutty with the Laundry Soap

I finally tried soap nuts. Ever heard of them? They’re gnarled nuts just a size larger than an acorn. They usually turn up at natural food stores and occasionally farmers market stands or craft booths run by hippies. Sometimes the nuts are sold loose and sometimes in little packages with directions.

Their natural oils purportedly work magic in the washing machine rendering clothing sparkling clean without any detergents. The package I bought from a woman at the Sweet Potato Festival who also sold beautiful alpaca wool caps and homemade hand and body soaps said to toss 2 or 3 in an average load. They can be used 5-7 times. There were no specifics as to how you know they are “used up”.

I’ve had my packet of soap nuts for a few months. They seemed like a great idea until I got them home and prepared to toss them in my washing machine. I paused to consider the power of vinegar. I use vinegar as a fabric softener. Not only does ¼ cup per load work beautifully to eliminate static cling and soften fabrics, but it also removes “teenager smell”. If you have teenagers then you’re familiar with this smell. It’s not quite as bad as BO, but it is also not necessarily a pleasant scent. I think it is a combination of hormones, the repeated wearing of favorite clothes, and the stench of junk food coming out of their pores. Deodorant cannot combat this and it permeates their clothing. At any rate, as I said vinegar removes this smell beautifully.

Sidebar: Vinegar, besides being a most powerful and effective cleaning agent, is a natural deodorizer, which I know seems odd given its own strong smell. Spray it in trash cans, diaper pails, and refrigerators to remove the smell. I just spray the bottom of trash cans and let the vinegar evaporate taking the stink with it. Or you can just leave it for 30 seconds before wiping it out.

Because vinegar is such a powerful acid I worried that it would strip the soap nuts of their natural oils and render them ineffective. So I’ve left the soap nuts sitting on the dryer for months now. When I encountered a soap nut vendor again, I asked about vinegar and soap nuts. She looked at me curiously and said she didn’t think vinegar would hurt the nuts. But she didn’t say it confidently enough to give me confidence. So the nuts have been sitting.

This past week I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. (It’s a wild life I live.) I added 3 soap nuts to a load of darks, including a dirty glove (note picture) that has been sitting on my porch for several months because no one knows who it belongs to and without its match I can’t even give it to Goodwill. I also added vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser and ran the load like I normally would.

When I removed the clothes from the washer they appeared clean. The glove was especially clean. There were two problems though. First, after putting the clothes in the dryer, I couldn’t find one of the nuts. I pulled out all the wet clothes and shook them to no avail. I reached in to the washing machine and felt under the spinner. No nut. I didn’t want to run the dryer if one of the precious nuts was hiding in the clothes afraid the ‘natural cleaning oils’ might cook on to the clothes or lose it’s magic altogether, plus I only had six nuts to begin with. I stepped back to consider my options and heard a “crunch”. Found the nut. Sigh.

The second problem was actually more serious than the cracked nut. The clothes appeared clean, but they still smelled like teenagers. Not good. Apparently the power of soap nuts trumps the power of vinegar. Or perhaps the vinegar works best with my homemade detergent. I dried the load of clothes and the smell was diminished, but I could still tell it was there. I am confident my kids won’t notice it, living in the smell as they do. But still.

So my soap nut experience wasn’t the best. I’m not a believer, but I’ve met plenty of people who are and I can say that soap nuts do seem to clean the clothes, if not deodorize them. If you don’t have teenagers, they might be a nice natural way to wash your clothes. For now, though, I’m taking a pass on the nuts. If you’ve had a better experience, I’d love to hear about it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

GONE LOCAL: Week Three in Which Our Heroine Ventures to the Mall, Secures the Sacred Toy, and Finds a Local Download

Malls were created to make it easier to shop by putting everything in one place. They also turned shopping in to a social event not just for the true shopper, but for teens in suburbia everywhere. I remember hanging out at Christiana Mall with my friends soon after it was built. We loved the freedom from our parent’s control, opportunity to display our latest fashion statement (leg warmers and purple eye shadow), and the possibility of encountering boys. When I torture my children with “I remember when…” stories the absence of malls is right up there with computers, microwaves, and remote controls.

And malls have changed. Once the free range of every delinquent or wanna-be delinquent teen in the tri-state area, most malls now require all minors to be accompanied by an adult. The open space in the aisles of the malls have been filled with kiosks manned by overbearing and aggressive sales people obviously working on commission. And food options have expanded to include Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabons unleashed from the food court and scattered freely to wage war on our senses and self-control.

I hate malls. My daughter loves them. Last summer she and a good friend created a “shopping camp” for the two of them. It involved me driving them to several malls. As I wandered a huge mall about thirty minutes from our home in an affluent suburb of Baltimore, I was amazed at all the things I could buy. I was also amazed that there was absolutely nothing in that mall that I needed.  It was good people watching and character collecting, but I was ready to go in about thirty minutes. Not so the girls. My daughter has told so many jealous friends about “shopping camp” that I’m considering charging for my counselor duties this summer.

Week three of Going Local required that I go to the mall. There is nothing locally owned about a mall. Well, not much anyway. The rents at most malls are much too prohibitive for the average small business owner. Most locals can only afford a kiosk. This past week I found myself at the local mall. I was meeting my mom to exchange a Christmas gift. Technically speaking, I was within my legal rights of Going Local since I, personally, wasn’t purchasing anything from the chain store franchise where we went.

After securing the exchange we left the mall and went to a nearby locally owned restaurant (Bel Paese -fabulous Italian) for lunch. Over lunch I told my mother of my ill-fated attempt at buying the Nerf toy my youngest child had his heart set on giving a friend for the upcoming birthday party. The only locally owned toy store listed in the yellow pages didn’t answer the phone when I called and seemingly didn’t exist as I circled the supposed address for ten minutes that morning to no avail. She suggested the Bon Ton, a department store at the mall we had just left. When I reminded her it wasn’t locally owned, she told me it was York based. This was news to me. My knee-jerk reaction has been to dismiss all large department stores as non-locally owned, but a quick search of their web site told me she was right.

After lunch we headed to The Bon Ton back at the mall only to discover their meager toy department caters to the under six crowd. My mom has a soft spot for her youngest grandchild and asked if my Gone Local laws allowed other people to go in to stores and purchase things for me. Tempting, but it seemed to undercut the whole idea. Before giving up completely I searched the ownership of the other stores at the mall and learned that Boscovs is based in Reading. Not so close, but still Pennsylvania. And they sold Nerf. I confess it’s a bit of a stretch for locally owned, but it was a small sacrifice I was willing to make to keep my ten-year-old from condemning the Gone Local plan only three weeks in.

While packing for a two week trip to Taiwan, where he assured me everything he purchased would be local, my husband asked about downloading books from Amazon to his kindle for his 14 hour flight. I told him that wouldn't be shopping local and reminded him that the library loaned e-books. He made a face and said he didn’t have time to figure that out. But my husband is nothing if not supportive and resourceful, so he gave it a shot and discovered that it’s very simple to download an e-book from the library. In fact, he downloaded three. I breathed a sigh of relief because the last time I tried to download a book it was not only difficult, but disheartening since there was such a meager selection to choose from. Happy to say that is no longer the case.

Going local is requiring all of us to think before we shop. I’m still sorting through a few challenges like .9 pencil lead and nylons in a size that will fit my long-legged size 0 daughter. Craigs List is a veritable gold mine. This week we found a long-promised archery bow for my son – even left-sighted like he needed. But I’ve scoured the Goodwill and farm markets in search of a coffee mug (extra tall and narrow) like the one I broke recently. My tea is just not the same in any other mug. And my daughter is begging for her favorite hair product that until recently I always secured on It would be so simple to find all these things online. But where’s the challenge in that? And more importantly that would not be supporting my community in any way. Alas, every week is a new quest in living locally. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

How Just About EVERYONE I Know is Putting Themselves at Risk

This isn’t really a new subject for me. I’ve said it before, it’s just that in the last few months Harvard and other estimable intuitions have backed me up with their studies. Permit me a brief “I told you so.”

The results from a study conducted by the National Instituteof Environmental Health Sciences (smart people) revealed that out of 263,925 people, those who drank four or more servings of soda per day were more prone to develop depression than those who didn’t. I’m thinking the giant cups handed out at fast food restaurants and gas stations are at least four servings.

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this past November showed that women who drank more soft drinks had an 83% higher risk of stroke than those who didn’t.

But don’t think if you stick with diet soda you’re safe, putting aside the cancer risks, for a moment, there are other risks. In 2012, a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed a link between drinking a diet soda every day and heart attack risk.

And another study conducted by Harvard in late in 2012 of 1,878 students at Boston public high schools found that heavy soda drinkers were much more prone to violent behaviors than other teens.

Most people do agree that soda consumption can be a factor in obesity, but more recent studies draw that conclusion clearly. A monstrous study that spanned decades and involved 33,000 Americans yielded proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, making people more at risk for obesity.
And that’s not all folks – another study concluded that drinking a soda a day increased a man’s chances of developing an aggressive form of prostate cancer. That ought to motivate more than a few men to give up the soda habit.
I’m waiting for the study that links the increase in soda consumption and the increase in autoimmune and learning disabilities in kids over the past thirty years. Makes me want to be a scientist.
 Sure, it’s hard to attribute these negative reactions solely to soda, but even the most dedicated doubter has to admit, the studies are piling up. If you haven’t picked a New Year’s resolution yet, maybe giving up soda might be a good one.

As a reformed soda drinker, I know it sounds impossible to give up your favorite beverage. I was thoroughly addicted to Fresca and Diet Coke for many years. But when I gave up soda and started drinking tea (black, green, and herbal) I noticed three things within weeks that aren’t mentioned in those illustrious studies above: 1) I didn’t feel as tired all the time 2) I lost five pounds and 3) food tasted better.

Bottom line: If you want to dramatically improve the health of your family ban the soda. Do my kids ever drink soda? Two of them always order soda when out at restaurants or over at friend’s houses. I don’t sweat it because it’s a special treat, not an everyday staple. My daughter has never developed a taste for soda and thinks it’s disgusting. I’ve told you she’s a smart girl.

If you google soda and recent studies, you’ll find even more studies detailing the dangers of soda, I just picked the ones that came out in the past six months. The evidence is insurmountable unless you’re a politician living firmly in the deep pockets of the soft drink lobby. But I know you’re smarter than that.

Monday, January 14, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Two: Less Stress, Long Distance Drugs, and Where O Where Can I Find Nerf?

I’ve discovered that while going local requires a little extra detective work at this stage, it’s much less stressful. Hear me out.

When we are in need of something, say dog food, I have limited options.  Limited options means less stress. I don’t have to consider which store has a better price or a sale. I don't have to locate the store coupon which is always expired or not valid because of the small print I can't read without my glasses. I don't have to worry whether I’ll get a better deal on dog food at one store versus the other. I don’t have to figure out which store might be most convenient for my day’s kid-chauffeuring schedule. There is no stress created by the possibility of making the wrong choice. In fact I don’t have to make a decision at all about where to go. Plus, there’s no danger that I’ll go to Wal-Mart and wind up buying a cart full of things I don’t really need now, but might need sometime in the next month.

Since I’ve committed to buying locally, I know the best place to buy dog food is at the locally owned pet store where I know the owner and can stop and have a chat with the groomer who is one of my favorite people in town. I might even throw the dogs in the back seat and bring them along for their pedicure. Instead of it being a chore, which going to Wal-Mart or Giant or Tractor Supply or wherever I decided to get the dog food would be, it’s now a visit. Much less stressful.

The dilemmas this week revolve around the children. Don’t they always? First up, prescription medicine from last week’s doctor’s visit.

My cursory search for a locally owned pharmacy turned up blank. If you Google “independently owned pharmacy in York PA” it contains only five entries. This is a rare instance for Google. The first listing is a pharmacy in Gettysburg. The others listed are not independently owned, except the one listing for Maryland. Seems the pharmacy of my youth where the pharmacist knew your name and even which color lollipop you liked, is gone.

At first I thought I would have to travel to Gettysburg (45 minutes away) to fill the prescription. My husband justly complained. However, it so happens that I was headed to Gettysburg this weekend anyway for a conference, so it would be convenient. I promised him I wouldn’t go to Gettysburg for all our prescriptions, just this once.

But alas my husband's worries were put to rest because while taxiing my boys to an activity this week, I passed Minnich’s pharmacy. I’d never noticed it before. It’s locally owned, bright and clean and open until 9pm! The pharmacist even came out and talked to me personally. He apologized for not having the particular medicine I was looking for and assured me he could have it by noon the next day.

Well, first I have to say how refreshing to have someone check BEFORE you’ve waited thirty minutes to see if they have something in stock. And second, how nice they care that I have to wait a day. I’ve had pharmacy experiences where after I've cooled my heels waiting 45 minutes for them to not call my name, the beseiged checkout clerk informed me that they don’t carry the meds in question. "No worries," I told the nice pharmacist. I’d be back this way next week and could pick it up then.

I’m guessing that service is the reason Minnich’s is the last one standing amongst York’s independent pharmacies. Driving a few extra miles is much better than waiting in line at the Wal-Mart pharmacy  before spending thirty minutes buying things I don't need and being annoyed by the sheer fact of Wal-Mart. Sure, I appreciate that Wal-Mart is convenient, but it feels good to know it’s not my only option.

On Tuesday a birthday party invitation arrived for my ten-year-old. He danced around happily when he saw it was laser tag, and then announced “I want to go to Wal-Mart to get Michael a glow-in-the-dark Nerf basketball set!” Problem. Very gently I reminded him that we don't go to Wal-Mart anymore. “I’ll just find a toy store in York and we’ll go next week,” I promised him.

Well, here’s hoping someone builds one by next week. No toy stores. Like so many other small businesses, the mega-stores have put every small toy store out of business. There were a few niche shops for comics, hobbies, and gaming, but no store that would carry Nerf. After lengthy searches (Google failed me again), I finally found an obscure sounding toy store near the mall that has no web presence. I have to meet my mom at the mall this week to climb through another loophole on my buy local manifesto (more on that next week) so I shall journey forth and let you know what I find. Here’s hoping they have Nerf. I figure my out is to give the kid cash so he can go buy it himself, but that feels like a cop out.

And if that weren’t enough my daughter announced that she was auditioning for the Talent Show and if she made it, could she please, please, please have a new dress to wear? And could it not be from Goodwill? Well, my sweet little cherub, local clothing I can do. I proceeded to tell her about the independently owned stores in York City that carried dresses. I even mentioned the cool vintage clothing store that her cousin from New York thought was so awesome. She doubts me, but I got this one.

I can see that having fewer options when it comes to shopping for clothing for my daughter could be another instance where Buying Local reduces my stress. The clothes might cost me a little more, but the reduction in hours spent in changing rooms at Gabriel Brothers, Kohls, Target, Bon-Ton, Charlotte Russe, etc., will more than make up for it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

State of the Art Chicken Defense System

What do you think of the chicken’s new decorating scheme? Makes the place feel like a constant party. Unsurprisingly, the girls were not impressed. But no matter, the effort was to protect them, not impress them.

Last year when I allowed myself to be talked in to purchasing 28 chicks over the phone by a friendly, enthusiastic man at a hatchery in Iowa, I thought I was hedging my bets. After all, we lost eight chickens in one fox attack the year before and the dog had already nailed three by spring. So 28, while a ridiculous number of chicks for a family based operation, seemed reasonable when you consider the inherent dangers of living on this hillside.

All of the chicks, save one, made it through the summer. I was feeling flush; I even gave six away to friends whose own flocks had been decimated by age or sharp-toothed felons. I was in the midst of negotiating a deal to relocate another hen contingent on a rooster accompanying her (anyone else need a rooster?), when the siege began.

My husband and I were all cleaned up and headed out for a night on the town (or at least a game at the local brewery), when we heard panicked shrieking from the chicken pen. We dashed in our finery to the muddy pen and discovered a hawk having dispatched with one hen, surveying the others and choosing dessert. We shooed him out and hoped we’d scared him as much as he scared us.

Apparently not, because over the next few days chickens began to disappear on a daily basis. What to do? It’s illegal to shoot a hawk. They’re a protected species. I have a hard time understanding why we’re protecting them; they seem to do just fine on their own. No matter, we don’t own a gun. I did half-jokingly ask one of my son’s friends, an accomplished hunter, whether he’d be interested in the job. He wondered about the legalities of taking out the bird. Smart kid.

And it wasn’t just the hawk eyeing up our birds. We have a dog, which claims at least a small amount of hound pedigree, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. That’s the nice way of saying it. She barks at the horses, as if she’s never seen them before, yet bounds out to greet any stranger who walks up our driveway. She threatens to kill the cat on a daily basis, only to back down the minute the cat turns around. She does not come when she is called and bursts through our invisible fence regularly, still not certain where that electric zap to the neck came from. Once free to roam, she rolls in horse poop and then sits opposite the front door barking. Obviously, the hawk is not afraid of her.

Back to my story. A few days after we realized we were losing birds, this dog began barking in an unfamiliar voice. My husband was working from home that day, and we looked at each other surprised. Was there a strange dog in our yard? No, it was our dear dumb hound, but she sounded different. She sounded like a real dog, as if she were saying, “I’m not kidding this time. There really is something dangerous in the yard!” Running outside we found a red fox stalking a cluster of chickens near the driveway. My husband pulled the invisible fence collar off our eager dog and set her off in chase. We knew she’d never harm a fox, but we were counting on the fox not knowing that. We set her up patrolling the yard. End of fox visits.

If only the hawk was as easily intimidated. Our free ranging girls are confined to their pen for the time being. They are none too happy about it and three of them are managing to scale the fence daily in deference to the fact that they have clipped wings and a local animal kingdom eyeing them up for lunch.

While the hens stewed, we considered our options.

At a holiday party, friends who live a few miles away told me that they were losing animals to coyote until they purchased donkeys. Apparently donkeys keep coyotes at bay. That seems like a cumbersome and expensive, not to mention noisy, fix, but they have cows to protect so there’s more at stake.

My husband and I recently spent a weekend on a sheep farm in Virginia where they had “guard llamas.” Guard llamas seems like an oxymoron until you learn how ferocious llamas can be. Who knew? 

We aren’t in the market for any more creatures, so we dreamed up our own defense. Hence the redecorating.

We’ve strung up electric fence across the top of the pen. It’s not electrified at this point. We’re starting out simple. I dug out old plastic containers and pie pans and strung them up with baling twine over the wires. I’m considering blasting some country music too, but don’t know how that will fly with the neighbors.

Have we outsmarted the hawk? It’s too soon to tell. We’re five days in to the new defense system and so far so good. I count beaks every morning.

This is our 'guard cat', not nearly as
effective as a llama would be I'm sure,
but he does protect the chickens from
the mice that would steal their food.
I tell this story, not for your entertainment, well maybe for your entertainment, but also as a reminder that sometimes we have to be creative when solving our own dilemmas. Whether it’s kids or chickens, it’s easy to throw money at a problem, in the form of llamas or donkeys or professionals. But it’s much more satisfying to fix the situation yourself. I’ll let you know how this one pans out.

Monday, January 7, 2013

GONE LOCAL: Hoarding, Sleeping with Sheep, & Finding a Fencing Jacket, plus Getting Screwed by the Dealer (how's that for a catchy title?)

The project has barely begun and already I feel as if I’m failing. Alas. I've always wanted to be a “stunt journalist,” but I can't even survive one week. I am fascinated by stunt journalism. I gobble it up. First I read The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, and then Not Buying It by Judith Levine. And Barbara Kingsolver blew me away with her local eating book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I loved the film, No Impact Man, in which a family living in New York City attempted to spend a year having no negative impact on their environment. 

The idea that an author can subject themselves (and their family) to some kind of lifestyle change, discomfort, etc. and then write about it as it happens, captivates me. It fascinates me in the same way the idea of people living on the space station does. It all sounds so wonderful, but how does it really play out? What do they do with the poop? What if you don’t like the guy in the pod next to you? What if you like them too much and you have an affair – will mission control watch this happen? OK, so deciding to buy all our stuff locally doesn’t really compare, but if you ask my children they’d say they’d rather live on the space station, as long as they can have their Cheezits and Trader Joes cereal.

The hard truth of my little project is that my family is being forced along for the ride. My daughter is always up for a challenge and she sees the possibilities and the adventure. She also tells her friends that her mother is going to starve her in the next three months. My boys see only the way this lifestyle may impinge on their cereal options. My oldest has become downright obstinate about the whole thing. He says he’s going to wait until January 1 and then blow his whole Amazon gift card cache on things shipped from New Zealand. He chose New Zealand figuring it was as far away from here as anywhere. But then he couldn’t think of anything made in New Zealand. I offered, “Beef?”
First Confession: Ever since I made the decision to Go Local in 2013, I’ve been hoarding. It’s been almost unconscious, but still. I’ve stocked up on the things I can’t imagine going without – my favorite brands of conditioner and toilet paper, books from Amazon, good pens, plus Cheezits for the kids and cat food at a reasonable price. My husband has been filling the basement with cases of booze. We all have our weaknesses. I just needed to confess this up front. I feel better now.
 On Day two of Going Local I already felt like I was failing. This little challenge is much more complicated than I imagined. Determining the owner of a business is slippery. If a franchise is locally owned, does that make it local? Even though the bulk of the profits are being piped out of state to the mega-conglomerate that pulls the real strings? Hard to say. I’m still chewing on this one. I’ve met the owners of the local Chik-fila, but are they technically the “owners”? Isn’t Chik-fila owned by an enormously wealthy man whose wife gives money to anti-gay causes? I thought it wouldn’t be until a family road trip that I’d be smacked with splitting these hairs.
A few weeks ago a letter came from Honda. Seems there’s a small issue with a part that could potentially cause a fire in our car. The chances seem remote at best since this car has already raised our children and driven over 150,000 miles (in our 2-mile radius town). Still, it was past-due for its inspection so my hubby decided to take the dealer up on his offer to replace the potentially hazardous part for free and, oh-by-the-way can you inspect the car while you’re at it. He felt confident of the inspection since our local garage had put over $1600 of work in the car over the past year.
It wasn’t until my hubby called me with the news that the dealer had found some obscure problem that was going to cause them to fail our inspection unless we shelled out $500 for the fix that I realized our misstep. What? I’m about to spend a large sum of unbudgeted cash at a non-locally owned business for a problem I never knew existed. Is it me or does everyone feel like they’re being hosed by the dealer whenever they take their car in for work? So it’s a double whammy – I’m already broke this month and I already blew my commitment to locally owned businesses. Ugh. Can I have a do-over?
Let me balance out this tragedy with a triumph. As I’ve most recently confessed, prior to starting this Gone Local project, I indulged in a little selective hoarding of staples I worried I would not find locally. In fact, I was feeling guilty that this would all be too easy since I was stocked up on all my normal purchases from Wal-Mart. But then I sat down to print something out and the yellow flashing light lit up on the printer. No paper. And no hoarded paper either. Serves me right.
Where do you buy printer paper locally? Every stationery store I know is part of a large national chain. For a brief moment I considered calling my hubby and asking him if it was possible for him to “borrow” a ream from work. But he doesn’t even work local so that’s bad on too many levels. I began my search online and much to my delight I discovered an office supply company located right here in York and even better – it’s a “green” office supply company! Locally and family owned Greenline Paper specializes in recycled and green products. 
I e-mailed the store to be sure they sold to homeowners and got a lovely e-mail back with location and hours and an invitation to come right in! So I did! Not only do they have printer paper, but toilet paper, aluminum foil, and other paper products. They even have cat litter. And bonus – when you order more than $50, they’ll deliver it for free. And I worried that I’d never see my UPS man again!
Driving home from the Swordguild, my oldest son announced, “My fencing jacket is too small. I need a new one.” I raised my eyebrows and thought, “Why didn’t he tell me this a week ago when I could still shop on the internet?” He read my mind and said, “See, three days in and already this isn’t going to work.”
Fencing is a relatively obscure sport. My children tend towards obscure things. The youngest has just taken up archery and the middle one plays the oboe. Finding a fencing jacket from a locally owned store most likely requires that you live somewhere like Scotland. Normally I order fencing equipment from an online supplier located in New Jersey. That won’t work anymore. I spent one day debating giving in and softening my Gone Local stance, but then I remembered Craigs List. If I buy something from an individual, I’m definitely putting my money back in the local economy. Sure enough, several fencing options on Craigs List. I made arrangements for my husband and son to meet up with the lister and check out the jacket. Fingers crossed.
The same day as the fencing predicament, my son had an appointment with a doctor in Maryland. We live only four miles from the Maryland line, so technically this doc is still sort of local. It’s just that I was interpreting “local” to mean Pennsylvania, York County preferably. This is a follow up appointment, so it seems pretty irresponsible parenting to switch him to a doctor up here at this point. So I won’t. Again, first week and already I’m blowing it.
On day four of the New Year, my hubby and I traveled south to Virginia for a romantic weekend getaway. This was planned before Gone Local became a reality and was a birthday present. The grandparents came to watch the kids and we escaped for two days at a cottage on a working farm that grows grapes and sheep. In keeping with my new plan we rented directly from the owners, so while we were out of state, we still bought “local”. Local being a relative term. We did pack our own food as is our habit since cooking together is a treat. We patronized locally owned venues – a farm market and local wineries. Since I haven’t written up strict rules for this endeavor, I think I’m within my bounds here.
This first week proved that buying locally can be complicated. I have discovered that life, especially life with kids, is a series of wins and losses. The trick is to keep perspective. Don’t let the losses dictate your future, or at the very least, learn from them. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gone Local

It's a brand new year and the time for resolutions. Starting today I am beginning a whole new way of life, or at least way of shopping. Here is my manifesto:

I believe that my family and my community benefit when I shop from locally owned enterprises. Therefore I will shop exclusively from stores owned and operated locally, preferably from stores where I can meet the owner, even better if the owner is operating the store. 

This is basically putting my money where my mouth, or my computer keys, are. In December I wrote a column for the York Daily Record entitled, “Shop Like a Pennsylvanian.” In researching that column I stumbled upon study after study that concluded that buying from locally owned stores was better for the local economy. Essentially at least 50% of the money you spend in local establishments stays in your local community. As opposed to shopping at large retailers like Wal-Mart and Giant, which contribute far less to the local economy. 

My other motivation came from a shop keeper I encountered more than a year ago. Her words have echoed in my heart ever since. After nine years of living in this area, I had gone shopping in downtown York. Being a natural country bumpkin, I tend to stay as close to home as possible. Cities are not my thing. I ventured to York in search of a tea store reputed to have hundreds of loose teas. There was nothing like this near my little hillside, so I went exploring. I found the tea shop and a downtown farmers market and all sorts of one-of-a-kind shops. One adorably pink and sparkly shop offered handmade gifts and pottery. The owner was behind the counter as I made my purchase and I complimented her on such a lovely little store. She said she was glad I liked it but she was closing at the end of the month after nearly ten years in business. She just wasn’t making it. Her last comment to me was, “Locals just don’t shop downtown, it’s only the tourists.”  

I wasn’t aware that York was a tourist destination, but no matter, there weren’t enough to keep her shop open. I’ve thought about this a lot since that day. When purchasing food, I always try to “buy local,” purchasing produce that has been grown right here. But what about everything else? Why do I go to Walmart or Target or Giant or Dick’s for the things I need? Why do I do most of my gift shopping online?  

Honest answer? It’s cheaper and easier. I don’t have to move my butt out of my chair to make the purchase. Anything I want is only a mouse click away. I even buy shampoo and toothpaste online. I have this fetish about I just love it. Instead of standing in the shampoo aisle weighing the benefits of shiny versus full-bodied, I can collect opinions from perfect strangers who took the time to write reviews. Never mind the generalizations that could be made about the kind of people who take the time to write a 500 word review of a shampoo or toothpaste. And the shipping is free! How can you go wrong? 

But like so many other “conveniences,” I haven’t thought through the long-term consequences of my shopping habits. Who is getting my money? My best guess? One of the “one percent.” 

So instead of carping on this any longer, I’ve decided to see if I can change my ways. I’m not good at doing things half-way, so I’ve decided to go cold turkey. No more Walmart, no more Giant, no more Amazon (sharp intake of breath noted), no Can I do this? More importantly, can my family and my budget survive this decision? 

I don’t know. They certainly have some valid concerns. In light of their fears, I’ve decided to only commit this experience which begins January 1 to three months. April Fool’s Day will be the appropriate end. Or not.

My hope is that this experiment will be eye opening for all of us. I don’t believe my husband’s deep worries that I’ll blow the family budget on it will come to fruition. I know we’ll spend more on some things, but I think the intentional shopping and more importantly, quitting the online shopping habit, will counter those increases.  

I’m more worried about the sacrifices. Is there any decent local wine? Where will I buy my expensive, super-soft toilet paper? Will my kids survive a dirth of Cheezits? And just how much am I willing to spend on cat food? Hair care products could very well be my breaking point.  

So here goes. I’m launching this campaign at the start of a new year. I invite you to join me in thinking carefully about your own shopping habits. I promise to be honest about the difficulties, triumphs, and slip-ups. I plan to write weekly on the blog about our experience, but promise to also continue to offer organic ideas and inspiration. Wish me luck! (and please don’t indulge my family when they whine!)