Friday, April 28, 2017

For the love of thrift stores

Younger Daughter has been sorting through some clothes recently, selecting some to give away. In one of those "one thing leads to another" conversations, we both agreed on the superior quality of thrift store clothing.

Oddly enough, despite its reputation, thift-store clothing is usually of higher quality than that found in new-clothing stores. Why? Because it's withstood the test of time. It's been through the wringer already, and is still tough enough to be sold as usable. With judicious selection for style and fashion, thrift-store clothing can last many years.

People donate clothes to thrift stores for a wide variety of reasons. They may have outgrown the garment, or it no longer suits their taste, or they're just discarding older clothes to make room in their closet. But the one thing you seldom see in thrift stores are clothes that are worn, torn, or stained beyond redemption.

That's because thrift store employees are smart. They weed out the garments too battered to resell. As a result, the clothes displayed on the racks, while perhaps not up in the latest fashion, are not worn out.

Of course, this assumes you're not bitten by the "fast fashion" bug, wherein you must always wear the latest style. (That is SO not me.) Besides, "vintage" clothing is now fashionable, right?

But thrift stores supply so much more than clothes, of course. I remember one time I was in need of laundry baskets. (I prefer the wicker ones.) I kept my eyes peeled and, sure enough, hit the jackpot a few weeks later with a bunch of wicker laundry baskets in excellent condition for pennies on the dollar.

(This photo, for example, was taken from a website selling the basket -- new -- for $59.99. Ouch.)

Aside from such benefits as cheap prices and minimal packaging, thrift stores provide variety. So much of what we use every day, everything from laptop cases to pots and pans to couch throw pillows to canning jars to books, come from thrift stores (or other thrifty options such as yard sales). In fact, true story, I believe the only new furniture we have in our home is our couch/loveseat set we bought in 2004. Everything else came second-hand or was built by Don.

Older Daughter, now working as a live-in nanny in upscale suburban New Jersey, has discovered green living. Having grown up in a "green" home where we "disposed of disposables" years ago, where we compost and recycle and re-purpose and shop in thrift stores, at first she relished the novelty of new stuff. While she is diligently saving an enormous portion of her paycheck, she splashed out and had some fun with her income, buying clothes and books and things she enjoyed. This is perfectly normal and understandable. When you're raised on a tight budget and then suddenly earn enough money to play, you go a little crazy.

But now the novelty is fading, and Older Daughter is looking around at the wasteful habits of the suburban neighborhood around her and becoming appalled. She's learning that green living (without the requisite militant green attitude, of course) is frugal, thrifty, and sensible. She's exploring a zero-waste lifestyle. It's kind of fun to watch her grow in this area.

Raising kids with a thrift-store lifestyle has beneficial long-term repercussions when kids become adults. Essentially, Older Daughter is returning to her green roots, though she's limited in what she can do in an urban environment (i.e. garden, raise livestock, etc. -- even composting is not permitted in her suburb) or with a family addicted to prepackaged snacks and meals. While she may not be able to influence the wasteful habits of her live-in family, she can at least adjust her own actions.

So her legacy of bulk buying, scratch cooking, and of course thrift stores will serve Older Daughter well in her adult life.

Yep, thank God for thrift stores -- the truly "green" way to purchase household necessities.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yard invasion

The chickens have discovered the yard.

The problem with this scenario, of course, is the yard is Lydia's domain. While she's not exactly a chicken-killer, she IS a guard dog -- and she guards us. Therefore anything invading her domain is a potential threat to us. See how Pyrenees logic works?

Yet Lydia's level of alarm seems to depend quite a bit -- ahem -- on whether or not she's being watched. We've seen her snoozing on the porch, chickens clucking all around her; but when we open the front door, suddenly she's ALERT. "Alert! I'm being watched! Alarm alarm alarm, how did these chickens get in the yard? WOOF!" And off she goes.

So making sure the chickens don't get killed is more like a psychological game than anything else. It's a matter of timing.

One afternoon I looked out the front door and noticed a dozen birds in the yard. I knew better than to just let Lydia out, since that would trigger her ALERT instincts.

Time to shoo the chickens out. I opened the front gate, and started encouraging them in that direction.

Of course, herding chickens is like herding cats -- impossible. (Intelligence isn't their strong point.) This arrogant fellow watched me closely, wondering if I had designs on his harem.

Slowly the ladies bunched together and made their way toward the gate.

Once one goes through, the rest are easy.

Meanwhile, Lydia patiently waited. "You know, I could take care of those chickens much more efficiently than you. Just let me show you."

After I opened the door, of course, there wasn't much more for her to do except sniff around and try to look important.

"Yard clear! All safe!"

Friday, April 21, 2017

Egg overload

Now that the chickens are no longer trapped in their coop by deep snow, they're happy as clams exploring the barn and scratching in the compost pile. Suddenly we're finding eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.

Yesterday in the chicken coop, I happened to glance at this old battered fire screen we keep tucked inside, in case we ever need to block the door without actually closing the door.

I don't know what inspired me to pull the screen away from the wall, but this is what I saw tucked behind:

Suddenly it seemed we had eggs everywhere.

(One of these is a fake wooden egg to encourage the ladies to lay in this spot.)

Lately I've been getting about a dozen eggs a day, but suddenly I had an additional three dozen. This was in addition to the five dozen I already had in the fridge.

There was dirt and grunge on many of them... I plopped the dirtiest in water to both wash and test them. (A bad egg floats; an old egg stands upright; a fresh eggs stays at the bottom of the water.)

All but four eggs passed the test.

I laid the rest out to dry; some on the dish drainer, the rest on a towel.

Fortunately we have neighbors who take eggs with great enthusiasm, and before the day was out I had distributed seven of the nine dozen eggs.

Grunt. It must be spring.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Building a better mousetrap

It's spring, which means mice in the house. We've been setting traps and getting rid of them before they can explode in population.

Younger Daughter found herself hosting a family of half-grown rodents in her bedroom. Oddly enough, they had apparently not yet developed the instinct to run away, so she's been able to catch them in ... a teacup.

That's all it took. Plop a teacup over the bewildered little beastie sitting in the middle of the floor, slide some cardboard underneath, and the mouse was caught.

She admits mice are cuuuuute -- but not in one's bedroom. Or any room, for that matter.

Using this same teacup, she managed to catch SIX half-grown mice over a period of 24 hours, which she released out by the woodpile (and yes, she washed the cup thoroughly). We caught five more mice in traps, and Lydia killed one more. So far so good: I think we won.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Building a bee yard

Yesterday -- a rare sunny day -- I mixed up some sugar syrup and went out to check the bees.

I thought I had put up a blog post earlier about our new bee yard, but I guess I hadn't; so here's a bit of catching up.

A few weeks ago, we knew we had to get the hive out of our barn, where we had tucked it for the winter.

Last summer we had the hive in the garden on the other side of the pond. The only problem with that location is we couldn't keep an hourly watch on the bees; so when yellow jackets started viciously attacking, it was some time before we noticed the war. The wasps devastated one hive and severely injured the other. In desperation, we moved the one remaining hive in the middle of the night to a new location next to our log pile in the driveway, in clear view of the house. The location worked so well (we walk past the hive all the time) we decided to make the location permanent.

However we needed to protect it from the cows, since once in awhile we let animals loose in the driveway. So a couple weeks ago, Don set some poles in a corner of the pasture...

...and we set up some cattle panels (some people call them hog panels) to make an enclosure.

Then, so the cattle wouldn't be tempted to push the panels from the bottom in an attempt to get at grass (which, as you know, is always greener on the other side), we moved two heavy railroad ties...

...and used them to brace the panels at the bottom so they can't be pushed.

Don also hung up and baited about ten yellow-jacket traps in a wide circle around the bee yard in an effort to catch any early queens.

Moving day was chilly enough that the bees were not yet out and about, so we closed the lid, plugged the wasp guard opening with a cotton ball...

...and strapped the hive to its base. Then we used the tractor to move the hive to the new bee yard.

The yard is spacious enough to accommodate the new incomes nucs which should arrive sometime within the next few weeks.

Anyway, as the weather reluctantly warms up, the bees can sometimes be seen outside their hive.

But because of the wet chilly spring we're having, we went to make sure the girls have enough to eat. So yesterday I mixed up a batch of sugar syrup and went out to fill the feeders.

The first thing I discovered is the syrup was entirely unneeded. There was lots of activity at the feeders, but both feeders were still mostly full, meaning the bees are finding enough to eat on their own (or using their own honey stores). A good sign.

There was also lots of housecleaning going on. One lady (upper left) was struggling to drag the carcass of a dead sister outside the hive.

Lots of activity everywhere I looked, though these photos were taken in the relatively sparse upper frames.

But most of the activity was taking place lower down, nearer the queen. I was tempted to disassemble the hive and look for the queen, but decided such an invasion wasn't necessary. Clearly she's doing her job.

What pleased me immeasurably is the sight of many bees with full pollen baskets.

Yellow pollen:

...white pollen:

...and pink pollen:

Then the question arose, where is the pollen coming from? Pickins' are still pretty slim this time of year, which is why we felt the bees still needed feeding.

But wildflowers are blooming, slowly. Here's white trillium:

Here are buttercups and avalanche lilies:

So I guess the bees are finding enough to forage. But wow, just wait until the orchard blooms, and the raspberries, and the strawberries, and the blueberries, and the lacy phacelia ... those will be some happy bees!