Toss, Keep, or Give Away

June 7, 2013

You know how some people say that for every one thing that enters their house some other thing leaves?  I’m not one of those people.  You know how some people say a place for everything and everything in its place?  I’m not one of those people either.  But it is becoming abundantly clear to me that we have too much stuff. 

The reason I’m in this predicament is because I’m so darn eco-conscious.  I am loath to add to the landfills.  I feel bad about our single trashcan of non-recyclables, non-compostables that gets put out each week – and I’m wracked with guilt when we have extra things – like the four broken and totally unsalvageable lawn chairs we put out this past week. Somehow, in the broken logic of my brain I think it makes more sense for four broken lawn chairs to be piled behind my garage than put in the landfill. 

But wait, couldn’t I do something clever and somehow recycle those chairs or chair parts? In short.  No.  I am not that clever, talented, nor skilled.  I would love to be able to create art from cast-offs.  But it hasn’t happened in the last 50+ years of my life and I just don’t think it is realistic that I’m suddenly going to become a cast-off artist.  I also have a feeling that a move in that direction would lead to more questionable items in my trust rather that fewer.  Now if I knew an artist who wanted broken lawn chairs…

Of course there are a goodly number of things in my possession that can go on to Goodwill (or substitute the name of your favorite donation-accepting charity).  For instance, I have a laundry basket of clothes that need to be evaluated by the daughter for just that purpose.  Unfortunately, the cat thinks the laundry basket of cast-offs is a very comfy place to sleep. So now, not only do I need to sort those into keepers, tossers, and give-aways – I have to rewash the whole kit and kaboodle.

I’ve noticed that over time some items change their position in the keeper, tosser, give-away categories. My garage attic has a number of items from my children’s infancies – a crib, toys, and car seats for instance.  Well, there is no point in keeping the car seats nor the crib, they do not meet the present safety standards (I don’t know how my children survived.)  And the toys, given they are now covered with over a decade’s worth of dirt, I don’t think anyone would believe they could be made clean enough for an infant ever again.  Still, it is hard to jump the breach from Goodwill to landfill.  I may let Goodwill make the decision, after I hose them off. 

To complicate matters psychologically, I am part of a theatre company and every non-tossable now looks like a potential prop.  The crib, for instance, might we not do a play someday that requires a crib?  I can’t let my mind go that route.  I need to assure myself that someone else will always have a crib we can borrow, that I do not, single-handedly, need to save every possible potential prop. Besides, isn’t it better to give some money to Goodwill when we need a crib than to hoard one in my attic? 

Of course the theatre company has acquired a number of props already (many from Goodwill, in fact).  Luckily another board member has taken on the task of storing them.  If they were in my garage that area would just keep growing as I transferred more and more items to the prop pile. 

Yes, I’m feeling an increasing urge to purge.  But where to start?  The top of the house?  The garage?  The basement?  I’m beginning to understand why this large-scale purging of stuff hasn’t happened before (except when we moved, and even then a remarkable amount just got packed and moved with us).  I suspect I will need to be a role model for others in the household, so first purging-place will have to be my room – or more specifically – my half of the room – which won’t be nearly as satisfying as an entire room…maybe I’ll just go take a bath.


Bee buzz

June 2, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, the same day I installed the four hives, I received a phone call.  It was the librarian from a nearby town and would I be willing to talk to her preschool story group about bees? 

Well of course I was.

Now it has been quite awhile since I have talked to 3 and 4 year olds, so it took a bit of thought.  What would my take-away message be for these little folks?  I decided it was “if they’re fuzzy, let them bee.” 

Minier Library Story Hour 3I figured that most little people, often learned from their big people, are rather scared of bees.  I wanted to talk to them about why bees are good (pollination and honey) and how they really don’t want to sting and only will  if they or their hive is threatened.  Wasps, on the other hand, while they do pollinate, they don’t make honey, and they can sting you over and over with no compunction (but I didn’t use the word “compunction”).

Minier Library Story Hour



I filled out the talk with other bits of bee facts. Things like that other bees make honey too, just not extra honey (I wonder what bumblebee honey tastes like?).  I talked about swarms a little (mostly because the Moms thought it was interesting).  There was the ever popular description of honey as “bee spit”,  and of course there was the modeling of the beekeeper garb.

This past week the Prairie State Journal (a weekly regional paper, but, alas, with no online presence) came out and I was splashed all over the front page (these pictures and a couple more). 

Meanwhile, my bees up by the house in the topbar hive are doing fine. We’ve had an awful lot of rain the last few days though – about 3” (which is a lot for us) – including a flash flood in the park next door on Friday and numerous flooded roads and fields.  I haven’t had a chance to check my bees this weekend because of a community theater production.  And I need to check the bees I started for my friend.  Soon.  I’ll add it to the never ending to do list.


Busy with the Bees

May 12, 2013

The phone rang just before 7 Thursday morning (the 9th).  It was the post office – my bees had arrived.  I ordered packages from B & B Honey Farm.  They are based in Minnesota which, this year, meant the bees came a bit later than expected.  For two weeks in a row, snow in May delayed shipping. 

I ordered 4 hives.  One for my top bar hive, two for my friend, Libby, who wants (me) to start hives, and one for the Montessori school that I’m helping. The bees arrived safe and sound. Some aren’t going to survive the trip, but surprisingly few died in transit, and the queens were all alive. Surprisingly the postmaster was not nearly as interested in looking at these boxes full of bees as I was. She seemed quite happy to usher me and my bees out of the building as quickly as possible.

Thursday was cloudy, highs in the low 60’s, with rain and thunderstorms expected on and off all day.  Actually, not a bad day for installing bees into hives.  If it were sunny and warm the bees might be tempted to try to find better digs than an empty hive space; but when it is colder and rainy they are more likely to sit tight and start drawing comb.

A check of the local radar indicated a break was likely in the late morning.  The Montessori class had been disappointed twice when bee arrivals hadn’t happened were more than happy to interrupt their day for a field trip to their hive at a schoolmate’s home. 

bees in a boxThe students found the bees in their package pretty interesting. 








They were less comfortable being so close when I actually began dumping them into the hive.


My photographer, though, may have a future, both in photography and beekeeping.  He’s front and center and closest to the hive in this group picture of the new beekeepers.


As soon as this installation was finished it began to rain.  I hope the straggler bees that weren’t in the hive yet did ok.

I headed home and consulted the radar once again.  Another break was approaching in late afternoon.  I got together the bees and supplies for two more installations, this time at my friend Libby’s home.

Libby has a cattle farm and employees.  After a roadtrip to Dadant’s in March to get what she needed, her farm helpers put the hives and frames DSCF1604together.  Libby went for Langstroth, but with pretty copper, peaked roofs.  I love the look!

I was better at dumping the bees by the time I got to Libby’s second hive, but I fumbled a bit with the queen cage.  These cages didn’t have a sugar plug for the queen to eat, just a cork, so I needed to open the cage for the queen to get out.  On that second hive the queen got out more quickly than anticipated and we weren’t 100% sure she went into the hive.  But the bees were fanning for their friends so I was pretty optimistic.

DSCF1608I got home about 5:00 and while the rain held off I quickly installed the last package into my top bar hive.  

I was cold, wet, and tired, so it wasn’t the neatest job.

I left the last to find their way in and went inside to change and meet Libby at her restaurant for a drink.  (She also gave me a bottle of wine – if I install enough hives for her I’ll never have to buy wine again!)

Yesterday I took a peak at my own bees.  Everyone was happily inside, and perhaps because I’d left them some comb from last year’s absconded colony they haven’t been terribly interested in the baggie of sugar water they have for food.

I then went up to check on Libby’s hives, and sure am glad I did.  Both hives seemed happy enough, but when I picked up one of the empty package boxes we found a clump of bees.  At first I thought they’d been trapped by the package, but eventually realized they were huddled around a queen.  Odds are pretty good that the queen did not land in the hive on Thursday but instead ended up on the ground – and luckily she didn’t get stepped on!  I moved her on a twig over to the hive landing board and she made a very regal entrance. 

And so 4 more hives have been created in Central Illinois.


Paying for Power by the Hour

April 4, 2013

It must have been about 5 years ago that I signed us up for Ameren Illinois’s Power Smart Pricing.  Power Smart Pricing allows us to pay the going rate for electricity for that hour when we are using the power, rather than paying the going price for the day regardless of when we are using it.  In other words, some hours the price of power is lower than the daily price and some hours it is higher.  If I use electricity only during the high priced times and I pay the hourly rate then I’m going to be paying more than my neighbor.  But if I use electricity primarily during the low cost periods than I’m going to come in on the cheap side.

About 2 years ago I wrote about our annual power smart summary; well, it’s that time of the year again. 

The average Power Smart Pricing participant used 13,146 kWh, and saved $261.77; that was 35% of what they would have paid. Not too shoddy. I’ll admit, however, to feeling a bit smug. We used 5724 kWh over the course of the year, about 44% of the average participant’s usage.  The smallest amount was 282 kWh in April and the most was 946 in July.  Overall, we saved $259.35 over the retail price for a 79.7% savings.  Holy Toledo!  nearly 80% savings over what we would have paid at the typical rate!

Not only are we doing considerably better than the average program participant, we’re doing better than we did 2 years ago.  In 2010 we used 7191 kWh and saved only 18% – not bad, but nothing compared to 79%

Solar PanelsSo how are we doing it? We had Energy Star appliances and CFLs in 2010, plus we were very conscientious about  running the dishwasher, washing machine, and AC primarily at night.  The big difference is our solar panels.   The solar panels are generating power during the most expensive part of the day, and in the summer that can make a big difference.  Between careful consideration of when we use our energy-hungry appliances and generating electricity for our own use during the high priced hours, we are saving a pretty penny.


Long Time No Write

April 2, 2013

It’s spring time, so it is a good time for new starts. My last post was in October.  I had good intentions of DSCF1496being a more consistent blogger, but life interfered more pointedly than usual with family illness on top of the usual work and community responsibilities (everyone is fine now – knock wood).  And then, of course once you are out of the writing habit it can be hard to get back in.

But I would like to get back into the writing habit.  And so I plan to. I’ve been accumulating bits and pieces of things to write about.  It actually is surprisingly difficult to find the happy medium between ideas to blog about and ideas just to post on Facebook. And then if something is blog worthy, I want my writing to be interesting at least, maybe even entertaining, and definitely not preachy.  It’s a careful balance.  I won’t always succeed.  Sorry.

The picture?  It’s my early spring picture.  A birch with just a tinge of red from new buds.  The last bit of snow left in the creek bed.  A partly sunny but bright and pretty day.  A harbinger of good things to come.


Me as a beekeeping mentor?

October 27, 2012

I am a laissez faire beekeeper – or – perhaps more accurately – a lazy fairy beekeeper.  I am not worried about maximizing honey production, breeding queens with particular characteristics, or moving my bees from field to field as pollinators for hire.  DSCF1276Although not opposed to taking a bit of honey now and again; I otherwise assume that bees know how to be bees better than I do – so bzzz and let bzzz.

Perhaps because of my Earth Mother leanings it is only natural that I have become a mentor for a local Montessori class of 4th – 6th graders.  The Montessori philosophy: “To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator” (Maria Montessorri, http://www.alfredmontessori.com/montessori-philosophy.htm) is not terribly different from my beekeeping philosophy, granted, to a different end.  I just want healthy bee colonies – not educated ones (to bee, or not to bee…).

So not too long ago I received an e-mail from a Montessori teacher asking if I’d help them as they venture into the world of beekeeping.  Now I am no expert beekeeper.  I’ve had hives only since 2009.  I explained my philosophy, my l limited knowledge, my newbee status.  Jane still wanted me to be their mentor.

Earlier this month I met with the class and talked about bees until all of our attentions flagged.  DSCF1320Yesterday, though, the class took a field trip to my apiary.

We opened a couple of hives – just took the lids off – it was only in the 40’s and I’m still concerned the bees got too chilled.  We looked at my Langstroth vs. my topbar hive.  It isn’t much of a comparison at the moment.  The topbar bees absconded this summer.  Can’t blame them, with a severe drought and not much nectar, they were having a heck of time building comb.  I hope they found a happy place. 

I don’t know how I’ll do as a mentor, I suspect I’ll learn more than the students, and about more than just bees.  I’ll keep you posted.


A Disposable World

October 24, 2012

Not too many years ago, 2006, we redid our kitchen, including all new appliances.  We opted for a gas cooktop and an electric wall oven.  Today I’m glad I took the advice of a saleswoman and did not buy a combination oven and microwave. 


On Saturday (always on a weekend) the microwave quit.  It would hum along but do nothing.  My daughter insisted it made her food colder – a nice trick if it were true.  Luckily the appliance dealer we prefer is located in our small town (supporting local businesses and all).  Also luckily, I have a 17 year old son who can easily carry a medium sized microwave.  So yesterday it went to the microwave hospital/appliance dealer.  Today we got the bad news.  It would cost $100 more to fix it than to buy a new one.  Isn’t that about the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?  The new one will cost $250.

If I were wealthy perhaps I would stick to the principles underlying a greener world and have it repaired regardless of the cost.  But I am not wealthy and so we have ordered a new microwave.  At least I am fairly confident the old microwave won’t end up in a landfill since in our state appliances have been banned from landfills since 1994.  Most likely some components will be disposed of as hazardous materials (mercury switches and the like) and the rest will be sold (or given away) for scrap, and with any luck, recycled.

What a shame that a) the microwave lasted only six years, and b) repairing it costs more than buying new.  I was so hoping this would be the heirloom microwave I would will to my children for them and future generations to cherish.  Maybe they can inherit the new one.


Update after a long hiatus

October 21, 2012

It has been over 6 months since I last posted.  I give no excuses; it just happened.  But here’s a bit of a catch up.

One of our llamas died in the spring.  She ate some hemlock.  That left us with just Serendipity – and a lone llama has a propensity for getting into trouble.  SerendiptiySerendipity kept finding ways to escape our field.  One day a woman pulled into the driveway to tell us our llama was in the park that borders our property.  It took my husband, this woman, and 3 more passers-by to herd her back into the field.  She had so much fun!

And then the first day of school she did it again.  I got a call from the high school principal telling me he’d let my son out of school to help wrangle the llama.  She clearly needed friends (and we needed to upgrade the fencing).

Acci and Cheetah

The fencing was upgraded and my husband found a local llama farm that needed to downsize, and that is how we ended up with Acci and Cheetah.

Acci and Cheetah are older than Serendipity.  We don’t know for sure, but think Serendipity is about 4 years old.  Acci and Cheetah are 8 and 6 years old.  All three get along quite well, not super chummy, but they hang out together (but also spit at one another for the slightest offense).

No pictures of the flower or vegetable gardens.  We had a severe drought and very hot temperatures and everything was just fried.  Finally, in September, the tomatoes started to fill out and ripen – but not at anywhere near the rate we are used to.  We still have plenty of tomatoes, but also occasional frosts; we eat what we can.  Tonight, my husband made some green fried tomatoes for dinner, and oven roasted potatoes (also from the garden).  Mmmm.

The honey bees had a time of it too.  I obtained two swarms in May.  One I put in a Langstroth (the rectangular boxes) with some old comb from previous inhabitants, and one I put in the topbar hive.  Those bees, though, had to start from scratch, with no comb.  The drought was too much.  The couldn’t bring in enough nectar to both build comb and store honey, so eventually they left in search of better digs.  I hope they found some. 

The other hives, however, are doing quite well.  My husband and I put mouseguards on the hives today (so mice don’t winter in the nice warm hive) and rearranged boxes as we saw fit.DSCF1276  I like to have the bulk of the bees and their honey start at the bottom of the hive so they can work their way up during the winter.  I also moved a box of honey from one very strong hive to a weaker one.  I’ll feed the two weakest hives also so they can store more honey until it’s too cold for them to move about.  Fingers crossed this will get them through the winter and early spring.

That’s the short version of the last 6 months.  I’ll try to write more before another 6 months slip by.  Until then, enjoy the Autumn!


A Blissmo Bonanza!

April 14, 2012

Once again I have been single-handedly stimulating the economy and keeping FedEx, UPS, and the postal service in business.

It has been a Blissmo kind of week.  I talked about Blissmo here. Long story short, I get a monthly box of eco-friendly goodies and e-mail offers on other good stuff. DSCF0212

I’m a born and bred middle class American with the culturally instilled propensity to buy things.  I also tend toward the cheap side, so I really don’t spend liberally and we do live modestly (really, we do).  Still, I also believe that the only way to convince corporate America that it is worth their while to produce environmentally healthy products is by purchasing them.

I love getting my monthly blissmo box and I always check out the offers, although I often don’t buy.  Still, the voucher offers are always a good deal (often something like $40 worth of products for $20 or thereabouts) and I had accumulated a few last fall.  I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy for gifts (not that there weren’t plenty of gift-worthy items, I was just done there) so I stashed them away in my blissmo e-mail folder until spring when I wouldn’t feel guilty about buying for myself.

And now its spring.  Over the last couple of days my selections have arrived.

Thursday was my big haul.DSCF0232  My blissmobox arrived as well as packages from United by Blue and Green Cupboards.

I bought Burt’s Bees products from Green Cupboards.  The local selection for these products has been limited of late for some reason. DSCF0231

United by Blue is an organization committed to cleaning up waterways.  I bought a citrine and silver pendant from them.  They sent me the cool blue marble gratis.DSCF0220

On Friday my last package arrived.  It was from Zhena’s Gypsy TeaDSCF0238I am enjoying a cup of Caramel Chair as I type this. Ahhh.

Oh, and in the blissmo box.  So far I’ve scarfed down the dried apples.  So sweet I had to check, but really no additional sweeteners.  My husband and I also DSCF0233made quick business of the roasted almonds with wild rosemary. WeDSCF0213 are going to have to track these down again!

I probably should mention that no one has paid me in anyway for my opinions.  I’m just really happy with this week’s green take.  When it rains, it pours.


Time for more tea.


Bathroom Renovation: Green paint–green job?

April 8, 2012

The bathroom renovation is done – nearly – as I type this the door is off and still not painted.  But I think doors on bathrooms are overrated.  Actually, I just think that given I have no time now but will have more in about a month that the door may have to wait a month.  Until then we’ll either all continue to use the downstairs bathroom as we have for the past two and a half months, or I’ll put up a curtain in the doorway. [I haven’t yet because I’m afraid that if I put up the curtain we might get used to it and I might end up with a bathroom with a curtained doorway forever.]

Meanwhile, I thought I’d consider the re-do with a critical eye toward its environmentally friendliness. In some ways we did great, in others, we missed the mark.DSCF0207

Reusing: On the plus side we found a medicine cabinet at an antique mall.  We also reused our bathtub and toilet. On the other hand, we took out the old sink, and while I had intended to donate it to our local education foundation to be sold at their auction (the faucet set was worth a few pennies at least), my husband told the plumbers to take it.  I don’t know if they trashed it, saved the faucet or what.  We did donate the hardware and sell that at the auction.  Someone bought it too.

Landfill fodder: Also on the negative side was all the wall, floor, and ceiling material that was sent to the landfill.  The room was gutted.  The floor truly did need to be replaced, and frankly the ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape also, at least some of them were.  I think to be up to code the walls around the tub would have had to have been replaced also – and now that’s 75% of the room.  I think one wall did stay intact though.  The carpenters built a second wall out a few inches from the original to make room for the plumbing.  Which reminds me.  All the old plumbing and any other metal was recycled.

Insulation: The exterior walls needed to be insulated.  On one hand insulation is an eco-friendly plus.  On the other, I put absolutely no thought into insulation and so the typical bats of fiberglass were installed.  In hindsight I should have considered something along the lines of recycled denim or sheep’s wool

Flooring: A plus, however, was the flooring.  No way was I having DSCF0210a vinyl floor.  Eco-friendly alternatives included linoleum, wood, tile, and bamboo.  Linoleum turned out to be impossible to find in our neck of the woods.  Wood and bamboo would require vigilance and lots of polyurethane to keep it protected from moisture – no easy feat in a bathroom. So that left us with tile.  We ended up with tile that looks remarkably like hardwood.

The paint:  We lucked out there, which suggests that green consciousness is going mainstream.  I just went to Menards and bought paint, Dutchboy Platinum, semi-gloss.  I kicked myself for not going down the road to Sherwin Williams and buying their low or zero VOC paint, such as Harmony.  But, it turns out that Dutchboy Platinum is not so bad.  I noticed that it was not especially smelly, and a little research shows that it is designated a GreenCert product.  GreenCert products are “designed and manufactured taking steps to reduce environmental impact and to meet or exceed the most stringent regulatory requirements.”  Perhaps it is greenwashing, perhaps it is a truly eco-friendly step forward. It certainly makes me feel less guilty.

Painting Tools: I did pick up some green paintbrushes and roller covers called Earth Tones. They are made from recycled and renewable resources, such as recycled polyester fibers and bamboo.  We probably already had enough paintbrushes around the house, but I like to pretend that my purchase is a vote for green products.  The roller covers we needed and I’m tickled they were from recycled materials.

Now, according to Amazon, the painters tape I used, Painter’s Mate Green, (it is green colored) is actually environmentally friendly because of its water and rubber based adhesive.  Other companies use some percentage of recycled paper in their masking tape.  I don’t know that the definitive comparison has been done among masking tapes.  But once again I’m encouraged that anyone is paying attention to the environmental impact of painter’s tape.

Paint Stripper: As I mentioned, the door is not up yet.  It was in pretty bad shape, especially on the bathroom side, and so I’m stripping it of its many coats of paint and repainting it (with the probably relatively green Dutchboy Platinum paint).  Stripping could be truly environmentally evil, but strippers are going green also.  My husband was instructed to get as environmentally friendly a stripper as he could find and he found Ready Strip.  From all evidence it’s a non-toxic, environmentally friendly paint stripper.  Of course the paint and old finishes your remove with it aren’t environmentally friendly… Still, it’s better than buying a new door.

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends: It is nearly inhabitable.  It is kind of hard to put the old towels in the new cupboard – but I’ve been pricing new organic cotton towels and the old ones will have to due for awhile.  A shower curtain was a necessity.  The rod is metal and the curtain is cloth.  Not the organic linen I was considering, in fact, it’s polyester, but it is at least fabric and not stinky vinyl.DSCF0201DSCF0197DSCF0196[I love the handheld shower and glass block wall. I don’t know that they are especially eco-friendly, but I don’t think there is anything eco-unfriendly about them either, and I just wanted to show them off.  By the way, see the fancy strip of diagonal tiling – the carpenter and I came up with that, it actually serves a purpose.  The bullnose tiles were slightly narrower than the regular tiles so the joints weren’t going to match up in the corners, therefore, we needed a decorative strip to separate the two sections.  I like it.]

Overall, I’d give the bathroom a B on environmental friendliness.  Given the last time we redid a bathroom, 10 years ago, I didn’t give eco-friendliness a moment of consideration (i.e. vinyl floor, fiberglass shower, and your basic high VOC paint), it is a definite move in the right direction.  And now that I know you can buy environmentally friendly painter’s tape, well, my projects are bound to get greener and greener.


More pictures because people have been asking for pictures.  See the cabinet at the far end of the room – the carpenters made it for me.DSCF0195 It’s plenty roomy.


Even though the room is much bigger now, there isn’t much open wall space near the tub and it seemed silly to hang towels clear on the other end of the room.  So we hung one towel bar above the other.  My son and husband get the top bar; my daughter and I get the bottom (it’s a height thing).


My husband and I got this marble topped cabinet at an auction when we first moved to town.  It is perfect in the bathroom.

The only thing I haven’t taken a picture of is the toilet – in this picture of the table the toilet would be where I’m typing.  You’ve seen toilets.  It’s white. 

And a final p.s. – since I started this post I have put a coat of paint on the door and while the family was away I took shower.  Love It!