Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Fly War

I have been waging war with the flies for over a month now. I’m happy to say I have been victorious, but it’s been a long and costly campaign.

Initially, it was only a few flies hovering on the stone porch taking shelter from the sun. They were tiny; in fact, at first I thought they were large gnats. They rarely landed long enough to get a good look.

Apparently, these first flies were the scout flies, because within the week there were swarms of flies on my porch.

To be honest, these flies weren’t harming anyone. They didn’t land, they made no sound, they simply gathered for some kind of fly conference. But I don’t like flies on principle. I associate them with stink and filth and dead things.

Because they were so mild mannered, I simply asked the flies to leave by waving a large 2x2 foot colorful foam floor pad at them, creating a wind that carried them off the porch. It was great to have a use for these interlocking foam pads stacked on our porch. They’d recently been unearthed from our basement floor after ten years of ineffectiveness. They were originally installed to brighten up our tiny, dark basement and make it an inviting place for children to play (and make their mess). Instead, the colorful floor soon became lost amid the boxes, clutter, exercise equipment, and other leftovers of life. Since the new cat has been using the basement as his private litter box, we’ve been motivated to clean out the space. Lots of junk is being passed along per freecycle, and I’ve been swept up in nostalgic hours of picture sorting and journal reading. Needless to say, it’s taking awhile, but – back to the fly battle.

The flies scooted out of the way of the crazy woman with the foam pads and returned as soon as she set down her weapons. Great arm exercise, but not effective in the long term.

It was planting time anyway, so my next move was to put pots of smelly herbs on the porch and plant creeping thyme in the garden surrounding it. The flies were not offended by the odorous effort in the slightest way. In fact, it seemed to attract even more flies to the party. There is the smallest hint of a children’s book in this experience (A dog party? Up on the roof? Do you like my hat? I do not like your hat! Okay, Go, Dog, Go, once committed to memory, is fading with my children’s appreciation for my story-reading voice.)

Failing in my first few battles, I did what all desperate women do when they need a different answer than their common sense or their husband give them – I turned to the internet. Several sites proclaimed the powers of plastic bags filled with water. I thought it was a joke, until I stumbled upon it repeatedly. Apparently suspending plastic bags of water on the porch would repel the flies like magic!

I enlisted my husband’s skeptical help to install hooks on the porch and hang Ziploc bags half full of water. And I waited. The flies scattered during the installation, but soon returned to laugh at my silly bags.

At the Farmer’s Market the next day, I was explaining my fly troubles to a few friends. I told them about the silly plastic bags. One man overheard me and said, “But you have to put pennies in the bags – that’s what makes them work!” He was insistent, and everyone else listened in all seriousness, so I hurried home and added pennies to my bags.

And…..nothing. The flies were not affected in the least and I wondered if this wasn’t just some giant joke set up by a secret society of people trying to see how many idiots they can con in to hanging plastic bags of water and pennies on their porches.

Having not learned my lesson, I turned to the internet once again. This time I read some boards from England, figuring English people have been doing the garden/fly/porch thing much longer than the rest of us. One woman swore by fresh mint. Well, if there’s one thing I have in spades, it’s fresh mint.

I quickly cut down five large bunches and hung them all over my porch on the hooks where the baggies used to be. The flies were a bit frantic from my frenzied action (and maybe the curse words I hurled at them), but soon settled down and accepted the mint like an overly fragrant roommate.

All through this entire adventure, my husband had been quietly suggesting we buy some fly strips. To me there is nothing more ugly and disgusting than a fly strip. There had to be a natural way to chase these flies. Ever helpful, my hubby brought out an electric bug zapper and hung it on the porch. The basic premise of an electric bug zapper is that bugs are attracted to their light. They work best at night. My flies sleep quietly on the ceiling at night and treated the bug zapper as an expensive night light. No dice.

As the number of flies grew, it became necessary to force anyone wanting to enter the house to “run the fly gauntlet” as quickly as possible and slam the door behind them before they could be followed. Obviously, it was only a matter of time before someone was followed.

I’m not naming names, but one of my darling offspring eventually left the kitchen door open and a swirling mass of flies took up residence above my kitchen island. This was the final straw. I lost it. These flies don’t ever land, so I couldn’t even swat them.

I marched to the barn and returned with fly spray. Yes, I am an organic believer. Yes, I publicly lament the use of poisons on plants and pests alike. But, I blindly toss those beliefs aside when it comes to flies and horses. I can’t stand to be around the flies and I can’t stand to see my horses tortured by them. So, I buy an awful toxic concoction that works miracles, dispelling flies from my horses.

In a sad, desperate move I sprayed the toxic fly spray at the flies on the porch and then coated the posts and ceiling. They flies fled.

By the next morning the flies were back and my beloved, exasperated husband was angry at the obvious oil stains from the fly spray on the porch stones. These were no ordinary flies.

This led to an even more desperate move. I went to Wal-Mart. I crept in the garden entrance, where I picked up some cheap basil plants (another internet suggestion) and an “all natural fly trap.” I set the basil plants up on the church pew under the biggest fly swarm and hung the fly trap dead center (directly in front of my front door).

I felt like part of a Monty Python skit, certain the flies were simply laughing, “I scoff at your little trap and your silly plants!”

Deadened by the ordeal of this unholy war, I finally went to Tractor Supply and bought some fly strips. My humiliation was complete when I neglected to read the directions on how to unwind the fly strip and ended up with it affixed to my forearm. I carefully peeled it off (coating my hands in the nasty “scented” glue that doesn’t wash off without the industrial hand soap my husband uses that must be seven kinds of toxic), only to have it stick to itself. Frustrated and littering all kinds of non-motherly vocabulary, I picked it back apart and tried to tie it to the bottom of the empty All-natural Fly Trap. In my flailing efforts at keeping the strip out of my hair, I tore off the small string meant to hang the strip, so I retrieved a piece of bailing twine from the barn and tied what was left of the strip to the fly trap. This looks lovely.

The small feathers are from a little bird that got caught!
The next day – no flies. Well, that’s not completely true. There are plenty of flies, but they are stiff and dead and stuck to the beautiful fly strip that now welcomes all my guests. Like most wars, there is much lost in winning.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Fair is Fair Trade?

How Fair is Fair Trade? Depends on who you talk to. The optimistic masses will say unequivocally “yes!” But in a complicated world driven by profit, no matter how noble the initial idea, one does have to wonder.

I, personally, look for fair trade when purchasing products I can’t buy locally. Bananas, tea, coffee, chocolate are some of those items. There are approximately 6000 fair trade products available to consumers, though, and keeping tabs on all those farms and all those buyers, is a mammoth undertaking.

What does Fair trade propose to do?
-         guarantee farmers fair prices
-         guarantee consumers the assurance that products were grown under fair labor conditions using environmentally sustainable methods
-         allow for direct trade between the producers and the importers without costly middlemen
-         encourage community development (farmers invest Fair Trade revenues into community projects like scholarships and organic certification)

If Fair Trade operates as it was intended, it allows us consumers to invest in the farms, communities and environments that need our help the most. While Fair Trade certification does not necessarily indicate that a product is organic, in all likelihood it is close to organic, if not the real deal. Small farmers can’t afford the chemicals or the means to applying the chemicals, plus Fair Trade practices demand that certified farmers grow their products in environmentally sustainable ways. Round up and Miracle Gro are definitely not sustaining the environment in any way.

Farms become Fair Trade certified by agreeing to the Fair Trade standards for labor conditions and environmental practices. They pay a fee for this certification. In return they receive a minimum fair trade price and steady customers which allows them to have some stability in what is, many times, an instable farming environment. Small farmers in third-world countries don’t have the access to consumers or the ability to get business loans that are necessary to stay in business and thrive. Fair Trade levels the playing field so they can compete with the big corporate farms that sometimes bully their way in to dominance.

Sure, there are definitely some people taking advantage of this system. Anywhere there is a system, someone will figure out a way to abuse it. But buying Fair Trade is a vote in favor of all that Fair Trade stands for – human dignity and respect for the environment. I’ll take my chances on my bananas’ origins and have faith that my purchase made a difference.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Computer Battle Plan

Ahhh summer, the sound of birds chirping, crickets singing, and that annoying little jingle that plays as the computer fires up. My house is no exception and these days we are 1:1 in the ratio of computers to humans. This means that on many a Saturday, you will be amazed by the eery silence that fills my house, punctuated by the occasional “Aghh, I died!” or “OMG, you have to see this!”

As the end of school nears (in fact it’s in sight), I have been frantically looking for a way to curb the computer use. I can’t bear the idea of my precious spawn wiling away the hours staring at a screen and having all of their creativity slowly drained and replaced with an irritability that marks the extended use of computers.

My first assault was to try to work with the beasts. I informed my two older children, who have basically unlimited access (although the computers are programmed to shut down at 10pm and fire back up at 7), they will be joining me in the blogosphere. I figured if they are going to spend time on the machines, at least I could force them to engage their brains while they are at it instead of mindlessly chasing digital chickens in Minecraft.

Child #2 will create her own blog and is required to post to it three times a week. Posts can include poems, stories, songs, videos (created by her), powerpoint presentations, or screenplays. My husband and I (and of course the grandparents) will have the blog address and will verify that there are at least three new posts each week. After the initial groaning, Child #2 has been a font of ideas. She just can’t seem to come up with a name for this blog.

Child #1 already has an excellent blog and is expected to post to the Teen Takeover blog as part of his commitment to writing for the York Daily Record. His assignment is more vague – three posts a week to either/both blogs and/or a third blog created for the summer project. His reaction was a heavy sigh and an eye roll, but being the first born, he’s a willing subject.

The real screen addict, though, is Child #3. He begs, borrows, and barters for computer time beyond his two day-a-week allotment. He knows how to work the grandparents and babysitters, plus he’s expert at sneaking computer time when I’m preoccupied by the garden, animals, or my laptop. We finally put lockdown on the computer, but he figured out how to get around that by signing in as a guest.

I can’t bear a summer of negotiating with this child. This past Sunday as he presented all the reasons he should be allowed a few hours with the sacred screen, I threw up my hands and said, “Go ask your father!” I’m usually where the buck stops in this house, at least in regards to children, so this outburst shocked us both.

His father was equally surprised and after considering telling him to call Nana, he proffered his ipad. Something must be done or this persistent child will be running the show by the end of June.

We huddled up as parents and created the “Summer Computer Plan”.

No computer (me included) can be used before noon.
Every Friday will be “Screen Free Friday” in which no computers, TV’s, Itouches, Iphones, or Ipads will be turned on with the exception of family movie nights, but then everyone must watch the same screen (forced togetherness – love it!).

As you would expect, groans all around. But then I said, “Isn’t there a project or hobby you’d like to work on this summer? I’d be happy to help you get started.”

And my ever thoughtful, but never present on a Friday, husband offered, “Maybe you could find some fun things to do all together on Fridays.”

This got the creative juices flowing and before the end of the evening Child #3 had drawn up elaborate plans to build a “real fort”. Child #2 was asking if we could go to laserdome on the first Friday after school is out. Child #1 was quiet, his wheels turn more carefully.

If the onslaught of summer has you quaking in your parental boots, consider taking the battle to them. Make your own plan and announce it, don’t bargain, negotiate, or even seek the input of the shorter species. Just do it.