Saturday, December 7, 2013

I've figured out which superpower I want...

A couple of weeks ago my 3-year old and I were getting ready for a playdate, and she kept insisting that, "We have to go now!"

"No, your friend won't be home until 1. It's only 11 now."

"Hold me," she exclaimed. When I picked her up, she gestured to the oven. I carried her over, and she began jabbing at the 1 on the oven clock.

Frustrated, she cried, "It won't change to one!!!"

I tried explaining that even if one changes the clock, one can't change time -- it doesn't go faster, slow down, or even rewind. It was a hard sell, though, and I'm still not sure she entirely believes me. Apparently, though, I have the maturity of a 3-year old because I think that would be an awesome super power.

The last few weeks have been crazy busy for me. This year, I decided to pick up some freelance work, and it's started pouring in lately (which is brilliant timing, btw, with Christmas coming up, so no complaints here). I've also been dealing with the aftermath of a tree falling on our house a few days before Thanksgiving. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get work done between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Everyone is on vacation!) Of course, this is all on top of all the other business of being a mom to three kids, and I would love the ability to manipulate time. I'd add about four more hours to the day, I think.

How cool would that be? Instead of a day planned around and dictated by alarms, appointments, and deadlines, I could plan activities around when I actually felt ready for them! How great would that be in the morning! No more hitting the snooze button.

So this got me thinking. If I could gain an extra few hours, what would I fill the moments with? I wish I could say I would do something wonderful. Maybe read a novel, sew a quilt, go for a hike. Knowing me, though, I'd probably pull a Hermione Granger with her Time-turner, turning back time only to fill it with more work. In my case, more projects around the house, more laundry, more scrubbing. What a waste of time! Alas, I'm probably better off without any super powers.

How about you. If you had a superpower, what would you want?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Life of a Leaf

In high school, one of my teachers observed that most people she knew were either leaves floating idly along the river of life or motorboats with speed, direction, and purpose. I used to think that was a motorboat, but I was wrong. I'm a leaf.

Tonight, my kids and I were going through some photo albums, and a realization hit me. Most of my life, so many of my favorite memories are just products of chance. Jobs that I've taken, places I've visited, people I've met... They've all been strange, random twists of fate.

I recall that I had a plan once long ago, but it was derailed, and I never bothered to make a new one. Since Baby #3 was born, I don't think I've ever been able to stick to a plan that extended later than dinnertime.

My husband -- I met him through a bizarre chance of fate. He didn't even live in the same city, but his mother and I worked at the same school. He was there to visit her, and I bumped into them in the teacher's lounge because I was changing to go running. That may sound pretty normal, but I never run. Never. Ever. Not for fires, not for shoe sales, not for anything... I was on a train in Paris once when we got a bomb threat. Sirens were blaring; the gendarme were whizzing through the cars to evacuate us. I didn't even break into a trot. What in the world possessed me to go running that day, that one day of the year that I would meet him? Any other day, I would've hopped into my car parked near my classroom and missed him altogether. As I recall, I didn't even like him at the moment, but here we are, nearly two decades later.

Those oft-quoted lines from Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" come to mind:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Most people infer that the road less traveled is the superior one, but I'm not so sure. Sometimes, I think that's just an elegant way to say "I've made a hu-u-u-u-u-ge mistake."

My father has wisely stated, "A lot of things could've been, but I don't bother thinking about them because there's no point." Sadly, I lack his placid temperament, and I often wonder what life might have been if I'd stuck to a definite plan. Easier? More focused? More profitable? For sure, I'd be doing something more productive than posting blog entries between bouts of ring-around-the-rosies.

On the other hand, if I'd been more goal-oriented, I'd have missed out on some of the best memories I have, like karaoke-singing on the Champs Elysees and "The Lebanese Detective" (that's another post maybe). Heck, two of my children were complete surprises, and I can't imagine life without them.  These memories, these people that have come in and out of my life -- a motorboat would've missed them, but they really are the details that make all the difference.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Pikmin and the Princess

Ok, I know Halloween is over, and this post is late, but I still wanted to post a pic of my kids this year.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a blast making the kids' Halloween costumes. It's so much fun listening to the kids' ideas for what they want to be and then trying to figure out how to make that happen. It's not always easy, but I definitely learn a lot.

This year, we had a Pikmin and a princess.

For Baby Girl, I confess, I did nothing. She grabbed a dress from out of the play clothes pile, and we were done. (Totally lame, Mom.) However, I beg for leniency this year because my sewing machine was in the shop for some much needed TLC most of October. In fact, I sewed my son's Pikmin costume by hand because I wasn't sure Hester (my machine) would make it home in time. Thank goodness trick-or-treating is done in the dark because the stitching is pretty bad and very uneven.

For the costume, I used McCalls pattern M5508. Oddly enough, I also used the overalls part of this pattern several years ago for Mario and Luigi costumes. I guess this has been a great pattern for us!

I modified it a bit by omitting the pocket and adding a stem on the hood. The stem has a wire in it (cut from a coat hanger) and polyester filling to help it keep its shape. The weight of the stem kept pulling the hood off, so I also added a couple of snaps to help keep it on. Probably a light stretchy fabric with a hood fitted very closely around the face would've helped the stem stand straighter, but my son loved being cozy in his fleece on a chilly Halloween night.

Originally, I planned to do pants, too, but my fingers were too raw and sore to go on. If you look closely at the photo of it, you might notice that I didn't even bother hemming the bottom of the garment. My fingers had had enough!

Actually, as I stitched, all I could think of was my mom. When I was in high school, she made me a gorgeous dress once and hand-stitched hundreds of lovely flowers on the skirt of it. As much as I loved that dress then, I have sooooo much more appreciation for what she did now. It must have been a royal pain in the rear. She was a good mom.

Of course, nobody over the age of 10 knew what my son's costume was. At first, when asked, he would go through a long spiel about what pikmin are. (Pikmin are characters from a video game. There are various pikmin types that possess different abilities. He was a water pikmin... etc., etc.) After three or four houses, though, he boiled the speech down to, "A video character."

Image of pikmin from:

However, when we passed a large group of trick-or-treaters on the street, several seven-year-olds cried out, "Ooooh! Look! A pikmin!" This gratified my son to no end. I decided that seeing him so happy and proud of his costume was worth a little blood sacrifice.


P.S. For those who may be wondering, I do indeed have three children, though only two are pictured today. My eldest son has decided that he's "too old for baby stuff." No doubt, he's figured out that pounding the pavement for sweets is for chumps when he can sit in the comfort of his own home with dad -- right next to the candy bowl.

Super Frog

Image from:
Yesterday, we had such a good laugh that I feel compelled to share. 

On our way to church, my kids were practicing their memory verse for Sunday school, which was taken from the book of Philippians. This is what Boy #2 recited:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Amphibians 4:13." 
Of course, this is from the same child who, around age 2 or 3, insisted that, "God is not a person. He's a turtle... and a scientist."

Seems to be some sort of pattern going on with him. LOL!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Perfect Child

A few days ago, the Little Girl and I were in a store when she spied a Hello Kitty Jelly Belly candy dish.

Actually, I think I need to back this story up. My daughter LOVES to shop. She's only three, but she approaches the activity with the dedication and perseverance of an Olympic athlete. If I want her to jump up and get ready in the morning, all I have to do is mention that "We're going to the store." It doesn't matter what store, and she wants EVERYTHING. My husband thinks I spoil her and cave to her every desire when we come home with some small trinket, but he has no idea how many gazillion requests I may have actually turned down during the same trip.

A few weeks ago, I got her a small purse and wallet, and I'm starting her on a tiny allowance so that she can learn how to spend and save her own money. Now when we go to the store and she asks for some tchotchke, I simply reply, "Do you have money for it?" This strategy worked with my oldest child when he was the same age, so I've been hopeful that it will take with Princess, too.

So back to the Hello Kitty candy dish. She begged and pleaded and pleaded and begged. I told her she could buy it if she had money, but it was $10, and she only had $2 left this month. Sorrowfully, she left it on the shelf.

As we were paying, wouldn't you know it, but there was another candy dish just like it at the register. I noticed her eyeing it, but I was busy chit chatting with the cashier. It wasn't until we left the store and my darling announced, "Mommy! I have jelly beans in my bag," (as if they had simply jumped in there) that I realized I had a budding kleptomaniac on my hands. Sure enough, a search of her bag revealed a stolen Hello Kitty candy dish.

After explaining how wrong it was to steal, I marched her back inside to return the item and apologize to the cashier. Poor thing. I could tell she was a bit scared and ashamed as she whispered, "I'm sorry for taking this," to the cashier.

The cashier and her supervisor are both Indians from the old country, and in true Auntie fashion, they both started wagging their heads somberly and clucking at my criminal child. "Oh, no. Stealing is very, very, very wrong. This is very, very serious. You should not take things that are not yours." Even another elderly shopper at the register got in on the action. "No, no, little girl, you must never, ever steal. That is not a good thing to do!"

The ladies were awesome doing me a favor and backing me up with their sober faces and gentle admonishments. Inside, I was cracking up until I saw Baby Girl's face. She looked so miserable and ashamed. Huge guilty tears were welling up, and her little bottom lip was quivering repentantly. I decided she'd learned her lesson and we could all relent, so I ended her lecture with, "I know you're very sorry, and you'll never do it again. Right?" "Yes," nodded her tiny sensitive head. After we walked out of the store for the second time, she broke out into a full wail and wouldn't let go of me for the next half hour.

Later that evening, I recounted the event to my DH, and we thought were going die laughing. There is something so precious about this age. I melt over these little hearts that are quick to repent, that hold nothing against you for disciplining them, that want you to comfort them afterward, that want to be kissed and held. How could anyone not love them? They're perfect.

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  -- Matthew 18:2-3

Monday, September 30, 2013

Eating Goober Peas

Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas!
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!.

From a popular Civil War song
We left the South about 11 years, and while we love being up north, there are some things that we miss. Naturally, our families, sunshine all year, and lower taxes top the list. However, boiled peanuts are also pretty high up there for me, too.

Down south, you can find big advertisement signs (my favorites being the ones that say "Boiled P-nuts") all over the place -- gas stations, truck stops, roadside stands... In certain places, even grocery stores will have big pots of them simmering. Usually, you get a choice of peanuts. There is the tried and true version boiled in simple saltwater. There is also Cajun-style for the bolder palate. Additionally, you can choose a small or large styrofoam container of nuts. I always go for large. And usually buy one container of each kind because I can't see limiting myself.

When most people think of peanuts, something crunchy comes to mind. Boiled peanuts, though, couldn't be more different. Texture-wise, they are much more like cooked beans, so it seems understandable that most people either love them or hate them. I'm most decidedly a lover. There is something irresistible about cracking the shell with your teeth and then sucking out the salty brine before nibbling the delectably creamy peanuts inside. The spicy, lip-numbing Cajun-style peanuts are even better.

To make boiled peanuts, you need green peanuts. I've heard you can use the raw peanuts, too, but they take a lot longer to cook (like 24 hours). I don't know about that because I've never tried. Actually, green peanuts are also raw, but they differ from "raw peanuts" in that they are fresh from the field. "Raw peanuts" are dehydrated. Green peanuts are not. In the South, I think I remember seeing them in stores during the summertime, but I've never seen them up here in the North. At least not until this past Friday when I scored big time at a local Korean grocer's.

Green peanuts

If you want to try making your own boiled peanuts, here's a basic recipe:
  1. Wash the peanuts in their shells to make sure there isn't any dirt on them. Rinse until the water coming off of them is clear.
  2. Put your peanuts in a crockpot. Fill the pot about 1/2 to 2/3 full, leaving plenty of room for water.
  3. Add water to fill the pot. 
  4. Add about 1 Tbsp for every pint of water you add. (The water should be about as salty as the ocean.)
  5. Cook the peanuts on high until they are tender inside and have a consistency that you like.  
  6. At this point, you can turn the crockpot to warm and snack on them all day. Or you can take the nuts out of the pot and put them in the fridge. However, the longer you let them soak, the more flavorful they will be.
Altogether, the cooking time is probably around 6-15 hours depending on how tender you want the nuts. (Around 12 hours is how I like them.) But they are so worth it! Especially since the crockpot does all the work for you.

Ready to cook. When they're done, the peanuts
start to fill up with brine and begin to sink down
into the water.

If you want Cajun peanuts, add some crab boil seasoning, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and cajun seasoning to the pot along with the salt. Some people add jalapenos, too. If your Cajun seasoning contains salt, though, adjust the amount of salt accordingly.
Ready for shelling!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Love and Puke

It's official. My daughter is the world's heaviest sleeper.

Last night, I awoke to a horrible retching sound and found Babygirl lying on her back, in bed, puking up bucketfuls. I was terrified that she might choke, but she never even woke up. She just continued sleeping. Even when I roused her, she barely opened her eyes, and she was still half asleep when I put her in the bath.

Of course, while she was soundly in bed within seconds of her bath, I couldn't sleep the rest of the night. Between cleaning sheets, floors, tubs, toilets, sinks and a general insomnia, I've had hardly forty winks since yesterday.

I suppose I got two lessons out of this. The most obvious one is that mom is always the one who deals with dirty stuff in the middle of the night. The other lesson took me a bit more time to figure out.

There was vomit in Babygirl's hair, on her face, all over her body. She was swimming in it, completely oblivious, and unable to help herself. Although I tried to be as gentle as possible and to keep her comfortable, she looked so pathétique shivering in in the bathtub, vomit swirling around her feet and encrusting her small body. My heart was moved with pity for her as I bathed her tiny shoulders and washed the puke out of her hair.

It seems obvious that one would feel compassionate toward a sick child. The truth, though, is that she stank so much I thought I would be sick, too. Every muscle in my body wanted to run away and leave her in the tub! (How is that for a maternal instinct?) It's only love that made me stay.

So I've kind of taken the long way around to my point, but here it is. Lately, I've seen a lot of young girls (and boys, for that matter) in church, on the streets, in the media, etc. who are metaphorically covered in puke. They've made some really bad choices and have been met by one of two responses. Either, society (in the name of love) castigates them until they can adhere to a certain standard of acceptability. Or it views them (in the name of love) with a lack of involvement that kindly casts no judgment at all, but this kindness leaves them to follow a path of self-destruction.

Real love, I think, is somewhere in the middle. Indulge me for a moment if I compare love to a stray dog. Would Love see a stray and leave him outside the door until it could clean itself up? No, that would be harsh. Would Love drown a stray to get rid of its ticks? Of course not, that would be unreasonable. But neither would Love adopt a stray and leave it with all its fleas and bad habits. That would be foolish and ultimately untenable. So it saddens me to see young people who are being destroyed by these two extreme responses. There are the well-intentioned who nitpick at and punish young people until they drown in criticism, and there are the well-intentioned who don't want young people to "feel bad" so they approve of everything. But nobody is doing these kids any favors. The critic loves his own opinion. The "tolerant" person loves creating a persona of benevolence. Nobody is truly loving these kids.

Anyway, Babygirl just woke up, and I see I missed some icky spots in the dim lighting last night. So we're off for another bath, but I leave you with these words from C.S. Lewis who always says everything a hundred times better than I could ever hope to.
Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal... Of all powers, he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all. 
from the Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Two Different Pestos

Growing up, I have always loved radish leaf kimchi, a type of Korean pickle made with the young leaves of daikon radishes. As a result, I've often wondered what I could do with the leaves that come attached to the red radishes one buys at the store. Now I know -- radish leaf pesto.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a great recipe for radish leaf pesto online, which I'll recap below:

Radish Leaf Pesto

  • very fresh, bright green leaves from a bunch of radishes 
  • a clove of garlic 
  • a handful of pistachio nuts (btw, I prefer the kind you have to shell to the pre-shelled kind)
  • extra virgin olive oil 
  • a pinch of salt 
  • grated Parmesan cheese
First, I cleaned the radish leaves and removed the tough stems. Then, I put everything except the cheese into a blender and pureed it. 

Of course, I can never leave a recipe alone, so I also added some tender young mustard leaves and an additional clove of garlic. Then I removed it from the blender and set aside some pesto without cheese for me. I stirred the cheese into the remaining pesto for my DH.

It was fantastic! The pesto was such a vivid, gorgeous shade of green, and the flavor was light, but pleasantly piquant. Delicious! 

Sadly, we devoured it before I remembered to take photos, so I'm showing you a photo from the blog where I got the recipe. Mmm...

Image of radish leaf pesto from:

Sorrel Pesto

A few days ago, I had a huge bunch of sorrel. I used half of it to make a potato and sorrel soup. (Divine!) Then, since the radish leaf pesto was such a success, I decided to make pesto with the remaining half. Basically, I used the same recipe as for the radish leaf pesto, but I also added in a tiny bit of lemon peel to complement the lemony flavor of the sorrel. Another homerun!

If you try either of these recipes, I hope you'll let me know how it turned out! Buon appetito!

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
     But came the waves and washed it away:
     Again I wrote it with a second hand,
     But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay
     A mortal thing so to immortalize!
     For I myself shall like to this decay,
     And eek my name be wiped out likewise.

                       from Amoretti, Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser 

I love underground and offbeat tours, so when we visited Montreal a couple of weeks ago, I was all over a visit to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum.

One description read:

Pointe-à-Callière is a national historic site rising above the actual remains of the city's birthplace. It takes visitors on an authentic archaeological tour from the 14th century, when Natives camped on the site, right up to the present. They'll see Native artefacts, the city's first Catholic cemetery, its first marketplace, and lots more. Cutting-edge technology and a multimedia show bring Montréal's past to life in a whole new light. The Museum's contemporary building is linked by an underground passage to the Ancienne Douane, Montréal's first Custom House, leading through an archaeological crypt safeguarding more than six centuries of history, beneath the raised portion of Place Royale.

It sounded really cool -- go underground (literally) and view remains of the city dating back to the 14th century. We couldn't wait.1

The remains of one of the buildings struck me particularly. It was the broken foundation of a building described as a house that was once five stories high. I could imagine it -- quite a grand house for its time. Quarrying, cutting, and moving all the stone used to build it must have been a monumental task. I wonder about the man who ordered its construction. To build a house that big, he must have invested a lot of time and care in designing and building it. And now, a few centuries later, there's almost nothing to show for all his effort.

Seeing the rubble, it made me wonder what exactly it is that I'm building with my days. I've never even attempted to undertake a project even a fraction as grand as that house must have been. Most of my time is spent so mundanely -- packing lunches, wiping fingerprints, mopping messes. The efforts I make rarely last even thirty minutes. I might as well be writing my name in the sand. The tides can make my pains its prey because I don't feel like the wise man building on the rock. More like the fool.

I suppose that every mom goes through the blahs like this. The sun will probably come out tomorrow.


1 Now that I've made the museum seem like some kind of great experience, I feel compelled to provide a caveat to the would-be traveller. If you plan to see it, don't. Overall, it was not nearly as awesome as I'd hoped. In the museum's defense, we opted to skip the guided tour because it's really hard to keep a 3-year-old patient and non-disruptive. Possibly, a guide would have made it much more interesting. Exploring on our own, though, we concluded it was indeed the dullest, most uninteresting museum we've ever visited. They had a Beatles exhibit as well, which was lame. Seriously, how does someone make the Beatles boring? I was so disappointed I actually considered asking for my money back.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Smell of Happiness

Another entry I forgot to post. Oops.

The Arbor Day Foundation sent me some free forsythia with my order of dwarf cherries. So despite having a broken leg, I dared to disobey doctor's orders and take up a shovel. In the middle of planting, I noticed a tree that I couldn't name.

Recently, identifying neighborhood flora has become something of an obsession with me. I'm trying to figure out what kind of forage is available for the bees month-by-month. So naturally, I clipped a twig and went to The Arbor Day's online field guide.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find it in the guide. Maybe it was because the leaves were still too small, but I had trouble answering the guide questions.1 I was about to give up when I happened to peel the bark and a whiff of root beer and menthol surprised my nose. It wasn't sassafras, because I'd know those mitten-like/dinosaur-print shaped leaves anywhere.

Sassafras illustration from Wikipedia

No, it was sweet birch, and its fragrance hinted at some sunny activity in the fringes of my memory. I don't know what it is -- maybe a  picnic, a walk in the woods, I don't know. I can't remember exactly what happened, but I know this secret scent of a nearly forgotten delight. It's there "filling me up with rainbows" to borrow an expression from my son. It reminds me of the description of Wendy's mother from Peter Pan.
“She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.”
For a few weeks, the memory (or lack of it) nagged and nagged at me. I couldn't place it. Couldn't file it away neatly where it should go. It was just there, just out of reach -- fresh and green, wayward and flighty. But now I've come to prefer it that way.

At the risk of sounding like sour grapes, maybe the memory isn't so great after all, or it might be more indelibly printed into my brain. However, whatever it is, I've begun to think that recall might come too close to possession or cataloguing. Trying to hold on to it or bring it up at beck and call might make the magic fly away like Peter Pan. As it is, I'm happy to let myself be beautifully, enchantedly happy that something this wonderful exists.

If you were wondering why the leaves were so small when we're already into summer, it's because I started this post back in May. Of course, the leaves are full-size now.

Watery Melon

I write posts (or start them), but then I forget to publish them. This morning, I noticed this particular post. There is nothing special about it, but it's too weird to not share. (Sorry about that awful music in the background. I think it got added automatically somehow, but I don't have time right now to edit it.) Cheers!

Yesterday, we picked up a watermelon from Costco after church. It seemed fine. Nice dull sound when knocked. Yellow (not white) spot where it had been sitting on the ground. Light ridges when we ran our fingers over it. After we brought it home, we put it on the kitchen counter and just left it there.

Later that evening, I noticed that someone had spilled ketchup all over it. So I wiped it up, and the watermelon continued to sit there. About an hour later, there was more ketchup all over it. Weird. I wiped it up again.

Another hour passes, and I'm putting dishes away when out of the corner of my eye, I see a squirt of red oozing out of the melon. I press on it, and there is a huge squishy spot on it.

Now I've never seen a melon fountain before, but my kids thought it was hilarious. So for your pure entertainment, here is what we saw.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Road Home

Last week, the kids and I took a roadtrip down to Virginia with my parents. It was a lovely trip, and we really enjoyed it. But when we started our return trip on Monday, the kids and I were glad to be going home.

For the most part, our journey took us north on I-81 and then we took I-84 up into Connecticut. As we approached the junction of those two interstates, a huge road sign read I-84, New England.

I can't explain it, but I got a thrill seeing it. Although we were still hours away from home and it seemed like the trip would never end, there was this notice that we were on the right track. Home might be out of sight, but it was not out of reach, and we would reach it eventually.

I guess that sometimes the road home starts a long way off. But if you stay on it, you'll get there.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Introducing a New Blog

Poor DH claims he's become a bee widower and that he's going to get yellow and black suit so that I'll pay attention to him. (pobrecito!) It is kind of true that I do like to go outside frequently and watch the girls. However, I don't want to tire anyone out with my goings on about the bees.

So in the interest of keeping things interesting, I'm moving all the buzz on bees to a different blog.

Some elements of the new site are still under construction -- like I've got to come up with a better graphic -- but it is open for viewing and happy hour has started.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell

In recent months, my family has accused me on a daily basis of being obsessed with bees. So I've been trying not to write too much about them, but I just can't help myself. They're right, so I'm going with it.

image from
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a book called A Book of Bees by Sue Hubble. I cannot rave enough! Even if she had picked fleas as her subject, I think I still would've been riveted.

Hubbell certainly covers the tasks that a beekeeper performs throughout the course of the year, but this is no dry manual or scientific treatise. It's really more like a journal or memoir in which a solitary woman explores her relationship with her bees, with the land, and with her community.

Her style, as she covers nature's rhythms, is elegant, wry, understated, humorous, intelligent. She mixes in poetry, myth, scientific observations, and casual conversations from a diner -- and it all works so seamlessly.

There are so many passages that I'd love to quote (but won't just in case you decide to read it). However, this is one of my favorites because reading it, I had such a vivid impression of this woman, and I think we would be very good friends if we lived next door.
It is silly to talk to bees -- for one thing, they can't hear -- but I often do anyway. I tell them encouraging things, ask them for help and always thank them for doing good work. It is said that when a beekeeper dies someone must go and tell his bees about his death or they will fly away. Whittier wrote a poem about the practice, which dates back as for as long as humans have kept bees. In the West Country of England, the custom also requires tapping on the hive giving the news with each tap. If this ritual is not observed, someone else in the beekeeper's family may die within a year. It all sounds very superstitious, but I like the courtesy toward bees implied by the custom; I hope someone remembers to tell my bees when I die.
Of course, if you can't take my word for it that this is an awesome read, the New York Times Book Review listed it as a Notable Book of the Year when it was first published.

If you've read it (or plan to read it now), let me know what you think! Did you have a favorite passage?

Friday, June 28, 2013

What Do I Really Want?

Nearby, there's a small farm with a petting zoo that we like to visit. No matter how often we go, there is always something new to see. Last week, it was a pregnant goat that had escaped her pen.

Attracted by my daughter's cup of feed, she head-butted the bottom rail of her fence until she broke out. At that point, she followed my little goatherd everywhere, led by the promise of grain in a plastic cup.

We were delighted, of course, by the goat's interest. However, I also found it very odd that she should want that feed so much. Now that she was out of her pen, she was surrounded by the most succulent greens like clover, dandelions, and plantains. By comparison, the grain seemed so unappetizing. I felt a bit sorry for her -- I mean, it seemed terribly sad to be so conditioned to having those dry, dusty pellets that she couldn't recognize a far better option when it was presented.

But the goats, it seems, are not the only creatures on the farm that don't know what they really want.

Whenever we visit the farm, I also get a kick out of observing the "city folk." I admire them for wanting to expose their children to the joys of non-human creatures, but at the same time, their reactions to the farm and its livestock sometimes make me laugh. (Sorry if that seems condescending. I don't mean to be snobby, but I can't help but be tickled. After all, if I may quote Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, "for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?'')

On another recent visit, I watched one such carload of people unload just as we were leaving the farm. Their teenaged son raced toward a fence and began yelling. "Hey, I want a horse! Are you gonna buy me a horse?" When his mother (I assume) replied in the negative, he started whining, "How come? If dad were here, he would get one for me. Dad gets me anything I want!"

This sort of badgering continued for a couple of minutes when suddenly the boy's attention was distracted. He exclaimed, "Oooh! That's the one! That's the horse I want!"

I glanced toward where his outstretched arm was pointing -- at a llama. At that point, I ducked quickly into the car. After all, it seemed rude to laugh so loudly out in the open.

But these incidents have me thinking. I know what I want, but do I know what I really want? Sometimes, I'm not so sure, but I'm glad there is a Good Shepherd who knows what's best.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  
Psalm 23

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bees are Here!

Sunday morning, I arrived bright and early in Brewster, NY to pick up the two top bar nucs I'd ordered way back in January. I had left the house at 5:30 am and had enjoyed a lovely sunrise and relaxing roadtrip. By the time I got to the farm, I was revelling in an absolutely glorious morning.

When Beekeeper Mike met me there, he delivered some bad news. Over the spring, in addition to the super rainy weather, he'd had five bear attacks. The most recent one had come just a few days prior to my arrival and had ravaged one of my nucs. So today, I'd be taking just one them home.

Here is what his top bar nucs look like. They're pretty rough. Not nearly up to my woodworking husband's standards. Just a few pieces of cheap wood and wire mesh stapled together.

The entrance to the nuc was duct-taped, but as you can see in the photo below, it was leaking bees through all kinds of cracks.

Fortunately, I had read a review of that particular apiary somewhere online and was prepared for this possibility. After the nuc was in the car, I wrapped it up in bedsheets to keep the bees inside.

After signing the disclaimers and getting my receipt, I waved a cheery goodbye and headed back home with my precious cargo. I had reached the end of the farm's driveway when I heard a buzzing noise. "Oh, that's nice," I thought, "They're keeping me company." Then a quarter-mile down the road, I noticed that the buzzing was getting louder and sounded more frustrated.

I glanced at the rearview mirror. Several bees had escaped the confines of my sheets and were unhappily trying to find a way out of the rear window.

A little more than halfway home, I had to stop for gas, and quite a few -- at least twenty or so -- bees had begun congregating in the back of the car. At this point I was kind of regretting that I'd taken my Flex, which is a basically a station wagon, which means an open trunk that is part of the interior cabin -- and not my husband's sedan.

The trip from the farm to my house is about 90 minutes, and I'm not normally a speeder, but I'll wager it took me considerably less time than that. And I think I made it home just in time because toward the end there, the number of escapees had doubled, and the buzzing was getting a little too close to the back of my head for perfect comfort.

In any case, I raced into my driveway, unharmed and unpunctured. (A fact which seems to provide a bit of amusement to some of the more experienced beeks on one of the forums I follow.) The bees didn't seem any worse for wear either. I choose to believe they enjoyed sightseeing for a change.

I love how he insisted on protective clothing from
head to leg but then decided to wear flip-flops.
Later that afternoon, my young assistant and I transferred the bars from the nuc to the hive. We couldn't find Queen Hippolyte (Hippolyte was an Amazon, who were all women, so the name seems rather appropriate, don't you think?) which was a bit disappointing. However, everything looked great. Lots of drawn comb and brood.

It's been so much fun watching all the girls. I think this is going to be a really great summer.

The Top Bar Hives are Finished (Almost)

The top bar hives that my DH has been working on all spring are done, just in time for the bees' arrival yesterday, but more on that later.

Today, I thought I'd show you some photos of the project that has been occupying so much of our time and energy for the last few months.

As you can see, the beehives were a family affair with everyone getting to do something. Even the littlest squirt got to glue in biscuit joiners and do lots and lots of painting.

Of course, the results were not always up to my husband's more exacting standard of work. The paint job in particular looks like it was done by a two-year old -- because it kind of was.

The boys sometimes really surprised us with some excellent skills. This was their first time chiselling, and our firstborn in particular did a super nice job. Even better than his (ahem) old man. (Sorry, honey, but you did an awesome job overall.)

Of course, DH insisted that we inscribe some messages to "encourage" the bees to do their very best. His messages tended to have a socialist bent like "Gather nectar for a better tomorrow" and "Honey & Life!" Some of them bordered on cult-like (Praise to the Great and Glorious Keeper!)

By contrast, my inscriptions were much more commercialistic and jingly -- Got Nectar?, Don't Bee Evil, Happy Hour at the Top Bar!, etc. I suggested that we should keep notes and see whether the communist or free market hive performed better, but alas, as it turned out we only got one of the hives we ordered. But again, more on that in the next post.

So anyway... Drum roll please.... It's time for the big reveal.

Ta-da! Aren't they bee-utiful? DH did a fantastic job, I think. The hives even have doors on the sides that open up to observation windows so that I can watch the bees inside the hives. Plus the bottoms are screened with a trap door that opens so that debris can fall out, or to allow extra ventilation on super hot days.

One of the boys christened the hives Earth and Water. So I guess DH will have to work on Air and Fire next spring.

Oh right. I almost forgot. The title of this post indicates that they're not quite finished. I suppose I should explain that. We're waiting for some small Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs to arrive, and those will be the finishing touch above the entrances. Every barn should have an ornament, right? Even a honey barn.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Barefoot in the Park

Today was a welcome respite from the seemingly non-stop rain we've been having. To celebrate, the kids and I took a walk through Elizabeth Park, which boasts "the oldest municipally operated rose garden in the country."

We couldn't have picked a better day for it. The blooms were glorious. And even though the trellised roses haven't opened yet, they have lots of buds on them, so we'll have to go back again soon.

However, this is the thing I wanted to share. This weathered old bench seemed so lonely to me. In a park that is otherwise immaculately groomed, this bench stands out for its neglect. It looks like it will be swallowed up soon.

The bench bears a plaque dedicating it to the memory of Frances Perelman. Who was she?

In my mind, I picture a silvery-haired lady, but beyond that, I can't imagine. Was she shy, sassy, wry? Was she short, tall, slim, pudgy? Did she wear glasses? I don't think she came to the garden alone -- at least not usually. I think she came with someone special because somebody loved her enough to want her name to be remembered. I try to picture Frances, but the only thing I really understand about her is why she liked this quiet corner tucked away in its shady place.

Weeds poke up through the slats that form the bench, but I make the kids sit for a spell. I take a seat, too. I can't really explain why this is important to me except that she was important to someone and brightened the world for a time. That seems reason enough.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Baby Tiger Face

Today, I want to share the story of a former colleague. His daughter was born about a month ago with a rare genetic deformity called Goldenhar Syndrome.

The family has posted their daughter's story on YouTube.

Before Kristin is even 6 months old, she will require her first surgery. Over the next 18 years, she will require dozens of reconstructive surgeries in order to perform basic functions like hearing, eating, and breathing.

Their insurance will cover a great deal of of the costs for these surgeries, but the family must still pay a great deal out of pocket. They are hoping to raise money through donations.

If you are interested in helping them, please, check out their website at: They will be able to accept donations for the next 120 days.

If you can't donate, but would be willing to leave them a note of encouragement or to pass their story on, they have a Facebook group called Tigerbabyface at:

Thank you for reading this post.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Inner Control Freak is Freaking

Last week, I wrote about a sprained ankle. It turns out that I was completely wrong. On Monday, I suspected something was amiss because my foot was still swollen, numb, and painfully cold. A quick trip to our local walk-in clinic confirmed I was right. I had fractured my fibula. (Sigh...) Sometimes, I hate being right.

Wednesday, my orthopedist assured me that it was "a good break to have. At least it was good for [me], but bad for [him]." (Hmmm... I'm glad he went into medicine and not comedy.) In any case, I won't require surgery, and I should even be able to drive again in a couple of weeks. He gave me a boot because every girl wants new shoes and some Vicodin for the pain before letting me hobble on my merry way. (Note: I've been taking only half a tablet before bedtime because I'm not sure being stoned with a toddler at home is a great idea. Plus, they're not nearly as much fun as Dr. House makes them seem.)

Altogether, the prognosis is really good, but my inner control freak is still freaking out a little bit. Tomorrow, we're having a party at our house, and lots of things I would normally have done -- like cleaning windows and light fixtures, shampooing rugs and couches, wiping shutters, cleaning moss off the patio, etc. --  just aren't happening. I simply can't do them with my bum leg.

(BTW -- lest one jump to the wrong conclusion and think that I'm a neat freak -- I'm not. By nature, I'm a slob. But I'm also detail-oriented. How one person can be both is a conundrum, I know.)

I'm also frustrated by having to rely on my kids and husband for all kinds of chores like taking laundry up and downstairs, shopping, emptying the dishwasher, and so on. I'm grateful for their help, but sometimes it's frustrating having to wait for them. Also, my inner control gets a little cuckoo when things aren't done my usual way, aka "the right way." For instance, I have this thing about my knives. I like them to be washed by hand, towel dried, and then placed into their own special slots in the knife block. Serrated knives on the left. Non-serrated on the right. In order of widest blades on top to narrowest blades at the bottom. See what I mean? It's a sickness. I have to consciously just let it go and be grateful they're put away at all when I see knives sticking out of any wacky slot.

Maybe that's the lesson I have to learn from this experience. I need to just relax and let go of stuff. In fact, that's kind of been the question of the week -- Is this really important? Will there be gossip if I don't shine every crystal on every light? Will the couch stop working if it doesn't get shampooed? Will anyone spend the entire party inspecting shutters? Will people be licking food off the patio floor?

And the first question has led to a second one. Why are so many of these things important to me in the first place? It's obvious that Mr. Clean doesn't live here, but nobody is going to pick up some weird bacteria either. So I have to conclude that the health, safety, and comfort of my company aren't the issue.

I love to blame what I've dubbed "the Martha Stewart phenomenon." There are all these media sites that tell you how to have the perfect gathering. They have some great ideas, but sometimes they create impossible standards for hosts and unrealistic expectations for guests. However, in this case, I'm not sure that media is entirely at fault. I've come to realize that I'm a control freak because 1) I get to wield a kind of power over my environment and 2) it's a way to control other people's perceptions of me. I suppose the first reason is ok. I mean, having the knives in place really does save time by making it easier to grab the right one. But I'm not so sure I like the second reason. I'm not even close to having my stuff together. I have bad days. If I'm worried about what people think, I can't enjoy them nearly as much as I should. ;-)

So it's not easy, but I'm learning to control my inner control freak. This past week, I've been gimping around in pajamas all day long,  shoving stuff into closets without bothering about where they should really go, taking naps when I should be scrubbing toilets... I've been a perfect hedonist!

As for tomorrow, my plan is to make sure that the main rooms on the main floor of our house are relatively tidy and just close the door on everything else. Then I will breathe deeply while counting to ten and welcome my guests with a smile. Cool. Collected. Controlled. Sort of.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Early Bit of Heaven

Sometimes I write because I'm inspired. Sometimes I write because I'm bored. Today is a "bored" day because my doctor-husband says I'm not supposed to move from the couch.

Two days ago, I was carrying a chair to the backyard when I tripped and badly sprained my ankle. If I could've reached my cell phone, I'd have taken a photo of it because it was at least the size of a small grapefruit. However, this post shall remain photo-less because I didn't want to trouble my family about doing yet another thing for me. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was impressive.

Normally, I'd be delighted to get out of housework, but not so much today. Because of the crutches, I've discovered muscles that haven't worked in a decade, and they're staging a revolt against the sudden abuse they've received. My DH asked me what I wanted for breakfast today, and truly, my dearest wish was for two ibuprofen and a glass of wine.

The really touching thing about being laid up, though, is how wonderful my family has been. My husband has taken over most of the things I normally do. To cheer me up, he even brought me the world's best falafel and spicy gigantes from my favorite Lebanese place. My kids are picking up messes, covering me with blankets, and chastising me every time I stand up. My oldest did a load of wash this morning. Even the littlest one did me a huge service. She saved me from being stranded out in the backyard when I had my original spill. She ran to the house for help, and when none was forthcoming (because they couldn't hear her knocking), she lugged a shovel back for me to lean on.

I have a crazy number of things going on this week (kids' activities, work, big birthday bash, company, etc.), so I can't think of a worse time to be crippled by a swollen foot. However, it's a great time to have a heart swollen with thankfulness for my fantastic family that has been taking such good care of me. One of my favorite writers, George Bernard Shaw said "A happy family is an earlier heaven." So is a loving one. I love them dearly. Even more than painkillers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Getting the Nursery Ready

The daffodils have barely
come up, but here is some
sunshine for the winter weary!
The weather is warming up, and I actually found dandelions! in the yard last week! The sunny days make me feel like a pregnant woman in her last trimester. Every day until my bees arrive feels like it's both taking forever and whizzing by.

Like any expectant mother, I'm busy preparing the nursery. Specifically, I've started working on getting the garden ready for my 20,000 (give or take a thousand) babies.

I sense that the previous owners of our house weren't really plant people, and we have very little in the way of forage for our anticipated arrivals. Can bees fly and find nectar? Yes, they can, but I still want them to have some snacks close to home.

A few weeks ago, I had enormous plans to put in three new beds in the front yard and two new beds in the back. Since then, though, I've come to my senses and will instead focus on the existing garden beds and put in only one (maybe two) new gardens in the backyard.

Since time (and my back) are of the essence, I'm going to try something different this year in creating a raised bed. I saw a brilliant idea online that used straw bales in order to create a garden border. The interior of the garden border is then filled in (kind of like a lasagna garden) with the layers of:
  1. Cardboard or newspaper to kill the grass
  2. Organic matter (table scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, cut brush, paper, eggshells, etc.)
  3. Compost
  4. Soil
  5. Mulch
As stuff decomposes, the garden will sink, but I'll just keep topping it up.

Additionally, I thought I'd use Joel Karsten's straw bale gardening approach to claim the space the bales are taking up as well. (You can hear Mr. Karsten explain straw bale gardening in the video below. His segment starts around 0:55.)

So the straw bales arrived at my house on Friday. They smelled so wonderful -- I became giddy and started laying them out immediately.

It was beautiful how quickly I could create a garden space. Waaaaaaay better than digging. (Digging is for chumps!) However, what Mr. Karsten failed to mention is that messing about with straw is itchy, scratchy work. Also, the straw wants to go everywhere. It was in my hair, my shirt, my pant legs, even in my undergarments. Also, I quickly discovered something new about me; in the last two years, I've developed a serious allergy to straw. I broke out in a fiery, stinging rash in every conceivable place. And I have 20 bales sitting right there in the backyard. Oh, the irony.

Still all things considered, if this works, I may consider ordering more bales this fall because it was fast and easy. I'll probably have to slather on the Benedryl like sunscreen. Or maybe I'll just take a bottle of it out there and pop a sports cap on it. Ah, diphenhydramine -- the new thirst-quencher!

The bales are soaking, and I'm still working on layer 2 -- filling up the bed with organic matter, but I figure I'll be done in a week or so, and then I can finish up and plant! Just in time for my new babies.

Layer #2 in progress

Friday, March 29, 2013

Deciding on a Hive Design

When I decided to keep bees this past winter, I really knew nothing about them. Since I haven't any practical experience yet, I can safely say that I still don't know much. However, after tons of reading, classes, and Youtube videos, I know just enough to know how much I don't know.

Isn't this a pretty beeyard? Look at those sunny Langstroth hives.
One of the things that I find really interesting is how many types of hives there are. I'd always thought that Langstroth hives (those towering boxes one sees) were the only type currently in use, but how wrong I was! There are all kinds of hives, including woven skeps, Perone hives, Warre hives, Kenyan and Tanzanian top bar hives, traditional Japanese hives, and possibly my favorite design -- the sun hive which is like a skep on steroids.

I love this TBH!
Through research, I narrowed my choices down to a Langstroth hive with foundationless frames or a Kenyan top bar hive (KTBH) because I want to raise small cell size bees. It doesn't hurt that both designs are legal in Connecticut! After much careful consideration, though, I finally settled on KTBHs.

Inside a TBH
Like me, I've found that many people have never heard of this hive design. I've gotten lots of questions about it, so I thought I'd post a quick overview of my decision-making process. (Talk about the blind leading the blind!) This table outlines some of my considerations.

(with foundationless frames)
KTBH Winner
(for me anyway)
Bee Health From what I've read, using commercial foundation in hives (which is what most people have), can make them more susceptible to varroa mites due to the large cell size. However, this would not be an issue with foundationless frames.

Wax can be reused over and over, though, which may lead to an accumulation of toxins.
The natural cell size seems to help control varroa mites.

Wax is harvested along with the honey so that bees constantly draw fresh wax that doesn't have a chance to accumulate toxins.

From what I've heard, there are fewer reports of colony collapse disorder (CCD) as well.
Almost a draw. But I give the KTBH the edge.
Disruption to hive When you open a super, you basically open the whole hive at once. It seems very disruptive to suddenly change the temperature, lighting, etc. when they're nesting so cozily.

Also, I'm not sure how keen I am on the idea of being faced with 60,000 bees all at once. 
One inspects a single bar at a time. The rest of the hive is kept closed. This seems a much less invasive approach to me.  KTBH
Maintenance Actually, I'm not quite sure how often one has to check on the hive, but for some reason, I'm thinking it's a minimum of every two  or three weeks. I understand that bees prefer to build their nest downward, like in a Warre hive. It takes more work to coax them to build horizontally. I think checks are recommended every 7-10 days. Langstroth
Weight Each super (those boxes you see) on a Langstroth hive contains 8 or 10 frames. Depending on the size of the frames and how much honey is in them, the boxes can get really heavy. (48-90lbs!) One handles only one bar of comb at a time. So one might have to pick up about 7 or 8 lbs at the most at a time.

*Bonus* The hive can be mounted to any height I like, so no bending. 
I'm short and don't want back problems. Plus, I have slight arthritis in my hands. I don't need to chance dropping a box of bees.

Neighbors I don't know why, but some people are really touchy about having thousands of stinging insects living next door or down the street. ;-)

I think Langs are easily recognized and might make some people uneasy.
I think fewer passersby would recognize KTBHs. When finished, I'm hoping mine could easily pass for a birdhouse or garden object. KTBH
Storage It seems like one needs a lot of space to store equipment that isn't being used at the time, e.g., supers, frames, honey extractors, etc. There isn't really much to store. All the bars remain on the hive. Most people I've seen keep a knife under the hive roof to separate bars. KTBH
Messiness and comb strength A Lang with foundationless frames is still a Lang. Langs are widely used for a reason. They're efficient, the comb stays where it's supposed to be and doesn't break off the frame, and burr comb and whatnot is easily scraped off. Top bars require a gentle touch, especially with new comb. One has to be careful not to break the comb off the bar through mishandling or over haste.

If the weather is too hot, combs can melt and collapse because they don't have frames to support them.

(though learning to be gentle and careful with bees confer its own benefits)
Wax Production I guess with foundationless frames, one could harvest the was just like with a KTBH. But this type of hive also gives you flexibility to reuse the wax. Wax is harvested along with the honey. Was production is probably equal to a Lang with foundationless frames. Definitely more than a Lang that uses foundation. I want wax for candles and lotion and other uses.

This is really close, but I'll say Langstroth because of the added flexibility.
Honey production One has the ability to expand the size of the hive to any size one wants. This means more space for bees and honey.

Reusing comb also helps bees make more honey.
Because the hive size is not expandable, I've read that TBHs may produce up to 20% less honey.

However, the mindset of most TBH keepers seems to be that honey is a secondary goal to bee health and well-being. Certainly, that's true for me. This is just a hobby, and I don't have to squeeze a profit out of my bees.
Honey Extraction Crush and strain method can be used, but it seems like most people who use Langs like honey extractors.

Extractors are basically centrifuges that spin the honey out of two or more combs at once. They  allow combs to be reused.
Uses crush and strain method, though I've seen video of people modifying extractors to accommodate bars.

It most people only harvest if the hive is getting too full, and then they take only a bar or two at a time -- just enough to give the bees room and suppress swarming.
Reusing wax increases honey production.
However, I read that bees take on different jobs over the course of their lives, so no matter what, there will always be bees drawing comb.

Cost The packages I've seen run on average about $150 for a hive with baseboard, covers, two supers, frames, and some foundation. I wouldn't need foundation, but I'd still have to buy additional supers and frames all the time to expand the hive and replace broken parts.

I'd also have to invest in harvesting & extracting equipment like capping scratchers, uncapping knives, extractors, etc. Oh, and I've mentioned that I'd have to find a place to keep all this stuff, too.
Designed for third-world countries, these hives are cheap. I've heard of people getting free pallets (with untreated wood) and building TBH's for under $5.

If you buy one, though, they seem much costlier than Langs -- probably because you never have to buy anything else. (I call this the Swiffer Scam. The mop itself is cheap, but then you're locked into buying the stuff that goes with it, so you pay more in the long run.)

Harvesting just requires a bucket with honey gate, strainer, and potato masher. I can make a wax melter with a styrofoam box, plexiglass, and a duct tape. Very low tech. 
I did not see any TBHs online that had all the features I wanted, but I've got an ace in the hole. I'm lucky to have married a woodworker, so he's building them to my specs, which include observation windows with safety glass.

We purchased wood from a local lumberyard. With the wood, glass, and screen, we'll come out to about $80 per hive. If we weren't doing the windows, we'd probably cut the cost in half.

Standardization No matter where you go, these are built to standardized dimensions, so it's easy to buy nucs or swap between hives. There is no standard for these hives. Although most of the ones I've seen are a wooden box of some kind, some people weave them out of various materials or  cobble them out of 55-gallon drums sawed in half.

This makes it hard to swap equipment, so  one usually has to order a package of bees or catch a swarm.
Happily for me, my husband is making mine and can make all the dimensions of my equipment will be standard for me. But the Langstroth wins this round.

I don't know how I'll feel at the end of the summer. Maybe I'll change my mind and get some Langs, but for now, the KBTH seem a better fit for my personality. (Basically, they won me over with less lifting.) So my DH has been busily working on them for the past month. I'm hopeful that they'll be assembled (fingers crossed) by next weekend. Stay tuned for photos.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Life Explodes in My Kitchen

It's 7.51 am. I have exactly 4 minutes to finish blending my banana-pineapple-spinach smoothie (which is tastier than it sounds) and hustle the kids into the car so that I can drop the girl off at my friend's house and be at their school for an 8:15 meeting.

Moving from the house to the car always seems to be the critical moment for us, so of course, this has to be when things decide go from slightly messed up to completely pear-shaped. I've chucked too large a piece of pineapple into the blender, and it just won't liquefy. (Who knew 1/8th of a pineapple would be too big?) I fish it out of the blender and chop it into smaller pieces. Just as I turn around to add it back into the mix, I see my daughter. She's climbed a step stool  and her curious fingers are reaching for the on/off switch. And the cover is still on the counter.

"Nooooooooooooo..." Just like in the movies, I hear myself frantically warning her to stop as I lunge in slow motion toward the mixer. Too late. Green liquid churns and surges at turbo-blend speed then erupts into the air. It covers the ceiling, the walls, the counter, the floor, and my surprised two-year old.

That's when my daughter turns her face toward me, and I read the various emotions in her enormous saucer-eyes. There is unhappiness at being assaulted by a health drink, but also fear she might be in trouble for the mess. She appears so small, so vulnerable and sweet that it takes me by surprise. In that instant, both love for her and laughter at the situation bubble up inside me.

I quickly assure her it was just an accident, and my good husband kindly whisks her off for a change of clothing while I mop up the counter.

All day, though, I've been thinking about this, though. I never had these kinds of messes before children entered by life, but now I do. Frequently.

I guess my lesson learned for today is that life is messy, so I'd better go with it. Also, there is the obvious corollary -- never let a toddler near an uncovered blender.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Juiced! Week 2

Well, Week 2 of my juice fast (or juice feast, as the more positive folks like to say) is over.

I've really come to realize that over the past 40 years, I've developed some bad habits regarding food. Growing up, food was almost a sacred thing not to be wasted. It was also a discipline. When it was dinner time, we ate, and we couldn't leave the table until we'd finished everything on our plates. I'm not saying those were necessarily bad policies because it's important not to be wasteful, but I've definitely developed the ability to eat, whether I feel hungry or not.

Additionally, I've developed other bad habits over the years so that food has become more than a way to fuel my body. It's become a source of comfort, entertainment, a reward, a way to celebrate and to socialize.

A very positive aspect of this juice fast is that I've become much more conscious of what I consume and how it will actually nourish me. I'm more conscious of my body, too. If I consume too much, I feel absolutely sick. I don't think that would have happened before. Also, at the beginning of this experiment, I used to open the fridge constantly. I couldn't eat anything in it, but it was a habit, I think. In the last couple of days, that's mostly stopped. If nothing else, I feel that this experience has been like pushing  the reset button.

Anyway, here is a breakdown of Week 2 if you're interested in the nitty-gritty details.

Day 8
We were supposed to travel up to Boston today, but we had to cancel our trip. It's probably a good thing because I think I the thought of being this close to the North End and Chinatown and having to suck down a big glass of collard juice would have been too much.

Instead, I found new ways to torture myself. We went to the Korean store for a few things like rice and nori for the kids. When we checked out, the proprietor gave us a bag of red bean buns and a bag of Chinese honey pancakes. Fortunately, they can go into the freezer, but still... they're sitting there and calling to me. "Eat us! Eat us!"

Afterward, the oldest kid asked if we could go to the Lebanese store. That was even worse because they have a lunch counter, and the smell of falafel was positively drool-inducing. I grabbed some stew and Armenian string cheese for my husband, a bag of Toffix candies for the kids, and hightailed it on out of there as fast as I could.

Day 9
My daughter hasn't been feeling all that well since Sunday, so we've missed out on our usual walks, and I've noticed that I've started losing about a half pound per day instead of a pound. I don't know if this is just my metabolism leveling off or a lack of exercise.

A funny story -- I didn't feel like making any juice at dinner time, but my husband looked so disappointed when he found out that he was going miss out on his evening glass. So of course, I whipped up a fennel, green apple, cucumber concoction. He liked it. I didn't.

Day 10
I don't feel ill, but for the last 5 days or so, I've been waking up every morning with a throat full of phlegm (gross, I know). It goes away later in the day, though. More detoxing, maybe? Or am I just coming down with a cold because my toddler sneezed into my eyeballs?

Day 11 
Definitely a cold.

Day 12
Feeling better today. I've discovered some new favorite juices:

  • Sweet potato, orange, ginger
  • Parsnip, celery, and pear
  • Collards, broccoli, celery, cucumber, parsley, apple, and kiwi

They the last two sound dreadful, but they're actually not that bad.

Day 13
I've jinxed myself. The morning was so mild and sunny that it was just begging me to go play outside, so the girl and I went for a nice long walk. I paid for it this afternoon with chills, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and a general feeling of crumminess.

All I want is a bowl of egg flower soup like my mommy (yes, I just wrote "mommy") used to make for me when I was sick as a child -- without cornstarch because I don't like goopey soup. But I have one more day left, and even if I didn't, I still have to stick to fruit and veggies for two weeks to ramp up my metabolism and digestive system.

Oh, and the other bummer today -- massive breakout on my skin. Looks like I didn't miss out on the detox symptoms after all. Can I start this week over?

Day 14
Despite the cold, I don't feel tired mid-morning anymore, which is what inspired this experiment in the first place. My clothes are quite loose now, too, which is a nice fringe benefit as well. Total weight loss between last week and this: 12 lbs.

Read about Week 1.

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