Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I'm covered in bees!!!

This is my favorite Eddie Izzard sketch, if you'll take a moment:

And this is me, acting out said sketch in the flesh as I install my first package of bees:

A moment on the bee costume. It is terrible. If you take on the life of a novice beekeeper you'll also look like me. Donning my bee suit, I am the love child of Apple's all-white marketing scheme and a rogue Oompla Loompa. Then as the years go by, maybe you'll end up looking more like my bee mentor, Don Studinski of Honey Bee Keep. The most protection I've ever seen Don wear is a veil...which works as a magical bee repellent when paired with the most spectacular collection of hipster t-shirts west of the Mississippi.

Someday you may decide to interact with your bees wearing the same amount of protection that a trip to the grocery store requires. When I bought a replacement queen for my package bees (more on that later this week), Tim Brod of Highland Honey Bees opened his hive like it was filled with puppies and got stung on the eyelid - the eyelid, people! - and barely took note.

Despite my lame attire and the inherent ouchie factor (Who has toddlers? I do!), I love the bees. Two hives and three weeks in, and I am enamored with their teamwork and sacrifice. Their housekeeping skills would put all but my Grandma to shame. They are fuzzy, industrious, and delightful.

The package bees are on the right and I named them the Grand Girls (from Apis Hive and Honey Co. in Grand Junction), and my Colorado local nuc from Honey Bee Keep came with the name Cherokee 13.1, since the original colony was a captured swarm from Cherokee Street and this is the first 2013 split.

The colonies and my experiences with them are already so different. The Grand Girls, the Cherokee Girls, the chickens and I are going to have an interesting summer to say the least!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Life is Better

Gabe and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary yesterday. That was one great party...from what I remember. I look really happy in the pictures. It was just such a blur - show up, pull on fancy dress without ruining makeup or hair, walk down the aisle, put the ring on the wrong finger, cut the cake, dance a little, and suddenly we apparated in a hotel room and found ourselves ordering Silver Mine Subs and high-fiving each other for pulling off such a grown up act.

In honor of that high five and the six successful years that have followed, I'd like to share six lessons that have served us well. I'm not saying that we practice these 100% of the time, but I can say that life is better when we do.

Life is better when... assume that your partner is always on your side. don't bother with whose turn it is to do something, like change a diaper or do the laundry, and just do it. do little things to make each other's day better, or easier, without attaching the price tag of being acknowledged. regularly take time alone, sans kids and responsibilities, to remind yourselves why you like each other and wanted to start all this madness in the first place. discuss a problem immediately rather than letting it stew and intensify. can laugh, often, at yourself and each other.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gourmet lunch on the fly

Typical work day at home - it's 12:30, I've only consumed caffeine since waking up, I'm starving, and there are still 18 things on my To Do list.

Today's solution rocked it. Cooked and eaten in under 10 minutes. So great I had to share.

Sauteed Spinach Delight 

splash EVOO
small handful pine nuts
a few cloves garlic, chopped
3 large handfuls of spinach
half a lemon, juiced
salt and pepper

Put a saute pan on medium low heat. Add EVOO, pine nuts and garlic. After pine nuts start to brown and the garlic is fragrant add spinach. As spinach wilts add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and stir in crumbled feta cheese. Top with grape and cherry tomatoes.

I made do with what I had on hand in the refrigerator, and no measurements were precise. Change it up! This would have been a perfect dinner for one if topped with a soft fried egg. I can't wait for my chickens to start laying! As it is, I gave them the extra stems I chopped off of the spinach. Added bonus, I get to cross "blog entry" off my To Do. Only 17 more tasks and it's wine time...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ashes to dust, dirt to trees

I crossed a parenting milestone this week when Jude, 4 years old and urged on by the deaths of five of our chicks and my grandpa last fall, asked me if everyone dies.

This is one of those moments when the world stops and you know your answer will have lasting effect. I am about to shape my child's first impression of death.

"Yes buddy," I say, "everyone dies."

His face crumples as he says in a tiny voice, "Oh no, even me?"

My heart shatters. I want to say, "No, no not you. Never you. By the time you get old they'll find a cure for death and you and me and Daddy and Aidan and your Granny and Grandpa and all of your family will be together always." I want to cure death so that it doesn't keep my son up at night. I want to avoid the upcoming trips in the car, when he is at his most open, during which he'll ask if his best friend Sammy will die. As endearing as it is I don't want to be present when he asks if Barack Obama will die and then, upon my answer, sobs out the words, "But he's my favorite president!"

This is when other parents are able to turn to Heaven and let their children know that if they are good, and go to church and say their prayers, then after they die a loving God will welcome them to Paradise and they'll all live happily ever after, amen. I want Heaven to be real now, just as I wanted it to be real at my grandpa's funeral when family members spoke of my grandparents being reunited in Heaven and dancing together for eternity. I want to be able to tell my child this story too. I want to believe.

But I don't. The best I can do is save my son from the devastation of growing up and thinking that I lied to him in this moment when he needed me most. I step away from the temptation of the story that I know will stop his crying and I carefully revisit the narrative that began a few days prior with the death of our first chick.

When we die, our bodies turn to dust. This dust then turns into dirt, and the dirt becomes a tree. Or grass. Our bodies help new things grow. He asks if my grandpa has turned into a fruit tree and I feel no qualms with skipping over the blasphemy of caskets and embalming and tell him yes, Grandpa Cyril is a fruit tree. Probably apple. For the moment this calms him, and he sleeps.

The conversation does not end here, and I am certain we'll be revisiting the topic for a while. In classic Jude fashion, he has declared the Circle of Life dumb. But I feel my shoulders release just a fraction when he tells me that even though he hates dying, he loves that he will become a tree. I love it to. I realize that talking through death with Jude, enlightening him on this grander scheme of decay and renewal, makes me more comfortable with the idea as well.

I promise Jude that as he gets used to the idea of dying it won't seem so scary and he won't think about it as much. I also promise that I'll do my best, years and years and years from now, to make sure that my tree is planted next to his tree and that our leaves will always be touching. It's a picture that we both need to hold on to.

Some people think that Atheists don't believe in anything. This is untrue. I believe in easing my son's pain while still telling him the truth. I believe in the Circle of Life, as dumb as it may be. I believe that death seems far less terrible when our bodies give way to new growth. I believe in cremation and in taking these fertile ashes somewhere special to scatter, or bury, and thereby create hallowed ground through regeneration. I believe that my children can grow up to view death as a natural progression of life, to cherish the time that we are together, and not to fear our eventual demise. I find comfort in these beliefs, and I hope that Jude will too.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Quick and Easy: Dijon maple baked chicken

I'm always on the the lookout for dinners I can make at Chef Boyardee speed that don't ever, EVER, involve actual Chef Boyardee products. Because if I were going that route I'd just serve Alpo over rice. Mmmm...hungry yet?

This is my new favorite go-to meal. A rare find that everyone, including the macaroni and cheese set, devours. I found the original recipe on, and she modified it from a Trader Joe's recipe book. Any iteration is delicious and you can modify the ingredients to your family's tastes.

Best thing for working parents - you can prep this meal in 5 minutes in the morning or the night before, throw it in the fridge for the day, and put it in the oven as soon as you get home at night. By the time everyone is settled dinner is ready.

serves 2 adults, 2 kids (excellent as leftovers so consider a double-batch!)

1 lb boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts (any cuts work)
1/2 C dijon mustard
1/4 C pure Grade A organic maple syrup
1 TB rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper
chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

NOTE: If your chicken has been prepped in the morning and sitting in the refrigerator all day, place it in the cold oven and allow it to heat gradually as the oven warms up. Then bake as normal.

Cut chicken breasts into thick pieces. Place in a single layer in an 8x8 Pyrex dish. Salt and pepper chicken. Mix the mustard, syrup and vinegar to make the sauce. Pour over the chicken and bake in hot oven for 30-40 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve over quinoa, rice or pasta.  Top with fresh rosemary.

To cut time on really busy days, I use parboiled quinoa or brown rice like these that can be heated in the microwave and ready in 90 seconds.

VARIATION: If you like a sweeter sauce, reverse the dijon:maple ratio. Toss in some diced pineapple and jalapenos before baking and skip the rosemary.

Happy eating!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chick Killer

It was me. All me. Months of prep, research and reading down the drain. I poisoned 5 innocent chicks. I am the Lady Macbeth of poultry.

So, in an attempt to absolve my guilt and save others from the heartache of a murder most fowl, let me shed light on a common problem with new chicken owners: Death by Electrolytes.

If you buy a water soluble vitamin and electrolyte solution suitable for all livestock like the one pictured here:

do not try to follow the dosing instructions on the package.

For chickens, a pinch of granules should be added to one gallon of water. 

Your water should look like this (palest yellow):

Not like this (deadly yellow):

With the strain that this overdose put on the chicks' systems, their hearts had to work overtime to keep up. This in turn stressed out their respiratory systems and resulted in ascites. Ascites is commonly referred to as "water belly" and can be identified by excessive bloating in chicks that results in a loss of energy, an inability to support their own increased weight, and labored breathing. Some recover, but the mortality rate at high altitude is much higher.

These two Ameraucana ("Ella") chicks are the same age, but the darker one is currently ailing from ascites. She's a trooper though and I am hoping that she'll be able to release the toxins from her system successfully. She's smaller today than yesterday, and if she recovers she'll return to her natural size.

Note the dark Ella's inability to support her weight, tuck in her wings (resulting in a very splayed appearance), and the size of the two chicks' bellies in relation to each other.

I hope my error can save someone else from going down the same deadly route. Every new endeavor has a learning curve, but unfortunately for two Sunshines, two Ellas and a Sadie the cost was their little lives. I'm sorry girls.