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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hey! Me! Ugh, shut up.

WARNING: This is one of those "F-bomb" posts that I refer to in the "About" section to your left. If you aren't into F-bombs, then you can skip this and go HERE to read about that time I made jam. The pictures are pretty, and it's good jam. I just pulled one out of the freezer this morning. And now, for the rest of you, a blog in F major.

I am a self-proclaimed genius. And like most self-proclaimed geniuses (geniusi?) I am also an expert. An expert on what? Glad you asked. I am an expert on your life.

That's right folks, after knowing you for five years, five months or five minutes, I am the kind of expert who feels totally at ease doling out unsolicited advice on what books you would enjoy, the type of supplemental formula your finicky baby would probably stomach, the color that would look good in your guest room or on your wooden stairs (hey, Kate), and how many chickens you could probably fit into your small urban backyard.

Not only that, I am really in tune with the bigger questions. Want to change careers? Come and see me, I'll have a dozen suggestions. Need to organize your living room or downsize your belongings? I can point you towards a darling book and a killer website. Need to know how to better communicate with your spouse or child? Step up friend, this font of knowledge is here for you.

Wondering how I have any friends left? too.

When advice is solicited, I do love to help out a pal. I mean, who doesn't have opinions on how their friends should be living? As a people, we make a thousand judgments a day about the choices of others, and it's okay. How else would we know where to position our own lives if we didn't have the barometer of our friends', family's and even total strangers' decisions to test out changes in the atmosphere? A judgment in this sense isn't a negative, it's a necessity. And when a sentence begins with, "Hey, I could really use some help with..." then we are well within our rights to tap those everyday thoughts and let the opinions flow. But sometimes, yes sometimes, I open my mouth and out pours a flood of advice that was neither asked for nor, most likely, appreciated. It is at these times that I would do well to heed the voice in my head, which is saying (not too quietly), "Hey! Danielle! Shut the fuck up."

Seriously, self, do us all a favor and give those thoughts a rest. No one likes a know-it-all. (The irony of making this statement in the form of a public blog is not lost on me.)

If you are at all like me, wouldn't you also benefit from a nice round of Shut The Fuck Up? Or, as my family says, Shelta.

Quick detour: When we were young, my uncle lived with us for a while one summer and worked construction. The guys on the job were always telling each other to "shut the fuck up," as good natured young fellas will do, but this wasn't really appropriate job site language. As a result, "shut the fuck up" was shortened to the colloquial "shut the." When my uncle was relating this story to my parents, one of my little brothers (who were totally interchangeable at the time) misheard and asked them all what "shelta" meant. And from that day until this, "shelta" has been my family's loving way of telling each other to zip it.

So, how do I move forward with this newfound self-awareness? As an opinionated thinker who is constantly mulling over the activities going on around me, I'm not going to change my core self. I wouldn't want to. I like that I'll never be at a loss for a position in a lively debate, and truth be told, I'll probably always be trying to get you to read the last great thing that I read (Wiley Cash, A Land More Kind Than Home). But when you come to me as a friend and want to share a story or thought about your life, or we are just hanging out with our kids on a random afternoon, I can find a way to keep my personality intact and also refrain from telling you what you should do.

In order to keep myself on track I have created a mantra, complete with special font and faded overlay, that is directly influenced by the motivational posters found in break rooms across America.

I should have added a fourth: Occupy your mouth with food or drink. Until I master these new skills, perhaps we should only meet up for Happy Hours?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

(Don't) Let Them Eat Cake

I make no secret of the fact that I live in a lovely community suffering from a longstanding invasion of ignorant asshats (see HERE). So, I should not have been surprised by the most recent local activity but it has indeed caught me off guard. Why did I expect more? Because this issue involves the children in our county and their health.
Graphic courtesy of

Douglas County School District has become the only district in the state of Colorado to opt out of the Michelle Obama-championed new federal student lunch guidelines at the high school level. What a distinction! While I love the general idea of bucking the system and taking a stand, this opt-out represents one of the worst decisions that our should-have-been-voted-out-there's-always-next-time school board has had a hand in.

In response, I had a whole blog planned on the history of school lunches, the current guideline updates, and ways to embrace the healthier changes and fight childhood obesity while teaching our kids to enjoy a balanced meal. I'm going to skip that though, in favor of a Q&A, in which I cast the school board/naysayers in the roll of Inquisitor, and myself as the Voice of Reason. (This casting is totally biased, of course, but that's a perk of writing your own blog.)

A quick background and some resources, if you are into things like research and fact checking:

And now, to the inquisition!

INQUISITOR: The government is overstepping its bounds by dictating the composition of school lunches. What's next? Will we be forced to investigate and evaluate the sack lunches kids bring in the door?

VOICE OF REASON: Public schools are subject to government oversight. With government funds, comes government accountability. This is why DCSD lost its eligibility to be reimbursed for free and low-cost school lunches when it decided not to participate in the new school lunch program. But you know that. And I'm sure you weighed that estimated $167,000 yearly reimbursement (not too many poor kids in Douglas County!) against the $3M a year in revenue that the school district takes in from its in-house Subway franchises. Nope, not even Jared and his giant pants can make Subway sandwiches worthy of our kids in the eyes of the federal guidelines, so losing those fast food chains would have been a hit to the ol' pocketbook. 

What was the other part? Oh yeah, government oversight of kids' sack lunches. That's kind of an inflammatory argument based on nothing, right? Did Rush put you up to this? There is no precedent or law that prohibits parents from feeding their kids a bucket of Cheetos if they want to. Being food stupid, on a private level at least, is totally in alignment with federal regulations. Phew!

INQUISITOR: The guidelines are too strict. Our chef made a pizza that adhered to the guidelines and the kids hated it. And his burrito had to be created in miniature in order to comply. What do you say to that, huh?

VoR: Who decided that our kids need foods like pizza, burritos, cheeseburgers and fries in their daily lunch? Because they like them? If we based our children's diets on what they liked, my kids would eat nothing but macaroni and cheese and Whoppers malted milk balls for dinner. Stop luring kids to the lunch line with empty calories covered in melted cheese. Here's a crazy thought: don't serve pizza. At all. The menus aren't set by the new regulations, just the guidelines. So, and I'm just spitballing here, what if the PTO sponsored a school-wide recipe contest, kids and parents could get involved, and there could be a taste-testing night to raise money for the school? Winning recipes, with nutritional information, could be handed over to the district chef and/or school lunch supervisor and incorporated into the lunch menu. Too crazy? You'd rather stick to selling wrapping paper? Okay, then take ten minutes, harness the power of social media, and call out for help from the world of food and mom bloggers. Provide them with information on cost stipulations and nutritional content per serving and see what those wacky kitchen creatives come up with. Or google it. Someone has probably already done this.

INQUISITOR: Just because you give a kid an apple, you can't make him eat it. We have the healthiest trash cans in the state - the kids are throwing away more than they eat! 

VoR: Until healthy lunches are the new normal, there is going to be a learning curve. Remember turning 21? No? That's because you were blackout drunk. A natural reaction to your new access to the magical world of booze. But your liver couldn't keep up with that kind of routine for the rest of your life, so you adapted and started to drink in moderation at least most of the time. So it will be with our kids. As booze is to a hangover, so too is trashing your lunch to hunger. (Bonus lesson: This will also teach kids a natural consequence that is a direct result of their actions!) It will also help when you stop trying to feed students pseudo-cardboard, non-fat pizza. Again, pizza is now a treat in this new world and not a school lunch staple, so it can be delicious, gooey and full of fat outside of school bounds. For the school day let's find some new recipes, like hummus/cucumber/pita sandwiches for instance, and teach the kids about cucumbers. Involve them in the school garden. If there isn't a school garden, plant one! Seeds are cheap and the child labor is built in, which is part of the reason I myself had kids. I'm sure an inventive biology teacher can adapt a lesson on Mendel's genetics to be taught outside while the ninth graders weed the pea patch. Torn away from their classrooms and textbooks, the kids may actually listen and (holy shit!) become inspired.

INQUISITOR: For some kids, this is their only guaranteed meal in a day, and it is being wasted.

VoR: A truly hungry child will eat the healthy meal. A truly hungry child, who may not have access to fresh produce on a regular basis, will eat the apple and maybe take a second one as well. A truly hungry child needs the nutrition provided by the new guidelines, since a standard piece of pizza may fill their stomaches but leave them nutritionally starving. 

INQUISITOR: Well what about our cooks? They aren't allowed to give seconds, so extra food goes right into the trash.

VoR: Come on, work with me on this one. Lunch rooms must adhere to strict food and cleanliness guidelines, which makes them perfect candidates for donating extra meals to churches and soup kitchens. All that takes is a little coordination and a phone call. If you are lucky enough to live in the Denver area, check out We Don't Waste. I'm pretty sure they'll take the call. 

INQUISITOR: When I grew up, school lunches were delicious. Can't we leave well enough alone?

VoR: When you grew up, school lunches weren't competing with fast foods, and you only had 2 options daily, Take It or Leave It. "Foods" that can be found in current high school cafeterias weren't even invented when you went to school.

INQUISITOR: But what about a parent's right to choose without unnecessary government - 

VoR: Enough! Enough with the justifications and the inflammatory what ifs. The Voice of Reason is going to lose her mind! Seriously, where is the common sense? Even the schools adhering to the guidelines are lobbying to get french fries to count as a vegetable and pizza sauce to count as a serving of tomatoes. If you used all of this loophole energy and transferred it into trying to make the system work, we could have nutritious foods in our schools, kids who have a greater knowledge of where food comes from and how it affects their bodies, and parents would have an ally in the age old battle of getting kids to eat broccoli. Is the new system perfect? Nope. But let's try it and then when we encounter hiccups work towards a logical solution rather than writing off the whole system as broken and tossing it away. Let's not make this about economics and politics and instead refocus on the real message of raising a healthy generation of kids. If we as a community are going to unite and take a stand, let's work together to introduce our children to exotic vegetables and a new variety of spices instead of reaching a point of mutiny to protect their access to a five dollar foot long sub. 

Damn. Being the only voice of reason in the discussion is exhausting. And angry-making, apparently. This issue makes me nuts. What do you all think?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Goat Milk Cajeta. Oh yes.

So, are goats a little louder than we'd planned on? Sure. More trouble than we'd anticipated to catch, collar, and milk? Yep. Do they poop a crazy amount and waste more feed than even the chickens? Yes again.

So why on earth, you may be thinking, would someone willingly keep goats? Well aside from their inherent sweetness, a frisky take on life, and personality galore, the only logical answer is cajeta. And what is cajeta? Only the most glorious thing that goat milk can achieve; a caramel sauce that by its sheer perfection will put all others to shame. And, you only need 4 cups of milk to make it, so even our tiny haul was more than sufficient after a few days of hoarding.

For the duration of this demo, picture me with the air conditioner cranked (we're having a heat wave) and a nice mix of alt country power ballads blaring over my stereo. Or maybe I'm belting out the lyrics to "Let It Go," Eddie Vedder style...My secret is safe with me.

First, gather your 4 cups of goat milk.

Then, place milk, a scant cup of white sugar, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla into a 2.5 or 3 Qt pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to prevent scorching.

When the milk boils, remove from heat and add 1/4 tsp of baking soda that has been dissolved in a TB of water. Stir stir stir - it will foam up. Then return the pan to the stove over medium heat and prepare to cook and stir for the next hour or so. Earn that cajeta!

At roughly 40 minutes, the milk started to take on a caramel color.

At about an hour, the milk had reduced to roughly under 2 cups and it was getting close!

And then, glory of glories, it was done. The milk had reduced to about one cup. Rumor has it that the longer you cook the milk, the sweeter and thicker it will be, but my arm gave out at 75 minutes, and it was damn good. Carefully pour the cajeta into a glass jar and let it cool.

While the cajeta cools, keep singing along to Idina Menzel...or someone more adult since the kids aren't home...and scrape the cajeta from the bottom of the pan and put it in your mouth.

The cajeta will thicken as it cools. After a few hours in the refrigerator, you will be rewarded with this. Well done, you. You deserve it. Cajeta is delicious heated over ice cream, as a fruit dip, or you can rely on my favorite pairing, a spoon. Dig in. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Easy summer dinner: New potatoes and peas

We all have a button, some kind of trigger, that immediately catapults us back in time to a moment from childhood. One of mine is peas.

For two glorious weeks in the summer, nature aligns and a garden will give you all of the sweet peas and new potatoes you can ask for. As a kid, this occurred during summers in Idaho at my grandparents' house and all I have to do is see a pea on the vine and I am transported. Nothing tastes like a young pea, straight from the pod.

When we put in the garden four doors down, my mom's sole request was to plant peas and potatoes. She's making memories with my boys, much like her own mom did with my brothers and me, teaching them how to pick the fattest pods and split them down the seam with their thumb to reveal the perfectly straight row of plump peas hidden inside.

And this weekend, we finally sat down to a meal of new potatoes and peas. What was once a staple on my Grandma's summer table has made it to my own weekly menu.

It's a great option for Meatless Mondays and a simple way to show off produce from the garden or farmer's market. And, if you're lucky like me, it will take you right back to being a kid.

New Potatoes and Peas - a loose recipe (the kind I hated when I first started to cook)

To serve a family of 4 with leftovers I dug up roughly 30 new potatoes of various sizes, and as many peas as were ripe. You can never have too many peas, so pick more than you think you'll need.

Wash the potatoes, quartering the larger ones, cutting some in half, and leaving the littles whole. Boil in a pot of heavily salted water until easily pierced with a fork. While the potatoes cook, shell the peas.

When the potatoes are done, turn off the heat and add the shelled peas to the hot water.

Make a roux. I used 4 TB butter and half a cup of flour, mixing over medium heat until it was a golden brown. Then whisk in whole milk - taking care to smash the flour chunks - until you have a thin gravy. There should be enough liquid to act as a sort of soup when combined with the potatoes. Liberally salt and pepper the gravy to taste.

Drain the potatoes and peas. Put in a serving dish, pour the gravy over the top, and serve.

Happy eating. Let the memories begin!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It's my flag, too

In honor of the recent Fourth of July barbecue frenzy weekend, I am doing something drastic. Today I am reclaiming the flag. Granted, it's a Pinterest-inspired project made from an oh-so-trendy pallet and cast-off spray paint, but I'm doing it. And for me, it's a big deal.

Over the last few years I have come to associate the American flag -- be it on a porch, a bumper sticker or a t-shirt -- with the following ideologies:
  • Republicanism
  • Christianity
  • The far right
  • Pro-gun activists
  • Anti-choice activists
  • Conservatives
  • Fox News
  • Bullies
  • The Tea Party
  • Climate change deniers 
  • Creationists
  • Southern traditionalists
  • Haters in general

Because of this, I have given up the flag as something that doesn't represent me. My ideals. My beliefs. My way of life. And I did this willingly, blindly, and stupidly. Because the flag, and what it stands for, is bigger than just me.

The American flag does, in fact, encompass a set of ideals I would never claim as my own. But as this is still the land of the free and the home of the (not-always-but-we-try-to-be) brave, then it also stands for:
  • Democracy
  • The Green Party
  • Hinduism
  • Judaism 
  • No religion-ism
  • Pro-choice activists
  • Gay rights activists
  • Community activists
  • Pacifists
  • Slow Food movements
  • Ecologists
  • Scientists
  • Dreamers
  • Bronies
The flag represents the freedom to believe - or not believe - in whatever we choose. By its very definition, it stands for all of us. And that's the point.

No party or group owns it. Rush Limbaugh does not have more of a connection to the American flag than Jon Stewart does. Republicans can't exclusively claim it; Progressives don't automatically forsake it. Our country, as these fifty united states, houses thousands of ideals and nationalities and belief systems. Together. As one nation (that until 1954 wasn't required to be "under God"), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And that utopian message, an ideal to aim for and struggle to achieve, I can get behind.

There is room here for all of us; for all of our beliefs. Beliefs that we are legally allowed to voice without fear of pain or imprisonment. (Really, how freaking lucky are we?!) Beliefs that make us stronger even when they don't bring us together. I can have Obama - or Hillary! - and you can still have Romney. Or Palin. And while that last option makes me want to throw up in my mouth and pass out condoms at churches, she has her place in America too.

So yes I am taking back the flag, and in doing so realize that I should never have let it go. As much as it is yours, and hers and his, so too it is mine.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Goat Yoga

The goats are here! The goats are here! And guess what??

Goats are hard.

Okay, goat milking is hard. Especially when your milk stand doesn't arrive before the goats do. But once again, I am getting ahead of myself.

We picked up Lucy (black) and Tess (bebe) on our way back from a wedding in Taos (congrats, Mark and Jill!!) this past Sunday, thereby ensuring that the goats trumped the papas on Father's Day this year. Whoopsie. (Sorry Dad and Gabe!!)

This is me, making kissy faces with Tess:

And me again, full gum smile, as we both bleat our hellos.


After a quick milking/hoof trimming lesson from the incomparable Elizabeth Ahola of Lil' Bleats Farm, we loaded up the car with Lucy in a crate in the back, and Tess in my lap wearing a baby diaper. The front seat looked a lot like this, with Lucy chiming in from the back:

You can tell it's early in the trip, as I am smiling and the diaper is fairly intact. The inside of our car sounded much like this:

You can't see Gabe, but he looked a lot like this:

Somehow, we made it home alive, with at least 87% of our hearing. Win.

And then it began. What was so easy with Elizabeth coaching, in the barn Lucy knew, with hands that were skilled, on a milk stand created to make this task easier, was suddenly a barnyard version of WWF. But no one was faking. These wounds were real. After MUCH trial and error, Gabe and I came up with a system whereby I was the human milk stand and Gabe found himself playing the role of champion milkmaid.

I give you, Goat Yoga.

Gabe demonstrates Crouching Teat Squeeze while Danielle masters Goat Stanchion One. Namaste.
We hold this position for 5-8 minutes on each side, while Lucy bucks, yells, kicks and bites. Who can blame her? We are farmers in training...with no training...which basically makes us idiots. Lucy sports a constant WTF/FML expression from the moment we enter the pen.

But we are making progress! What took over an hour the first time now, on day 5, only takes 20-30 minutes.

Tell me the truth - does this goat make my butt look big?

And what do we get, for all of this work? For all the angst we are causing poor little Lucy? For the thigh cramps (me) and achy crabbed milk hands (Gabe)? Milk! Fresh, raw, healthy goat milk.

This is a 2 Qt milking can. For those who failed Math 101, that is 8 cups. 

Yep. Tablespoons and tablespoons of milk. That we can't even drink yet as it's so full of dirt and goat feet that it isn't worth it.

But the milk stand arrives today (come on UPS guy!) and we'll start sanitizing the equipment so that we can drink the milk. And increase Lucy's production since we'll be in a better position to actually milk her out before we all just give up and poop in a corner (Lucy, not us). And when we're not milk wrestling, the girls are really adjusting well. Lucy is a little more reticent (wouldn't you be?) but warming up, and Tess loves us all. The boys are enchanted and the neighbors are supportive, so what more could we ask for?

Hell yeah, we are farmers! (But don't tell any real farmers I said that.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Musical Bees

There was a brief moment yesterday when I thought I was going to die.

Let's back up. Go grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

It has been an odd bee season for us, to say the least. Of my two colonies - which we'll now just refer to as Green and White for ease - one made it through the winter and one died. So my brother Kris and I did a split and thought all was grand. Moving on.

Next on the docket, my bro and I installed a package of bees four doors down at the parents' place. It was an odd package that I am 90% certain had an extra rogue queen (it happens, apparently) and those ladies split themselves on day one...wouldn't take to the new hive...half wanted to live in the package box and the other half took up residence in a fence post...I was stung for the first time as a beekeeper and the 2 bees got stuck in my pant fabric, so it was a doozy...and just when we thought we had it all fixed, a mid-May snow storm swooped in and froze them all. Poor ladies didn't stand a chance.

What to do? Why, email Don the Bee Mentor of course! He pulled a Hail Mary late in the bee season and hooked us up with Prairie Wind Bee Supply out of Cheyenne, who happened to have some extra nucs on hand for a May 31 delivery. Winner winner.

Have you ever picked up a nuc, when lots of nucs are being picked up? It's not like your average package bee pickup, with a bunch of bees flying around but all the girls are a little confused and stoned. Nope. This was different. This was thousands of pissed, angry bees flying around defending their 5-frame homes and wondering what the hell just happened as they traveled from Wyoming to Colorado on the back of a flat bed trailer, through crazy rain and killer heat, for a few hours. Add to that a handful of novice beekeepers trying to prove their beekeeper-ness by standing in the middle of all this, not swatting (Just like they were taught! A+, idiots.), and doing their best to hold the panic on the inside.

What did Kris and I do? We got out of the damn way. And still got stung! This was a mad house. The poor guy running the deal was probably stung a dozen times while we were waiting for our bees. It was crazy times. I'm sure he went back to Cheyenne and contemplated a new career...perhaps breeding dogs? Yeah, puppies are a great idea.

FYI - this is what an average bee sting does to my hand. My hand is that thing that looks like a plump, smooth foot. My pinkie finger turned into a baby sausage. I didn't get stung once in the last 2 years, and now I'm two for two on the new hive. Bitches.

But we did it. We got our bees, my brother and I, jumped into my Outback, and started our hour plus drive home.

At first there was only one bee in the back window, where the nuc was.

And then there were four.

And then we hit a bump, and suddenly there were 20 or so. I sent Kris back with the camera phone while I calmly sped along the highway doing 80 mph. This is what he came back with.

Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit. Hey Prairie Wind, maybe next time, don't skimp on the duct tape? Hundreds of bees spilling into the back of the car, half an hour to go, repeating "Bees and dogs smell fear" over and over in my head. Nothing to do but turn up the radio - thank you, Bob Marley - and drive on.

And we did. And we made it. And the bees were housed.

Kris runs that hive, so we'll call all iterations from here on out KBees. They were transferred into their deep, surrounded by friendly scrub oak and pines. They have a running stream in the yard (fake, but it looks real), and plenty of blossoms to nosh on. All was well. We planned to check them in two weeks.

Meanwhile, back on the Pare Down farm...

Something was amiss with the green hive. It went from bustling to dwindling, while the white hive continued to act as the Grand Central Station of bees. A previous bee check a few weeks back looked fine: queen cups in the green hive, eggs and larva (and the old queen) in the white hive. But that new queen was either poorly mated or eaten by a bird, because when we popped the top yesterday all we saw were drones and a scatter shot of drone cells.

Ruh-roh. It was like LoDo on a Friday night. (A little Men-ver humor for you locals.)

Well poop. Suddenly we were back to 2 living colonies. Can we not catch a break, bees?

Then, miracle.

Kris and I went to check on KBees. They were fine that morning. We had an extra super in hand since we're down a deep and need to buy another, and were planning on a quick peek, add the super, call it a day. We were three days past our 2-week inspection deadline. So what did those girls do, only moments before we arrived? They swarmed! Nature called, and 40% of the bees stayed in the hive with the new queen, while roughly 60% of the bees were now bunched around the old queen on a very tall stand of scrub oak in my parents' yard.

Ha! We bounced those drones out of my green hive (sorry fellas) and decided to catch our first swarm. This looks like a promo for a Jackass movie.

Keep in mind throughout this process that my mom ("I never even wanted these bees!") is taking pictures on my iPhone, and my two kids are watching from the balcony of my parents' house. Our plan, since I am short and weak while Kris is big and brave, was to put the deep on the top of the ladder, Kris would climb up while I held everything steady from below, and he'd shake the bees into the box. What could go wrong?

Ready. Steady. Shake down! And bees went into the box according to plan, but the rest of them EXPLODED around us.

This was the death moment. As I felt the nuclear rain of bees upon my whole body I had the slow motion time to consider the following:

"This was a dumb idea. This was your worst fucking idea ever. You are about to be consumed by the sting of a thousand bees while your mom takes pictures and your children watch you die from a safe distance. Save the bees? Save yourself next time, you dumbass."

But we didn't die!

I wish there was video of Kris jumping off the ladder (like a little girl) and me catching it as the whole shebang almost toppled into the bushes before we both fled to safety. This picture does not do it justice. (Run, Forest!)

We (Kris, me, the bees, my mom who thought she would see 2 of her 3 kids die that day) all recovered quickly. The ladies were confused but just as docile as all the blogs of experienced beekeepers claim. And now that we knew what to expect, the process finished up pretty quickly. 2 more rounds of Operation Shakedown resulted in all bees being successfully caught!

And ten minutes later, the newest version of the Green Ladies were at home and happily exploring their new surroundings. This morning, all is well in the bee queendoms.

So what did we learn today, fellow and future beekeepers?

  1. Don't beekeep in yoga pants. Yoga pants are for in-home drinking and the occasional bout of actual yoga.
  2. Cardboard nuc boxes are lame. 
  3. Always have a roll of duct tape on hand. Always. Wear it on your belt if you have to.
  4. Don't procrastinate, as bee life waits for no man. But if you do, you may end up with a swarm miracle that fills an empty hive. procrastinate. 
  5. Don't do potentially deadly things while your kids watch, even if they are not as deadly as they seem, because your screams of panic will scar your kids regardless of the outcome.
  6. Wine is great (duh), but after an exhilarating bee experience, I recommend a small batch gin and some good lemonade. 

Happy beekeeping.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Is My Peace Symbol

I am a liberal, progressive, humanist, Democratic Socialist. These are not monikers that I use every day. Why? Well, I live in one of the wealthiest, most conservative counties in Colorado. It's difficult to make friends if you start a conversation with "Hi, Jesus isn't real and I'd like to talk to you about raising taxes." Don't get me wrong, I don't hide my views. My friends, my family, and my governor all know how I feel about the issues. Representative Mike Coffman, if he reads his own email, certainly gets an earful. I vote with my ballot and, more often, with my dollar.

I'm no fool. I know that my point of view isn't popular where I live, and the words
Democratic Socialist
outside the context of a living person, and a family, are considered poison by many in my community. So in everyday life I try to be a moral human being, do my own thing, indulge in an occasional rant, and get by without rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I do however have a sticker on my car. My oh-so-Colorado, kid-friendly, dog-friendly Subaru Outback sports one small, adorable, piece of insight into my personality.

I bought it because I love our president and what he stands for. I believe in cool heads, compromise, and taking care of the common man. I believe in intelligence and social progress. I believe in strong women, organic gardens, and getting kids up off the couch and moving. I believe in powerful couples and rock solid families who face daily adversity with honor, humor and love. For all of these reasons, I shelled out $4.99, plus shipping, to voice my support of these ideals. Truth be told, I also bought it because I thought would look cute on my car. My neighbors do not find it so cute.

There is a large dent, the size of a rock or a can of soup or the side of a baseball bat, near the roof on the back. I found this one day leaving the grocery store. Maybe I backed into a low hanging branch without noticing. Maybe someone accidentally bumped into me with a 50-ft Hummer. Or, more likely, someone took offense at my right to express my own views, benignly on my own car, and decided to send a message of their own.

Since moving into Douglas County (yes, I've now named you), I have been cut off and flipped off by other cars more often than I care to count. Just a few weeks ago a giant truck, driven by a small man, cut me off and watched me in his rearview mirror until he was certain I had seen his "Does your Obama sticker make you feel stupid yet?" bumper sticker. Taking a cue from my husband, I laughed and waved and drove on.

I'm usually pretty good at keeping my outward cool, reveling in my own enlightened superiority (it's my own mind in my own car - I'm allowed) and doing my best to ignore the fact that I don't fit in to the social fabric of my surroundings. On my less than stellar days, I'll smile and give them a single finger salute. Nothing too crazy on either side. But things escalated last Friday.

While driving home with my mom and two young sons in the car, yet another small man in a giant truck - this one complete with trailer - roared past us on the road in an effort to get in front of us and flaunt his wares. Trouble was, he crossed into our lane without clearing our car. Woopsie-doodle. Two short blasts of the uber-friendly Subaru horn should have been enough to alert him of this error.

Did we get the "Whoa, my bad" wave we expected, and have him return to his lane like a normal human being? Nope. This b-hole was itching for a fight. We got the middle finger out the window, a string of "Fuck you!"s, and a truck with trailer that proceeded to run us off the side of the road (thankfully into an opportune turn lane) in order to prove his point.

And what was his point?

They're hard to read, so let me spell out a few of the better ones:
Shoot more bitch less.
Embrace the recoil.
You can't beat a woman who shoots.
I love guns and Starbucks. (WTF?)
Extremely rightwing.
This is my peace symbol.

I can only assume that my happy orange sticker and a bad day somehow justified him putting my family's life in danger in order to further his asshole agenda. In order to show me what a man he was, and how much he hated Obama, and me, and loved the Second Amendment (which I doubt he can recite or correctly interpret) and his guns (of which I am sure at least one was in his truck), he felt he was within his rights to intimidate, bully, and put our lives at risk. If this altercation had happened 15 feet earlier or later, he would have successfully driven us over the median and into oncoming traffic.

Well done, sir. Successfully played. Your thought-provoking actions and eloquent articulations have completely changed my point of view. I am thrilled to have a mind such as yours, with what I can only assume to be a matching temper and level of education, to be in constant possession of a firearm. My family and I will sleep better with visions of your peace symbol in our minds. God bless you, patriot, and God bless the United States of America.

Maybe I should move.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Beekeeping...or, Crazy Little Bug(ger)s!

Bees. I'm finding them to be like children - just when you think you know something they pull the rug out and you're back at square one, doing your best and putting money into the therapy jar for their future.

Remember when I wrote the Cherokee Girls off as dead? Well, somehow they survived the bulk of the winter. Two weeks ago, there were signs of life in the hive, and their fuzzy brown bodies were all over the place. I think that by giving them only one full deep to heat throughout the winter, I inadvertently helped prolong the life of this tiny colony.

So it was with great sadness and dismay that I opened the hive this past weekend only to find the colony clustered in a small, fresh-dead bundle. The most recent freeze did them in.

And I couldn't even steal the remaining honey because the EXPLODING population in the neighboring hive was already busy with the same idea. (Note to self, figure out how to harvest the vast amounts of leftover wax.) We cleaned the hive, and moved on. And by "we," I mean my little brother and beekeeping buddy, Kris.

Next, Kris and I popped the top on the Great Grand hive, and the bees who weren't out foraging for the day filled 3 deeps. It's always been easy to tell the two colonies apart, as the Cherokee Girls were light brown, and the Great Grand Girls have a brighter orange body. And those orange bees were everywhere!

The top deep was 90% full of capped honey. And bees. The second deep had capped honey, larva, and capped drones. And bees. The bottom deep was so packed with bees that we didn't pull any frames. The ladies were calm (initially), but the volume was high with that many residents packed into such a small space.

Next came the tricky, hope I don't regret it, hastily made decision. There were a lot of bees, loads of capped honey, and the nectar flow is officially on. Conditions were ripe for a spring swarm. Why wait and recapture half the colony when I had a perfectly good hive that was now clean and empty? So we did a split. A winging-it, didn't plan it, Googling-as-we-go split. I'd done one before, but that was with Bee Mentor Don and over a year ago.

First, Kris moved the Grand hive over a few inches to confuse the returning bees. Then we set up the vacant hive right next door.

We left the bottom deep on the Grand hive alone, and took most of the second deep - keeping the brood frames in order - and gave them to the split. Honey from the top deep was divided, and a 5 new frames with no honey or drawn comb were divided between them. Why did we not just put the second deep, as is, onto the bottom board of the empty hive and call it good? Well, that's a really good question in hindsight, but the bees were crazy mad, the frames were already out, and shut up. Live and learn.

Finally, since we were still really close to the 7/10 threshold of full frames in both hives' upper deeps, and since there was plenty of honey in both hives, I added excluders and a super to each hive. Maybe a misstep, but one that we risked. This is the year for honey, dammit!

So now we wait. I'll check the ladies in a week or so, weather allowing, to look for signs of queen cells and determine where the resident queen ended up. All things considered, it was a good day. No stings. Potential for a new colony. And the imperfect forgiveness that is nature. Even with all of our blunders, both hives have food, brood and bees. Come on girls, do your thing!


Six days later, and things are looking okay from the outside. I am seeing activity in both hives, but the original is definitely busier. I am doing my best to chill out and follow the advice on Honey Bee Suite:
  • You can put splits side-by-side, no problem. Just remember that for a long time, the part without a queen will look like no one is home. Gradually, as nurses become foragers, the discrepancy will decrease. Don’t let the number of foragers in the one part freak you out. If the split is raising a queen, everything is working according to plan.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Little Bronies, Sweet Little Bronies

My boys love My Little Pony, or as Aidan calls it, "Little My Pony." It reminds me of being a kid myself. One summer, for 3 wonderful days, Applejack and I were best friends. Then the neighbor dog got her and turned her into a chew toy. Childhood can be cruel.

Odd glamour shot I stole off of eBay. Creepy say what?

Oh Applejack, I miss you still. What a great toy for a nerdy, bookish little kid like me! Ponies were much like Care Bears in their embracing of individuality, friendship, and celebrating the differences in others. Every pony was unique. Aside from the commercials that branded Ponies as "girl" toys, they were perfect.

When Jude developed his current obsession with the Ponies, I couldn't have been happier. Until I went to get him a few for Valentine's Day. All I can say is, WTF Mattel? What have you done to the Ponies??

In my day, those cute sturdy little ponies definitely sported Disney eyes and super shiny manes, but they still looked like ponies. As a refresher, ponies are short, stout, kid-sized.

And THIS is the current rendition of My Little Pony and Jude's favorite character Twilight Sparkle:

Notice anything different, on this current "girl" toy? How about her super slender physique? Her giant bedroom eyes? And, most telling, her lack of a muzzle?! It's a pony! This one looks part anorexic teenager, part squirrel.

Suffice it to say, I'll take Ponies over Super Heroes (less "Hulk smash!" more "You're my best friend!") but if I had had daughters instead of sons I'd be writing Mattel some hate mail. According to the show, friendship is magic...but so too is food, the innocence of childhood, and a pony with enough snout to breathe and legs sturdy enough to keep it upright.