Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Bees Knees

I’m not sure where the phrase comes from (yes, I know there is a terrific tool called Google that could instantly find the answer, but dependency on instant gratification rather than giving into wonder is a topic for another day.).
So, about those knees.  

They are completely and utterly functional. Michael and I have watched them for hours this summer carry all sorts of pollen—meaning blue, orange, yellow and white—back to their new home. This past May, we added a two-story condo to our property: a bee hive. Michael had been wanting to do it for years, I was a bit nervous. You know, bees. And, bee stings. 

Turns out, my love of gardening and bees are quite compatible. Plus, doing your part to save the world feels pretty cool, too. Sure, a bit of hyperbole, but if you do any reading on the subjects of hive collapse, pesticides and our food supply you may just end up with a hive in your backyard.

We read books, looked online, watch a great MPT special from approximately the year I was born. Not much has changed with beekeeping though so other than the clothes and hair, the show was as relevant today as then. But, what really got us moving was a colleague of mine who has been keeping bees for 20-plus years.

We had a bee mentor. She shared her passion, her knowledge and great bee stories with us. She took it from somewhat of an alien thought to introducing us to her hives. Her calm nature and her stern warnings were just what I needed (remember, Michael was sold on it already) to commit.

We placed our order for four pounds of Russian bees, and one Italian queen. We heard the Russian bees were a bit more hardy and a bit more aggressive than Italians. Given we were going to take bees born in Georgia to overwinter in Maryland, we thought hardy made sense. Nature didn’t agree, however, we ended up with three pounds of Italian bees in the back of my car. Technically, we had six pounds of bees plus two queens in the back of my car. On a beautiful farm north of Baltimore, we picked up two “packages” of bees–one for us, one for our bee mentor to add to her collection of hives. 

We watched a live demo at the farm of how to move the bees from their travel cage to their new home. The demo guy would never be my mentor, and he had the scars to prove that shortcuts equal stings. Somehow I managed to watch him aggressively shake a three-pound screened in box of bees into a hive without hyperventilating or running away. I wasn’t the only newbie at the demo. I was pleased, however, that I wasn’t the newbie that swatted at the bees. That was the random guy next to me who hit me in the head when a bee landed on my hair. I heard it, oh god did I hear that buzz right next to my ear, but I didn’t want to overreact before I even left the premises. He didn’t share my sense of self-conscious I can handle this vibe, and hit me pretty hard. Tensions were high and bees were all about and a random man hit me in the head. His wife said, “I can’t take him anywhere.”

And that, my friends, is how you make two very nervous about-to-be beekeepers laugh. It then seemed totally manageable to put six pounds of bees in the trunk and head for home. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A New Love

It really was love at first sight. As soon as he was in my cart, I knew it was meant to be. Even the cashier could see that we would be happy together.

The miter saw? Yes, he’s still dependable, but I know what he’s all about. There are no more surprises there. The pneumatic nail gun? Frankly, he just makes me nervous. I know he’s great, but I never quite feel comfortable with him or in control. The tile saw? Actually, I still love him, but he is just so one-dimensional.
But this new guy? He is exactly what I had been missing without even knowing that I was missing anything. I find myself looking for new projects to start so that I can get him out of the box.
We started off slow and with a few missteps. But we eventually had a few successful adventures and I was ready to dive in with a big project.
That’s when I was introduced to Ana White and her fantastic building plans. There is no need to get into a detailed recount of the project, because Ana’s plans are just so helpful.
I had a few variations to her plans. I used cheap firring strips rather than nice wood because I’m going to leave it outside so much, but I stained and sealed it with outdoor products. I added lawnmower wheels to my cart because our yard can be pretty uneven and dipped the ends of the legs that will hit the ground in liquid plastic to protect them.
It’s still too cold to use the cart outside (did I mention the top lifts off as a serving tray?), but it really doesn’t matter because I’m already looking for my next adventure with my new obsession—the Kreg Jig.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Baby, it’s cold outside

Our local weather forecasters seem to forget this simple fact every year and act surprised when the temperature dips and snow falls.

Winter isn’t my favorite season, but there is a beauty in it. A softness, a quiet like no other season. I try to enjoy it and know that if I dress appropriately, I can even go out in it. There is no love, no hate, but an understanding and acceptance.

Well, there was. Then winter was just a jerk and took away our water.

First, there was this phenomenon called a polar vortex, and we fared pretty well. A week later, there was just cold and biting wind, and the water stopped. We had pipes freeze before, but with patience and slightly higher temps, they unfroze and we were back in business. No such luck this time.

The pipe didn’t just break, it shattered. And the water? It was everywhere. Michael found a cutoff so that we could have water in the kitchen sink, but the rest of the house was off limits. We were roughing it in our home until we could get to the pipe project. We’re pretty resourceful and try to have a sense of humor (and bottles of wine) about our house.
We were ready to tackle the project. We took off of work, had it mapped out and then Michael found out that he couldn’t take the day off; they needed him in the office. I had to choose: use the dry shampoo one more day and go to work waiting until Saturday so we could figure it out as a team, or fly solo. My dirty blond hair was looking a bit too dirty and there are limits to the miracle that is dry shampoo, so I ventured into the crawl space on my own.

I cut the old pipe out with minor difficulties and minor swearing (sorry, mom!), purchased new materials and replaced them. In ideal conditions (over 60 degrees), the pipe cement will be cured in two hours. Today did not include ideal conditions.
I had on so many layers, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to bend into the space that needed the work under the house. But, three hours after starting the project, the pipe is replaced (that includes the trip to the store). Now, I wait. And wonder if I did it right, and if the cement will hold and if I will get to have a shower tonight. I didn’t doubt myself during one step of the project, but now that I’m done I have nothing but doubts.

Michael was so thrilled that I took this project on that he has decided that I get to plan the plumbing in the guest bathroom that we’re finishing this winter. If the pipe holds, I may just be confident enough to try. Then again, work may just call me in that day. Turnabout is fair play, right?
An update: The pipes are still working and winter still hasn’t left us. As I type this on 16 March, we’re expecting about five inches of snow tonight.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

To grow a garden is to believe in the future.

I’ve seen this quote a few times, and some of the time it is attributed to Audrey Hepburn. I never thought much about her – positive or negative, good or bad, but I love this quote. Turns out, she found solace in her garden near the end of her life, or at least that is what is documented on her hospice care. My guess is that if she found peace in her garden at the end of her life, it probably brought her joy throughout her life.
I know mine does. I start planning my garden – edible and flowers (and some edible flowers) in December… more than 5 months before the last frost date. I review what worked the past years, the notes I made on different seeds, conditions and outcomes. Last year was a rough year for me and for the gardens. The spring was a mess with too much rain, I had to leave the country for work for two weeks in the early growing season (May) and I never seemed to catch up. Even as I write that, I wonder if it is a metaphor for how I felt last year, but I haven’t had enough wine to really explore that sentiment any more than this one sentence.
I’ll chalk the 2013 growing season up to a learning experience (and a ridiculously productive cucumber and zinnia crop) and focus on ’14. Last year I added a 20 x 20 foot addition to the 2 raised beds (4 x 16 each) of my edible garden. I may have grown too fast, but I am ready this year. My plots are measured out, the seeds are purchased and ready to start in the greenhouse. First seeds go in early February. The flower seeds start a few weeks later, but they are also planned out.
I’m ready for tomorrow, but enjoying the planning today. A new year, a new garden and a new opportunity. Happy 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lessons Learned

In 2013, I lost three people who were very important to me. I’m not sure each of them knew how much they influenced my life, but I do know that their tremendous spirits will live on in me, in my life and in my home.

I first met Mr. Myers* at his home that Michael rented for years. I ended up living there for a couple of years, too. In fact, a few of us did and it always felt like family. The rent was cheap, the house had seen better days and we (the “tenants” aka his “kids”) were more than happy to be labor for any Mr. Myers project. And he had projects. To this day, when Michael and I are working on a project I ask: “Do we want to do it right or the Mr. Myers way?” Meaning:  Do we want to do it by the letter of the instruction, or get it done and working? Mr. Myers taught me how to solder copper pipe and other handy skills, but I learned more from him. I learned that a house doesn’t have to be perfect to be warm and full of love. I’m sad that I never had him over to see our home because I know that I would have been quick to point out every flaw and mistake we have made, and he would have been even quicker to overlook them.

Santo lived his life to the fullest. He ate well, drank well and everything tasted better when he was surrounded by family and friends. He was always a little louder and a little messier than everyone else. He captured everything in photos and felt true joy in sharing those photos with everyone around him. He was unabashedly himself… always. He was the husband of my father-in-law’s best friend from grade school. Clearly not a direct link to me, but he was my family and I was his. Knowing him and his family reinforced what we all already know—your family is in the friends you have and the family you make. And, your family will love you for you—crumbs, spilled wine and whatever else gets dropped or falls during the telling of a really good story. That, and take photos. Lots of photos.

John was a professional colleague of mine who became my mentor and friend. We were separated by generations and geography, but shared a passion for our work. When I first met John, there were a few of our colleagues that were not necessarily welcoming to me. John always met me with his kind eyes and a warm heart. He inspired me and encouraged me, and I think in a small way I reminded him of his past. John taught me focus. To focus on those who are supportive of you, to focus on your mission, to focus on friends and to focus on what matters. We live in a cluttered world, and John lived a very focused life.

While I realize I was so lucky to have these three amazing men in my life, it was hard to say goodbye this year. But, I won’t really. I promise to live out what I learned from each of them. This year, and every year.

* Even though he preferred that we call him by his first name, Michael and I can’t help but use the formal. While he was never a formal man, Michael met him when he was young and the name stuck.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Work Ethic (Apothecary, Part 1)

I worked for my dad for years at a pharmacy in Missouri. I still remember driving down Ward Parkway in his truck listening to talk radio and willing him to drive faster. I’m not sure why I was in such a rush to get to work, but I was young and almost always in a hurry. And, of course, I thought my dad was slow because that’s just how teenage girls are.
While working at the downtown location, I met some amazing people. I don’t remember all of their names, but they were hard working and loyal to my father and his business. They were because he was the example. He was always there earlier and then later than all of his workers. He would go the extra mile for his customers and he became part of the community. Even when really awful things (things that made the evening news) would happen, he would turn around and open up the store early the following day. 
Michael thinks this story epitomizes my father (there are many others, but this is a good one). On his way to work in my mother’s minivan, he was in an accident. Not just a fender bender--the truck in front of him lost his exhaust system hitting the car my dad was driving, taking out one side and causing it to flip, multiple times, and finally landing in a ditch. He climbed out of the driver-side window and was looking at the damaged car when help arrived. One person asked him if there were any survivors. “Ummm. Yes, me.”
 The tow truck arrived and pulled the disabled car out, and my dad asked if the driver could drop him off at his store on his way to drop the car off. The hospital? No. Work? Without question.
In the basement of this downtown location, there were these huge apothecary cabinets--painted green and scratched revealing many layers of paint and a deep stain. They smelled musty and showed years of wear. But, I loved them. Even as an impatient teenage girl, I saw something in these old cabinets and I knew that I would have them in my home one day. I told my father and he listened. Years later, when he closed the store, he moved those cabinets into storage. When they moved their home, he had them moved again.
A few years ago, Michael and I visited my parents and brought one of the cabinets back in a rented truck. The bottom cabinet is complete and I’m working on the top now (Apothecary, Part 2). Clearly, I’m not in a rush like I was when I was a teenager.
Part 3 and 4 are in waiting in the wings now. We brought them back this summer.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

15 million recalled, but ours wasn’t one

I woke up to the smell of an electrical fire. You know that burning acidic plastic smell? If you don’t, it’s a smell that you can’t easily forget. It was about 3 in the morning and it was strong . I had to first figure out if I was dreaming or awake. Unfortunately, I was awake and then really awake.

We had recently replaced outlets in the kitchen so I immediately thought I knew the source. I woke up Michael and that was his thought, too. We were wrong, and a little groggy, and concerned. He decided to check out the attic and crawl space while I went around touching around each outlet and petting the walls to feel for heat.

We quickly narrowed the smell to one room, but couldn’t figure it out. We started to unplug everything. Moved furniture to unplug the television components and were overwhelmed by the fumes. Our surge protector was melting (albeit slowly). We took it apart and the battery was fine, but the rest was self-destructing and it smelled horrible. We moved it outside to the driveway so that it could melt outside or at least cool off.

We tried to go back to bed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what might of happened had we not been home, or out of town, or just didn’t have sensitive noses. The thought of your home burning down doesn’t really reassure you as you are trying to get back to sleep. After a few hours of fitful rest, I decided to google the product. There were years of complaints on message boards and big news of a recall just last month (October 2013). I strangely felt relieved, until I realized our model—the one smoldering in our driveway—was not included in the recall.

I’ve since sent an email with photos of the damaged product to the company. I may have used the words “catastrophic malfunction” in my message. I fully expect them to do the right thing… but I still can’t get that smell out of my head.