Tuesday, April 30, 2013

fedco...and a small package

It is not every day that I am welcomed to an old warehouse building near the offramp of the Maine Turnpike by a bearded man in a safety vest and a sombrero.

Need I say more?

Well, yes, I guess I do.  But that's pretty good, right?

This picture is a result of three drive-bys with my camera resting on the top of my car door, window open, as I pressed the camera's picture taking button and hoped for a usable picture.

I think what the cool chicks would have done in this moment is that they would have walked up to sombrero man and said Hi.  You look fabulous.  Can I take your picture?  But I am not said cool chick.

Because I am new to this.  To the organic farming/homesteading/lifestyle world and to the going someplace with an eye toward writing about it later and needing some lovely pictures to go along with.  And the introverted shy person that I am has trouble stepping into new shoes, approaching people I do not know, and going places on my own and sticking out.

Because from the moment this wonderful man flagged me into the parking lot full of trailers and pickup trucks at the Fedco tree sale, I think I did just that...stick out.  Drawn to Fedco for its mission, its quality, its product being right for the northern growing region in which we try to grow our own food, I know that I want to fit in here.  But as I planned my outfit early that morning at home, drove an hour and a half north while Jonathan handled school drop off for me, and took deep breaths while I tucked my camera under my carefully chosen stylish but practical spring jacket, I knew this was not my scene...yet.

Because man. Fedco? It has a righteous vibe.  People of the earth somehow looking all-natural and chic all at the same time.  What would otherwise be an unused large metal building made beautiful with hand drawn signs, and filled with gorgeous plants, tubers, bulbs and seeds.  As I stood in line to wait for my preordered loot, I listened to people greet each other as they walked across the parking lot, talked about how their hives and shrubs had weathered the winter, talked about losses to predators, and gave advice about how to do better this year.

I did my best to look self assured and comfortable when inwardly I started to have questions such as is it ok to take pictures that capture people without their permission, would I be questioned if I started in taking lots of pictures and if so, what in the world would I tell them I was doing...what am I doing really??

So I took some quick pictures here and there, returning my camera to its unobtrusive place beneath my jacket, tried my best to not have people be the focus of the pictures, and took more deep breaths.  And waited for my turn to give my name and then wait for my bundle of trees and plants to be brought to me.

Even these packages are beautiful.  It is as organic as it gets there.  Simple brown paper sacs with your name and order number are brought to you and then you carry them to your car.  Roots are wrapped in what appears to to shredded Fedco catalogues and order forms...again, strangley lovely.  Many orders were huge, for "real farms", which clearly had a good deal of acreage upon which to stow away these new arrivals.

I now find it funny that my sack was labelled not only with Jonathan's name, but also as "1 small bag."  As if providing signage for our modest newbie homesteading pursuits.  In the moment, I think I likely blushed as it was handed to me and I sheepishly navigated through the crowd, the trailers full of soon to be orchards, to my Subaru.  Jonathan had even so kindly folded down the back seats...for that one grocery sized bag.

From there, I headed up the road, looking for my amigo but not finding him, to where the tubers, seeds, and bulbs were being distributed.  Again, it was a place of natural unpretentious beauty.  And I could not for the life of me figure out where I was supposed to be.  There were several LARGE warehouses and I found my way to one that was full of farmers, homesteaders, kids playing harmonicas, lots of pig tails and overalls, and rows and rows of seed potatoes.  I asked three people who looked like they were in charge, but apparently lots of farmers who were there to pick up their own supplies, have a look of being in charge about them.  They were kindly and very chatty...but not very helpful.

I did find the small warehouse where my order was waiting for me...and listened again to people in line, picking up knowledge and tidbits as I waited my turn.  I was told, after the man in charge told me my order had a hole...no explanation of what in the world that meant...I was looking for a hole in the box...and that I needed (please no!) to head over to that large potato warehouse again, find someone in charge, and have them help me figure out how to fill my order's hole.

I had more luck this time and a friendly man found me looking a bit white around the eyes and took me to the way out back of said warehouse to a small office where he might of murdered me but instead, entered my name into the computer box and found out what my hole was...which turned out to be a bag of red onions.  He Sharpied this information onto my box and was about to give me instructions about where to go...paused...looked me up and down and said, honey, I am going to take you to where you need to go next.  I fell in love with him right then and there.

We then began a rather awkward and slow march, with him walking about 10 feet in front of me and not really acknowledging my existence.  I think I may have had boyfriends in high school that treated me this way.  A much better human being than these past loves, he led me across the busy parking lot and back to the place where I first found out about my order's hole.  And made sure I got what I needed and then walked me back to the parking lot.

I wanted to hug him.  But I knew that would be wrong.  And weird.  And a little bit creepy.

So instead I thanked him.  Tried to be nonchalant and friendly and cool all at the same time...attempting to match his distantly loving march across the parking lot, as I thanked him for his help.  He smiled his farmer smile, all crinkly around his eyes.  And I headed back to my Subaru and he to his tubers.  Tossed my small box in with my small bag.

Alone in the parking lot and relieved that I now had what I had come for, I snapped a few pictures.  My relief made it all the more beautiful.

And then I stalked the parking lot man...on my way back to the turnpike's on ramp.  And headed back toward home.

Friday, April 26, 2013

dandelions, and tiger lilies, and landscape fabric, oh my!

Last year was the first year that we lived here for the whole summer, having moved in the fall the year before.  We left behind our established asparagus patch, strawberry beds, and raised bed vegetable garden, just as things were beginning to yield their bounty.  That was hard.

So last summer I was determined to get our new garden going.  There was a perfect place for it, surrounding a just a little bit rotting and needing a new roof garden shed that would be cute and handy.  But when we moved in, there was a very large flower garden surrounding the shed.  It had clearly been beautiful at some point, and the family we bought the house from apologized for their lack of a green thumb and negligence of it, telling us that at one point in the past, this garden had been on a garden tour of Portland.  It had been memorialized in an oil painting left behind for us by another previous owner.

Left untended it had become quite wild, and tiger lilies had completely taken over.  But I was thinking that I had made it big here.  That a garden already in existence was better than what we had dealt with at our previous home.  There, our filled lot went rock hard with ledge about 5 inches down, hence the raised bed garden.  I thought that it would be pretty easy to turn the flowers into food here.

I was wrong.

Tiger lilies?  Not easy to remove. My plan had been to move all of the beautiful heritage, I am sure, perennials as they came up in the Spring to what Elliott started calling the rescue gardens.  Phlox, lilies of many varieties, irises, hyacinths, strawberries, daffodils, tulips, and many plants that I can't yet identify started popping up as the Spring warmed the earth.  The tiger lilies were everywhere, pushing up everywhere you looked.  A new one would show up a week later in the place where I had removed them, a single frond pushing up through the soil.  I could not keep up with them.  I rescued the lilies and moved them for a while, but eventually wheel barrow full after wheel barrow full ended up being muscled down into the woods and into the low area on the bank we were filling with yard materials to help with erosion.

My mother, on the phone, was helpful.  You know, people would pay you for those.  Maybe you should not be dumping them in the brush pile.

Elliott cried over each lily he saw in the wheel barrow.  I took to dumping them when he was not around, every once in a while rescuing one and pointing to where it was when he checked in to make sure I was not killing them.

And then, just when I was working out a system using a long handled shovel moving around the plant like clock hands, jumping on the shovel to sink it, prying it up until it gave a little, then wrestling the plant and its massive root system out of the ground and throwing it into the wheel barrow...and starting again...I hit another unexpected snafu.

Landscape fabric.

I don't know who made this specific kind or with what material, but this landscape fabric is like nothing I have ever experienced.  It was so strong my handy shovel would not go through it, even when I jumped on it hard.  I know this because one afternoon, blessedly alone while Jonathan had to kids off on an ice cream run, I began to work on another tiger lily patch.  I placed my shovel.  I jumped to hop on the shovel's edge, and the lack of give from the shovel unknowingly being just an inch above buried fabric made me jounce hard and pop right back off the shovel, propelled so hard by my carefully developed hopping routine that was supposed to sink not stop, that I flew off and backward and landed hard and flat on my back.  From a few feet away you probably would not have know I was there, because I was surrounded by my orange blossomed nemesis.

I broke the handles off three shovels.  Three very good quailty shovels.  I cracked the bottom of some very good quality shoes from so much jumping on the top of the shovel head.  Very high end scissors, given to us as part of our wedding gift knife set? Kaput.

The combination of well established tiger lilies pushing through space shuttle building material worthy landscape fabric covered in about 8 inches of heavy soil and weeds just about did me in.  But I hopped, pulled, strained, hauled, exacto knifed and tore it all out of there.

One tool that I purchased a few years ago and used a great deal at our old house was a dandelion fork.  It seemed an arduous but earth friendly way to try to stay ahead of the weeds taking over in our green challenged yard, likely exacerbated by the poor quality fill soil.  We planted clover seeds everywhere there and enjoyed watching the clover flowers bloom and the lawn's wildness amongst the carefully manicured lots of our neighbors.  I enjoyed that quiet rebellion within the rules of our homeowner's association.  The teenager who mowed our lawn for us would tease us after seeing me actually spreading clover seed one day.  He had been throwing down weed block across town to get rid of clover earlier that day.  He would see us in town and ask, so, how's your clover?

The next wave of revolt after the tiger lilies and landscape fabric came in the form of bulb plants and dandelions.  I used that fork in the garden like nobody's business, pulling up dandelions and things that looked and smelled like onions but would blossom beautifully if I left them.  I got most of them and relocated them to the rescue gardens, but hyacinth and tulips and daffodils still pop up in strange places, amongst the kale, pushing through the thyme, in the middle of the pebbled path.  I try to enjoy their rebellion against me.

I know I will be fighting the return of the overgrown flower garden for years.  The other day, I worked a patch of the garden, now mostly lily free but full of shallowly rooted weeds, so that I could put in the broccoli seedlings.  I found bulbs and phlox popping up still.  I finished clearing the area. Worked in some compost, and put in a bed of broccoli, rushing to get it in before dinner.

And turned.  Just in time to see Elliott, who had been quietly playing in another weed patch just over there, hiding little garden decorations here and there...blowing a dandelion seed head.  I started to stop him.  He turned to me, lips pursed, dandelion clutched in his chubby hand.  I thought of the bees.  I thought of how he thinks of dandelions as bouquet worthy, protects tiger lilies from the brush pile, and is drawing from the abandoned pile of root infested torn landscape fabric to use to cover his fort.

And let him blow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


We here in Maine are greening up.  We have moved just past ugly.  Don't get me wrong, ugly is still here.  But the tinge of non-mud color here and there helps you overlook it.  Lawns are turning green-ish.  There are no longer ice patches anywhere, even the huge piles in the middle of the large parking lots have finally melted away...leaving dirt.

I guess you might call it bud season.  There are things about to happen everywhere, or even some things that already did.

With the bees a bit delayed, my almost ready hive boxes are sitting on the porch, a bit unmotivated to get all the foundation into the frames until I received the two week warning was I.  They are painted and we have chosen a site for them, but they are waiting for their inhabitants.

And so, I am turning my mind toward the other preparations, planting the fruit patch, getting in the early seeds, tending the seedlings we started indoors.  And watching the buds, of leaves and flowers, as they emerge almost secretly amongst the pale green.

Waiting to open for business.

Friday, April 19, 2013

escaping landscaping

It takes a bit of planning, and bit of grumbling, and a lot of self talk to get me to nonschool related, parenting, or child related evening activities.  But last night, after inconveniencing every member of my family, I got myself back to the Cumberland County Beekeepers Club monthly meeting.

I have my hive boxes painted.  I have my foundation just about into my frames...ok, let's be honest...the frames and foundation are sitting in stacks on the deacons bench next to me, undone.  But judge not.  I am told I will receive a two week warning before my package bees arrive.  Plenty of time to venture into the scary basement and find the right tools, or probably tools that will do, and put the foundation in the frames.  Shhh.  Don't tell my bee mentor.  I will get it done.

And I have chosen the site on our property for where these first two hives will sit.  I focused on sun exposure (eastern facing), windbreak (behind the garden shed to its northeast), private (facing the dead neighbors, not the alive ones), accessible by garden cart, and oriented toward the river as a water source rather than the nearby pool (my kids are on board the bee train, they just don't want to swim with them).

Last night two of the invited speakers were David Homa and Gretchen Voight of Resilient Roots, a permaculture education center in our area.  Given my aforementioned love of finding reasons to leave the mower in the barn, I perked up when David began by describing himself as a landscaper that was going to kill our lawn.

The idea of throwing out white clover seeds and buying actual dandelion seeds makes me a bit weak in the knees. Because last fall? I needed to do a google search to find out what a winch was. Because Jonathan, while mowing the slope between the lawn and the beginning of the steep slope down to the river got stuck. A combination of the slope, wet earth, and probably a certain degree of ignorance, got the lawn mower tractor that had been kindly left for us to use by the previous owners stuck. The mower spent the better part of a week down there, next to the blackberry patch. I was beginning to think I was going to need to turn it into some kind of quaint garden art. Maybe put a few pots around it, spray paint it festive colors and install a fountain on the steering wheel.

We worked at getting it unstuck almost everyday.  For a week.  Nothing makes you feel more like a grownup than to have your parents arrive unexpectedly to find you arguing with your grumpy husband while pushing and pulling and crowbarring your lopsided and completely immoveable mower on the hillside.

My father mentioned a winch.  That we needed one.  I nodded.  And waited for him to leave, before I ran inside, pulled out my laptop and googled winches.  I did not know what one was.  But it did not sound like a nice word.

We now own a winch.  It lives in the barn next to the mower.  It is sparkly and stainless steel.  I am sure we will need it again.  And yes, the mower was retrieved and returned to it's barn parking spot.  And has not been out again.

I have plans this summer to cover the slope, now rutted with the spinning tire marks, with clover and other bee forage of the non-mower maintenance variety.

Dandelions and clover sounds like an awesome start.  And I think David Homa is our new best friend.

Gretchen then spoke about her ideas for how we can create bee friendly landscaping around our hives with natural plant deterrents for mites and other bee sicknesses and beneficials to strengthen the hives.  All in hopes of a more sustainable and natural manner of bee tending, less dependent upon chemical treatment of the hives when they become sick.  I was converted.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the in between...crocs on ice

We are on the edge of winter and spring.  Here in Maine the transition between these two seasons is tricky.  A few days of warmth and we wash and put away our parkas and boots, only to have the cold come rushing back at us.  When this happens, we stubbornly refuse to put back on our parkas and hats and mittens, start up the wood stove,  and the thrill of this rebellion apparently helps us to combat the resulting physical discomfort.

Today, the weather prediction was for warm and sunny weather, the first day of sun that we had had for several days.  Needing an outing during this sad and troubling week of school vacation with plans to visit Boston on hold, we decided to head in the other direction.  To head North.  To be outside.  To be away from the barrage of disturbing media information.  To head for the Maine mountains.

This time of year makes for some interesting fashion choices here.  My kids wore smart wools and crocs.  Shorts with their parkas.  They fought my request that they throw in some extra clothing...just in case.  Maybe just some extra socks?

Though the drive to my family's property is only 2 hours away, as we drove we moved from full-on mud season in our backyard, with buds and birds and sunshine, to seeing patches of frozen ground and snow.  As we drove down the path to the camp, we saw the lake, the water level high with the ice broken into large sheets, but still in the lake. And some of the mountains that surround the lake were still snow topped.

The way we had dressed in Portland seemed a bit out of place, a bit premature, here.

As it always does, the lake called to the kids and they were quickly out on it.  Because of the cove's shallowness, we knew that the ice sheets were only in about 2 feet of water, so the kids explored with giddiness, likely because water with thin ice is usually forbidden.   They quickly had an ice ferry system going, moving quietly and cooperatively about the sheets of ice, ferrying the sheets back and forth between the larger openings.  Marching, jumping, howling, shivering.  Occasionally, one of them would run to the picnic table which was in the full sun in order to warm their feet...for a few minutes...before they headed right back out again.

Once the ice had begun to take its toll on little toes, and moods seemed to be following, we decided to take a walk down the camp road to the brook we enjoy playing in.  The wind was gone in the woods and it felt warmer as we moved away from the openness of the lake area.  Low areas were filled with puddles of composting leaves, muddy areas held animal tracks, and moss patches held the warmth of the sun.

Like the weather, and like this week, fickle and unpredictable, there were moments of perfectness and moments of disaster.  I will remember watching all three children take off their shoes and cross the river on a fallen log.  I will smile as I think about how Nicholas quietly turned around and went back to help Elliott cross when he started to feel unsure of himself.  I will remember Julia challenging herself to run as fast as she could through an area of saplings while dodging tree trunks, in and out of the dappled light.  I will remember the croc races down the river as I put their too small shoes up in the attic, waiting for someone smaller to need them again.  I know that with time I will forget the whining, the inappropriate dress, the scratched legs and feet.  I will block out that Jonathan tried to catch an escaping croc in the frigid rushing snow melt waters, lost his footing, and actually fell full body into the river...and destroyed his phone.

On trips like these, we always wish we were better prepared.  Had packed boots to keep their feet warmer.  Had thermoses of warm soup and cocoa.  We wish for items that woud have extended the joy a bit longer.  I mentally catalogue a list for next time, to make it even better.  I also know that next time, the unpredictable will require very different remedies and that I will again be unprepared.

But, part of the magic of these misadventures, the unexpected happenings, the disasters from poor planning, is that sometimes we rally.  Sometimes we deal with frozen feet by taking off our soggy shoes and nestling toes into a warm and spongey moss patch.  We hang our socks in the sunshine on branches.

Sometimes the joy comes from the misadventures.  And the poorly planned.  And the lack of prudent thinking.

As I pack up the car to head home, Jonathan is sitting inside wrapped in towels and a blanket, having had a short nap in the camp's warmth.  His clothing is fluttering in the wind as it hangs over the side mirrors of the car.  I know I will be the one to get out of the car to pump gas on the way home.

The camp door slams as the kids run out, laughing.

Mommy?  Can we microwave our underwear?

Friday, April 12, 2013

every shovel needs a bucket

If you give a moose a muffin, he'll want some jam to go with it.

I guess I have been given my muffin...the aforementioned bulk section of the grocery store.  And now I want some jam to go with it.

I have recently returned from the grocery store.  One of the things that I was there to purchase was organic cane sugar, in bulk of course.  Now, I know I am new to this food in bags thang, but I have to admit that I struggle a bit looking, well, skilled in the shovel section.  Spices I can handle.  They go in hard plastic containers.  Honey, olive oil, and others things that drip?  Into bottles.  Got that (though am I supposed to carry something to wipe my hands or the bottle with if perchance I spill a little bit?).  Things in large barrels I have worked through by setting my bags into the barrel as I scoop into them and therefore should I miss or should the bag drain, it goes right back into the barrel (although I still struggle with the shovels on coiley strings and how to get them around the flip up cover and still be long enough to dig without making the cover flip down on my arm or head).

But the containers that are all lined up in rows?  They totally baffle me.  Where am I supposed to support my flimsy floppy spilly uncooperative bag as I fill it?  And how, when the velcro on the top of the container has been filled with say, spelt...or millet...(I am making these up, these are not items I have ventured into, I just think the words are funny) and therefore the top is no longer held open by the velcro and falls down each time I let go of it with my left hand while I dig in with my right hand and reach for my bag, trapping the shovel and my hand inside the container, forcing me to let go of my bag to open the cover, causing my bag to flop, and slowly drain, almonds bouncing across the aisle...landing under the feet of the bemused employee...am I supposed to do that?

I may need to camp out in the bulk area for a bit and observe how the real shoppers do it.  I could ask the nice man who always seems to be refilling containers when I am there...but I think he enjoys watching my struggles, so I don't really want to take that away from him.

I double bagged my sugar today because I have learned that if you do not, it often gets double bagged in the checkout line or if it does not, it often gets torn and spills in my reusable, of course, grocery bag on the way home.  And then you face the dilemma of pondering just how clean your grocery bag was and if it is okay to just pour the spilled sugar straight into your canister.  These ponderings are time consuming.  So for today, I accepted defeat in the plastic saving department in order to save myself the loss of any money I was saving by buying bulk if the bag should again tear.

After completing my dramatic spilly time in the bulk section I headed out and hit a few more rows before I got into line at the checkout counter.  At some point between the freezer section and the baking goods section, I apparently tore a hole in the sugar bag...bags.  I blame the shark-like edge of the butter box.  Like Gretel, I had left behind a trail of sugar crystals throughout the area, easily followed by a wolf, or in this case, Whole Foods employee.  

I think I blushed the color of my frozen strawberries when the very nice man (or maybe he was a wolf in nice man's clothing) stopped and pointed out the spillage.  It was pooling around my cart...and in my kale.

So, now that I have my shovels, I think I need a bucket.  I think this will do.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

the shovel section

I have developed a love for the bulk food section of our grocery store.  I am embarrassed to admit that until recently I did not use it, and did not appreciate its greatness.

Given that I am quite a wimp in terms of upper body strength, Jonathan gamely purchases and carries to the shed our 50 pound sacks of chicken feed and we have added stopping by our local bakery for 50 lb sacks of King Arthur flour for all the bread, pasta, and other baking we do. We are currently going through these sacks in 3 to 4 weeks.

I try to get the rest of our our ingredients for baking and cooking in the bulk section of our grocery store.  Recently, shoulder deep in one of the barrels full of rolled oats, I was discovered there.  By two of my friends who were carrying their coffee cups as they walked, almost strolled, clearly having met there for a chat before they shopped.  They were dressed well.  I...well...in addition to my efficient llbean raincoat accessorized by said oat barrel...was not.

I don't know why, but for some reason I was a bit embarrassed.  Maybe it was my current positioning.  Maybe it was my outfit.  Or the fact that I feel sometimes like I am trying to kick it pioneer style in the middle of our modern and thriving city...you know heading into the general store like Pa Ingalls to buy the year's supply of salt and wheat, a bolt of calico cloth, along with a can of oysters as an impulse purchase...which is handy in case I get holed up in a snow bank on my way home from the store...(Little House fans...you know what I'm talking about right?  Word.)

((yeah.  I am testing driving that expression.  I don't think I am hip enough to pull it off.))

But maybe it was something in me ingrained by my mother...that we did not buy generic foods.  You remember, the ones that were in white boxes at the grocery store with black lettering?  Giving very barebones descriptions, like canned beans, oat flakes, and powdered milk.  Somehow, whether my mother said it or I surmised it, I associated generic foods either with not having enough money to buy "the good stuff" or that these items were of lesser nutritional content.  That somehow, the fancier the package, the glossier the pictures on the containers, the more celebrities on the cereal boxes saying yum with their eyes, the more exciting the name for the contained food, the better.

I am actually quite proud of the fact that I mostly buy ingredients at the grocery store these days.  That we eat a good deal of homemade food, bake our own bread, make our own baked goods, and eat almost no premade or processed food.  But I guess I am proud of this in a quiet way, in my own kitchen while I pack the kids lunches, not necessarily out in the wild of the grocery store.  I need to work on that.

I shop in the bulk food section because it cuts down on packaging, it cuts down on price, and frankly the fact that the woman at the check out lines was commenting weekly on my purchase of 6 small bags of flour a week was starting to make me feel self conscious.

Elliott stepped over the abandoned Whole Foods bags when he got home from school.  I had feverishly put away the refrigerator items when I arrived home, but not anything else.  Spilling out were some plastic bags.  I am going to begin working away at any assumptions he may be making about my choice buy bulk.  I will begin in our kitchen.

Did you go to the shovel section again? he asked.
You love the shovel section.
Yes I do.  Let me tell you why...

Friday, April 5, 2013

newbees and bee cowboys

When I was in college, I was in an acapella group.  Yes, I sang my way, in the shape of a croissant, through my young adulthood with a group of women.  These women, a wonderful group of very different individuals who had amazing voices and many other talents as well, were an elite group and one needed to audition to join their ranks.  If it had not been for for a bit of luck and a bit of musical talent, I would never have had an opportunity to hang with these women.  They were strong, opinionated, and frankly, quite terrifying.

One of the songs we sang back then, and that was a favorite of mine because of its lyrics, was When I grow up I want to be an old woman.  There was something very humorous to me about this group of fresh faced women, with the endless rotations and changes and experimentation of romantic relationships that any group of college aged kids undergo, singing about being old women.  Having 150 babies.  With a really old man.

Because really, what we were most destined for, most guided toward in that time period of our life, in the fair institution that I attended, with its feminist majors and its support of the liberal arts, was if anything, away from all of that.  Away from domestic life, away from the constraints of traditional feminine roles.  It was irony, I would say.

I, despite my ability back then to sing and perform on stage, am a very quiet and introverted person.  Social groups remain a struggle for me.  As a mother of young children, it was difficult for me to join new playgroups with our children as we moved from place to place during their early childhood years.  I did it, but I usually ended up becoming friends with a single person from those groups, and some of these individuals have become life long friends I hope.  And in motherhood, I did not have a musical instrument or talent to hide behind, to hold out as a way to prove my worthiness of joining in.  I did have a baby.  And man, were my babies cute.  But hide behind them?  Especially as our children get bigger, I am finding if anything they out you more than they give you shelter.

Case in point.  Yesterday I was walking across the crosswalk to pick up our children from school.  It was the art teacher's day to be out on the street, holding the stop sign to slow and hopefully stop racing cars as the children and their families crossed from the playground into the neighborhood where we all park.  This teacher turned to me and said, so, are you really going to get goats?  

But that is a story...a teaser...for another day.

This is on my mind as I have recently entered a new social group.  And it turns out, it is still as hard for me as it was when I was 13 years old.

For the past few weekends I have been taking a beginning beekeeping class at our local beekeeping store.  Since first seeing Loree Griffin Burns speak several years ago about her research for and resulting children's book about the importance of the honey bees in our food supply and of their troubles given the industrial farming practices in the United States, I have been hooked.  Not to mention my love of this book.

This movie was shown last year in our area and we later showed parts of it to the kids.

So eventually, with some money saving and planning, I landed myself in beekeeping 101 with an order for two packages of Russian bees, due to arrive in several weeks.  As a result, I spent part of the week painting and preparing the hive boxes for their coming residents and have been reading and devouring all things bee for a bit.  And soon, I will be thumping and dumping these lovely ladies into their new home.

Because in addition to my love of books and research and small ways that we can in our own backyard take care of the earth, apparently I have a bit of adventurous spirit.

As part of the adventure, I have joined our local beekeepers club.  As I sat in the parking lot outside the elementary school in which the monthly meeting was taking place, taking some deep breaths as I prepared myself for entering the multipurpose room to a sea of unfamiliar faces, I also was a bit excited.  And this evening did not disappoint.

I think it might have been a little like entering a support group meeting.  Coffee in the back with cups and fixings.  Some small groups talking quietly in bunches here and there.  Some individuals sitting quietly in their chairs, their arms crossed.  Some women had their bags open and were knitting.  There were the wise and seasoned individuals mixed in with some very well dressed and fancy young ones.  There were the intellectuals and the generations old tenders who seemed as though they would tend bees with their eyes closed.  It was one of the most diverse groups of people I have had the pleasure of being a part of in some time.

I sat with a woman from my beekeeping class, happy to have company, and she chatted away with me about my children, her worries about getting her hives painted in time, her long ago marriage...

There was a woman who had been encouraged to share her self-made design for a swarm catching bucket, complete with a telescoping long handle that would take away the necessity of the precarious climbing of a ladder. She was obviously nervous and it was lovely to see how encouraging this group was of her creation.  I am not sure where else a bucket with a collapsable handle would get such praise, where avoidance of ladders is knowingly commented upon, where enormous men in the back row can stand up and talk about how their lil' darlings didn't make it through the winter can exist without being beaten behind the bleachers.  Maybe all these people were in the marching band like me in high school.  But I am so glad to have found them.

But mostly, what I was struck by were the bee cowboys.  The ones that seemed to be totally jazzed by the idea of swarm catching. Lasoo-ing themselves up a new colony of bees.  It seemed to cross generations, and these vigilantes shared jokes and sideways glances in conspiratorial ways that made me feel a bit jealous.

Turns out, when I grow up, I want to be a bee cowboy too.  With tens of thousands of bab...bees.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Most woodpiles are made of wood, if you think of them that way.  Mine is the spaces between: the aisles and runways that are a world for many creatures soft and warm.

from Woodpile by Peter Parnall

There is an enormous pile of unstacked wood in our driveway.  Absolutely huge.  This past week we had 10 cords - yes, 10 cords of wood - delivered to our house by the tree guy we have used for a few years now, who works down the road from us.  In case it is hard to imagine, this is what 10 cords of unstacked wood looks like:

Let's just get it out there. I think our massive wood pile is beautiful. It smells so good. It is clean, freshly split, unseasoned (hence our decision to buy it now, so it can season in the hot summer months after we stack it into aerating piles.) I also love the shelter it becomes for the small creatures that live in our yard. Chipmunks, groundhogs, birds, rodents, bugs, and our children seem to be drawn to nest in it. Our kids had a whole snow fort built into the piles of shoveled snow and the nooks created by having pulled from the pile in different places during the winter.

But I am sure this pile of unstacked wood is a much discussed "situation" amongst those who can see it strewn across our driveway as they drive by, or by our neighbors.  We need to get it stacked. So it will dry. So we can get our bikes out of the barn. So we can feel a bit less publicly exposed for our unusualness. It feels a bit like having your underwear hanging on the clothesline right now.  

It sits out there, reminding us of this insurmountable, it seems right now, task ahead of us of stacking this pile.  Which seems like a combination of a burden and a gift.  

The other night the kids and Jonathan put on their work gloves and went out and stacked for a bit while I worked on dinner in the house.  It was warm outside, and doing this task now, for our benefit in a season that comes long after the spring we are just beginning to glimpse, helps us remember to enjoy the now.  I think I may have heard the basketball bouncing from time to time.  I was not expecting much to have changed, what with the bouncing ball, waning interests, the likely poorly chosen hour to begin just before dinner.  But this morning I noticed this.

I assumed the stacking as it had happened last year had been done by Jonathan or myself with the kids bringing wood from where it was dumped over to us, and soon peeling off to engage in some more interesting hootenanny.  But Jonathan reported that no, in fact Nicholas had done the stacking.  There is no better sign that he is growing than the carefulness and solidity of this stack of wood.  It is small.  But it is well done.  

And he hopes for monetary reimbursement.  See?  Growing up.

We are going to stack this wood, over the next few weeks...perhaps months...and create for ourselves all the spaces, stories, and togetherness between.  This wood will give us time together now with a common task and then rest here, improving with time, becoming drier and more burnable. And in the winter, we will revisit its pieces, hauling them into the house and be drawn toward their warmth.