I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Updates & Musings

Things have been insane around here trying to finish up the school year with Sarah, who by the way made straight A’s, and just generally trying to manage chickens and bees and whatnot. Here is a quick update:

The chickens are GIANORMOUS they have more than quadrupled their size since we got them several months ago. They actually look like chickens now, they have lost almost all of their baby feathers and are almost entirely a gorgeous glossy black, when they stand in the sunlight there feather glint beautiful shades of green, blue and purple. Their little spindly legs have thickened and turned completely black, however their combs and waddles have yet to grow into much of anything and are still a grayish brown, they are supposed to turn red eventually.

They have such personality and charm and it is hysterical to watch them torment Fred in the evenings, refusing to go to roost and making him chase them all about the coop. Nights when it is my turn to put them to bed they are usually already nicely settled in their house and I merely have to close the door. I really believe they just get a kick out of Fred chasing them madly around the coop and banging his head on the ramp. He grumbles and complains that they are “dumb stinky chickens” but he is attached to them too. He takes his guitar out in the evening and serenades them as they scratch around in the yard. I am not sure if they enjoy this or not, he thinks they do. (It seems to me they tend to hurry into the house a little earlier on these evenings.)
As for the bees, well, they are alive! My transplanted queen was a success. Fred saw her earlier in the week. She is hard to miss because she is marked with a bright blue gob of paint. Fred did a little research and said the queen raisers specifically color code the queens according to the year in which they are hatched. Theoretically, a queen from good stock can live for around five years but, according to whichever book you read, a queen’s ability to lay is really tapped out after around two or three years and most books advise requeening prior to the queens natural death to prevent swarming and to control the genetic makeup of your hives. All I know at this point is I am glad I did not kill her and or tank the hive.

We had a short break in the weather yesterday and Fred went out to check the hives the bees had begun to “pull comb” in our top super of our largest hive so he went ahead and added the queen excluder, this is a small screen that allows the workers up into the super box to make honey but does not allow the queen to follow them and lay eggs. If the bees produce enough honey this super should be our first honey harvest in a few weeks. We are very excited. We have been feeding our smallest hive, our split, for a couple of weeks now and although they are maintaining they are not growing significantly. We will continue to feed them and may need to do so through the winter to keep them alive.

That is an update on everything you may have been following to date. We are struggling with this weather and the rain as are many people around the country. Our hearts and prayers are with the victims of the flooding out west. We know intimately what it is like to watch the water rise and wonder if this will be the storm that washes away everything we own. We count ourselves as very blessed because even now as I type this and watch the rain fall outside our window God has given us enough significant breaks in the rain over the last several days to keep the creek and the river within their banks.

These things that are outside of our control in life are often the things that leave us so very hurt and angry. Whether it is the ravishing of nature, illness, the oil leak in the gulf, loss or personal pain, things we cannot control sometimes leave us wondering where God is and why is he not answering our desperate pleas for help. There are so many things in life that disappoint and that just do not turn out the way we plan but sometimes that in and of itself is the problem, we so often focus on what WE plan instead of what God wants or has planned.

Regardless, sometimes bad things just happen, we live in an imperfect world with no promise of tomorrow Job tells us, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return there, The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Basically, we came into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. It is a sobering thought when you contemplate that most of us spend our entire lives trying to amass stuff and to gather acolytes that have very little intrinsic value. My prayer for my personal life is that God will allow me to stand in the midst of my suffering and continue to praise his name.

This is not easy. When crappy things happen it is easy to get mad at God. The great thing about God is he is big enough to take our anger and like the father he is, still love and care for us when our anger is spent. Ephesians tells us “Anger and sin not.” This is good advice and a worthy point for people who think Christians should never get mad. Getting mad is not a sin. Sometimes getting mad is a necessary response to propel us into action. Jesus got mad and since he lives for thirty plus years I am willing to guess that he probably got mad more than just what is recorded in the Bible. Sometimes getting mad is just a natural human response to things that are outside of our control.

When I lost my job I was mad. I was hurt I was angry and not for the first time in my life I felt like I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or what God’s plan for my life was. I had worked so hard to get that job I had jumped through all the hoops, passed all the tests, surely it was God’s will for me to be there. How could I have ever landed there and successfully passed the rigorous testing processes if it was not God’s will? So why did I have to give it up? Why the stumbling block? I have wrestled with this since September and I really still do not have any clear answers. What I do know is that through all of my anger and depression, for all of my ranting and tears God is faithful.

It is not always for us to know the way or the why of the Lord, we are but a small part of his creation. Yes he loves us but we are not in charge he is. The sooner we surrender ourselves to this the easier our burden will be. I have spent a great deal of time reading the book of Job lately. I have revisited my own anger and disappointment as I try to help a friend deal with theirs. We often focus on the first part of the book of Job the epic struggle between God and satan, Job’s loss and the shunning by family and friend. We applaud Job for his steadfastness in his faith but what we gloss over is: Job whines a lot. Job gets depressed, Job questions God and in fact I would go so far as to say Job gets angry.

We endow Job with saintly virtue because he continued to praise God through his suffering but so often we down play the part where Job is still human and deals with human emotions and turmoil through his loss and suffering and questions God’s fairness and loyalty. Ultimately, God’s response to Job is: if you think I am wrong and what I do is unjust then you do it better. Ouch. That puts it in perspective for me. We are not God. On this earth it will always be impossible to completely know the mind of God. I do not know why children suffer. I do not know why one man starves while another owns millions. I do not understand why a godly man is struck down with cancer while a child molester lives into his seventies. I do not know. I am not God. What I do know is that I will choose to praise God.

I can testify that through the trials in my own life God is faithful and a world with God in my life and in charge of my life is much preferable to a world without. We have no promise of tomorrow and we cannot guard all of these material things we collect against everything that may come. I am making a conscious choice in my life to place more value on the things that really matter. I am so grateful for my family. I am so grateful for my friends. I am so grateful for my church. I want to give back. I want to be a better friend, a better wife, a better parent, a better teacher. I want to help those around me learn from the mistakes I have made and start sooner to value those things of real worth. I make mistakes every day I am not perfect. I am learning and this is a journey but I would like to leave you with a passage of scripture that Jeff read at Fred and my wedding:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, Love is kind and is not jealous: love does not brag and it is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account wrongs suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. LOVE NEVER FAILS…”
I Corinthians 13: 1-8

I know I said I would leave it there but let me add; to me this really sums up what a Christian life should be. If we follow these basic principles of love we will be kinder to ourselves, each other, our families and the world in which we live. Love makes anger obsolete, I am not saying I will never get angry again (in fact I get angry a lot, my temper is probably my least attractive feature) what I am saying is that if we act out a spirit of love our angry will not cause us to stumble or to harm.

Thank you for reading,
Much love,


Monday, June 7, 2010


Here is something I have realized in the short amount of time I have been writing this blog. “Going green” is a resolution, and like all best intentions (January diets and daily devotions), it is easy to get side tracked and fall back into lazy old patterns. We have become such a society of convenience and instant gratification that the concept of disciplining our personal lives is almost foreign, notice I said almost. Our family started out with the best of intentions, we still have those intentions, but I have observed all of us, on occasion, drifting back into old patterns.

I have actually found it easier to make the big changes, like making our own detergent and turning off the air conditioner, than to keep up with the little things; like turning off lights when we leave a room or using a hand towel to dry our hands instead of reaching for a paper towel. (It is the initial thrill of getting saved versus the daily grind of doing devotions.) When things are new and exciting and we can all still feel that sense of purpose it is easy to cheer each other on and keep our goal of greener living in the forefront of our minds. As these same things become mundane daily activities and the excitement of our initial purpose wears off it becomes easier to reach for the paper towel on the dispenser beside the sink than to walk to the cabinet and get a clean dish towel.

Two weekends ago, at the Sustainability Fair, we received lots of swag (and no the irony of giving away lots of free new stuff at a fair about recycling is not lost on me). In our loot haul we received close to a dozen grocery bags, you know the kind made from recycled plastic that are reusable over and over again so we do not have to bring home the flimsy plastic ones from the grocery store that almost instantaneously choke the landfill? I will be the first to admit, I had lots of uses for the flimsy bags, mainly it made litter box clean up super easy, but I also realize how detrimental they are to the environment and that they are an unnecessary step. I can just almost as easily move the garbage can to the litter box and skip the plastic middle man.

The first couple of conscious trips to the grocery store were easy. Recycled bags in tow, we got up on our morally superior high horse and gallivanted off to the market. (I have found that when using these bags it is easier to bag my own groceries than to let the bag-person do it, they will throw the first few things into the recycled bags and then quickly begin filling in the gap with plastic. Of course since they also like to use my three dollar tomatoes as hockey pucks I tend to bag myself or have Fred bag anyway.) We came home with our sense of purpose and moral superiority fully intact. Fred and I were very pleased with our eco-conscious grocery trips. We are taking lots of small steps towards smaller foot-prints in the market. For example we no longer put our fresh produce in those flimsy little extra plastic bags that are immediately tossed as soon as we get home and we try to purchase organic whenever possible.

After our first trip to the grocery store with our new reusable bags our cat Bettie quickly put us in our place and gave us a show-and-tell lesson about just what she really thought of our inept efforts at going green. As I was unloading the groceries in the kitchen she took a pee in one of the new reusable bags. Um, that one may now have been relegated to a one time use bag. Bettie has a great disdain for our meager attempts at a more sustainable existence as she made painfully and messily evident. I rinsed it out and put it on the back porch. I may try to put it in the laundry with the rags this week, but I think a cycle through the washing machine will probably destroy it.

All the grocery bag drama aside, the real point of this entry is how we need to constantly renew our motivation as a family to better planning and organization and our commitment to going green. You see after the initial thrill and newness of our grocery bags wore off I found myself falling right back into my old shopping patterns. We would make a big trip to the market once a week. On this trip we could remember to take our bags. Then through the week I would find myself running to the store to get one or two items, forgetting the bags at home and coming home through the week with several of those insidious plastic bags, stuffing them back into the closet to be used as cat poop receptacles.

Yesterday found our family in a mad rush all day trying to cram a weekends worth of activities, from church to birthday parties to grocery shopping, all into one twenty-four hour stretch. This left us at the market late yesterday evening without any of our recycled bags. It did not even cross my mind until we were standing at the car loading our groceries into the back. I admit when I realized what we had done I was more than a little ashamed of myself and embarrassed that I might be seen by someone who reads this blog and judged by my actions.

I could not help but draw the parallel between this and my spiritual life. In Sunday school yesterday morning we talked to the kids about the difference between being a Christian and being saved versus really having a relationship with God and knowing what his will for our lives is. We talked about the difficulty of having a relationship with someone to whom you never speak or to whom you never listen. Like my grocery bags that do me no good at home in the closet my Bible does me no good at home on the coffee table. Furthermore if I only pray when I am desperate or in need and only open my Bible sparingly, like a divining rod, how can I really expect to have a functioning relationship with God or to be a good example of Christ for others.

As we loaded our plastic bag shod groceries into the back of the car the shame I felt, the embarrassment and fear of someone seeing me was very much akin to the feelings I get when I do something I know to be outside of God’s perfect will. I wonder who is watching me and into whose life I may be throwing a stumbling block out of my own misstep. We all make mistakes and like I have said over and over we are making baby steps towards our more sustainable greener life but some things just take a little dollop of discipline. I need to be more prepared to face the challenges of greener life just like I need to be prepared everyday in my spiritual life.

If we keep a few of the recycled bags in the car or spend a little time planning our trips to the store then we will not find ourselves caught out without something we need, just like if we spend a few minutes reading the Bible in the mornings we will not find ourselves caught without the spiritual armor and reinforcements we need in a sticky situation. In Sunday school we talked about how hard it is to prove to other people you are related to someone that you never talk to or know nothing about. It is the same in our Christian lives, even though God may be our spiritual father, if we know nothing about him and never talk to him people may have a hard time believing us. All it takes is a little bit of discipline and a fervent desire to kindle something more in our lives.

I want to be a better Christian, a better person and a kinder steward of the environment. I want someday to stand before God not knowing that I am saved and have entered his kingdom by the “skin of my teeth” but I want to hear “well done my good and faithful servant.” Like the struggle towards a greener life, the daily battle with clutter that gets in the way of what I really want to do and be rages on. But I am taking a moment this morning to renew my commitment to my relationship with God and my desire to take better care of the planet he has given me. So if you see me at the store loading plastic bags in my car or you see me out and you think well she’s a Christian she should not do/say/be/wear whatever please forgive me for making you doubt, I am human and I struggle daily too.

I would like to leave this blog today with a passage of scripture we shared with the kids from a translation of the Bible called Seek and Find, remember it is always easier to hear God when the lines of communication are open:

“My child, remember my teachings and instructions and obey them completely. They will help you live a long and prosperous life. Let love and loyalty always show like a necklace, and write them in your mind. God and people will like you and hold you in high esteem. With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow.” Proverbs 3:1-6

Much love,


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Making of a Monarchy (I hope…)

(this is really just an addendum to today's early post)

Well I have either just really foolishly flushed twenty-five dollars down the toilet or I have successfully requeened the hive. Not a whole lot of margin for error there. I went through every frame of both the brood box and the super on the hive that I still believe (up until moments ago) to be queenless. I saw not a single speck of new brood or eggs (other than that which we placed in the box on Sunday). I also did not see any “emergency” queen cells. This worries me because, according to the inspector, if there was not a queen present then the workers should have drawn an “emergency” queen cell from the brood I transplanted. It is his stance that no sign of emergency cells mean, in fact, they have a queen.

I am not entirely sure I did the right thing and I actually have approximately twenty-four to forty-eight hours to change my mind. It should take that long for the sugar cork to be eaten away and allow the queen and her entourage to escape from the queen cage. I may go out again tomorrow and take another look through the hive but I went, carefully, through every frame looking at every cell for sign of brood and scanning intently for the queen. I have seen the queen in the split we made so I at least now have a better idea what she looks like. She is long and slender and a slightly different color from the others.

I may have made a mistake. I do not know. But I had to go with my gut on this one and I just do not think there was a queen in that box or if there was a queen I think she must have been trapped during the terrible weather we had last week and therefore missed her mating flight, remaining a virgin and of no use to me whatsoever. I know that sounds harsh but I would rather loose/kill one queen bee than lose my whole hive, you know, sacrificing one for the good of many and all.

I am still considering isolating her with some bees in a nuc box and waiting to see if anything starts happening in my hive. If I do that and if there is a mated queen in that box and she starts producing then I would have four hives instead of three, because the nuc could then be colonized. In this instance the worst case scenario is if there was no queen in the original hive then I could combine it with the nuc and go back to three hives. Also, having several hives now does not preclude me from combining them closer to winter. If none of them are super strong when fall gets closer I can always kill the queen of one colony and combine two or more boxes together for a large hive with a better chance of surviving through the brutally long cold months.

This like everything else in my life right now feels adrift with no clear sense of direction. The bees have become some kind of living metaphor for my inability to move decisively in any direction. I feel that I cannot stand still because it feels stagnant but I feel that when I make a decision to move one direction or another a door is promptly closed. I want to do right by my bees and I want to seek God’s will for my life but days like today I feel like I have lost the secret decoder ring for both.

Much love,


I’ve neglected the blog now for over a week, and frankly I’m not sure where this entry is going, however, I owe it to myself and the people following this blog, who are diligently praying for Fred and me, and our success, to give you an update. The last week or so has been fraught with disappointment both in our beekeeping endeavors and our personal lives. I had hoped this fall to open my own yoga studio here in the Elkview area. I needed some additional training for national certification and insurance purposes and had intended to take that training over the summer. The class I had enrolled in was canceled due to lack of interest. So God has closed that door for now.

That news and the seemingly ceaseless rains of the past week or so left me in a directionless funk. Logically I know that things happen in God’s time and according to his plan but logical reasoning and practical application do not always seem to go hand in hand. I like to be proactive and in motion so stillness and the ability to listen are not two of my strongest attributes. I find myself starting lots of little things and leaving a trail of half finished projects in my wake. I guess, for now, this is what I am supposed to be doing, caring for my family and the bees and chickens. I am not much of a housekeeper so it is especially trying for me to be stuck here on the rainy days when I cannot get out and work in the hives or tend the chicks.

Here is an update on the bees. We found the queen in our split. She is laying and the hive looked good. Last Saturday when we got into the hives and began poking around we saw evidence of what we thought was a queenless hive. This is especially frustrating because it was the hive from which we made the split originally. There did not appear to be any eggs or larva or brood at all so we assumed that when we made the split or sometime after we had accidentally killed the queen. We spent all day Saturday and part of the day Sunday trying to track down a queen producer within driving distance so that we could quickly obtain a queen and get the hive back in order.

Our biggest fear was that we would lose the rest of that hive to a swarm, apparently we had bigger things of which to be afraid. We called the president of the KVBA and he asked how long we thought the hive had been queenless. We believed it could not have been more that around a week because we try to get in the hives at least once a week sometimes more and a week ago we had not noticed anything alarming. He said we would probably be ok to mail order a queen since the hive apparently had not been without a queen for an extensive period of time but (and let me say this is a big but) if we left the hive queenless and there was no brood from which the workers could rear a queen eventually one of the worker bees would begin to lay eggs.

Well frankly this did not sound too bad to me. Seriously, why not just let one of the workers take over the queenly duty? The more I thought about it the better it sounded. Then he dropped the bomb on me. Yes a worker would begin to lay eggs but those eggs would strictly be drones, which means that very quickly the hive would be overrun with bees that could neither feed nor care for themselves or the hive. UGH! He also went on to elaborate on the fact that once you had a laying worker, not only was she almost impossible to find and snuff but that by the time the problem was caught it would be almost impossible to correct and usually the entire hive would be a loss. The frames would need to be destroyed and we would have to start from scratch with a new colony. Can I say again? UGH!

So we spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday calling everyone on the WV Queens producer registry trying to find a queen within driving distance that we could get right away. Remember this was a holiday weekend so even if we got one in the mail it would not ship out until Tuesday at the earliest and we were running out of time. We found one Italian queen in Wardensville, up in the panhandle, which was ready to ship. It would be a nine hour drive to get her. We debated what to do.

The beekeeper that reared the queen suggested we take a frame of young brood from one of our other hives, remove all the bees and stick it in the hive that was supposedly queenless. He said as long as there were brood to care for the workers would not begin to try and lay, his advice was this would buy us a few days grace period and allow the queen to ship USPS. We decided this was the most economical solution. It would have cost us nearly one hundred dollars by the time we had driven there, paid for the queen and driven home not to mention the entire weekend would have been shot. We did as our fellow beekeeper had suggested and switched a frame of brood for a frame of honey and waited for our queen to arrive.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and early with a call from the state inspector. Remember I have been trying to mesh schedules with him for weeks now. Our apiary was due for inspection but I wanted to be there when he came so I could take full advantage of his expertise. He did not give me much notice he was about an hour away and heading my direction, if I wanted him to stop he would. I told him yes and briefly explained what I thought the problem was. He gave a huge sigh, mumbled something about newbies and said he would see me in an hour. I scrambled to find someone to sit with my niece while I got in the hives. My mother-in-law came to the rescue and agreed to babysit for the hour or two it would take.

The inspector arrived and we suited up and headed to the hives. He pointed out about eight million and a half things that we were doing wrong, scoffed at my “Beekeeping for Dummies” bible that I live by and basically all around marveled that my split had lived at all after my caging them off debacle. However, most of the problems he found were minor and general he said (for newbies, of course) we were doing a pretty good job (for people who had no clue what they were doing). We did not have any major illnesses; one hive did have a couple of mites but nothing that was overly concerning. He pointed out a few changes we should make and then we moved into our queenless hive.

He went through both supers and the brood box and pulled out several frames. Unfortunately, it seems our inexperience has once again led us to the wrong conclusion. The inspector was of the opinion that we do have a queen in that hive and that she was probably a virgin on her mating flight. He said the empty cells in the brood box were an indication that the workers were cleaning out for the new queen to begin laying, not that they had left or that the queen was dead. He said the real proof of a queen was that the workers had not begun to pull an “emergency” queen from the frame of brood we had placed in the super. Well great. Not.

Now I have a twenty-five dollar queen and no hive to put her in. She just arrived this morning (Thursday) and I, frankly, have no clue what to do with her. I taped closed the sugar cork end of her cage and placed her on top of the hive frames. I’m getting ready now to gear up and head out. My options are (assuming that all of my hives have a queen):

a. Snuff one of the queens and replace it with the new queen.
b. Get another brood box and put some of my bees and a new queen in it and try for another split.


c. Try and sell the new queen we just bought.

These are the options assuming that the inspector is right and there is a queen in the hive. If there is not a queen then I will simple un-tape the cork and let the new queen do her thing. Pray for me I will need it this afternoon!

Much love,

Romans 5: 3-4 “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulations bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character hope.”