beekeeping

NO HAPPY BIRTHDAYS HERE

As of today, I have dragged this carcass around the sun 37 times now. I know that doesn’t exactly put me in the category of wizened old broad just yet, but I have come to the realization over the past year that time is marching directly on, right across my face. I have upped my game a little bit and tried to live a balanced, healthy, outlook regime. It seems a popular thing to do to overshare lifestyle routines on various social media outlets, and I want nothing more than to be popular. So here you go; this is how you be a somewhat presentable 37 year old woman with various neuroses.

Sleep

Sleep no more minutes per night than your age in years. My body steadfastly maintains that rule, and has for nearly four decades now. So fuck you, science; insomnia doesn’t kill.

Exercise

I do get my heart rate up from time to time, mostly getting generally feminist mad about people telling me to lean in/employ parenting methods/be more mindful/eat more kale/generally put in any effort into anything besides subsisting. Not only does this have cardio benefit, but yelling is good for the lung capacity too.

For the past year I have also had intensive daily cardio whenever I drop my kids off at daycare. Among other daily atrocities, I think I can sum up our entire daycare experience in telling you that we had to find TWO CHICKEN COSTUMES for their Christmas play December. With two weeks notice. In December. When Christmas is. I drop my kids off at daycare because I have a full time job, and it is not as a chicken costumer. The subtext was that we should make the costumes because we don’t spend enough quality time with our kids. Two weeks before Christmas. In December. In terms of cardio effort, I should be thanking them for saving me thousands of dollars on a personal trainer.

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We actually had one chicken costume. I made my husband drive an hour and a half out of town for the second chicken costume, only to have our children refuse to sing the song  in front of an audience. I still don’t understand what happened because the song was in Spanish. But I assume there is a Christmas Chicken. There’d better be a fucking Christmas Chicken.

Then there’s all the idiot attempts that I make at doing shit that I am not prepared for. Like this for example:

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Those are my cousin’s hands firmly on my butt. She is the only thing between me and 30 burpees. And death.

My cousin asked me to do this, and I NEARLY DIED. It was one of those obstacle races, on the hottest day of the year, and I was grateful to wallow about in the mud pit to have some relief from the dust and heat. At my worst moment, a mystical unicorn of a woman well into her 70’s (who I mentally named Helen, because it felt generationally appropriate)  breezed past me. Instead of the demoralizing effect of crumpling into the dust to let an army of fit young dudes with something to prove trample my corpse, it spurred me on. If Helen could do this goddamned race, so could I. When I finished, my dad congratulated me by saying “wow, I was pretty sure your cousin would make it, but I thought you’d die out there.”

That’s me, exceeding expectations.

Diet

I am a really strict omnivore. I just really go out of my way to eat every goddamned thing I see to adhere to my principles. I have also skipped the cheap gin and tonics and switched to fancy gin and fancy tonic, which has had an enormous benefit because I can no longer afford to drink to the point of hangover. I also look at a LOT of healthy recipes on pinterest and share the fuck out of things like squash tacos and whatnot on Facebook and I rail about organic foods and GMOs literally all the time. I mean, I haven’t actually implemented most of these dietary changes at home, but change has to start somewhere right? Armchair activism is as good as any other method of anything out there.

Hobbies

Look, you gotta stay mentally sharp. My recent blog posts are fairly indicative of my primary hobbies, which are “having ennui about children growing up too fast” and “comparing everything to flowers”. Consider the lilies and all that.

I also keep bees and suffered a LOT of bee stings last year, you guys. So goddamned many. I was not sad even a little bit when one of my hives died over the winter because those things were jerks. They were honeybees masquerading as Japanese hornets. My thighs were constantly throbbing, and not in a fun way, but because they were constantly full of venom.

 

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Q: Which hand got stung by a bee? A: You have stupid hobbies, lady.

So anyway, between ennui and metabolizing venom, I feel like I really have this hobby thing nailed down. No one is getting bored around here.

Grooming

If you look good, you feel good. Although my husband would argue that I have long since given up on making myself appealing at most points of the day, I do spend an inordinate amount of time and money maintaining my “I don’t give a fuck” appearance. You would be SHOCKED to learn that my hair is not naturally blonde, and neither is my 93 year old grandmother’s. Yet here we are.

I have an army of women who tend to my various bits and bobs as they start the long (hopefully) slow march toward death. Estheticians, massage therapists, personal trainers.  It’s a slippery slope to duck lips and immovable foreheads, friends. For now I am hung up on expensive potions and ablutions though, and that is giving me the false sense of security that I have stopped aging in it’s tracks.

Which is why I found myself siphoning a precious “brightening oil” off bathroom counter with a medicine dropper when my son dumped it out. Twice. He came out of the bathroom smelling suspiciously like tangerines, and I knew right away that I was in one of those precarious parenting situations where I didn’t want to teach him that possessions are anything to freak the fuck out over, or that aging creams are important. What I ended up teaching him was that Mommy will cry as she desperately uses her City recreation pass to cut the oil into strips to be sucked up like so much precious cocaine using the a leftover syringe for dog medicine (I don’t think cocaine is particularly precious but as my only pop culture reference to how I managed to get oil back in a tiny bottle let’s just say it made me feel pretty desperate.)

Anyway, it was totally worth it because my skin is so bright it lights up like a goddamned Christmas tree now. No, it doesn’t, but it should for what I paid.

So. To conclude: sleep, exercise, diet, hobbies, grooming: CHECK. I’ve got this shit all locked up. I can cruise well into my 90’s with no concerns for the future. Keep on keepin’ on. Or something.

DO NOT WISH ME A HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Instead, tell me what you do to stay youthful, or whether you give a hot damn at all.

Back from the time warp

HERE I AM! Rocking you like a hurricane. Or maybe more caressing your face like a gentle breeze. I don’t even know anymore. I have a lot happening right now all the time. It’s all good stuff, but it’s so much stuff that I don’t have time for other stuff. Like blogging stuff. I have missed you all though, I swear.

When I started work two months ago I was all manicured, pedicured, spa’ed out, well rested and excited.

The only record I have of myself where I don't look tired.

Proof! I felt awake once!

Now I have been through training and trial by fire. Adding to that is field season, in that being a biology type person who works on industrial type things, spring and summer are the time when all the critters have to stand up and be counted. I am terrible at that sort of thing, so my job is to do paper work while the more talented among us are out enjoying the sunshine. That suits me just fine; I get to go pick up my kids at 5:15 every day and they’re happy to see me. It makes my life.

May is also stupid with birthdays in my family, along with Mother’s Day, inlaws visiting for two weeks. And me insanely deciding that we have to put our house on the market RIGHT NOW the day our inlaws arrived, and despite no evidence that we are going to be able to get our house in show condition without an intervention from that hoarders show.

Did I mention I am in a beekeeping workshop? Yeah. So there’s that too. Although I hate the snow, I am glad at least that our late spring delayed the bees for a couple of weeks this year so I could catch my breath a bit. My hive from last year gave me a lot of grief and I am just going to do a separate post on that for the bee lovers among us.

I have a beekeeping helper this year

I have a beekeeping helper this year

Did I also mention that I am taking a running workshop? I AM GOING TO LOVE RUNNING, GODDAMMIT. Or I am at least going to do it. Because since kids, I can endure basically anything for any amount of time.

This may have been more than I was up for, but in typical rollergiraffe fashion, I careened right into it. As a result, all of that pampering and pedicuring wore off quickly. This is a recent photo:

Smoking relaxes me

Smoking relaxes me

My kids are totally validating my daycare provider’s assumption that I was really shitty at parenting. When they started daycare they were hot messes and we were limping in every day barely alive. In the last two months they have learned to dress themselves, mastered potty training, learned all the continents and many countries, learned to write their names, done art projects that I can’t even do, grown grass, and learned a whole second language. I worked for TWO YEARS on that potty training thing. So, basically feeling pretty amazing about my daycare picking skills, you guys.

But they’re FOUR! My babies are four, and of all the things I have been through this month, that is the most exciting and fun. They’re so cool right now. I love every day that they come home with something new.

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Fourth birthday at the amusement park

One of these kids is a bit dramatic. I'll let you figure out which.

One of these kids is a bit dramatic. I’ll let you figure out which.

Anyway, I make no promises about blogging right now, but do know that I do my best to keep up with y’all’s prodigious blogging pace. So tell me, how are YOU?

Bees! Part 2: Winter is Coming

One of my favourite things about keeping bees is that they demand community. You could probably do the majority of beekeeping alone, but it is so much more fun fretting over the bees with a dedicated bee co-parent as I had in Sarah. I also credit her husband Dave who was game enough to put up the Lucy and Ethel of beekeeping. You two are the bees knees. There, I said it!

Winter

Sarah and Dave purchased a new house and rented out their old place. The bees were a bit of a hard sell with the new tenants, given that the house was rented out in the “aggressive period” in September where bees are capping off their honey and guarding their resources from wasps. (It’s pretty impressive to watch a gang of tiny honeybees take down a wasp, by the by. The OCD among us will be happy to note that organization trumps all physical threats.) But the tenants agreed to allow the bees until they were done collecting pollen, as the bees would have swarmed back to their old location. Then we would have had Swarm: The Second Coming, claimed ignorance, and just moved on to a new hobby.

As pollen season wrapped up, we had to support the bees in their winter preparations. The bees were busy killing off all the useless male drones and shoving them out the door so they didn’t steal resources all winter (good system, am I right, ladies?). Our job was to make sure the colony was healthy and insulate it up for winter. This also meant that we’d get HONEY! LIQUID GOLD FOR REALZ HONEY!

We later smashed this beautiful capped off honey apart and ate the fruits of their labour. Gotta pay the rent, bees.

Frankly, we were not really excited to steal honey from pissy bees after the Swarm: Everyone Gets Stung incident. But steal we did, and no one was injured. Sarah’s kitchen was very, very sticky though. We should have done it at my house where another layer of sticky would just be background noise against the layer of peanut butter finely smeared over everything. (Note, do not bring your kid with peanut allergies over here).

Straining out all the wax and bee parts. No one likes it when I say that.

As I found out, beekeeping involves an inexplicable amount of duct tape (we might be doing it wrong). This is when you should employ the bees’ community spirit and have someone help you so you don’t have wads of duct tape stuck to your clothing when you go to your fancy hair dresser, which is what happened when I slaved over custom insulation panels for the bee hive one day. I will never operate duct tape alone again.

So much duct tape. But even more was stuck to my jacket at the hair dresser, causing my hair dresser to make A Face.

We were blessed with an early winter, and now the bees are only coming out to take a little tiny bee dump and then going back inside for another week. I AM SO JEALOUS.

That is only half the fucking snow we have right now.

Moving Day

With the hunkered down for winter, we decided to move them to Sarah’s new house. Moving a hive that weighs something comparable to a small adult a block and a half was not going to be accomplished by us two broads, so we started cashing in on people’s general interest in beekeeping. It did not escape my notice that more people volunteered to move bees on a cold Monday night for no reward than attend my birthday party. I think that really speaks to how deeply unpopular I am the charismatic nature of bees.

We chose our bee moving crew well, and that sucker was safely packed up into the back of Dave’s Subaru without dumping thousands of bees to their frozen death as we had feared. The bees safely made the 1.5 block journey to their new home where they should be content for the rest of winter.

One of the standard features of an Impreza is that it perfectly fits a 2-level Langstroth bee hive in the hatch.

Then we raised a glass of mead to our efforts, reflected on the community nature of bees, contemplated next season, watched the swarm video about a dozen times and then decided on our next project: A reality show where we all wear GoPros all the time because they make everything look so goddamned awesome.

SEE:

Bees!

(Madame Weebles, stop your reading right here because this post is all about bees, honey, and disgusting holes.)

I am going through a phase. I think it might be a lifelong one, but it’s one where I am very interested in urban agriculture and slow food. I would love to garden but we have very little space in our yard and I am very lazy. I would love to have chickens but they’re illegal here and I can’t even handle our silly dog most of the time much less frequent visits from the bylaw officer. Anyway, at some point I envision myself selling little jars of delicious things to people at a market.

So when I was meandering around the community organization booths at our local folk festival a couple of years ago and was reassured by a cute young man with dreadlocks that beekeeping was “very easy” because “bees have been doing this for millions of years”, I became enamored of the idea very quickly. Then I became obsessed. My husband did not approve of me bringing tens of thousands of deadly killers into our yard under the premise that they might sting our young sons and dogs, but I think it’s really because he is afraid. Anyway, somewhere along the way my friend Sarah mentioned that she was also interested in beekeeping I jumped on it and we decided to set up ten thousand deadly killers in her yard instead.

Sarah took the introductory beekeeping course and we sent nervous e-mails off to buy bees. Apparently beekeeping had become quite a craze here and our fearless cooperative had a hard time keeping up. We found ourselves picking up random materials at weird times, assembling things that didn’t really make sense, and hoping against all odds that the bees would like their new home.

These are the frames that the bees make honeycomb. The most important thing about this photo is that I got to use a nail gun.

And so on Mother’s Day I found myself standing in a field with about fifty more trepidatious souls watching a lady confidently shaking bees off of frames and gently flicking them off her arm, and thinking “what the fuck am I doing here? This is the stupidest thing I have ever done.” I was handed a box full of bees for the back of my van (extra duct tape please!), and sent on my merry way over to Sarah’s house to put the bees in their new home.

The lady pointed out that the box was “well sealed by friction” and asked if I would like some extra duct tape. Yes, I would like some duct tape please before I lock myself in a van with those fuckers.

I’ll admit, I was expecting to be stung a thousand times over that day and to hate bees forever, but it turned out that there was nothing to be afraid of at all. We put the bees in their new box, shut the lid and watched them for a few hours without incident.

Beekeeper gothic

Look at all those mofos!

Happy bees exploring their new digs

The first two months were a roaring success. The bees stayed in their home and built up comb and we occasionally took the lid off, took some pictures, patted ourselves on the back at our incredible beekeeping skills and toasted the hive. We were clearly naturals at this. It was shaping up to be a glorious summer.

What goes better together than kids and bees?

Ominously, days before I left on vacation a beekeeper was on CBC radio talking about how novice beekeepers often make mistakes and only find out after there is a swarm. What? Mistakes? No way. I left on vacation during a heatwave; it was 35 celcius or so (95 F = em-effing hot when you don’t have air conditioning). Sarah updated me that the bees had started bearding, as in, they were climbing all over the opening of the hive, not that she had taken to wearing a beard of bees (I had to clarify). Sarah assured me she was freaking out enough for the both of us, but concluded that it was just because they were hot and needed to air their little bee selves out. I resumed drinking beer in relief and promptly forgot about it.

The next update was not quite as calm. When I arrived in PEI, I had texts, Facebook messages, phone messages that the bees had fled! They were swarming! It’s the motherfucking beepocalypse in the yard!

Indeed, the bees had fled

Predictably, the bee cooperative was busy dealing with dozens of other swarming incidents, so Sarah and her husband bravely set out to earn their beekeeping badges. They essentially needed to get the queen back in the box and the rest of the bees would follow. So they put a tarp down, shook the branch and hoped like hell the queen fell into the tarp and dumped the box back on top of the writhing mass of bees. Amazingly, it worked and no one really got hurt.

Then they got ambitious. They had to kill some of the queen eggs off so that there would be no new queen = bee war = factions = second swarm. Or something. I didn’t actually take the course. This was at about 11 pm, and the internet warned that bees are not real fussy about nighttime visitors. Let’s just say that this was confirmed. About three times over. In the face.

But Sarah was not deterred. She knew the bees needed more ventilation in the box if they were going to survive the heat wave. So she bravely dove in to MacGyver a new entrance for them. It…. didn’t end well. A bee got in her hat and she understandably panicked after witnessing her husband get stung IN THE FACE Y’ALL. The bees, already pretty pissed at being hot, shaken out of a tree, and thrown in a box multiple times, at night, chased Sarah down and tried to murder her. She got stung TEN TIMES. And half an hour later, SHE WENT OUT AND REASSEMBLED THE HIVE. She is my goddamn hero, people, because I would have burned that thing to the ground with an improvised hairspray torch while laughing maniacally and drinking mead made from their honey.

You are very lucky I was on vacation, my little friend

So thanks to the quick thinking and extraordinary measures of Sarah and her husband Dave, we’re still beekeepers but perhaps a bit more cautious now. And this has a lovely ending, because Sarah pointed out that it was a marriage building exercise. In her words:

“(A)s Dave and I were cooperating to funnel a pile of bees into the middle of a tarp, I thought “this is probably the only guy in the world for me.” Who can you handle thousands of angry bees with and still like in the morning? Very few people I reckon.”

Next up: winterizing the bees. I’ll keep you posted on whether there’s any survivors.