Monday, April 24, 2017

How Gardening Makes Your Brain Happy

It's spring and there seems to be some kind of compulsion to head to the garden center to buy things to plant. Following winter we can't wait to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is a human urge to dig in the soil. It makes us...happy.

As you can tell from the photo, sometimes I can't even wait to get dressed and garden in my pajamas. 

If you are a gardener, or know one, you probably know that they are joyful when they are digging in the dirt. Actually the ones I know just seem to be more upbeat than the general population all the time.  If you thought it was just because gardening was their thing, think again. The real reason might be a little thing called Mycobacterium vaccae. 

Seriously, a REALLY little thing. 

It's a soil microbe that is inhaled when digging or tilling that can also be absorbed through the skin. In can also be released and inhaled while walking in the woods. In my case I'm sure I'm also eating a ton of it when I'm in a rush to scarf down some food and get back outside.

Testing seems to show that exposure to it indirectly increases serotonin. For more about the science  behind how it works see the links I've included at the bottom.

Several years ago tests were even done with cancer patients. It didn't prolong life but the studies found that it did improve the quality of life for people. They reported feeling an increase in vitality, cognition, and a decrease in pain.

Our American culture is increasingly removed from the outdoors. Parents are hyper vigilant about keeping children clean (and supervised which is a whole other discussion). We spend an ever increasing amount of our time in cars, buildings, in front of screens, and disconnected from nature. Then wonder why we feel so anxious and overwhelmed.

Ever had a bad day and just longed to step outside whatever building you were in? 

By the way, studies also show that just being outside can elevate a person's mood and of course it's a must for those with seasonal depression.

It's kind of fun to imagine the TV commercial:

"Ask your doctor about gardening. Side effects include increased muscle tone, increased vitamin D, stronger bones, weight loss, healthier meals, fresh herbs, and a crop of tomatoes."

Is Dirt the New Prozac? 

Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Ways to Antidepressants

Why Gardening is Good for Your Health

Do You Need a Nature Prescription?

Benefits of Ecotherapy

(Do I really need to tell you that I'm not a doctor or that you need to seek professional help for depression that is severe or ongoing?)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Make the Most of Your Kitchen Scraps Through Composting


I don't know about you but I feel guilty about the amount of food that gets thrown away at my house. Experts say Americans throw away about 40% of our food. One thing that we can all do, besides not over buying at the grocery, is to compost our raw fruits and veggies that somehow wilted in the back of the fridge before we got around to eating them.  

Here's how it works at my house. See those eggshells? They came from my chickens, that I fed lettuce and weeds from my garden (along with the thousands of bugs they forage every day). The lettuce and other extras from the garden or the kitchen that my chickens ate  daily were fertilized with the compost I worked on last year. One of the main ingredients in my compost pile is the manure (along with pine shavings) from the coop. That little cycle thing? That's the beautiful part.

 This is the handy compost bucket I keep under the sink. It has a charcoal filter in the lid which keeps it from smelling. 

make pallets into compost bins

If you keep chickens then composting is the best use of the manure and used shavings. 

Not only food scraps go in but also full vacuum bags, ashes from the fireplace, grass clippings, leaves, weeds, waste from the coop, and coffee grounds. You don't just toss your additions on top of the pile, you need to mix them in so as not to attract unwanted visitors. Occasionally water and turn your pile and you'll be rewarded with beautiful black, nutrient dense compost that your garden will love.

There are some very nice and unobtrusive compost bins on the market; I just made the one at the top of this post out of some pallets and held it all together with strong wire. Since then someone has given me a sleeker black one that can sit inside the garden. The compost pile is a perfect place to empty the contents from your shredder.

There is a little science to it, so here's a link to more about that.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why You Should Rethink Your Bucket List

When the movie came out the term "Bucket List" immediately made it's way into the American lexicon. Suddenly everyone has a list of things they want to accomplish and mark off before they kick the bucket. I actually had such a list written out about 15 years before the movie was released, but I think most everyone has a list of this sort, at least floating around in the back of their mind. 

Here's the problem: Life isn't about scratching something off a list. In fact, the danger in seeing it that way is that the place, event, or activity may not be experienced to the fullest. Several years ago I took a trip and when I returned a friend asked it I had seen a couple of particular things. I hadn't, but I'd had a wonderful time and seen interesting different things that were enjoyable to me. Life is full of side streets and unexpected joys. It's best to stay open to those while you are on your quest. It's also full of detours and places you have arrived while the doors are locked. That's okay. Life may have unexpected treasures for you, you know nothing of.

Make sure your bucket has a hole in it. We want life to be full of exciting things. We want to sail around the world or write the great American novel. We see movies and read books about what other people are doing and we get a skewed view of our own lives. The better bucket list may include things like making little kids laugh, or volunteering at a local charity, or tutoring a struggling student. Sharing your experience and knowledge is a practical and rewarding thing to put on your list. Standing water stagnates. Keep what is in the bucket flowing in and out. 

Today may have some things worth putting in the bucket. Life isn't actually made up of big moments. It mainly consists of millions of small ordinary moments, thousands of days, strung together to make a life. You don't want to spend so much time making, or dreaming about your list that you miss the simple joy of today.  When was the last time you visited a museum and sat in front of a work of art for half an hour contemplating it? You may want to add something like "See as many sunrises as possible." to your list. Too many people miss today searching for life's few big moments.

Keep filling the bucket. The thing about lists is, that we are eager to get to the end of them and feel a sense of accomplishment. As you learn and grow, the list will both shrink and expand. You may mark things off the list, not because you do them, but because you no longer need to do them. You may need to replace them with other more important or interesting things. Some of them may be released. Some of them may die. It's okay. Keep adding the new things you'd like to accomplish. Life, above everything else is a process. 

Put "Keep moving forward." at the top of the list.  Here are some things that are on friends' lists: Travel to Italy, get a Ph.D., run a marathon, repair a broken relationship, write a book that will challenge status quo thinking. All of those goals have something in common. They cannot be accomplished standing still. Being a life long learner, getting and staying fit, and working on improving relationships are worthy of a spot on your list. The more you focus on forward momentum, the more you can tweak that list into something more meaningful than just a list of places to see and things to do. 

A lot of things show up on these lists because of what everyone else thinks we should want to do. Your list will be unique and personal to you. It doesn't have to include skydiving or visiting the Taj Mahal. Think about what you really want to accomplish in life and let your list reflect that. Work toward making those things happen, but leave yourself lots of freedom to explore, wander, and dump out the bucket and start over. Just don't let it get rusty. You are only going this way once.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Future Beekeeper Arriving This Fall!

I've been keeping a big secret for two months! My daughter is expecting our first grandchild in October and we couldn't be happier!

Expect a lot of exclamation points from now on!

We are a little excited!

Do we want a boy or a girl?


Here is the announcement my daughter used on social media. What the heck? It's like she doesn't even get that I'm finally going to get a mini-beekeeper. They are probably thinking this kid will be an athlete. Whatever. 

Some of you may have figured it out a couple of weeks ago when I posted about losing everything in my computer. Every. Thing. You can read about that and what to do if it happens to you here: Losing it All: How I Dealt with my Worst Computer Mishap Ever

I couldn't say that the treasured pictures I was most upset about were the ones I had taken at the beach when we scattered my mom's ashes You can read about that here:  Scattering Grief: Absence, Cold Sand and the Absence of Emotion   

Anybody else hearing The Circle of Life from the Lion King?

Want to read the wedding posts from the Mother of the Bride Chronicles? Click here! 

I'm just assuming you want to read all the things you missed. 

Now, I know that one of the things you want to know is what is the baby going to call me? Actually this question came up during the wedding planning six years ago and my son-in-law settled it by giving me his own nickname, Kiki. It's all he's ever called me and what my daughter calls me too.

Can't remember the last time I heard "mom."

My husband is taking the bold approach of letting the kid pick what he/she will call him. I find that risky since when our son was a baby he called his sister "Pete" and we all still call her that. I've confused more than one person by announcing that "Pete is pregnant."

Letting the kid pick is a total crapshoot. If Downton Abbey taught us anything it's that a grandchild might come up with something like "Donk." I'll keep you posted on this important topic.

I thought I'd share the rest of those pictures and the announcements that my daughter and I both made to share. Here are some other pictures that we didn't use for the announcement. There was a big disagreement about those sunglasses.

The rule about sunglasses in photos is this: Everyone must be wearing them. These would have been fine if she'd been wearing shades. In the end he had to admit she was right and the picture they liked best was the one where he took them off.

Okay, grandparents! Give me your best advice for being the best KIKI ever! Comment about your favorite part of being a grandparent and best stories.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Scattering Grief: Ashes, Cold Sand, and the Absence of Emotion

I scattered my mother's ashes in the cold dark ocean. I stood in my bare feet, the temperature hovering a few degrees above freezing. Unseasonably cold at the Gulf in the middle of March. Other family members stood nearby feeling all the feelings. I turned the bag upside down and let the contents fall into the lapping waves under cold stars feeling nothing. The gap of black water I had to wade through had surprised me and taking off my shoes seemed necessary in my hurry to complete the process. This one last heavy thing I had promised.

There were tears by others. I stood there feeling like a sociopath in my blankness. But I had given all I had to give over the last years with her and now was as empty as the plastic bag in my hand. Of course, the thing rushing in to fill up that space is guilt. Always guilt. The shameful thoughts of knowing I shouldn't feel this way. This distant. Emotionless.

Several years ago I was angry and sad, undone even, by something that happened. I felt rage that I didn't know was possible for me and it scared me. It was uncomfortable in some ways but in other ways it felt good. Honest. Real. I kept saying "I have the right to my emotions." Which is true. Anyone would have been hurt and been barely holding together under an avalanche of ragged emotions. I felt them without guilt.

And so in this moment, standing on the frigid sand, did I not also have the right to feel nothing? We aren't supposed to feel this way no matter how much someone siphoned out of us while they were alive. After death we expect to be washed over by waves of regret and sadness. Others are concerned for us, they ask loved ones if we are "holding up ok." Especially women who had mothers they could go to for advice, or lean on, or who were selfless and dear.

There is a place for envy of the brokenhearted. There's a sadness in not being sad.

 I feel improper.

On the table in our rented condo the table is covered with faded photographs of happier times. Family dinners, holidays, first days of school. Our mom did the surface stuff very well. But some of the stories that get told along with the memories tug in the wrong direction. It's an effort to avoid bits and pieces of history. To remember just enough to make us smile and then skip ahead over the tender spots. My sister and I try hard. A story about this photo, a memory of that house. I ask "Tell me about this one, I don't remember."

I work  to hold on to the happy pieces and unremember wide swaths throughout the tale.

There is a shame in knowing that my lack of emotion is unimaginable for others. Some of us have poured our energy down the drain of chaotic neediness for decades, so that in the end at the last wind of the road on a cold dark shoreline there is simply nothing left. Nothing except very deep down inside, trying not to raise it's head too high and be noticed; the shadowy whisper of relief.

So what do we do when we don't feel the appropriate emotions in life? How do we cope with having a vastly different experience than other people? What do we do with the guilt that comes  when we don't feel a sense of loss when most people do?

First, let's recognize that these are emotions and thoughts. They are temporary. Your emotions, or lack of them, don't make you a bad person. It's quite possible that all the emotion has been spent earlier in the situation as it was in my case. It's not that there were never any tears over the loss of my mother. It's just that they'd already been shed over not having her as a trusted adviser when she was alive as well as exhausting myself trying to make her happy.  For many people the lack of apparent grief at the very end is because the strongest emotions were felt during a long illness and death is indeed a relief for all involved.

Second, share how you are feeling about how you are feeling with friends you trust or a therapist. The worst thing to do is struggle alone thinking there is something wrong with you. You may not realize how much you've invested emotionally in the past, it's helpful to have a third party who is removed from the situation give insight from another perspective. Work with a therapist to make sure that your lack of emotion hasn't hardened into a grudge or unforgiveness. Counseling can help you make sure you're not slipping into unhealthy territory.

Third, recognize that not experiencing the socially acceptable sentiment on demand is okay. It's fine to experience your own grief in your own time. You may grieve for the loss of your parent with Alzheimer's the first time they don't recognize you or at the diagnosis. You may grieve the sudden loss of a loved one who died without warning weeks or months after the event when the shock wears off. You may feel no sense of loss at all for a relative who made everyone's life miserable when they were alive.

Every single situation is different. Unless you are trying to get away with murder, you shouldn't feel that you need to drum up emotion on demand when someone passes away. That's why people hate Valentine's Day. Use your energy to be kind and supportive of those grieving in a different way. Aim for kindness. But don't try to be anything but your authentic self.

Need a pinnable image? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Losing It All: How I Dealt with My Worst Computer Mishap Ever

Wednesday was a day of sick panic and tears. In trying to find the book I started on One Drive a few years ago,I downloaded Microsoft Office which apparently updated my computer with the latest version of Windows. When my computer restarted everything was gone. Documents, files, bookmarks, helpful apps, photos. Gone. I tried looking around. Nothing.  I mean, I know technically it's all still in there somewhere.

It's at such times you can comfort yourself with all the times you've seen the FBI wheeling some guy's computer out along with boxes of files. 

Did I mention there were tears? Last week at the beach with my daughter and son in law they asked me to take some photos of them on the beach. Pictures that were beautiful. With perfect lighting. Pictures that were the one thing they asked me to do for them.

You know how this goes, right? The longer I couldn't find them and the more hopeless it seemed, the more beautiful and perfect the photos were. I was distraught. I Googled. I called a tech savvy friend.He asked if they could still be on the memory card of my camera but I told him I have a habit of erasing photos when I upload them so I don't have to buy more memory cards.

"Oh." he said.

I Googled more. I cursed and imagined smashing my computer with a hammer. Why are some of our initial reactions in so many situations to make things worse? I changed way more stuff in my computer than makes me comfortable. I broke out in a cold sweat. I cried some more. I went to see The Shack. Which of course made me cry, but in a good way. Came home got back at it. Finally about 6:00 in the evening I did what I should have done first.

I looked for a video on You Tube.

In the very first one I watched, the guy mentioned a free program called Recuva. My friend had mentioned that on the phone, but my brain had shut down at "download." A download was how I got here in the first place. But here was another person saying it was the thing to do. Just for confirmation I checked a few more videos. Yep. There was consensus.


I downloaded the program and within 5 minutes had found every photo I had ever taken. Thousands. Many I had deleted years ago and forgotten about. All there, hidden deep in the bowels of my hard drive. Everything.

Except the most recent ones I had uploaded. The treasures I was looking for.

Still apparently gone.

But now I had hope. More importantly, I knew there was a way and that I could figure it out. I felt empowered.

I gave up for the night and went to bed. I do my best thinking in the morning and often figure problems out over night.

First thing the next morning, I went back to Recuva again. I looked over my options. The first time I had chosen to recover photos. As I looked again I saw an option for a memory card. I ticked the circle.

I grabbed the memory card and inserted it. I clicked recover. I held my breath.

Blue sky. Ocean. Dark curly hair and smiles appeared on my screen.

I yelled out to let my husband know I had found them and he could talk to me again. Let's just say I'm surly under stress. I exhaled. I said a prayer of thankfulness.

I really didn't want to call a woman whose nickname is Bossy and tell her I lost the photos she planned to use for an upcoming event. Surly under stress runs in the family. 

You might want to bookmark the Recuva app for future reference! In case you missed the link in the story here it is again:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beekeeping Problems: Tempermental Bees and Testy Weather

 I'm the kind of person who wants predictable weather. Okay, maybe that's just everyone, but as a beekeeper having the weather work with me instead of against me would be a wonderful thing. I don't want to do hive inspections in February because the temperatures are in the 70s on a routine basis. But that's exactly what happened this year.

I did inspections, moved a hive, even added honey supers to a couple of hives. Now it's the middle of March and this week we are having nights below freezing and the possibility of snow tonight.

So this will be a quiet week in the bee yard.  

I'm somewhat amused at my early beekeeping adventures. There was so much I didn't know when I started. One amusing thing is that I thought my first swarm was a bunch of Mean Girls and their queen was Regina George, just because I had to catch them 3 times.

Now I know better.

This year I have a super defensive colony. These bees aren't just uncooperative, they are testy. They are looking to sting you long before you get close to their hive. If they'd been sitting in a field somewhere it wouldn't have mattered, but they are in my garden near a gate. We walk by it all the time and so do any workmen who have to come into the yard.

I had the extension agent come out to take a look at our apple tree and a bee chased us all the way out to the front yard. As a master gardener, you'd kind of like the county extension agent to think well of you.

 You don't necessarily want to be cursing like a sailor and jumping around the front yard trying to get a bee out of your hair.

Basically, I want beekeeping to look like this:

But sometimes the reality looks more like this.

I decided to move this hive to a new location in my neighbor's yard that is far away from where people would be walking or working. At dusk on a cool night when most of the bees were inside, I went out and taped the hive closed. Around 10:00 my husband and I took flashlights and walked through our plan trying to detect any obstacles or things we hadn't thought of. Then we went home and carefully loaded the hive onto a dolly and rolled it over to its new location, gingerly placing it on the cinder blocks. 

I left them taped closed the next day. On the following morning, I untaped the entrance and placed branches in front of the hive.

 How to move a hive a short distance:

Conventional beekeeping wisdom says you can move bees 3 feet or 3 miles. If you want to move them across the bee yard, old timers would say that you had to move them 2 feet a day, or move them 5 miles away, wait a few weeks, then move them to where you actually want them.

I began to hear people at the bee meetings talk about using branches, though, so after some online confirmation, this is the method I applied. In the evening when most of the bees have returned to the hive you seal it up. I used duct tape because I have screened bottom and top boards, so I knew they'd get plenty of ventilation. You are going to leave the bees in the hive anywhere from 24 to 72 hours depending on which beekeeper you talk to. I'd had 2 days of rain before I moved them so I counted those 2 days since most of the bees hadn't been out. It would also be appropriate to move them ahead of a rainy spell, for the same reason. Bees have about a 3 day memory so after being inside so long they'll need to reorient.

When you are moving bees at night, make sure you are fully covered and that openings in clothing or around boots and gloves are taped shut. Bees crawl and night and are very angry about being disturbed. I thought out my plan carefully but took every precaution in case something went wrong, like the boxes shifting and coming apart or us dropping them. Everything went according to plan and the whole move took about 15 minutes. But be prepared for the worst case scenario!

After the sequestration period unseal the hive and place branches in front of the entrance. When the bees come out the ancient part of their bee brains that lived in trees for thousands of years reasons that their tree has fallen. They climb out through the branches and reorient in front of their new location.

Bees navigate by landmarks so the branches are a big help to them.

That's it! I did this earlier this week and the bees have adjusted very well. They won't be any less angry but they are less likely to bother anyone in their new home until I can requeen.

Just so anyone who saw this hive was clear on the situation, I slapped a sticker on it.

Please note that these are my personal experiences with beekeeping and for expert information please consult your local extension office or state apiary website.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Spring Wins and a Loss in the Bee Yard

 Beekeepers await spring with a fair amount of angst. In the south, we have an advantage since we usually have lots of sunny fine days even in January when we can see bees coming and going. Many times they can even be observed bringing pollen. Compared to our beekeeping friends up north, whose hives are often wintering under a layer of deep snow we get to ease our minds from time to time. 

That doesn't mean that we don't worry, though. It's easy to be caught off guard sometimes. This year, because of the unusual weather we had, abnormally warm all fall, then two early arctic blasts, I had my first over winter loss in 5 years of beekeeping.  Here's what I saw when I opened the first hive at my second bee yard. For a reference point, the picture at the top of this post is what I found in a healthy hive on the same day.

Beekeeping involves a bit of detective work to figure out what is going on in the hive and stay ahead of it when things are good, or analyze where things went wrong when they go bad.

This hive had plenty of honey going into fall. I fed another that looked weak but this one looked like the strongest one all winter. On any warm day since the first of the year this hive had quite a lot of traffic at the entrance. So what happened?

Let's look at the clues: I didn't find bees with their heads down in the cells in a cluster, which is a sign of starvation. The bees I did find were clustered together in small groups on the surface of the comb.

I also did not find one drop of honey anywhere.

There had been tons of bees coming and going on fine days.

Their demise is most likely due to a combination of things. Like having too few bees to generate enough heat and being caught unprepared for the sudden arctic blasts we had. The clusters I did find were separated. We had one day when the temperature dropped from 70 to below freezing in one day. It could be that the sudden drop that day got them. All of this could probably have been prevented if I'd realized this colony was as weak as it was and combined it with a stonger one going into winter.

But then, where did all the honey go?

After the bees froze the bees from the strong colonies robbed them out, which is why there was so much traffic at the front of the hive. If I had been looking more carefully I probably would have seen that they weren't bringing pollen. 

Beekeeping means paying attention to detail. Something I'm working on. Now that we've seen an example of what can go wrong, let's look at what the other hives looked like.

On this frame, you can see capped honey.

Look at all these healthy bees and that patch of capped brood. This is good stuff!

Here's a frame with lots of bees, capped brood, capped honey, and pollen. 

This makes my heart happy.

Here are all the things a beekeeper is looking for on one frame in the brood chamber.

The weather isn't cooperating at all with me. I spent two gorgeous days for working bees in a classroom at the master beekeeping course and now we have several days of rain forecast. I have hives that need honey supers, a hive that needs moving, and one that needs to be split to prevent swarming. Lots to do, but I can't do any of it in the rain.

Beekeeping also means paying close attention to the weather and being frustrated by it.

These are my personal experiences in beekeeping. For expert advice and information please refer to your local extension service or any of the land grant university websites.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Happened Between Assisi and Rome

Originally published in 2009. Hence the Katie Holmes and blog references.

You never know what will happen when you are traveling, who you'll meet, what you'll see, what you'll learn.

There was a rather lengthy bus ride between Assisi and Rome made even longer by a massive traffic jam as they neared The Eternal City. Assisi had been lovely and My Owner and her friends had done some shopping. Unwrapping purchases and looking at them and discussing them filled some of the time during the bus trip. MO and her friend are notorious for hunting down the gift shop wherever they are (I'll tell you a funny story about that when I recount their trip to New York, Philadelphia & D.C.).

Chatting with other travelers was another way to pass the time and MO happened to strike up a conversation with the man seated behind her, based on whether or not Katy Holmes needed several magazine covers in the same magazine. After that, I don't know what happened except that the discussion moved on to stimulus packages, worldwide economic collapse, religion, and a host of other subjects that they found endlessly interesting and put everyone within the sound of their voices to sleep.

I can assure you I was NOT in the cargo hold of the bus discussing these issues with Professor J's bag. I was busy catching up with my friend, Mr. Polka Dots (he is very fashion forward) who I had not seen since we left home as he had been lost in Paris and was telling of his harrowing adventure!

But THOSE two...Mr. Smarty Pants and My Snarky Owner, they didn't run out of anything to say. As a matter of fact, they are still at it! They have a blog together and have been having an ongoing discussion for over a year and a half.

I just wish they would get around to tackling something relevant like the dreadful conditions under airplane seats and the rough treatment of checked luggage by those hateful baggage handlers.

UPDATE: So what happened to that blog?

They kept it up for 5 years but it died an untimely death due to My Owner's carelessness. You can read about it here: Blog Obituary: RIP Professor and Housewife

It all just goes to show you never know what travel will bring your way.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Surprise Stop at Pisa

Are you lost? This Italian adventure might be confusing you, but it is somewhat disorienting to travel at times upside down or at the bottom of a stack of other baggage, in the dark. I'm doing the best I can.  To make up for my directional challenges here's a map. I've marked our travels in pink, My Owner likes pink.

Pisa wasn't even on the itinerary!

Did you know this thing is famous for leaning?
Pisa was a surprise that the tour guide and bus driver threw in between Venice and Florence because we had made such good time due to an unusual lack of traffic. Just time for a quick lunch some photos and then back to the bus for the trip to Florence.

The thing bad thing about this lunch was that they were on a very tight schedule and the leader of their group never did get her food.


The weather was absolutely perfect this day. What a lovely little surprise...and here my owner is always going on and on about how she hates surprises. She can be so ridiculous.