Monday, January 30, 2017

My Morbid Exercise for Purging Clutter

picture ledge

We are at the end of January. How are those resolutions going?

Let me start today's post by saying how grateful I am for all the things that have been given to me. Because what follows might sound as if I'm an ingrate who lacks appreciation for what I have. I promise that isn't the case. Keep reading to see if you can relate. 

Okay, y'all. I am having a struggle. An internal one and an external one. I have just spent the month sorting stuff. And I'm not done. Not even MY stuff! If you have been reading this blog over the years you know that I have had 3 relatives pass away and I have been responsible for caring for (read unloading and disposing of) literally mountains of stuff. Clothing. So much clothing. Jewelry. So much jewelry. Dishes. Pots. Pans. Stacks and stacks and stacks of records, documents, and receipts.

I've had estate sales and garage sales until I am quite over it. When my mother moved to a nursing home a couple of years ago I had my sister come and take it all. I just couldn't deal with one more drawer packed full of old bank statements and receipts. We still hadn't dealt with all that stuff from my mother in law. While my mom was the "stick it in a drawer" type, my mother in law was the "create a file folder and keep it forever" type.

My husband and I recently went to visit a friend who was cleaning out his mother's house after she died. So. Much. Stuff. A lot of it was really good stuff and worth keeping or at least putting on Ebay. But he had just about reached that point I was very familiar with where you just can't see the value anymore because you are so overwhelmed.

In the face of too much material abundance, it all starts to look like junk. 

 Here's a tip: Your kids want you to leave them cash or diamonds and gold.

Real estate.

Maybe silver.

The cute hat you picked up on vacation and bargained for and makes you happy will mean nothing to them. I know it's sad because when we think about our own things we imagine anyone and everyone would want it.

 I mean, our stuff is cool, right?

Well, not necessarily. Which is why I have been doing a morbid exercise while sorting through pictures and enormous stamp collections. Stamp collections. Let that sink in. I have been imagining how my children will feel when they see the stuff I chose to keep.

It's kind of a warped Marie Kondo Method.

I'm that middle generation between the Depression raised kids who had known real want and felt the need to keep everything. Then after the war they became the first generation of consumers. Real consumers in the modern sense of the word where the media and advertising colluded to get our parents to buy. Not just things they actually needed or wanted, but to convince them to buy things they didn't even know they wanted. And buy they did. In mass quantities and then when they got too old to do the marathon shopping they previously engaged in, along came the Home Shopping Network and QVC.

I cannot explain how much anxiety the letters HSN and QVC  cause me.

My mother, and possibly your own, shopped right up until the day she died. I had moved her several times and purged each time only to have her replace it. Spending money she didn't have.

Back to my morbid exercise for purging. I've been trying to imagine how my kids might see my stuff when I'm dead.

 If you are just now thinking something might be wrong with me then you are new here. 

Are they going to open drawers and say "Why in the world did she keep this?" as I have done a thousand times? I hope not. That's why I'm doing my best to deal with it now.

Our generation is the one that tsunami of material goods is crashing down on. Please don't chide me for being ungrateful for all this material blessing. Guilt is a massive part of having to deal with it. Every item you touch makes you wonder if someone somewhere wouldn't want it or need it. If you save everything for your kids to deal with, guilt is a large part of the emotional baggage they'll inherit. It's definitely a "first world" problem but it is real as you know if you have been there.

My house is still very full. I'm chasing minimalism but it's running super fast and hiding behind my husband who finds comfort in his things. All his things.  Purging in tandem is a struggle. Especially when one person is more attached and sentimental than the other. Though this experience even has him rethinking holding on to so much.

Think I'm cold hearted? I'm a packrat compared to Millenials.

Stuff It: Millenials nix Their Parents' Treasures

Have you had to deal with a relative's estate or cope with your own accumulation of things? What's your best strategy?

Wondering what I've done with some of it? Read a series about that here. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is Honey Vegan?

can vegans eat honey

This question is something that people like to go round and round about. There are plenty of arguments on both sides, but the answer lies in your motives. If you are vegan because you are interested in eating whole, natural, foods, then for you, honey would qualify as vegan particularly if you can find a chemical free beekeeper. If you are vegan because you believe that humans shouldn't make use of any animals at all right down to not wearing wool because the sheep are sheared, then for you, honey would not be considered vegan.

As a backyard beekeeper, who isn't trying to make a living at it, I am able to take what is best for my bees into consideration to a larger extent that someone who is renting them out for pollination or trying to produce the most honey possible. My hives are chemical free, something commercial beekeepers would have a hard time doing. But even those beekeepers are doing their best to protect and help the bees. Beekeeping just isn't something most people get into because there is a ton of money to be made. Beekeepers tend to be people who love bees.

Read about a day in the life of a bee here. 

I'm not someone who has a problem with small scale farming for eggs, wool, or honey. It's anything done on a large commercial scale where cruelty enters the picture. This is where knowing your local farmer, rancher, or beekeeper becomes important.

In the spirit of full disclosure while we haven't eaten beef or pork at our house for years, we only recently gave up chicken. We have no plans to give up seafood. Changing from an old way of doing things to a new system takes time and effort. It's a process wherever you fall on these issues. We don't have to perfect our lives in one day.

If we look closer at this issue, however, a problem emerges for even the most ardent defender of animal rights where bees are concerned. They continue to eat fruits and vegetables which are in large part pollinated by honeybees that are transported to locations for short periods of time when things are in blossom for pollination. Unless your vegan friend is buying locally grown fruit and vegetables from a farm he actually knows the name of, he's made use of honeybees and the beekeeping industry unbeknownst to him.

We have so tightly wound our agricultural practices (a topic worthy of discussion in a different post) to the honeybee and it would take several decades and much effort to disentangle the two.

Hopefully, this will give you a more informed basis for whether or not you personally feel that you can eat honey as part of your vegan diet.

So what do you think? Are you eating anything and everything you want? Are you eliminating anything for ethical reasons? Is honey vegan or not? 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Eat Honeycomb


If the only honey you have ever had is from a bear-shaped jar at the grocery (you poor thing!) then honey in its natural state (in the comb) might intimidate you a bit. You are going to be a big fan.

Trust me.


When people ask about how to use honey that has the comb in it, my first response is just to tell them to eat it out of the jar. One of my favorite things is a crisp tart apple, most likely a Granny Smith, and a piece of sharp cheese. The sharper the better. All that tangy and sharp cuts the sweet and makes it even more enjoyable. But better yet get yourself some hives so you can eat it right off the frame. That is actually my most favorite way.

So far this week we've had it on yogurt. And oatmeal. Okay, and spoons.

honey cocktails

While I think of filtered honey as a sweetener to add to something else, like tea or cocktails, I appreciate honeycomb as real food. A food that is amazing paired with other things I like to eat. The wax isn't noticeable this way the way it would be if bits of it are floating on top of your afternoon chai. There really isn't any wrong way to enjoy honey except using if for cooking. All beekeepers and honey lovers frown upon that because heat destroys some of the magical natural properties of the honey and wax.

If I want to use a natural sweetener that will be cooked I use maple syrup instead of honey.

While honey is chemically sugar and should be treated as such if you are eliminating all sugar from your diet, it has some beneficial properties. It is these enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants that are destroyed when honey is heated.

Everyone always wants to know if you can eat the wax. The answer is yes. It's easiest to consume along with food but you can also chew it until it loses it's flavor and then spit it out like gum. This was a common and fun thing for kids to enjoy before chewing gum became popular. I cannot tell you how the faces of older people light up when asked about honeycomb. I love hearing stories that start with "Oh, my uncle had some hives..."

honey on frame

If you are new to honeycomb here's your starter recipe:

Oatmeal cooked in apple cider. If you are ready to up your oatmeal game check out some of the delicious crockpot oatmeal recipes on Pinterest. I made a pumpkin one for the holidays and it was a hit.  Add a pat of the best butter you can afford or a dollop of coconut oil. Top with diced apple, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Place your beautiful chunk of honeycomb on top. Enjoy the most delicious bowl of oatmeal you have ever had.

Now you are ready to look for some honey with comb in it at your farmer's market or online. There is a whole sweet dimension to honey you have been missing. \

Are you a fan of honeycomb? What's your favorite way to eat it? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Acknowledging Your Inner Child as an Artist

 I'm working through The Artist's Way with a close group of friends. In the exercises for week 1, the author wants you to address monsters from your childhood who sought to squash your creativity. I already had the best example all written up so it's getting a repost today.

I was a first-grade rebel. Yeah, that's right you heard me. Let me explain.
 I loved pink and yellow together in the first grade.  While coloring a picture of flowers I colored the stems pink and the flowers yellow. The directions said "Color the flowers red and the stems green."

Now I knew what that meant, and what I was supposed to do.

As I sat there I thought " Now I COULD do that but am I going to be influenced by the stifling conformity of a state run institution or am I going to take a stand for artistic freedom?" I passionately picked up my crayons and struck a blow for creativity.

Okay, actually I thought "Red and green are ugly, blech!"

The teacher I had in first grade (whose five-o'clock shadow was worse than Fred Flintstone's and must have had a terrible childhood) often used humiliation as a technique for motivation. After an assignment about following directions, she came to check my work and noticed I had not followed the directions at the top of the page. She walked around the room holding up everyone else's workbooks showing me how they had all done it correctly. "Michelle either cannot read or cannot follow directions" she said loudly to the class while holding up my workbook and glaring at me. I noticed one thing about all the other pages she held up, they were all the SAME. Luckily crayon cannot be erased so even though she gave me a zero I had the satisfaction of making something that made me happy somehow.

To this day seeing pink and yellow together makes me feel like someone is breaking the rules in some delightful way. 

A couple of months later the school lunch was tuna salad.

I didn't eat mine and the teacher (a slave to conformity apparently) pointed out to me that ALL the other children were eating theirs. She said she wasn't moving until I ate it.  I did. As she stood over me with a smug look of victory on her face I turned around and threw up on her shoes.

Freedom: 2   Coercion: 0

She seemed to like me even less after that (some people can be so sensitive about a little vomit).

I eventually managed to escape from Helga's class by scaling the wall and carefully working my way around razor wire while the dog's nipped at my heels and the guards in the tower shined the spotlight on me.

Fine. The school year ended and I was promoted to the second grade.

This blog is so much cheaper than therapy.

Did someone in your past make you feel as though you couldn't paint, write, build a house or do some other wonderfully creative thing you longed to do? It's very common. Let's hear about it! 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to Cope With January

winter depression

January has always been one of my favorite months. There is something beautiful about the quiet emptiness between the holidays and spring. I love blank calendars and early darkness and soup. So much soup.

But I'm having a good January. Some years ago I had the worst one ever. The worst part of my life happened to fall around the holidays and there was no shaking it off in the new year. I cried every day. Every. Day. I stood at the window and hoped for just the hint of a daffodil. "If I can just make it to spring..." I told myself.

A couple of Januarys when the kids were little seemed like they were just one bout of flu or strep after another. So if you are feeling depressed, run down, and worn out by the lack of sun and bleakness all around I get that.  I have totally been there.

Which is the point of this post.

Let's put January in some context.

I am all about rhythms and cycles right now. I think it's because menopause is looming large (man, are you getting a lot of fun information today!) and periods now disappear for months at a time after a lifetime of predictability. Damn. I miss being able to count to 28. For all their inconvenience and downright pain, there was something about them that made me feel connected. Connected to seasons and phases of the moon and all the other cycles of nature. In the natural world, we see time for growth, fullness, waning, and loss, and emptiness.

Our ancestors, who lived closer to and worked with nature, were better equipped in their understanding of phases, seasons, and cycles. In our hyper-connected, tech-saturated lives it's all about constant growth and increased numbers whether that's sales or likes on Instagram. We live in a world where loss, pulling back, emptiness, and rest are not only not considered things to be desired but in many cases are demonized.

I have a serious problem with anyone who demonizes rest. 

It is in this frame of mind that we meet January. January with its empty squares on the calendar and early darkness. Add to that the real issues of seasonal depression and lack of vitamin D from sunlight and many people are keen for winter to be over as soon as possible.

So what can we do if this is where we find ourselves on long dark nights and days of perpetual gloom?

Let's see January, or winter if you want to think of it in those terms, as a time for self-care. If you have kids at home August through Christmas were probably a mad rush of school supplies, Halloween costume dilemmas, and Christmas craziness. In the spring, all the sports will start along with the monster of standardized testing and the end of the school year. But right now, in the bleak mid-winter, when less is expected, you can take some time for yourself.

Embrace it.

Now is the perfect time to light a candle and try meditation. Schedule a massage or plan a spa night at home. Read that book you meant to get to last year. Write a letter to a friend. Sit quietly and contemplate the outline of a bare tree. Watch birds. Imagine hibernating animals cozy in their winter dens. How can you not love winter if you picture a chipmunk asleep amid the pile of acorns she collected last fall? Stay in your pajamas all day on Saturday. Do nothing, without guilt. You are restoring yourself and gathering energy for spring.

Most of all, remember, it's a season. The furious rush of spring is coming! Planting, growing, Easter, Mother's Day, long lines at the garden center, sports, weddings, graduations--it's all on the way. So don't discount your restful January or despise your quiet winter.

Accept the gift of time for renewal. 

Please note that this advice is for feeling blue or unhappy but still able to function. If you find yourself in such a state of depression that you cannot practice self-care on even the most basic level or feel completely hopeless I urge you to get outside help. On my darkest days, I have found a therapist, who can provide unbiased advice, to be the best road to take. If you feel your depression is spiraling, I beg you not to suffer alone. 

Our bodies and minds are meant to acknowledge seasons, both in nature and in life. If you haven't ever thought about the ebb and flow of life I hope this helps you make it to those first daffodil blossoms!

So how do you feel about winter? What's your favorite strategy for coping with January? 

Monday, January 9, 2017

What Do Bees Do in Winter?

winter beekeeping

Beekeepers often get asked this question when the weather turns cold. People often inquire as to whether or not bees hibernate.

I'll answer this winter question, but first, we need to back up to fall. In the late days of summer, when the days start to shorten the bees do a rather harsh thing. The worker bees, which are all female, throw out the drones, which are all males. A drone's one purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen should the need arise (an act which will end in his immediate death). As the bees begin to sense autumn coming on they will turn out the drones. Since honeybees are only able to survive as part of a colony the homeless bees soon die.

Going into fall and winter there are only workers and the queen left inside the hive. The goal at this point is to survive until spring. To do this the bees bunch together in a tight ball called the winter cluster. At the center of this cluster is the queen, the mother of every bee in the hive, kept warm and safe amid her own offspring.  The bees rotate from the inside cluster to the outside so that no bees ever get too cold. The colder the weather is the tighter the bees cluster. The bees shiver to generate heat.

The cluster moves around the hive a bit to be next to honey they'll consume for survival. Beekeepers never take honey from this part of the hive called the hive body, brood boxes, or nesting boxes. If the beekeeper feels that the bees have not stored up a sufficient amount of honey for a long winter they feed the bees to help them remain strong until spring.

Occasionally bees do leave the hive in winter. On days where the temperatures are high enough (about 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit) the bees will fly out of the hive for cleansing flights to eliminate waste. Bees are meticulous about the inside of the hive and never eliminate waste there. When it does happen it is the sign of a serious problem.

While honeybees do not hibernate other types of bees such as carpenter bees and bumblebees who are solitary do hibernate. For those species, it is only the mated queen who survives until spring.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why I Learn To Do One New Thing Every Year

 It's the start of a new year which means that people are going to be asking me, "So, Michelle, what's the one new thing this year?"

The answers are knitting and hand lettering. 

Many years ago I decided that I would learn to do one new thing every year. I don't even remember how or why this idea came into my head. I have always liked to learn things and try new things but felt somehow that I was a failure or a quitter because I kept flitting from thing to thing. The One New Thing concept made it possible for me to look like I was quitting on purpose.

Sometimes life is all about the story you are telling yourself.

I noticed that I did not have a bunch of unfinished projects lying around. So I wasn't just a quitter or failing when I looked at it in detail. In fact, I would work like mad to complete something I had started. If I was working on planting a garden or painting a room, I would skip workouts, neglect email, and forget to eat. So why couldn't I stick with one thing long enough to become a master of it? Why was it that I felt like I was always just dabbling around the edges of things?

When I got around to giving this some serious thought one day several years ago, I realized that I liked particular parts of projects and it kind of resembled being in love.

I would be smitten with something and not be able to stop thinking about it. 

I would want to know every single thing about my new love. 

I wouldn't be able to stop thinking or talking about this newly found passion. 

I would lose track of time.

Eventually, I would feel like I knew this awesome thing pretty well. 

The new thing became...less interesting. 

One day, after completing a project I would decide to break up. 

Oh, look at that handsome thing over there! 

I'd embark on a new creative relationship. 

What in the world is wrong with me? I know people who are experts and artisans in things that they are passionate about. My husband is like this about the Civil War in general and the Battle of Chickamauga in particular. I have always envied the person who had found that one true thing that they could do forever and never tire of. I was a little concerned about adult ADHD or just a short attention span. An adult should be able to stick with things, right?

Maybe. Some things. But here's what I like:


Research and learning new things. 

Finished projects. 

Adding things to my skill set.  

Sharing what I've learned. 

After years of being frustrated with myself, I realized that being an expert or gaining mastery in any one thing to the exclusion of everything else didn't interest me.  I wanted, most of all, to experience the world in a broad sense of the word and was afraid I'd miss something if I chose that one thing. That one terrifying thing.

Which brings us back to One New Thing. About 25 years ago I decided that every year I would learn how to do something new. It was a loose concept at first but became more concrete over time. Most years there was actually more than one thing but I did strive to have an official goal in mind. One year I baked bread every Saturday. One year I learned enough Italian to get me through my first trip to Italy. A couple of years ago it was singing in public--not karaoke. You can read about that experience here. I have quilted, gardened, kept bees, painted furniture, stripped furniture, cooked, decorated, composted, blogged, photographed, written, made motivational videos, and become a docent at the art museum and a master gardener.

That's not even a complete list but at some point, I just look like a crazy person. 

Along the way, I did find a few things that have come to stay forever like the passionate lover who remains a trusted friend.  Gardening is like that. So is beekeeping. And writing. Maybe because these are things that can never really be completed, but maintain a constant sense of mystery and a desire to improve. In my doing so many things I eventually ran across the things that I could stick with and love the most.

I'm sharing this with you because I have a feeling there are some of you out there who need to know that it's okay to be multi-passionate and there is nothing wrong with you. It's okay to keep learning, growing, and exploring.

Being a life long learner and discoverer might be, after all, a kind of expertise in itself. 

 What would you like to learn that you haven't yet?

Want to pin this? Here's a more Pinterest friendly image:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Charting a Course For the New Year in 5 Small Steps

Well, here we are in a brand new year. I'm already exhausted by everyone's resolutions. And it's only day two.

I love the idea of a new year as a fresh slate, but we can set ourselves up for defeat early in the game if we take on too much at once. Let's be deliberate and take on changes that are meaningful and doable.

Here are 5 ideas to get us going in the right direction:

1. Let's watch less. And by this, I mean less everything on every kind of screen. Less news. Fewer cat videos. Less reality TV. Less Youtube nonsense. Less home makeover shows that make you unhappy with what you have. Less mindless entertainment. I'm not saying give up media altogether or become a monk living in a cave somewhere but you know if you are spending time watching things that make you feel worse either because of the content or because you look up and an hour has gone by. I struggle with this as a kid who was brought up on a steady diet of television but Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the DVR have made it possible for us to be selective and deliberate.We can use them to our benefit with a little self-control.

I'm preaching to myself here. The sofa and a bunch of DVRed movies are calling to me this very minute!

2. Let's do more. Less watching can mean more doing. We have to fill that time somehow. Paint a picture, plant a garden, actually get around to having some of those digital photos printed. One of my goals this year is to try and do more while I'm deliberately watching the things I have cared enough to either pay or plan for. I'm working on learning to knit which lends itself nicely to do while viewing something I can't live without like The Americans. Or Homeland. or Younger. 

It's a process, people. 

3. Let's create good habits. Let's stop reading about every perfect diet or fitness plan. Let's stop pinning fifty bazillion recipes we are never going to make. Let's pick the things we are going to do and do them. Spend some time in the next few days and plan the 3 breakfasts and lunches you are going to have nearly every day. Let's decide on the new habits we want to implement and create systems to help us succeed. I can't tell you how much time and energy I have wasted looking for the perfect system over the years. I finally learned the secret--Just pick a practical one and do it on autopilot.

4. Let's work our plan.  I hate to be the one to tell you but the discipline is in the doing. Boo, right? If we wait to be inspired to write a book, go back to school, or take up running we'll simply never do it. It's kind of like waiting to be able to afford to have a baby. Ain't gonna happen. If I know anything it is that the Universe responds to action. Let's just start doing the thing. The discipline to keep going builds every day.

5. Let's Stop over thinking. This was huge for me! We need to simplify. Decision making is exhausting. Read about that here. Very often the failure is not in the lack of a good idea, or the right tools and strategies but our constant and continuous research. We doubt that we have chosen the best plan and quit to try something else.
This year,  just spend a couple of hours doing some research on a healthy eating style you think you can keep up for the year. Eat those foods and stop thinking about food all the time. Same goes with exercise. Pick some things and do them. They don't have to be the best things and the perfect things don't exist. In a few weeks if you have been consistent you can tweak anything that is boring or doesn't work, but I lost 25 pounds a few years back because I literally stopped thinking about food by doing this. I know it sounds boring but in reality, when we stop debating all the little details with ourselves it frees up a lot of mental space.

Do you need that? I cannot tell you how much I need it!

December 2017 is coming. What will you want to be able to say you did with January through November? Maybe the list is really long. Some years are like that. Maybe there is one big thing and if you could get it done in the next eleven months you'd be happy with that and proud of your accomplishment.

Let's don't give up and say we don't make resolutions. I used that ploy for years and made little progress. Let's jump in together! There's a lot of encouragement and motivation in not being alone.

Let's do stuff!


So what's on your list this year? Baby steps or one big leap? You know I want to hear about it!