Monday, December 14, 2020

Why I Stopped Posting About Politics

Out of the ten years I've been blogging I spent the first five discussing culture, politics, books, wellbeing and a host of other serious topics with a friend.  It was called The Professor and the Housewife. We posted twice a week for five years. Our discussions were wordy and weedy.  We were pretty boring and no one read it. But the exercise of doing it clarified my thinking on a lot of issues. 

 Here's a tip: If you want to know what you really think about something write about it. Writing is thinking. It was a great challenge. All during 2020, I have missed it because this would have been the best year ever for that particular project. 

Eventually, the blog died a natural death which was sad at first but then felt like a relief as I focused more on writing about bees, gardening, and decorating. I've spent the last five years focusing on health and personal happiness. I've loved encouraging people, teaching, and giving tips. 

But the real reason I stopped writing about the big stuff was that the more research I did the more I realized how little any of us really understand what is going on in the world or in our own minds. We live in the most complex and interconnected period in history.  We see a sliver of what is happening, and that sliver is chosen for us. 

Today's food for thought: Has that last sentence always been true? 

And much of that lack of understanding has to do with our own brains and how they are hardwired to focus on some things and not focus on others. If you don't know about the dancing gorilla experiment done by Daniel Simons you might not know how easily your brain's attention can be manipulated (the social media companies do though). That video alone will make you question everything you think you know about how your mind works. Beyond that, ongoing research seems to prove that no matter how hard we try to be rational humans our irrational emotional brains are hard to tame. 

Yale did a study that seemed to show conservatives would flip to more liberal ideas if you could convince them they were completely safe.  Another study showed that parents who have a daughter are more likely to vote Republican. According to Science Direct, both liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid crosscutting informationA study at Rice University indicated Conservatives generally pay more attention to a broad array of threats. Did you know that feeling "safe and endowed with strength" causes people to lean left? A survey by the thinktank More In Common revealed that the higher education level a person has the less likely they are to accurately understand the motives and views of the opposing side and it was true of Democrats and Republicans. There's an endless supply of these studies just so cherry-pick the one that proves the point you want to make. 

My point is this: 

We all believe that we have our opinions because we have studied or done our own independent research and have reached our conclusions after much thought and analysis. 

That simply isn't the case. Instead, we are seeing the world through our personal filters. What is really happening is that our opinions are handed to us. Handed to us by our families, churches, communities, advertisers, organizations, political parties, the school system, the media we consume, and institutions of higher learning. Or we identify with some particular group and we adopt their beliefs wholeheartedly (literally) without doing any deep and challenging thinking. 

More recently the corporatization of the media and the rise of big-tech have worked to take these opinion assignments and make them global. They are more deep-seated. Corporate media and big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have colluded to make sure that finding factual information requires extra effort that an overworked, over-scheduled, over distracted populace isn't going to do.

If you aren't constantly questioning your own thinking, sources of information, assumptions, and occasionally coming to conclusions that you were hoping were wrong, you are a low informed voter and citizen no matter how much media you consume. 

Given that we can't trust our own primitive brains which are concerned overwhelmingly with survival (not being cast out of the tribe is a big part of that) and given that we often only think we are thinking I began to focus more on what I could actually influence. What could I teach? How could I help? Who could I encourage? Because what's the point of discussing things that we can't change? And let's face it if you know any humans you know you are not likely to change their thinking with facts and data. I'll bet you've tried and you've only been frustrated.  That's because while we all like to think we are super intellectual, informed, and aware, in fact, all of us are making decisions based on emotion then using confirmation bias to bolster in a way that seems like reasoning our emotionally held beliefs.  

I'll bet you're thinking "No wonder no one read their blog." Well, anyway this is I stopped writing about politics and started posting pretty pictures of bees and flowers instead. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

It's Never Too Late to Start Over Even in 2020

Remember when there were goals for 2020? Remember #2020vision ? I know. I'm laughing too.  But I'm also realizing a lot of the goals I had A topic for another post. Today let's tackle today. Only today. Wondering how to get back on track as we near 2021? How to have hope for the future? How to go back out in the world and be around people? How to get back in shape? How to start writing again after taking 8 months off like me? This was the year I was going to write a book. 

If you've been winning 2020 this post is not for you, it's for those who are struggling. 

I've been reading my own blog posts about getting things done. I've written a lot about it. I started the year with 31 Simple Steps and they're pretty helpful if you need to begin at the beginning. 

For many of us the main problem of the past few months has been that every day has mostly been the same and there is little to look forward to. Motivation to get anything done is lacking, there's no sense of urgency. Tomorrow will be like today. It can be overwhelming and depressing. There's little to do and yet somehow it all seems like too much. How to move forward? If you are struggling with finding any enthusiasm for the day in our isolated, and anxious world right now, I feel you. But enough is enough. I'm starting to feel like I've been too kind to myself the past few months and that we've come to the time for some tough love. I'm starting slow. 

One must begin. So let's do that. 

1. Get up. Done.

2. Vitamins and water. Done. 

3. Stretching. Done. 

After that, it's painfully obvious that I'm out of shape. That perhaps should be the thing and maybe the only thing that I focus on for the foreseeable future. Without mental and physical health nothing else much matters. Climbing the stairs should not make my heart race and this morning it did. 

4. Writing. Okay, we're in the process, so that's something. 

5. What next? Often when we don't know what to do or don't feel inspired or motivated by anything the thing to do is to put something in order. Hang up some clothes piled in a chair. Load the dishwasher. Sort the mail. Empty the trash. 

6. Eat the most nutritious thing that can be found in the house. There's something about knowing your body, at least temporarily has the things it needs to function on a cellular level that causes you to lurch forward a bit and gain momentum. Drink some more water. 

7. Sit in the sun. No need to do anything but just sit there except perhaps think about soaking up Vitamin C and D and acknowledge the release of serotonin in the brain which makes everything better. 

8. Read some inspiring non-fiction. Something by someone who is either further along the journey or has accomplished something worthwhile, or a biography of someone who lived an admirable life. 

9. Don't think about the big goals. Think about putting a system in place for today that can be replicated tomorrow and the next day and so on. 

10. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Haven't we all watched enough Netflix already? 

Our lives have been disrupted in big and small ways we couldn't have imagined one short year ago. You may have to string a few of these days together to be in a place to demand more of yourself. That's okay. I'm amused that at the beginning of 2020 when I wrote about a Gentle January I had no idea how much more useful the concept would be a year later. 

But here we are. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What to Do if You Find a Bumblebee Nest Around Your House or Garden

Last week I rescued a bumblebee nest from the front porch of someone's home. I thought it might be a good time to revisit this topic. 

I have a bumblebee nest in my potting shed. As a beekeeper, I'm pretty knowledgeable about honeybees but I had to read up on bumblebees, their behavior, and nesting habits. First, let me tell you that bumblebees, unlike honey bees are native to North America. So they are vital to the environment along with carpenter bees and the 4,000 other species of natives. Honeybees brought here by the Europeans were introduced to provide the colonists with honey and beeswax. They are vital to our food supply but actually compete with native bees for resources.

Bumblebees are amazing pollinators so be kind to them when you come upon them in the garden!

Here's a video of the nest. You can see the queen bringing pollen into the nest to prepare for laying eggs. Once her offspring hatch, which takes about 21 days, she'll no longer leave the nest but stay inside laying eggs. Good thing I caught her on this video!

Unlike honeybees bumblebees nest under the ground usually but one particular species, Bombus hypnorum or Tree bumblebee, nests in birdhouses so I'm fairly sure that's what we have here. After hiving my very first bees I hung the swarm box up in the potting shed where it's been for 6 years. This box is about 5 or 6 feet off the ground and contains an abandoned Carolina wren nest. This box is how bees are shipped through the mail. Let's just say when it contains 10K bees the postal workers are most eager for you to arrive and retrieve your package!

Compared to the 60K-100K residents a honeybee hive might contain a Bumblebee nest is made up of around 50 to 400 bees. Since this nest is in a high traffic area during summer I'm hoping things stay on the smaller side. While male honeybees cannot sting and the females are far less defensive than honeybees or wasps they can sting if the next is threatened so I'll be giving these bees as much space as I can despite the fact that they have made themselves at home in a busy spot this time of year. Being careful not to get too close or breathe on them seems to be important.

I'm moving a few garden tools out of the way today so as not to disturb them. Read about other residents of the potting shed in All Things Great and Small Love a Potting Shed.

Everything about this nest meets the requirements I read about for the Tree Bumblebee: an old birdbox or nest, 5 or 6 feet off the ground, a shady corner out of the day's heat and direct sunlight.

I have to say I'm very excited about having bluebirds and bumblebees in the same year!

I'll keep you posted on what happens with them but if you'd like to know more check out Bumbleebee Conservation. Org

What to do if you have a bumblebee nest:

Quite a few of you have contacted me with questions about how to deal with the nests at your homes.
Here's the buzz on that. (sorry I can't help myself)

1. Remember that bumblebee nests don't last long, unlike honeybee colonies. The bumblebees all die before autumn, with the exception of the queen.

2. It is likely that if you don't disturb them they won't bother you at all.

3. Remember that while bumblebees can sting they are far less likely to do so than ground hornets or wasps.

4. If you can see where the nest is avoid spraying chemicals near it or mowing over it. You don't want to disturb the next but you also don't want to stir them up.

5. If they are in a truly undesirable location you can place a board or other object like a plastic container cut in two to redirect their traffic.

6. If it's absolutely necessary you can attempt to move the nest, at night, while wearing protective gloves and long sleeves. Only half of bumblebee nests are successful so this is, or course, a last resort.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

How to Make Soap at Home

homemade soap

If you have never paid much attention to soap I'm sure it has your attention now! While we're in a global hand washing frenzy and have a little extra time on our hands I thought I'd reshare the recipe I use to make my own soap. If you want to make the simplest version of soap possible you can start with melt and pour. For that read Goats Milk and Honey Soap. 

If you want to make the most cost effective from scratch recipe like grandma used to make, well she was probably using tallow instead of these fancy fats, here's how to do that. 

Often people see lye in the ingredients and ask if this is a harsh soap. Well, this is the only soap we use and my husband whose skin used to be so irritated by commercial soap loves it. I use it on my face. What makes commercial soap so harsh and drying isn't the lye which is necessary to make soap its all the detergents and other things added to it. As you'll see the fats and oils added to this recipe are very soothing.

Now let's get started!

But first...


Lye is an extremely dangerous thing to work with. Especially when it is mixed with water. Always wear eye protection, rubber gloves, long sleeves, pants, and shoes for your protection. Do not make soap in the presence of children or pets! 

Now that I've scared you silly, let's have some fun. You can use a lot of things for molds. Boxes, milk cartons, and silicone ice cube trays.

goats milk guest soap

 Some of my most popular soap is the little honeycomb ones. It's made in a silicone cake pan available on Amazon. 

home made soap


distilled water
 coconut oil
 olive oil
 shea butter
 stearic acid


Eye protection
Rubber gloves

Digital scale
stainless steel thermometer
large glass container 
large stainless steel pot 
non-reactive spoon or spatula
stick blender
oils or scents

The Process:

Lye + water + oil/fat = soap

Lye (sodium hydroxide) is a salt. When the lye is combined with the oils/fats a the process that takes place is called saponification. Though lye is caustic in its original form once the saponification process is complete, no lye will be left in the finished product. 



Because a chemical reaction is taking place is it important that you carefully measure all the ingredients. It's best not to use kitchen measuring cups or spoons for this but a digital scale. 

The measurements I use for this recipe are: 

16 oz. coconut oil

2 oz. olive oil 

2 oz. shea butter

1 oz. stearic acid

3.4 oz. lye

7.1 oz. distilled water

making soap

Making the soap: 

Carefully and slowly add the lye to the water (never the water to the lye!!!) and stir. Let cool. 

Melt the oils and fats together in a glass container in the microwave. I add the shea butter last because it can get a little grainy if overheated. 

Measure the temperature of the lye mixture and the oil mixture until they have cooled to 10 degrees of each other and are both below 130 degrees. 

Pour the melted oils/fats into a large stainless steel pot. Carefully (are you wearing your goggles and gloves?) pour the lye mixture into the pot and stir. Next, insert the stick blender and begin blending your soap mixture. Gently, not vigorously. You don't want to introduce air bubbles. Continue blending until you achieve "trace." 

Trace is when you can see a trail where you have dragged the blender through or when you drip some soap on the surface and it doesn't immediately disappear. Add colors and scents at this point and give a quick blend then pour into your mold. If you want to put anything in it that will remain solid now is the time to do that. I like to encrust my soap with herbs or flowers. 

Cover with a towel and either let cool at room temperature of pop in the fridge. Overnight. 

making soap at home

The next day pop it out of the mold and cut if necessary. Place in a cool dry place with good air circulation for 3-6 weeks. The process of making soap isn't finished until it has fully cured. 

After that enjoy your luxurious homemade soap!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Home Schooling Encouragement for the Reluctant, Unprepared, and Overwhelmed

Today's post is for the mom or dad who was happily sending their kids off to elementary school every day and now find themselves in the challenging position of being responsible for their child's education while either coping with the stress of not having a job to go to or working from home. I taught both my kids at home from preschool through the 8th grade.

I'm seeing some of your Facebook posts and a few of you are disheartened at home school moms acting like it's no big deal. Let's get that out of the way first. If you had no desire to be your child's sole educator, it's a really big deal. Add to that the fact that you can't take your kids out to do any of the normal things that parents regularly rely on like museums, group activities, sports, or co-ops and the challenge is heightened. Let's throw in the fact that you had no time to prepare or wrap your brain around it. If you are also trying to work from home or figure out how to pay your bills then God bless you.

This feels like a very big deal.

It seemed like fun the first week, right? But I'm guessing this week feels different and now that many schools are saying this is it for the school year, you may be super discouraged and worried that your child's education is going to suffer.

The truth is that this event isn't going to affect your child's ACT score or keep them out of the college they hope to go to. So take a breath. It's going to be fine. 

Main Priority

We are having the ultimate teachable moment about being a good citizen of the planet, country, and community. Now is the time to reinforce the idea that when bad things happen people pull together and that good things still happen. Sometimes we have to sacrifice. We can do hard things.

If that was the only lesson your child learned during this time, one of grit and being able to pivot in a crisis, that alone would be a priceless life lesson.

You are probably already instilling the concept that all work is important a lesson we're all learning together.

Point out to your child that mom and dad are learning new skills and new ways to get their work done. This is a great time to show your child that learning and educating yourself is something that never ends. We want to create life long learners. This is a great opportunity.

We want our kids to have positive memories of this time. 


If mom or dad are working at home it's going to be a challenge. But here's the thing, please do not try to recreate the school schedule at home. Every family has a different energy level in their home and then every family member has a different personality type. All kids have different learning styles.

Set aside an hour. Yes. ONE hour for formal learning, workbooks, etc. If you and your kids want to do more, of course, do that, but this isn't a time for raising the bar too high.

Parents working from home need to prioritize work, but I would say the sooner in the day that the schoolwork gets completed the easier the day will go. Win the morning and win the day. 

You can give them extra screen time (thus making it easier to get your work done) for completing their work early. This probably isn't the time to be too hard on yourself about how much screen time they have. Remember, we're in survival mode here.

Don't be afraid to get creative. 

I said one hour for school work that has been sent home, of course, some kids will be completers who feel the need to do it all and others may struggle a lot. Trust your instincts about how much is enough.

Plant some seeds.

Have them act out their favorite story, make sets, costumes, etc. (THEM. Not you) Share. This is a way they can communicate with and entertain older relatives who are stuck at home.

Let them take apart an old appliance if they're old enough.

Teach them to read a map. A new concept if they've only ever seen you use GPS.

Give them a tape measurer and let them measure things to get a sense of the size of things related to a number.

This is a great time to read that classic novel you've always wanted to read but never got around to. Read it aloud to your child. Don't underestimate your child's ability to understand complex sentence structure and unusual vocabulary. They can draw, color, or play with Legos while you read.

Use classic movies for discussion starters. If you have a favorite childhood movie they haven't seen yet. Now's the time!

All the helping activities they could be doing right now, like writing notes to people in nursing homes, or thinking of how they can help people are useful.

Have them journal about what's happening now for the future.

Unit Study

One of our favorite ways to learn was a unit study. This means that everything being learned relates to something that the child chooses to learn about. For example if they are interested in dinosaurs, then all the books, vocabulary, writing activities, geography, etc. would relate to that. Letting them do a deep dive into something they select themselves helps keep their attention longer and makes teaching easier.

Don't forget what they are already learning during this crisis. The importance of good hygiene and a clean environment. There are so many new vocabulary words. There's also the idea of invisible microscopic organisms.  It's a great time to talk about where our food comes from and transportation.

This style of learning provides an endless supply of areas of interest and activities that will hold a child's attention and give them a feeling of ownership over their education.

You are more than qualified to do this! 

As a parent, you are your child's first teacher. You know them better than anyone and have knowledge of everything they are doing, watching, reading. That information allows you to casually teach vocabulary or geography which you are likely already doing but underestimating the importance of.

Hang in there! You are doing great! Has anyone told you that?

Please feel free to ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Is This Helping? A Question for Uncertain Times

Wow. Y'all. I mean. Wow. 

A few years ago I was sitting in a hot tub sailing on a cruise ship off the coast of Scotland with a professor of epidemiology from Brazil and his wife while he outlined the next pandemic, and explained that we are way overdue for one. The picture he painted was dismal. At the time I thought he sounded alarmist but here we are.

This post isn't about things we can't control but the things we can. What we can control right now is what we say, post, like, share, and comment on in real-life interactions and on social media. Now that we are all about to have a lot of time on our hands we're seeing more and more blaming those in charge of decision making. Of course, the president is a favorite target for some but so is the CDC, WHO, the medical establishment, vaccine makers, scientists, capitalism, previous administrations, the media, and the financial sector. Pick who or what people already demonize in their normal lives and that's who or what they're angry at right now.

Guess what. There's going to plenty of time for that. Now is not the time. 

There is going to be plenty of time to Monday morning quarterback this event and every decision being made for the next hundred years. And politically there's going to be plenty of time for both sides to slam each other and point out who did what before November. And the elaborate conspiracy theories about what's "really" going on?  Those will be conceived forever after.

Now. is. not. the. time.

So what can we do? I have two suggestions.

1. Before you post an article, share, like, comment, or even say anything in real person to person conversation, ask yourself this question:

Is this helping? 

If it's a negative news item or anything not from an official source you might ask: 

How is this helping? 

An intellectually honest adult should be able to tell the difference. Here's a clue: being right doesn't mean you are helping. 

Please share funny memes, make fun of our dismal situation, check on people, share hacks you've got, or the best book, movie, or series we can all binge on while we're at home. Share pictures of your clean closets and organized garages! Make some art and share it. Post some old family photos on Facebook. Give us a tour of your garden. Do those projects around the house you've been putting off. Start your novel. Tip the delivery guy extra. You know what helped this week? Videos of people in Italy singing from their balconies while quarantined. 

One more thing. 

When you see the people in charge trying to make these massive gut-wrenching decisions remind yourself that they are doing the best they can. Even if you don't like them. Even if you normally don't trust them. Even if you can outline all the mistakes that have already been made. Believing those in charge are doing the best they can will make you feel better if nothing else. 

Everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have and remember even the people with the most information, don't have all the information. 

Now let's all go wash our hands. 

XOXO y'all

Monday, March 2, 2020

March Madness: A Month of Personal Challenges

I did a dry December. I've had a Fix-it February. I've walked 90 miles in November and written a blog post every day in January. I like little challenges to work on to improve my health or productivity.

So what's March Madness 2020? Doing several challenges at once. Here's what's on the agenda.

1. Zero spending. I probably have enough right? I mean we all do. So this month there won't be any new clothing items (even from Goodwill) or shoes. Nothing new for the house. No new books, or magazines, or makeup or perfume.

2. Use up what I already have. This goes with #1. If I'm not buying anything new I'll be forced to use up what I already own. And looking around I can see I could go a long time without buying any books, makeup, or craft supplies.

3. Finish projects. I have some projects I've been talking about for a couple of years like painting the kitchen cabinets, and redoing a piece of fun art over my stove that got ruined. At the end of the month I should be a lot happier with the house.

4. Cash only. If I do have to purchase anything (like something I need to finish up a project because finishing my house goals is a bigger priority for me than zero spending ) I'll be paying cash for it.

5. Do some things I've been putting off like changing cell phone plans to cut my monthly cost and scheduling a colonoscopy.

6. Not accumulating stuff even if it's free. I'm not downloading any more free books or getting library books (Look at this list, y'all, when am I going to have time to read?) because my Kindle is full of books I haven't opened yet.

7. Organize closets and cabinets.

8. Walk every day. No specific length of time or distance just building the habit again after a rainy winter.

9. No alcohol. Because a dry March just sounds so catchy, right? 

10. Zero sugary treats. 

If you didn't understand why I was calling it March Madness, now you know! Want to join me? Make a list or just choose a couple of things you want to work on this month. No sitting down to watch TV unless you know exactly what you'll be watching or no drive-through food. Journaling every day or doing a morning stretch. Just pick something and let's get started!

It's almost spring y'all and that's a great time to have a jumpstart if your resolutions bit the dust somewhere in February.

What could we have accomplished 30 days from now?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Bathroom Reveal: Tackling the Ugliest Room in the House.

Do you have one room in your house that just doesn't have anything going for it? For me, it was an upstairs bathroom that hasn't gotten much use since the kids left home. Well, except for the cat. His litter box is kept in the bathtub. 

When the kids moved out I painted this room white and haven't really bothered with it otherwise for five years. 

But you know how it is. Whenever you walk by your problem room you have that nagging feeling you could do something, anything to improve it.  It can especially be a problem if it's a room no one sees but you.  The cat wasn't complaining.

I decided I wanted to tackle it but then spent several months trying to figure out what to do and finding the time to do it. I finally decided that since no one else really sees it I would do something fun and playful using bright colors. The color palette in the rest of the house is fairly muted and since you can't see this room from anywhere else I decided to do something super whimsical.

All the products needed to complete this project are available locally at Me and Mrs. Jones. 

I love blue and white but don't have a good place for that bold choice in the rest of the house so I knew I wanted to go with that combo. I chose the Mediterranean Tile Set stencil from Royal Design Studio. I used Jolie's Gentleman's Blue and Palace White for the pattern.

Stencils are fun but I like taking them one step further to achieve more of a trompe l'oeil effect. I used Jolie's Swedish Grey to paint in grout lines and dealt with the angled ceiling by painting faux broken plaster. Had I chosen a stencil that had an all-over pattern I would have done the ceiling. 

This also gave the benefit of breaking up the pattern and giving the eye a break from all the business in such a small space. Plus, remember, whimsical and over the top was my goal.

Since I wanted to break up the pattern I thought a plain white shower curtain with blue tassels would be perfect but when I put it up it looked so...blah.

I was happier with it when I stenciled a simplified pattern on it.

This little side piece that I use for storage and where the cat's food dish is to keep the beagle from getting in it was given a little perk up with new knobs that mimic the tile. Bonus: they were free!

I'm loving having this hidden little happy room tucked away by itself.

This is our forever home so I don't have to worry about judgemental house hunters coming through with their negative comments.

This is the second use for that brick stencil. If you missed the cottage floor then read, How To Stencil a Concrete Floor.

I used to really like the way the exposed plumbing looked under the sink but then the pipe was replaced with plastic.

I painted it with Modern Masters Warm Silver as a temporary fix while I try to decide if I want to skirt the sink or not. At any rate, it's an improvement.

Next, what to hang on the walls? I could have easily left it bare but nope!

The artwork I chose was a postcard I purchased in the Bahamas last summer just for this spot and a charmingly bright and whimsical print by Debi Vincent.  My desire to use one of her pieces was a big component in using such bright colors for this room. 

Remember trends will change. Doing what you want in the place you call home is always a good choice and will let you be creative while saving money by not changing when your current decor goes out of style.

Happy decorating, y'all!