Ode to Hortensia

Hortie is Hungry

I knew it would happen eventually.  Lets face it, chickens just seem destined for short lives.  Maybe its because our culture has made it so that when you think about chickens, an entree of some sort automatically comes to mind.  But my Hortie was never meant for the dinner table.  And I’m so precious and over the top with my chichens, that I secretly thought they would all live to the ripe old age of eight or so.  If she had made it that long, Hortie would have long since gone on the backyard chicken dole, consuming endless amounts of food and treats, but having stopped laying years ago.  Alas that was not to be.  On the morning of December 11, 2013, my Hortie died of complications from what I believe to be Peritonitis.  This is when, in the process of laying an egg, a hen’s body starts depositing egg material in the abdomen instead of putting it in an egg. The egg material builds up in the abdomen, often causing fluid retention in the abdomen, and causing an infection as the egg material rots, known as septicemia or blood poisoning. I have no way of knowing for sure that this was the real cause, but I’m about 95% sure based on the symptoms.

I take comfort in the fact, that even if I had gotten her to the vet in time, there is very little that could have been done.  As it was, she died on the way to the vet and I’m not going to lie….a small part of me was relieved at not having to pay $900 for a chicken hysterectomy.  Because I would have.  A long time ago, M. and I agreed we would not be spending thousands of dollars on vet bills for chickens.  But we get attached don’t we?  We ascribe human personalities to our furry or feathered pets and form a bond, albeit a somewhat one-sided bond in the case of chickens.  And after being up all night, and having attempted a number of too-intimate-for-my-taste procedures to remove the egg material on my own, I was ready to try anything… Because its so hard to watch something you love suffer.  But that’s just part of life as my father would say.

Hortensia, like her namesake, was at the top of the pecking order and didn’t take any shit from the other birds.  She lived to eat and hogged ALL THE TREATS.  Perhaps this is what made her the bravest of my chickens…she was always willing to disregard potential danger for food.  As such, she was the first to investigate any would be diabolical predator in the yard, like a flapping towel or water from the garden hose – secure in the knowledge that a treat may follow.   And each morning it was a race against time to let the chickens out before Hortie started voicing her displeasure at being cooped, in the form of a continuous all out squawk-fest, which I’m sure my neighbors appreciated.  Despite her domineering personality, Hortie was also the most placid of birds.  Hortie would stand calmly (but not quietly) on the kitchen counter, while I prepped her for foot surgery, when needed.  Most chickens lose their shit indoors, but she knew she would be getting a whole (tiny) bowl of White Mountain Whole Milk Bulgarian Style Yogurt all to herself afterward, and acted accordingly.   She also appreciated a good preening and would stand quietly, and even assist as best she could, when I had to groom her pantaloons because she had grown too rotund to reach parts of them.  As big in personality as she was in body, the coop is so much quieter and emptier without her.  I’m sure my neighbors appreciate this new found silence, but I long for the days when I had to hide on one side of the kitchen so that she wouldn’t spot me eating brekkie through the sliding glass door and commence the squawkfest.

I want to put some gratitude out there in the universe for those people who went out of their way to help me the night she got sick…particularly, the very understanding and compassionate pharmacist at Walgreens who spent half an hour, in the middle of the night, searching for and finding the right size syringes, even after I told her what I needed them for.  And for the stoic cashier at Walgreens who, though he may have blinked at first, said nary a word as I rolled up to his counter, a complete blubbering mess with KY Jelly, medical grade latex gloves and three syringes.  And of course to Michel, who  was out of town working, but stayed on speaker phone with me after a very long day, as I performed my third and final poultry pelvic, to no avail.

After she died, I drank a morning beer and buried Hortie next the sage plant in our garden, so her chicken spirit (if such a thing exists) can haunt the run and stalk the beehive she so desperately longed to plunder in life.   Michel had no choice but to give in to my pleas for another chicken or two.  He technically agreed to only one (résistance!) before any of this happened, but now I can get 2 new chickens (victory!), when the right pair become available.   Requirements include a bossy demeanor, fluffy butt and big mouth, like their prospective mama.

Hortie Preens

Nothing is safe!

Fluffiest butt of them all


Going the distance….Part I

Its been a crazy few months, and the blog had to take a back seat to all sorts of missions accomplished in October, November and December.  Its funny how, after being relatively calm for about 9 months, it can all boil down to the last 60-90 days of the year.  A few months can make the difference between feeling like you have actually accomplished something and feeling like you have accomplished embarrassingly little at the end of the year.  But success!  I managed the former and feel pretty good (actually really excited) about new goals and projects in 2014 and beyond.    However, before I move forward, I wanted to look back, just for a second, and appreciate my accomplishments.  I tend to make a really big, dramatic, endless, self-torturous ordeal about my perceived failures and inadequacies and just gloss over the things I’ve achieved, which is not a happy or productive habit for me or anyone around me.  So I’m going to part with tradition and focus on some of the things I actually accomplished this year.  Enter October…

This October I ran a marathon.  Now, mind you this is not my first marathon.  My third actually.  If I’m being honest, marathons have become my default yearly accomplishment.  If I accomplish nothing else, I can always fall back on a marathon story for those painful, small talk-ridden holiday cocktail parties where everyone compares promotions or children.  But I digress.  Every year during training, I think about how hard my run is that day, and cannot fathom how I could possibly run another 10-21 miles to make it to 26.2.  Finishing the race really does seem insurmountable most of the time and that feeling persists right up until I hit mile 20 of the race itself.  I should be able to take comfort in the fact that if my body and mind managed to finish twice before, then surely this year would be no different. However, its one thing to know that and another thing to actually do it.

Each year, my friend Lauren and I pick a destination marathon to pretend to train for.  Oh sure, we start out all militant and engaged at first (or at least I do).  “This is the year we are actually going to train”, we say (I say).  “We will stick to our schedule and do all of our runs”, we say (I say).  But every year, life or wine or the like interferes.   True to form,  neither Lauren or I made it past the 15 mile mark in training this year.  In fact, a foot injury and then the flu sidelined my training for 6 weeks before the race.  Potentially catastrophic, if you aren’t an experienced slacker, like Lauren or I.  However, said experience has taught us that we can run for 4 hours and 30-45 minutes, regardless of training – its just a function of managing pain and boredom, both in the moment and after.

This year Lauren and her super speedy magic typing skills managed to get us registered for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington D.C.  It usually sells out online in 2 hours, so please take a moment to appreciate how fast of a typist Lauren had to be to get us both registered, along with about 30,000 other people.   I’m not going to get into all of our exploits in D.C. , but suffice it to say that food, fun, sightseeing and day drinking was had by all.  Naturally, we front loaded these activities because no one wants to tour a city on foot the week after a marathon.   As a result, the race was the parting shot for an awesome trip to an amazing city.  This is the part, during my holiday cocktail schpeel, where I would talk about how inspiring it was to be part of something bigger, if even for just a few hours.  Part of a collective endeavor to persevere at a cost to no one and a benefit to everyone, surrounded by thousands of people shouting unflinching support to total strangers regardless of color, creed, socio-economic status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.  It really is awesome to behold.  Add to that the physical and emotional sensation of runners high and there truly is nothing like it.  And it never gets old – it stuns me with its awesomeness every year.

This year was no different, except it was.  Now imagine it.  You are running…exhausted…but overwhelmed with emotion for your 30 thousand running mates of all shapes, ages, and sizes and the almost 70 thousand people who got up at 5am to stand out in 30 degree weather and wave homemade posters and shout encouragement along 26.2 miles of course.  This is fairly typical of most marathons, but again it never gets old.  Now add to that the hundreds, nay thousands, of marines who came out to help set up the course, hand out water, sport drink, gels, orange slices and generally do anything necessary to make this one of the best programmed races in the nation.   And they yell at you…like marines do in the movies.  But its not scary, its oddly supportive, and I think I might get it now – the yelling.  Now, add to that the seemingly countless people in front of and behind you running in memory of a loved one – a lost or disabled family member in the service – there are names and photos on each runner’s back.  And there are SO many.  So many runners with faces staring back at me, in front and more passing.  I’m not going to get into the politics of it, because its much too complex to discuss here and its not relevant to this post, really. Whether I agree or disagree with the political agendas that put people in the line of fire, the bottom line is that each of those people, with faces on their shirts staring straight back at me, got THE phonecall or THE knock at the door.  And it was the end of their world as they knew it and they chose this place in time to honor a memory and it breaks your heart.  And then, just when you think you can’t stand to think about it anymore…something catches at the corner of your eye, up on the left.  A group of people in recumbent cycles  pedaling…shit….inching slowly up that grade you barely noticed…with their hands.  Because they don’t have legs anymore or the legs they have don’t function.  And that’s just the beginning.   These are the scars and deaths that we see, because someone is there with a face on a shirt to remind you.  But there are countless mental scars and spiritual or emotional deaths that go unnoticed and unhonored.  And there you are, with the world expanding around you, as you truly consider the lives of so many others, if just for a moment.  Exhausted, but able bodied and spiritually whole and entirely unaffected most of the time.  Because its one thing to see or hear about isolated instances.  Its another thing to see it en masse, staring at you, literally, in the face – the sheer totality and cost of the human condition and all of its darkest impulses.  And this amazing thing you think you are about to accomplish is so small compared to the daily victories of people with faces on the backs of their shirts or people pedaling the 26.2 with their hands.

So I started out wanting to take a moment to appreciate being a finisher in the MCM.  And I do.   It was really hard, mentally and physically.  I was cold, tired and very dehydrated, and there were so many moments where it would have been so easy just to stop and sit.  But you have to push yourself to get past the physical and mental pain and have ultimate faith in the fact that, although your brain might be telling you to stop, your body can and will do it, if you can just keep going.  The pain exists only in the moment and in a couple hours it will be just a memory.  I imagine its much the same for people racing with physical disabilities or people struggling with the additional emotional burden of running in memory of a loved one.  But its not the same, is it?  And thats ok.  Another person’s struggle and success doesn’t minimize my own.  In fact,  I am probably a better person for being able to bask in the amazing accomplishments of others who have a more difficult path than I do.  No mutual exclusivity here.  Just a mutual appreciation perhaps….one so strong I can’t wait to do it all over again this year.


You and I might be vegetarians…

I’m almost sure I’m not….like 80%.  Et toi?

If you are extremely sensitive to issues like death, the death of animals, or faint at the sight of blood or…guts (for lack of a better word), then you should probably skip this one.  And you might be a vegetarian.

The following post is about our first hog capture, and as you can imagine, it’s going to involve descriptions of the capture, slaughter and processing of feral hogs.  There will be graphic descriptions and photos.  If you tend to take things like this with you – if they live in your brain and haunt you (as they do me sometimes), then this post might not be for you and you might be a vegetarian.

Just sayin….

So…for several years now, M and I have been cutting factory farmed meat (FFM) and meat products out of our diet.  This includes any meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc.) that isn’t 100% pasture raised, finished and local.  We have also cut out commercially caught and farmed fish of almost every kind, as well as shrimp, oysters, scallops, etc.  Our decision to cut out factory farmed meat was based on the many, many negative externalities and direct effects (health, environmental, ethical) associated with factory farming.  Our decision to cut out commercially caught fish was based on the unsustainable and wasteful nature of most commercial fishing operations and the negative effects that overfishing and netting have on the earth’s oceans.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that food is practically porn for me.  I love richly marbled, aged ribeyes.  My love for fatty tuna can only be rivaled by my love for salmon – both with those rich glorious veins of white fish fat.  I love foie gras…I’m going to say it. LOVE it.  On toasted sourdough bread…with nothing else.  It was my jam, when I splurged and could afford it.  But those days are over.  And it pains me.  SO MUCH sometimes.  But I (we) have our reasons and I’m good with them.  You don’t have to be good with them or agree with them – that’s ok.  Everyone else is welcome to do as they do.  And we will quietly accept the “Portlandia” comments (MOM).  And if we go to dinner at your house, we will likely try to gingerly avoid the meat, if possible, or eat it (if its expensive and the centerpiece of your meal), because it’s probably amazing and we don’t want to be those dicks who don’t appreciate your food or effort, because we do.

So,  given our little fatwa on FFM, we don’t eat meat as much meat as we’d like.  In addition to our dietary restrictions, we are also under budgetary restrictions, so the farmer’s market is an option, but a rare one.  They have most of what we could want, but it can get expensive.  So we hope for a deer each year when hunting season rolls around, but that too can be expensive if you don’t know someone with land to hunt on.   And then there is the little matter of waiting for hunting season and the fact that its called hunting, not catching, and sometimes you walk away with nary a glimpse of deer. So this year we decided to supplement with feral hog from the Earth Native property.  It’s not large enough to hunt deer on, but its rich with swine.  We know this because its like a hog highway out there and the 2 game cameras on the land confirmed it.   We tried the regular hunting option (you can hunt pigs any time of year), but pigs are very smart – they are widely accepted as being smarter than young children of at least 3 years of age, dogs, and even some primates.  They also have an exceptionally keen sense of smell and are very social animals, so if one doesn’t smell you, one of the other 15 piggies they roll with, will.

After some impatience with traditional hunting methods (gun and bow), we finally decided to trap.  Enter M and his welder…and the 4ft by 8ft, Lbar and cattle panel pig trap he made us… which drew no small amount of snide remarks from the neighbors about S&M and the like, for the week it sat in the car port.  Long story short…we moved it out to the land and spent several months moving it around until the pigs found it and grew accustomed enough to its appearance to feast on the fermented corn scattered in and around the trap.  One night, after many weeks of baiting an unset trap, we decided to set it.  I’m not sure if M was nervous, but I was.  I was excited about eating less beans, eggs and tofu, but I was also scared of what we would have to do to get there.  You see, for the trap to be viable in the future, you can’t actually kill the pigs in the trap (see sense of smell above).  The pigs have to be removed from the trap alive and taken elsewhere to dispatch.  To do this you have to slip a rope through the bars of the trap and get it around the pig’s neck so that you can pull it taught and keep the pig pinned to one side or roof of the trap.  Once the pig is immobilized, some brave soul (this would be M), reaches into the trap and grabs the pig by its hind legs, drags it out and has to hog tie it without getting kicked or bitten. None of these things is easy to do – practically or psychologically.  And neither of us knew how many pigs we would catch or how big they would be.

Most of my hunting experiences involve a quick and seemingly painless death.  Using a gun or bow, by the time you actually approach the animal, it’s the picture of stillness.  Unless you’ve “winged” it and then dispatching it is an act of mercy.  There seems to be very little suffering and I take comfort knowing that it lived, as intended, in the wild.  Also, I know that herd animals don’t often go peacefully.  If they aren’t predated upon, they die of starvation or illness and disease.  And when they are predated upon…well…you’ve seen animal planet…those packs of wolves or hyena’s tearing into the animal’s belly while it’s still alive.  Nature never promised an easy life or kind death.  Unless you’re an apex predator, it’s usually quite the opposite.  So what little suffering is caused, is well within the bounds of what nature has in store.

These are my justifications for trapping and killing feral hogs.  Because we want meat.  Because we want meat from animals that have had the opportunity to engage in their natural social and foraging behaviors and be “happy” in their animal way.  Because I know that the wild population can sustain the few hogs we may take each year.   Because I have no doubts or illusions about death and I know that very few creatures get to die a quick and painless, easy death.  These reasons may not be enough for you, but they are enough for me right now.  I say all these things, not because I’m trying to believe them, but because this experience was very hard for me.  And I can’t help but convey how hard it was, despite the rational part of me that knows it’s the better choice.  I am sentimental in the way that privileged people are.  People who have never known real hunger and who haven’t spent their lives killing animals for food.  Ultimately, its hard for me to see things suffer – harder now than when I was young.  It’s hard for me to accept and process death.  And I think pigs are terribly cute – even the big, spiny tusked ones.  They are smart and social and they evoke strong feeling and sentiment from me.  So it was a very hard thing and I think about it all the time.

I’m not going to get into too many details.  You know the process because I explained how it works.  We had to do it 4 times because we caught 4 young adult pigs.  There was one black one, two ruddy ones and one really red one – 3 females and one male.  They did not go quietly and the sheer noise of it was one of the most difficult parts.  They were strong and scared and fierce all at once.  We did our best to stay as quiet as possible and go as quickly as possible, shield them from their fate as much as possible, and with as much dignity and respect as possible.  It seems shi, shi and childish, but I tried to thank them and the universe for the meat, as we progressed.  And when the worst part was over (the actual killing of the last pig) I got to walk out in the middle of the field and sob for a second.  But I got over it, composed myself and we began the process of field dressing.  My first solo field dress (with instruction).

I actually enjoyed learning how to do it on my own and managed to find some additional points of clarity with the results of our trap:   1) that I’m probably not a vegetarian, but I totally get why people would be and recognize it unconditionally and 2) that meat does not get the respect it should.  Because it’s a very hard thing, to kill something up close, by your own hand or even watch it done.  And the killing happens every day, by hand or by machine, whether you are there to see it or not.  Whether you are still looking through the scope while the animal struggles or going about your day when that cow meets its end in a metal box – a creature, somewhere out there, died for that meat and it was probably not easy or quiet.  But I can deal with that if I operate within a framework that ensures the animal lived its best possible life.

Below are pictures from our capture and field dressing.

Note that our pants and socks are tucked in to deter the ticks that fall off when circulation stops

Note that our pants and socks are tucked in to deter the ticks that fall off when circulation stops



Utterly and totally as far as inspiration goes.  I don’t really have anything to rant about and it shows.  No news may be good news, but its bad for blogging.  For the 2 of you out there that are interested, the ladies are doing fine…fat and happy, if not under-productive because of the heat.  Every time I go out at night to make sure the ladies are roosting, Hortensia uses the light from my headlamp to hunt the cockroaches that gather there at night looking for water.  She makes out like a little bandit she does.  I’m going to make a mini horror movie called “Hunting with Hortie” about her night time roach stalking adventures.  You think I’m kidding, but it will use night vision cameras and everything.

In any event, the chicken video below will have to suffice in the meantime.  Forgive the theatrics, but I was feeling puckish.


Ok….I might as well just say it…this post is going to be a bit ranty….shoot…its very much a rant.  But a day old rant, so I’ve had time to think about it and let the fire subside a bit.   Its actually not that big a deal…the topic of my rant.  I think I might just be angry about a much larger, more important issue.  I was going to rant about said more important issue, but the truth is…the people who agree with me are only going to agree with me more and the people who don’t, won’t change their minds based on one pissed off blog post.  I’m hoping that those who don’t agree with me on said more important issue, either a) have a life changing experience that forces them to reconsider a very nuanced and difficult decision that should be a matter of personal choice and not sweeping legislative restrictions enacted by largely conservative white male politicians in the name of  “family values”, when those self-same politicians support the personal right to potentially kill someone with a semi-automatic handgun and the murder of a human being vis-a-vis capital punishment and also often support cuts to programs that promote sex education, education in general, health care in general, health care for women, and a myriad of other social services programs designed to help those families/children that those self-same conservative white male politicians appear to have no interest in helping beyond the point of birth (family values?)  or b) promptly “age out of the population” for lack of a better word.  The latter, at least, will happen.  It can’t happen soon enough, frankly.  But time is on my side.  As it has been with every other issue related to civil liberties.  But I digress….seriously.

The real topic of this blog post is much, much, less important in the grand scheme, but still important to me.  I was walking around Town Lake the other day with a very good friend of mine and its hot out there folks.  Like triple digits.  Lucky for us, town lake kindly provides water fountains every mile or two.  Its a lifesaver for walkers or runners out there who don’t want to pack in their own liquids on a long walk/run.  However, this very good friend of mine won’t go near them – the fountains.  For weeks, I’ve been trying to convince her that she won’t catch the plague by drinking out of a public water fountain, geeez.  Its not like people wrap their mouths around those things…most people are very careful not to touch the spout with their lips because EW for them and EW for everyone else.  Its a matter of consideration.  So we are walking up to the water fountain right there at Riverside and Lamar, under the trees by the tiny parking lot across from Paggi House and what do I spy with my little eye?

This guy and his female friend are holding a VERY cute little hound dog puppy up to the the water fountain spout to drink from it.  FOLKS.  For those who don’t walk the lake, each water fountain has a spout underneath for just such an occasion.  Some good Samaritan out there has even provided free dog bowls at most water fountains, just for the dogs of Town Lake.  And in case that’s not enough….FOLKS…..THERE ARE SEVERAL MILLION GALLONS OF WATER 10 FEET TO YOUR LEFT.  Its called Town LAKE…..and its a DOG, not a toddler.  It EATS ITS OWN POOP on occasion.  Don’t make me share germs/water with your admittedly adorable puppy.  If you are content to share germs with it…awesome…I probably have several versions of avian specific germs, but I’m not going to insist that you share in them by bringing my chickens to splash in the water fountain.  Needless to say, my very good friend gave me a knowing look, as if to say, “SEE!!!” and kept walking.  And dammit if I had no retort.  So I walk up to this couple and kindly ask them to please not use the people spout for the dog and point out the dog spout beneath the people spout.  The  female dog owner was completely dumbfounded by this request and the guy replies  “it wasn’t anywhere near the actual water source” and “have a nice day” dripping in “F*ck you” tones.    My reply to that is THIS. (Mom – the orange means click on the word “THIS”).  Or see below:


I may not be a dog owner, but I have a few friends who are, and that saliva-water  goes everywhere.   There is always a veritable splash pad around the bowl.  Again, maybe this is no problem for you.  Great, share a cup at home with Fido.  But don’t make everybody else do so.  Its RUDE.  And if saying that makes me a harpy, then bring it on…I’ll get you my pretties…and your little dog too.


Men down…..

Bees 001

If you don’t know me very well and it’s not already obvious, I’m a worrier…a tad on the neurotic side…at times, slightly reactive even.   I tend to handle myself fairly well in the midst of a crisis, but the before and after process can be a bit of a shit-show.  M, on the other hand, is the picture of equanimity throughout.  If something unexpected happens or if there is cause for alarm, he will sit back and withhold reaction or judgement until enough information is available to make a calm, calculated decision about next steps.  If some potentially difficult or distressful event is in the offing, he will wait for it to actually happen before responding and when he does, it lacks the truly dramatic flair that makes being human so exciting…that scene…at the end of Steel Magnolias when Sally Field is melting down at the cemetery…that could be me at almost any moment for even the tiniest of reasons sometimes.  M….NEVER.   It’s all very rational and common sense with him, if not a tad too C3PO for my taste.  Facing his wall of calm in the midst of my (sometimes) extra-emotional reactions makes me feel like a true crazy person.

HOWEVER….every once in a very great while…something will happen that pushes M’s very tiny hidden buttons and I get to sit back and feel just a bit better about myself.  Take, for example, the arrival of our bees, or lack thereof.  Our bees, in transit via USPS, were late.  Very late.  Now mind you bees are not made to travel and especially not in 95 degree weather.  And we had been waiting for these bees for a whole year and would have to wait another year if they did not arrive soon and all did not go well.  M was positively beside himself.  Never has a package been so tracked…I swear he was on the computer and on the phone every hour, on the hour, the day the package arrived.  THE MAN WAS ACTUALLY WORRIED.  Visibly worried…frantic even.  And when the call finally came saying that the bees had arrived, we actually turned around (on our way to lunch), dropped me off and he went off to fetch his bees in rush hour traffic.  Along with a cooler full of ice (to cool the bees in transit) and an ice-cold spray bottle of sugar-water (to ease the bees in transit).  When he finally arrived, it was with a look of concern I almost didn’t recognize.  A full third of the bees (1-1.5 inches worth) had died in transit.  The USPS, marvel of inefficiency that it is, had placed them in a super hot, sunny place with no ventilation for hours upon arriving in Austin, despite M’s multiple phone calls to avoid this very thing and despite the instructions to keep them in a cool ventilated place.  We immediately brought them inside and sat them on the kitchen table with the fan on and air cranked up to give them a rest before installation.    The low-grade humming was a tad disconcerting, I’ll admit.  As was the vision of 6,000 cranky honey bees getting loose in our house.  M, however had bigger concerns.  Honey bees only live 30 days and almost half of them were now dead.  At this point there was a good chance that we didn’t have enough workers to create enough brood to sustain the queen, assuming she wasn’t one of the fallen.  If the queen is dead, and you are already under-strength, chances are, you’re f*cked and will have to wait another year for more bees.  After harried phone calls to our bee supplier in Georgia we decided that our only choice was to try to install the bees immediately (you are typically supposed to wait a few hours). Given our (my) last experience with an angry traumatized hive, we (I) suited up with extra attention to detail and set out to install our hive.  If you go online and Google videos for bee installation, you will see most beekeepers installing a hive without bonnets or gloves or protective clothing of any kind.  M was tempted to “full monty” it so to speak, but settled on a bonnet with no gloves.

As it turns out, neither a bonnet or gloves were necessary.  Well worked bees of Italian lineage are SUPER docile.  Instead of an angry, erratic flying pattern, punctuated by Kamikaze dive bombs toward our esophagi, we  were greeted with slow, almost drunken, curious fliers.  Michel installed the hive with bare hands without a single sting.  The queen, replete with identifying red dot, had survived and was installed along with the rest of the brood.  Installing a hive consists of placing the queen (in her sugar/wax cork sealed travel suite) in the hive and then pouring the bees on top into the brood super.   You then let the remaining bees crawl out of the package on their own, following the scent of the queen into the closed hive.  Its been several weeks since our initial install and after much coddling, checking and sugar-water, we are still not sure if they will make it.  M has been the very picture of a doting mother hen with the bees.  He checks on them as much as permitted and spends hours on bee forums uploading pictures of the hive and trying to cajole them into making enough brood.  He doesn’t even bother with bonnet or gloves anymore and even I feel fairly comfortable enough to snap photos from a few feet away without protection.   We are keeping our fingers crossed and have high hopes that our little ladies will make it.  However, even if they don’t it has been a learning experience for everyone.  M, perhaps has a greater understanding of my tendency to fret about things you have no control over-because you are their “mommy” and you just can’t help yourself (see chickens) and I have a greater appreciation for M’s latent maternal instincts and my ability to remain collected throughout our little bee apocalypse.  Pics of install below!

Bees 007

Bees 017

Spraying sugar water on the frames

Spraying sugar water on the frames

Removing sugar water and queen suite from bee package

Removing sugar water and queen suite from bee package

Home free!

Home free!

Our regal little queen

Our regal little queen

Pouring the bees into their new home

Pouring the bees into their new home

Letting the others find their way into the hive and prepping for bee dinner

Letting the others find their way into the hive and prepping for bee dinner

Dinner (sugar water) is served - time to let the bees acclimate to their new home

Dinner (sugar water) is served – time to let the bees acclimate to their new home

The 10,000 faces of fear….

Flight of the M.

So I’ve been waiting for M. to get home to put together the accompanying video for this post, but he won’t be home long enough to do so for a while, so the pics will have to suffice.  The video really is something…M. doesn’t often lose his composure, but try having several bees trapped in your bonnet with several hundred more trying to get in…well…you’ll get the picture.  He’s quite the sprinter that one.

We get our brand new bees in a week or so.  Apparently they arrive at the Post Office and the postal employees can’t call you to come get them fast enough.  The incessant low-grade humming emanating from the box apparently evokes a deep-rooted primordial fear and its effect on the post office staff is quite acute.   Included in the box of bees is a queen in her very own little queen bee travel suite.  It’s supposed to be a simple procedure, introducing your bees to their new hive – you simply put the queen in the brood super (the bottom hive body), close up the hive, open the bee package next to the hive, and promptly run for your life (maybe that’s just me).  The bees, following the queens pheromones, will then slowly trickle into the hive to find the queen bee and release her from her sugar-coated prison.  I’m not kidding – the door to the queen’s travel suite is a waxy-candy plug that the bees literally chew through.  God if only American Airlines made me eat through a layer of cake to deplane from my private first class cabin, life would be complete – where are the human applications of this idea, I ask you?!

This whole process sounded simple enough to me at first….I mean…its M.’s thing really.  The chichens are my thing and the bees are his…it was all a very cozy division of labor…until this weekend when M. informed me that he would likely be out-of-town for the “transition”.  Now,  I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I like to think of myself as a real “trooper”.  Someone who is game for almost anything and doesn’t fear many tangible things.  Rats – I had two of them as pets in college.  Snakes – I’m that person who stops in the middle of the road to pick them up so they don’t get run over.  Roaches and spiders – no problem.  I do have twinges of respectful fear for horses and cows make me a bit nervous, but I’m usually undeterred.  Even bees, when there are one or two of them don’t freak me out too much…I admit that I will calmly walk away if one is buzzing near me, but no hand flapping hysterics. However, 10,000 angry bees dive-bombing your bonnet and looking for a way in is another story…

M and bees

And that story began about 2 weeks ago when our friend and neighbor decided that he wanted to rehome his hive.  Not surprisingly, M. was ON IT.  He’s been waiting a year for our new bees, so the idea of two hives left him positively giddy.  This would be the perfect introduction to our new bees…we could get our feet wet by moving an already established hive to the property in Bastrop.  How hard could that be right?  Moving a many thousands strong 50lb hive 25 miles on the highway in the back of Michel’s Tacoma…noooo problem.   Dude had it all figured out and to his credit all went according-ish to plan.   We attacked the hive at night in tandem (bees, like chickens, put themselves to sleep each night).  It took us about 20 minutes to suit up, but those suckers can and will find any hole in your defenses so it pays to be meticulous (imagine an angry bee buzzing around centimeters from your face in an enclosed environment where any move you make to facilitate its escape will result in a bee stung nose, cheek or eyeball…screw water boarding…put a bonnet on it and you’ll see some serious intel).

Next, we sealed the hive, secured it with ratchet straps, and carried it to the back of the pick-up, where M. expertly strapped it to the car in the hopes that it wouldn’t fly out the back of the pick-up at 70 miles per hour and break open on the unsuspecting dickhead that was following too close behind us for most of the trip.  Twenty-five miles and many bumps later we unloaded and unsealed our very agitated hive in Bastrop.  Michel got stung 6 times throughout the whole process, but I escaped sting free, due in large part to the fact that I spent a good portion of the time in my full bee keepers suit inside the car during the re-release process.  Note to the uninformed – bees can detect the pheromones of their fallen brethren and will follow the residual scent from the disemboweled stinger on your clothes for over 50 feet.  While doing so, they will dive bomb your bonnet in an attempt to sting your airway in the hopes that it will shrink and you will die a painful and breathless death for being a greedy sugar seeking mammal.

Keeping that in mind, let’s get back to the image of me sitting inside the car in my full beekeepers suit…. which sounds really dumb until you note that, in haste to escape the bees following him around, M. has inadvertently brought a couple of angry bees into the truck with him.  Keep in mind there are many more waiting for us outside.   Which would be cause for panic…UNLESS….you have your suit on inside the car.  Then you can sit back and watch your partner cringe and swat until the threat has been eliminated.  My only regret was not having a beer and popcorn to watch the show.   M. is such a sport.

Now…lets get even further back to the point in this story where I mention that M. will be out-of-town when our “new” bees get here, which means I will be making the transition to the hive all by myself.  His presentation of this fact was so offhand, so casual, and so in midst of conversation that I almost missed it.  But I did not miss it…and if you haven’t seen my alarmed, eyeballs larger than usual, mouth gaping in “you’ve got to be kidding” face, please know that it was in full effect and whatever gravitas was missing in his communication with me was imparted by my reactionary bitchface.  I have since settled down a bit and being the “sport” that I am, will attempt to play Moses to the 10,000 bees when they get here in late May.  Naturally, I will be recording the event with our go-pro so that 1) I have constant reminder of why Michel will be cleaning the chicken coop for the next six months and 2) I can have fodder for my blog, which will hopefully not include a post from St. David’s South.  Stayed tuned for our mini-doc “The 10,000 Faces of Fear” (working title), the action packed sequel to “The Time Michelle Almost Lost an Eye to a Pine Tree in Wisconsin”.  Below…pictures of our Bastrop hive, pre-relocation.

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Me Loves…well…you should check it out…

This is my new favorite website.  Its not high literature…but one of today’s last posts (see link below) encapsulates exactly how I feel today, this night, perfectly.

In other words (where someone said it better already): “F*ck This Week”

The blog (see link)  below is expletive ridden and rightfully so.  If you can’t appreciate it, then we might not be friends.


Below….a picture of Rue doing exactly what I feel…

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P.S. (Parting Shot):  My friend Lauren and I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. this year and we are psyched and utterly undeterred…see you guys there.

Should I be broody?

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Fanny is officially broody.  She stays in the nesting boxes all day and only comes out once or twice for food and water.   When she does come out, its at a full run and she does not shift gears until she is back at the nest; quick run to the feeder for some corn, a scratch or two at some greens, a race to the water dish, and its back up the ramp and into the coop.   The other hens give her wide berth…how do they know she is broody?  Well it could be that she puffs and struts like a rooster.  Running and poofing and doing her little dominant rooster dance in between the rush.  And woe unto thee who reaches in to get some eggs….Fanny isn’t afraid to unleash a master display of Tom turkey style poofiness accompanied by a mighty Pterodactyl cry, regardless of who or what is bothering her.  If I were a predator, I would think twice…hell I think twice anyway. 

 The thing is, it doesn’t matter if there are eggs or not.  She broods anyway.  Something in her biology tells her that she must hatch at all costs…even imaginary eggs, if need be. Her biological clock isn’t just ticking, it’s chimed.  Oh the inexorable pull towards procreation.  I almost envy Fanny.  So simple….she woke up one day and just had to be a mother – no questions; no hesitation; no concerns about timing; no worries about whether she could afford it; no angst about how it would affect her professional or personal trajectory; no worries about whether she would be a good parent or even about adding one more mouth for the over populated planet to feed.  She just woke up one morning and something in her genes told her to lay an egg and sit on it until she was beside herself with maternal fervor.  A select few of my friends went through this at some point.  Fewer even had been planning children their whole lives. 

 Clearly my clock is set to another time zone/dimension. It’s ticking, but slowly and quietly and it certainly hasn’t chimed yet.  At least not for anything human.  Baby animals are another story.  M. calls it “baby animal fever”.  He’s laughing about it now, but we both wonder if or when the urge will shift towards Homo sapiens and the laughing subsides.  I never grew up thinking about marriage or children in the context of my own life.  That was something other little girls dreamed about.  But not me.  I dreamed about riding horses as they ran wild and free at breakneck speed across the plains.  I dreamed about being a mermaid and living in a castle at the bottom of our pool in Lagos.  I dreamed about living at my grandmother’s ranch in the Venezuelan bosque and catching iguanas and giant toads and raising cattle.  And though my dreams matured (kind of) in tandem with me, dreams of motherhood never materialized. 

So here I am.  Thirty-three years old and still no kids.  And by now people are asking.  My family has never pressured me (my mom is awesome that way), but they know well enough not to, should the urge arise.  Because ultimately, its none of their business.  Total strangers or simple acquaintances do not share their consideration.  They make sure to remind me that “I’m not getting any younger”, or “my parents won’t be around forever, so you should have them soon” or “blah, blah…insert statistic about down syndrome here, blah, blah”.  Do they actually think I haven’t thought of any of this stuff before, I ask myself as they yammer on, oblivious?  Could they actually believe that I’ve managed to be on this planet 33 years without thinking about the implications of a) not having kids or b) waiting so long to do so? Its not like forgetting to take out the recycling on Monday night. 

 It seems to me that….despite the cultural shift towards the option to choose a career over family, a great deal of a woman’s “success” in this culture is still marked by reaching the motherhood milestone.  And although men are measured by their professional success, no stranger or mere acquaintance would dare rebuke/question a man’s lack of career success in casual conversation.  Can you imagine a conversation in which some random person says the following in the first 5 minutes of having met …well…lets call him Bill:

 Acquaintance/Stranger: “Well, Bill, how much money do you make?  (wide-eyed expectant look in anticipation of Bill’s impending response)

 Bill: (pregnant pause)…(pun intended)…”uuuh….$40,000…but work just isn’t one of my priorities right now…not sure if it ever will be”.

 Acquaintance/Stranger: “In-ter-esting, what does your family think about that?” (high eyebrows with expectant increase in pitch as they anticipate Bill’s apologetic tone)…you know you aren’t getting any younger (with a low, all knowing and almost  parental tone). 

 Bill: (hands open, eyes towards sky, uncomfortable shifting and then evasive response) “sure, but like I said, work isn’t my end all be all…if I’m successful, then great, but I’ll be happy either way”.

 Acquaintance/Stranger: “high eyebrows, wide eyes, mouth slightly open and head shaking up and down as in “sure buddy, whatever you say”).  “I know, but think about what you will be missing.  Making money and being successful can be so rewarding….and if you are going to be a success or make six figures, you really only have 10 more years.…AND, what if you change your mind? By then it will be too late… They don’t promote the old guys you know (repeat low, all knowing and almost parental tone).

 Bill: (increasingly annoyed at this person’s presumption and patronizing line of questioning and lecturing tone) “I guess I’ll just have to take that chance”.

 Acquaintance/Stranger:  “Maybe you just need to find the right job!  You know, I know a job that would be perfect for you…I could set you up!” (with the same look that the walrus gives the oysters – see Alice in Wonderland – just before he eats them, because we all know the walrus isn’t really interested in helping the oyster babies out).

 Bill: “Oh gee, I appreciate that, but I like things just as they are.  A new job isn’t going to change my priorities” (eyes veering off every 5 seconds looking for an escape route without being as rude as this acquaintance/stranger is being).

 Once opened, this line of questioning/coaching could go on for hours.  Maybe this has actually happened to some guy out there…maybe treatment like this from close family, perhaps, but a total stranger/acquaintance?  I’ve never heard of it.  Kind of rude and a wee bit obnoxious right?

 Now…imagine the character is a woman and replace money/success with having children, and the word job with spouse/relationship….now can you imagine it?  TOTALLY.  Not only can I imagine it, it has happened to me and my friends.  REPEATEDLY.  God help you, if you get demonstrably defensive at some point.  Then you get to be the bitter spinster harpy they always suspected you were. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, all of us 30+ year old women have thought about it (some have written it off completely and that’s just fine too)…many of us constantly grapple with the idea of having kids and the many implications at all levels.  And some ladies out there, like me, aren’t sure why they don’t feel like they are “supposed to” yet, even though they think they want to have kids.  They are just not there yet, but maybe hope to be.  Unlike Fanny, we just don’t have it in us to brood yet.  But do us a favor and don’t ask us about it unless you know us well enough to have earned that kind of private information OR, even better, until we bring it up directly.   Because as Bill could tell you its rude.  And more importantly, because you miss the chance to have a conversation with us about things we bothmight enjoy and want to discuss. Just sayin.

I Have No Excuse…

So…I have a tendency to start things and not finish them.  I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons as to why, but I’m trying to change that.  This blog will not fall prey to my short attention span, dammit.  In my defense, it HAS been super busy.  We finally finished the bathroom…see below:


God, this bathroom took forever.  But it was worth it.  The showers are glorious.  And its SO clean. So Clean.  Even better…I can napalm it with Bleach, no problem.

In any event….things go relatively well on our homefront…we are chugging along with our streamlined life.  I was talking to one of my former coworkers the other day and he was asking how we do it.  How we make do on our reduced income.  We live in somewhat tenuous circumstances right now (by our choice) and, by all rights, I should be a basket case (I’ll admit it, sometimes, I am).   But the reality is more complex than that for most people.  How do you measure  or quantify the overarching the benefits of inner peace, contentment, and ten hours of sleep?  How do you measure the return?  For me, its simple – do I have a pervasive feeling of perpetual low grade stress, punctuated by crises?  The answer now is no. But, I’m hoping that this new found peace of mind has less to do with the current circumstances of my life and more to do with an attitude shift within myself over the last 8  months.  I hope that this change in perspective will transcend my current situation, should it change.  And change it may…  Even if financial prudence compels me to go back to my 9-to-5 , can I live in the spirit of my new life and continue to work towards it, albeit, at a bit slower pace?  I’m going to go ahead and say yes.  But you never know.  I may yet find that amazing job that allows me to live my life on my terms and do something I love.  We may yet get those projects we were hoping for, which would put us well on the way to our little homestead.  We shall see.  Its a waiting game and game of chance all in one.   And if it isn’t already obvious, I don’t like surprises – I’m one of those jerks who skips to the end of the book to find out what happened, before getting invested, because I like the security of knowing how its all going to work out.  And in doing so I have sacrificed years of my life in pursuit of security – in the past, I was instrumental in creating the very future I always feared.   Now, I am a firm believer that if you expect the worst all of the time you will always find a way to be right.  Especially me, because I hate to be wrong.  However, I have committed to change.  I am saying this out loud.  If not for myself and for M., then for the kids I may one day have (if I’m not too old by then), because its one thing to screw with your own life, but its entirely another to let your baggage trifle with the innocent unblemished psyches of your children.   So…in the meantime…while M. and I wait for the future to unfold….I’m going to part with tradition and expect it to all work out.

On a lighter note…because I love chickens and they remind me to live in the moment…a picture of pepper below…


P.S.   Lauren…don’t be mad because I didn’t embed this correctly…its really late and I’m to tired to look up the instructions in your old Gchat…next time…promise!