March 28, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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I could have avoided this shameful scene

We pulled and tugged, but the fridge wouldn't budge from its alcove

We pulled and tugged, but the fridge wouldn’t budge

I entirely forgot about our beekeeping club’s monthly meeting, because now that I’m organized and keep two electronic calendars along with the glossy fridge calendar, I often blow off scheduling events because it’s a triple bother. Turns out it was a blessing I stayed home, because I had to help John wrap the refrigerator in a ballet tutu. I’d noticed that the fridge wasn’t cold, and after googling “why are my door seals warm,” I convinced John that we had to pull the fridge out from the wall and vacuum its backside. He was game. Trouble was, our fridge was stuck between the cabinets and the wall and didn’t want to budge. He asked me to get a very long thin belt. The best I could come up with was a bolt of peach colored tulle I once used to make a goldfish costume. He told me to climb on top of the fridge and slide the tutu fabric down the back. In doing this I found a forlorn chocolate coconut macaroon possibly abandoned by the previous owner. I wanted to eat it but John was impatient to get on with the fridge moving, so I tossed it onto the counter. We called the kids in and tried to pull the fridge out from its alcove. We were too weak. Artfully wrapped in pastel mesh, the fridge was like a transvestite champion wrestler, unflinching as we heaved in its shadow. We called in the neighbors, Allison and Mo.

I guess what they saw was a refrigerator wearing a tutu and my sweaty family’s dinner debris on the counter next to a little poo. It was really the chocolate coconut macaroon, which I only noticed looked like a tiny poop once the neighbors were standing in the kitchen, surveying the scene. I considered moving the macaroon, but feared I’d draw attention to it and they’d get really grossed out wondering if I touched poop then held the same stretch of fabric we were asking them to pull on. I suddenly wished I had gone to the beekeeping meeting. But then I wondered, if I weren’t here, would John have thrown the macaroon away, or thrown it on the floor with the magnets, post-its, and other fridge debris he’d stripped off in frustration? I think it would look more like poop sitting on the floor in a pile of random mess. But they wouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination from my hands. Then I wondered why I hadn’t eaten it when I wanted to, and avoided this shameful scene.

This morning I considered making Allison and Mo a batch of cookies to thank them for the help, but quickly realized why that was a horrible idea. I’ll give them a jar of honey instead.

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March 6, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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How to find the queen

Queen bees are elusive, so beekeepers mark them when they spot them. She's the big gal wearing red.

Queen bees are as elusive as a book in the library stacks, so beekeepers mark them when they spot them. (She’s the big gal wearing red.) photo by Suat Eman via freedigitalphotos.net

As I headed out the door to run errands this afternoon, Fiona spotted the library books under my arm. “Hold on, Mom, if you’re stopping by the library, do you mind checking out some books for me?” she asked, jotting down a few teen dystopia titles. “I’d be happy to,” I lied, slipping her list into my purse. My heart started racing just thinking about the library stacks. The truth is, I have no idea how to find a book in the library. I’ve tried. But I can’t grasp the logic there. I stopped trying the day I looked in vain for a John Grisham novel in the “G” section, then in the “Adult Non-Fiction” section. When a kindly librarian found me walking in circles, sweating and muttering to myself, she escorted me to the “Mysteries” stacks and handed me the book. “Oh, thank you. I thought, you know, given A Time to Kill is a true story and all…,” I stammered in my defense.  But she had already mentally lumped me in with those other people who wander the library muttering to themselves for no apparent reason. “Yes, well, I don’t want you to miss the next bus,” she said, very loudly and slowly.  The only way I check out books from the library now is from the comfort of my home computer, using the simple point and click library app. I wait for the email announcing, “Your requested material is ready for pick up.” Then all I have to know is where the hold shelf is located. It’s in the same place every time, so I never get lost or distracted. It’s too late for me to confess to my kids that I don’t know how to use the library, and kind of irrelevant now that I’ve found this work-around. They know I’ll check out any book they want. They just have to wait a day or two before I produce it.

I have the same philosophy with identifying the queen in my hive. I should know, after three years of beekeeping, how to find my queen. But I search in vain every time. I’m terrified of smashing her or inadvertently shoving her off a frame and shutting her out of the hive, so I give up looking fairly quickly. If I ask other beekeeper for help, they’ll wonder how this basic task has eluded me for so long. So I found a work-around. I look for eggs in the cells. (Hold a frame up to the sun, and look for little grains of rice.) Under normal circumstances, the queen is the only egg layer. So she is – or at least was recently – alive and well. I wait a week. If I see eggs where I didn’t before, I’ve confirmed she’s  in there.

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February 27, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Conversations I never thought I’d have

Doing taxes is more miserable than reading carpentry schematics

Tax prep is more miserable than carpentry schematics and sixth grade homework

I was trying hard to read a schematic on the internet showing how to make a mitered edge so I could finish this damn candy board and not go to jail for tax evasion. Ok, honestly: I was looking at pictures of furry slippers on Zappos because I got frustrated and my toes were cold. Myles was sick of doing his homework and decided to wrap a ball of silly putty around a stretchy nylon cord and catapult it at my face. It was fun compared to the mitered edge schematic so I let him do it until he caught my hair and ripped out a clump. “Oops, sorry, he  said, and beelined to the computer to feign doing homework. I looked up and saw him trying to take an impression of the keyboard with the silly putty.

“Please don’t press silly putty into the computer Myles.”

“Why?”

“It could harm it.”

“Admit this Mom: It’s not as bad as eating a grapefruit at your computer.”

“Yes, I admit it.”

“Good.”

I really need to stop wondering why I can’t get anything constructive done at night.

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February 19, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Candy boards

I’ll feel doubly guilty eating fudge if I don’t make a candy board for the bees during this prolonged winter.

I’ll feel doubly guilty eating fudge if I don’t make a candy board for the bees during this prolonged winter.

I had set aside the day to work on assembling the tax information that my accountant had been after me to finish for months. Within an hour, I found myself making peanut butter pretzel fudge in the kitchen. I knew the tax stuff was a priority. More importantly, I knew I had a partial bag of broken pretzels in the kitchen cupboard. I knew putting those salty crumbs to higher and better use would let me shed my anger at the Laverne and Shirleys in the pretzel factory for not taking the necessary care packaging the pretzels. How the heck do they keep fragile snack foods from breaking anyway? A quick google search led to readings on “nitrogen slack fill.” Fascinating. Now, back to the taxes.

Wait. Speaking of snacks, I’ve been meaning to look up how to make a candy board for the bees. Yes, I really can’t let the honeybees die of starvation just because tax day is approaching. And I’ll feel doubly guilty eating this fudge if I don’t make a candy board for the bees during this prolonged winter we’re having. Making the candy board took the rest of the afternoon, and I’m still not done. Which is ok, because all I had planned for tomorrow is finishing the tax prep.

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February 11, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Ambition

Fiona's comment made me rethink my own ambition level

Fiona’s comment made me rethink my own ambition level

Junk mail in our house is a window onto the designated recipient’s brain. John gets subscription offers from Science and Smithsonain magazines addressed to him. I get the jumbo pizza coupons. But the real insidious offers come to my kids, disguised as an award. “Congratulations! Due to your excellent performance on a recent grade-level standardized test, you have qualified to participate in the highly-selective course series on Advanced Linear Methods.”

I ask you: Where in the name of logic does a kid want a reward of more work when they get good grades? They should get less work. Or ice cream. I don’t want these companies  stealing my kids’ childhood. More work! Sheesh. So I just throw away the offers. Yesterday Fiona discovered one of these “exciting opportunities” in the recycling bin and got angry with me.

“Mom this is addressed to me! Why did you wrap your gum in it?”

“Oh sweetheart, it’s a scam,” I explained. “They stroke your ego, give you all kinds of work and send me the bill.”

“Mom, this is from Duke University! I may not want to do it, but I want to know I qualified,” she protested. “A lot of kids talk about getting these letters, and I wondered why I never do.”

“You should be playing and goofing off when you’re not in school,” I told her. “Not going to rigorous academic programs!”

“You should be reading your own mail and working on your own ambitions,” she said.

Ouch. Continue Reading →

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February 3, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Beekeeping is guided by natural observation

When the dandelions come out, the drones come out

When the dandelions come out, the drones come out

I give my kids all kinds of life advice. Last night I told Myles, “Don’t sleep with wet hair. You’ll wake up with it sticking out all weird.” I’d like to think my little bits of wisdom will ensure future success. What boss will promote an employee who shows up looking like Alfalfa every morning? But John always bests me. “Stay comfortable working with numbers,” I heard him tell the kids when they were doing their math homework. “In our society, quantitative skills are rare, and those adept at them earn premium compensation.”

He’s right, I thought. That’s the kind of advice I should be giving my kids, instead of nagging them about their grooming. Then they could afford fancy combs if their hair sticks up. Still, I’d like to think my advice helps them become keen observers of the natural world. That counts for something in life. Isn’t saying, “Your armpits stink, time to shower,” instructive?

I’m vindicated when I hear successful beekeepers make decisions based on natural observation. Last night I heard some great advice from an experienced beekeeper who was asked what is the best time to split a hive to ensure the queen has ample mating opportunities. “When you see dandelions,” he said. “When the dandelions come out, the drones come out.” I love these people.

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January 30, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Zombie bees skip over Midwest

Zombie bees head for the coasts

Zombie bees head for the coasts

A simple Midwestern girl like me rarely notices and hardly cares when the entire midsection of the country is dismissed as flyover land by coastal media. In between putting up jelly and sucking on straw with my cousins in the barn, I rarely have time to read, and actually can’t, since I’m marginally literate and have pig slop hanging from my eyelashes. But nevertheless, I somehow managed to hear – probably when I was wandering the church hall looking for someone to help me pull a pitchfork out of my shoe – that Zombie bees have entirely skipped the middle section of the country in their quest for world domination. Having invaded the West coast, they’ve flown right over our midwestern hives and infested Vermont bees. Now this kinda luck is better than grabbing a ‘coon in a rabbit trap with one eye closed.

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January 28, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Moonshine is just moonshine

Beekeeping puts me in touch with people outside my urban social circle.

Beekeeping puts me in touch with people outside my urban social circle.

The thing I love most about attending beekeeping club meetings is being thrown into the company of people refreshingly opposite to my usual social circle. To wit, last night I sat down next to a gentleman in overalls, his silver hair pressed under a broken-in camouflage trucker cap. He cradled a mason jar of pale ash tinted liquid in his large hand. “What’s in the jar?” I asked him. “Moonshine,” he answered. “I couldn’t help but notice the signature on the label,” I commented. “Yup,” he said. Hand-written.” I suppose I expected him to go on about the details of this artisan spirit. But he didn’t. It was awesome. No boring details about the terroir and the craft. Moonshine is just moonshine. The other thing I love about attending beekeeping club meetings is the wisdom that you just can’t get from the books. Last night, we heard a compelling reason why beekeepers who refuse to treat for varroa mites should nevertheless regularly check the mite level in their hives. If they find low mite levels, great, they’ll sleep well. But if they find high mite levels and the colony thrives, those bees likely have unusually high mite resistance, extra hygenic behavior, or both. And a split from that hive would be very desirable. A queen from that hive would be very desirable. The lineage from that hive should be nurtured, enouraged, shared.

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January 19, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Shaggy troll live on set

Static cling caused my hair to stick straight out.

My hair started to flyaway, like a dandelion head in autumn.

A few members of the Eastern Missouri Beekeeping Association work extremely hard so the rest of us lazy members can benefit from the club’s services. I feel exceptionally guilty being a taker, so I couldn’t refuse when givers asked if I would appear on a live tv news program, Show Me St. Louis, to promote the club’s upcoming beekeeping workshop. When I arrived at the station, the show’s assistant told me I would be appearing at the end of the program, and instructed me to hang around the set for 45 minutes. I enjoyed watching the other guests (a woman from Eckerts Apple Orchards and another from South County Mall)  banter with Julie, the host. They seemed so relaxed and natural;  I tried to pick up on their cool vibe. They kept passing a white cloth among themselves off air, between segments, and swiping it along the sides of their head. I thought maybe they were getting high through their temples, to stay mellow. They never offered me a hit and I didn’t want to look desperate so I didn’t ask, even though I really wanted one. When it was my turn to appear, Julie beckoned me to the staged chat area. Easily a foot taller than me, she gracefully slipped her shoes off so I wouldn’t crane my neck looking up at her. I could see myself in the monitor as soon as we went live. My hair was sticking straight out, like a dandelion head in autumn. Julie pretended she didn’t notice. She smiled down at me, unflapped. I guessed she must have had tons of shaggy trolls on her show before. Afterward she told me I “did great.” I explained my hair usually follows the laws of gravity, and she looked down at me, still smiling, and said, “Yes, we should have given you the dryer sheet.”

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January 14, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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H0ney R1der

Honey Rider is a shell diver in the James Bond movie, Dr. No.To see a photo of her, played by Ursula Andress, click here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ursula_Andress_in_Dr._No.jpg

Honey Rider is a shell diver in the James Bond movie Dr. No.

I decided after reading Julia Angwin’s fascinating tales of the elusiveness of online privacy that I should make some attempts to shroud my online identity. So I set about creating a fake identity for online purchases. Random-word apps were too complicated for me and didn’t seem nearly as fun as inventing my own doppelganger. I wanted to sound exotic and powerful, like a superhero. I envisioned pop-up ads for black leather accessories instead of belly fat melters. I went for exocit names beginning with S. I had no idea so many people were named Serena and Solange, plus I started to worry about forgetting my own name and blowing my cover and getting doubly exposed. So I switched to the more mundane, and called myself Bea Keeper. Which some grandma in North Dakota of course has already stolen from me. I realized Ke$ha has no patent on symbols and renamed myself BeK**per which just looked dumb and not at all glamorous. Then Honey Rider, the James Bond girl from Dr. No, popped into my head – specifically the scene where she emerges from the ocean with a knife in her bikini bottom. Taken, of course. But H0onei Ryedeer3 was available. No way…doesn’t evoke killer sex on the beach at all. Hunnney Re1der? I’ll never remember that. Why not distill her down to her essence SweetSpyBait. Aggg! Already taken! Ok get creative here, Suzanne. Think hard. Try Sw**t&StickyGoldenSpyBaitWithKnife$honeySerena1. YES! I am totally set. I beat everyone to this name. I can’t believe it. So awesome.

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