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, Continue Reading →

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March 18, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Does crazy have a smell?

He's the crazy one

He’s the nutty one

Ever since I put granulated sugar in my hive to stave off cold winter starvation, this polka-dotted squirrel keeps scampering around the hive, propping himself up on his hind quarters and deeply sniffing the air. Squirrels can do a lot of damage very quickly, so I don’t want this guy getting any ideas that my hives are a candy store. I know he’s the same damn squirrel each time because of the spots. And he’s deaf. When I bang on the window and yell, “Away from my hives you freckled nutface!” squirrels I hadn’t even seen run all around the yard, but he just stays there, sniffing. So today I let the dog into the bee yard to scare him. Just when the squirrel started the smell routine, I opened the gate and Seamus charged after him. I ran up to the deck for a better view.

“I can smell your fear!” I screamed as I watched the chase.  My fence obscured the neighbor walking by on the sidewalk. He started to run, too, clearly thinking I was yelling at him.

“Wait, I’m talking to the polka-dotted squirrel!” I yelled. “Not you!

“Yea, well I can smell your nuttiness!” he yelled back.

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March 13, 2014
by Suzanne Langlois
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Put your clothes on

Dress appropriately when handling bees

Dress appropriately when handling bees

You know when you streak across the kitchen to just turn on the kettle before jumping in the shower, hoping your neighbor won’t simultaneously be looking out his kitchen window right into yours because you’re too damn lazy to simply drape on a robe? Well, my track record on this stunt is pathetic. Totally flashed the neighbor again. Must get over laziness about dressing appropriately. It’s a terrible habit that never pays off in the time savings. I had to re-cross the kitchen crouching down like a Navy Seal so I wouldn’t flash him again, and stepped on a jagged dried penne noodle that cut deep enough to warrant a band-aid. Dressing inappropriately is a particularly bad habit for a beekeeper. Traipsing out into the garage, dodging the bikes that invariably fall onto my ankles, rummaging through my cabinet for my coveralls, zipping on the veil… It’s all so effortful. So again today, lazy girl here found herself popping off the hive cover wearing nothing but jeans and a sweater. I’m just putting some sugar in the hive. Two minutes, and I’ll be outta there. It’s 45 degrees outside, I told my lazy brain, the bees will be too busy huddling for warmth to bother with me. Not so. A vigilant guard bee was on my wrist before I could get any sugar laid down. I brushed her back, ticking her off even more, and wound up sprinting to the garage to don my full gear. Put the right clothes on. It’s always worth the effort.

 

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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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