Photo Friday Linkup: Spring Flowers

I set of this morning to capture honeybees for an article I wrote about “colony collapse.” Too windy for honeybees. I love how my little Sony CyberShot captured these flowers.  The veins of the Irises look better in the photo than my aging eyes saw them.  And I never noticed how hairy Columbine stems are.
spring flowers - 1 spring flowers - 2

The door that hides my memory stick and battery keeps popping open.  I probably need a new camera soon.  Any suggestions?

What’s in your lens this week?  Please let me take a peek by linking up with the code below.

Maxxinista in Black and White

honeybees - 2I admire Valarie. We met when CoCo joined Weight Watchers.  I get to sit at the meetings with CoCo, because she can’t drive. Valerie works the scales.  She is so encouraging and upbeat.  She takes the time to chat about our latest grocery find, or share coupons.  Valarie shops at the grocery where CoCo works.  “See ya Thursday morning.”

Valarie always has her smile on.  No matter how stylish the outfit, as Orphan Annie says,

You’re never fully dressed without a smile.

Valarie always, always, always takes time to listen.  I mean really listen.  I’m still working on my listening skills.  I have been ever since I read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It’s the habit I slip on the most.

Valerie says she gets most of her clothes from T. J. Maxx. Maxximizing her style, Maxximizing her savings.  I do love the word-plays.  Here she is in her T. J. Maxx dress and kicky platform sandals. Timeless. I love her beach-ready toes, too.

MAxxinista - 1

It’s STEM DAY: Just Bee-Have (It’s the right thing to do)

You can order a queen through the mail.

It’s written in the U.S. Postal Code.  Queens are that important. No, not that kinds of queen. Honeybee queens.

What? North America didn’t even have honeybees until Europeans brought them here. Today,

1 out of every 3 bites of food are directly or indirectly on our tables because of the honeybee.

honeybees - 1 (3)Whoa Nelly.  That amounts to $15 million in crops each year.  Even more incredible is that for more than 10 years, beekeepers lost 1/3 of their bees each year due to” colony collapse” disorder.  Luckily, the post office can help.  Bee colonies can be divided and a new colony established as long as they have a queen.

Last week, I talked to my friend Tina Wildbrandt about colony collapse.  She and her 83-year-old father tend six hives.  Tina loves bees. Why?

They’re so gentle. And all they want to do is work, work work.

Tina’s father, Allen Vison, wanted to be a beekeeper since he was 10 years old.  Five years ago, he and Tina took a class at the local community college, studied like mad, networked with other beekeepers, and finally took the plunge.

It’s really physical work.  Each hive weighs about 80 pounds.

Tina talked her husband, Doug, into helping with some of the heavy lifting.  Perhaps that was the easy part.  Doug is a landscape architect, living in a sea of Dandelions and Echinacea.

Tina, Doug, and Allen are passionate about stemming the tide of “colony collapse.”

No one knows precisely what causes “colony collapse.”  The first suspect was insecticides.  However, some of the highest insecticide levels are in healthy hives.  Experts like Dennis vanEngeldorp and Maria Spivak agree that it’s complex.

Tina tells me her favorite part about beekeeping:

There’s always more to learn from the bees. Each beekeeper does things a little different and we all learn from each other.

Spivak is a bee behavior researcher. She’s fascinated with the bees as a super organism where nobody is in charge.  Bees have a collective social behavior, and even a social healthcare.  Bees scrape resins from plants and cement it into the hives.  This cement, or propolis, has a natural antiseptic quality.  Bees weed out sick individuals and will even oust a queen, or swarm to create a new colony if they sense the queen is weak.

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) occurs when we forget our connection with nature.

After WWII farming began to take on an industrialized nature.  Farmers began to use pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers.  They stopped planting cover crops and clover to naturally replenish the soil. Farmers stopped planting flowering shrubs as hedgerows dividing the fields.

Farms became monocultures, or food deserts dominated by soybeans and corn. Almond farms, naturally a honeybees friend because of the high protein content, became so large that 1.5 million bees had to be trucked in and out again.  After the flowering, even almond farms become a desert to the honeybees.

These industrial sized farms on one or  two crops become a banquet for pests because they provide no natural plant boundaries.  Miles and miles of corn do little to stop corn blight, where a plot separated by a hedgerow followed by a plot od wheat or barley, creates a natural barrier to the spread of disease. So, more and more pesticides got developed.  Hives often show six types of pesticides.

Colonies can disappear almost overnight because of a nicotine like buzz.

Neonicontinoids, a new class of pesticide, coats the seed, moves through the plant as it grows, and kills the pests that chomp on the leaves and stem.  Lower doses reach to pollen and nectar.  Neonicontinoids is to bees sort of like nicotine is to humans.  The bees get a little buzzed.  Some become disoriented, lose their way home and die.  Others, return to the hive and lead other bees back the addicting nectar.

Varoa destructo mite compromises the immune system. Tiny mite attach to a bee larvae. Usually six mites attach to each bee.  Tina explains that in human terms:

It’s like having six parasites the size of your fist, sucking the energy out of you.

The mites grow, sucking the juices out of  the bee, weakening it, so it cannot mature to a strong bee. Bees  keep the hive at a constant temperature summer, winter, spring, and fall by beating their wings.  Too many mite-infected bees can cause the hive to collapse.

Believe it or not, lawns are a big problem, too.

11% of the pesticides used are lawn application; lawnmowers create 5% of greenhouse gases 

Yard after yard of clean, pristine lawns create a bee food desert, too.

Here’s Maria Spivak’s Ted Talk on colony collapse. Ted Talks are a little more in-depth than the quick fix of a YouTube video, so set aside a good 20 minutes to listen and learn more.  I know it seems like a lot of time in our busy day.  I wanted to multi-task, too.  But this is too good to miss a morsel.

Yes, there’s a lot we each can do.

  • Plant rooftop gardens and keep rooftop hives in the city
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers.  (Tina tells me that flowers with flat heads like these are the best.)
  • Plant flowering shrubs and flowers between fields and along roads or streets in hedgerows.
  • Avoid pesticides.
  • Search for native plants
  • Consider cover crops as a way to replenish the soil and keep out weeds and pests.
  • Plant a meadow. If you don’t have enough room for that, plant a meadow in a pot.

To paraphrase Spivak:

Every one of us needs to behave more like a bee society.  Each one thing we each do can add up to something larger than that the sum of each one thing.

That’s good advice for more than just the honeybees.

honeybees - 1

Gratitude Monday

Flag IMG_1960It’s Memorial Day.  Today’s paper has the names of all the soldiers from this county who died in wars, beginning from the Civil War. I live in a county that a few medium-sized cities, small villages, along with many farms and preserved open spaces.  The number of soldiers willing to give their life for a cause they believe in is astounding:

Civil War:  345 soldiers

WWI:  90 soldiers

WWII:  293 soldiers Continue reading

Photo Friday: Bee Friended

Last night I interviewed a long-time friend, Tina, about her hobby.  She and her dad are beekeepers. Turns out her dad wanted to be a beekeeper since he was 10 years old.

Tina noticed a class at the community college and the rest is history. Dad is 83 years old now and still out their living 80 pound beehives along with Tina.

I learned a lot about bees and how they work, work, work.  I learned the origin of “freebie.” Yes, when you get something for nothing.  I learned about colony collapse.

I’m writing a feature for the local paper, but I bet I’ll have a bunch of info left to share on a STEM day.

For now, I’m sharing a photo I took in my flower garden.  Bees are rather friendly creatures. As Tina says, “They just want to work.”

Here’s a photo of my grandson petting one of our bees. Okay, the bee isn’t really ours, he belongs to a hive.  Isn’t it just so human to claim nature as ours?

Petting a bee

Going Casual in my Costco clothes and Eliza B’s

Today it’s cold and dreary.  I want summer.  But I’m practical, too. It’s that time of the month again: three deadlines all at once.  Lucky me.  I have a massage scheduled for this afternoon.

A white crochet knit sweater with a white camisole underneath, tops off my skinny jeans.  Both the sweater and jeans are Costco finds.  The cami is from The Loft. I took a tip from 50Feeling40, with a tunic top over skinnies.

I slipped on my Eliza B’s just because I want summer so bad.Costo clothes


I love my Eliza B’s.  For more about these wonderful, made to order American sandals click here.  My first pair lasted 10 years.



So probably everybody knows about these little loopy things, but me.  I thought they were only for keeping my slouch shoulder sweaters and shirts on the hanger. But NO.  I can wrap them around my bra strap, right at the top of my shoulder and voilà, the sweater stays even along the hemline.

costco clothes - 3

Philosophy and Ecology

Niagra Falls - 1

I was in fifth or sixth grade, the first time I questioned mankind’s desire to control Mother Nature. Teacher talked about Niagra Falls and how the fast flowing water was quickly eroding the beautiful Falls.  Two countries of engineer and experts set about to stop this from happening.  I raised my hand:

Might we be stopping something even more beautiful from happening?

After all, isn’t that the way the Grand Canyon got here? Teacher gave a now familiar expression.  The one that communicates “you ask too many questions.”

Years later, Dr. Koch, a PhD in ecology, spoke to my college class with the answer to my question:

Ecology is studying organisms and how they relate to one-another and their physical surrounding.  It’s not about mankind making things happen.

At the same time, mankind is, indeed, one of the organisms in the physical surrounding. In some ways, we are like the waterfowl carrying vegetation to new lands. Or like a bear carrying seeds on her coat, scruffed off, to take root acres away.

Our landscape would be much different without mankind inadvertently changing the environment.

We would be without honeybees.  The honeybee got here via Europe. Beekeepers say that

 “Every third bite we eat is from Honeybees.”

Before honeybees, pollination, for the most part, depended on wind.  Many of the foods we eat could not survive without the honeybees. And now agribusiness threatens bee colonies across the land.cone flower - 1

Europeans also brought earthworms. Without earthworms, the forest is covered with decaying leaves, which fed many plants and animals.  Earthworms make short work of leaf litter, changing the forest forever. Although an earthworm stays within the same acre of land throughout his life, it’s difficult to put a spade in the ground anywhere without finding one today.

Before the Pilgrims, cultivation as we know it didn’t exist.  Clearing land changed the ability to hold moisture and nutrients. Forests of Elm and Chestnuts disappeared due to changes in the ecosystem that mankind - 1

And what about the Carrier Pigeons? Hunting caused these native birds to become extinct.  These birds were so prevalent in the 19th century that migrating flocks darkened the sky from sunrise to sunset.  When they perched for the night, they left whole stands of trees limbless and the ground covered with rich, albeit nasty “fertilizer.” I can’t help but wonder what filled the space they left. Would we have as many English Sparrows?  What about Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tangiers? Would we have as many Cardinals?

Zebra Mussels, Asian Carp, Kudzu, Moss Balls.  All invasive.  All changing the environment.  All introduced my mankind by accident or  on purpose.

Mankind seems to be the only sentient being that tries to control the ecology.  Two interesting reads on the subject are

As we go about trying to correct some of the problems mankind creates, it’s probably a good idea to remember the law of unintended consequences:

intervention in a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.

English: Erosion caused by rabbits in a gully ...

English: Erosion caused by rabbits in a gully in South Australia. Category:Images of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some unintended consequences might be positive, like vineyards in California. Some might be neutral, like the sparrows.  And some might be perverse.  Introducing rabbits for hunting in Australia, seemed like a good idea at the time.

As we try to undo some of the harm we’ve created by our attempts to control our environment, it is wise to remember we are part of the environment.  We don’t exist aside from the ecology in which we live.

It only takes observing a blade of grass poking through a sidewalk to realize it’s nothing but hubris to believe we can completely control our environment.

Gratitude Monday (Revisited) Lots More


Last year’s rhubarb looked gone to seed and looking pretty.

 This week, I tried to jot some things down. I think I might be missing some of the little things, the precious things, the everyday things.  All the things that slip right by me making me happy. Thursday, on my drive to volunteering, a smile popped into my brain.  I love writing for the Marengo Union Times and the McHenry Chronicle.  I get to write, learn new things, and meet a slew of interesting people.  This is a job that fits the me I love to be.

The role of a writer is to build the reader up, not to tea them down. – E. B. White

  • Warm weather and songbirds singing through open windows.  I love the sound of the wind rippling through the tree, lawnmowers in the distance, mixed in with cardinals singing and blue jays keep the peace.
  • Children laughing, and fighting; shouting encouragement, and whooping for joy as they play kickball next door.
  • “On Being” a Sunday morning NPR program with Krista Tippett.  This week she introduced me to the creator of  I think I met another best friend through the airways.
  • 20 new agents to query, one more rejection.  I’m that much closer to finding the right fit.  Like dating, I tell myself.  Not everyone is right for me.
  • Electric edgers. I love the way the edge of the sidewalk, the curb, and the flowerbeds make the grass stand at attention.  “That’s far enough,” They seem to say.  “End of my territory.” (Perhaps that’s actually my message to the grass.)
  • A change in diet.  I no longer need to take in 50% protein.  Now it’s 25% protein, 50% carbohydrates, and 30% fat. Yay for a little bread and butter.  Did someone say carrots and peas?  Maybe a baked potato.
  • A writers’ conference within driving distance, with a discount for community members.  It’s not booked and neither am I.
  • Rhubarb and Hilda’s Rhubarb crunch.  Enough to make and enough to share.  Nothing says summer is her than an over abundance of rhubarb.
  • Running into people I known for a couple of years and yet never met.  Oh my! A face to match the voice.  So good to meet you Jenny!
  • New ideas that get me pumped.  That’s all I’m saying right now.  You may just see some changes.
  • Tiny ballerinas in not so perfect formation.  I love dance, anyways, but there’s something special about beginners doing their best.  And especially special if one of the dancers is Miss G.
  • Spell-check and good glasses.  I worked from my iPad and the WordPress app yesterday.  I couldn’t find some key features, and my old eyes misses many mistakes.  And what happened to my title, drat it all?! Apologies all around, dear readers.

I love starting the week with a little gratitude.  It’s like the way the air smells after a thunderstorm: Filled with possibilities and freshness, and charged with electricity.  If you want to see more gratitude lists, join Laurel Reagan over at Alphabet Salad.  She’s the blogger who got me sharing.