Saturday, May 31, 2014


I have a dear friend who is buoyant, friendly, funny, intelligent, who probably laughs as much as she talks. Her name is Lisa and she is adored by all.

I've taken funny photos of her, listened to her hysterical life stories, her serious stories; I've learned important lessons from her. She's widely read and I've picked up such phrases from her as "the vortex of sequence." When we were both in our forties, we took a Physics class together. It was for credit and I know my A was in part because of Lisa's company--she made everything more fun and our friendly rivalry pushed us both to do our best.

Imagine my surprise when she told me she used to be SHY. WHat?? "'re so not shy," I exclaimed with disbelief. "You are the antithesis of shy."

"No, I really used to be shy. Hardly said a peep until my roommate in college told me that shyness was just another form of selfishness."

What? This was harder to believe than Lisa's shy revelation.

"Think about it," she challenged, "when we're shy, we don't give of ourself. We think it's cause we're self conscious or any other number of reasons, but it's really because we are selfish. Realizing this changed my life."

I have never been shy, but learning from Lisa has helped me step out of my selfish bubble on many occasions that have proved important: asking someone if she needs help, giving that help, listening to someone who needs to be listened to.

Letting go of shy/selfishness does not turn us into the loud, obnoxious, conversation-controlling, party boor. It helps us to forget ourselves, to speak up, to help out, to lend a hand, to contribute. feel joy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Imagine a 53 year old woman dancing with two teenage girls. In public. Before a large audience. Bollywood style.

Imagine Dancing With the Teachers. Now imagine winning second place.

And imagine the joy that came when I realized it wasn't all about me.

When beloved senior Ramya asked me to dance with her and Megan, my thoughts were, "I can't do that" and "I can't embarrass myself." But when I forgot myself, forgot the possibility of making a fool of myself, forgot my own vanity, forgot the self-conciousness that comes with age and realized I was dancing for someone else, the task became play.

Did I work hard? Yes. Did I spend a few hours with the practice video behind me trying to brain-ingrain every move? Yes. Was I nervous? Yes. But when the time came, I danced with joy. But the joy only came after I forgot myself.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Queen Bees Have a New Plan

The new plan is so outrageous, I think we need to go back to the three stooges title.

It started when a neighbor told us about a hive. We checked it out and immediately we understood tricky. We also heard, at one time, the hive was dead and there were dead bees everywhere.

We marched over to the house, which is for sale and unoccupied at the time. The hive in question exists in a stucco fence column at the back of our friend Jane's house. And this is how Jane became a part of the bee brigade.***

There was very little activity at the hive. Maybe a bee or two coming or going. What was probably happening was other bees were checking out the hive. A few weeks later, another neighbor who backs up to the hive, called Nikki's husband: "A swarm!"  We are still debating whether the swarm was mine or some other group of bees. Nikki believes it was mine (the queen cells in production and queen-less evidence) and Lisa is adamant it was a feral hive. The beauty of strong women-differing opinions.  At the time, I was traveling and received two excited emergency phone messages from Lisa that they were going to catch a swarm for me (I have an extra hive).

Lisa and Nikki knew definitely that it was a swarm, but it had yet to settle into one place. The queen bees rushed to get my temporary hive and followed the crowd to .......the empty hive in the fence post!

We have spent a lot of time deliberating what happened, which bees, how to get the hive out, who to give the hive to and .....finally Lisa rigged up a contraption on the end of a broom that consisted of duct tape, a head flashlight, and a mirror. Bee gear in hand we marched over to explore.

It reminded me of Victor Hugo's saying: Forty is the old age of youth and fifty is the youth of old age.
Trust me, it sounds much more eloquent en Francais. But, we felt very much like youth.

What we found as Lisa pushed the periscope up under the post: Honeycomb and bees.  There was no way to determine how big the honeycombs were. Extracting the hive was indeed a conundrum and the owner has not given permission to tear down his fence column. The real tragedy is that there were thousands of disintegrating dead bees in the pine needles beneath.  It appears someone sprayed the hive.

A natural, but unnecessary reaction to a bee nest. We need to sleuth who sprayed and talk them into leaving it until an expert can extract it with the home owner's permission.

IN the meantime, we are hoping it will survive the winter, swarm in the spring and our soon-to-be swarm trap will allure a new hive.

Child's play.

***Jane was there to drive home my empty heavy hive that never allured the swarm. Jane was there with duct tape to attach the smaller mirror. Jane was there with her humor, wit and hopefully takes us less serious than we take ourselves.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Eccentricity Hits A New Low

My neighbor drives by, rolls down her window and tells me she thought I was a homeless person going through my garbage.  With a giggle she asks if she can bring me breakfast.

One of my favorites, is to roll out of bed and see what's happening in the garden. It's often chilly and always casual. No need to dress well in the privacy of my own garden. But...on this morning my work took me to the front yard.

My standard morning dress is pajamas or night t-shirt, sweats, hat, bright red jacket and the accessory that tips the homeless scale--my knee-high, purple rubber garden boots. I know.

On this early morning, I had to scrape out the insulation I'd put in the hive roof. It had never set up and it was finally a sunny day.  I took off the roof and planned to scrape it on the deck table. After contemplating the mess it would make, I decided to place it over the city's big black garbage can--out on the street already because today was garbage day.

If you use your imagination, you can picture the scene without further explanation.

If you prefer not to use your imagination, here's a little help:

Our First Anomaly

I just had this feeling.

I've tried to be a beekeeper with an intuitive openness and so far, following my intuition has been rewarding.  But this time the intuition was foreboding--something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

Between the Last Lecture assembly and my first class, I had one hour to go home and check the hive. Fortunately Nikki was free because I needed two sets of eyes.

As we pulled up the beautifully drawn out comb, we saw it was dotted with queen supercedure cells (the hive was making plans for a new queen) Something was amiss with the original queen.

A hive will build queen cells under two conditions--1. if they are planning to swarm (a natural way of dealing with growth and propagation), or 2. If the queen is weak or sick.

Capped brood covered one side of a comb, but it wasn't beautifully patterned and every hexagon wasn't filled.  It was more spotty than desired.  This meant at one time, the queen was present and laying eggs. But we couldn't find the queen and we didn't find any new eggs or larvae. The queen seemed to have abdicated her thrown.

But these new queen cells were not swarm cells. Swarm cells are built around the edge and at the bottom of the comb.  These were mid-comb. What had gone wrong in the hood? The hive?

I am supposed to wait one week to open the hive again and see if a new queen has emerged and begun her all-important queen job.

Re-queening the hive or supercedure appears to be as violent as the historical requeening in Henry's court. "Off with her head!" Literally. The new queen will emerge, emit a high pitched hum announcing she has arrived and move to the other queen cells and sting the competitors to their deaths. Or two queens will emerge and fight to the death.

Ah nature.

The Last Lecture

Over two years ago, I found a book at the Beach Club library. I'd heard about Randy Pausch and felt lucky to now have his book in my hands. As I read, I had an idea. My students were seniors and would't it be cool to have a Last Lecture end-of-the year essay contest.

I understand that writing well for most people involves an audience. Students will polish their work if reading and blog-publishing for peers. How well would they write if they had the chance to read that work in front of the whole student body? How well would they write for prize money?

Last Lecture at Karl G Maeser Preparatory Academy was born.

The first year was a success aside from a little bit of resistance. We had a few students who balked at the word count. It was ok--they didn't make the final ten cut. And oh, the moment, when Emilyn won first place! She did the victory lap around the gym!

I remember how perfectly quiet and engaged the students were as they listened to the wisdom of the graduating seniors.

And that is what we as adults, and especially adult teachers need to realize: the wisdom of youth. The power of their ability to communicate with their younger peers. Older students' advice will resonate with their peers when the same advice from a teacher is like sand blown by a strong wind.

Yesterday, was the 2014 Last Lecture.  After a round of in-class competition, ten seniors were secretly chosen to compete in the LL assembly. The senior class president Amber, beautifully conducted the entire assembly, calling each new contestant from the audience. What joy to watch their reactions, often unexpected, when they heard their names and walked toward the pulpit.

What an amazing group of students who imparted advice, wisdom, humor, humility and love in their last lecture. For one hour, the audience of 7-12 graders was mesmerized.

They were all winners. And not just the final ten. Almost every essay could have been a finalist.

This year's group of ten were amazing. Some of the students had been planning their last lecture since hearing the seniors from last year. One student went through at least ten drafts (that I know of). At least ten students know the work of a writer-through edit, re-edit and polish.

The 2014 first place winner Graham, had recently played Cogsworth in the school production of Beauty and the Beast. He began his speech in the persona of Cogsworth.  During the in-class competition, I laughed through the entire dialogue. The contrast between his persona and when he spoke seriously from his true self, in part, is what nailed the first place.

Ramya our second place winner, gave a beautiful, organized essay about the importance of name and identity. Her personal experiences, humor and joy are what nailed it for her.

It was a great year and I look forward to the continued success of Last Lecture, of writing, of excellent students.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I Didn't Understand the Purpose

In Luxembourg Gardens, in Paris, I found this fascinating House of Insects.

I couldn't figure out what it was for--insects are pests!

I have since learned about solitary bees: bees that live and work on their own and play an important role in the pollination story.

There are mason bees, leafcutter bees, bumblebees and harebell bees and several other varieties that I don't even know about.

And though many insects are indeed pests, they still play an important role in our ecosystem--enough to provide free housing.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

David Lee Reads Leslie Norris' Work

David Lee chose to read a poem by Leslie Norris, the celebrated Welsh poet who settled in our valley in 1983. What began as a six-month visit to BYU became a permanent position and honored title of poet-in-residence. I attended a few of his readings: Norris' Ark a collection of poems for children originally read for BBC-TV programing for children. 

But what I remember most about Leslie Norris was seeing him, sometimes with his wife, always with his dogs, out on his walks. His path ran the opposite direction, so he became as familiar to me as each bend in the road. It never occurred to me at the time that he was probably creating poetry. It was the wooded, shaded pathway in the river bottoms--a place that became a kind of refuge for me, for a poet.

I was unaware of this poem about his wife until David Lee read it. It tells of love without mentioning love. I only have to think of the poem for my throat to lump. Geese mate for life and often this is life changing information for hunters. When they realize they are killing a goose's lifetime companion, they often stop hunting geese.

“… I have, from time to time, 
related some incident of my boyhood, 
and these are contained in various 
chapters in The Naturalist in La 
Plata, Birds and Man, Adventures 
among Birds ….”
—W.H. Hudson, in Far Away And Long Ago

Hudson tells us of them,
the two migrating geese,
she hurt in the wing
indomitably walking
the length of a continent,
and he wheeling above
calling his distress.
They could not have lived.
Already I see her wing
scraped past the bone
as she drags it through rubble.
A fox, maybe, took her
in his snap jaws. And what
would he do, the point
of his circling gone?
The wilderness of his cry
falling through an air
turned instantly to winter
would warn the guns of him.
If a fowler dropped him,
let it have been quick,
pellets hitting brain
and heart so his weight
came down senseless,
and nothing but his body
to enter the dog's mouth. — Leslie Norris

Friday, May 16, 2014

My dear friend D had a box of Sees candy sitting on her desk. It was her birthday and I made the natural assumption she had received a box of chocolates.

"Do you want to see what's inside?" she asked.

"Of course," I answered expecting an invitation to pick out my favorite toffee.

When she opened the box, I was surprised to see a toothbrush and other dental paraphernalia one picks up after a bout in the dental chair.

"This is my birthday present from my mother-in-law." She tossed a small tube of toothpaste from the seventies.


"Yes and it came wrapped in a Wal-mart sack."


"It's how she wraps all her presents."


I taught school without thinking much about Deb's pseudo chocolates but everytime I passed her desk, the more ridiculous the present became. As I drove home that day, I once again thought about Deb's birthday present. I was incensed that a woman gave the mother of her four grandchildren, the woman who married her son, my adorable friend such an interesting gift.

And then I looked in the metaphorical mirror. I thought of my sons in law. I thought of the times I'd remembered their birthdays in the last ten years and I was ashamed to have judged.

I'm very good to my sons in law. I appreciate them. I adore their children. I express my gratitude often for the great husbands they are, the great fathers they are.  But I don't remember their birthdays.

I told my husband this story and then I vowed to remember their birthdays for now on!

"Make sure you sign my name too," he said.

Accountability update: June 17 is son in law #2 birthday--and we remembered with a gift!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bee Keeping Obstacles

There are several obstacles to keeping bees: neighbors, location, spouses....what? No way.

We three have the best, supportive husbands in the whole wide world.

Point A: Months before we picked up our bees, before we even took a class, Nikki's husband bought her a starter beekeeping thingymajig for Christmas.

Point B: Lisa's husband built her bee stand.

Point C:  On the night my poor bees were in a holding pattern in the garage, waiting for installation in their hive, my husband came into my study and said, "You know I love all animals but I already feel a special love for your bees."

Love that man.

Point D: Before our bees came on April 26th, I happened to run into Nikki's husband on a few different occasions.  Each time, he was more excited than me for the bees to arrive.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Hour With David Lee, the Pig Poet

Students Jenny, Mickaila and Olivia accompanied me to the West Jordan Library and Event Center to hear Utah's one time poet laureate. Oh what a joy.  I am not a poet exactly but I love word play. I wanted to learn from a man who plays with words and oh does he play!

His word play for poetry easily translates to all writing.

Notes from a great poet:
1. Likes to rhyme in the middle of the line where the music is.
Rhyme driven poem was once the norm.
The change was initiated in 1667 when John Milton introduced Paradise Lost:
The reader will notice in this poem the absence of rhyme
2. Ryhme driven writes faulty poetry
3. The dominant focus is imagery; the imagery must have music inside of it.
4. Mr. Lee's daily schedule includes four hours reading
5. Writes 2 hours
6. Likes to listen to music when he prepares to write not while writing.
Loves absolute and complete silence.
7.The music is inside his head. He’s thinking a musical rhythm.

8. A poem is never finished; it is finally abandoned in a fit of despair.

9. He read to us from Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher: kettle bottom is a mining term -a petrified piece of wood. When a miner hits a kettle bottom, he knows he's in trouble. Hence the name of her book of poetry is revealing to the reader who understands the term.

10.What is bad poetry? "Any kind I can predict what is going to happen.
11. The ultimate effect is the appeal to the ear.

12. "Poetry should be a voyage of discovery--I want it to point me in a direction I didn’t expect."

13.Sentimentality and abstraction is bad poetry
14.Two forms of language: Concrete and abstract.
15.Ezra Pound said the first rule of poetry is: go in fear of abstractions
16 Is it concrete: Can you see it?
Can yo touch it? ‘
Can you hear it?
Smell it?
Taste it?
Concrete is a word that appeals to five of the senses.

David Lee, "I’m holding something in my hands." It was nothing. "Can you see it? It's is a word that doesn’t hold an image. Love Love is indefinable. The purpose of a poem is to achieve the effect of an abstraction hopefully without making direct reference to it."
He challenged us to write a poem on love—with one rule: "you cannot write or use the word love and yet it will convey the message of love."

17. Good poetry is when the poem hits you in the gut.
18. And finally, "All things lost are equal.."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Three Stooges V Becomes "The Queen Bees Keep Bees"

Today we made a watershed decision. Lisa and Nikki have decided that we are to no longer refer to ourselves as the "Three stooges who decided to keep bees."  And they have adopted the new, more self affirming title of "Queen Bees." Kristi our neighbor-cheerleader-extraordinaire, hiking partner, called us the Bee Brigade.

AFter our second hive inspection and the avoidance of a possible disaster, we earned the new title.  Lisa's keen eye, practical nursing skills and her observational prowess, kept me from lighting my bee keeper's hat and uniform on fire.  Yes sir! While Nikki was lighting her smoker, I leaned into her envy-evoking milk pail to look at a ladybug. Head bent down right into smoker line of fire.

The name change is critical because we are what we think we are! A Queen Bee would never do something so careless.

Both hives were healthy and we spotted the (real) queen bees.  We saw larvae--oh yes, they were cute. Tons of capped brood too.  Nikki lost another piece of comb, so we'll see if she makes adjustments.

I was the chink in the hive-check-chain today.  My DVD tutorial suggests staying out of the top bar hive for a year!!!! I'm going to compromise and go in every 10-14 days. I can see in the window that the hive is active and flourishing. Today is Saturday and I'm planning on Thursday but I don't think I'll make it until then.

 The super pail from Home Depot that could have ignited an enlightening experience!
 Mini Queen bee
Nikki kneeling at the bee altar.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Three Stooges Keep Bees Part 4--First Hive Inspection

I was struck by how adorable Lisa looked in her bee outfit.  She had all the anticipation of a kindergartener on the first day but the over-40 glasses gave her away.

Lisa was the first to discover the art of lighting the smoker.

Mia, daughter on the right is our official photographer. Yes! We have our own documentary film artist in the making.  Cassy, on the left chose to stay away.
I'm the only one who wore thick gloves.. .Inspecting the only mishap of the day. I know I'll be stung some day, but I'm not quite ready...  Photo credit: Mia Brown
 I would like to designate this as the official photo of the "Three Stooges Keep Bees." Photo credit: Mia Brown
 This was absolutely amazing: the uniformity, the pattern, the possibility. Photo credit: Mia Brown
 Nikki at work in the hive. Photo credit: Mia Brown
All in the shadow of beautiful Mount Timpanogos. Photo credit: Mia Brown

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Three Stooges Keep Bees Part III

Since I decided to keep bees in a top bar hive (Nikki and Lisa are Langstroth), I needed to find an alternate way to feed the bees while they were establishing the hive. The easiest set-up and recommendation was to place a bowl in the hive with  sticks for easy access.  Replenishing the bowl required a turkey-baster--lift off a bar and drop more food in without disturbing the bees. After a few days, the bees had sucked the bowl dry and I didn't own a turkey baster.

It was the first beautiful sunny day since we'd installed our bees, and I decided to walk to the grocery store.  I had a few hours before school started and it seemed the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone: exercise and shop.

I carefully chose between two turkey basters.  I remembered my mother's old simple styled turkey baster and I thought it might cost five dollars. Good thing I grabbed a $20. Turkey basters have become a sophisticated kitchen  gadget.

While shopping, I also picked up a pound of carrots and a wedding card. Insignificant at the time.

The walk home is slightly uphill and once past the cemetery, it is a significant uphill jaunt. We're talking angles baby. I finally made it home with just enough time to fill the turkey baster and feed the bees.

But no turkey baster in sight. The weight of the carrots had created a hole in the shopping bag. Where or where was my turkey baster? Panic. Bees needed feeding. Students needed teaching. Somewhere out there was my turkey baster! I took off running down the hill in search of my turkey baster.

While running down the hill, Nikki's prophecy once again echoed in my frantic brain, the three stooges try to keep bees. The hilarity of the moment noted.

I tried to follow my path and just ahead at the top hill in the cemetery, flapping in the wind, was the small bag with the wedding card.  I'd completely forgotten about the card in my panic.  If the card was here, the turkey baster was close!  I searched through rows of graves but to no avail.

The ground crew was edging the tombstones and mowing the lawns. Perhaps....but how silly I would feel asking if they'd found an errant turkey baster. But the lives of my  bees were at stake and boldness trumps pride.

"Have you seen a turkey baster?"

He hated to admit it; I could see it in his eyes. He'd already planned to buy a turkey. He'd already seen the pleasure in his wife's eyes when he handed her a new turkey baster. This was the best river, uh cemetery booty he'd ever found. But he reluctantly said, "I threw it in the truck."

Part 4: First hive inspection--and for the most part, it's a shocking success.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Three Stooges Keep Bees Part 2

The "How to Keep Bees" teacher was a nice guy. His class was informative, but he made a BIG mistake when he told us not to do any research, not to read beekeeping books other than his own, not to search another source for answers to our  questions. Trust him and only him. Do only as he did.

No thanks Satan.

And so opened a Pandora's box of unimaginable conflicting information--This is bees not politics! But is there anything not political anymore? With the advent of colony collapse disorder, bees are now a political issue: pesticide regulation. Only one of the many political issues surrounding beekeeping.

And so the dilemma: to treat or not to treat?

But first we had to install our bees. Rain and cold. We delayed a day. So much worry and anticipation.
Though I wanted to love and adore my new pets, I had to keep in mind  the insects in my garage would happily sting me at the slightest provocation.

When a break in the rain came, we installed our bees, the three of us metaphorically holding each others' hands. Just like the videos and the instructions, we bounced/pounded our bee package to force the bees into a more loose clump on the bottom and dumped them into the hive. So amazingly simple. But the temperature was going to drop below 40 and that night not one of us slept sound.

The next morning: A text from Lisa.  She'd listened to her hive and didn't hear a buzz.

 "Are they alive or dead?" she texted.

 Oh no. Rushed down to my hive and found all of them dead. Dead. Perfectly still, there wasn't any life in my bees. Except maybe a few at the very center of the cluster who twitched. I was a failure on day 2. Nikki heard her hives buzz, but she had Carnolians. Must be a hardier bee than our Italians. What did we do wrong? I called Mr. Bee man.

"How do you know they're dead?" he asked repeatedly with increasing exasperation.

I finally hung up with the conclusion and admission, "I really am clueless. We'll let you know."

And in the end, after the ruined day for a tried and convicted bee killer like me had passed, he was right. Our bees were just cold and when bees are cold, they don't move.

Nikki's three-stooges-keep-bees prediction was turning into a prophetic possibility.

And that's before the turkey-baster-cemetary event. Part III