Say Good Morning to the Bees

I hoist Anneliese up onto my left hip and open the sliding door with my right hand almost simultaneously. I’ve walked around seedlings scattered across the floor, slipped on my sturdy muck boots, and found the egg basket tucked away beneath a discarded jacket. Evangeline doesn’t need much from me to do this daily task: she gets her blue crocs and puts them on, decides she doesn’t need a coat, and tells me next time, she can open the door for me.

We step out into the morning sunshine.

Evangeline’s mud kitchen beckons to her from the deck. I hadn’t covered it with the blue tarp, so it sits in all its dirty, creative glory. Measuring cups, bowls, ladles, all strewn about in some sort of crazy genius laboratory. I think what a gift for the girls to play with — what a gift for me of time.

I might have my boots on, but I swear I can still feel the silver-dewed grass in my toes. Not every morning is so festooned, a consequence of light rain the night before and perfect temperatures, I guess. The smell of sweet grass, earthy dirt from our freshly turned garden, and the tiny red leaf buds on the trees fills the air, and somewhere between our house and the chicken house door — somewhere near the beehive where the eager girls are just beginning to take off for their morning flight — I take a deep breath. Anneliese shifts in my arms. I kiss the sweet spot beneath her rounded cheek. I wonder, How many more mornings will I hold you? How can I savor these mundane moments that pierce my heart with joy?

I open the henhouse door to the coop and the girls come running out. There is a fresh bed of raked leaves for them to explore, and their happiness is obvious. Evangeline runs to the side of the house, determined to unlatch the egg box door for the first time (she’s been struggling with the lock for days now). This must be the day she clicked it open because I hear, “Mama! I did it! I did it!” and indeed, the door hangs open and two smooth brown eggs lie waiting to be scooped up and carried by a three-year-old in her little basket.

“One for me, and one for Anneliese,” she says, putting them in her basket. She divvies the eggs up each morning, and there is a clear hierarchy: Evangeline, Anneliese, then Mama, then Papa. The order never waivers.

We head back to the house, my heart still momentarily filled with a quiet appreciation for this fleeting phase of my life, when Evangeline stops and turns around.

“Mama, go back and say good morning to the bees!”

She has no pretense (not yet) and no agenda, other than to experience the world and encounter it with awe. Later that same day, she will scream at her sister when she tries to take her crayons. She will look at me with the desperation of a wronged child, one whose tiny sibling just doesn’t understand. There are already layers to little ones, and I would be wrong to disregard that.

But this layer, this doing of a morning task that I often begrudge, this is what will sustain me when I want to run out of my house and slam the door. This is what will sustain me when the mud kitchen looks more like the charged scene from a restaurant movie than a children’s play toy.

Say good morning to the bees!

And I do.

[Photos: Gabe Knell]

Good Things #38: Chicks and All That Jazz

It’s that time of year again – the time to buy chicks. I stopped by the co-op on my way home from school Monday with the intention to buy six adorable soon-to-be-less adorable chicks.

I came home with eight, so not that bad.

photo 1

[Look at that cocked head. They don’t trust me yet.]

They currently reside in my bedroom, and their incessant cheeping keeps me up at night (good practice for baby season?). We got four golden comets, two barred rocks, and two golden-laced wyandottes.

I can feel the restlessness in the flock outside: who’s gonna go? who’s not gonna make the cut?

We’ll deal with that when the time comes.

There’s an informational session at the co-op this Saturday, and I think I’ll go. Since I’m teaching that chicken class again in May, it might be good to do a little networking, a little hen-schmoozing. I need to brush up on my bird diseases and prevention‚Ķ ūüôā

In other news, I wore flats and didn’t feel like my feet were going to freeze off. April’s turning out pretty well so far.

P.S. Friday, I’ll be having my first guest-post. I thought it was about time to have a voice other than mine on this blog; my friend Bryn will be talking about fiction and its role in our lives, so stay tuned!

Priorities

I prepared for Sandy in a funny way.

I locked up the girls in the house, moved their waterer inside, gathered the eggs, and closed the window.

The coop looks weird, empty in the middle of the day.

Did I buy any water for myself? No.

Did I buy canned goods? No.

Did I protect my chickens from the hurricane?

YES.

Gunther and I watched from the cozy indoors.

And Tuesday dawned, sun on dark clouds, and the smell of spring in October.

Work

It’s the Yankee in me.

I put a lot of value on hard work.

When we were little, Mom and Dad made us work in the yard, around the house, every weekend.¬†I hated it, for the most part. I remember one day – I was probably around seven — it was warm and sunny and all the neighbor kids were running around, laughing, playing tag, I don’t know what.

The four of us were weeding the garden alongside my parents, grumbling the whole time.

I remember my Dad saying, “When you’re through with this row, when everything’s weeded, then you can go play.”

I also remember saying something along the lines of “why do we have to do this when all the other kids don’t have to?”

And, the classic reply: “Someday you’ll thank me for this.”

Well, Dad, I guess that day is here.

We spent yesterday morning putting the garden to rest. The sun was bright, the air was cool, and the work loomed ahead of us, daunting. We pulled up all the woodier plants (broccoli and brussells sprouts get huge!) and threw them out back (Dad’s trying to minimize bugs next year, so we’re getting rid of the old plants). We took out the tomato stakes and piled them up, unknotted and threw out the rags we’d used to tie the plants to their stakes.

I harvested the last of the carrots. It’s hard to get them out of the cold ground without snapping them, but some survived.

Dad and I emptied the compost pile that’d been lying low all season, spread it out over the dirt, and my brother tilled it in.

When we were done, the place looked beautiful. Not nearly as sad as you’d think. Like well-deserved rest.

The girls got the last of the cucumbers.

~         ~         ~

Now, let me get this straight: I am not a naturally hard worker.

When I was around ten, I remember thinking,¬†I wish I weren’t so lazy.¬†And then, like a lightbulb, I realized,¬†I don’t have to be lazy. I can¬†choose to work hard.

This was a revelation. I had thought up to this point that some people were born workers, and some people were born lazy.

This might be true. But it goes a lot further than that.

Every day I struggle to use my time wisely. To complete what I should complete – to give it my all.

 

Work hard in the garden.

Take care of my chickens.

Sell honey and eggs in a timely manner.

Sing.

Write.

Clean, do dishes, you know.

Write good lesson plans.

Teach engaging lessons, even when I’m exhausted.

Read my Bible.

Pray.

These are the things I must work hard at.

Work, outside of our workaholic culture, is a good and beautiful thing.

Can I survive on bantam eggs?!

I switched my flock out about three weeks ago.

We moved the twenty chicks outside as soon as their soft down gave way to feathers. The four bantams – the adorable, miniature birds who enjoy an almost-weekly (and certainly accidental) rendezvous OUTSIDE the chicken house – were not entirely keen on the new additions.

The chicks were still a little smaller than the bantams, and there’s something about chickens that tells older ones (no matter their size), that it’s their job to put the younger ones in place.

That’s exactly what the bantams have done. I’m not too worried about it, cause the chicks are bigger now and things will even out. There’s no visual evidence of pecking, and I just can’t bring myself to get rid of such cute bantams.

My question was, though, can I eat the bantam eggs if they’ve been eating grower pellets?!?!

I know you couldn’t eat them if they were on chick starter since it’s medicated, but what’s the difference between grower and layer food?

After a little trusty web-surfing, I concluded that, yes, I could indeed eat the bantam eggs. The difference is only that layer food has extra calcium to supplement the hen while she’s putting so much energy into laying. There would be no adverse effects from eating the miniscule eggs.

Now the question is: Can I survive another 3-4 months on the eggs of four bantams?!

Unexpected Helpers

Today has been on and off rainy (thunder cracked at lunchtime and sent me and the boys I was watching back into the house — picnic aborted!!).

But after that shower died down, we headed in the truck to my house. I promised I’d show them the chicks in my room (yes, still in my room…don’t ask).

I removed the cover and held the baby over the box. His eyes lit up. I picked up a fuzzy yellow chick and held it up to the baby. He reached out, and I said “gentle” and he was. He was so gentle I couldn’t believe it, his tiny fingers barely grazing the soft down of the chick’s head. He looked at me, questioning, and then did it again.

Sweetness.

J. (he’s nearing 5 and curious) looked and asked questions.

“Where is their food?”

“How do you feed them?”

“Where are the eggs?”

That last one was my favorite.

After trying to explain that no, the chickens don’t¬†eat¬†the eggs, they¬†lay them, we went outside to the hen house so I could show him. There, four eggs in a box, ready to eat.

Then, with J. fascinated and distracted by feeding the hens grass, I took the baby to my garden, plunked him down on the path, and started clearing away deadness from last year.

He looked around, pulling at dead grass, watching me as I moved around him. I brushed some dirt off the large flat stones, and he copied me, his tiny hand flashing across the ground.

And then he put that hand with a handful of dirt into his baby mouth and smiled.

(P.S. I made THE MOST AMAZING GRANOLA two days ago. Thank you very much.)

Candlelight, Beekeeping, and a Little Old-Fashioned Feminism

I sit on my bed, legs crossed, with three delicious-smelling candles burning. I haven’t pulled the shades down yet because I like the way the night looks against the candlelight. I had an unexpected revelation today, and I think it has made all the difference.

For awhile now, I’ve been fighting a lot of things. One of the more upsetting of late is the idea of womanhood and what it means to be a “wife.” (I put the term in quotation marks because it scares me, and putting words in quotation marks dilutes their power!) But more to the point, I have been scared of what it means to be a person – and a woman, specifically – in marriage. I’ve been watching a lot of friends and acquaintances get engaged, married, pregnant, and I am overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t even catch my breath from the almost-daily Facebook notifications. All this activity in the matrimonial department has me thinking: what kind of wife will I be? what kind of wife do I want¬†to be? and why am I so scared?

The answer to that last one is, I’m pretty sure at least, that I am scared of losing myself. Scared that binding myself to another for life will, instead of making me a more complete Self, blur the lines of me until I am unrecognizable. It is this fear that drives me to some of the ideas of feminism, of maintaining autonomy, of being equals within a marriage, and of feeling the desire and need to create something outside of that marriage. Some of these ideas sound selfish to me even now; how can you be autonomous and truly engage in life-changing communion with another human? I wrote communion instead of union because I am STILL scared of the fullness of that concept.

Then a little voice in my head says Cath, you’re not even in a relationship. Marriage isn’t on the horizon. This is way premature thinking on your part.¬†But then I look around me and see so many young people throwing themselves into a life-long commitment, and I wonder if they have any idea what they’re embarking on. It isn’t too early to be thinking about how I hope to function within one of the most beautiful relationships God has given us, and it certainly isn’t too early to think about living with excitement for the future instead of fear.

And here is where the revelation comes in: I picked up one of my Dad’s bee journals (yes, they actually publish magazines on beekeeping, and yes, we have multiple). It was sitting on the coffee table and I saw an article on the cover that intrigued me: “Beeconomy – Women and Bees.” The revelation didn’t come from bees, or women keeping bees, or anything really to do with bees. It came in these brief sentences:

“A shift from a rural economy to more urban capitalism saw a decline in the value of the ‘good wife,’ an equal partner with her husband who would serve the community and barter with neighbors. Instead, women were expected to be at home, providing the primary care for children” (McNeil, M. E. A., “American Bee Journal” Vol. 152 N. 1).

Suddenly it came together for the first time: I wasn’t bucking the eternal, time-honored tradition of women in the home cleaning, laundering, feeding, and raising. I was bucking the 20th century version¬†of that tradition. I HATE cleaning and “keeping house” (there I go again), but when it is in the context of partnership – in the context of running a business, running a farm – the idea is not nearly as scary. A few weeks ago I met up with an old friend who has four children and another on the way. She and her husband recently built their own home in the woods, complete with a wood stove, long windows overlooking the backyard, and a table big enough to entertain twenty guests. I asked her how she did it, how she resigned herself to washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making three meals a day for four children, keeping everything running smoothly.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said, as I watched her baste a homegrown chicken. “I just can’t do those things every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”

She didn’t stop what she was doing. She just talked while she finished basting and put the chicken back in the oven.

“You know what, I had the same problem. And then I realized: you have to view it, not as ‘doing the dishes,’ but as creating a home. You do the dishes, you do the laundry, not because you absolutely love doing it, but because by doing so, you create a home for your family.”

And so, together with a little nugget of knowledge from a bee journal, my friend created for me a new outlook. I don’t know entirely what my life will look like as a wife, or even if I’ll be one. But at least now I know how I want to be one: the wife who works alongside her husband to create a home.