Monday, May 15, 2017

I Thought I'd Ruined Mother's Day

I thought I'd ruined Mother's Day
the house was all a mess
the dished piled in the sink
I couldn't find my dress

I sat and ate my breakfast slow
determined to enjoy
the children gathered all around
my lap, their favorite toy

The time, I knew, was flying by
so much that needed done
we had to get to church on time
always this race to run

The baby's face was dirty
the toddler's diaper messed
the preschooler had a missing shoe
and his sister wasn't dressed

My daughters, who are twelve and nine
had helped their Dad make me
a breakfast so sweet and special
but there was no time for tea

The goat was waiting to be milked
the pigs, they needed fed
the chickens' eggs to be collected
and the teens were sleeping in

I sighed a sigh that was too loud
my son, he overheard
"take it easy Mom," was all he said
I uttered not a word

Just once I wanted it to be
the kind of day that I did well
without the missing shoes
the dirty faces, or the smells

Without the tangles in girls' hair
waiting to be brushed out
without the tantrums, chores, and sighs
rising tension in the air

At last we loaded up the van
abandoned shoes were found
the sweater I'd stood ironing
was finally coming 'round

And then I climbed into the van
and found awaiting there
messy faces all in smiles
and bows in tangled hair

My darlings, my loves, my reasons for being
how could I be so silly
to look upon the messes of life
as if they matter, really

I thought I'd ruined Mother's Day
with harsh words and impatient sighs
but my children must know the love I carry
so deep and full inside

Thank you Lord for children
for every dirty little mess
for tea that gets neglected
in search of each lost dress

Thank you for the love they share
for life, for fun, for me
I know these days will quickly pass-
please let me hang on and make them last-
for as long as time shall be

Elizabeth Sliwa
Mother's Day 2017


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Another Spring

I awoke to sunshine this morning. Well really I awoke to a sleepy-eyed 2 yr old who climbed into bed and fought his brother for a spot next to mom. This is the season I'm in. This is the season I've been in for many years. This is the only season my poor, neglected married life has ever known seeing as we had our first (surprise!) child ten months after we said our vows. The season of being woken each day by snuggly toddlers and sweet smelling babies about a half hour before I'm really ready to be awake. Fumbling, almost tripping down the stairs in my pre-coffee state with a baby on my hip and at least 2 children trailing me close and crying for breakfast (at this point the preschooler and possibly the front- toothless first grader has joined the party). One is screaming for cereal, another for bagels, the other wants eggs. I comply with each of their demands simply because it's the easiest and I'm a little too compliant with the demands of my children. I've gotten really good at making three different breakfasts in record time. I realize I may be asking for trouble down the road with this practice, but at this moment I don't care. This season. I look at my husband and think it's amazing how two people committed to each other can rally through so many years of lack of time, lack of money, lack of sleep, lack of just us. Sometimes I've felt it's all made us so much stronger. Other times not. But I think what keeps us going is the knowing that we are creating a legacy, as is every marriage that chooses to welcome children into it. Messy, loud, interrupting, needy, sweet sleepy-eyed heaven-sent children. It's about so much more than him or I. It's generational, lasting, worthy work.
And like I said, I woke to sunshine and birds singing, so bring on the season and all it holds.

Spring is here. The farm's been in full swing since March. The arrival of baby chicks (purchased), piglets (bartered for), and goat kids (birthed on this farm) is a sign of new beginnings. A sign that I'm not ready to give up on this old place just yet. There's promise with each new start and each new spring.

The chicks were started in the house, then moved to the barn and by three weeks were out on pasture, moved daily. Another couple weeks and they'll be ready to process. They never stop eating, so they grow fast. The pigs came as a deal -  I was selling a couple goats, the man who was wanted them was short on cash. He offered me two pigs in exchange. I convinced him three would be more even and they arrived the next day. Joe was ok with this. But they eat a lot too and he'll be ready to see them go at the end of this month. I'll miss their... piggy-ness. They really are fun.

I got some soap orders yesterday. I've been wavering on the soap lately, wondering if it's something I really want to continue. Wondering if it's worthy enough. But a good order or two is usually enough to sway me, and back on track it is.

Brenna wanted to help me milk the goat this morning. We're only milking one so far and only once a day which is a nice way to transition back into the busy-ness of milking. The last couple years I relied heavily on my children to do the milking and realized that: 1. I missed it, and 2. It just wasn't done as properly as it ought to be done when the kids were relied upon. This caused me stress, so I've been milking again and enjoying my brief solitary barn trip every morning. But this morning Brenna decided that she was really missing out on life by not helping with the milking, so she came with me.
Her 9 year old fingers are long and slender and feminine. It takes strong hands to milk. I notice my own practiced hands and forearms are sore for a few days at the beginning of each milking season. 'Cause seriously, it really is a workout. She patiently squeezes and squeezes. Amelia the goat is understanding. It takes me an extra ten minutes this morning out in the barn to teach her how to properly get those teats to spray milk, and into the bucket. She's tried in previous years and has given up in frustration. She was too little. This year it's different. When it's over, she's pleased and I'm pleased and the goat's pleased. Win win, win. And Lucas, I forgot sweet Lu. He joined us and was quite proud to be given the job of feeding the bottle baby. What's not to love about this season?


Monday, January 23, 2017

Post Mortem

It was 80 degrees and humid that morning in August when I stepped into the unflattering and oversized white bee suit and zipped it up to my neck. The netted hood, I wore over a baseball cap so that the cap's brim would keep the netting even further from my face. It attached by zipper to the body of the suit. Full coverage. This hive had a reputation for being aggressive. They say an aggressive hive is the result of an aggressive queen. I could understand the possibility of that. 

                                     Isn't the behavior of the brood                       
                              always in direct correlation to the queen?
                        Another sobering reminder for me how important
                                       the role of motherhood is.

With bees, I read that the only cure for an aggressive hive is to find the queen, destroy it, and introduce a new, hopefully even-tempered queen. Otherwise, the hive will always be aggressive and somewhat dangerous.  I had tried to look for the queen amongst the drones, worker and nurse bees. I had researched how to find her, how to encourage the nurse bees to raise a new queen. But I was an amateur. I couldn't find the queen. Admittedly, I hadn't spent too much time trying. It's hard to spend an extended amount of time studying an aggressive hive.

All this I pondered, as I filled the smoker with some wound up green baling twine retrieved from the barn, threw in a fire starter and, with the help of Joe who would stand a safe distance away, my hive tool, a bucket and strainer for honey, plodded down the field towards the white painted hive bodies resting on pallets...
That day, I would find the hive pleasingly more docile than previously. I collected a good almost gallon of sweet wildflower honey, not counting the 6 or so full frames of honey I left for the bees to overwinter on, and was sweat drenched and achingly exhausted by the time we finished an hour later. Collecting honey is serious work.

Over the next several months I kept a casual eye on the bees. Distracted with the daily preoccupations of raising a bunch of children, (along with a gaggle of goats, and a coopful of chickens), admittedly, I was happy that at least one thing in my care was semi self sufficient and left them mostly alone. I'd glance their way when out in the goat pasture (their hive abutting the north side of the field fencing), and each time noticed them happily buzzing around, the guard bees always at attention at the hive opening. They were good. In the fall we added an extra super for more space for their increasing numbers. Eight extra frames for them to make honey and grow new bees on. All was going well.

It was two days ago that I was on a walk by myself. It had been a hard, long day and I quickly exited the house to walk our property trail and regain some sanity as soon as Joe had arrived home and before the last light of day gave way to night. It was a still, cool evening, but not too cold. I was reveling in the pleasant quietness of the nature around me and I decided to take a detour cutting across the bottom field to check on the bees on my way back up towards home. In the winter, one must be cautious not to stress the bees by checking them too often. They go into a semi conscious, semi hibernative state and flock together to keep warm, only leaving the hive on occasion and on mild days to take "cleansing flights" (aka, to poop). One way to check them without opening the hive box is to knock on the side of the box and if you hear a buzzing response, usually all is well. Or, at least they're alive. The weather was relatively mild, but I didn't have my protective suit on and light was fading, and I knew the children would be looking for dinner, so rather than lifting off the cover, I decided to do the knock test.

I knocked.
I knocked again.
Again, harder.

I knew without even lifting the cover off  the hive. The bees had died. Thousands of them. I had been thinking this was how it would be and I don't even know how I knew. Maybe because it really would be too good to be true for my bees to survive two winters in a row with so little intervention from me. Maybe because it seems that nothing we try on this farm has worked out even nearly as seamlessly as we'd planned. Needless to say, I was left feeling guilty, and a little devastated, and a little the failure.

Upon inspection, The hive was filled with honey. So starvation was not the reason. They appeared to have died all at once. Or at least within mere days of each other. And recently. After performing the best post-mortem I could being so green with this and all,  I deduced that I really know too little about bees to properly assign a cause-of-death, which made me feel even worse.

Mites? Dunno. 
Dysentary? Could be.
Moisture in the hive? Maybe- I did discover some large water droplets in the hive. I do know that moisture is deadlier than cold to them. How did that get there? In a hive properly installed and with ventilation, moisture shouldn't be an issue.

Either way, the bees are no longer.

Yesterday I did the work of taking the hive up from the field and processing the honey. Today, the honey is still draining from the comb into a large pot on my dining room table. It was cold, and so straining is slow. It's light yellow and the stickiness still clings to everything Charlotte and Isaac touched as they were helping me.  It looks enough to fill three half gallon jars. Impressive. Enough to keep us in honey until the days are warm and long again.  Enough wax for dozens of salves. I inspected the hives once more, hoping to find something that would clue me in as to their demise. I didn't.

But I did find that queen.
And she was extraordinary.
If she'd been aggressive, I couldn't tell.

I don't know if there will be more bees here in the near future. Right now, I'm feeling inadequate in my bee-keeping skills, enough to dissuade me from pursuing it further until I can really devote some time to the craft. I should join a beekeepers club, find a mentor, learn more, do this properly. I'm not sure what I'll do. Time is so scarce right now. It's amazing to have fresh, raw honey, but that can be found and purchased easily enough from another local beekeeper.

If this is my last experience keeping bees, I'm thankful for the memories made and the stories I still have to tell. There are some good ones.

Perhaps another time.

Or perhaps you'll be hearing about new hives come some spring.