Thursday, June 30, 2011

Killer Weed (and Giveaway Winner!)

So apparently all you smarty-pants people who know things about plants were kind enough to inform me yesterday that my beautiful, bee-friendly flowering bush... a killer weed.

Lovely. And OF COURSE it's a killer weed, because what else would thrive in my garden? I, the one who kills houseplants like it's going out of style, have a deadly weed growing on my front lawn. And I even think it's pretty. I even used it's berries in my winter decorations last year (gasp!).

And I just learned, via the ever-helpful Professor Google, that those very same berries - if ingested - can cause you to simultaneously be "cleaned out at both ends", or die. Depending on the toxicity of the plant. Talk about a bad day.

So now of course I'm freaked out. And like any rational human being with access to the internet, I rely on it to provide me with the most accurate information. Here is what I learned about the pretty but parasitic (not to mention incredibly toxic) bittersweet nightshade that is growing along my driveway:

- Ingesting the berries constitutes a "medical emergency", but there is a recommended dosage for preparing a stem infusion. Me = confused.
- There are many types of bittersweet. Some are not invasive, some are considered a protected species, some are poisonous, and some will cause you to grow a third eyeball and sprout a tail if you even look in their general direction (joke).
- It's been used to treat herpes (no joke!), dizziness, vertigo, allergies, eczema, jaundice, and asthma, among other ailments. But it can't be used to treat the growth of third eyeballs and tails. Sorry.

I also learned that Professor Google is dangerous, and not akin to the Mad Hatter pulling me down his rabbit hole of weirdness when it comes to investigating things like this. There are some things I would have rather not known and sometimes I just need to back the hell away from the computer and give it a rest.

So instead, I will impress you with my knowledge of the other, more wholesome  plants growing on our tiny spit of property. Be prepared to be shocked and awed by my extensive plant vocabulary:

Lily. Of the genus Orangus Biggus. Used in ancient rites of olfactory indulgence, and also as a chalice for dewdrop moonshine.

Sunflower. Or rather, the start of a sunflower. I know that this is a sunflower because we planted it from a packet of seeds and stuck a Popsicle stick into the ground next to it that says "DO NOT PICK THIS SUNFLOWER UNDER PAIN OF NEVER-ENDING TICKLES. NISSA THAT MEANS YOU." But seeing as how she can't read, it was kind of a pointless exercise. Genus Hugus Largus Gigantus. Used in modern planting to camouflage ugly chain link fences.

And any half-competent pretend gardener, such as myself, knows what these are. They're not growing in my garden right now (we just mowed the lawn), but they are waiting to pop out again in a couple of days, lovable little buggers that they are. But they are good for the bees, so we shall just enjoy them just the same. Dandelion, Genus Picturus Freehandus In My Bathroomus:

Okay so maybe I can't grow flowers, but I can DRAW them...that's something, right?

And these are poppy pods. Or at least that's what my friend Carla told me there were when she gave me the piece. And usually, I believe her. Except for when she tells me that she's going to meet me at a certain time, because then I know she's always going to be early. IT FREAKS ME OUT, CARLA. I can't handle over-punctuality! I rely on that extra 10 minutes of late-buffer time to put on deodorant and make sure that my dress isn't tucked into my underpants. Sheesh. Poppy Pods, Genus Carlaus Gaveus Meus Thisus Threeus Weeksus Beforeus Sheus Saidus Sheus Wouldus. Weirdous.

If you've hung on this far - congratulations! And sorry. I know that my brain is such a strange and twisted place. But you know, my nightshade - as deadly as it may be - is helpful. Not only for alleviating the symptoms of an STD (Which is just what everyone wants growing in their yard. A herpes flower! AWESOME.) but also for the wild bees that visit us.

And you know how I feel about bees.

(How's that for the world's weirdest segue?)

I love the bees! And you do too - which I am so excited about. We had many wonderful ideas and entries for the Do Something Good Giveaway...I'm so proud of all of you, and so thankful that you were a part of it. I wish I had goodies to give away to all who entered, but I hope that you'll give yourself mad props for taking the time to think about something important and meaningful. I'm giving you mad props!! And hopefully, it will lead to a continued awareness about the plight of the bees, not only amongst those of you who took the time to enter the giveaway, but amongst all those you come into contact with.

Bee-cause that's how we roll with the Do-Gooding, peeps! It spreads like a killer weed...hmmm. Maybe that's a bad analogy.

And so, without further adieu, I give to you the winner of the V2B/Honey Girl Organics Do Something Good Giveaway. By the powers invested in me by, I am so happy to announce that the lovely reader, Leigh is the winner of her choice of THREE all-natural Honey Girl Organics skincare products! Here was her winning comment:
We don't use any pesticides or herbicides or anything-icides in our yard, and we love our dandelions!
YES! That's what I'm talking 'bout! And also - dandelions...I so know what those are. Hooray for you and hooray for me!

Leigh, if you could contact me at mahreen at venividiblogi dot com then I can hook you up with some bee products courtesy of Honey Girl Organics. I can't wait to hear what you choose - I haven't yet tried a product that I didn't like. For reals.

Thank you to EVERYONE who took the time to enter the Do Something Good Giveaway, I hope that it was as fun for you as it was for me, and I hope that you are all showered with rainbows and unicorn sparkles and good karma for the rest of your days. Thanks for doing something GREAT with me...let's do it again soon!

And of course, thank you times one hundred billion trillion to Mark Tanney and the Honey Girl Organics family for making this all possible. Bee (har har, I had to do it just once more) sure to visit their website to check out HGO for yourself or as a gift for others. They are a wonderful home-grown company that is doing all the right things for themselves, the environment, and for you. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you, Honey Girl!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Purple Wonder.

I think I inadvertently did something really good for the bees this week. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it was fate's way of giving me a celestial fist bump to acknowledge my efforts.

Or maybe it was just plain laziness.

Behold, the enormous car-sized foliage that is threatening to overtake my entire driveway. It's like nature is trying to reclaim our land, and no matter how hard I try to make it think otherwise, it is rather insistent on claiming the asphalt for itself.

I'm not a master gardener (Despite my efforts to the contrary. I once tried to grow an African Violet and it bit the dust before I even got it home from the store), so I have no idea how to even identify half of what's growing along the side of our driveway. What's even more confusing to me, is my long-standing track record of planticide (see previous statement regarding African Violets and substitute any plant in it's place. I probably murdered it at some point.). For some bizarre reason, the thing growing along the side of our driveway likes me. It really, really, does.

The berry-laden tendrils reach out to tickle me whenever they see Pondscum and Fresh Powder (actually, Yousuf recently re-christened it "White Lightning". I think it makes him feel more manly.) creeping up the driveway towards them.

And the little purple star-shaped flowers bow their heads prettily in my direction whenever I take their picture. I swear I'm not imagining it. They're so dainty.

It's probably also a weed, which is why it won't go away. Instead, the bush just keeps getting bigger and bigger and wider and wider until it looks like it could cover my entire car with trailing vines of purply-blue stars. If I didn't have to drive anywhere, I might actually leave it the way it is...but alas. Groceries need getting. Trips need taking. And the cars need driving.

I've resisted trimming back this beautiful-big-bush-for-which-I-have-no-name, because it's lovely, it's not hurting anyone, and because I'm a lazy, lazy girl. Plus, I'd rather sit and stare out my window at tiny purple flowers that refuse to wither in my presence, instead of going at them with an implement of death (aka The Dreaded Snippers!). For some inexplicable reason, this plant likes me. And I like it.

We have a mutual admiration thing going on. At least in my head.

But here's the really crazy CRAZY thing that happened on the VERY DAY that I started the To Bee or Not To Bee Do Something Good Giveaway.

I was sitting inside drinking my morning tea after I had just finished putting together the giveaway post, contemplating the feeling of happy satisfaction that I had earned. Looking outside the dining room window at my favorite weed, I caught a flurry of activity from the corner of my eye...but when I looked directly at it, it was gone - just like that.

I looked at a different part of The Purple Wonder and saw it again, a tiny hovering movement that was nearly impossible to discern from inside.

Catching my breath, I wondered...could it bee (punny, I know)? Could it really, really bee...a bee?

I grabbed my camera, and ran. Sweatpants and braless tank top and all, while my uncombed hair stuck up around my head like the South Asian Bride of Frankenstein. I think I even had mismatched flip flops on as I crept around the corner of the house.

A man walking his dog passed by and gawked. I pretended not to notice.

But I sidled closer, with baited breath, and waited.

Until...I saw the tiny, fuzzy, hovering busy little body of....

A BEE!!!

Can you even imagine how excited this made me? It was incredible to see, and I felt SO vindicated about not cutting down that big bushy flowering planty thing taking over my driveway. Clearly it is needed and loved, not just by my but by all the wild bees that are native to my tiny, green, overgrown corner of the world.

The only thing that would make me happier would be to learn the name of The Purple Wonder. I hope it's something beautiful and exotic. Do you know what it's called? Let me know in the comments below.

And while you're at it, please don't forget to enter the Do Something Good Giveaway. It's your last chance to win some really lovely goodies, before 5pm today. And it's so easy to enter too. Maybe you're like me, and have done something wonderful for the bees without even knowing it!

I just love it when life works out that way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spaces: Ceilings, Walls, and Windows.

I thought it might be nice to update you on some the goings-on in our interior redecorating process.  Even though it seems like I've only got bees on the brain lately, I've also been at work here behind the scenes (and by me, I mean Yousuf, mostly - because I've had bees on the brain!).

A few things have gotten updated since my last "Spaces" post, some small, some not so much - but all have made a big difference to the way our house looks and functions.

Just a couple of days ago, we finally found a home for this fantastic piece of art. It was made for me as a thank you gift by the incomparable Carla of hat-and-scarflette fame. It's been sitting on top of the piano in our dining room (doesn't everyone have a piano in their dining room?) for months because we wanted to repaint the house before we hung it. Well, the house hasn't been repainted, but the kitchen has been. It's a very pale blue that picks up the colors in the poppy pods and contrasts with the vivid red of the lacquered frame.

I think it looks like this piece of artwork has been living in my kitchen all along, and it makes me happy whenever I see it as I'm washing dishes (we don't have a dishwasher, so I spend a lot of time at the sink!). The best part about the piece, other than the fact that it was made by my dear friend, is the background. You have to look closely to see it...


Do you see? It's made from the pages of a vintage math textbook! Which is so appropriate for my math professor hubby. I love that we can both stare at this piece and get something different out of it. I get smiley happy thoughts, and he gets formulae. We're both at bliss. Carla knocked it out of the park with this piece, don't you think?

Yousuf says this is his favorite equation, it's something having to do with solving something else about integrals. He tried to explain it to me while I was taking this shot, but all I could think was, "ooooh...pretty poppy pod!"...

...which is why this piece is so perfect for the both of us.

We also hung not one but TWO ceiling fans. Again, when I say "we" I mean Yousuf because honestly, who am I to interfere with my husband's handyman talents? Mostly I just stood around and watched him up on the ladder while I said, "Are you okay up there?", and then he grunted down at me, which I took for an affirmative, so I got back to washing dishes and zen-ing out while I stared at some gorgeous artwork (see above).

Ceiling fans are a necessity for us because in addition to having a piano in our dining room and no dishwasher in our kitchen, we also have no central air! And now you know why we never have guests! (Ba-dum-bum-CHING!)

But the problem with most ceiling fans are that they don't give off adequate light, or if they do - they're usually quite hideous. We didn't want a ceiling fan with lampshades or exposed bulbs. We wanted a modern fan with clean lines that wouldn't overwhelm the entire space. We also wanted adequate lighting and a high quality motor (read: not so loud that it sounds like an airplane flying overhead). We (read: Yousuf) searched high and low until we found this fan - and I didn't run away screaming in terror when I saw it online, so we bit the (very expensive) bullet and bought two of them.

Check out the ring around the collar where we took down the old light fixture. The whole ceiling definitely needs a repaint. Hope Yousuf doesn't mind!

They have been worth every penny. Each fan takes four 13W CFL bulbs (equivalent to four 60W incandescents), and that's more light than I had with the old fixtures. Most of the fans we looked at took halogen bulbs, and I love that these ones are less heat-producing (it seems counter-intuitive to me to make fans with halogen bulbs, but I'm not a ceiling fan designer, so what do I know?). I now have TONS of light in the kitchen and dining area, and I'm not sweating to death as soon as I come down in the morning to make breakfast. And they're nice to look at. Bonus!

Lastly, I finally dealt with the bathroom windows. Remember my last post about the bathroom, where I was looking for something private but that still gave us lots of natural light? Well, we decided to put up frosted vinyl window clings to solve the problem. And then, I decided to paint some dandelion flowers on the downstairs window cling, because it looked very sad and lonely and undecorated.

What do think? I'm semi-pleased with the end result, I always feel like I'm too nit-picky and can see the spots where I messed up. Yousuf keeps telling me to please shut up they look gorgeous and I love them. And he means it, he's not just saying it to make me stop complaining (I loves my man). Do you like the way it turned out?

I used a paint pen - you can get them at any craft store, and it wasn't too hard...just hard in the sense that you only have one shot to get it right because it's permanent. Not stressful AT ALL.

(I would actually be happy to do another post about the whole window-clinging process, which nearly drove Yousuf and I to tears on more than one occasion, if you are at all interested. I have pictures to prove it!)

And that's what we've been doing around the homestead. Our next project is to clear the back corner of the backyard of all the kids' toys and sad-looking scrub. We're getting a HUMONGOUS shed delivered at the end of the week, and it's going to go right THERE.

It will cover up that hideous fencing (which is not on our property so there is nothing we can do about it). We'll move the kids toys to another location, paint the shed a cheery red, and all will be right with the world.

And then we shall go inside and bask under the cool breeze of our ceiling fans while we lose ourselves in the splendor of math equations, poppy pods, and painted dandelions.


There's still time to enter the V2B/Honey Girl Organics Do Something Good Giveaway.You have until 5pm EST on Wednesday to enter, and it's SO EASY to get in on the goodies. Go check it out and pass the info along! xoxoxmahreen

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

To Bee Or Not To Be: Do Something Good Giveaway.

This post is the third in a series entitled To Bee Or Not To Bee, part of the Veni Vidi Blogi Do Something Good Giveaway. You can read part one here, and part two here.

I learned something yesterday, and if I was even a little bit smarter than what I seem online, I would have taken full advantage of it at the start of this whole raising-awareness-about-Bees adventure. But alas, I'm not nearly as wise as I pretend to be - so we'll just have to act like we knew all along:

Did you know that it's National Pollinator Week?

I know! I had NO IDEA! But for the purposes of maximum marketing impact, I will act as though it was more than mere coincidence that our Bee-Friendly Giveaway fell during the same week. So when I say something like, "Hey, it's National Pollinator Week! What a PERFECT time to raise awareness about bees and win great prizes too!" Just smile and nod, okay? Thanks in advance.

Speaking of which, let's talk giveaway! That's why you're all here, right? The deets are as follows:

To Bee Or Not To Bee: The Veni Vidi Blogi Do Something Good Giveaway
Sponsored by Honey Girl Organics

The Prize: One fabulous bee-lovin' winner will choose not one, not two, but THREE Honey Girl Organics Products (The Cleanser, the Extra-Sensitive Face and Eye Cream, and the Night Cream are my current faves! But there are so many all-natural, organic goodies to choose from).

Who Can Enter: Any resident of the U.S. or Canada (sorry, Europeans and Australians, it was a shipping thing. But if you'd still like to help the bees, then who am I to stop you? The more the merrier!)

Giveaway Closes: At 5pm EST on Wednesday June 29th, 2011. That means that you have exactly one week to help save the bees. Ready? Good!

How To Enter: Last time, the Do Something Good Giveaway stretched out over a week with a new way of entering presented each day. This time will be the same in that you will have a week to Do Something Good, but you can also choose how you want to enter the giveaway. The reason for doing it this way is because there are SO many ways that you can raise awareness about the bees and Colony Collapse Disorder. Limiting ourselves to just seven seems...limiting.

So here's how it's going to work. I'm going to provide you with a massive list of things you can do to raise awareness, for yourself or for people you know, about saving the bees from Colony Collapse Disorder. For every action you take, leave one comment after this post telling me what you did and your thoughts about it. The comments will remain open until the close of the giveaway at 5pm EST on Wednesday June 29th, 2011. The winner will be chosen via and will be announced on Thursday June 30th, 2011.

Some of you will have already done some of these (as in perhaps you already have bee-friendly plants growing) - and that's GREAT. Leave me a comment telling me what you've already done, or try something else on the list. Some of these actions require a higher investment of time and money, and some are quick and free. Some you can do alone, and some are perfect to do with your friends or your children. You may decide to come back many times over the course of the week to leave multiple comments as you work your way through the list. That would be absolutely wonderful, and will increase your chances of winning the stash of Honey Girl Organics products. Do whatever you can to help the bees, and tell me all about it (include pictures too if possible!) all week long. I'm all ears, and I'm cheering all of you on from the sidelines.

Before I give you the list, please take a moment to like Honey Girl Organics on either Facebook or Twitter. None of this - the giveaway, and all of the valuable information learned - would have been possible without Mark Tanney and HGO. I have loved working with them, and am so excited about partnering with a company that really and truly cares about doing the all the right things. It would be great if you could show them your support too.

And now (at last), here is:
NATIONAL POLLINATOR WEEK LIST of Actions You Can Take to Help Save the Bees:

- What you can DO:
  • Become a backyard beekeeper
DIY Backyard Beekeeping: A Guide For Beginners
Q & A With A Los Angeles Beekeeper
Bees on the Net Free Beekeeping Course Beekeeping Forum Beekeeping Forum
Yahoo Group on Organic Beekeeping
  • Plant a bee-friendly garden (a great summer activity to do with your kids)
Your local nursery to learn more about what flowering plants are native to your area
Pollinator-friendly planting guides by zipcode 
Downloadable Planting Instructions from Help The Honey Bees
Life on the Balcony's Container Gardening Tips
Daily Green's tried-and-true List of Bee-Friendly Plants
Toronto Star Article and Plant List (for my T-Dot readers)
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides in your garden
Protect Your Garden the Organic Way
Save the Dandelions. Save the Bees.
  • Sign a petition calling for a ban on bee-killing pesticides
Credo Petition's Global Bee Emergency Petition 
Care2 Petition Petition

- What you can WATCH (yourself or arrange for a viewing):
- What you can READ (on your own or with a bookclub):
- What you can SHARE:
  •  The link to this giveaway with your FB or Twitter friends. Encourage others to Do Something Good.
  •  Books, online activities, photos and videos about bees with your kids. Teach them about the importance of bee preservation.
Resources (all kid-friendly):
The Bee Book from Help the Honey Bees (Educational and fun, complete with a "Bee-bliography" at the end.)
Honey and Honey Bee Flickr Gallery
Dixie Native's breathtaking Photostream (I could stare at those bees for hours!)
Honeybee Facts and Pictures at National Geographic
All About Bees at Kids Konnect

- Who you can SUPPORT:
  • Your local beekeepers. Their knowledge is a valuable resource for understanding the challenges we face. Arrange for a beekeeping presentation, buy local honey, or go and visit a beekeeper near you.
Find a Beekeeper Near You (US and Canada)
American Beekeeping Federation
Canadian Honey Council

- Where you can DONATE:

The list is tremendous, and that gives me such hope. If you have any additional ideas, mention them below to inspire others. Most of all, have fun with this. Remember that there is so much we can do to help save the bees, no matter how small the effort. We just have to decide to make a difference.

Have a great time with this, and thank you times a hundred million billion for Doing Something Good with me!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Bee Or Not To Bee: Interview, Part Two.

Here is part two of my interview with Mark Tanney, marketing and internet manager for Honey Girl Organics. Part One focused on honey bees and the crisis that they are facing, Colony Collapse Disorder. In Part Two below, we talk about the things we can do to help bring back our bees.

Remember to come back tomorrow to enter the second Do Something Good Challenge and Giveaway. You'll get a chance to do something great for the bees, and win some fantastic Honey Girl products too. 

Obligatory Disclaimer Redux: The views expressed in this interview are those of Mark Tanney, who is not a scientist, doctor or bee-researcher. Even though he does sound like one. I was not compensated to do this interview, or to publish positive statements about the company and their products but chose to do it after being impressed with Mark's knowledge and passion about the subject matter, and after trying the product samples and wanting to share them with you.

 Photo courtesy of Dixie Native

So let’s talk about solutions. Is there anything that the Average Joe (or the not-so-average person who wants to change the world) can do to help save the bees?

Yes there are some things that can be done, and there are indications in some areas that these things are really making a difference in bringing the bees back to a healthy level. So it’s absolutely possible.

The number one thing that could be done would be to start to have a hive or two of your own in your backyard or on your rooftop. There are lots of urban places that have rooftop beehives, like New York City (the link takes you to a YouTube video about a group of Brooklyn beekeepers. Note that rooftop beekeeping is no longer illegal in NY! Huzzah!). It’s possible to do it just about anywhere

However, there are a few things you have to check first. There are still a few cities that zone against having beehives, but not many, so check your local zoning ordinances. Also check to make sure your neighbors aren’t allergic to bees, or if they are really opposed to beekeeping. They might just need you to convince them first. These are just some common sense things. And remember that bees can sting, and for someone who is allergic it is a serious issue.

It is relatively easy to have one or two hives. And the presence of beehives helps tremendously with the production of flowers and fruits in the neighborhood. There are noticeable differences on everybody’s trees and gardens when the bees are out there pollinating. It does take some investment of time and money, but the rewards are wonderful for feeling like you are making a difference for the world, and also, you will get some honey. Wild honey tastes a lot different than what comes out of those bear-shaped jars in the supermarket. Most importantly, there is substantial evidence that backyard beekeepers are making a real difference (link to a YouTube news piece) in helping the bees recover against Colony Collapse Disorder.

Another thing you and I have talked about is planting for bees. How does that help against CCD?

Planting for bees is a very localized determination as far as what is going to be the best thing to plant in your area. Probably a local nursery that is oriented towards organic supplies will know which are the best plants to attract bees in that particular area. One general rule of thumb is that native flowering plants, even things we would often call weeds, are sometimes the very best thing for the local bees.

If you are interested in finding out which plants might work for your area, there are a few plug-in charts available online where you can put in your zip code and the chart will give you a list of the plants that are good for your area. Planting and attracting bees locally is easy and it’s good for bees because they will eat the nectar and the pollen that is in those plants. When there is more of that around, and the bees have what they like to eat, then the bees thrive. Another key aspect to this is to stay away from using pesticides as much as possible, and encourage others to do so as well, especially on any planting you do for bees.

Will planting for bees make for a healthier bee population that will perhaps be able to withstand CCD better than in the past?

Yes, in fact CCD isn’t necessarily completely covering the country end to end. There are areas that if you encourage a healthy bee population to grow and have the variety of nutrition they need, then they are going to be stronger and able to fight the parasites and pesticides that threaten them. And if you plant for bees without pesticide use, then that will have positive affect on the bees as well. It absolutely makes a difference, and it’s probably this difference that will make or break the whole bee issue. If more and more people start doing this across the country it could change everything as far as survival of the bees.

Planting a bee friendly garden can be really inexpensive, especially if you start it from seed. One could also do it in a very small amount of space - or a container if no land is available. But do you think it’s too late in the planting season to do bee-friendly planting?

That is a geographic specific question, because some areas will have longer warmer seasons than others. But there are bee-friendly plants that will bloom at all times during the planting season, and you would just need to find out which ones are appropriate for your area. One of the online planting guides I mentioned, or a local plant nursery would be a good source of information about this.

There is a good chance that people may have bee-friendly plants in their gardens already. What can be done to make sure that those plants are readily available, and cultivated for bees?

Certainly the most important thing would be to not remove them. The one thing that can be done any time of the year is to really become aware of pesticides, and stop them completely if possible. If that’s not possible, then reserve areas of your garden where you do stop using them. That is something that would make a really big difference. People should turn to that as soon as possible. Pesticides kill bees. It’s that simple.

If you do have bee-friendly plants in your garden, you will probably see honey bees at some point. One important thing to keep in mind is that sometimes bees decide that they are too crowded in their hive, so they divide and part of the hive will leave and form a “swarm.” This is really the bee’s method of reproduction. A bee swarm can be a scary thing to see, but bees who are swarming are actually quite docile. The important thing to remember if you see a swarm is that you don’t want to kill the bees. Virtually all beekeepers perform the service of removing bee swarms. These beekeepers either keep the swarms and create new hives themselves, or they give the swarm to a new beekeeper to help get them started. So please, don’t just call an exterminator if you see a swarm of bees. Call a bee removal specialist who intends to save these bees. This is very important.

So in terms of pesticide use, now I can ask my Dad and Father in-law not to worry about putting pesticides on my lawn, because they're always complaining about the dandelions there. I'm going to tell them,  "No, they're for the BEES! We're just going to leave them!"

Actually, dandelions are some of the bees' favorite food to eat. Bees love yellow flowers, and dandelions are among the best bee food out there. And if it means you get to mow your lawn less, well then that's another side benefit. Maybe just try to go for as long as you can hold out, because however dandelions may look, they are actually one of the most bee-friendly plants out there.

It's quite amazing to think that something as simple as leaving the weeds in your yard can help potentially turn CCD around. It’s such an easy and inexpensive way to make a tremendous difference.

And the more people that do it the better. If neighbors work together - it could really turn things around.

What are some other ways that we can help the bees?

There are a few organizations that are taking donations, if that is something people are interested in. Heifer International is one, it provides people in impoverished areas of the world with a beehive as a way to get started to contribute to their families’ financial well-being. There are also number of organizations who are focused on finding a solution to CCD (Mahreen’s note: Penn State and UC Davis have two of the world´s leading honey bee research facilities, and are currently accepting donations).

Another great, and free thing to do is to just to educate ourselves about this issue. There are a couple of documentaries circulating around the country right now that may help. One is Queen of the Sun, and another is Vanishing of the Bees, and of course the PBS episode of Nature titled Silence of the Bees. They are showing in local theaters, and are entertaining and beautiful as well as being informational. Also reading articles and becoming more aware so that we can talk to each other about CCD is of great value and is completely free.

One other thing I’d like to mention is to organize local beekeepers to come and give presentations to schoolchildren. I first heard about it happening in Washington state, and apparently beekeepers are lining up to come and talk to the kids. To begin at the school level, by educating and inspiring young people about bees is an extremely valuable thing to do.

Even something as simple as going to visit hobby beekeepers can be such a valuable thing for people. It’s such a sight to see the bees going in and out of the hives and communicating with each other.

What about the scary factor? I wouldn’t want to get stung.

Bees can sting, no doubt. But generally, bees aren’t interested in harming anybody who approaches them in a calm way. There are also things called “observation hives” where half of the hive is made of glass, so you don’t have to get too close to the bees, but beyond that there are many educational videos that are very inspiring as well (here are Part One and Part Two of two short educational videos that Mark recommends).

Is there anything else you'd like to add before we end, Mark?

I think you've been pretty thorough. I guess I'd just say that there is no way to really get a sense of what bees are like without spending some time observing them, whether it's by a movie in the theater or video on the internet, or in person if that's possible. They really are magical little creatures. Being bees for a hundred million years, they are perfect at what they do. They create things that science is only beginning to understand. It's an amazing thing when you start to get into seeing how bees and hives work. It really does inspire a person to want to help protect them. So just get out there and start learning about bees. It will be a big first step towards combating CCD.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Mark. I've learned a lot, and I hope that together we can do something great for the bees as well raise awareness about CCD being a problem that we have the ability to make a difference against.

It was fun, and it's something that means a lot to me. Thank you for having me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

To Bee Or Not To Bee: Interview, Part One.

I'm really excited about our second Do Something Good Giveaway. Partly because I get giddy at the thought of sharing this special find with you, lovely readers, who I love almost as much as ice cream, but also because I've partnered with a wonderful company to bring it to you. Win-win!

I was recently put in touch with Mark Tanney, the marketing and internet manager for Honey Girl Organics (HGO), a family-run business based on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawai'i. Mark very graciously offered to send me a boxload of HGO products to sample, and if I liked them (which I really did - I'll tell you why in a sec.) he wanted to work together to bring you a very special giveaway.

Apart from being impressed with the fact that HGO skincare products are organic and made from a very simple blend of raw ingredients (that's why I liked them - that and the fact that they make my so-sensitive skin feel happy), I was also impressed with  Mark's passion for his cause.  Very early on in our correspondence, Mark told me that he wanted to raise awareness about honey bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.  CCD refers to the phenomenon of worker bees from a colony inexplicably vanishing, which eventually kills off the entire beehive. Mark is far more knowledgeable and articulate when it comes to explaining how devastating CCD is, and after exchanging many emails with him, I decided that the best way to get his message out to you was to do it in his own words.

I had the chance to interview Mark via Skype last week (my first time interviewing someone, it was all that and a can of beans). Read on to learn more about Honey Girl Organics, the bees that make HGO products possible, and the sobering facts about Colony Collapse Disorder. Stay tuned for part two of the interview tomorrow, followed by the Do Something Good Giveaway & challenge beginning on Wednesday.

Anthony Maxfield, one of the three co-founders of Honey Girl Organics

Obligatory Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are those of Mark Tanney, who is not a scientist, doctor or bee-researcher. Even though he does sound like one. I was not compensated to do this interview, or to publish positive statements about the company and their products but chose to do it after being impressed with Mark's knowledge and passion about the subject matter, and after trying the product samples and wanting to share them with you.
Is it true that the Honey Girl Organics began when one of the owners made a creme for his wife? It sounds like a very sweet story!

Yes, it is true, and the “wife” is my sister, one of the founders of the company. They moved out to Hawai'i over 20 years ago onto a property on the North Shore. It had some beehives on it and my sister’s husband decided to see if he could keep the bees, rather than getting rid of them. At the time, his purpose was just to get honey out of the hives a couple of times during the year. He would regularly come back from working with the beehives with really soft hands. My sister asked him if he could do something to make a creme out it, and that’s how it all started. It was a very long process over many years of doing different things with the bee products, it was gradual, and not a commercial approach. By the time they started the business about five years ago along with another friend, they had a number of products in hand.

What attracted me to Honey Girl Organics was the fact that they are made with just a few very simple, natural ingredients. There is even a line on your website that mentions the “edible factor” of your products. Can you tell me more about what that means?

Using natural ingredients was a part of the process of research by Anthony (the beekeeper). A lot of the ingredient choices were made on the basis of what people have been doing since ancient times, confirmed by what scientists are saying now. Many ancient peoples wrote a lot about the beneficial properties of bee products.

The edible factor is really important because there is a lot about the skin that is a two-way street. It’s not just that we sweat and otherwise eliminate toxins through the pores, but the skin also takes in and absorbs what you put on it. Chemicals and toxins that are in most skincare products do get absorbed into the body, through the skin. Just think about how things like nicotine patches and birth control patches work. So you don't want to put something on your skin that you wouldn’t want inside your body. We’ve also found that the natural ingredients that we use have really beneficial effects on your skin as well as being safe for the body.

I’m a mom of two young children and the idea of having products in my house that are safe, natural and non-toxic is a priority. But the fact that the ingredients used in HGO are readily available in nature, that they haven’t been overly processed or changed really speaks to me.

Yes, definitely. I think more and more, people are aware of that these days. You know, when I was growing up, all the standard products on the shelf were just what everyone used. You had the idea that if it was a skin care product available in a store, it must be okay or else they wouldn’t sell it. And we have certainly learned a lot since then.

Going back to the bees then, I think it’s safe to say that bees are the lifeblood of HGO, correct?

Yes, it's definitely based on bee products, and it is definitely how the company began.

In some of our earliest correspondence, I was immediately struck by your passion for honey bees - preserving them, caring for them, spreading knowledge and education about them too. You once wrote to me that you had “bee fever”, and that bees do so much good for everything they contact. Can you expand on what you meant?

The star of the show is pollination. Without that, the world wouldn't be anything like we know it to be. The bees, to me, are the ultimate win-win game in action. It's true that what bees are doing is for their own self-interest. If they pollinate more plants, then next year there are lots more flowers and the bees can get the nectar and pollen that they need to thrive. But it just so happens that pollination is also the best possible thing for the rest of the world as well. Pollination is the key to life, and bees are the number one pollinators.

When I say “bee fever”, there are two aspects to that for me. The first part is just marveling at something that is more finely tuned than a Swiss Watch. Every single thing about the beehive is exactly right for it’s purpose. The bees just do everything they must do to make it absolutely perfect. They have been practicing being bees for tens of millions of years. Part two of bee fever has come as I’ve learned more and more about how absolutely critical bees are to life on earth. The situation is more serious than people seem to realize. Everyone's attention these days seems to be on the many other important issues - the economy, the environment, global warming, etc. - but the loss of the bee population may be the most serious of all.

You’re of course referring to Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. I didn’t know this before I talked to you, but CCD is a huge, potentially world-changing issue. It’s my understanding that nobody knows why the bees are just literally disappearing from the hive.  Tell me why Colony Collapse Disorder is such a crisis, and what it will mean for us if CCD isn’t halted.

CCD is a crisis because without the bees, there is no pollination. Right now, all the commercial bees in the United States are packed up in semi-tractor trailers and are taken out to pollinate our crops. For example, they are taken to California just to pollinate almonds, so every almond you eat is made by this process. Without bees to pollinate, almost all the food we eat will disappear. There are some foods that are pollinated by wind, like oatmeal, and those limited crops would remain if we lost the bees. But not much else would survive. Almost all of our fruits and vegetables certainly would be gone from the face of the earth. I hate to be the one sounding some kind of extremist alarm, but the predictions are that if we lose the bees, eventually the majority of the world’s population would die out.

It would be a catastrophe.

Yes, absolutely. And not just for human beings, but for virtually all forms of life. It’s a very serious thing, and up to now, scientists just don't understand why the problem isn’t getting any better. Last year’s report shows that the same general trend is continuing. Once again about 30% of the hives disappeared in 2010/2011 (the report Mark is referring to is the latest USDA Survey Report on 2010/2011 Winter Honey Bee losses). And that is bad. There is some level of loss of beehives that occurs naturally every winter, but the amount that is happening now is vastly greater than is sustainable, as far as maintaining our bees.

Am I correct in understanding that scientists don’t really know what is causing CCD, and that they think it’s actually a combination of factors?

That seems to be the general consensus right now. There seems to be a combination of overuse of pesticides, various parasites, viruses, and possibly many other factors. In the past, the bees have faced assault from many types of threats, and they were able to hold their own against them. But bees today are weakened by so many threats. One is the incredible use of pesticides. Bees are also suffering from a lack of nutrition, because when they go out to areas to pollinate, they have no variety at all in their nutrition. We talked about almonds; when bees pollinate them the almonds they have only one type of nectar from the almond trees. This mono-nutritional type of practice is further weakening the bees, and it's considered to be one of the burdens stacking up against the bees. Plus, there are other types of issues that could be playing into this that no one has figured out or considered at all yet. It’s just a combination of things that are really taking a toll on the bees, and they are really not able to hold up against this anymore.

I feel like the problem is so much bigger than just one tiny factor, that perhaps we are putting so much stress on the bees to begin with. Is it possible that we may have created this problem ourselves?

Oh, absolutely. I think that it’s clearly a human created problem. I believe it was in the Nature show you and I have talked about by email (Mark is referring to an episode of the PBS show Nature, called Silence of the Bees. You view the full 50 minute episode here), they mentioned that if the farmers would just set aside a certain portion of the acreage for the almonds and put different types of vegetation on their land, then the bees would have something to sustain themselves all year long. Right now, when the almonds are not flowering, there is nothing whatsoever for the bees to eat. It’s like a desert, so no wild bees can live in that area anymore. They could solve that problem.

So how hard would it be to mandate something like that?

That’s a good question. Another question is, why should it have to be mandated? Farmers themselves are close to the earth. Farmers should understand these things. Why are they needing a mandate to do that? They clearly must see what is happening here, why don’t they just do something about it on their own?

There was one part in Silence of the Bees that painted a picture of what would happen if bees disappeared. It was absolutely stunning. There is a small village in China where the bees have inexplicably vanished, yet they still needed to cultivate their produce of pears. They were hand pollinating, which was just...crazy. Can you tell me if that’s a feasible thing for us to do here?

That was amazing to see, wasn’t it? They are managing right now to sustain this entire area that is famous for it’s pears by literally hand pollinating each and every pear blossom because there are no bees left there. They make these little feather wands and dip it into the pollen and then brush it on each blossom.

Yes, and what struck me was that there were hundreds of villagers doing the job of just a handful of bees. It costs so much money and takes so much more time.

True. And they were also saying how the young people of the village are not seeing hand pollination as a part of their future life, so they are all going to the cities. And it will not be sustainable to continue with hand pollination in that area much longer. What it could come down to, if we lose the bees to a level where we can not sustain our food, is that people may have to put aside most pursuits in life and get to be hand pollinating a lot of our food just to survive. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s feasible, it probably comes down to a choice between either doing that, or things changing drastically on earth.

I do hope that it doesn’t come to that. But as you mentioned, the numbers are really sobering. The report you mentioned (the latest USDA survey report) says that levels are holding at rate of loss of 30% for the past few years, what does that mean?

You are correct. At least the rate of decline is not getting worse. But, even if the rate of decline continues at 30% loss of hives per year, and even if it doesn’t get any worse, it is still completely non-sustainable and it will crash the bee population.

So let’s talk about solutions. Is there anything that the Average Joe (or the not-so-average person who wants to change the world) can do to help save the bees?

Yes there are some things that can be done, and there are indications in some areas that these things are really making a difference in bringing the bees back to a healthy level. So it’s absolutely possible.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Yeah, I was too. But there ARE things we can do to help. Please come back tomorrow to read the second half of the interview, where Mark and I discuss the simple changes we can all make to help save the bees. Let's do it together - let's Do Something Good.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Go For The Pewter.

You guys are amazing. I am so glad that shoes are just as important to me as they are to the rest of you, because I was afraid of sounding shallow and vapid yesterday. But as we can all now attest to, shoes are IMPORTANT. And picking between two equally delightful pairs (losing the receipt was not an option, as some of you deviously suggested - I wish I was as bold as that!) was haaaaaard.

In the end, it came down to fit. I don't know if you can tell from yesterday's post, but the black Eccos did this funny thing where they would push my heel back and over the edge of the shoe. So weird! It wasn't too noticeable, and I'm sure I could have lived with it but the "gold" (officially colored Pewter) Borns fit like a glove. Both shoes are fabulous, and I wish I could have kept them both. But I am really glad I chose these babies (as you can tell by me oogling myself):

This post would be worthless without a close-up:

I love the color. It changes, I swear it does, depending on what you're wearing. They're officially Pewter, but yesterday they were gold and with today's outfit they are on the silvery side. I know. Nobody should be this obsessed with what their feet are wearing. 

(Shirt by Calypso St. Barth for Target. I love it and want to marry it. See? I can be obsessed with other things too!)

I wore my new sandals to Inara's T-ball practice last night (I was very moderately overdressed) to give them a bit of a break in. They did great, and I can now say that I can run in them with ease (I had to chase Nissa away from the pond many MANY times). 

Look! She Runs!

Thanks for all the help, lovelies. It was good fun. Wanna help me pick out winter boots next season? 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Major (Shoe) Dilemma.

First of all, I have to apologize for not putting out a REAL post today. But I have a very, very good reason. I was busy bringing world peace to our planet, and feeding needy children in third world countries.

Okay fine, I wasn't. But I was trying to figure out a solution to an equally dramatic (okay FINE, it isn't!) problem. And I still can't quite decide what to do about this:

A box of goodies that arrived today:

And somehow, I have to pick either these:

Or those:

You see my problem, don't you?

They're both FABULOUS. And my feet want to wear both pairs (but not at the same time), while my wallet laughs in my face, going YEAH, RIGHT, WOMAN. CHOOSE NOW OR GIVE ME YOUR FIRSTBORN (Okay, it's not really saying that. I'm in a bit of a dramatic mood today.).!!!

So...what's a girl to do?

(Real posts will return shortly, I pinky swear. Just as soon as I've figured this shoe thing out.)

(Oh, and I just noticed that my mirror is dirty and that I have sock lines on my legs. Sexy!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friends and Neighbors.

I'm not exactly sure what happened to my weekend - I feel like I blinked and just like that, it was over. It's funny how start-of-summer weekends feel this way, I think that when the weather finally turns lovely here in Rochester people want to make the most of it in every way. The only downside is that those bright moments end much too quickly.

My weekend began even before Saturday - on Thursday night I went out with two neighborhood friends (one very new, the other less so) to catch Bridesmaids at the theater. It was HILARIOUS, and I nearly spit out my special-treat-blue-and-red-mixed-slushie (The teenage boys behind the concession stand were very impressed with my choice - they even nodded sagely as they handed it over, commenting, "That's the best flavor, man". I have mad street cred with the under-eighteen slushie-loving crowd, oh yes I do.) all over myself and my poor friends on more than one occasion. If you haven't seen the movie yet, do yourself a favor and catch it if you can, but beware that there is a scene that left even this poop-joke-lovin' lady queasy. And that's all I shall say about that.

I'd been looking forward to a night out with the ladies for some time, mostly because Yousuf had been out of town for a few days earlier in the week and basically, well...he owed me. And I totally deserved it. But the one thing I enjoyed even more than the movie, was the company. There's something about going out with girlfriends that is just so rejuvenating for your spirit. We laughed, we cried (or at least I almost did, during that one scene EWWWW), and we compared notes in hushed voices. It was great, and even more so for me because I realized that after one year of living here in our new house, in our new neighborhood, I now feel that sense of belonging.

The weekend amplified the feeling on so many levels. Saturday was photo day at Inara's T-ball practice, and as she lined up to take her place (front row, right is always her place, pip-squeak that she is) I couldn't help but notice how many of our friends surrounded her. Not just casual acquaintances, but friends who care for us deeply, care for our well-being, and live right down the road, around the corner, up the hill. We have been welcomed...

...and enveloped, by an entire community. For a family that has been transient for a great number of years, it feels like we've finally come home.

Some more picture day moments of a very proud little girl and her daddy...

After every practice, I ask her, "What was your favorite part of the day?" And after every practice (and game! We play actual games!) she says, 


"...being with Coach Yousuf." 

And it makes my heart swell a little bit larger, every single time. 

Meanwhile, Nissa is just itching to do whatever big sis is doing. If she's batting, then Nissa is scrambling to pick up a too-heavy bat behind the bench. If she's fielding, Nissa wants to be out there right beside her. And if she's not too interested in playing at all, well that's just fine with Miss Issie.

Sometimes rock fishin' is just as much fun, anyway.

An interesting story: Yousuf is right-handed, but bats left. And we weren't quite sure until this year, but it turns out Inara takes after her Daddy. The photographer had her all set up to go for pictures, right-handed...

...until one of her friends piped up, "She's a LEFTY!" 

That's much better. Thanks, friend.

Saturday mornings in our neighborhood are opportunities. They're chances to catch up with a friend, spend some time with a neighbor, cheer on your children's best friends and sit back and relax, taking it all in. Unless of course, you're Nissa. Then you have to be angry about something or the other, for at least part of the day. 

Something about a hat not staying on, or something? Sometimes I forget just how difficult it is being two. Life can be really rough.

Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp...

Pout, pout, pout, pout...

...and just like a storm blowing over, it's done. Homegirl's got the drama down, that's for sure.

Later, after photos and high-fives and see you later alligators were doled out lovingly, we took a stroll around the 'hood. Turns out it was neighborhood yard sale day, which also - as it turns out - happens to be an annual event in our neighborhood to have a block party. 

Say what you will about city living, but I feel like this is community spirit at it's finest. I mean, we had just seen these people not even an hour ago at T-ball and here we all were again, strolling up and down tree-lined boulevards together, chatting as if there were never things to run out of to say. There was something new to be found on every sidewalk...

 ...and around each corner. We even found someone selling everything and the kitchen sink!

Entertaining, yes - but you know what they say about one man's trash being another man's most-prized-new-dress-up-accessory-that-I-simply-can-NOT-ever-live-without...

I'm not even sure what that thing is, to tell you the truth. And I was happy to leave it behind, if the sweet man didn't just insist that Inara take it for free. Somewhere in the midst of him refusing that we pay for it, and us insisting that we do, another new friend was made. I wondered if yard sales were more than just a stop on the never-ending journey of our possessions. Maybe they were also symbols for the circle of beginnings and endings and the relationships that are conjured up along the way...

Along with a number of seemingly random moments that just make you laugh and wonder, together.

(Hurry! We don't want to miss the Super Sabe!)

(Self-administered sobriety test. I'm guessing that she was feeling drunk on life.)

(Vintage car appropriately hauling vintage items.)

Along the way, we happened upon this sprightly young man and his lemonade stand. Okay, so maybe we didn't just happen upon him - we actually made a big to-do over going see him because his Dad told us at T-ball that he had put a great deal of effort into his set-up. And being the neighborly sort, we were happy to encourage his budding entrepreneurial spirit.

"Hey INAWA!" He called out, peering around the stand, before we even came to a halt in front of his house. "Wanna buy some of my lemonade? It's only twenty-five dollars!"

"You mean CENTS, don't you?" his father helpfully added.

"Yeah, that!" he said, beaming. So proud.

Now Inara happens to be the pickiest eater (and drinker) on the face of the planet in the history of the universe ever, and the one thing she absolutely will not even smell for fear of puking, is juice. Of any kind. 

Except for some reason, because her friend asked her to, she agreed to check it out. I was impressed by the young man's persuasive abilities. 

"Okay, I'll buy some," she said to her friend. "But I don't have any money."

(I was going to give her a quarter, but before I could offer...)

"Oh well that's okay, Inawa. You can just have this one anyway. Because you're my friend."

(This is where I started to choke back the sniffles.)

"But I should give you SOMETHING, shouldn't I?" Inara thought out loud. "Hey! I know! Put out your hand, and I'll give you a tuppence."

"A what?" Surely he had not gone into the business of lemonade stand-ing for mere tuppences, had he? "What's a tuppence?"

"It's imaginary money," Inara explained. "And you can pay for anything with it, and it costs however much you like."

I could see the cogs turning in the young man's head. If a tuppence was worth anything...well the possibilities were endless then, weren't they? What could he do with his tuppence? Anything he wanted!

"YES! I want your tuppence!" he exclaimed.

Inara smacked the imaginary tuppence into his palm, which he carefully placed inside his money box. It was a treasure, that tuppence.

And Inara, the child who thinks that the sole purpose of juice is to make her endure a slow and torturous death, drank every last drop of that lemonade while pronouncing between slurps, "This is the BEST lemonade I've ever had! And it only cost me a tuppence!"

I laughed so hard that my belly ached for hours afterward.

I love this place, this little corner of the world that we have chosen to call our own. And if it's possible to fall in love with houses and streets and all the families that live here in my 'hood, well then, I think that I'm in love with them all.  

The weekend wrapped up yesterday with me doing my first interview. I've been interviewed in the past, but I've never been the one asking questions. It was actually more fun than work, and I'd love to do it again sometime. This particular interview was with the sponsor of the next Do Something Good Giveaway, and I can't wait to tell you more about what we have in store for you. I think it's going to be tremendously special.

But for now...I'll say toodles, and hope that you had a wonderful weekend. Until next time!
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