Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not so Abandoned Albertsons

View from below

     So the county bought this bowling alley and failed Albertson's with great notions of turning them into a community center.  Unfortunately, as seems to happen with increasing frequency, funding disappeared and the county merely maintains the property.  We have been to several of these properties since the bees in their industrious ways, take advantage of the lack of human activity to move in and make tremendous hives.  Such was the case with this Albertson’s. 
     On first inspection, I hoped that we could approach the hive from the inside, through sheetrock with minimal ladder work.  As it turned out, however, the bees were too far up inside the wall, behind massive, load-bearing beams for us to access easily.  So, in lieu of scaffolding, which wouldn’t fit in the narrow pathway below the wall, Joey mounted the 30’ ladder.  Luckily, Jose, the county worker assigned to accompany us on the job, had a harness for Joey that we anchored to the roof with one end of the rope while using the other end to heave a bucket for tools and, eventually, bees. 
View from roof
     The building was constructed in 1946 so the siding was massive thick redwood boards.  Between Joey on the ladder and me on the roof, we exposed the hive.  It filled one wide 16” bay from the roof down to a foot about the window (approximately 4’ in length and 8” in depth).  A very thriving hive.  Starting from the bottom, Joey sliced off comb and passed it up in the bucket to me on the roof where, if I could use it, I fit it into frames and secured it with rubber bands (the bees remove them with ease within days).  When he came in passing range, he began scooping bees in a cup to pour over the brood frames I secured.  At the top of the hive was mostly honey which, though tasty, is a death trap for the bees once it starts flowing.  It gets all over tools, suits… everything, and the poor bees can’t fly when they’re covered in it.  It’s definitely my least favorite part.  We filled two five gallon buckets with the comb and bees were everywhere cleaning it up.  We scraped the bay as clean as we could and anchored the new box/home in place so the bees could move in.  As long as yellow jackets don’t clue in and slaughter everyone, the bees do an excellent clean up job if left to it.  
     The next day, they were still wandering aimlessly, like they’d lost focus (their queen).  Given the awkward circumstances, it's difficult to locate and avoid harming the queen.  We stuffed sheets all around the hive to prevent her from running to another, even more inconvenient, location.  But she may have flown off, or been crushed in honey.  Luckily, we were planning on combining this hive with one of our small hives that would otherwise not make it through the winter so we had a queen to spare.  I captured her in an aerated cottage cheese cup (I tried to put her in a proper queen cage but she kept curling up in resistance!).  We were concerned that the bees might, in their riled up state, attack and kill her, but she walked in the front entrance to a welcoming hum.  When we checked back again, they had returned to their regular, focused, behavior.

Me on the roof, Jose in room below
Removing last comb

     Finally, we returned Saturday morning to remove them to our apiary.  They were cooperatively all inside the box, the walls were honey free, and, aside from Joey having a bout of vertigo that had him puking and me going up and down the ladder, all went smoothly.  We have another booming Sonoma County hive in our apiary.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rooster Crooning

We’re on our third summer of chickens, and second batch of chicks.  This time one of the hens is not.  We wanted an all-hen flock to stay on the good side of the neighbors (and our weekend sleep).  But sexual politics among chickens turns out to be not so simple.    A hen in the first batch developed spurs and made teenage-voice-cracking attempts of crows at random hours.  Most of the hens hopped on top of each other in some imitation of sex, but now we have the real deal.  The surprised squawk of mounted chickens exclaims the day.  Supposedly, the presence of a rooster will tame the viciousness of the pecking order, which I’m sure the two balding hens appreciate.  Though his spurs are only just starting to emerge as little wart-like growths on his legs, his neck and tail feathers have grown long and luxurious, which I imagine him flaunting Fabio-style.  His comb is bigger and redder than the rest.  And this week he began to crow.  It sounds like a young girls’ giggle, a double-syllabled coo, still unsure and timid.  But he is taller than the rest and always in the forefront.  Maybe his song will strengthen when his flock sisters begin to lay and thus provide evidence of his prowess.  The old ladies’ egg production is down to a trickle while the young ones are just figuring out what the boxes  are for ( seems we should have gotten a new batch of chicks EACH spring rather than skipping one).
     For our 13-year anniversary, we bought ourselves a painting of a glorious rooster by Trumbly.  On it is written, “He dreamt of a land where roosters ruled and magnolias never ceased to bloom”. 

I hope our rooster has such notions….

Friday, September 7, 2012


Whenever I come back from a trip or a several-day throwing and trimming session, I sit down to paint a set of dragons. I twirl their tails, pin them under their toes, wedge them in their teeth. The claws are in my muscle memory, the scales train my wrist in a uniform motion, the wings are exercises in straight lines. When they are complete, I have a tray of dragons proudly egging me onward: praise to the childhood fascination with myth that keeps the human story just slightly undefined. It is impossible to draw an inaccurate dragon since none such ever existed, but there are some traditions of form that we cling to: the wings must protrude somewhere along a shoulder blade. The creases have to occur the way a lizard's leg would, and the angles of the limbs can't be more absurd than that of a frog's. 
     There is a fear of exposing myself as a D&D-playing, fantasy-consumed, nerd. But, then, if those are the experiences that gave me pleasure, what is there to be ashamed about? I embraced that feeling of promise with the various shaped dice in my palm, while my older cousin intoned, "Have a look, have a listen" and the result of the dice would decide whether or not I was aware of the Balrog waiting to attack behind the corner of his graph paper labyrinth. 
     Formative moments of imagination include dragons. Of course there were fairies too, but they were too timid to be seen. The mighty dragon, however, isn't shy. I've had a picture by Mercer Meyer of a girl and her dragon above my bed since I was 10. (From a book of Unicorns). I never liked the unicorn, especially as it seems to be taking pride in the dragon's demise. I always thought they were prissy, unicorns. But I loved the liquid drop of dream that oozes into the real world (and the nod to the Cheshire Cat, of course).
"Amanda Dreams of Dragons", Mercer Meyer
     Everyone has a story about a dragon, or how they gain strength from the idea of them. So I make big, hearty, dragon mugs to usher in a more powerful day, full to overflowing with unknowns and imagination

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A friend emailed me this photo and I completely fell in love with the concept.  So I made my own version, and added high-fiving divers to my scuba repertoire.  They make me smile.  And keep the whale-human scale in perspective.  
  At the Gaia Festival, I met a bioacoutistician  who studies the effect of sound on animals.  The ones getting the most attention these days are the disoriented and beached whales due to shipping noise and Navy testing. As a side note, he mentioned that octopuses can apparently hear but don't react to sound.  I glibly commented that the fish weren't exactly barking their presence for an octopus to notice, and he told me that actually, they do.  In addition to his research, he has recordings of them doing so on his website:  Check it out.

The jug in the center is one of my newest examples of the bedside water jug/wine carafe with cup:
 Hope you like it....

Friday, June 8, 2012


Bluebird Sanctuary 
   Every time I see a bluebird, I feel I've glimpsed a fairy.  Their brilliant blue is only apparent from just the right angle making you doubt its existence.  They represent the ideal Bird: pretty, dainty, chirpy, chubby, and responsive to bird houses .  Their call is described as:  "cheer, cheer, cheerful, charmer " (hear it:
     Apparently, they never build their own homes but have to find a hole in a tree, or a bird house (given the right dimensions) and make a nest inside.  What with human invasion of all spaces, their habitat is dwindling, which makes their inclination towards birdhouses so rewarding. One property on the way to our usual beach destination has about 6 houses that are regularly inhabited. Turns out that the boxes should have holes for drainage/ventilation and should be cleaned after each brood to prevent the spread of diseases.  
Drainage holes
Mounted to pole with foam tape and zip ties
     They prefer open grassland, so my test site of our small clearing in the woods will probably not yield new bird neighbors (and it's too close to one of their main dietary preferences, our bees).  I just had to get a photo shoot in and make sure that the mounting apparatus would hold it firmly.  Joey's welding studio in Graton has verified bluebirds, so the box will be heading there next (and photos will follow when the birds move in!).
Anyway, keeping me inspired.  Here's the latest serving tray with removable nest:

Friday, May 18, 2012


David S.

“We aren't just AmeriCorps, it's AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps)
We don't "work" we serve.
And we aren't volunteers, we are Corps Members.” – David S.

     David called us to arrange bee removal from an historic building in Camp Meeker where he was serving as an AmeriCorps member. He greeted us enthusiastically in his own duct-taped beekeeping suit along with another member and generously assisted us with the scaffolding and unloading of tools. David stayed involved through the entire extraction, taking pictures and asking 
The hive exposed
questions. His excitement was contagious. On the final trip, Joey was greeted by most of the AmeriCorps team who scraped wax from the removed wood siding, painted it to mask the scent, helped tear down and remove the scaffolding, and enabled him in every way. The willingness to participate and serve was inspiring, as was the genuine team spirit. I wish I’d known more about this program while I was still teaching high school. I would have recommended it to everyone.

Removing Comb
     Unlike Peace Corps (which I readily endorse with just a few caveats, but which requires a college degree and a lack of debt outside school loans), AmeriCorps is open to any young adult. It offers “a full-time residential program for men and women, ages 18-24, that strengthens communities while developing leaders through direct, team-based national and community service”. In Camp Meeker, the team was fire clearing and pursuing projects to make the camp run more efficiently and safely. The assignments offered by AmeriCorps generally are 9-12 months long, within the U.S. and provide a small stipend along with aid with student loans. It provides a transition period for that in-between time, between college and career, high school and college, high school and life- that important formative time when you really need an opportunity to step back and figure out what you might want to do with your time and skills. Youths in other countries call this the “Gap year” and I think this is an intelligent way to embrace it while simultaneously encouraging the notion of service, of belonging to a greater whole, rather than immediately grinding your idealism down in the pursuit of financial stability. It seems particularly important now when there is so much anxiety surrounding the economic recession and apparent lack of individual power. Through volunteerism like this, it is remarkable to experience how much you can accomplish when you have a will, and teamwork, to do it. It is an opportunity for your dreamy idealism to become reality, or at least provide some space for you to figure out just how that might occur.
Attaching comb to frames for the bees new home

     I joined the Peace Corps with my husband, Joey, to do just that- find some way in which I could justify my carbon footprint, a way to give back. I learned beekeeping and, amongst my fellow volunteers and people in my community, met the most phenomenal people. Certainly the greatest beneficiaries of programs like these are not necessarily the communities that they initially serve, (though we did leave behind a beautiful hand-dug well in our town) but the communities that they return home to, inspired and empowered by their experience. I did not change the town I served, but I came back and started a bee-rescuing business in Sonoma County. I was able to learn, on more than a tourist basis, how Americans are perceived in other parts of the world and take some responsibility for that. I have not saved the planet, but I have a better grasp on what I can change. I believe that we would have a kinder more proactive nation of engaged citizens if we all could experience some form of volunteerism like this.

So here’s the website, if you are or know someone who might benefit from this, please pass it on:  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Viva Ceramica!

May 5, 2012  
A cracked plate becomes an entry greeter
As a potter, I am extremely aware of the energy and permanence involved in ceramics.  The stuff lasts!  I have taken to breaking up flawed pots and turning them into either mosaics (see stair project on previous blog) or mulch.  The softened shards keep the weeds down, the moisture in, and disincline some slimy creatures from traversing over them to eat my lovely plants.
   As we are adding new terraces to our garden, I went to Lytton Springs, our Salvation Army outlet, to seek mulch.  In one hunt, I filled two shopping carts full of pottery: some rejected, thick-walled, beginner projects, broken terra cotta planters, platters,  bowls from stores where you decorate them and they fire it for you (my favorite with “Please sir, may I have some more?” on the bottom), tiles, teapots, and coffee mugs aplenty.  This is the last stop before the dump; an homage to our mindless consumerism.  The items that end up here have made the rounds through the stores, been rejected again and ended up in The Bins, where people scrabble through them (breaking more pottery in said scrabble) to find treasures worthy (or not) or eBay.  I love hunting here.  I imagine I’m rescuing orphans, trying to come up with some better reuse destiny than landfill.
    After paying up (minimally), I filled the car and clanked my way home.  Once there, I proceeded to enjoy the satisfying and therapeutic smashing of the pots into 5-gallon buckets (with gloves and glasses on!).  My quest resulted in 7 buckets worth which I then trucked down to the cement mixer.  It makes a horrendous rattle and smash with a bucket of pottery even with the dampening effect of the water, so we have to time to tumbling to annoy the fewest people.  The terra cotta, being low fired, melts like butter quickly and makes a red slush if you leave it too long (1 hour is more than enough for them).  Stoneware takes longer (2-4 hours), as does glass, which I only occasionally do because its missiles are vicious.  Then I spread a generous layer over the ground, keeping aside some choice pieces for visible locations. 

Ahab, the rescued peg-legged dinosaur who walks and growls now.
Not all my salvages are reasonable and green-minded,
sometimes I'm just silly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Later the same week, another swarm showed up on the same tree in Forestville.  This time I brought my veil.  When I climbed up on the ladder to shake the hive into my box, half the swarm landed on my shirt.  And under it.  I could feel the lovely heat of the mass against my skin and the tickle of clinging feet.  I lift the edge of my shirt to provide a bridge to the entrance of the box. They strolled in, lining up at the entrance fanning their enthusiasm and (I hope) appreciation of the new home.
   Then, as it seems to be true that the chickens do get tired of laying so productively after two years, we had to buy some new baby replacements:
  Their heated brood box is just outside our bedroom so we can hear them cheeping all day and night.  Flowers and life are blooming.

 Dalziel (our cat) and Joey (husband) keep watch too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

First Spring Swarm

   It's a Where's Waldo kind of location, blending in with the tree, but a lovely foot plus in length and about 8 inches in diameter.  They are a swarm from a wild hive in Forestville so they are already adapted to our home environment.  We ride out there early and eager, set up our ladder under the swarm, no veils, and start pruning the branches.  We are out of practice.  The clump falls, the bees get mad, we get stung.  Bees are crawling inside my clothes and up my cleavage.  But we convince them that our box is a better home.  We had to leave it there all day to let them move in, but judging from the eager bee butts in the air, that shouldn't be a problem.  I just have to bring down the swelling on my eye.  We'll remember how we do this next swarm

Here they are moving into our box:

I am cyclops.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Over the Holiday season, my sister and her kids came to visit .  One sunny visit to the beach, amidst spewing geoducks ("gooey ducks"), nudibranchs, and sea slugs, we found a beautiful baby octopus!  She let us play with her for a while, nibbled my hand with her beak, oozed and slithered.  Finally she had enough and squirted ink in her pool so we left her alone.  It was an honor.  To begin the new year, before throwing new pots, I made use of some seconds: tiles, platters, plates, etc. and laid them out as mosaic risers for the stairs in our house.  Some alterations are planned, but here, essentially, is the run of risers for our stairway.  It's promising to be a good year.