One thing that will never become ordinary to me about living in California is the abundance of fruit trees growing everywhere. Most everyone I know has some sort of fruit growing in their yard and just this weekend as we were strolling through the neighborhood, we saw figs, persimmons and bananas all during the same walk. We have a mandarin tree in our backyard and an orange tree in the front. I knew it was going to be a bumper crop this year when the tree in back was heavy with green fruit in November. I have watched the dimpled, thick-skinned orbs slowly turn from green to orange and beg to be picked for a few months now. We were throwing around the idea of picking all of the fruit a few weeks ago and then there were the bees, and we didn't want to engross ourselves in a big project like that while there was a whole lotta swarmin' going on a few paces over.
The fruit itself is a bit too sour to eat straight but I had big plans to juice them and add a little something to sweeten it up. On Saturday, after lunch, we pulled into the driveway and rather spontaneously rolled up our sleeves and dug in. We certainly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, as we ended up with about 50 pounds (or more) of fruit. The tree was prickly too, leaving lots of scratches and dirt all up and down my arms, many times, I had the thought of getting my gloves, but I just kept motoring through. On by one, we picked each little juicy orange. I hadn't anticipated how oddly satisfying it would be to clear the tree of all of its fruit.
As you can imagine Rylie thought it quite fun, this little exercise of removing all of the apples from the tree. She prefers to call oranges apples. We've mentioned that they are actually called oranges many times, but she dances to the beat of her own drum, ya know?
Once we decided that we had harvested all of the fruit that we could possibly get from the trees, and it was about 2 hours after we started, I gathered up a big basket of oranges and went inside to get to juicing - by hand.
After several hours, and not making the slightest dent in our supply, I had filled a 4 quart pitcher. The juice is certainly bitter but we experimented with different sweetners and we added a bit of sparkling water and made a pretty refreshing drink reminiscent of Orangina. We picked up some basil yesterday and we have yet to experiment with a basil orange ade. The rest of the juice I packaged up for friends and neighbors.
After that I looked in this book for more ideas to use up all of this citrus that we now had on hand. I had brought some lemons home from Mandy's tree on Friday, so I decided to make an orange and lemon marmalade.
Somewhere around the third orange, I realized that marmalade is a pretty labor intensive venture. Once you julienne all of the zest, you then have to segment each orange away from its membrane. I plodded through, it was late, and I was to the last bit which is boiling the marmalade to get it up to 220 degrees and then Rylie woke up. I went in to lay with her for a while, thinking my marmalade would be ok to just boil away on the stove unattended (??) When I returned, the marmalade had scorched and made a giant mess out of my favorite enamled pan. It was all I could do to scoop the quickly hardening black goo into the garbage and leave the pan to soak overnight. The memory of the marmalade debacle followed me around like a black cloud all day Sunday. After a long and arduous struggle between a sponge and my blackened pan, I tried again today and this time I got through to the end.
I'm not sure how many more batches of this I have in me, like I said, it is quite laborious. After the juice and the marmalade, I have about 40 pounds of bitter oranges and mandarins left without any real plans. Any ideas about what I should do with them?
Last week I was out running errands when I received this text from my neighbor:
A swarm of bees has moved into your fusebox so please do not park in the driveway.
From her bedroom window she had seen (and heard) an entire swarm of bees searching for a home which they found in our backyard fusebox. This was the sight when I arrived home:
My neighbor also let me know about an organization of volunteer beekeepers that offers live removal of hives. I would be lying if I said I did not rack my brain thinking of any way possible for me to keep these magnificent creatures, but considering I have no equipment, a 19 month old baby, a landlord and a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to beekeeping, I thought the next best thing would be to turn them over to the experts. I called the bee rescue hotline and left a message. A volunteer named Yvonne, who lives in the area, called me back and we made arrangements for her to come to the house on Tuesday to get them. Yvonne has loads of bee knowledge and it was fascinating to pick her brain. She was so nice and patiently answered my many questions all the while she was carefully collecting, oh, about 10,000 bees.
She arrived with all of her gear and set up her smoker. The smoker is essentially a tin can with something smoking inside, you can see she was using the bellows there to really get it going. Yvonne uses small burlap bags that she gets from local coffeehouses in her smoker because they smoke for a good long while, but she let me know that anything that will smoke will work, like twigs or dead leaves. The smoke is used for two reasons, if the bees smell smoke they think there is a fire and they will fill their honeybellies. This makes them more docile and some scientists think that a bee will not sting with a full honeybelly. Secondly, when a bee is going to sting it releases a pheromone to let the other bees know that it is time to sting, the smoke helps to cover the smell of the pheromone. While she was getting herself set up, a few of the bees came over to her and were sniffing her out. One even bumped up against her, which she told me was considered a warning. They were telling her to get lost.
I was nervous enough out there myself, shooting from several feet away with my zoom lens, so I left Rylie inside to watch all of the excitement from her window. She was really interested in all of the commotion, and especially Yvonne's suit and veil.
This is how it looked when Yvonne opened the box. I asked her how many bees she thought were living inside and she said 10,000 - 15,000, which is a small hive. Hives usually average between 40,000 - 80,000 bees.
The process of collection was pretty straightforward. Yvonne had a small metal tool that she used to coax the bees from the hive and into a small box. She would then empty the small box into a larger box below. In doing this it is impossible for her to avoid disturbing the honeycomb, and in a twist of sad irony, some of the bees drowned in their own honey as a result.
This is the view inside the larger box. Yvonne knew she had gotten the queen because the bees were staying inside the box even though it was opened and because the bees were fanning their wings as if to say: Here she is! The queen is here! I learned that if more than one queen is born in a hive, they will fight to the death to determine who will be the sole queen of the hive. She then takes her one and only mating flight where she is inseminated by several male drones. The fuzzy-bodied males will die after they have mated with the queen as they have served their sole purpose in life. All of the worker bees in a hive are female. A worker bee's life span is six weeks, wereas the queen can live up to five years. I found that to be utterly amazing for an insect.
The brush was saved until the very end because the bees really hate it and they tend to fly wider and more erratic as a result.
Honey production rates vary from hive to hive. It is possible to harvest between 20 - 40 pounds of honey from a hive in the summer that was set up that spring. However, Yvonne mentioned that she acquired a hive in October of 2010 that is still not ready to harvest. The reason being that some bees produce slowly, and they also eat the honey themselves. Just depends on your bees I guess.
Once she had collected all of the bees, Yvonne taped the box securely and put a mesh screen over the holes. She was planning to deliver them to a beekeeping friend whose hive had recently absconded. There is always a chance that the bees will leave a location that they do not choose themselves.
Rylie couldn't stand inside and watch any longer, she had to come out and see what was happening. My neighbor came over and helped me keep an eye on her while I was fervently playing photojournalist. Yvonne gave Rylie a piece of the comb and she loved the soft supple feel of the wax. And we weren't the only one mesmerized by the bees.
Yvonne said the bees were very nice compared to how aggressive they could be in that sitaution. Later that night she sent me this photo of the bees in their new home. I hope they are comfortable there and love it as much as our backyard fusebox.
Please stay, little bees, please stay.
I could tell when the sun was coming up this morning that it was going to be a beautiful day. On days such as these, I am itching all through breakfast just to get outside. The three of us headed out for a short walk before Ryan left for work. I love it when we do that, when we take a moment and start the day together. The weather has been nothing short of glorious the last few weeks, far nicer than our weather last summer. Really. By the time we returned from our walk it was hot. Not warm, or temperate, but hot. Rylie was in no way ready to head into the house, so we had some fun with a little bit of water. I gave all of our plants and fruit trees a drink. When Rylie tired of helping me, she made a small puddle in the yard and had a grand time running back and forth. She has three words for water that she uses quite specifically. Wa wa is for drinking water. Splash is for the bath and wash is for fountains, bodies of water and puddles (the latter she let me know just today.) Strange that just yesterday we were all about warm and cozy sweaters and today it is sunny water play.
I have noticed all the signs of spring so many weeks early this year. The birds are visiting our feeders, the few trees around these parts that do lose their leaves have buds already, and I spot flowering trees every time we are out. One of these days I will remember my clippers and get a cutting or two. I love the sunshine and it is hard to complain about an 80 degree day in February, but I hope that the farmer's are holding up ok with the drought. I worry about that. And I worry about what these strange weather patterns may mean in the larger context of the natural world. I know that most of the country has been experiencing above average temperatures this year, I just hope it is all cyclical and will balance out. I have faith in the wisdom of nature and hope that these weather patterns are not man made. I was on the phone with my mom the other day and she told me they had a thunderstorm one night last month. A January thunderstorm in Michigan? One thing I do know for sure is that is bizarre. And my sister (also in Michigan) said it has been in the 60s. Is it really February?
I'm not sure if I have mentioned it here before, but my family and I dedicate one weekend a month to what we call Soul Weekend. The only rule for Soul Weekend is that there are no plans made in advance. We do what comes natural and at our own pace. We listen to, and assess, our individual needs and we go from there. We started Soul Weekending when we noticed with increased frequency that life was just zipping right past and large chunks of time just seemed to disappear. I have to admit that I experience a fair deal of anxiety when well meaning friends, relatives, strangers even, see that we are new parents and let us know that kids grow up fast. They urge us to really make sure we enjoy every minute. We do our best to live in each moment and to be fully present, aware, open. But we wanted to be even more intentional and deliberate about it and that spurred the advent of Soul Weekend. I was inspired while reading this book in which the author talks about clearing the calendar and halting activities outside the house when his children come down with what he calls a soul fever. The way he defines a soul fever is essentially not feeling your best on an emotional level.
Our Soul Weekends have quickly become very special and highly anticipated around here. After finishing a major project on Thursday, Ryan took Friday off work and we decided to dedicate all three days as a Soul Weekend mostly because we did not take one in December. And then something magnificent happened. When Ryan got home on Thursday, he realized that he also had Monday off for the holiday! We were blessed and pleasantly surprised with four days. Heaven sent, I tell you.
So here is what we did. On Friday, Ryan made breakfast tacos and we putzed around the house. We had lunch in Hollywood and a delicious cup of coffee here. While we were there, we put some Christmas gift cards to good use and bought a single ceramic filter to make pour over coffee at home. Some mornings you just can not commit to an entire pot in the Chemex. Later we went to Menchies and kicked around a ball in a nearby park. For dinner we ordered Thai and watched Fantastic Mr. Fox. I finished knitting Rylie's sweater and dug right in with the seaming.
On Saturday we worked on individual projects the whole day. I'll show you mine tomorrow. We took a stroll around the neighborhood after dark which is so fun to do sometimes to change things up.
On Sunday we went to the Long Beach Flea Market and I bought all kinds of fun little gadgets for some upcoming art projects that I have planned for Rylie and I. On the way home, we discovered a whole new pocket of our town that we never realized existed, it was thrilling and we schemed up ways in which we could move into the new (to us) neighborhood. Later on, after Rylie was asleep, Ryan and I played game after game of Yahtzee, maybe seven in total. It has been so long since we pulled that game out.
And today, we went out for breakfast at a great little dive-y diner called Dinah's. Afterwards, it was such a pretty day that we headed for the beach and walked out on the rocks (I'd never done that before and that is what Soul Weekend is all about). After that we took a ride up the PCH through Malibu while Rylie snoozed in the car. We stopped at a little organic farm nestled next to the Ocean and bought some of our favorite balsamic lemonade. We stopped for snacks at a tiny Mexican cantina. This is the same place we went on the day were engaged, remember that? At this point you may be thinking that Soul Weekend sounds a lot like food weekend, and you would be right.
It has been a wonderful four days and much needed after all of the activity of the holidays and then several days (weeks) of all of us being sick. It is pure bliss - no schedule, no time constraints - just being. As our hearts dictate. At the end of Soul Weekend Ryan always asks; when do we get to have our soul life? We're working on it - we are working on it.
As we start to feel a wee bit better around here, Rylie and I found it very necessary to break free from the walls and halls of our home and get out of doors. For the last couple of afternoons, we did just that.
Yesterday we went to a nearby park that has a slatted wood foot ramp that leads to the top of a mountain. I followed behind as Rylie got to exploring. She found some sticks and acorns, climbed up hills and on top of rocks, and then we set off on the ramp.
We were cruising along until Rylie spotted some very interesting seed pods stuck in between the slats.
Today we set off on another adventure, this time to Temescal Gateway Park. We played for a few hours in the scenic fields and meadows.
We brought Rylie to this park when she was just 3 months old and took her photo in this very tree stump.
It kind of blows my mind how restorative a few moments outside can be. When things start to feel a bit overwhelming, I know that means it is time to get on our shoes and head outside. Most days we stroll through the neighborhood or to the fountain downtown. We have been inside most days these last few weeks because we have all been quite under the weather. Speaking of the weather, it was downright hot today at about 76 degrees, so there was no way we could stay inside another day.
Rylie is an amazing adventurer; she loves to feel, smell, hear (and sometimes taste) all that is going on around her. She points out the birdies and squirrels. She climbs up hills and on top of tree stumps without hesitation and she collects acorns, rocks, sticks and seeds. I am so grateful for the ways in which she shows me how to open my eyes and to see what is around me again as though it is for the first time. I am inspired by how she lives in the moment and is truly here now; she reminds me to continually breath and to be present. She is not thinking about what to make for dinner or how she wishes she would have said something different or that we need groceries and the sink is full of dishes. Instead, she leads me out and away from that stuff. That stuff never ends, never goes away - those dirty dishes will eat up my whole day if I let them. To go out in nature and to just be with Rylie, to follow her around and to just be there . . . well, that fills my heart with gladness and lots and lots of peace.
I am convinced that something marvelous happens when you head for the mountains. Energy shifts, the universe aligns, and it's as if the climb in altitude directly affects the odds of magic showing up. When I was all of 19, I took a road trip from Michigan to California with some friends. In Denver, we climbed into the Rockies and we were sitting along a stream in the middle of the night when a very kind man came along and played a flute for us by moonlight. He never said a word, just stopped, played and moved on - mysterious as it was wonderful. Another time, at our wedding in the mounrains above Malibu, I know it was nothing short of the dreamy location that got my dad onto the dance floor. My dad! Before that day, I had never seen him on a dance floor in my entire life.
My conviction of mountains equaling magic was made all the more strong this past weekend when we headed up to Pine Mountain Club in the Los Padres National Forest to ring in the New Year with another very special family. As we were making our way up the hill, I knew that the weekend was going to be lovely. Mandy, Griff & Fauna have so quickly endeared themselves to us. We are so similar it is shocking sometimes. We joked about this as we both showed up to our cabin rental with almost the exact same groceries. But we are different too, in complimentary ways. Like I am kind of a quiet introvert, and Mandy is one of the most extroverted people I have ever met. Best of all though, we are young families at the same place in life - likeminded and on the same wavelength. And our girls. Or girls seem like sisters. They are both calm, and even tempered, just nine months apart.
When we were not hiking, eating, or hot tubbing, we were dreaming together, brainstorming, talking and tossing around ideas. It was refreshing to bond deeper with such genuine and inspiring folk. We got to know them better, to dig deeper. I was touched when Mandy showed up with a birthday cake for me and though we went up for snow, it was so warm, we were able to have our New Year's breakfast al fresco. After three full days in cozy quarters, I left with nothing but joy and gratitude in my heart. There is magic in those mountains, I tell you. They bring people together and encourage kinship. I could not think of a nicer way to ring in a new year and it has inspired me to set an intention of meaningful connection for the coming year.
We love you guys.
I am from up North. Me and snow, we have a history - a long and storied past. Growing up, nothing compared to the very first time those white flakes would fall from the sky. It was incredible, a miracle, really. How can something so delicate, be so immobolizing, destructive, and, well, cold? It would show up around the same time year in and year out, but for me, the magic of the first snow never became ordinary. After the storm, my mom would lug a big cardboard box up the stairs from the basement. There was one word scrawled across the side in Sharpie: Winter, but it might as well have read Nylon because that box was full of the stuff. I put on layer after layer, pulled my knit hat down over my ears so far it was grazing my eyelashes, and wound a striped scarf tightly around my neck, mouth and nose. I ran clumsily towards the door and out to be greeted by a sting of cold air. Within minutes, my scarf was scratchy and soaked with hot breath, so I ripped it off, leaving it behind as a stream of color in an endless white landscape.
Some days the snow was waist deep and I would pick my legs up high under the resistance of all of that frozen water. It was like walking through sand dunes, or maybe something equally resistant but more wet, like Jello. Our backyard had a sizeable hill and all of the neighborhood kids would bring their sleds over. We would slide down over and over again for hours. Going solo, or sometimes with three of us piled high. Despite our best efforts to avoid chaos, someone would always crash. Always. Perhaps the most treacherous obstacle was the creek that ran through the backyard at the bottom of the hill. Inevitably the fun would come to a screeching hault after one of us slid full speed, straight into the creek. Soaking wet and freezing cold, we ran to the house crying and begging mom for hot chocolate, which she always delivered.
Last night, we took an evening stroll around the neigborhood and admired all of the beautiful lights that are in full abundance right now at the height of the season. A harvest of sorts. As we walked along, I thought about the excitement and warmth that would fill my body after school when I shuffled up the freshly plowed driveway and spotted the lit Christmas tree. Trembling cold in the gray fade of the late afternoon, I knew that once inside I would be warm and there would be snacks and tv and that tree. Oh, that tree, and what it meant in the days to come.
Recently, a nearby park here in LA covered one patch of a small hill with snow on a bright and sunny morning. The kids in the neighborhood came out in droves with all manner of creative sledding apparatus. I saw the plastic piece from underneath the dish drying rack, laundry baskets and cardboard contraptions - some crude, some sophisticated. When you live in this climate, your garage is not readily stocked with sleds, snow shovels or skis, as ours was back in Michigan. It made my heart glad to see kids wearing cropped pants and sneakers while playing in the snow. The laughter and smiles were abundant, as well as the snowball fights and speedy collisions.
Reflecting upon snow seems especially poignant when we are just a few short days away from Christmas. I have grown used to not having snow on the ground, but that does not keep me from dreaming of a white Christmas year after year.