Archive for the ‘Clippings’ Category

About That Bee Book

May 13, 2009 @ 8:04 pm | Filed under: , , , ,


As you know, I’ve had bees on my mind for weeks. I keep talking about Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, the book about bee colony collapse written by my former grad-school classmate, Rowan Jacobsen.

How much have you read about bee colony collapse?

I knew the honeybee’s numbers were declining. I remember hearing the wacky cell phone theory several years back, and that was laughed out of the news, and since then I’ve just heard ominous mutterings now and then about the bees disappearing and nobody knows why.

But I didn’t know the half of it.

I didn’t know, for example, that nowadays U.S. beekeepers earn most of their income—far more than they earn selling honey—trucking their hives around the country to pollinate crops. Somehow this gobsmacks me. We are dependent on migrant worker bees for the produce we grow in this country.

I definitely didn’t know that in the winter of 2006/2007, huge numbers of these hives began to die, and no one is sure exactly why. There are theories, which is a lot of what Rowan’s book is about: an in-depth and thoughtful exploration of what could possibly be causing the collapse of our bee colonies.

As I said above, when I heard about “the disappearance of the honeybee” I thought it meant declining numbers. Pesticides, I assumed (and indeed that seems to be a major factor). What I didn’t get was that bees literally disappeared. The hives died because the forager bees flew out and didn’t fly back home. There are diseases and pests that kill bees, and you find dead bees in and around the hive. (That’s happening too, in horrifying numbers.) But in other cases, the bees just up and disappeared. One possible explanation, Rowan learned, is a kind of disorientation and memory loss known to be a symptom of neurological damage caused by certain pesticides. It’s possible the bees are suffering from something like bee Alzheimer’s due to exposure to toxins meant to kill other insects. They fly off to work and can’t find their way back home. And in other hives, there are bees carrying every bee disease, fungus, and pest known to afflict the honeybee world—all at once. It’s as if their immune systems have been decimated (possible cause: the catastrophic wave of varroa mite infestation that arrived in this country a few years back and is a terrible scourge in many parts of the world right now), leaving them susceptible to other illnesses.

And it isn’t just the honeybees: we know a lot about the decline in their numbers because they are domesticated bees, owned by devoted beekeepers who know exactly how many hives they have lost to varroa and bee colony collapse. No one has good numbers on all the other pollinating insects out there, except it seems clear honeybees aren’t the only pollinators in decline. Did you know vanilla beans are hand-pollinated by humans? The insect pollinator has been wiped out.

beepincushionObviously Fruitless Fall made a big impact on me. Shook me up; Jane too. The funny thing is, at the very same time that it was scaring the pants off me (a world short on pollinators is a scary, scary concept), it was filling me with wonder and delight. I know that sounds impossible. It’s the way Rowan looks so closely, with humor, warmth, and affection, at this ordinary (extraordinary!) creature, the honeybee. It reminded me of the John Stilgoe book I kept raving about last year, Outside Lies Magic. Remember that one? What Stilgoe did for me with power lines and telephone poles, Rowan Jacobsen did for me with bees and honey and even figs. The early chapters describing life in a beehive and the life cycle of the bee were so engaging that I read them aloud to 8-year-old Beanie, who was captivated. Jane (almost 14) has read the book at least three times now. She begged me to order Rowan’s book on chocolate—along with our very own copy of Fruitless Fall. Which is a good thing, because I find myself wanting to thrust the book at everyone I talk to. It’s that kind of book.

Comic-Con Recovery Time: Four Days

July 31, 2008 @ 7:53 am | Filed under: , , , ,

And I was only there for half of it.

Whew. As has always been my comic book convention experience, the weekend was exhausting but sooo much fun. That it fell on this particular weekend was a bummer, though, because a bunch of my girlfriends were at an entirely different conference on the other side of the country, and I (sob) could not be in two places at once.

Looking at all the beautiful pictures from the FCL Conference gave me such a smile, because talk about a study in contrasts! Here’s what their weekend looked like.

Here’s what mine looked like.

Scott had to work at the con Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend. My mother arrived bright and early Saturday morning, and I brought her home from the airport, gave her a hug, and abandoned her with the children for the next two days. More or less.

On Saturday, while Scott worked at the WildStorm booth and did portfolio review and all that editor stuff they pay him for, I strolled up and down the convention center taking in the sights. There is always a lot to take in.

View from the DC Comics green room.

Saw eye to eye, Yoda and I did.

After a while, you’ve seen so much it all becomes a blur.

Sometimes you just need to sit down and take a little breather.

Fortunately, Scott got a late lunch break just in time for us to hook up with our beloved (and gorgeous) college friend Kristen, her husband Vinny, and Vinny’s Attack of the Show co-producer, Joshua. We survived the cattle crossing that is the big intersection right outside the convention center

and wandered into the Gaslamp District in search of a good place to eat.

Speaking of cattle crossings, we passed these characters just hanging out on a streetcorner.

Rumor has it they were a promo for the TV show Fringe.

The restaurant that boasted of having award-winning meatloaf had a 45-minute wait, so hmph to them. We found ourselves at Fred’s Mexican Cafe, and oh my goodness. The complimentary chips and salsa were so good they nearly made us weep.

Kristen took this picture of me basking in post-salsa contentment.

She also got much better Comic-Con pix than I did.

After stuffing ourselves with cajun shrimp tacos (oh. my. goodness.) and carnitas burritos, we waddled back down the street toward the Con. OK, I waddled. Scott had to dash ahead to get back for booth duty. Kristen and I took our time. We passed Joss Whedon on the street. Kristen greeted him with what is now my favorite greeting ever. (“Hey, Joss Whedon! Yay!”) He grinned. Then we reached Kristen’s hotel and said a weepy goodbye. L.A. is just too dang far away. At least, as the car drives.

Back to the Con for me, where I visited artist friends until Scott was finished at the booth. Tim Sale shook his head in amazement at the news that we are expecting again. I told him we figure there won’t be any Social Security by the time we’re old enough to draw it, so we’re making sure we have plenty of children around to take care of us. He said, “Good point. It’ll be an agrarian society by then anyway, so you’ll need all those kids to work the farm.” Ha.

It was around that time that I had a little bag crisis. The bag I’d brought with me (this delicious creation by Beauty That Moves) turned out to be just a leetle too small for the event. My camera was perched too near the top, just begging to be snatched. What choice did I have? There was this booth full of big ole bags with zippers, and one of them was lime green. Seriously, what choice did I have. OK. I admit it. I have a little problem when it comes to bags. In fact, just minutes later when my husband was introducing me to one of his favorite writers in the comics industry (Kelley Puckett, whom I’ve been hearing about—and reading—for fifteen years, but somehow had never met until this weekend!), he broke off in mid-sentence and said, “Hey, is that a new bag?” I said, “Hmm? What?” And he turned to Kelley and said, “My wife has only two flaws.” (He’s wrong about that, but it was sweet.) “Number one: her ridiculous affection for me. Number two: her compulsion for bags.” I can’t deny it. I am so thrifty and purchase-cautious when it comes to clothes and furniture and household items and pretty much everything except books and handbags. I mean, it’s not like I buy a bag a month or anything like that. But three or four a year, yeah, maybe. It’s a quest, see, for the perfect bag. As pretty as this one but with lots of pockets and a sturdy bottom and some kind of inherent magic that will make me always be able to locate my keys when I need to. That kind of bag.

But I digress.

Our Saturday evening wrapped up with what is for me the best part of a comic book convention. We wound up in the Hyatt bar eating appetizers and drinking beer (ginger ale for me) with a group of writers and artists. I love this, the jovial camaraderie and stimulating discussion of a community of creative colleagues. Our Barcelona pal Andy Diggle was there (but no Jock, alas), and Kelley Puckett joined us, and Fiona Staples (Scott’s artist on Jack Hawksmoor), and a bunch of WildStorm people, and assorted other folks wandering in and out. We stayed up talking too late and dragged ourselves home well past midnight.

And then poor Scott had to start all over at 9 a.m. on Sunday. I lingered at home, took the girls to Mass, played with my little ones. I didn’t want to take a second car into the convention-center madness, so I parked at the trolley station near our house and took the orange line downtown. And what an interesting trolley ride that was. I Twittered the experience (scroll down to “waiting for the trolley” and read upwards) and was probably lucky the Loud Girl didn’t know I was recording her rantings for all the internet to see. I told Scott you know it’s been a freaky train ride when it’s a relief to get back to all the nice, sane people at Comic-Con.

Like these guys.

I am proud to say I bought no bags on Sunday (although the blue soldier guy’s messenger bag up there is kind of cute, isn’t it). I took in the sights and drank free DC Comics cranberry juice and met more nice artists and attended the WildStorm panel. And then it was back to the Hyatt for more food & fun with Fiona and Andy (but no Kelley this time) and Mike Costa and Neil Googe and other engaging, talented folks. Scott, Mike, Andy, and I spent a good three hours talking about the nature of story. That, my friends, is why I go to comic conventions.

Later we stopped by a party hosted by Mark Buckingham, Bill Willingham, and Matt Sturges, but I was too tired to stay long. My obliging hubby took me home where I snuggled up next to my baby who is no longer a baby and dreamed about absolutely nothing, because I was that wiped out.

Cottage (Garden) Industry?

January 3, 2008 @ 10:54 am | Filed under:

A business model that never took off: Backyard Frog Raising, circa 1934.

No frog farmer need search for a market, his crop is virtually all sold before it is raised. I could sell one hundred times my present production in a single week, and am expanding my ponds so, eventually, I expect to have 1000 acres utilized solely for giant bullfrog culture. I sell tadpoles at five to ten cents each by the hundred. They are used to stock farms and for aquarium purposes.

Bullfrogs, that cost me less than one cent per year to feed, wholesale at $3.00 per dozen in large quantities. Smaller frogs, of which only the legs are used, sell for as high as seventy cents per pound. Each frog gives a pound of delicious white meat that has a taste similar to a tender, juicy squab. The whole frog is used, the front quarter being just as delicious as the legs.

Our old neighborhood in Virginia had a thriving frog population. Springtime walks were sometimes a gruesome affair, wheeling the stroller around poor little squashed frogs, dozens and dozens of them, a battlefield in which the victory had gone to the cars. The kids rescued legions of froglings from the swimming pool filters. I still shudder at the memory. I guess we lacked the entrepreneurial vision that could have made us a fortune in frog legs. I wonder if this fellow made his million? I wonder if his retirement was haunted by visions of frogs who’d been dispatched thusly:

When ready for marketing, the frogs are caught at night by blinding
them with a search light. When the catcher gets a frog he puts it into
a burlap sack with others. They are then put into small pens awaiting
the dresser who grabs them by their rear legs and pierces the head with
a nail by a downward stroke of the hand. The entrails are removed and
the frog is ready for shipment in barrels of cracked ice.


Ooh, but it occurs to me: what an excellent book character this gentleman would make, the backyard frog farmer. His children, roused from bed on ‘harvest night’ to hold the blinding flashlights and burlap sacks. His wife, an experimental cook, handwriting recipes on little cards to include with customers’ purchases: 101 ways to serve frog legs. Frog stew, frog friccasee, frog fritters, frogs-and-dumplings. French fried frog legs. Frog, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches in the children’s school lunches.

Scott found the link at BoingBoing, of course.

For the Commonplace Book: The Hidden Art of Homemaking

December 30, 2007 @ 9:27 am | Filed under: , , ,


"On the route to Aigle from Ollon, where we live in Switzerland, one passes an orchard. Neatly planted rows of trees are beautifully pruned and trained to form straight aisles for fruit-picking, with a grassy carpet beneath. But the thing which causes most passersby to turn and look, and look again, slowing up the car if they are driving, is the touch of an artist indeed. Planted at the end of every row of trees is a lovely rose bush, and in midsummer these bushes are a riot of color in a variety of roses. There is just one rose bush at the end of each line, but this is enough to lift the entire work, which could be merely efficient fruit-farming, into a work of art, enjoyed by hundreds who pass each day—bringing influence into lives as well as being a subject of discussion, and bringing about, in other gardens, results of which the ‘artist’ may never know."

—The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer

How I Wish I Hadn’t Just Eaten that Bag of Skittles

August 9, 2006 @ 6:55 pm | Filed under:

It’s not like I didn’t already know about the scary, scary food-additive situation. The hormones and antibiotics, the pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables, all that mysterious gibberish printed in the ingredients of just about ANYTHING.

But crushed bugs in my candy? And we’re DYEING the chicken now, for pity’s sake?

What’s left to eat?

Besides chocolate, of course: nature’s perfect food.

Taking Care of Blogness

July 28, 2006 @ 11:59 am | Filed under: , ,

I’m here, I really am. Just: five kids, one me, and of course if something’s gotta give, it’s going to be Mr. iMac. (Fred, I call him. Ole Fred, actually, in honor of my former professor and favorite living writer.)

(And yes, Down to the Bonny Glen was dedicated to the author, not the computer. I didn’t even have this computer when I wrote this book. I think that one was named Harvey. After the rabbit.)

Anyway, right now, at this moment, both my little ones are asleep and the three older girls are occupied. In descending order: Where the Red Fern Grows; a giant dirt hill and the little boy across the street; Zoombinis. Now, I am aware that my calling attention to this fact (that none of my children need me at this moment) all but guarantees someone is about to—

UNBELIEVABLE. I am not making this up: at the very second I was typing that, the door opened and one of the children DID need me. Well, sort of. She needed to tell me that she’d come home for her jaguar. Because, you know, what good is a giant dirt hill and the little boy across the street if you’re  short one jaguar? Priorities, you know.

OK. She’s gone again, wild beast in hand. What I should do now is typereallyfast and finish this post before someone needs (a) feeding, (b) hugging, or (c) wiping. So let me think. What was I going to write about today. Well, first, there was this: I have a brief sequel to my post about the funny things you hear in the background when you talk to Alice on the phone. (Such as: "Mommy, may I please jump on the bed?" Her children may be hard on the mattress springs, but they are so POLITE!) I took my gang to the pool this morning and I snuck in a phone call to Alice while the big girls were splashing and hollering "She splashed me!" in indignant tones swimming.

Alice: So when you come visit what we’ll do is—

Me (interrupting): No, no, DON’T THROW THE STRING CHEESE IN THE POOL! Oh, shoot.

(Question: would you let your two-year-old eat a stick of string cheese that had been fished out of the neighborhood pool? I mean, what’s a little chlorine marinade, right?)

Next. Lots of interesting reading elsewhere in the ‘sphere today. Spunky has three or four posts I’d like to sink my teeth into, as soon as I have a bit of a lull around here (a less tenuous lull than this one, I mean).

(For example, during that paragraph the Zoombinis had a heated argument with the upstairs computer, also known as Marge the Barely-Functioning Laptop, requiring intervention from local peacekeeping agencies.)

(Operation Reconciliation: a success. Marge has somewhat grudgingly permitted the ‘Binis access to her territory. She is temperamental, though, and their position is precarious in the extreme.)

(Personally I think she is just sulking because she heard me say it was a shame I wouldn’t be able to live-blog our cross-country trip, whenever that actually happens, because Marge doesn’t have Wi-Fi capability. She takes these things very personally.)

There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on at Liz’s place today, too, such as this post on how people get started reading the classics. (I’d like to respond to this topic, too, at some point, but today is all about the meta-blogging, not the actual Blogging of Intelligent Stuff.) She also links to the list of 100 Cool Teachers in Literature list being compiled by the teachers at A Year of Reading, which will make a great companion to the fascinating lists of Cool Boys and Cool Girls in Children’s Lit that Jen Robinson has assembled. Up next, Cool Mothers? Seems like someone had a list like that going not long ago. High on my list: Marmee (obviously—and Mrs. Jo, too; she grew up rather nicely), Anne Blythe (but of course), Mrs. Austin, and the light-footed, lighthearted Mrs. Ray, mother of Betsy. But tops on my list has to be Susan Sowerby from The Secret Garden. Smart, down-to-earth, cheerful, observant, plain-spoken, unflappable, and a good cook to boot.

The Coolest Dad in Fiction has got to be Atticus, right?

(I’m having deja vu. Surely we have discussed this before.)

Moving on: Spunky mentions this too but I first read it on Bloglines, ’cause I’m a PHATMommy subscriber. Shannon reminds us that this weekend is the big BlogHer conference in San Jose where hundreds (thousands?) of female bloggers are getting together for panel discussions, networking, and cocktails. Lots of cocktails. Shannon has posted some BlogHer-in-Spirit discussion questions for those of us who are not at the convention in body. I hope to tackle them myself later on, but right now I can hear that Marge is being inhospitable to the Zoombinis again, and I think my own little Zoom-Beanie is in need of a Cool Mom in body, not just in spirit.

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Blogs of Beauty Awards 2006

July 12, 2006 @ 3:31 am | Filed under:

Well, that was a nice surprise! Just now I was checking out referrers in my site meter and discovered that Bonny Glen has been nominated for a Blogs of Beauty award! I’m a finalist in the "Best Homeschooling Blog" category along with the most excellent Spunky  Homeschool and the lovely Higher Up and Further In (which latter I enthused about recently after noticing that extremely cool picture-study Flickr badge in the sidebar). (Speaking of which—this month she has a Mary Cassatt badge. Scroll down the page to the "This Month’s Artist" section. Beautiful.)

The fourth finalist in this category is a blog I hadn’t encountered before: Enjoy the Journey. I have just spent most of my early-morning blog-writing time on a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of Lindsey’s site. Great essay on motherhood near the top of the page.

Voting instructions can be found at A Gracious Home. There are many other fine blogs in the various categories. If you had any free time left you can kiss it goodbye now.

Many thanks to the person who nominated me, whoever you are!