Better With Bees

Hello there! Welcome back to this sporadically-kept-up little blog.

Last week we suffered a great disappointment in the Walsh household:



Those are bees. Tens of thousands of poor little dead bees.

Oh, what a gloomy day it was.

After 18 long months of being bee-less thanks to one household move and one improperly-applied mite treatment, we were all eagerly awaiting the delivery of two new packages of bees. They’d arrive too late to give us hope of a honey harvest this year, but still, once they arrived we’d be beekeepers again. (And by “we” I mean “Brennan.”)

So it was with good cheer that Brennan took off work that Wednesday morning, one eye on the driveway and another on the door. The bees were supposed to arrive by 10:30. He waited and we waited and… no bees. Afternoon calls to UPS and the apiary revealed the sad news: our bees’ truck had suffered a major delay when one package was punctured and (you guessed it) thousands of bees convinced their driver to pull over and call for help. One long, hot day later and the damage was done: 75 packages of bees (nearly a million of the little gals) were lost.

Our own two packages were to be delayed by just one day, but we knew it wasn’t looking good for the critters. Sure enough:



Poor little dead queens.

Dead, dead.

But! One last-day-of-preschool, a few celebratory ice creams, one evening stroll by the water, and a couple of long days later…




This is the spot where his father proposed to me six years and three boys ago. Mushy, mush, mush...

This is the spot where his father proposed to me six years and three boys ago. Mushy, mush, mush…




Poor, neglected third baby gets most of his bottles this way.

Poor, neglected third baby gets most of his bottles this way.

We got another shot at the deal. This morning, Brennan once again took off work and kept an eager eye on the driveway. Thankfully, he was not to be disappointed again. Some 20,000 of the little ladies arrived safe and sound.


He's spraying them down with sugar water.

He’s spraying them down with sugar water.



Not only were they alive, but they were nice and docile, which is a great sign. They looked healthy and seemed to have accepted their new queens. (That is, they were working hard to “rescue” them from their cages. Brennan decided to help.)


He had no problem placing the bees in their hives, so as far as we know, the operation was a success this time around. Let’s hope so, not only for the sake of those precious little things, but also for the happiness of my hubby. (And our wannabe-beekeeper little boys.)

"I wanna hold a queen dead bee!"

“I wanna hold a queen dead bee!”


Keep your fingers crossed. We’d like to keep adding to the following collection. Life is better with bees.


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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 18)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

I think I’ll lead off today with my weekly NPR recommendation. Like last week’s, this one is a little off-beat, but I found it fascinating. It’s from one of my new favorite NPR programs: The TED Radio Hour. Per its website, the show is “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TEDTalks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design. Check out more about TED here.)

Anyway, last weekend’s TED Radio Hour focused on “Why We Collaborate.” The whole thing was interesting, but the second segment stuck out to me the most: “Luis von Ahn: Can You Crowdsource Without Even Knowing It?”

You know those annoying little “CAPTCHA” codes you have to enter to register a comment, etc. with more and more websites all the time? The ones you (or maybe just I) can barely type in correctly, because they’re just so hard to discern? Mr. von Ahn helped to invent them. (And he seems to express the appropriate remorse.) Though of course CAPTCHA codes have their utility (to prevent computer programs from posing as individuals), they take about 10 seconds to complete. And that 10 seconds per person adds up to an awful lot of time when you’re talking about millions of computer users.

So Mr. von Ahn started to think about how those 10 seconds might be used collectively for some productive purpose. He ultimately founded reCAPTCHA, a company that uses images from old books as its CAPTCHA codes. Yes, actual old books. Because – get this – the company is harnessing those individual 10 seconds, from millions of computer users, to digitize the books. When an old text is scanned so that it can be digitized, software is used to read/input as much of it as possible, but there remain portions that the software can’t read properly. So real people need to do it. With reCAPTCHA, you and I get to be those real people. We see a snippet of text from some old book, we use our human eyes and minds to discern what it means, and we enter it into some massive database.

I have to admit that the idea just about made me giddy. Preserving the information in old books for the future? Love. Making efficient use of a (cumulative) massive amount of time? Love. Turning something super annoying into something actually useful? Love! I’m sure I’ll never enjoy typing in CAPTCHA codes, but I’ll probably find them significantly less annoying than I used to. I’ll certainly never look at them the same way again.

* I have to end this Take with a little caveat: When I gleefully told my husband about this digitizing-books-via-CAPTCHA-codes thing, his technical mind was a bit skeptical. How, he asked, does reCAPTCHA validate your answer if you’re the one producing it in the first place? Sometimes you type in your answer and you’re told it’s incorrect. If reCAPTCHA doesn’t already have the correct answer on file, how can it know that your answer is wrong? He’s a clever one, my husband. This problem hadn’t occurred to me. I wish the radio host had asked about it, because I really am interested to know the answer. There has got to be one!

— 2 —

That was long. I promise to make the rest of my Takes much quicker.

I think the following was my favorite image from this week:


“Twain masters get weawy firsty.” He had just said, with authority.

— 3 —

Also (and this is rather less endearing), a short while ago I caught him shoving his little brother. When I stopped him, he said, “Dat’s because I have muscles!”

Me: “You are not allowed to push your brother!” Him: “But I have muscles!” Me: “Yes, and you’re supposed to use them to help people, not hurt them.” I don’t think he was convinced.

— 4 —

Did you see Jen’s post this week on giant, stinging centipedes that you wake in the middle of the night to find on your FACE? (Shiver.) I still don’t have anything to compare with those horrible Texas critters. (“We are NEVER moving to Texas!” I told my husband last night.) But we still do have critters. Brennan’s back into pest control mode here. After finding a few vacated glue traps in the basement earlier this week, he decided to replace them with the standard snapping variety. (Shudder.)

Well, yesterday evening I cautiously opened the basement door to maybe get something I needed down there. I listened closely, and I heard it: a rustling around, whipping back-and-forth sound. I decided I didn’t need that item so badly after all. Instead, I sent Brennan after it when he got home from work. And sure enough, he found another snake on a glue trap. This time he refused to tell me how big it was. Which probably freaked me out more than if he’d just gone ahead and told me. I don’t think I’ll set foot in that basement again until next summer. At least.

— 5 —

Speaking of critters, it looks like nobody triumphed on my little beekeeping challenge from yesterday. (Though Betsy got kind of close!) For those of you who didn’t see, I included the following picture (taken on an apple-picking trip earlier this week) and asked if anyone knew why my beekeeper husband found it puzzling.


The answer is that (a) those hives are a lot taller than one would expect them to be this time of year, and (b) the boxes that make up the hives look to be “honey supers.” Supers are used for, yes… honey. Beekeepers generally only place them on their hives in the spring, for the bees to fill up with honey during the nectar flow. At honey harvest time (in this part of the country, that’s late June/early July), the supers are removed. Honey is extracted and the comb/supers are stored away for the following year. So fall/winter beehives are usually much shorter than their spring/summer counterparts.

As for why these particular beekeepers might have left supers on their hives, my husband could only assume that they’re being used for brood (that is the eggs/larvae/bees themselves) rather than honey. But who knows?

— 6 —

We’ve had a series of rainy days here this week and – seriously – I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about contraptions to channel my boys’ energy onto something other than myself. I am so very, very tired of being a human jungle gym. (Also, the noise, the noise! I think, for my sanity, I might need to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.)


There is of course, the padded/bouncy room idea. On a smaller scale, I seriously wonder if I could buy them each a small trampoline and tie netting around each (trampoline, not boy) in such a way that the netting keeps the boys contained/safe/bouncing around happily. Similarly, I wish there were a safe way for me to stick them on the treadmill. And also, you know those lovely baby bouncers you can put a 9-month-old in to occupy them? Let’s see the toddler version. It would have to involve a major harness, a big-time bouncing capability, and various things to hit/bang/knock over.


Like this, only way more exciting.

— 7 —

All that said (and all my angsty Facebook complaining aside), I actually struck on a pretty good activity for the boys this afternoon. I suppose you might call it Pinteresty, though I’m not on Pinterest, so I wouldn’t really know. I call it motherly desperation. I threw a couple of bath towels on the kitchen table along with a bunch of measuring cups and spoons and various play kitchen items. Then I filled the bowls with water and told the boys to go at it (but not to tip over the bowls!) It kept the little one occupied for nearly an hour and the big one occupied for over two. I don’t think I’ve ever happened upon an activity (even our outdoor water table) that has held their interest for so long. I’m rather too proud of myself right now. (And yet also aware that this activity is probably a no-brainer to most mothers.)



On that note, let’s call it a week! Have a great weekend, all! Don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. (And if you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, please do!)

{pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 4)

We went apple picking this week. Our sister-in-law is staying with us right now and she suggested that it might be a nice activity to do with the boys. And of course Lisa was absolutely, 100% right: Apple picking is not only that classic, American, feel-good, crunchy, fall-time activity, it’s also perfect for small children. Lots of walking, fruit that won’t smash all over your person, confined avenues of densely-growing trees that don’t allow for easy toddler escapes… perfect.

So why would it never occur to me to do such a thing?

Laziness probably plays a part. So does that fear of toddler escape. And intimidation at the idea of doing something new. But I think the crux of it has been the “survival mode” mindset of having one small boy right after the other. Just as we started to enter toddlerhood with our first, we introduced a second and got pulled right back into baby mode. So all those fun things like trips to the orchard and library visits and heck, time at the playground, got put off in favor of the safety and convenience of home.

Now that our oldest is three and our youngest is two, we don’t have to live like that any longer. (Did you catch that? We don’t have to live like that any longer!) But I keep forgetting. Walking around the orchard the other day, I gloried in the fact that both of my boys (1) can walk by themselves, (2) can even kind of help to carry/push the load, (3) can stay out for an extended period of time without having to be fed/changed, and (4) will, when-push-comes-to-shove, follow my directions. I can scream “Don’t you run into that field!” and have a reasonable expectation that they will listen to me. Do you have any idea how liberating that is? (I’m sure many of you really, really do.)

Anyway, I need to do a better job of remembering that we’re in a short window of (relative) familial freedom. April will come quickly. Third-trimester fatigue and discomfort will come sooner. We should be taking advantage of this brief and lovely season. Maybe I should make myself a second-trimester-countdown calendar – something to pound home the message: “Enjoy this time while you can, lady! Soon enough it will be all you can do to breathe properly!”

On that lovely image, let’s move on to this week’s {pretty, happy, funny, real}.

(Pssst! Wait! Before I really direct you on to {p,h,f,r} I have to put in a little shameless plug. If you haven’t already done so, please “like” These Walls on Facebook. The page is new and I’d love to see you over there. Okay – done. Continue on!)

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~ 

Every Thursday, at Like Mother, Like Daughter!






Gosh, it was a pretty day. The kind of day that makes you want to stretch your arms wide and take a deep breath and maybe even do a Sound of Music twirl around a field or something. Don’t worry: I didn’t.






The reds were indeed delicious, but not as much as the greens, called Mutsu.


We really had to hunt for the apples, but we had such fun doing it. So simple, so so happy.




The boys were so funny pushing our wheelbarrow – especially the two-year-old, who had the tenacity to push it almost the entire time we were there, long after big brother had gotten tired of it. He required a little adult help, but he really did a great job.


This apple was pretty funny too. It had grown in the crook of those branches, so that it was utterly wedged in place. No amount of pushing or pulling could get that beautiful apple to budge. I was interested to see what shape it had grown into, but I suppose it will be rot that finally moves the fruit from its place. It somehow doesn’t seem right to let a knife do the job.



Boys always love rocks, don’t they?


These hives were pretty, but they sure did make me miss our bees. We lost our colony this past winter (they didn’t tolerate our move very well and then an overdose of mite treatment finished the job), so this was the first summer in years that my husband didn’t have a honey harvest. We’re looking forward to the spring, when we can get in an order of new bees.

(And by the way, my beekeeper hubby was puzzled by this picture. Do any of you – maybe a beekeeper yourself – have an idea as to why? I think I’ll go all dorky and explain it in tomorrow’s 7 Quick Takes. If you think you know the answer, leave it this post’s comments section. I’ll give you credit tomorrow and I’ll try to think of a worthy prize to send to you.)


Twenty pounds of apples! So far we’ve eaten a bunch fresh, Lisa has made a lovely apple cake, and we’ve made kielbasa with cabbage and apples. I think applesauce will be next on the list. I’m sure some will make their way to the dear brother/brother-in-law/husband in Indiana. But what to do with the rest? It’s a great problem to have.


Be sure to visit Like Mother, Like Daughter to see what contentment those dear ladies – and all the rest – are sharing this week. Take care!

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Five Favorites (Vol. 2): Anniversary Edition


Linking up with Hallie for this week’s Five Favorites! Be sure to check out the rest!

(Updated to add that I’m also linking this post to Jenna’s “I Pray I Don’t Forget: What I Love About My Husband” at A Mama Collective. Check out those stories too!)

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Five Favorites to my excellent husband, Brennan. So here’s some background on our relationship, Five of my Favorite things about B, and some of my favorite photos from our wedding. (Randomly placed and more than five, because I needed to break up the looong intro in #1.)

— 1 —

Brennan is interested in things – so many things.

Wedding Pic 1

In passing, this may seem pretty inconsequential: “Umm, big deal, Julie. Everybody’s interested in something. Even lots of somethings.” So let me back up for a minute and give you a little background on what lead up to our relationship. It should give more meaning to this and some of the other Favorites. Or maybe I just like to provide more information than anyone could possibly care about. One of the two.

Wedding Pic 2

Anyway, I was single for what felt like a looong time before I met Brennan. And I mean single single, not dating-but-not-yet-married “single.” Other than three very brief relationships in my early twenties, I was alone and lonely, day-dreaming of my ideal man. (Does that sound a little pathetic? Sorry. It was what it was.) Toward the end of my twenties I had the blessed insight that I needed to adjust my outlook on single life and my approach to maybe/hopefully finding the man with whom I could share a future. All-in-all, it’s a longer topic for another day. But the pertinent part is that I refined the list of qualities I hoped to find in my future husband. I realized that, most of all, I wanted to find a man who was good and kind, moral, responsible, hardworking – and interested in the world around him. I knew that I could never marry a man who didn’t have those values. And I figured that if my husband had an interest in the world, a hunger to learn and do, then our life together would be an open horizon – something to be explored.

Wedding Pic 3

We walked to the church, which was super fun,
except for how worried I was about the hem of my dress.

When I met Brennan, everything fell into place very quickly. Good? Kind? Moral? Responsible? Hardworking? Check, check, check, check… and check. But the clincher was really that he was interested in so many things. He caught my eye on eHarmony (yep, that’s how we met) because he said he loved bees.

Bees? Who loves bees? My beekeeper of a hubby, that’s who. A few years before, Brennan had gotten to talking with a co-worker who kept bees as a hobby. B thought it was interesting, so he started to read up on it. He read and read and researched… and the next thing he knew, he was putting together hive boxes and picking up packages of buzzing bees from unhappy postal workers.

Wedding Pic 4

We gave out little jars of Brennan’s honey as favors.

Brennan has done the same thing with other hobbies: skiing, target shooting, cooking, home improvement, etc. On the house front, he’s taught himself how to do all sorts of useful things: woodworking, plumbing, mechanics, painting, even pest control. Brennan identifies something he wants to know how to do and he just figures it out. There doesn’t seem to be a “What if?” with Brennan – just a “How?”

Likewise, Brennan has cultivated his interests in history, architecture, and politics by reading and reading and reading… The man loves the internet. And good nonfiction. And audio books that he can soak up on his commute to and from work.

Brennan didn’t grow up doing any of the above; he wasn’t influenced by beekeeper or carpenter or plumber or historian or architect or politician parents. He just happened upon something (many things) that interested him, he had an open mind, and he decided to pursue the new activities and ideas. With gusto. I love that. I can’t wait to see what will be inspiring my husband in ten or twenty years.

— 2 —

Brennan gets stuff done.

Wedding Pic 5

Just as I love how Brennan is active in pursuing his many interests, I also love that he takes the initiative to just go ahead and do what needs to be done – even if it’s tedious or unpleasant. Me? I’m the procrastinating type. The type who avoids the things I find intimidating or disagreeable. But, big or small, Brennan does what needs to be done. Hours upon hours of schoolwork while also working full time? He does it. Paying the bills, going to the doctor, cleaning the bathroom? He does it. Doing preventative maintenance on our very old house? He does it. And not just that – he does it well, without a fuss, and with very few complaints. What a great example to set for our boys. (And, er… for me too.)

— 3 —

Brennan is a loving father and a patient teacher to our boys.

Wedding Pic 6

On one of our first dates, Brennan and I visited an arboretum. Walking through the trees, Brennan spotted an insect hovering near some leaves. Very gently, he pointed it out to me, studied it a bit, and explained what it was doing. In that moment I thought to myself, “Wow. What a wonderful father he’ll be.” And he is. Brennan had very little experience with children before our boys were born, but he jumped in with both feet – doing all kinds of tedious tasks, showering the boys with hugs and kisses, playing all their wild games, teaching them about the world around them, and showing them great patience and a powerful love.

— 4 —

Brennan is a kind and supportive husband.

Wedding Pic 7

This cake tasted so good that our guests gobbled it up before we could even get pieces ourselves!

I love staying home with my boys, but I am a social person by nature and I need to be around other adults. I need some mental stimulation and I need a bit of a break from the constant demands that come with having two very active young boys. I also need to feel like I’m giving something to my community. Brennan understands this, he supports me in my efforts to do things outside of the home, and he has never once complained about it. And it’s no small thing on his part: I serve on the board of a historic home an hour away from our house and I sing in our church’s choir. Both require my presence at times that necessitate B leaving work early. Sometimes hours early, meaning he has to make up those lost hours on another day. But Brennan says that if I really want to do something, I should do it.

— 5 —

Brennan has high standards.

Wedding Pic 8

Gotta love the tiny spectators.

Brennan has high standards about lots of things – work, behavior, food, coffee and chocolate, goods and services that we buy – but let me feel flattered for a minute that he also had high standards when it came to finding the person he wanted to marry. When he was doing the eHarmony thing, going out on first date after first date, Brennan’s buddies at work started to give him a hard time. They’d joke about how he rarely made it to a second date. “What’s wrong with her this time?” was their standard question. One friend told him “everyone settles.” But my Brennan? He answered, “Not me.” He shared my conviction that it was better to be single than to be with the wrong person.

Perhaps this last Favorite sounds a bit self-gratifying. Certainly I’m glad that my husband didn’t “settle” for me. But more than that, I admire a person who will hold out and work hard for what he or she really wants. Too often these days, people expect instant gratification – in relationships, in their homes and careers, in their spare time. But Brennan couldn’t be farther from that. To achieve the kind of life he wants, Brennan works hard, he makes smart decisions, he sacrifices, and he is patient. He sets high standards for himself and he keeps to them.

I am so thankful that this man came into my life. I am grateful for all his hard work and careful planning. I am glad to have his love and his good company. I feel blessed to be building a life with him. Happy anniversary, Brennan. I love you.

Wedding Pic 9

All photos are credited to Gordon Eisner.