A Saturday blessing


My expanded apiary: the mother hive stands between two captured swarms

I shook the kitchen rugs by the back steps. Next, I’d make coleslaw and put chicken and potatoes in the oven for company.

     All was well on another beautiful, Michigan Saturday.

     Then my husband shouted from down the hill, hands cupped to his mouth. “Your bees are on the ground and in the pine tree!”

     Well, if you read my letters occasionally and memory serves you right, you may recall my misfortunes as a beekeeper, a misnomer in the following situations.

     As a beginner over a decade ago, I mortally maimed the impregnated queen when releasing her from her little box to her skep where she would lay her eggs. Her death left thousands of orphaned worker bees and drones until I obtained post haste another queen for $50 (more dough than my weekly grocery budget in the eighties).

     I’ve since fed my honeybees two parts sugar to one part water and vigilantly guarded against yellow jackets and wax moths, dreaded honeycomb and honey robbers and bee killers.

     This past spring, two weeks after I brought home my new nucleus of queen, bees, and brood, a hive beetle showed up nearby the apiary. A website recommended a product which I retrieved from our henhouse. "Spread diatomaceous earth eight feet in circumference around the hive and wet it down with a hose,” the directions said. 

     And even though I had applied a chemical treatment to the queen’s brood box to repel the Asian Varroa Destructor, invisible mite to the veiled, naked eye, I sensed this prolific queen would not be kept.

     Yes, honeybees on the ground and in trees could only mean one thing.

     My first swarm.

     I ran downhill and recalled the needed equipment to capture the runaways: hive stand, bottom board, box (skep), frames, entrance reducer, inner and outer boards, and hive tool.

     My goodness! Yards from the hive, TWO swarms hung from two branches in a young pine tree, and within my reach!

     Ecstatic, I ran to the greenhouse and slid the hive tool into my pants’ pocket, gathered parts for two brood boxes, placed two cinderblock stands in different locations, and carried the bottom boards and boxes with frames to the swarms.

     Even though I knew swarming bees don’t sting because they’re protecting their queen, I suited up because I had no time to risk another mishap. Our company was due in two hours.

     First, I tapped the branch of the lower swarm and watched the glorious downpour of apis mallifera fall into their new home, set the bottom board and brood box upon a stand, and added the inner and outer covers.

     Within minutes, the second swarm fell from its branch into its new skep. The swarm on the ground followed the queen pheromone of its choice.

     Dear Reader, I walked up the hill a beekeeper instead of a bee loser and served dinner almost on time. Ten days later, worker bees exit three hives to forage and feed their queen.

     Praise God from whom all blessing flow! All is well.

Remembering significant things


Uncle Herm and Uncle Tab, March 2018

“Iris, don’t be surprised if Daddy doesn’t remember you. And I can’t promise he’ll be awake for a visit,” my cousin said on the phone.

     “Thanks for the warning. It’s been two years since we last saw him, so we’ll take the risk. Besides, Mel and I plan to visit Mom’s grave in Lexington.”

     “I suggest you visit Daddy in the morning. He’s at his best before lunch.”

     I hung up the phone, for we still use our souped-up land line with our thirty-two year old number. Our flip phones serve for emergencies and road travel.

     Uncle Tab, on the other hand, embraced modern technology, his cell phone a form of abiding with his grandchildren.

     That was before the death of his beloved wife three years ago. Then my uncle suffered a stroke. He lost the privilege of his phone and never returned home. Therefore, Mel and I visited my uncle in a memory care facility in Lexington two summers ago. Tough as nails, he survived another stroke and facility transition this past year.

     How I anticipated his laugh again! For I believed nothing could quench his “early to rise” commitment to life as a farm boy, coal mine operator, and great-grandparent.

     He never lost his love for play after a day’s work, such as running leg races with my sisters, cousins, and me when we visited for summer vacation. I remembered his face blackened with coal dust. The white of his eyes and pink lips could’ve been any other coal miner’s.

     Yet, as everyone else, I knew Tab McCoy by the flick of his fingers and swagger in his shoulders.

     I can’t recall life without Uncle Tab for he and Uncle Herm lived with my parents in our Kentucky homeplace in my infancy until they married as young men.

     The two youngest sons of Floyd and Ollie McCoy bounced me on their knees and recited, “Ars Lee caught a flea sittin’ on her daddy’s knee.”

     At last, when we walked into Uncle Tab’s room, I said, “I’m Art Lee, and this is Mel,” he smiled and repeated my name.

     As we sat together outside during his lunch, he lifted a glass of milk to his lips and closed his eyes. “Lord, thank you for this food and my family. Please keep them from harm in your tender care. Amen.”

     Oh yes, my uncle is grateful for good food. As he dipped crinkle-cut fries in ketchup, I asked, “Do they serve you greasy beans here?”

     He paused, put down his French fry, and touched one large-boned finger to another. A family trait.

     “First, if you want to grow good beans, you’ve got to have good seed.”

     Mel and I nodded. Uncle Tab taught us how to save good seed from fresh greasy beans.

     He counted on another finger. “And you need fertilizer.”

     Dear Reader, I didn’t have the heart to tell my uncle that Mel no longer wants to string greasy beans and planted a string-less variety instead.

    That’s one significant thing he would’ve remembered.           

Use it or lose it

Cathleen, me, and Russ
Months ago, I drove my dirty 2010 blue Prius to Mister C’s Car Wash in Rochester. Thanks to my husband, personal grocery shopper and chauffer to church, restaurants, and Cook’s Farm Dairy in Ortonville, I hadn’t driven in weeks.

        I waited in Mister C’s long, hairpin queue and flipped radio stations to familiar voices and classical music. Meanwhile, young staff hustled moving all makes and models of autos.

       Opening doors. Wiping. Closing doors. Wiping. Reaching over windshields for the perfect shine. If they weren’t thoroughly enjoying themselves, they had me fooled.

     Amused by the synchronized movement of the machinery and employees, I forgot to shift into neutral when directed into the tire guides.

     Embarrassed, I couldn’t locate my gearshift in the dark. The word “Alzheimer’s” whispered in my head. “I’m sorry,” I said to the attendant. “I’ve not driven in quite a while.”

     He smiled. “Happens all the time.”

     I intended to call the Rochester Chamber of Commerce to praise Mr. C’s manager and team for their discretion with patrons who experience slips of mind.

     Rather, I forgot those ambitious folk until yesterday when I faced the challenge to finally hang new curtains in our master bedroom.

     What, you may ask, do those kids in Mister C’s Car Wash have to do with me hanging curtains?

     Well, for one, I didn’t forget this valuable reminder—if you don’t use it, you lose it.

     You see, my history with curtain rod bracket installation isn’t boast worthy. The screws fell out of the drywall, and although we have a stash of the appropriate anchor, I avoid using them. They fell out too and made a larger hole to patch and paint.

     Considering I didn’t marry a handyman, I was on my own.

     Secondly, the enthusiasm of those young men and women drying cars and trucks recalled the positive experience of bracket installation lessons from a friend several years ago.

     So I carried a pencil, hammer, nail, and Black & Decker drill upstairs where the project waited.

     After a deep breath and prayer, I climbed my yellow kitchen stool, an Armada Flea Market find. While my husband picked strawberries at Blake’s in Almont, I hung the sheers in one fourth the time it took to iron them.

     Down to the kitchen I went to compose the grocery list for our barbeque with Cathleen and Russ today. We can’t remember our last visit together.

     Truth is, we’re hungry for good company and strawberry-rhubarb pie with Cook’s lavender lemon honey ice cream.

     This morning, while the strawberries and rhubarb marinated in sugar, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt, I messed up doubling my butter crust recipe.

     Try, try again.

     While the pie cooled, I prepared summer’s first bowl of potato salad. Cathleen called from Dearborn. “All our roads have flooded! Will tomorrow work for you and Mel?”

     Dear Reader, I cannot thoroughly enjoy the first strawberry-rhubarb pie of the season without friends at our table.

     “Tomorrow at three. I’ll hold the pie and ice cream.”

Ask. Seek. Knock.


A honeybee pollinating a poppy bloom in my perennial island

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Matthew 7:7

 A fine day last May, I swiveled my writing chair to the window in search of the right word. Again. A hummingbird flew under the blooming arc of a Solomon Seal stem, sipped from a tiny, white bell, and darted away.

                Now, I’d already determined to remove this large, invasive lily from my gardens this spring. Entirely. Like its cousin, Lily of the Valley, Solomon shows no respect for neighbors. Leave one root in the soil and up pops a shoot to the pull of the sun.

                Yet, there I stood, a veil lifted from my eyes to see the bliss in the beautiful flight of the miniature pollinator.

                So I rethought my extermination of the Polygonatum. However, upon a closer look of the flower bed, Solomon’s roots infringed upon a Bleeding Heart. I’m most protective of her dangling, pink gems which hummingbirds also pollinate. Furthermore, Bleeding Hearts mind their borders.

I swiftly resolved to no longer give garden space to wandering species. Take Mother Nature’s volunteers, for instance.  

She may’ve meant well, but Creeping Bellflower appeared by the front faucet several springs ago, and unbeknownst to me waged underground warfare with deep, tuberous roots.

Suffering battle fatigue the end of April, I consulted two garden experts. “That’s probably Campuanula rapunculoides, the bad purple Bellflower. It’s everywhere,” one botanist said.

“You have two options,” both authorities agreed. “You can apply an herbicide to the leaves, or remove the roots with a shovel and a four-tined iron fork.”

I’ve never used herbicides and would rather not. However, those two basic tools are my right and left hand, which meant much labor throughout the spring and summer.

“Eventually, you’ll remove enough roots to control invasive growth. Use newspaper under your mulch to prevent the sun from sprouting shoots,” my advisors said.

After paying three weeders $350 for three hours to begin the Bellflower and lily evacuation, I counted the unaffordable, continuous cost.

Thus, I carried my shovel and fork into my perennial island, opened the earth, and rescued a blooming Oriental poppy from clumps of Lily of the Valley.

Meanwhile, honeybees flew in and buzzed through the long, quivering purple-black stamens surrounding the poppy’s ovary. With some effort launching, the honeybees flew away with black pollen sacks on their back legs.

And with some effort, I added two large garbage cans of lily and Creeping Bellflower roots to a burn pile. Then I settled on my bee-watching chair. There I observed worker bees descend upon the hive’s bottom board, many sporting orange, gold, and black socks on their legs.

Dear Reader, this bliss, a portion of my terrestrial and spiritual endowment, began thirty-four years ago when I asked God to lead us to a home where my husband and I could grow old together.

And He did.

Little did I know, come springtime, I’d find pollinators and flowers my steadfast companions.


Sixth Annual Yule Love It Lavender Poetry Contest Winners






To Draw a Rainbow


Pink florescence unfurls.

The tight loop, freed by arthritic hands

blue with cold, tickles the tannin-stained stream.

An old man imagines his grandson alongside, and together,

by his hand, teaches him to read the tributary waters they wade.


He watches. Gazes upon the opposite bank

awash in saffron nettles that sting exposed wrists and sees…

beyond the cattails, below the hemlock,

the cherry red of wake robin planted

beside a root beer float river

ripe with browns, brookies, coasters

and once, not so long ago, grayling.


In the dappled splash of apricot sun

an olive deceiver disappears. The tightness

of line revives the essence within.

Hand over hand, his rosary recited in solitude.


Here, in a place sacred to no-see-ums,

swarms of bronze mosquitos and cobalt dragonflies,

he bows, net in hand, amidst a jubilee tabernacle

of plum and purple shadows and vows:

The boy will learn to draw a rainbow from the river.



The Fun Season

In youth, I thought of summer

                as a 3-D kaleidoscope

                filled with colored, scented

                gemstones reflected six ways.

Emerald green cartwheels across the lawn,      

                fresh-cut grass tickled our noses

                and stuck to bare feet.

Orange push-ups, freeze tag, we giggled

                mad dash around the yard,

                while tongues strained to un-stick

                lips and fingers.

Sapphire blue pool, we swam circles,

                splashed chlorine tinged water

                as lips turned purple ‘til mom wrapped

                us in beach towels, poured sweet lemonade.

Tin-copper sips from the garden hose,

                moonstone grey days, fickle rain,

                sitting in faded jeans on damp

                wicker chairs by the smoky fire.

A slight turn of Michigan’s kaleidoscope,

                the gems that were our summer days

                would reset to another prismatic slice

                of rainbow joy.



True North


Do we have a language for the world of green

A synesthesia of the scent of pine

The gossip of poplars

Or fresh mown grass

The deep beauty of ferns giving depth

To the dusk of a forest’s edge


Every morning I watch

The fire of the Sun

Rise from his bed in a cobalt lake

Scattering diamonds across the waters

A gift, the heat of a summer day

The forever blue of the sky


Each August and usually in July

I paint my toes

That particular shade of tangerine

It glows against my summer tan

Framed by the shreds of faded jeans

Last year’s white sandals


Is there a word for purple

Where the sunset fades to dusk

Where berries stain our fingertips

Is magenta an electric name for hibiscus

Faces raised to the Sun

Bursting yellow at their hearts


Does the chorus of insects

Sing me to sleep

As the coals of my campfire

Glow red

Beneath a gentle blanket of smoke