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2014 resolution update

Usually by this time of year, the resolutions I made in January are like a distant, vague memory. But this year in a stunning turn of events, I’ve been staying on track. So seeing that we’re about one third of the way through the year, I thought I’d check in.

Mind
Read 75 books.
I just finished #23 this week, so I’m on track to meet my goal. I need to still pick up a Russian doorstop novel along the way, as well as several more Margaret Atwoods to finish her canon. But so far, so good. Man do I love to read! 

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have one down, two more to go on this front. For my most recent letter, see this post on the DARK Act recently introduced in the House. Bad news.

Body
Run a marathon.
Well, I’m in training. 
This Saturday marks my first race of the season – the Boston Trail half marathon (not in Boston). That’s followed up by my town’s 5K the following weekend, and then the Pittsburgh Marathon Half on May 4. Don’t forget there’s still time to donate to my fund for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank! Shameless plug! I’m only $5 away from $600!


Also, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Doing pretty well with this one, especially through the day at work. I also carry my water bottle around with me at home, and really it’s only after runs that I don’t do so well rehydrating. Going to keep working on that.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Fail. Still nervous. Will make it happen this summer though.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making good progress on this one, especially since it’s something I have zero experience in. I have Mark’s shirts all prepped and ready with interfacing, and mine are almost complete. Then it’s time to get the sewing machine cranking! I’ve even had an apprentice. Isn’t he helpful?

  

Can one new thing.
Not quite into canning season yet, so this one will be a summer thing.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I recently did some research on bee-friendly plants that do well in our area, with info from the Penn State Extension. Look for a post about that in the near future!

Make the chickens some treats.
Winter has made me not want to go outside with them more than necessary, so probably once I’m in the backyard with them more often, I’ll be more inclined to start making some treats.

Organize the basement.
The basement has come light years from what it was. This is a pretty significant accomplishment, as it’s now a more usable space for both Mark and me. And we’ve kept it relatively in order!


How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

on resolutions

Happy New Year!

There’s something about January that brings a sense of new beginnings. Maybe it’s the breath of fresh air after the hubbub of the holidays, or the fact that we flip a new year on the calendar that makes us feel like we can press the reset button and start anew. In 2013, I set some goals for myself – concrete things like “run a half marathon” and not just “run more.” I met most of those goals, and exceeded some of them. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to open my goals document every so often and check to see that I’ve made progress. 

So I’m setting my resolutions for 2014 and will keep myself accountable for progress on them during the year. They’re all reachable, but will be a challenge in one way or another. I don’t like to go overboard, since I know that my work and my commute take up a huge portion of my week and my attention during my waking hours. Plus, I don’t like setting myself up for failure. I’d rather succeed at a few small things and be content with that.

With that, here are my goals for 2014 in three categories: mind, body and home.

Mind
Read 75 books.
I read 70 books in 2013, and I’m going to up the ante by just a bit in 2014. Within those 75 books, I have a goal of reading one of what I call the Russian doorstop novels that I haven’t read before, as well as finishing up the rest of Margaret Atwood’s canon. I use Good Reads to help me keep track of what I’m reading when.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have no shortage of things that outrage me, and I know that battles about GMO labeling, Ag-Gag laws and farm bills will keep me occupied with this one.

Body
Run a marathon.
Yes, I’m putting it out there. I’m not going to beat myself up if I work on the training and my body doesn’t cooperate (I’m looking at you, knees!), but I’m going to try. I know in my heart I will always regret it if I don’t try, and that’s reason enough for me to start. I will begin training in February, with the goal of working up to a marathon by the fall. I’d also like to do several halfs this year, and to travel to at least one race outside of my area. The goal for the full marathon is just to finish, and my goal for a half marathon in 2014 is to get a PR, which I think is doable. 

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Rather than set a goal for weight loss, I’m focusing on health and fitness this year. Water is a big one for me – I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I’m properly hydrated. It also helps me with my running to be hydrated at all times, so I’m going to dedicate myself to hydration.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Mark gave me the tools to make kombucha for my birthday last year and I have yet to start, out of fear that I’ll mess it up. I did stop buying kombucha in the store, like I promised myself, but I haven’t taken the leap. 2014 is the time.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
I have my grandma’s sewing machine, and I’m going to put it to good use this year. I’m not particularly gifted in this area, so I’m starting easy and hoping to make Mark a quilt from a pile of old, beloved t-shirts.

Can one new thing.
I want to branch out this year and can something we’ve never canned before. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but I’d like to try something new and different.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I want to do some research on bee-friendly plants and make the flower beds along our garage an all you can drink nectar buffet for bees. (Can you tell that Vanishing of the Bees inspired me?)

Make the chickens some treats.
I want to be more actively involved in the chickens’ care and I really want to make them some treats to give them a diversion.

Organize the basement.
I did a great job of simplifying and downsizing our house this past fall, but the largest work to be done is our basement, which is a mess of boxes and disorganization and junk that is just begging to be a functional space. If the only house related thing we get done at all this year is to organize the basement, I would count it a success.

I’m going to check in monthly here to keep myself accountable to these goals, and hopefully share some how-tos when I have some success! 

What are your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments – I’d love to know what you’re doing to make 2014 the best year it can be! 

movie review: vanishing of the bees

It’s amazing to think that something as tiny as a honeybee, which we routinely swat away from us, can carry the fate of billions of dollars of produce and the food supply of a nation on its shoulders. But honeybees are an essential part of our ecosystem and they are threatened by modern agriculture.

Vanishing of the Bees takes a look at the issue of colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD is the term used to describe when a colony of bees disappears, leaving behind no dead bodies, but only the queen and a few young bees. No “official” scientific cause has been found for this phenomenon, though this film investigates the different possibilities. 

I’ve written about bees briefly before, where I mentioned I have always been scared of bees. After watching this film, I’m more in awe of them than afraid. Did you know one single bee can hit up 100,000 flowers every day? That’s some productivity. Bees are responsible for pollinating $15 billion in crops in the U.S. alone. I think we owe them our attention.

The documentary talks about the religious, historical and cultural significance of the honeybee and how for centuries, bees have been thought of as an indicator of environmental quality – the healthier the hive, the healthier the environment. If bees can’t thrive, we can’t either. 

And right now? Bees are not thriving. CCD is affecting billions of bees and thousands upon thousands of hives with no exact known cause. 

Some who are proponents of organic/holistic beekeeping believe that it’s a byproduct of industrial/commercial production of bees. Practices like artificially inseminating queens to select for certain traits (thereby reducing genetic pool) and taking honey away from the hive and replacing it with sugar syrups are blamed for compromising the health of the colony, making it more susceptible to diseases and sickness. Makes sense – that’s happened for other animal species due to our industrial farming practices, so it’s not too far fetched to believe it could happen to bees.

When colonies in 37 states were affected by CCD in the mid 2000s, scientists started trying to understand the cause. Even theories about cell phone towers or Russian sabotage were floated. They found viruses and bacteria in many of the colonies that collapsed that can kill bees, but not in enough of the collapsed hives to determine that these diseases were the cause of the collapse. 

More and more beekeepers and scientists started to look to our modern farming practices as the culprit. Our vast fields of monocultures are incredibly susceptible to pests, which explains the vast use of pesticides in our crops (you know, the same chemicals that were developed to kill people in WWII, which are now sprayed on our vegetables). But pesticides were put in use in agriculture years ago – and CCD is a more recent phenomenon. So how are they connected? 

Older versions of pesticides were sprayed on crops, and bees could be removed from the fields during spraying time. The pesticides were on the surface, where insects would eat portions of the leaves and die from system failures – not necessarily in the flower/pollen portion of the plant that bees access. If you had an issue where bees were affected by these pesticides, you would know it from the dead bees present.

It was when systemic pesticides were introduced that bees started to be affected. Systemic pesticides are part of the plant’s seed and express themselves in the growth of the plant through its life, including pollen and nectar, which makes bees susceptible. When these pesticides were introduced, the only testing done on them was whether or not a dose was lethal. One flower isn’t enough to kill a bee, so they were deemed “safe” (or the risk was deemed “acceptable”), but no research was done on low level, sublethal doses – the kind that accumulate over time and are brought back to hives. These pesticides have been found in high levels in hives, but science has yet to prove that CCD is caused by them. 

I find it highly problematic in this country that minimal testing needs to be done to prove something is an acceptable environmental risk, but conclusive testing must be done to be able to take it off the market after the fact. Our government throws caution to the wind and relies on the industry to do its own testing instead of doing independent, third-party testing. (Sound familiar?) Even watching European countries such as France ban these systemic pesticides and see bee populations recover somehow doesn’t convince people in our country to take the same action. We’re too concerned about the welfare of our corporations and our greed. 

I don’t want to give away everything about this documentary, because I highly recommend you watch it for yourself and evaluate the science presented. Also, note that it’s not just the organic loving people that are raising the alarm about bees – industrial beekeepers and industrial farmers that rely on bees to pollinate their crops are speaking out too. If you eat ANY fresh food whatsoever, you need to care about the plight of the bees. What’s happening to our honeybees is a sign that our current system is unsustainable (one of many signs, actually.) 

The film also suggests some things you can do to take action for the bees – contacting your legislators is one way, but buying local, unadulterated U.S. honey, refraining from using chemicals on your lawn, eating organic produce that doesn’t use systemic pesticides, growing a garden with a habitat for bees with lots of flowering plants – those are all important ways you can make a difference.

I can’t recommend enough that you watch this film (I watched it on Netflix). Visit their website at www.vanishingbees.com and follow them on Twitter at @vanishingbees to keep up to date on the latest info about how you can help. For locals, check out Edible Allegheny‘s info on bees and CCD in western PA from their August/September issue.     



The necessity of bees

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’m afraid of bees. They don’t induce the level of terror in me that clowns do, but I am still the one that closes my eyes when a bee comes near me and pretends like a toddler that I am invisible to what I can’t see.

It’s for this reason that I have largely ignored headlines about the plight of bees. With so much to worry about in the way of factory farming and GMOs, how could I possibly add bees to my list of concerns? Turns out, bees are an important part of our food chain. Not just important, but essential.
Insects pollinate $18 billion to $27 billion worth of U.S. crops each year, which amounts to essentially a quarter of the American diet. The number of honeybee colonies in the U.S. has steadily declined from a high at the end of WWII, but starting around 2005, that decline has accelerated rapidly.
Colony collapse disorder has wiped out between 40 and 50 percent of the honeybee colonies that pollinate our fruits and vegetables. Scientists don’t know exactly why this is happening, but more and more researchers and beekeepers are attributing this disorder to the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on crops. In particular, a class of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids, derived from nicotine, is blamed (at least by European regulators).
Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides, which means the chemical is embedded in the seed, so that the plant contains the chemical that kills the pests that eat it. Because neonicotinoids don’t degrade as quickly as other pesticides, bees which keep coming back to the same plants (as they are wont to due) keep picking up more and more pesticide to bring back to their hives. This creates a build-up of the pesticide that in small doses might be harmless, but in large dosages are lethal.
Of course pesticide industry-sponsored research has concluded that the neonicotinoids are safe. The European Union, which is typically much more concerned with strict agricultural standards than the U.S., recently failed to pass a ban on neonicotinoids, though individual nations in the EU have passed their own bans.
Beekeepers and partner organizations in the U.S. just sued the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) asking them to immediately suspend use of two specific neonicotinoids. (Read more about the lawsuit here.) There are already not enough bees available to pollinate California’s almond crops (a very large export and staple in California’s economy).
Even if you don’t have an interest in the welfare of the bees as creatures that don’t deserve to feast on chemicals, there is an economic factor involved for all of us who eat American fruit and vegetables. Crop failure means smaller harvests and higher food prices. The costs that farmers have to pay for bees to pollinate is also increased when the supply of bees is low, which translates to higher food prices as well. 
Remember when you were in elementary school science classes, learning about ecosystems? How damage in one part of the ecosystem affects another? Protecting our ecosystem from those who would seek to exploit it (I’m looking at you, pesticide manufacturers) is the job of the EPA. We need to call upon them to recognize that the welfare of all of the parts of our ecosystem matter, and that includes bees.