How Sweet It Is

I wouldn’t call this book life changing, but diet changing yes.  After reading Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive I went from eating PB & J sandwiches to PB & H (peanut butter and honey).  I learned such amazing things about these insects and the food they produce that spreading it on my bread instead of sugary jelly just made sense.  Author Stephen Buchmann is an entomologist who knows his way around a beehive as well as the English language.  His writing is humorous, fascinating and tasty.  Allow me to share a few gems from this wonderful book.

Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, 2010
Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, 2010

Post format:  TRIVIA

Bees have some clever ways of collecting pollen and toting it back to the hive:  Some species moisten it with saliva and attach it to concave regions on their hind legs, also known as pollen baskets.  Others carry it in the coarse mats of hair on their legs and abdomens.  Buchmann describes one industrious bee species as “so laden with bright orange pollen by the time it finishes its work that it looks like a flying Cheetos snack as it heads for home.”

Many creatures enjoy honey, but some don’t live to tell the tale:  One such example are mice who sometimes invade a hive seeking warmth and food. The bees sting the animal to death and entomb it within the hive’s resinous walls. “Embalmed mouse mummies are an interesting side note to beekeeping,” Buchmann says.

Not all honey is created equal:  Honey varieties differ in color, aroma and flavor.  Tupelo honey for example is honey made only from the nectar of tupelo blossoms. Bachmann’s vivid descriptions of common U.S. honeys will have you salivating.  I’ve always bought clover honey because it’s generally the cheapest. Buchmann, however, raved about orange blossom so

Mead or honey wine is still being produced today.
Mead or honey wine is still being produced today.

I decided to splurge.  Turns out I didn’t have to.  Orange blossom honey at the supermarket is reasonably priced and delicious! Now, maybe I can save my pennies for fresh farmers’ market honey or honey straight from the comb, an experience Buchmann says is “like nothing else in the world.”

England was once known as the Isle of Honey:  The ancient Britons were renowned for their beekeeping skills.  The vast quantity of honey they produced was used as a sweetener in foods and for mead which is honey wine.

Honey cures what ails you:  The Ancients regarded honey as a wonder drug, one that beautified and strengthened the body and developed the brain.  Modern medicine is now revisiting these old remedies. Today, health care workers in places like Australia and the Netherlands are beginning to use honey-impregnated bandages to treat burns and hard to heal wounds because of the substance’s unique antibacterial qualities.

Bee pollinate most of the world’s fruits and vegetables. You can help bee populations by planting flowers in your own backyard.
Bees pollinate most of the world’s fruits and vegetables. You can help bee populations by planting flowers in your own backyard.

Bonus Bit: After reading this book, I developed such an affinity for bees and the job they do in pollinating most of the world’s fruits and vegetables that I want to help.  You can too!  This spring I’m planting sunflowers and zinnias, flowers bees love.  The seeds are cheap.  Once the plants are up and going, they don’t require much tending. I may even join the Great Sunflower Project in which average citizens agree to count the pollinators that come to their garden.

Question:  Do you know of an interesting bee story?

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It’s A Small World

I am fascinated by miniature items.  Doll houses and model train sets are enough to stop me in my tracks, gazing with delight.   A hand-crafted, tiny world graces the cover of both of these books.  Read on to see what else they have in common and a few things they don’t.

Post format:  A Tale of Two Books

Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, 19
Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, 1989

Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle and The Village by the Sea by Paula Fox were both published in the 1980s. Both have preteen female protagonists with unsuitable caretakers.  Finally, both include a miniature world that each child holds dear.

In Afternoon, we meet nine-year-old Hillary.  She lives with loving parents in a well-kept house.  We also meet her neighbor Sara Kate, 11, whose house is run down and whose mother is strangely absent. The two girls bond over a tiny perfect village nestled in Sara Kate’s junky back yard.   The older girl claims elves constructed the dwellings and the girls must help from time to time with upkeep.  The reader turns the early pages of the book eagerly to find out if the world is indeed fairy-made.

In Village, we meet 10-year-old Emma whose father is taken ill suddenly.  She is sent

Village by the Sea by Paula Fox, 19
Village by the Sea by Paula Fox, 1988

to stay with an aunt who lives on the coast of Long Island.   Aunt Bea has always resented Emma’s father and extends this jealousy to his daughter.  Emma escapes her Aunt’s wrath by roaming the beach.  Using beach debris, she begins to build a tiny village with the help of a neighbor child.  But Aunt Bea goes down to the beach on Emma’s last night and gets in one final act of cruelty.

Book Face-off: Who wrote it better?

I couldn’t wait to dive into Lisle’s Afternoon with its hint of mystery involving the elf village and Sara Kate’s elusive mother.  Lisle is a gifted writer, and the early scenes between the two mismatched girls were truly magical.  However, as everyday life crept in to the story and the fate of Sara Kate’s mother was revealed, the enchantment faded away like fairy dust.

On the other hand, Fox transports readers to a little girl’s world and keeps us there until the last page is turned.  I could wax on about Fox’s prose but instead will offer a few examples.  The first passage gives a picture of the hard-hearted Aunt.  The second describes the beginnings of the girls’ village.

“Aunt Bea’s remarks about people were like being punched in the same spot over and over again.  You got a kind of ache just listening to her, and the ache didn’t go away.”

“Pine boughs and oak twigs and sea lavender formed hedges; and from plants plucked from the tangle that grew along the cliff edge, they made gardens.  The mayor’s house was made of sand dollars roofed with pine cones.  The house of the only rich family in their village was built of oyster shells.  The main street, which went from one end of the village to the other, was formed of white bubble shells.  Slipper shell paths wound around the gardens.  The blue and green sea glass made fish ponds and a skylight for a painter’s studio.”

I have been a little girl.  I have spent hours playing and creating on just such a beach.  And so this book is special to me.  But with a writer as good as Fox, any child or adult for that matter will fall under its spell.

On a final note, I’d like to recognize the artists who created the books’ cover art.  After all,  that was what first attracted me to these stories. Ponder Goembel painted the elf village and Sheila Hamanaka the sea village.  Both are still working illustrators.

Bonus Bit:  In keeping with the theme, here are a few miniature items I own.  They are antique charms on a silver bracelet:

waffle iron (top opens and closes)
waffle iron (top opens and closes)
bride and groom
bride and groom
fruit cart (wheels move)
fruit cart (wheels move)
high chair
high chair
old-fashioned bug sprayer (pump slides back and forth)
old-fashioned bug sprayer (pump slides back and forth)
alligator (was given to me because I saw an actual alligator on the beach as a girl)
alligator (given to me because I saw an actual alligator on the beach as a girl)

Question:  Do you own or know of something interesting in miniature?

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