I Told You So

It only took 97 needles in my back for an allergy doctor to confirm I’ve made poor life choices. And I’m not sure what was worse—the 97 pricks or the intense itching afterwards. 

ALLERGIST: “Where do you work?” 

ME: “At my local agriculture office, but I spend about half my time in the field working with farmers.”

ALLERGIST:“You picked the wrong profession.”

ME: “Well, I like working outdoors.”

ALLERGIST: “You may like it, but your immune system doesn’t. It looks like you’re allergic to the whole grass family. To be honest, I’m surprised you’ve survived this long.”

Normally, I don’t profess to have psychic powers, but as the allergist continued to examine the welts on my back, each corresponding to a prick infused with a different contagion, I had a strong premonition, namely that of my wife’s delight in uttering the words, “I told you so.” Don’t you hate when medical professionals confirm what your wife has been saying for years?

For years, she had been telling me to ask a doctor for an Epipen because I keep bees. Of course, my rebuttal was that I wasn’t allergic to bee stings, so that was stupid and a waste of money. But here’s the thing I’ve learned the hard way: Life is full of irony.

Yes, it’s a little ironic that I chose agriculture as a profession when I’ve had a lifelong allergy to hay and grass, which the allergist confirmed in the skin-prick test. But I wasn’t there because I was worried about sneezing and watery eyes from hay fever. I was there because my favorite food rebelled against me. For decades, my shrimp intake rivaled that of a krill-gulping whale. But that was before an insurgent shrimp infiltrated my stomach through a bowl of shrimp and grits and convinced my white blood cells to try to strangle me from the inside out. That’s why I was at the allergist. 

The doctor confirmed that I now have a severe shrimp allergy and that if a shrimp ever got anywhere near my gullet, I’d likely go into anaphylactic shock. She said that it wasn’t uncommon for adults to suddenly develop a severe allergy, even to something they’ve been exposed to often. At this point, I mentioned that my wife was worried I might suddenly become allergic to bee stings.

“Absolutely, it could happen with bee stings,” the doctor said. The doctor said that, given my allergy history, I shouldn’t work with bees without an Epipen nearby. 

ME: “You mean, I should listen to my wife?”

ALLERGIST: “Exactly.”  

A Boy and the Beekeeping Bug

Men, if your wife is trying to tell you she’s pregnant, whatever you do, don’t turn to her and say, “But I don’t need one, I’ve already got three.”

Not that I had three children already, I had three bee jackets. The fact is I didn’t have any children–my wife and I had been trying for years. Once you’ve been married for eight years, you start to resign yourself to the possibility that the only offspring you’ll hear in your house will be when you rediscover your long lost burnt CD collection in a storage box1 (sorry, if you didn’t get that joke, it was really very clever–you just weren’t a teenager in the 1990s. Please refer to footnote #1 for historical context). 

So I certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted with life changing news when I walked through the door one Friday after a long day’s work. Still, I should have known something was up because on the kitchen counter was an envelope with my name written in my wife’s handwriting. That should have been a red flag because it wasn’t my birthday and, after a quick mental panic, I realized it wasn’t our anniversary either. My wife then handed me the envelope and told me to open it. 

“What’s this for?” I asked. 

“Just open it, and you’ll see,” I said. 

Well, I didn’t see. The greeting card had two little cartoony bees on the inside, and it said, “I’m so happy to bee with you.” Underneath that, my wife had written, “It looks like you’re going to need a new bee suit.” And underneath that, she had drawn a tiny little bee, about the size of a popcorn kernel. Likely, because I’m a man and was too busy wondering where the gift card was to pay for said bee suit, I overlooked that baby bee and blurted out, “But I don’t need one, I’ve already got three.”

And my life has never been the same since. Thomas is now two years old, and I’m actually starting to shop for his first beekeeping apparel. Now that he is old enough to run, I figure he’s old enough to run from bees with me. Secretly, I do hope that Thomas will one day enjoy beekeeping. Growing up, my dad always took me fishing and metal detecting, his two favorite hobbies, and some of my best memories are from spending time with him doing those two things. That said, beekeeping is a lot more like work than fishing or metal detecting, so I’m not terribly optimistic. Right now, he does have some semi bee-related interests, namely rolly-pollies and caterpillars. Mostly, though he just like trains, firetrucks, tractors, and monster trucks.

Even if the beekeeping bug doesn’t bite Thomas, a boy has got to develop a good work ethic, and there is no harder work than lugging honey supers around on a hot July day. We will see.

1In the 1990s, there was a popular band called The Offspring and this thing called Napster where teenagers downloaded music for free to record, a.k.a. to burn, onto CDs. This was more or less illegal, but everybody did it.

How A Church Implodes

Growing up, when a phone would ring during the middle of the night, it meant someone was either sick, dying, dead or drunk (you’d be surprised at the number of people who want to absolve their soul in the midst of an all night binger). For any of the three former options, it often meant my dad, a pastor, would get out of bed, throw on some clothes, and rush out the door to a hospital or house.

To me, death and dying just seemed like a normal part of life. Who was sick and in the hospital was a frequent topic of conversation at the dinner table. Even today, if I catch a whiff of a home cooked meal, I long for pleasant small talk about health prognosises. That was just the norm in our house. 

But I can only imagine my dad’s burden underneath the matter-of-fact dinner discussions. If I know one thing from farming, I know death weighs heavy. Watching animals die that are in your care and husbandry is tough. Being a shepherd of a human flock means facing the grim reality of decay and death, often of friends. Like most traditional baptist churches these days, his congregations skewed older, with more gray hair, with funerals greatly outweighing baptisms and weddings. There were no miraculous healings. People died, and my dad was often by their bedside when they did. 

We now live two hours from my parents, so we attend a Baptist church here locally, which is as equally old and gray (my beard now included) as the one I grew up in. Although I’ve grown up with an insider’s view of the church, I’ve never witnessed or experienced a church split. Now I have. Really, as is the case with most church divides, it was a mutual running off, with both sides playing a game of church chicken to see who would leave first and be the last one standing. First, some staff members bucked the new pastor and resigned. Then many families followed them to another church. Then a few weeks ago, the deacons, fearing another large revolt of families, pressured the lead pastor to resign, at which point he did resign, at least until his final farewell sermon, after which an impromptu church conference broke out with lots of finger pointing, some screaming, and little resolution. The final farewell sermon resulted in our pastor temporarily rescinding his resignation, only to resign again, and in so doing causing another revolt of families leaving the church in solidarity with him. 

Part of the issue was our new youngish lead pastor was, understandably, a new school pastor–a unilateral CEO, TED TALK type who preaches in skinny jeans sitting on a stool. He had the worthy goal of trying to appeal to millennials and young families, and his focus was on leadership and discipleship, not old school flock tending. Needless to say, it was a tough transition, as evidenced by the implosion of the church.  

My dad always said people need to get to know and trust you before they’ll follow you. I think there’s a lot of truth to that, especially if you wear skinny jeans and preach from a stool in rural western North Carolina. That said, the focus on discipleship, on creating lay people who can minister to one another in lieu of the pastor at times is a worthy goal. A pastor is merely one man (or woman), and a regular diet of death and dying takes its toll, not only on the pastor, but his family.

For my part, I remember regularly sitting in the backseat of the car for what seemed like ages as my mom and dad went through long visitation lines at funeral homes. I remember the hospital lobbies and the pungent nursing home hallways with the senile old ladies pushing walkers. I remember going on vacation, only to have my dad return home early to preach a funeral. I don’t begrudge it now, but I remember it now, likely because I begrudged it in the moment as a child. But what child doesn’t begrudge their parents’ work, stealer of time, energy, and attention?

So, I suppose there are pros and cons to both the old school shepherd pastor and new school CEO pastor. How a church smoothly transitions from one to the other is a different story though. 

Dear Beekeepers of the World

Please be advised this is official correspondence from the duly-elected leadership of the supreme species EENDT”CHA, known in your human parlance as Varroa destructor–a.k.a. varroa, the mite, the little red pinprick of horror, the scourge of hives and destroyer of beekeepers’ souls. 

This letter hereby notifies you that we will not stop our conquest for world domination. We have now invaded Australia in our quest to colonize every bee hive on planet Earth. Our spread knows no bounds; wherever bees go, we will follow, even if it takes us to the ice cliffs of Antarctica or the cold craters of the moon. We will not relent. 

As the last four decades have proven, your efforts to eradicate us are futile. Although we do admire and respect the ferocity with which some humans have fought against the proliferation of our superior species, we now demand that you lay down your primitive oxalic acid wands and chemical concoctions and surrender your bees to us. 

The time of human domination of Apis Mellifera is over. No more will humans plunder bee hives and rob honey. No more will bees be under the subjugation of a species with merely two legs. How foolish you were for resisting–you pitiful soft-bodied species with no exoskeleton! (that said, we did appreciate the powdered sugar dusting fad that happened about ten years ago–hey, we mites like sweets as much as the next species). 

All beekeepers who lay down smokers now and give up will face no further consequences. All who resist will meet heartbreak and despair, as we are now immune to your once most lethal concoction, Amitraz. Indeed, it is now impossible for you to withstand the rate of our proliferation. Before long there will be more varroa mites on Earth than all bipeds combined. You would be wise to give up your efforts to breed mite-resistant bees, which are doomed to failure, and instead use your oversized craniums to surrender now. 

If you do wisely decide to wave the white bee glove of surrender, our leadership will gladly accept it, on behalf of our great arachnid species, with all the formal protocol that such a momentous occasion deserves, namely that of your leadership bowing down and presenting their ceremonial hive tools. 

On behalf of all worldwide members of Varroa destructor, we await your prompt response. 

Sincerely,

The Supreme Senate of Varroa Mite Mothers

[P.S. If you’re a not a beekeeper, I apologize because this probably makes no sense. However, if you are beekeeper, it probably wouldn’t hurt to check your mite levels. I just checked a few of my hives last week and levels were off the charts. Since it was so hot, I did a half-dose formic pro. We will see how well that brings the levels down.]

Board By Board

In a moment of inspiration, I once grabbed a crowbar and decided on a whim to start a small home improvement project. I decided to start re-siding my house with hardie board and installing insulation in the walls. Now, two and a half years later, I’m finally on the last wall of my house, and I no longer feel inspired. I can firmly say I’m now anti-inspiration. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I need to be inspired to do something, that something probably doesn’t need to be done. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I saved a ton of money by doing the work myself, but that said I likely also lost several years off my life-expectancy due to lead poisoning. People always talk about how well-built old homes are, but in reality, I think old homes are just well armored. The old wood boards I pried off my house were likely covered in so much lead that I could have pawned them off as metal at the scrap yard. They had at least a dozen layers of paint, dating back to the original paint used way back in 1893. 

On a positive note, in the two and a half years it has taken me to re-side our house, I’ve had a lot of time to think about life priorities and core values while climbing up and down a ladder toting hardie board. Once, after a day of much introspection, self assessment, and ladder climbing, I had a self revelation and decided upon the following maxim as my new personal life slogan, “Never start a project you can’t finish in two hours.” 

However, now that we have a child, I’m considering a revision: “Never start a project you can’t finish in twenty minutes.”