The Bees’ Needs

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Flowers, Home & Garden, Literature, Wellness

A few months ago, I was baffled when my boss gave me a book about beekeeping for my birthday. While I enjoy honey and have always had a healthy respect for bees, my interest has never gone beyond that, so I wasn’t sure how to react to this unexpected gift. But my boss has an otherworldly knowing and assured me that, once I perused these pages, I’d never look at bees or the natural world in the same way again. As usual, she was right.

In Song of Increase, author Jacqueline Freeman tells the story of how she became an accidental beekeeper when a friend offered her some bees to tend on her farm in the Pacific Northwest. Having no prior knowledge about beekeeping, but possessing a keen intuitive sense, Jacqueline sat quietly next to the hive for a time to simply observe. As she did, she began to experience a feeling of joy emanating from the bees while they went about their work.

Over time, as she learned the rhythms and routines of the hive, she started tuning more and more to the bees’ frequency and began receiving direct and detailed messages about the inner workings of the colony, its vital purpose on the planet, the magic of the hive mind, and the various songs the bees sing as they carry out their tasks, including a celebratory anthem of abundance known as the “song of increase.”

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

Skeptics and cynics may doubt her story or even question her sanity, but these insights have given her a unique perspective on how to care for a colony of bees. Much of what she learned runs counter to the practices of conventional beekeeping, and this “bee-centric” method—focusing on the bees’ needs rather than our own needs from the bees—restores the sacred trust between human and hive, helping both to thrive.

This book gave me a glimpse into a world of industry, harmony, and beauty that I’d never fully appreciated or understood before. The eloquence of the bees is expressed in both action and awareness, as they comprehend the interconnectedness of all things and embrace their role within the whole. We have much to learn from them.

I don’t think I’m up to the practice of beekeeping—yet—but now I’m more likely to pause and acknowledge the bees in my own backyard, taking a moment to radiate gratitude for their tireless work and wisdom. And in the midst of a rainy winter week here in Southern California, I’m already dreaming of the bee-friendly flowers I plan to plant in the spring, because a garden in full bloom and buzzing with activity—that’s the bee’s knees.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Song of Increase

 

Song of Increase is also available on audio as read by the author. You can learn more about Jacqueline Freeman and her bee-centric approach to beekeeping at Spirit Bee.

 

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Awesome Floss

Author: Kirsten K., Coffee, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Sweets

Happy New Year, Swooners! Unfortunately, I spent much of my time over Christmas and New Year’s recovering from illness, so I wasn’t able to schedule our annual holiday posts, but I found comfort in sipping my new favorite drink: the Juniper Latte. I swoon over the scent of evergreen, but never thought it would grace my Grande until I saw this seasonal brew on Starbucks’ menu. Once I experienced the flavor of winter foliage, I wanted MORE of this “treet,” but adding pumps of the juniper syrup to my coffee order also meant adding unwanted sweetness, so I began to look online for a juniper extract to jazz up my java. That’s when I discovered Nature’s Flavors.

I ordered juniper in the form of an organic flavor concentrate (which works like a charm in my latte), but fell down the rabbit hole while exploring the many extracts, oils, syrups, powders, and other natural and organic flavors offered by the company. There were so many to choose from in such a variety of forms that I had to create a spreadsheet to make sense of them all! In addition to evergreen essences like juniper and pine, they have an endless assortment of fruit, vegetable, herb, spice, floral, liquor, and baking flavors, as well as surprising options running the gamut from acorn to zabaglione.

I wanted to try them ALL, but before I broke the bank buying up bottles, I found that they offered many of their flavors in the form of “floss.” Cotton candy may be referred to as candy floss or fairy floss in some parts of the world, but it’s still the same fairground staple we know and love, and it provides a light and (f)airy vehicle for sampling all types of tastes (Alfredo, anyone?). Naturally, I gravitated to the florals: jasmine, lavender, orange blossom, rose, violet…and one I’d never tried before—apple blossom. Awesome!

Nature’s Flavors also carries juniper cotton candy floss, but next time I might try something more daring, like dragon fruit, or bold, like bay. With their slew of selections, I won’t need a reminder to floss daily.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Nature’s Flavors Cotton Candy Floss

 

For the do-it-yourselfers, Nature’s Flavors offers all natural and organic cotton candy sugars. Click here for some more fun ways to floss.

 

Committed to Memory

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Holidays, Literature, Nostalgia

One December afternoon many years ago, my high school English teacher, Miss Weakland, announced that she would be reading a story aloud for the entire class period. Miss Weakland was my favorite teacher, in part because she liked to intersperse drilling grammar and parsing Faulkner with days like these where the class could relax and enjoy some literary entertainment. That same year, she caused a minor stir when she decided to screen Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. There’s some brief nudity in the film, so the administration of our private Catholic school required that students bring a signed permission slip from their parents in order to watch. This created an awkward anticipation during the screening, which grew in intensity until one student let out a loud wolf whistle when Leonard Whiting’s ass-ets finally made an appearance, breaking the tension amid gales of laughter.

But this day’s presentation was free from controversy. Miss Weakland would be reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. I’d heard, of course, about the famous author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but hadn’t read this short story about a memorable holiday from his youth or seen the 1966 film starring Geraldine Page. “Imagine a morning in late November,” it begins. Just two paragraphs later, I was already drawn in by the time the author’s elderly, childlike cousin and best friend exclaimed that “it’s fruitcake weather!”

I was so charmed and deeply moved by this tale of innocent pleasures, selfless giving, true friendship, and pure love that I went on and on about it when I got home from school. That year, my mother gifted me with a special edition of the book for Christmas. I’d also told my own older (though not elderly) cousin and friend—a bibliophile who later became a librarian—about the joy and wonder of first hearing this story read aloud, so she enthusiastically suggested we hold a reading at our family’s Christmas celebration the following year, but it didn’t go over as well as we’d hoped. She’d read the story, but we hadn’t read the room—a captive audience of AP English students it was not.

Since then, I’ve pulled the slim volume from its slipcase each Christmas to reread on my own, marveling that it still has the power to bring tears of joy and sadness to my eyes, even though, after all this time, it is practically committed to memory.

I recently learned that Miss Weakland passed away exactly one month before Christmas…on a late November day that, perhaps, signaled the start of fruitcake weather. She will forever remain a special part of my Christmas memories.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

A Christmas Memory

 

Incredibly, an audio version of A Christmas Memory is not available from Audible, but Barnes & Noble carries an edition of the book that includes a companion CD featuring the story read by Celeste Holm. Or, start a new tradition this year by downloading the ebook and reading it aloud at your own holiday celebration. Just make sure to read the room first.

 

Good Sport

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Holidays, Sweets

One of Kirsti’s favorite scenes in the movie Throw Momma from the Train occurs when Billy Crystal’s character, Larry, declares that he’s going to kill the mother of Danny DeVito’s character, Owen. Before going after her, Larry asks Owen if he wants anything, and Owen replies, “You can get me a Chunky.” Pre-murder snack aside, this struck both of our funny bones, because who eats a Chunky?

I had personally never tasted the tubby trapezoid of Nestlé milk chocolate with peanuts and raisins, because 1) raisins, and 2) see #1. However, it became a running joke with Kirsti and me, and we started gifting each other a Chunky on birthdays and special occasions. I tried one and was surprised to find that I…liked it. I didn’t love it, and I never went out and bought one for myself, but the combination of creamy chocolate, crunchy nuts, and—yes—chewy* raisins tickled my taste buds.

Years later, I was introduced to Ritter Sport chocolate and swooned over their marzipan bar. It’s still one of my favorites, because the precise temper gives it a pleasing snap, and the chocolate-to-almond-paste ratio is just right. Designed by Alfred Ritter and his wife Clara to “fit into every sport jacket pocket without breaking,” each perfect, 16-square grid of Ritter Sport chocolate is both sweet and satisfying to those of us chocophiles with OCD tendencies.

I’ve sampled many of their flavors, from Yogurt and Cornflakes, to Espresso and Caramel Mousse, so—despite the “currant” situation—I decided to give their Milk Chocolate with Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts a try. It tasted like a sophisticated Chunky and I found it delicious, raisins (gasp!) and all. It has the familiar smooth milk chocolate and crunchy nuts, but there’s a reason they call this bar “The Tipsy Chocolate.” Before mixing in the raisins, they are soaked for hours in Jamaican rum. There is also rum in the chocolate, and the boozy flavor is surprisingly strong. I like to call it a “drunk Chunky.”

I don’t come across Ritter Sport’s Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts very often, which is probably a good thing (chunky isn’t just the name of a chocolate bar). The combination of rum and raisins seems to have become associated with the Christmas season, because I only see this bar at World Market and my local German deli during the holidays, so if you’re going shopping for international treats, be a good sport and ask me if I want anything, but don’t laugh when I say, “You can get me a Ritter.”


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Ritter Sport Milk Chocolate with Rum Raisins & Hazelnuts

 

*It seems that what I actually don’t like are “plump” raisins. If they are completely dried to the point that they’re dense and chewy, I can handle them.

Try to get a fresh package, because the marzipan is sometimes dry in older bars.

 

The Pilgrim’s Bloggess

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays

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“We did not fix
To show to all the World our Posts and Pics
On such a blog; we only thought to share
What makes us swoon, so others are aware,
Thereby to please our Readers; to be true,
We did it our own selves to say, ‘Thank you.’

..

🌽 Happy Thanksgiving Swooners! 🦃

 

 

Poem adapted from the prologue to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.

 

Light-Headed

Author: Kirsten K., Author: Kirsti Kay, Holidays

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♪ ♫ Well, I’m light-headed, check it and see.
I’ve got a hollow feeling inside of me.
Getting sleepy, as if I’m in a trance.
I’m light-headed, I’m light-headed. ♩ ♬

..

🎃 Happy Hollow-een Swooners! 🎃

 

 

This pumpkin was carved using tools and patterns from Pumpkin Masters. Lyrics adapted from Hot Blooded by Foreigner.

 

Ryden for a Fall

Author: Kirsten K., Modern Art, Pop Culture, The Arts

I was first introduced to the artwork of Mark Ryden 20 years ago this month when My Crazy Friend Marianne™ attended The Meat Show at the Mendenhall Gallery and brought me back a copy of the companion book. I was completely captivated by his Pop Surrealist paintings of doe-eyed children and animals amid a bizarre jumble of vintage toys, flea market finds, and slabs of raw meat with macabre images hidden among the marbling.

Wanting to share this fortuitous find with Kirsti, I took the book with me to a Halloween party at her house and left it behind for her to peruse. The next day, I learned that one of the guests had laid the book on top of a lit candle, and the flame had burned a mark into the back cover and through several pages.

Kirsti offered to replace it, of course, but I declined, since the mark hadn’t appeared on any of the pictures. However, she more than made up for it years later by jumping through hoops to get me a signed copy of Ryden’s Anima Mundi.

Having become a fan herself, Kirsti attended the Blood exhibit at the Earl McGrath Gallery in 2003, where she saw the haunting image of “Rose,” with her large, woeful eyes and crimson tears. When the painting became available as a limited edition pendant, Kirsti got it for me as a gift, and while I occasionally wear the pendant during the year, I always pull it out each October to celebrate the season. Now it’s become as much a harbinger of Halloween as PSLs and pumpkin carving patterns.

Last year, Kirsti and I attended the Mark Ryden-designed Whipped Cream ballet with our friend Bryan, who later surprised and delighted each of us with a Lover’s Eye brooch. Featuring a likeness of the large, wandering eye that had been projected on one of the stage curtains, its graphic gaze has joined Rose’s blood-streaked face as one of my eerie embellishments during the month of October.

If you are new to the art of Mark Ryden, you’re in for a treat (no trick!). Each time I flip through one of my books or view his work online, I encounter something fresh and am amazed anew by his attention to detail and boundless imagination. Some themes may be disquieting, but they are always served up with a soothing palette and a healthy dose of whimsy. Every autumn I fall for them all over again.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mark Ryden

 

The “Rose” pendant is no longer available for sale, but can be found on eBay and various online marketplaces. The Lover’s Eye brooch can be purchased from Porterhouse Fine Art Editions, along with special edition Mark Ryden books and merchandise.

 

Anything Bose

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Music, Wellness

A couple of years ago, when he heard that the ear buds I’d received with my iPod Classic had finally given up the ghost, my brother-in-law gave me his old Bose SoundTrue in-ear headphones. I tend to use a thing until far beyond its natural life cycle, so while I’d been coaxing every last decibel out of my standard-issue Apple headphones, I hadn’t been aware of certain advances in ear bud technology, such as soft, silicone tips with specialized “wings” that hook in the folds of the ear to keep the buds comfortably in place. Ahhh…

The darling, destructive duo of Disco and Queen.

I probably would have run these bad Bose into the ground if they hadn’t met their untimely demise at the teeth of two adorable dogs named Disco and Queen. While visiting my friend Mika, the headphones fell out of my purse in proximity to her playful pups, and when we left to run a short errand, those dear buds found my ear buds. Sigh.

Having previously had a great experience with the Bose Wave CD player—which held up so well that I sold it on eBay years later for nearly the price I paid for it—I decided to splurge and replace the obliterated buds with an identical pair, but somehow ended up with the SoundTrue Ultra version instead.

Folks, these headphones have been life-changing. Bose took their silicone tips to the next level with a noise-isolating design that instantly blocks virtually all external sound. One reviewer called these StayHear Ultra tips the headphones’ “secret sauce.” The ear buds don’t contain noise-cancelling technology, but it’s hardly necessary when the tips do such a great job of making you feel like you’re the only one—or thing—in the room.

This effect can have some drawbacks, though. Every sound you make, from heavy breathing and coughing to talking and humming along, becomes magnified within your own head, similar to when you plug your ears with your fingers. I also wouldn’t recommend wearing these headphones while driving or jogging, as they may prevent you from hearing critical sounds. But if you want to listen to music, audiobooks, or meditation recordings without distraction, these are a high-quality, comfortable, and effective option that is more affordable than the noise-cancelling variety.

I particularly enjoy using them when listening to binaural/brainwave entrainment tracks, which can quickly put me in a deeply relaxed state when I don’t have to deal with extraneous aural interference. And while I’m still holding out for a Hearo in certain circumstances, my SoundTrue Ultra ear buds make exceptional earplugs when I want instant relief, since the external sound-blocking effect is both effortless and immediate. Kirsti and I just returned from a swoon-worthy trip to Savannah and Charleston, and even the roar of the jet engines on our flights was no match for my Bose buds.

Some of the mixed reviews at Amazon indicate that high-fidelity enthusiasts might not enjoy these ear buds, but I used to work for an audiophile label and I’m very happy with these headphones. In fact, I’m prepared to buy anything Bose makes—just as soon as my SoundTrue Ultras buy the farm…or get torn apart by one of the animals.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Bose SoundTrue Ultra In-Ear Headphones

 

Since I came late to the game, Bose is already phasing out the SoundTrue Ultra in favor of its SoundSport in-ear headphones with standard StayHear tips and the the more pricey QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones with StayHear+ tips (equivalent to the Ultra), but that means you can currently find great deals on remaining pairs of SoundTrue Ultra ear buds online while supplies last, so get a move on to get your groove on.

 

Sisi Fuss

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Fine Art, History, The Arts

Kirsti and I have not written much for the blog this summer, and over the past month I haven’t felt like swooning over anything except the oppressive heat, but I’ve been roused today from my self-imposed sabbatical to commemorate, of all things, an assassination.

On September 10, 1898—120 years ago today—Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known familiarly as “Sisi” (i.e. sissy), was stabbed in the chest by a disgruntled anarchist (is there any other kind?) as she was about to board a steamship in Geneva, Switzerland. In the chaos of the attack, neither she nor her lady-in-waiting realized what had happened until Sisi collapsed and was carried aboard ship, where her tight corset laces, which had been stanching the flow of blood, were cut open to help her breathe…and that was all she wrote.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865.

Years ago, when I’d grown my hair below my waist and was in thrall to trailing tresses, I encountered a painting of Sisi by famed royal portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and developed an adult case of Princess Syndrome. In the painting, Sisi’s famously long, thick hair is unbound and flowing down her back while one creamy shoulder is exposed by the drape of a sumptuous gown. I was enchanted, and thus began my fascination with this complicated consort.

Sisi’s marriage to Franz Joseph I of Austria initially seemed like a fairytale. His mother had arranged for him to marry his cousin, Sisi’s older sister Helene, but when then-Princess Elisabeth joined Helene and their mother to meet the young Emperor for the first time, he only had eyes for Sisi. In a rare display of defiance against his domineering mother, Franz Joseph declared that he’d marry none but Elisabeth, and their betrothal was announced five days later.

This Winterhalter portrait from 1864 was Franz Joseph’s favorite painting of his wife.

The courtship and marriage were highly romanticized in the 1955 film Sissi,* but real life did not lead to a happily ever after. From the beginning, Sisi chafed at the strictures of court life, compounded by the open disdain of her overbearing mother-in-law, who took charge of raising Sisi’s two daughters and is rumored to have threatened her over not producing a male heir. By the time Sisi gave birth to a son, her first child had already died of illness, and she’d fallen into a depression that plagued her throughout her life.

Her misery manifested as a number of (likely) psychosomatic ailments and an obsession with weight and beauty involving extreme exercise and fasting regimens, daily cold showers, and hours spent brushing and styling her hair. But despite her neuroses and melancholy, Sisi was intelligent and curious, taking delight in defying convention and shocking those in her stifling milieu. She spoke several languages, was an avid reader, and had a passionate thirst for knowledge that led to wanderlust in her later years, but the death of her only son at the age of 30 in a murder-suicide with his mistress was the final blow from which she never emotionally recovered.

Winterhalter’s famous 1865 portrait of Sisi wearing crystal hair pins and a tulle gown covered with shimmering foil stars.

During her 44 years as Empress of Austria, Sisi found periods of solace by visiting Hungary, of which she was also queen through her marriage, and showed a clear preference for that country and its people. While this angered many Austrians, she remained a subject of fascination and was lauded for her charitable works and sympathy with the common man. When she was assassinated at age 60, Sisi was deeply mourned throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area that continues to make a fuss over her to this day.

Kirsti traveled to Vienna a few years ago, where she visited the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Imperial Palace and scored me several choice items of “Sisiana,” including syrup and jelly, tea and truffles, and a beautiful reproduction of one of the crystal starburst hair pins that adorn Sisi’s coiffure in Winterhalter’s most famous portrait of her. I have also ordered Sisi-themed chocolates (surprisingly delicious) and sparkling wine from Austria that arrived on my doorstep faster than many orders I’ve placed in the U.S.

While I enjoy using these items and admiring Sisi’s portrait on my wall (a gift from my cousin), I try not to lose sight of an enduring lesson. The irony and tragedy of celebrating Sisi for her beauty is that she derived her self-worth from her looks, which were doomed to fade over time. And though it would be easy to dismiss her as a pampered, vain royal who cared only about her appearance and didn’t appreciate the good fortune her status afforded, her story is a reminder that beauty, money, and position are no protection against adversity and heartache.

After learning about the lady beyond the canvas, I no longer have Princess Syndrome. People from all walks of life can experience tragedy and self-doubt, and every woman should know that she’s valued for more than just physical attractiveness, her spouse, or a title. The freedom to pursue your own purpose is a privilege, and it turns out that marrying into royalty is not all it’s cracked up to be (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Channel!).

But I still really love that hair.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice in this post:

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

 

Sissi* chocolates and sparkling wine can be ordered online from Austrian Shop, but be aware that availability is often unreliable.

 

*Sisi’s nickname is often misspelled as Sissi is film, literature, the performing arts, retail, and various other areas.

Sisi might remind you of another beautiful and beloved princess whose unhappiness with her marriage, royal restrictions, and public scrutiny led to depression, low self-esteem, and an eating disorder, but also sparked a streak of defiance, an interest in philanthropic endeavors, and an affinity for the common people that led to an outpouring of grief upon her untimely death.

Franz Winterhalter also painted a famous portrait of another beautiful aristocrat with fabulous hair.

 

Reap What You Soma

Author: Kirsten K., Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Wellness

Like much of the country, we in Southern California are experiencing a seemingly endless series of summer heat waves. To add insult to injury, the air conditioner in my 14-year-old Beetle broke and I decided it wasn’t worth the money to fix it when I plan to buy a new car soon, so I chose instead to invest in another essential for surviving the summer: water.

I’d read about the Soma water filtration system on Tim Ferrissblog in 2012, but didn’t get one for myself, because I’ve had a high-quality, under-the-sink purifier for years. However, it’s wedged between the water pipe and the wall, making it a pain to change the filter (not to mention the slow leak that remained out of sight and undetected until water had seeped under the wooden floorboards halfway across the kitchen), and I started noticing a slimy build-up developing within the faucet pipe. Yikes!

That’s when I made the switch to Soma’s sleek countertop dispenser. Its BPA-free plastic reservoir holds a filter made from 65% plant-based, renewable materials that provide clean, great tasting water in minutes. The design is elegant and innovative, with a lid “door” that automatically opens while filling from the faucet, then closes when done. The shatter-resistant, borosilicate glass carafe makes a stylish serving vessel that holds 48 oz. (6 cups) of purified water and happens to nicely complement the shape of my tavern shrub glasses. Plus, unlike my under-the-sink model, it quickly disassembles for easy cleaning.

I swear that I’m not affiliated with Soma in any way, but their water filtration system is one of the best purchases I’ve made in years! Since buying their glass carafe and filter, I’ve been drinking water more regularly than I can remember. And with several affordable options to choose from—including family-friendly plastic pitchers that hold 6-10 cups, a portable water bottle with protective silicone sleeve, and their new brew bottle for making coffee and loose leaf tea on the go (want!)—there are Soma-ny ways to hydrate.

If all of that weren’t enough, you can sign up to receive replacement filters by mail every two months, and each time you purchase a Soma filter, they donate to charity: water, which works to provide sustainable, clean water in developing countries. I’ll drink to that! So be sure to water daily and frequently in this heat, because you aren’t the only one who’ll reap what you Soma.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Soma Water Filtration Systems

 

Soma products are also available from Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.