Friday, April 19, 2013

Psycho African Bees

Despite being allergic to bees, I have been interested becoming a Bee Keeper for many years.  Last year for Fathers' Day my family generously gifted me a bee keeping kit.  It was too late in the year to order bees for my hive--I had to wait until this Spring to get them.   Several days ago, after much anticipation my bees finally came.  They arrived in a little wooden box, with the Queen protected in a special little box, inside the container. 

I have been studying bee keeping on line.  I learned and practiced the technique of introducing the Queen into the hive.  I was pretty anxious about the "big dump", which is essentially the process of dumping the small colony into the hive.  The on-line You Tube videos make this look pretty simple.  In reality, it was terrifying.  As instructed, I calmed my bees by spraying them with sugar water.  After settling them down, I attempted the "big dump."  My bees went crazy.  Instead of going into the hive, they swarmed me.  Apparently bees have a keen sense of smell.  I discovered in an horrific way bees most definitely can smell fear. 

After extricating myself from this seemingly life harrowing experience, I checked the wooden box my bees came in to make sure they weren't labeled "Psycho African Bees."

Later that night, I was at the Naches Ward building and ran into Stephanie Peterson, a Laurel in our stake who also happens to keep bees. I asked, "Hey Stephanie, what do you use to calm your bees?"   She responded, "I just smoke them with weed."   "Weed?  Really?" I mused.    Now there's some interesting advice.  I was curious about how I would get the weed, and what the legal repercussions might be.  Then it dawned on me, maybe she meant that she uses common field weeds to smoke her bees.  I inquired.  Sure enough, that's what meant. 

After my first encounter with my bees, I'm not sure common garden weeds will do the trick.  They might need something a little more potent to soothe their spirits.  Fortunately, we live in Washington State where weed  is now legal, so obtaining and using weed is not a legal problem.  The challenge is obviously a moral dilemma for me.  I am an officer of the court and have a reputation to uphold.  Furthermore (and most importantly), there is the likelihood I would not pass my next temple recommend interview.  So, what to do?  Place myself in mortal danger by exposure to Psycho African Bees, or reduce the anxiety in both my bees and myself by smoking a little weed in the back yard?  So, if you notice a glassy look in my eyes the next time you see me, you'll know how I resolved this dilemma. 

Don't worry.  In the end, I'm certain my confidence will grow with each bee encounter, and that the extreme anxiety which is producing the fear my bees are smelling will eventually evaporate.  Until then please send soothing thoughts my way. 

My first hive.

 I know they look calm here, but trust me these bees are totally psycho!

Novice Bee Keeper.
 My Greenhouse.
I am keeping the bees in my greenhouse for now because of the cold spring weather we are having.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Holy Grail of Hot Chocolate

Part of our European search for the perfect hot chocolate involved many chocolate detours, such as this: Chocolate waffles in Belgium. 
In 1999 I sent my wife and her best friend, Julie Turner to Chicago to see a taping of the Oprah show.  (I'm pretty sure I was nominated for Spouse of the Year that year.)  I might have one-upped myself with this past trip to Europe.  Following Chelsea's graduation in London, we toured around Europe in search of the perfect hot chocolate.  We visited beautiful cities and small, quaint villages in search of the Best European Hot Chocolate.  Along the way we tasted chocolates of every shape and variety.  While in Cologne, Germany (one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited) I took my wife to the Shokolade (Chocolate) Museum.  She was giddy to be sure.  These are actual words spoken by her while in the museum:

      I think I have made a career choice.
      Do you think they would hire someone who doesn't speak German, but who really loves chocolate?
     I'm in heaven.
     Oh my gosh! Come see this!
     This is amazing!

The following are actual chocolate related quotes by my wife at various other locations in Belgium, England, the Czech Republic and Germany:

I love you! (Presumably directed towards me, but she was looking into her hot chocolate cup as she spoke these words.)
That's tragic! (When a man next to us in The Old Chocolate House ordered simple tea.)
I've  heard that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  (My response to which was to double every bit of chocolate that she ordered.)

And although, Sheila didn't say it, she didn't need to; the look on her face spoke volumes:  I think I might love Chocolate more than you!  Now, I am not threatened this by this for two obvious reasons.  First, chocolate enhances our relationship.  Second, I know that my wife loves chocolate so much it helps me appreciate how much she actually loves me. Based upon her love for chocolate, I'm pretty sure our marriage sits upon a rock solid foundation.
Below are pictures from Our European Quest for the Holy Grail of Hot Chocolate: 

We searched in many chocolate shops.
We negotiated narrow and treacherous European roadways.
We looked high...
and we looked low.

We looked here...

and there...

and everywhere.

And finally, the best hot chocolate we found was at The Old Hot Chocolate House in Brugges, Belgium. 

It was the ambiance, the aromas, and yes, the chocolate that made all the difference.

Finally, I am including our much discussed and debated list of top hot chocolates in the world:

1. Angelina's in Paris, France.  Hands down this is it.  Angelina's is located on Rue de Rivoli, across from the Tuileries Garden.  The chocolate is rich and dark and sweet.  It is so thick that it coats your tongue in a weird but amazing way.

2. The Hot Chocolate House in Brugges, Belgium.  The chocolate is divine and the ambiance is fun.

3. Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge specialty hot chocolate.  We have debated it's inclusion in our list because of what's included (bits of toffee--the dregs of this hot chocolate become an amazing sludge of fudgy, toffee flavors.)  It tastes pretty much like a hot liquid Heath bar, but with superior chocolate.  The ambiance is unique for me as a climber.  I am not sure if this hot chocolate taste so amazing because whenever I drink it I have just exhausted myself climbing Mt. Hood.

4. The 40th Avenue Espresso in Yakima, Washington.  We're sorry but we had to include something close to home.  To make the list for me, you have to pay extra and then ask the barista to use the Ghirardelli chocolate.  I order it with 3 pumps of caramel syrup, whipped cream and caramel and chocolate sauce drizzled on the top. Yummo!

5. Finally, The Chocolate Pot at the Salish Lodge near Seattle. We hesitated including this in our list because the Lodge changed ownership several years ago and the facility is a shadow of what it used to be.  The hot chocolate is no longer prepared table side, although the hot chocolate is still pretty darn good.  It's inclusion on this list is the original Chocolate Pot, which is technically no longer available.  This hot chocolate was so much more than the wild, table side whipping and explanation of what makes an intense chocolate flavor; the hot chocolate was the closest thing to Angelina's that we have tasted.

Finally, I must include in my personal list the She-Wolf's 806-North-67th-Avenue Hot Chocolate lovingly made for me upon demand. She uses bitter chocolate chips, whole milk and half-n-half in her preparation.  She laces it with caramel and home-made whipping cream.  It's to die for.  Really, I mean it--I might take a bullet for her hot chocolate.  Well, at a minimum, it would be something to include in my last earthly meal!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

All Things Jane Austen

A corner where Jane Austen dodged a horse and buggy.  Actually, just a picture of a cool street in Bath that Shea and were standing on.

 The street corner where Jane Austen bought fresh flowers.  Pretty sure there's a plaque somewhere in the picture commemorating that.

 The river where Jane Austen was proposed to and declined.  Actually, just a spot where I made out with my girlfriend.
The cathedral where Jane Austen worshipped.  Actually, just a picture of Posh Spice in Bath.

 The Circle--the resort residents of whose who in England, including Jane Austen when she lived here I'm sure. 
 Diner that Jane Austen frequented.  Actually our family dining at Sally Lunn's Bunns--a very fun restaurant in Bath where we quite enjoyed the "bunns."
 House where Jane Austen lived.  Actually, it's the Cranley, a most wonderful Bed and Breakfast.
 Did Jane Austen bathe here? Maybe.  But it's now a UNESCO world heritage site.
 The Roman baths and someone who dares to speak the truth about Jane Austen. 
Two intrepid seekers of all things Jane Austen related.
One of the coolest cities in England is most definitely Bath.  Aquae Sulis was established by the Romans in A.D 60 as both a spa and a temple.  This is a combination that we should investigate--worship and recreation.  The Romans built Aquae Sulis on a natural hot spring and established a plumbing system to supply the baths that were so durable that it is still functioning today.  Bath is historic and beautiful.

It went through a renaissance during the Georgian period (1700-1830).   This was smack dab in the middle of when Jane Austen was writing her beloved romance novels with biting social commentaries.  She worked and lived in Bath for a period of time (1800-1809).  What is significant about Austen's life is that she produced nothing of literary significance during the nearly 10 years that she lived in Bath.  I could have predicted that--too many distractions.  Regardless, on every street corner someone is hawking something related to Jane Austen.  There are plaques and statuary commemorating everything from where she enjoyed tea to where her she stubbed her big toe. 

People (and by this I mean women) are crazy about Jane Austen.  Sure, she is a talented writer, but as a man I struggle to enjoy her works.  This is because nothing big happens in her novels.  Everyone sits in a parlor and is anxious about things they cannot change.  I read Pride and Prejudice and found it so frustrating.  I was angry and entirely dissatisfied at the end.  Comparing her stories to manly tales where heroes change the worlds in which they live are so much more satisfying to me.    Stories such as Lord of the Rings, Endurance and The Odyssey (just to name a few) are tales that inspire and uplift, and where something actually happens. 

Now don't get my wrong, I'm interested in literary history.  I just don't really care if Jane Austen had a cat and where that cat's litter box was located.  And when it comes to selecting novels or historical accounts, I choose to read stories where good has a chance to triumph over evil.

German is Fun

At Lorelei Rock on the Rhine

The Frankfurt Temple
 Admiring the amazing Cathedral at Aachen where Charlemagne was crowned.

Heidelberg Castle

 In Luxembourg listening to a concert by a wonderful brass band from the UK.
Castles at every turn on the Rhine River.

 St. Goar.

I like to think of myself as a polyglot even though I only speak English and Japanese and a little bit of Spanish.  I say this only because I like to study languages and try to speak foreign languages whenever we travel, regardless of the embarrassment that it causes.  When we went to France several years ago, I diligently l studied French everyday and was convinced that French was a very sexy language.  Believing that French was a very sexy language was the inspiration I needed to immerse myself.  Having studied (albeit unsuccessfully) a number of different languages I feel entirely qualified to comment on the virtues and shortcomings of various languages. 

I authoritatively can declare that the sexiest languages are (and in this order): French, Spanish (except when women who are angry are yelling--then it just seems really scary), and finally Italian.  The ugliest languages are: German, Dutch and Vietnamese, again in that order. In ranking these languages as ugly languages I mean no disrespect to Germany, the Netherlands, nor Vietnam.  In particularly, I include German with a most sincere apology to Heidi Klum.  She single handed has almost made German a sexy language.  When she says, Auf Wiedersehen on Project Runway, every man's heart melts.   That notwithstanding, German is clearly an ugly language.  Despite my inclusion of German in the ugly language category, German is nevertheless a very fun language.  The following conversation between the She-wolf and I illustrate this point:    

"I love German. It's so much fun!"
"I thought you said it was ugly?   Why the sudden change of heart?"
"It's fun to speak.  You get to say things you could never say in English and sound really German while doing so."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well take the word fart for example. Don't you like to say fart? In German you get to say fart all the time. This is so much fun!"
"Not everyone likes to say fart--Just adolescent boys!"

My wife is totally wrong on this point.  Fart is a funny word.  In Germany, every time I exit the Autobahn, I get to say Ausfarht! which apparently means exit and laugh enthusiastically. There are also numerous words that I cannot (and would never say in English), but which seem so German, and frankly, very funny.  Many of these start with "sh" and sound so similar to certain inappropriate words that I sometimes want to shout out, but cannot.  Consider the following:

"Ratskeller" --I'm told this is a famous restaurant, but I'm not eating there regardless.
"Schlittenfahrt"--a sleighride (apparently a very stinky, messy sleighride)
"Wirtshaus"--a saloon or pub
"Rathaus"-- city or town hall
"haarschmuckfachgeschaft"--I have no idea what this means, but it's so much fun to say.  Also I'm pretty sure I sound very German when I say this in a low, angry voice.

I'm having so much fun learning German and saying things that I would never be allowed to say in English.  After I get home if you hear me saying entirely inappropriate things, like Schlittenfahrt please assume that I am just honing up on my German.