How I Became A Beekeeper

Nature fascinates me, inspires me, leaves me awestruck.

I think beekeeping has always been in the plans for my life.

I grew up eating honey. I was a toddler before the warning labels appeared on honey jars and I've eaten it for as long as I remember.

Probably as a result of my love for honey, I also had a particular fondness for The Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh.

From time to time during my childhood someone in my family, usually my great uncle Oscar, would rob a wild beehive and share the honey with us. One time I remember being at my grandmother's when Oscar brought a dishpan of wild honey to her. It was super rich, dark as amber. A few dead honeybees were still trapped in the honey. I studied those bees and wondered about robbing a hive someday.

I spent a lot of time reading during those years: The Foxfire Books, My Side of the Mountain, and the early 20th century classic Camping and Woodcraft were some of my favorites. I  dreamed of living off the land.

Fast forward to the summer of 1984. I worked as the lifestyle reporter for the Franklin County Times, a small-town newspaper published twice each week. My main job was to find at least one big feature story for each issue. The last feature I wrote that summer was a profile of a local beekeeper. I visited his bee yard as part of my reporting, but I had to stay at a bit of a distance because I didn't have a veil.

I've always enjoyed buying local honey when I travel or wherever I've lived. During the years I lived in Florida (in my mid-20s) I loved to buy the orange blossom honey from local beekeepers.

As a result of all those experiences and my love for honey, I just knew that some day I'd have a few hives of honeybees.

I'd first heard about honeybee decline around 2004 or so. That concerned me. Also in 2004, I'd purchased three books about bees, honey and society. Each of these took a slightly different approach to telling the history of the relationship between honeybees and humans.

Honeybee challenges combined with my concern over the food system accelerated my desire to become a beekeeper but in 2007 I was moving back to Alabama and not quite settled enough to take on the responsibility of beekeeping.

Eventually, though I bought a house in Birmingham I started thinking seriously about getting bees, but not just to provide honey.

I love learning and beekeeping seemed like a great way for me to combine my curiosity about nature with my need to always be learning something new, while doing my part to help honeybees (and humans at the same time, since much of the food we eat requires their pollination services).

In 2012 I decided that 2013 would be the year I became a beekeeper, so I set out to learn as much as I could ahead of time. Beekeeping has its own vocabulary, and then there's the range of equipment options, philosophies and bee biology. The more I delved into beekeeping the more I learned how much I needed to learn.

I attended two conferences for Alabama beekeepers and, in October 2012 at one of those conferences, I met a beekeeper who spoke of bees more like the fascinating creatures they are and less like industrial machines that needed prophylactic chemical treatments. I asked Keith if I could get his email and if he might be willing to sell me two nucleus hives the following spring.

I'll leave out the details of the months between November and April. Suffice it to say the closer I got to the point of getting my bees, the more I realized how little I knew. I almost backed out.

But something deep within me said I had to take the plunge. That still, quiet voice inside told me that honeybees are part of my destiny.

I picked up my two hives late Sunday afternoon, May 26, 2013 and took them to the farm.

Thus began what has been perhaps the most rewarding experience of my life so far: Doing my feeble bit to provide the framework and shelter the honeybees need to fulfill their own purpose for being here for such a short time.

I study them when I open the hive, I ponder their work as I stand to the side and watch them come and go, loaded with pollen and nectar. The foragers never pause to rest. Occasionally the guard bees will look at me, curiously. Worker bees in the hive will also peek up at me if I have to remove a frame for an inspection. Some of the foragers would hover around me when I'd  be in the field picking a vegetable. They seemed to know that I was the keeper who visited their hive. When I put up my tent to camp in mid-October I had leave the flaps zipped because the lady bees seemed to think it was a giant flower.

The experience has been, so far, more amazing than I ever anticipated. I just hope that I can do the right things, no more, no less.

“Thou seemst — a little deity.”

Anacreon, Ode 34

Ode to the bee (Fifth century, BC)

Cross-posted at my blog devoted to my beekeeping activities: Beekeeping  Journal


What’s YOUR story?

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I want to be like   ________” [insert name of celebrity, athlete, corporate power broker, friend.]

We all do. We all use others for comparison or contextual reference.

Last year, I caught myself explaining a project as wanting it to be something like a cross between Oprah and MarieTV with a heavy dose of nature and animals. After I wrote that in a Facebook group, I later wondered if I was doing myself a disservice by using other people as reference points.

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, has a saying:

“Cover bands don't change the world.”

If you're into music, you know what he's talking about.

I didn't mean to say I wanted to be Oprah or Marie Forleo, I was talking more about trying to emulate their platforms as I work to create something I've dreamed of since I was a kid watching ZOOM in the 1970s. But still…..

All too often we look for the map to reach whatever life destination we're aiming for.

We search for the golden ticket that will make some dream magically come to life.

We mimic others in the hopes of capturing their success and making it our own.


You have a life story that's your own. No one else can tell that story.

If you don't tell YOUR story by living the life that's right for you, the world will be deprived of your story, your talents, your gifts.

[Tweet “Be original. Paint your masterpiece. “]

You have a unique perspective to share, even if you haven't yet figured out the whole purpose thing. Like I said in my post The Power of Purposeful Action, your purpose will be revealed as you take action on your interests and step out of your comfort zone.

I've experienced some stuff that I did not enjoy, that I would not care to repeat, that I wouldn't want any other person to go through. The worst of those experiences were not remotely due to any fault of my own.

But without those experiences I wouldn't be the person I am today. In hindsight, I can see that I'm strong as a result and maybe more willing to be brave in the face of uncertainty than some others might be. Also in hindsight, I can see that those experiences have made me more independent than, perhaps, I should be.

But it's those experiences from a life of living that make originality possible.

Our Life Is A Gift

History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.

Alexis de Tocqueville

I'm original, you're original, because no one else has experienced our life with our respective combination of interests, talents, skills. We need to use that originality to tell our own story, to paint our masterpieces.

Don't let your life be a pale imitation of someone else's.

Are you painting an original or just making a copy?

I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.



The Power of Purposeful Action

Do you ever experience the whole “why am I here” angst?

Do you wonder: What is my purpose?

Do you ask: Does anything I do really matter?

Color me guilty.

I spent most of my 20s and early 30s dealing with those questions. I found that journaling helped. A lot. I worked my way through Julie Cameron's The Artist Way*—twice. I have a banker's box full of spiral notebooks and journals filled with my musings and efforts at purposeful self-discovery.

As much as the journaling helped me connect-the-dots between my interests, talents, strengths and perceived goals, I've come to realize that actually taking action, even baby steps, has been more valuable in helping me discover where I'm going on this journey.

By actually doing something we can learn if we really are interested in it or reasonably good or at least capable of becoming good.

We Learn Through Action

In the same way that a lawyer becomes a lawyer through practice, a writer is a writer because she (or he) writes.

If you have a dream or an interest, it's ephemeral until you actually take steps to engage in it, to practice, to discover. You must take action.

Last year, Javacia Harris Bowser started the #BlogLikeCrazy project to encourage women bloggers to practice the craft of writing by writing and publishing a new blog post each day during the month of November. I didn't fully participate then, but when I saw her tweet about this year's #BlogLikeCrazy I decided I'd go all in.

At this point in my life, I already have a portfolio of published writing. I was a full-time freelance writer from 1999 – 2002 and wrote every day, on assignment, for real money during those years until the jobs started to dwindle in 2001 after the dot-com bubble burst and the economy slid into a recession.

My purpose in joining in #BlogLikeCrazy this year is to force myself to take daily action on a vision that has emerged over the past year. I'll be writing more about that in future posts.

For now, I'll just say that in 2012 I really dove into a new period of self-reflection and personal journaling to reevaluate my life up to that point. I had a big birthday in November 2012 and I wanted to seriously consider where I'd been in my life, the lessons I'd learned through taking action up to that point, and make sure I was on track for the second half of my life.

During that time, I could sense the direction, the vision, but I couldn't exactly see it.

One day, just over a year ago, I was out for a run and I'd been contemplating all these questions, framed around the need for specific direction. I'd been running for nearly an hour at that point and my brain was on auto-pilot. Suddenly, I received this message: “Stop thinking. Take action. The results will amaze you.”

Take Action. The Results Will Amaze You.

In the months since then, I've started to take steps toward this thing that was still ephemeral. And what's amazing is that with every baby step I took I gained more clarity about the purpose for this thing and how it relates to me and what I can offer. At this point, I can actually describe the foundation and the framework.

Later this month I have another birthday coming up. I'm giving myself a present:

Massive action to propel my vision into reality by the end of 2013.

Not completion, because this vision is something that will continue.

One aspect of my vision requires creation of a LOT of content: Blog posts, podcasts and video. That means I need to be writing at least one blog post every day, in addition to the other behind-the-scenes work that's involved.

#BlogLikeCrazy is the perfect trigger to ramp up my efforts from working a few hours each week on this vision to working a few hours every day.

Purposeful action in the direction of your dream is the best gift you can give yourself. You deserve it.

The world deserves the gift of your talent and your dream.

If you aren't sure of your purpose, take steps toward something that seems right and those steps will help to illuminate the path or reveal that you're on the wrong path.

You can't think or journal your way onto The Path. You must take purposeful action to find it.

What's your dream? Are you taking purposeful steps to make it a reality?

I'd love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comment section below. We can do this thing together.

*Link to The Artist's Way is an Amazon affiliate link.




Who sold out Halloween?

Costumes and trick-or-treating are fun activities, especially for kids. For adults, it's a good reason to gather with friends and experience community . And a good excuse for adults to wear something outlandish.

For those who aren't into the ghosts, ghouls and goblins aspect, there's the Fall festival approach that still allows for treats and fellowship.

As is the case with all holidays, major or small, 20th marketers saw a business opportunity to sell costumes and treats and thus we now have the commodification of another cultural practice and tradition.

Just in case you aren't aware: Halloween is a derivation of All Hallow's Eve, a celebration that emerged from the historic Christian church tradition that celebrates November 1 as All Saints Day, a time to remember Christian believers who have already entered eternity. The eve of All Saints Day turned into a night of revelry and some debauchery in advance of the more pious religious feast day.

Making costumes from the back-of-the-closest or thrift-store finds, or even home-sewn apparel is a chance to be fun and creative. My favorite costumes are the ones that are home-crafted. Nothing memorable about a plastic cape or a mask of political figure someone hates.

When I moved into adulthood and set up my own household, I bought bags of candy to give out to trick-or-treaters who stopped by. But the obesity epidemic and my own decision to give up fast food, led me to rethink that practice.

I don't think the marketplace needs me to participate in a junk-food feeding frenzy or buy disposable costumes or accessories.

For two years, when I lived in Oklahoma, I spent extra and bought boxes of granola bars, small individual packs of raisins (sealed), and bags of fruit. The trick-or-treaters turned up their noses. I ended up with lots of leftover apples and raisins.

I'm not a purist who's opposed to store-bought candy and sweets, in moderation. I occasionally eat a Snickers bar, although much less often than I used to. Mainly because the Snickers bar no longer tastes as good as it once did. I think they changed the formula or something. Anyway, it's not worth $1.03 to me, which is the current cost of a Snickers bar if I buy one on campus from the bookstore. And I'm not going to buy Snickers by the bag, in advance, to economize. I don't need five or six at a time.

I'm more than fond of home-baked cookies, brownies, pies and cakes, especially those I make myself. (I use whole wheat flour when baking and less sugar).

I won't be giving out letters to overweight kids, either. No need to make them feel bad. It's the parent who needs chastising.

But count me out of the retail frenzy. I'll be settled in tonight celebrating with a Harry Potter book. And baking one of the pumpkins I grew this summer.

How are you spending Halloween? Are you tired of the commodification of our holidays? Have you opted out? Why or why not? What do you think of this infographic? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below (after the infographic).

Statista's Halloween Chart of the Day 2013

Infographic Source:


Don’t Settle for Less Than Your Dream

Are you ready to give up on your dream? Do you feel knocked down by forces seemingly beyond your control? Does your path seem blocked by brambles, briars and boogey monsters?

Are you in a situation that hasn't turned out like you expected?

I've been there. Multiple times.

And I've learned is that I must push on, adjust course when necessary and, most importantly, never settle.

Life is a journey

Your dream, your vision, can only become reality by setting out on this journey and following a path that may not be on a map. In fact, the path to fulfilling your dream should not be on a map. If it is, you're following someone else's dream. If you can see every step to your destination, you may want to revisit your vision.

Settling for less is giving up. It means you're stepping off the path.

When I was in law school I had fairly prestigious summer associate experience with an well-established law firm in Miami. I had the opportunity to do securities work. I'd been planning a career in corporate law and I'd loved the course I'd taken in securities law. I spent most of the summer working on real estate limited partnership syndications, assisting with due diligence research and documentation. It might sound tedious to some, but I loved the work that summer.

Shortly after the summer associate program ended I received an offer for a job after graduation. I was set. So I thought. Dream job. Great vibrant city that was experiencing a renaissance. This was at the height of Miami Vice and Miami Sound Machine era. I had friends in the city. Everything seemed perfect.

Law school graduation finally arrived. My car was already loaded for the move and I hit the road shortly after the commencement ceremonies ended.

The first sign that something was amiss: When I arrived at the beachfront lodging where I'd lived the previous summer I found it a bit less savory than the year before. An understatement. The unit I was given was positively filthy. After one look, I told the manager that I wouldn't be signing the short-term lease after all.

I set out across town to look for a decent apartment that I could lease without a long commitment. I was tired from driving and frustrated by the need to find something on-the-spot. Spent the night in a hotel and the next day found an apartment way south of downtown. New complex, nice apartment, unfurnished. I ended up leasing a few pieces of furniture until I could figure out a better alternative. The where-to-live problem turned out to be minor.

Several of us new associates were starting on the same day and had arranged to work for a few weeks prior to taking time off to study for the bar exam. We were greeted with what was, for me, a bombshell announcement: The firm had recently “split” and most lawyers in the corporate division had left the firm to join another group. The firm's primary business was now, and for the near future, litigation, mainly insurance defense.

My hiring offer had been to work in the securities department but the firm now had no securities work and no securities department. We would all be starting our legal careers doing insurance defense and trial work.

Hmm. My entire law school experience had been designed to avoid litigation. I had zero interest in doing trial work. I'd prepared for environmental policy, business transactions, securities, real estate, even taken specialty courses in sports and agriculture law. But not trial law. Not litigation.

My dream job was going to be a nightmare.

I tried to make it work. I showed up dutifully each morning, after a 10-15 minute car commute followed by a 20 minute train ride to my downtown Miami office building. I slogged through depositions in medical malpractice cases involving “myocardial infarction.” That's when I learned the medical terminology for heart attacks and other conditions. I drafted legal memoranda on corporate negligence involving accidents in retail establishments.

I attended motion dockets and hearings on motions for summary judgment. Prior to these few weeks, the closest I'd come to a motion for summary judgment had been filing one in client folder in a filing cabinet during my undergraduate prelaw internship. I'd barely been into a courtroom. I'd certainly never been to a motion docket. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever attended a real hearing in a real courtroom, despite having graduated from law school. That's how disinterested I was in litigation.

I tried. Two years isn't that long, I told myself. I could even look for something else as soon as I passed the bar exam. But I had to get over that hurdle.

Opportunities aren't always what they seem.

Sometime around the third week, I was called in to assist a junior partner on something. I did the research and wrote the motion or memo or whatever it was. He said he wanted me to accompany him to the hearing. OK. No red flags. It was a morning docket call and we took the Metrorail across town to the courthouse. After the hearing, he said he wanted to stop for breakfast. So we did that.

On the train ride back to the office we had to stand up and the partner kept moving around so that his midsection would bump into my hand holding on the pole. At first, thought it must've been an accident and just moved over. But when it continued after I started moving around, I realized that he wasn't accidentally falling into me. It was something more akin to an attempt at bump-and-grind. Became very obvious.

Back at the office, later, he asked to meet with me. He proceeded to tell me way too much about his home and personal life. More than one picture of his wife was on display in the office. He'd requested me as his primary associate and, although he didn't specifically say the words, it was clear that I'd have an “opportunity” to do more than simply write legal briefs and attend motions with him.

I found out from one of the other new associates that this wasn't the first time this guy had made women clerks and associates feel “uncomfortable.”

I was 24 years old. Not interested in becoming a litigator. Not interested in becoming a concubine. Not sure how to handle sexual harassment. Totally stressed out. The mental strain was affecting my efforts to study for the bar exam in the evening. Not sure what to do. No one in my life to provide advice and counsel about this situation.

Welcome to the real world, Sheree.

Within a week, I made an appointment with the managing partner and told him that I could not work with the firm. I used the litigation assignment as my justification. Didn't mention the sexual harassment stuff. Said it would be best if I didn't stay on longer because it wouldn't serve either the firm or myself to fake it. Better to leave now, yada yada.

I quit.

Barely one month after embarking on what I'd spent the past 7 or 8 years dreaming of and planning for, I quit. And I had to use the money my parents gave me for law school graduation to repay the portion of the signing bonus I'd used to set up my residence in Miami and make a downpayment on a new vehicle.

One of my dreams had been to travel around Europe with a friend that summer. We had purchased tickets and planned to leave on our month-long adventure immediately after taking the bar exam. My parents had given me the graduation money to pay for most of the trip. Since I had to use that money to pay back what I'd spent from the signing bonus, I had to cancel my travel plans.

No trip to Europe after the bar exam. Another dream put on hold.

Instead of having a dream job as a corporate lawyer at a nice salary after a month in Europe, I was unemployed, had a new car payment, no savings and no plan.

I refused to settle.

The choices I made in late June 1987 that year changed the course of my life. In hindsight, I think it was the universe telling me that corporate law was not my destiny. I'll explain why later.

Don't settle.


What Is Luck?

I made Pat Flynn's book Let Go a required reading in one of my classes this semester. One objective for the assignment: Show my students that they don't need to fear the economic uncertainty, that it's possible to chart their own paths, that opportunity surrounds them.

Opportunity Surrounds Us

We simply need to think creatively, be willing to expand our horizons, and seize the day by taking action.

At one point during our recent discussion about Pat’s book I asked the class: “Did you find this reading to be worth your time?”

Almost before I could finish the question, one student blurted out: “NO!”

“OK, fair enough. Why not?”

“He was just lucky.”

Wow. That took me by surprise.

My instinctive reply came out just as fast:

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

That quotation, or some variation thereof, has been attributed to everyone from Seneca to Thomas Edison to Oprah Winfrey, so I'll just leave the attribution open to your choice.

I didn't leave it at that, however.

How was Pat Flynn prepared?

I proceeded to engage the class to come up with a list of ways he prepared. I’m not sure I put all these on the board, but this is my list:

  • Pat had the initiative to accelerate his architecture dream by taking the LEED exam.
  • Pat created a blog to organize his notes and study for this optional exam. He did more than simply skim over the material and take iPhone photos of chapter summaries.
  • He used commute time to listen to business podcasts
  • He started monitoring the traffic on his blog
  • He attended a meet-up near his home when that opportunity came up
  • When someone at the meet-up suggested Pat compile his blog posts into an ebook, he didn't blow that off. Instead, he asked how to create, publish and sell an ebook and then invested a lot of time and effort into actually creating the book.
  • And when the book began to sell, Pat saw another opportunity: Document the steps he took to share this path with others. He didn't simply sit back and rest on the laurels of success from Green Exam Academy. He pushed forward and created new income streams.

I don't see anything in that list that might be attributed to mere chance.

I've thought regularly about that student's comment in the week since our class discussion.

During a drive to the farm to check on my honeybees last weekend, I recalled a conversation with a friend from my college days. The classroom incident and an old conversation with a friend led me to make the question luck vs. opportunity the subject of my first blog post here because I truly believe we play the lead role in creating our opportunities.

We create our lives.

The particular conversation from my college days is etched into my memory in full relief and pops up not infrequently: I was driving south on McFarland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa, nearing the interstate exchange. An undergrad friend, Sharon, was in the car with me. She said something to the effect that I was so organized, that I had it all together, and that's why I'd held a lot of campus leadership positions, and so on. I distinctly remember discounting Sharon's compliments by saying that I'd just been lucky.

Sharon replied by saying something to the effect that it wasn't luck, that I was prepared. I don't remember the exact phrase, but it that was the gist of her meaning.

Preparation, not luck, she said.

In the decades since, I have pondered that conversation more than a few times because it went a lot deeper than most others of my college years. Was I lucky? Or did I take steps to prepare myself and open the doors to opportunity? In hindsight, I can see that I was pretty motivated and took sought out opportunities to for involvement and leadership.

My friend Sharon died of a brain aneurysm just a few years after that college conversation. She was in her first year of marriage. Her admonition lives on.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

My friend Srini recently published his third ebook, The Art of Being Unmistakable. The book emerged from a series of posts based on “observations of a life that hasn't gone according to the plan.” Srini jokingly says he’s been committing career suicide, one post at a time.

Two days before I wrote this post (in late October 2013) The Art of Being Unmistakable got a shout-out and recommendation from a big name in conservative/libertarian circles: Glen Beck. After that mention, sales of Srini's book have taken off. I'll be honest, I would not have pictured Glen Beck reading this book. That's not the point.

The point is this: Srini is writing his own story, hacking his own path in life. He's been working for several years building BlogcastFM into a platform, without knowing exactly where that project would lead. To this point, Srini's online media “career” hasn't been what some might call financially lucrative. He's stayed afloat by living at home and continuing to create, to make and share his art.

Srini writes every day, 1000 words at least. He interviews creative, interesting people who are pursuing their own art and, to borrow a phrase from Seth Godin, “making a ruckus.” Srini takes actions to keep growing, to keep exploring.

Srini's efforts, long in the making, are now opening doors and creating opportunities. Srini's biggest project yet is slowly being unveiled: The Instigator Experience. I hope to be a part of it.

Platforms, Communities, Connections

More important that The Instigator Experience, itself, though is the action that's preceded it. Srini has been preparing himself and taking advantage of the opportunities that exist in this new world where we all have the means to have experiences, to create a platform, to share stories with our audiences and build communities far larger, yet far more personal, than the heads of 20th century media conglomerates could ever have imagined.

Case in point: Without the internet, it's very likely that I'd never have heard of Pat Flynn and Srinivas Rao. Thanks to the internet, I've had email and Twitter exchanges with Pat and built something of a positive, virtual friendship with Srini through Twitter and Facebook. I fully expect to meet them both in person in 2014 and continue to grow these relationships.

About 18 months ago I began to explore some new rabbit holes that captured my interest and sparked my imagination. With each step along these paths I’ve experienced major personal growth and have been astonished by how my life is evolving. I’ll save the details for another day.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Care to join me on this journey?

This blog is where I’ll share stories and perspectives from my journey along the path to a happy, fulfilled life.

Visit The Ben Franklin Follies for the keys to hacking YOUR path to health, wealth and wisdom.

And I'm working on a project that's code-named Operation Shine. Stay tuned for details.


Links to the two books on this page are affiliate links.