Our (Mostly) Happy Apiary

For the last week or so, we’ve been keeping an anxious watch on the weather forecast, hoping for a day when it would be warm enough and clear enough to peek into the hives.

We were in New York last week — the state, not the city — and it was too cold out to open the colonies before we left to make sure they had enough food for when we were gone. When we got home, the temperatures continued to hover in the upper 20s and 30s F.

The weather finally cleared yesterday, with temps climbing to the mid 40s, still a little cool to pop the top. Thus, we were quite relieved to see bees flying from all five hives.

Today, as predicted, we got sunshine and 50s and were finally able to peek in to check the food situation, add bits of pollen patties (to supplement the limited amount coming in), and treat the bees with DFM (honey bee probiotics).

Even better, we managed to find brood in all but one hive.

To remind you of our set-up, imagine the two pictures below side by side with the top photo on the right and the bottom one on the left. That’s what our apiary looks like — three hives on one hive stand, and two on the other. (Or you can go to this blog post for the full picture.) We refer to them by number, 1-5, with 1 being the far right one (pink lid with black wrap) and 5 being the one in the greenish-grey insulation box.

It’s quite easy to get into the hives inside the foam insulation boxes because the foam is basically a larger box around the hive, and can simply be lifted off. The hives in the black wraps are a little more complicated, especially the middle black-wrapped one.

That one is actually wrapped with a foam-backed plastic, held together with tape and tacks. The other two black ones are “Bee Cozies,” an improved version of the wrap. The cozies are basically a tube of foam-backed plastic that you scootch down over the hives. They are slightly easier to work with than the ones that truly require actual wrapping.

We were able to find brood in four of our five hives today, most in the medium box on top (often referred to as a honey super), although one had it in the top deep box.

The outlier was #2, the middle black hive — wrapped in the original style hive wrap. Still, the population seems to be increasing — which can’t happen without new bees — and when we looked into the top deep box, there were a lot of bees on the frames. So, most likely the brood is in that deep, which right now we can’t get into because of the way the hive is winterized.

The colony that most concerns us is #3. There are only about two frames of bees, with not much brood, though there is some. So, they’re still queen right. They’re also foraging, and have plenty of food supplies.

I think their problems started because the hive was too moist, and that’s my fault. Initially we were going to use home-made sugar patties as back-up winter food, and my second batch never dried properly. Our mistake was to use them anyway. (For most of the hives, we used the “mountain camp” feeding method.)

When will I learn my lesson?! Moisture kills bees!! I know better than to give them wet food, but we did it anyway, and that hive is paying the price.

Mea culpa.

And yet, I believe there’s still hope for a recovery. If they can hang in just a little longer until it’s warm enough to do full hive checks, I think we’ll be able to steal a frame of brood from one (or more) of the other hives to give #3 a little boost.

This would also help us to prevent an early swarm from one (or more) of the hives that are already thriving. A win all around.

I knew you’d all want pictures (admit it!), so I took a few just for you!

This is #5 — lots of bees on the inner cover and top of the frames.
Also #5. Can you see the lovely capped brood?
This girl’s been working hard. Look at all that pollen!
Not all the bees were bringing in pollen, but if you look closely, you’ll see three different types, a greenish yellow, a bright yellow, and an orangish yellow. (Also hive #5.)
Even more exciting (at least to us), we (i.e., The Engineer) spotted #1’s queen. By now, you should certainly be able to find her in the picture above. And do you see the difference in the fuzziness of the bees?
The younger the bee, the more fuzz they have.
If you found Mother Bee in the previous picture, see if you can find her here. It’s a little harder because she’s hidden by her daughters, but look for that big bald thorax, and you’ll find her.

For the moment, we have a mostly happy apiary, but of course, that will change. It always does. 🙂

In other apiary news, we got a phone call with a horizontal hive estimate from Mr. Yoder this morning. He was ready to go ahead on our Long Langstroth hive and expects it to be completed either this week or next. So exciting!

And on the mother front, Mom has graduated to a “mechanical” soft food diet, which apparently means anything that can be mashed with a fork. She seems a bit happier, although I can’t say whether or not it’s due to the diet change. I’m just happy that she’s more content, at least for now.

Also, I wanted to share this picture. My friend and I saw this by the trailside when we walked this morning. It’s silly, but I love when people do things like this. It makes me smile, and I hope it does the same for you.

Thanks for reading.

Ready to Go Home

“I’m ready to go home,” Mom said on the phone, “except I don’t know where I could go. No, wait, I have an apartment, #106 Nottingham.”

She doesn’t have an apartment, and although she lived at Nottingham apartments several times, she never lived at #106. That’s the number of her room at the nursing home.

It’s a room in which she can no longer spend much time because when she does, she tries to get up and walk on her own, something she can’t do without falling.

Sometimes this is a problem even in the common area where she’s in full view of the nurses.

At times like that, Mom decides she needs or wants to move, and before anyone can reach her, she’s out of her chair. The advantage of being in the common area is the nurses and aides can usually get to her before she takes a serious tumble.

Mom’s also frustrated because she’s now limited to pureed food. I get it — her meal trays contain foods have no plate appeal, even the menu items she’ll grudgingly admit “aren’t bad.”

Her frustration is because she insists no one told her why she is now dining on the equivalent of baby food. Of course, we — the doctors, the nurses, the aides, my brother and I — have explained multiple times, but Mom can’t remember.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

She’s not a baby, and it’s galling for her to have to eat like one. But since she’s been on this diet, I’ve noticed her chronic cough is all but gone, and she chokes less often. Clearly she was aspirating more than anyone realized.

Also, I think she actually eats better, perhaps because she subconciously associated eating with aspirating and having to cough to be able to breathe again.

Her dementia means Mom can’t read books, a pastime that, until her hip surgery, gave her much enjoyment. She’ll leaf through the magazines I take, but when I ask if she’s done with them, her response is that she hasn’t looked at them yet though I know she browsed them when I brought them in.

The nursing home employees are fond of her, and the activities staff try to encourage her to participate in the activities they offer, bingo, manicures, and crafts, though she refuses to color.

I can’t say I blame her on that; it’s not something I’d choose to do either, although I know many people enjoy it.

In short, the restrictions she’s under mean there’s not much pleasure in Mom’s life these days, a fact that’s exacerbated because she can’t understand, or at least can’t remember, why those restrictions are in place.

When she asks for her phone, they give it to her, and she calls my brother and me to ask us to take her home.

It makes me want to cry because she is home at a place where she was quite happy to live before she lost her memory, and the “home” she wants to go to doesn’t exist as she remembers it.

Even if it did, she would be incapable of living there on her own as she did in the past. I won’t list her infirmities here, but they are many, each of them an incapacity big enough to warrant living where she does.

I want to cry because I understand my mother’s unhappiness. But I also know she can’t safely live with on her own, with me or my brother. Even if there were some way she could “go home,” she wouldn’t be happy because her “home” isn’t just where she used to live, it’s the life she used to have. A life when she could walk on her own, when she could still swallow without choking, when she didn’t need oxygen at night, when she had at least some control of her bodily functions.

That life is no longer a reality for her, no matter where she is.

Sometimes I’ll tell people I don’t want to live that long, and often the response is, “Some people live independently well into their nineties.”

This makes me want to shout at them. Obviously, it would be delightful to live a long life to stay healthy and independent until you die. Mostly, it makes me wonder if the people saying this have any idea just how few people are able to be independent in their nineties, or that the vast majority of people who live past their late eighties experience a decline similar to Mom’s.

I don’t shout, of course. Instead I remind myself that people who respond that way have never had the heartbreaking experience of watching someone you love lose their health and independence bit by bit as the infirmities of old age deprive them of every means of pleasure they once enjoyed.

I try to remember that losing a loved one at any age is devastating, and almost no one escapes this life without living through that experience.

Mom, 92 years, 6 months, and 8 days old in a sweatshirt we bought for her when Darling Daughter was about 2 (which means the shirt itself is 27ish years old) — I managed to get a wry smile by telling her a stupid joke.

Bee update: The girls have been flying anytime the sun is out and the temperature is even close to 40F. Three of the five hives seem very strong, one is kind of meh, and the fifth is average, so it looks like we will be splitting hives again come spring.

We attended a beekeeping conference this weekend and filled some holes in our inventory from one of the Amish woodworkers who come every year with their wares. Last year we bought a full eight-frame hive set-up from the man, and it’s held up well.

On another note, one of the beekeeping clubs we belong to had a presentation on beekeeping in long Langstroth hives. (I think they got sick of my begging.) So, I probably need to explain how a long hive differs from the Langstroth hives commonly used in the U.S.

Here’s a picture of two of our hives from 2021. Both are Langstroth, boxes of frames stacked on top of one another.

This type of hive works well. Honey bees build comb on the frames, fill it with brood, pollen, or honey, and the beekeeper can keep adding boxes as required.

The main drawback is the beekeeper then has to remove those boxes to do an inspection.

A deep box can weight up to eighty pounds when it’s filled with honey. Most often, however, these boxes are filled with a mix of brood and food, which means they weigh a bit less. The medium boxes (on top) can weight up to forty pounds when filled with honey (which is something we beekeepers all hope for).

A colony with two deep boxes and a medium stands about five feet tall (very rough estimate), which means there’s no ergonomic way to pick up and move the top boxes to check the ones below. They are heavy, awkward and, oh yeah, filled with bees who while uninterested in anything but their tasks at hand, don’t take kindly to being banged around.

Checking Langstroth hives is hard on the (Engineer’s) back. (He does all the heavy lifting, for which I am abundantly grateful.)

Enter the Long (sometimes called Horizontal) Hive. There are several varieties of Long/Horizontal Hives, the Layens, the Lazutin, the Top Bar, Long Lanstroth, and countless variations. If you’re deeply interested, visit the Horizontal Hive website, and learn all about them.

We were only interested in the Long Langstroth because it uses the same frames we use in our traditional Langstroth hives. Here’s what one looks like (also from the Horizontal Hive website).

You’ll see the difference immediately. Instead of stacked boxes, it’s one long, horizontal box filled with frames. Hence, the name. The only lifting the beekeeper has to do is one frame at a time.

Why then, you may wonder, doesn’t everyone use this kind of hive?

Well, there are a few reasons.

They’re more expensive, $425 at our local bee supply place, quite a bit more than a two deep, one medium traditional Langstroth hive.
They are uncommon; therefore their parts are not interchangable like the usual Langstroth.
Space is slightly more limited — the one above holds 33 frames, as opposed to the limited-only-by-the-strength-of-the-beekeeper traditional Langstroth. This means the beekeeper better stay on top of things, and not let the hive get too crowded or s/he runs the risk of a swarm.
Bees supposedly like to move up rather than across, but if you see people rescuing bees, you’ll see bees will build hives in any almost any opening — deep or tall.
But the biggest concern is overwintering. Tradition says long/horizontal hives don’t overwinter as well because they are harder to insulate. However, the plans we found feature thicker wood than regular Langstroth hives to help alleviate the insulation issue, and we’re hoping they do the trick.

Is this true? We hope to find out because we shared a copy of the freely available plans (again from the Horizontal Hive website) with the Amish woodworker whose hives we buy.

Could he build such a hive? Yes, he could.

How much would it be? Well, materials would definitely be more than the $50 mentioned on the Long Langstroth plans from the website, but we already knew that. I doubt you could build a birdhouse for $50 these days!

Would he be willing to work up an estimate? Yes, he’d call us with a figure sometime in the next two weeks. If we decided to proceed, we would send him a check and pick it up sometime in April, just in time for spring splits.

It was kind of funny because later each of his sons who had been there when we were discussing the possibility asked us if their dad said he’d do it. One of them said after we left their display, two different people who’d been eavesdropping asked if they were building long hives now. So, maybe it will be a new line of business for their family too!

At any rate, cross your fingers because it looks like we may be off on another beekeeping adventure!

Skunked, But in a Good Way

It’s been quite a week, beginning with one of those bad news phone calls in the middle of the night.

Mom was being transferred to the hospital by ambulance. Her blood oxygen level had dropped, the by-now chronic cough had changed into something worse, and she was running a fever.

At 2:30 am, I met her in the emergency room, where she was in rough shape — disoriented with a horrible wracking cough that shook her whole body and left her gasping for air. I had just seen her at lunchtime, and she’d been fine, making the transformation all the more shocking.

The ER doctors agreed with the nursing home nurses that she’d probably aspirated something into her lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. It wasn’t showing on the X-ray, but apparently, that happens.

I stayed until late that morning, when they finally settled her into a room, and the next seven days became a blur of worry and waiting.

A modified swallowing test, an x-ray of her esophagus, and an endoscopy showed no blockage. Her esophagul muscles have simply lost their motility, making it difficult to breathe and eat at the same time, and more likely that she will aspirate in the future. This is called dysphagia, and is common in the elderly.

As a result, Mom is now restricted to purees and liquids. She also has to sit up for 30 minutes after eating or drinking to allow gravity to aid in getting her food to where it belongs.

Her response to these restrictions has been mixed — surprisingly sanguine about the pureed food, but almost insulted by the idea she can’t lay down after eating.

“I know how to eat,” she says, “I’ve been doing it for 92 years!”

As if any of us is likely to forget her vast age.

Meanwhile, my brother was diagnosed with pneumonia, which meant he was out of the picture. This was followed by some kind of a stomach upset, which left him frustrated that he couldn’t help, but too ill to chance either his health or Mom’s.

Finally, on the day before Mom left the hospital, he felt well enough to venture out and stopped by before going to work.

While at the hospital, he had a dizzy spell, but said he was fine. I put it down to not eating properly while sick.

Silly me. Given his history of health problems, I should have known better. A few hours later, on arriving home from that day’s visit with Mom, I saw I’d missed a call.

It was from the school where Bro was substitute teaching. He was being taken by ambulance — no, make that life-flighted — to the hospital.

Despite his carotid artery being completely blocked, they sent him home the next day with medication, leaving me to wonder what happened if … when it happened again? What if he had such a spell while driving? It was like throwing a bomb into the community, set to go off at some unknown time.

Also, my sister-in-law, who usually visits Mom when she’s in the hospital, was going out the door with my niece to do just that when she tripped over something, smashing her head on the patio.

She ended up being diagnosed with a concussion in the same ER Mom had been a few days before. The next day, she was back at the hospital, where they discovered she had a broken orbital bone. I wince every time I think about it.

Still, I was very grateful to my cousin, who visited Mom, and my niece who did manage to run up and say hello while her own mother was being treated in the emergency room.

In the end, Mom returned to her nursing home just a few hours short of a week since she’d left.

She was glad to be home, and I was relieved she recognized it as such.

After her last hospital stay, she thought she was there for rehab, and had no memory of the three years she’d lived there. I’m still not sure she remembers her previous life there before her hip break, but at least she’s come to see it as where she lives.

While she was still in the hospital, her doctors asked if we wanted them to insert a feeding tube. Bro and I said no. It would do nothing to improve her comfort and quality of life. And now I’ve read more about them, it seems they don’t even prevent aspiration because quite often what’s aspirated is mucus or saliva.

It was hard to tell the doctors we didn’t want to proceed with this action, difficult to voice a decision that might enable Mom to receive nutrition more directly. I am so sad that things have reached this stage, that her life had become so filled with discomfort.

Nonetheless, this decision echoes the one she made long ago when she signed a Do Not Resuscitate-Comfort Care Only order.

A feeding tube might prolong her life, but it certainly wouldn’t make her days more comfortable or happy.

Sometimes, mostly in the hospital, but occasionally at her nursing home, it seems like there’s only a thin veil between the present and the past for Mom. There’s a look in her eyes, as though she’s seeing something I don’t, as if she’s somewhere else.

It’s different from before my dad died, when he was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. His eyes became vacant, as if the father I knew no longer existed. With Mom, it’s like she’s just elsewhere.

This doesn’t happen all the time, but enough for me to feel we should prepare ourselves for the end.

Also, she’s tired, as if the struggle to live is almost too much for her.

Obviously, I could be wrong. She could live another ten, or even fifteen, years, and if she can somehow recover from the difficulties of these last months, I’d be happy with that possibility.

But, as things stand, I can’t help wondering why she has to go through all this, why her last days couldn’t just be slower, peaceful, and without such struggles.

I can find no reason, and it’s hard to realize I can’t help make things better.

Certainly, I’m not the first, not even the first of my acquaintances, to have dealt with this situation, and there’s some small comfort in knowing others have gotten through this (although I certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone).

Meanwhile, my Bro went to the follow-up appointment with his nuero-vascular doctor. (Yes, he has one, which makes it all the more ridiculous that he insisted he was fine to go to work and that I didn’t push him on it.) She was amazed that he’d driven to his appointment and said he should have been transported.

He’s now been admitted to the hospital for an angioplasty on Monday. And although I know he’d prefer to be home, I feel much relieved that this situation is being addressed.

On another note: Once Mom was safely settled back at the nursing home, and the first doctor said Bro was fine to go home, The Engineer and I went for a hike in a local park.

I needed some of nature’s calming influence, and she did not disappoint.

It was a glorious day, over 70F, with the red-winged blackbirds trilling, the cardinals calling, and loads of skunk cabbage along the trail to assure us spring is coming. (Sidenote: This was yesterday, and today we woke up to barely 30F.)

Skunk Cabbage is such an interesting plant, not only because it is a welcome early food for bees, but because it is actually able to generate its own heat.

I must admit we felt a little jealous because we tried planting some in the yard for our bees, and it just disappeared. This is an not infrequent occurence with our gardening efforts, which The Engineer has begun to refer to as “hiding.”

“Didn’t we hide some of those plants in our garden?” he’ll ask.

Thus, we would have been a lot more tempted to break the rules (and possibly the law) and dig some up to plant in our yard if we hadn’t known it would just disappear, never to be seen again.

As it was, we instead revelled in the sight of so many plants just waiting to be discovered by the bees.

We also passed the incredible, many-trunked tree, seen below from both sides.

Even though I know my mom’s and brother’s health troubles are probably not over, I felt my tension seep away as we hiked.

Nature is so healing.

Honey Bees in Winter

I’m always amazed at the number of people who seem genuinely interested in the ins and outs of keeping bees. Because bees are one of my favorite subjects, it’s hard to not answer in such detail that they start edging away, sorry they every asked.

The Engineer can be very helpful on such occasions, kindly pointing out when my audience members’ eyes are beginning to glaze over.

I promise that’s not why I started this blog, although doing so does offer the distinct advantage of readers having the option of choosing to not read a post.

My intent in writing these posts is to share our many foibles as we endeavor to become successful beekeepers — kind “I’m telling you about our mistakes so you don’t have to make them.”

Of course, if you’re a beekeeper, that just frees you to make different ones.

Anyway, one of the more frequent questions I hear is about what bees — specifically honey bees — do in winter.

Most people think they hibernate, but this is not the case as you can see from the photo below (taken today).

It was about 60F today, and our girls took advantage of the warmth by going on cleansing flights. I’m probably anthropomorphizing, but it looked to me like they were just enjoying being out of the hive.

In the winter, they generally only venture out when the temperature is above 50F, although we occasionally seen one or two take brief excursions on those sunny clear days that look warm but are actually extremely cold.

The Engineer and I always joke they fly right back into the hive and tell their sisters, “Don’t go out! It’s f—ing frigid out there!”

Honeybees stay warm in winter by forming a cluster or bee ball, with the cluster growing tighter as the temperature drops. They keep the cluster warm by vibrating their abdomens, rotating the outer positions of the cluster so no single bee gets too cold. The mother (queen) bee remains at the center because if she doesn’t survive the winter, the hive will die also. This is because she doesn’t usually lay eggs when it’s cold, so the sister (worker) bees have no way to make a new queen.

No queen = no new bees = the hive will eventually perish.

Also, the girls waste no effort on keeping the entire hive warm; all their energy goes toward keeping the cluster nice and toasty with the center of it getting to about 95F.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy to create that amount of heat, which is why it’s so important to leave the hive enough honey to support the work they are doing.

A hive can also die because it doesn’t have enough bees to keep the temperature high enough to survive.

It’s a big balancing act: We hope we have enough bees to keep the hive warm, but not so many that they finish their food before winter ends and they are able to forage once more.

We cheat a little by putting sugar or sugar patties on top of the frames so they have extra food if they deplete the honey they’ve stored, but there’s not much you can do if they don’t have enough bees.

One of our hives ended up in this situation last fall. Because we had a lot going on, we were late discovering it, and although we moved it into a smaller box setup, we were sure it wouldn’t last the winter.

It didn’t, and because we knew it would take a miracle for it to survive, I’m not even counting it toward our total number of hives going into winter.

In my opinion, we had five, and we still have five, although since most hives die in March, we are not yet in the clear.

Still, it does my heart good to see them fly!

Because it was so warm, we were able to treat all five hives with Oxalic Acid vapor to try to bump down the varroa count before the queens really start laying. Our hope is this will give them a healthy start to the spring and summer.

In other news, WordPress informed me a few weeks ago that I’ve been blogging for thirteen years now. It’s interesting (at least to me) how my blogging life has changed, having begun with “Reading, Writing, Ranting and Raving,” a blog designed to support my endeavors as a romance writer, then seguing to “Keeping A-Breast: Cancer Lessons,” and eventually landing with “The Byrd and the Bees.”

I intentionally made the spectrum of The Byrd and the Bees wider than my previous blogs so I don’t have start another one if my interests/experiences shift again.

In some ways, it seems impossible that I’ve been doing this for that long, but as I look back, I can see how much my life has changed since I began.

Also, although I feel a little guilty for not having posted as frequently as I usually do, I can promise you I’ve been quite busy doing a lot of exciting (to me) stuff — crocheting vast quantities of scrap-happy afghans (see above), spending hours upon hours researching The Engineer’s mum’s genealogy, and visiting my own Mom three times a week.

She remains much the same — determined to try to move around by herself, which has resulted in multiple falls. Her hand was so badly bruised and swollen after the last one that the nurses thought she’d broken a bone (again). Thankfully, the X-ray showed no new breaks, and the bruises have begun to fade a little.

With my approval, the nurses have begun to insist she stay in the common area during the day so they can keep an eye on her. It’s certainly not ideal, but at some point, safety has to trump Mom’s ability to be independent.

Obviously, she can’t stay there all night or she’d never get any rest, and that’s how she fell this last time — getting up to go to the bathroom on her own.

In looking forward, I can see no happy ending, but I visit regularly, trying to alternate days with my brother, because even if she forgets as soon as we’re gone, Mom is at least happy when one of us is there.

After the New Year: Back South to Wales, London, and Home

From Conwy, we traveled back to Coventry for the New Year, which was spent with old friends. We also made time for a (muddy) walk along a canal.

I love how the water reflects the bridge (below)!

We passed a narrow boat, and I peeked inside to see a woman working in the kitchen, snug and comfy.

On 2 January, we drove south to Swansea (Wales), taking the scenic route through the Brecon Beacons, and stopping for a hike. Uphill … again — they are a mountain range, after all!

Stopping for a breather, I noticed this tree (below).

This is another one where I couldn’t decide which angle I liked best. A photographer friend of mine says the first (above), but I think it depends on whether you want to focus on the tree or the view. I took the pictures because of the tree, so I lean toward the second (below). What do you think?

I’m quite slow going uphill — plodding my way to the top, gasping the whole way, and having to stop to catch my breath even when I remember to use my inhaler before starting. I get there eventually, and when the reward is a view like this, well, it’s worth it, wouldn’t you say?

We went to south Wales to have lunch with The Engineer’s cousin and elderly aunt. She is nearly the age of my mom, and when we parted, she clasped my hand and said, “I probably won’t see you again, but you’ll remember me, won’t you?”

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? I feel we are in that process with Mom, and Aunt’s words made me sad because they reminded me of what we are going through. I wish I could help Mom be easy in her mind, rather than having her feel lost (like she has since her hip fracture and resulting surgery). As adults, I think we become accustomed to dealing with problems by changing the situation to make things better. It’s difficult when we can’t, especially when it affects someone we love.

But I digress. Back in Wales, we spent a wet night in Cardiff, venturing out only to find dinner. On the way, we saw this creature hanging out near a waterway.

The picture isn’t much, taken as it was at night in the rain, but it was unusual to get so close without the bird squawking off.

With the end of our travels near, it was time to drive back to the “Big Smoke,” and even this went smoothly. We checked in our hotel, dropped off our bags, returned the car, and convinced the shuttle driver to drop us at the hotel rather than the airport.

Our plans included two nights in London to allow a day to explore some of the sights we hadn’t seen on previous trips.

First, we decided it would be prudent to first do a dry run of the morning of departure when our flight would leave at 8:55 am. Allowing for the three hours the airline asks for for check-in and security meant we’d need to be there by 6:00 am.

To do so would require getting from our hotel (attached via tunnel to Terminal 4) to Terminal 3 from which our flight would leave.

“No problem,” we thought. All airports have transport between terminals, right?


At Heathrow, the answer to that question is “Sort of. It depends on when you need to be there.”

After following the signs for the train to Terminal 3, we asked the airport employee what time the next one left.

“In a half hour.”

It was at this point the traveler in front of us began to panic.

“A half hour?!!!” he asked incredulously. “Is there a faster way?”

“Taxi. Or Uber,” the employee responded, looking for all the world like he didn’t care how many people missed their connections due to the limited train service. And to be fair, he’s not in charge of the schedule and probably gets asked that question hundreds of times a week.

We were very glad we’d decided to explore our route ahead of time.

And I was even more glad I thought to ask the next question.

“Do the trains run 24 hours?”

“No,” he answered, “they start at 7:30.”

“What if you have an early flight?”

“You have to get a taxi. Or Uber,” he said, adding as an afterthought, “Or you can take the hotel shuttle.”

In the end, we took the shuttle. It came on time, got us there on time where we breezed through check-in and security, and had two hours to wait for our flight.

Moral of the story: When traveling, always verify every detail, especially when there is a time constraint.

Having sorted our plans for departure day, we retired to the hotel where we enjoyed a meal at the restaurant and planned our day in London.

A few months ago, we watched a documentary on the Elizabeth Line, the first new tube line in decades. Part of it focused on the Canary Wharf stop, with its Crossrail Place Roof Garden. When we learned about the Museum of London Docklands nearby, we decided that would be our destination for the day.

The garden was a small oasis in the hustle and bustle of the city. We ate our packed lunch there.
Below is the tunnel to other lines and the Docklands Light Railway, which I thought very pretty in a 70s kind of way.

The ducks are very large in the Docklands!

And you can rent a hot tub or barbecue boat. Unusual combination, I thought, but when we walked back this way, there were two men getting ready to get into the tub. No idea whether they planned to enjoy barbecue as well.

We took a Thames Clipper back toward town. This is a great way to get a riverside view of many London sights, but it’s not a tour, so if you’ve not been there before, you might want to brush up on what you’ll be seeing.

I absorbed the view from the inside, so the pictures that follow are The Engineer’s.

We went under the Tower Bridge.

The Engineer caught the iconic sight below … a double-decker bus on The Tower Bridge.

Passing the London Eye.

We watch a lot of BBC crime shows, so seeing the New Scotland Yard was a bit of a thrill.

Here are the Houses of Parliament, where much drama unfolds!

We arrived at Battersea Power Station, now a posh new mall decked out for the holidays.

You can still explore one of the control rooms.
It’s in a bar.
We got a lot of funny looks from the cocktail-enjoying customers as we wandered through, me trailing behind The Engineer as he explored the dials and gauges.

After a last pub dinner, we took the tube back to the hotel, watched the telly, and took a brief nap before getting up at 4:30 am to catch the 5:20 shuttle to the airport. By looking upon it as a nap, I discovered I slept much better for those few hours than I normally do the night before a long flight.

As mentioned above, our departure was smooth, and our incredible luck continued with us arriving safely home without any major delays or problems.

I can’t say I was ready to go home; I never am, except from Oshkosh when I start to long for my own bed and a bath, but I’m certainly ready to start planning our next adventure.

As we re-oriented to normal life, I checked my datebook and remembered I had arranged to go to “Van Gogh in America” at the Detroit Institute of Art with a friend of mine that week. Still a bit tired from the trip, I briefly questioned my decision to arrange to drive two and a half hours each way to see some paintings.

Friends, I am so glad I went! It was brilliant! My friend drove, we arrived in time to lunch before our scheduled viewing, and the exhibit was breathtaking.

I’m lucky enough to have seen many Van Gogh paintings. The wonderful Cleveland Museum of Art owns several and has had several Van Gogh exhibits which I’ve attended, and about six years ago, The Engineer and I went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I even went to the Van Gogh “Immersive Experience,” even though I’ve long held the belief that attractions with “experience” in the name are usually a rip-off.

For the record, I could see why some people believed that to be true of the Van Gogh one, but I liked it.

The Detroit exhibit was in a completely different league. There were several paintings I’d never seen and several I believed I’d seen, but hadn’t except perhaps in a book. I know this is true because they looked completely different than I remembered, while the ones I had actually seen felt like old friends.

And although I took a lot of photos, I’ll leave you with this one, so breathtaking I can only wish you the chance to someday see it too.

Driving North for Mountains, More Churches, and Football

On Boxing day, we drove to Hathersage, a village in the Peak District. (And can I just say here I think Hathersage is one of the prettiest place names ever?) We’d planned to visit an old friend who lives there, but she went to Scotland for Christmas, and by the time we learned of the conflict, we had other engagements we couldn’t change.

Because Hathersage is a pretty village and the Peak District is beyond pretty, we decided to go anyway to hike one of the trails.

On our way, we stopped in Chesterfield to check out St. Mary and All Saints, the church with a leaning spire. Someone once told me it’s looking for a virgin, and it must not have found one yet because it’s still leaning. Apparently there are many fanciful stories about why it leans. The reality, of course, is it was built with unseasoned wood which twisted as it dried. That was back in the 13th and 14th centuries, and it’s still standing, so maybe a leaning, twisted steeple isn’t such a big deal.

Continuing on, we came to Hathersage, and when I call the Peaks “beyond pretty,” here’s what I mean. Below are photos from our hike up Stanage Edge, as featured in the Keira Knightley version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Stanage Edge

After this hike, we felt a lot of sympathy for the camera people on “Pride and Prejudice!”

We could see for miles.

I’m not sure which version of these views I prefer so I’m sharing both.

You can probably tell we are up fairly high, and I have a fear of heights so I stayed further back from the edge than the other three. And there’s no way I’d go over it like this climber, especially since it was quite a windy day!

Also, his rope looked mighty thin!

As the sun began to set, it became time to leave.

After our hike/climb, we were ravenous and ready for a wonderful meal at The Scotsman’s Pack where The Engineer and I were treated in honor of our 30th anniversary by Darling Daughter and Darling Daughter’s Partner. Thanks to them for a delicious dinner!

The next morning, we walked up the steep hill to St. Michael and All Angels. Naturally, in a place with a name like the “Peak District,” you’re pretty much always either going up a hill or down one.

Here’s the view from the top.

Inside the church.

On the way back down the hill, we came across an elderly woman with a walker heading in the same direction, a scary prospect. We were so worried she would lose control and go tumbling that we escorted her down, but I do wonder what she does when there’s no one around to help.

Once she was safely on level ground, we found the car and pointed to Manchester where DD and DDP were catching a train to Edinburgh. The Engineer and I continued to Burnley where we watched a football game in the pissing down rain.

It was great to be at a game instead of watching it on the telly, especially since our seats were sheltered from the rain.

I do have to say however, they had the worst excuses for mascots I’ve ever seen.

I guess they are supposed to be bees, but the costumes were sort of a football uniform with a bee head. They didn’t generate any excitement either; one of them spent most of his time laying on the ground on his side, and all I could think of was how wet he was probably getting.

Next, we went to Liverpool to tour Anfield, home of “my” football team. It’s almost impossible to get tickets to a game, but this was the next best thing.

Even without the Beatles connection, Liverpool is quite a city, with lots of free museums and an attractive dockland area.

Below is a Liver Bird, symbol of the city.

And I have no idea what these buildings were; I just liked the way one was reflected in the other.

The following day, we were welcomed to Wrexham where we stayed in an AirBnB old coach house — tiny but cozy!

We went there solely to see the Wrexham FC football club and buy an Aviation Gin Wrexham FC shirt, but enjoyed a delightful stay at the Coach House and also had a delicious Indian meal. Being there also gave us the chance to see the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct, built in 1805 and still in use. I’d learned about the aquaduct from Atlas Obscura and knew The Engineer would like it.

Of course I didn’t walk across it — way too high — but he did.

The aquaduct was designed to also be used for recreation, with room for narrow boats to cross. To our delight, one did so while we were there.

Later, a friend of ours, an avid kayaker and stand up paddleboarder, told us people also paddleboard across. Yikes!

We continued to Conwy, getting a little lost on the way, and arriving in time to see the castle, have some delicious fish and chips, and head back to Wrexham for our second night.

Icons of Britain that aren’t so common anymorer — Red phone box and post box

Conwy street with castle at the end.

Look for our saga to continue soon!

England: Drag Queens, Cathedrals, Churches, and Castles – A Photo-blog

We had a busy end to the year as we prepared to visit the UK for the holidays. We’ve not been there for Christmas for several years, with our last visit being only a few days before heading to France in 2019.

It was a good trip, especially since Darling Daughter and Darling Daughter’s Partner (DDP) overlapped with us for over Christmas.

Also — and I find this hard to believe — we had no travel mayhem at all. Our flights were pretty much on time, we got through immigration, customs and security without waiting in long lines, and we didn’t get (very) lost while driving around the countryside.

This was all the more miraculous because it seemed like everyone was on strike — staff at passport control, the railroad workers, nurses, ambulance drivers, and more.

Darling Daughter and DDP’s sleeper train back to London from Edinburgh was cancelled, but that was due to weather, rather than the strikes.

It’s interesting to note here that strikes in the UK are different from those in the US in that they are scheduled and held for a just few days at a time. This is kind of brilliant because it’s enough to make life uncomfortable by slowing down official processes, but not enough to cause major emergencies (at least as far as I can tell).

Our trip begain with four nights in Kenilworth, and in the course of the sixteen day trip, we slept in nine places. This should have been awful, but somehow it wasn’t.

On our first full day, we went to a pantomime in Royal Leamington Spa. This holiday entertainment, complete with much audience interaction, is traditionally geared to children, but you often see six or eight adults escorting a single child. Indeed, our group had no one under twenty.

The plays are loosely based on fairy tales and always feature the female lead being played by a man (read more about the tradition here).

Between the laughs, I thought how different this is from the US, where there has been a huge uproar and accusations of “grooming” about the somewhat new practice of holding drag storytimes.

Meanwhile in the UK, we shouting with laughter over the antics of the Dame in Cinderella.

You’ll have to pardon the quality of the photos; they were taken in a darkened theatre from the balcony, but they’ll at least give you an idea of what our Dame and her creative costuming looked like.

Of course, we loved her beehive!

Later, while reviewing our adventures, we all agreed the panto was a, if not the, high point!

There were several charity shops on the same street as our hotel, and the next morning, Darling Daughter and I made time to go thrifting.

I was quite taken with these books.

They’re a bit of a parody on the classic Ladybird Books, marketed and sold as “Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups,” and you really should check out the other titles.

One shop also had paper stars hung up as Christmas decorations. They reminded me of quilts, and I took a picture to remind myself to learn how to make them for next year. I’ve given you the link so you can make them too. 🙂

The Engineer’s family used to live in a village near Coventry, so the city is one we’ve explored many times. Still, it wouldn’t be a trip to England without seeing the Cathedral, and we headed there next.

I’m certain I’ve written about it before, but Coventry was almost obliterated by Luftwaffe bombing in November 1940, with the Cathedral being destroyed on 14 November. Instead of trying to rebuild, the church chose to leave the ruins and create a new Cathedral beside them.

The new stained glass is breathtaking, but I prefer windows like the one below. The Cathedral calls this type a “Medley,” made from the shards of the old Cathedral.

On Christmas morning, we went for a ramble around Kenilworth, taking in the sights and exploring the castle’s exterior.

One of the reasons I like to visit England in the winter is because it’s not generally as cold as at home, so the landscape is still green. You may even see a few late (early?) daffodils!

There were beehives along our route, their boxes slightly different from the Langstroth ones commonly used in the US. I’m not sure which type they are.

Another thing common to the UK, but less often seen in the United States is the practice of having an allotment, although this kind of home garden located in a community space. We passed this one on our walk, and seeing it made me happy the practice is beginning to catch on at home.

Along the route, we also poked our head in a church (St. Nicholas) to admire the beautiful woodwork and windows.

Such ancient churches like this are all over the country, and many are quite lovely. What I like most is the homey touches (which I unfortunately didn’t photograph) — nooks with toys to keep children occupied during the long services, a box set out for people to give and receive Christmas cards, a lost glove or mitten left near the entrance for its owner to find on their next visit — reminders that these historical buildings are still used for the purpose for which they were built.

That’s enough for now. Tune in next time when we head north to Derbyshire and Wales!

“You Can Call Me ‘Batman'”

You never know what you’re going see when hiking in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Beautiful rock formations,

felled trees gathering moss …

… or lichens.

You might even meet a small boy in a Santa hat going to his friend’s birthday party at the Octagon Shelter (built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression).

When I admired his attire, his mother prompted him to say thank you, which he did.

His next words, however, required no prompting.

“You can call me ‘Batman,'” he said.

When I answered that I’d be sure to do so, he then informed me he had a cousin called “Superman.”

I couldn’t help laughing as his mom rolled her eyes and mentioned what he really had was an imagination.

It had been a while since The Engineer and I took a winter hike, and today it felt good to be in the woods. We took the opportunity because I decided to have a day off from visiting Mom after having quite the Christmas celebration with her yesterday.

Since we won’t be around on the day, Darling Daughter and Partner, my Big Brother and Nephew, and The Engineer and I took pizza, pistachio panettone, and presents to party with Mom. (Sorry, I got caught up in all that alliteration and just couldn’t stop myself!)

We also took sheet pizzas, cookies and other goodies for the nursing home staff. They work so hard to make Mom’s life easier and more comfortable, and we thought they’d enjoy a little treat.

It was such a good day and felt great to see Mom enjoy herself (along with the rest of us).

Afterwards, Darling Daughter and Partner drove to our house for an evening of lasagna, gift exchanging, and Scrabble.

In recent years, we have been pulling back on gifts, with socks and chocolate featuring quite heavily in the lineup. This results in us being able to use and/or consume these tokens of affection, and I find myself enjoying the season more as a result.

We also watched England lose to France in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, but the less said about that, the better. ;-%

Christmas Is Made, Not Bought

For those of us who don’t live in the United Kingdom, Christmas advertisements usually focus on all the many things available for us to buy, buy, buy. This generally isn’t an issue in our house because we rarely watch actual television, instead depending on library DVDs and streaming services for much of our entertainment (except English Premier League, which is sadly unavailable through these sources).

However, this year, it’s the Men’s World Cup, so we have seen more commercials than usual, and I’ll admit I like the ones that focus on the Beautiful Game. Others, not so much, and in particular the one that argues that “Less is not more; More is more,” or something to that effect.

With this in mind, I did my yearly search for the “best Christmas adverts.”

I found this, which it’s only fair to warn you, will bring tears to your eyes.

If you’d like to check out a few more UK ads, go here. Obviously not all of them are of the same caliber, but I believe you may find a few new favorites.

And, as has become my yearly tradition, I feel compelled to share the best Christmas song ever. Just in case you live under a rock and have never heard the exquisite harmonizing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby in this extraordinarily improbable duet, here it is again. Unfortunately, WordPress or YouTube, or maybe both, won’t let me embed this one, so you’ll have to click on the link.

Since life seems to have gotten away from me since Mom fell, and I’ve been out of commission myself with a head cold (which I sadly have now shared with The Engineer), I may or may not find time to blog again before Christmas.

If I don’t, please accept my very best wishes for a happy Christmas. And if I do, please accept my very best wishes for a happy Christmas.

Photo by Ma Bou00eete A Photos on Pexels.com

Please note: This is not our house. Our house decorations consist of two chocolate Advent calendars (with two more Advent calendars in various fridges — a wine one and a cheese one). Also, my little Norfolk Pine is strung with fairy lights and decorated with crochet stars similar to these. That’s the extent of our holiday decor.

The presents under the tree are wrapped in brown paper from the many packages we’ve had delivered. The tree and the gifts together provide a certain homey charm, I think.

I switched to using brown paper for our packages because we get so much of it. It seemed ridiculous to recycle rather than reuse it. Then I read that much of the wrapping paper available in stores can’t be recycled, and I switched permanently. I’m not saying that’s what you should do, especially because we use it partly because I’m #cheapaf. (Pardon me for talking in hash tags, but this one seems appropriate.)

Anyway, Merry Christmas! I hope your time is spent with those you love.

Walk a Foot in Her Shoes

Yesterday I got a text from one of Mom’s physical therapists:

“Hi, I wanted to let you know that I discharged the hoyer lift. Your mom should now be getting up with staff for transfers to/from wheelchair using a gait belt and front wheeled walker performing stand pivots. I am hoping to upgrade her further to be walking with staff to/from bathroom by the end of the week.”

This is incredible because a few weeks ago, Mom was in danger of being discharged from therapy due to her unwillingness to participate.

I wish I could tell you what changed her mind. The timing coincides with her going on Memantine for her forgetfulness and confusion, which is odd because I’m not sure the drug has had a huge effect on her mental acuity.

Still, it’s possible her increasing mobility may have a positive effect on her mental and emotional wellbeing.

I hope so because yesterday she asked me what good she was to anyone. When I asked what she meant, she said she’s useless because she can’t do anything.

After thinking a moment, I said, “Entertainment. People like to talk to you.”

It’s true. Mom always has a smile for anyone who speaks to her, and she’s good at making fun of her situation.

She seemed happy with that answer, but it’s frustrating for her to not be able to remember things from one day to the next, sometimes from one moment to the next.

Even if you try to grow old gracefully, it’s a grueling process.