Bee-ginning the Bee Year with Queen Worries

My apologies for the fuzziness of the picture below. I’ve included it so you see our girls are not exactly going gangbusters. By anyone’s standards, this is a weak hive.

Still, they’re alive and working hard, and that has to count for something.

When we checked them today, there were larvae and eggs. I’ve highlighted the eggs in the picture below (zoom in). The larvae are easy to spot.

I think the next picture looks like a painting, don’t you?

Here’s some capped brood, a few larvae, and a hardworking forager bringing in some pollen.

We are a concerned about Her Royal Blueness because she seemed to be moving slowly.
When we check the hive next week, we may have to make a hard decision concerning her future employment (and life, for that matter).

The problem is, when you replace a queen, you lose a week or two because you can’t release the replacement directly into the hive, even after dispatching the old one. The other bees would kill her. You have to leave the new queen in her cage for a week or so to let the workers get used to her pheromones.

So, we’ve put off that worry for another day.

In other bee news, The Engineer has made two swarm boxes in hope of catching a swarm this spring. He met an old beekeeper last year who told him how to go about it, but it was late in the season when he tried it, so we didn’t catch anything.

Some people bait the boxes with purchased lures, but our source said he always used lemon grass oil on a cotton swab and some frames of old comb, so that’s what’s in ours.

In theory, you know you’ve caught a swarm when you find the swab outside the box. Bees are fastidious about what they allow in their hive, and cotton swabs apparently don’t make the list.

We’ve got two boxes baited, and have seen several bees inspecting the accommodations, but they may just be interested in something that smells like free food.

Still, it looks like we’re on the right track.

Free bees! What could be better?

“Without Occupation”

While in quarantine/isolation, I’ve been working on genealogy research, specifically the Feathers of West Virginia. My 2x great grandmother was Ida Frances Feathers, and I’ve hit a genealogical “brick wall” with her father, George W. Feathers

In genealogy, when you can’t go up, i.e., can’t locate George W.’s father, you go sideways. This means I’ve begun searching not just my direct line — Ida, her father George and mother Catharine — but also Ida’s sisters and brothers and their families.**

Quite often this type of research leads to discoveries that break through that wall.

And that’s why I began tracing Phoebe “Phebe” Feathers Cullers.

Phebe, Susan, and George Washington Feathers — Ida’s siblings — all married Cullers (frequently misspelled as Colors, also Cullen, Culler, Color). Phebe and Susan’s husbands were probably brothers, although I’ve not gotten that deep into their family’s and hope I don’t have to.

From what I can tell, George Washington’s wife was his sister Susan’s daughter, which means he was her uncle despite being only four years older.

Yes, that makes me cringe. (A small disclaimer here — I could be wrong. There were many Cullers in the area, and many men with the first and middle names of George and Washington.)

Still today I’m not focusing on overly close familial connections in this post except to say that though West Virginia has a reputation for inbreeding, this is the first time I’ve come across a fact that actually made me make a face.

Mostly, I’ve found cases of siblings of one family marrying siblings of another, thereby making their children what my Dad called “double first cousins.”

That’s the genetic equivalent of a half-sibling.

But back to the subject of this post, which is the 1880 census for the Phebe and Henry Cullers household in Lost River (love that name), Hardy County, West Virginia.

Here’s what it says:

Color, Henry, White, Male, 55, married, farmer, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Phoebia, White, Female, 52, wife, married, keeping house, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Jacob, White, Male, 26, son, single, works on farm, 4 months unemployed, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Morgan, White, Male, 16, son, single, works on farm, 5 months unemployed, attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* parents born Virginia
Color, Martha, White, Female, 18, daughter, single, without occupation (bf mine), born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Color, Elizabeth, White, Female, 15, daughter, single, without occupation (bf mine), attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Color, Susan, White, Female, 9, daughter, attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Louis, Mordica, White, Male, 23, servant, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia

So, here we have a family with six children. The head of the family (which is, of course, the elder man, Henry) is a farmer. His wife is listed as “keeping house.” The male children, Jacob and Morgan are listed as “works on farm” even though they were unemployed for four and five months of the year, respectively.

The servant, Mordica, is also male, so it’s a pretty safe bet he also works on the farm.

Now we turn to the females.
The youngest Susan, is just nine, so it’s unsurprising there’s nothing listed for her occupation, although she does attend school. But the two older females, Martha (18) and Elizabeth (15), are specifically listed as “without occupation,” although Elizabeth has attended school in the last year. You’ll notice Martha, at eighteen, is older than Morgan who is listed as working on a farm (and attending school), but she still has no “occupation.”

At least, that’s what the census says.

Here’s my question: Do you seriously believe Martha and Elizabeth had no occupation? Or is it possible, just maybe, that the work they did at home and on the farm was simply unrecognized as an occupation because it wasn’t done by a man?

Think about it for a minute. I’ll wait.

Fortuitously, I was able to find an article detailing the daily lives of women in West Virginia during this time period on the West Virginia archives website.

Big surprise. The women were not “unoccupied.”

Information direct from one woman’s diaries lists these activities on an average day:

” … the mother or one of the daughters at home regularly cleaned the “far room”, the lower room, diningroom and sitting room. Rebecca and Sade appeared to do most of the chores in the home. When school was out, Fan and Virginia helped in this work. Rebecca noted that either individually or with one of her sisters she worked at the following household tasks: cleaning and straightening the house, washing clothes and blankets, ironing, sewing shirts and dresses and cooking which included baking cakes and salt-rising bread and making taffy.”

Another diarist recorded:

“… women did most of their work in the home with few references to outdoor tasks recorded in the diaries. Certain chores like washing, ironing, cleaning and sewing were usually done weekly. Sarah baked and churned frequently. Among the unusual homemaking chores were browning or roasting coffee, making yeast, and boiling hominy.

Grains for cornmeal and flour were raised on the farm. The farm produced its own meat and the family regularly butchered, hung meat, and salted it. Sarah wrote of preserving yellow tomatoes, drying corn, making peach butter, and burying cabbage and turnips in the root cellar. Purchased food items included coffee, fish, sugar, lemon and nutmeg.

Money appeared to be in short supply in the McKown family. The diaries’ early entries tell of selling eggs and butter. The backs of some of the diaries record the amount of butter and eggs sold during a particular year. Although the income from these sales was not great, the money helped to make life easier for the family. Produce and items not available on the farm were often acquired by bartering or trading one item for another. For example, Sarah wrote that she sometimes paid to have her weekly washing done in 1869 with cornmeal, vegetables, lard, etc., if she did not have the fifty cents. In 1888, she noted that a son had traded cornmeal for sugar at the local store.”

“Without occupation,” indeed.

*Note: Morgan, Martha, Elizabeth and Susan were all born in West Virgina, while Jacob was not. This is not because the family moved, it’s because West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861 during the Civil War. In my research, making this distinction on the census is somewhat unusual. Frequently, those who lived in West Virginia after the war just say they were born in West Virginia, even if it was technically Virginia at the time. Since Hardy County is on the border of Virginia, I wonder if the Cullers were making a point that they were proud Virginians or proud West Virginians. Or maybe they were making no point at all, but the families consistently reported birth locations this way.

**I wrote two earlier blog posts on Ida’s brother Cornelius and his wife, Sarah Jane Daugherty Feathers Scott.

Ten Years

March 18, 2011 was a beautiful day, cool and sunny.

While many were sleeping off St. Patrick’s Day hangovers, I was driving home from the hospital thinking I should be crying because I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Darling Daughter had just passed her driver’s test the day before, and I didn’t want to spoil that memory for her. So I held off telling her, which she has long since informed me was the wrong decision. Instead I immediately called The Engineer to tell him to come straight home after work.

We went out for an Indian meal at a restaurant that no longer exists and talked about what this development might mean.

Of course, we had no idea. No one did, not even the doctors. Because every body is different, no one can predict how things will go.

I was lucky. My cancer was an average run-of-the-mill ductal carcinoma. I had a mastectomy and immediate TRAM flap reconstruction. followed by chemo to try to ensure it never came back. Of course, it wasn’t quite that straightforward, and I ended writing a blog about my “Cancer Lessons.” The lessons are a little out of order because I deleted and then re-wrote some, but if you ever want to read it, you can find it here:

Ten years have passed. Today, it’s warmish, grey, and rainy, and I have cause for celebration because I’m still here!

This is also a good day to remember my friend Pat who managed to cram a lot of living into the four years following her ovarian cancer diagnosis. A brilliant quilter, gifted musician, loving wife, mother, and grandma who wasn’t afraid to laugh at both herself and life, Pat left behind memories of joy and love (

Namaste, Pat. May we all leave behind such a legacy.

COVID Update (Feel Free to Skip this Post – It’s a Little Whiny)

I’m in isolation for six more days, and The Engineer is quarantined as well. Meanwhile, Poor Mom gets fourteen days in her room, though thankfully they started counting from last Tuesday’s visit.

Yesterday I noticed I was feeling a bit worse. Not I-can’t-breathe-go-to-the-hospital bad, just … worse.

Mostly I’m just tired. After every small task, I need a little sit-down and a cup of tea. Compare this to Saturday, when we prepared a raspberry bed. I dug the 9’x18″ plot while The Engineer planted trellises.

Photo by fotografierende on

Now, I do something, and then sit down. It reminds me of when I was in chemo. Then, as now, I experienced few of the dreadful symptoms that go along with the illness and treatment. I was just exhausted.

And then, as now, the awareness of how lucky I am remains foremost in my mind.

So, I rest on the couch and drink tea I can’t taste. It’s still comforting, though the loss of smell and taste is slightly worse too.

When I try to sniff the eucalyptus oil, I don’t even feel it in the back of my throat.

Cooking is interesting right now. Today I made spaghetti sauce with lots of onion, peppers, and garlic.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

How weird is it to cry from the onions you’re chopping but smelling?

On the bee news front, today we’ll treat give the bees their third Oxalic Acid treatment. We didn’t see much of a mite drop after the last one, which is a good sign.

It’s getting warmer, at least temporarily (this weekend, the nights are going below freezing again), and the girls have been quite active, even bringing in pollen

My co-beekeeper took this picture yesterday. Isn’t she beautiful?

A Tasteless Joke

On Tuesday I woke up with a scratchy throat and a sinus headache. Since I work in a grocery store and have almost certainly been exposed to COVID on more than one occasion, my first thought was I shouldn’t go for my scheduled in-person visit with my 90-year-old mom.

Mom’s in a nursing home where they just started having visits again for the first time in months. They first tried about six months ago, but ended up canceling after two weeks because a staff member tested positive. Now, however, most residents including Mom are vaccinated, so I get to see her without a window between us.

The administration has also started rapid testing anyone who visits. That’s why my second thought was, “No. I need to go because then I’ll know if it’s COVID.”

If it was, I’d get in my car and go home. No harm, no foul.

As expected, the test was negative. My mild symptoms were clearly just a cold.

Still, I canceled my Wednesday dentist appointment and took things easy the next two days before working on Friday as scheduled. By that time, I’d taken my temperature a few times. Twice it was slightly elevated, but by Friday it was normal.

And on Saturday, I planned to do the same. But when I took a shower that morning, I realized I couldn’t smell the eucalyptus oil I’d dribbled in the tub to help clear my head.

I opened the bottle and tried breathing it directly.

It was strange. I could kind of feel the oil’s effects, but not smell it. (And if you’ve ever breathed in eucalyptus oil, you’ll know the scent is very strong.)

Feeling like an idiot, I stood there dripping as I sniffed every bar of soap and bottle of shampoo and conditioner … even the Vicks Vaporub.


And then I remembered having pizza the night before and thinking it didn’t taste like much even though I’d used quite a lot of garlic on the crust.


Well, this was a bit worrisome.

I was scheduled to work all weekend because my co-worker was out of town, and for a moment — and only a moment — I considered putting off going for a test until Monday, not because I wanted to get anyone sick, but because I would feel an idiot if the whole thing turned out to be nothing.

Except I couldn’t taste the toast I ate for breakfast either.

And that’s how I ended up visiting the drive-up at a local drug store for a lab test instead of going to work yesterday.

According to them, result times are averaging one to two days.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a phone call from my employer’s Human Resources Department to instruct me on the process I’ve apparently put into play.

Wow. Now I really felt like a fraud. I’m sure he has other things he’d rather be doing than calling me on a Saturday night.

The man said I did the right thing, but I couldn’t help thinking, “What if I’m wrong and just made a fuss about nothing?”

Then I went into the pantry and tried to smell the vinegar.

It’s weird not to be able to taste or smell. I could sort of feel the vinegar in the back of my throat, but even with the bottle right below my nose, I couldn’t smell anything.

We ate quiche last night, and I put a load of hot sauce on it. I could feel the heat, but it tasted like nothing.

I’ve been drinking tea and it’s comforting because it’s hot, but there’s no flavor.

So, do I have the virus or not?

All I know is I’ve been sick before with everything from pnuemonia to bronchitis to pleurisy, and there have been times my head was stuffy enough to make it difficult to smell, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.

Photo by cottonbro on

At this point, I’m sort of hoping I have the virus because otherwise I’ll feel like a complete fool. And if losing two of my senses is the worst thing that happens to me, I’m grateful.

Whether I have it or not, the joke is on me. Either I’ve gone for a complete year of shutdown working in a grocery store and gotten it when a vaccine is finally available (at least in theory because it’s not been available for me!) or I’ve somehow gotten one of the main symptoms of COVID without having the virus.

I’ll let you know when I find out.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in the pantry, sniffing vinegar and slurping hot sauce.

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on

Addendum: Just got the text that I’m positive. Right now, I’m feeling very grateful to have mild symptoms.

Bee Update: Fingers Still Crossed

It’s always a great day when you see the queen, but seeing her after months of snow and freezing temperatures … well, celebrations are in order.

We hit the upper 60s today, and finally the snow in our yard has completely melted. More importantly, it was warm enough to do a proper hive inspection which gave us the chance to spot Her Blueness.

If you look closely, you can see her blue marking has begun to wear, but she’s still lively, busily scurrying around laying eggs.

The proof is in the capped brood.

Also, I think I may have spotted larvae.

The Engineer is more dubious. It’s hard to be sure because it was on frames with yellow foundation.

When we started beekeeping, we were told black foundation was better because it’s easier to spot tiny white eggs against a dark background. This is true, and we generally stick to black. We ended up with few yellow frames only because my co-beekeeper was going past a bee supply place on his way home from a work trip. We needed frames. They had yellow. So here we are, trying to decide if I was seeing larvae or the yellow foundation at the bottom of the cell.

What do you think?
Sorry, this one is quite blurry.
For comparison, here are some cells at the bottom of a frame that definitely do NOT have larvae.

It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? So let’s take a closer look at those queen pictures. Look inside the highlighted circles.

Yup. That’s definitely larvae.

This doesn’t mean we’re in the clear, however. March is notoriously hard on bees in this area of the country, with little to no food available except for what they’ve stored.

Still, we will keep our fingers crossed and try to do everything right, including a second treatment of Oxalic acid tomorrow. We also put in some fresh pollen and sugar patties, as well as freshly baited beetle traps (because Hive Beetles LOVE pollen patties). The pollen patties will provide the protein needed for larvae, and sugar patties are backup carbs.

You can count on further updates.

But you don’t have to read them. 😉

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating with a nice cuppa P.G.Tips.

Let’s Fly!

Nearing Lake Erie (Please excuse dead bugs on windscreen.)
Ice on the lake, islands in the distance
Flying the shore (along with every other plane today)

Johnson’s Island

I never fly over this island without thinking of the men imprisoned there during the Civil War when it served as a prisoner of war camp for captured Confederate officers. (hmttp:// and (

On a happier note, here are two shots of Cedar Point, a lakeside attraction for over 150 years. I worked there when the year it turned 110. Yeah, I’m that old. ( and, for some vintage photos, go here

Somewhat farther south is Chippewa Lake (shown here with Chippewa Inlet), one of the largest natural lakes in Ohio. Formed by glaciers, it was also once an amusement park in the early 1900s. Long defunct, it is now scheduled to become a county park. ( and
Let’s fly! It’s a little bumpy, but I think you will enjoy the ride.

California Girl Photographic Update

Slo-mo – the filming, not the bees 🐝
Sugar patties = back-up food
Bees on the bottom of the inner cover (propped on the ground amongst the pistachio shell “mulch”)

We treated our one surviving hive with Oxalic acid Sunday and will repeat several times in the next weeks to try to ensure they go into spring with a low number of Varroa Mites. I peeked in again today to give them some pollen patties to tide them over until the weather and flowering plants allow for foraging.

Still keeping our fingers crossed they’ll stay viable. We also placed an order for a new package of bees for a second hive.

Perhaps you’d like to cross your fingers too?

Thomas and Annie

Thomas Milton Summers and his wife, Anna/Anne/Annie Swisher are two of my favorite ancestors for a couple reasons.

First of all, they named their first daughter (my great grandmother) Clara Olive Summers, which I think is one of the best names ever. Several of Ollie’s (as she was called) siblings had equally fanciful names, although they probably weren’t considered so at the time. Her elder brothers were Elias Morgan Summers and Quitman Elmore Summers. After Ollie came the more familiarly named Ruth M. and Martha (Mattie) A., followed by French.

French was born in 1883 but died sometime before the 1900 census when Ollie is listed as having birthed nine children with eight still living (all of whom can be found in that census). His name sounds exotic to me, but when I tried to find his death certificate, it became clear the name was common in that place and era. The siblings who followed were Mary Luvina (Vina), Eva Forest, and Albert Lesslie.

I also like Annie and Thomas because Annie is the daughter of Mary Ann Summers and Morgan Swisher. Morgan is the son of Drusilla Morgan and Jacob R. Swisher. And Drusilla Morgan is the daughter of Zackquill Morgan and Drusilla Springer. This is of interest (at least to me) because Zackquille Morgan (my 5x great grandfather) was a contemporary of George Washington. He also founded Morgantown (Morgan’s Town), Virginia (now West Virginia).

Annie’s sister Amanda Jane married Ulyssess Summers, who was Thomas’ brother. This along with the fact that Annie’s mother, Mary Ann was also a Summers makes it clear the Swishers and Summers had close ties. How close would depend on where Mary Ann fits in, and I don’t know much about her yet.

Anyway, Thomas fought in the Civil War, enlisting in Lieutenant Sylvester Porter’s newly formed Company K of the 15th West Virginia Infantry on 29 February 1864 in Wheeling, West Virginia. He gave his age as 18. However, according to his tombstone, he was born in 1847. This is supported by the 1900 census, where he gave his birth month and year as April 1847. So he would have been just sixteen. He lists his occupation as farmer, height as 5’8″, with auburn hair, hazel eyes, and a ruby (possibly ruddy?) complexion.

Small article from the Daily Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV) about the formation of Lieutenant S. Porter’s company the 15th West Virginia Infantry
Digitization of article from Library of Congress’ Chronicling America

Two days later on 2 March, he was mustered in. By the May/June roster, he was already injured, listed as “absent sick” in Gallipolis, Ohio. In July/August, he was absent sick at Cumberland, Maryland, and in September/October, the same at Winchester, Virginia. Another record says he was admitted to “General Hospital, Grafton, West Va.” on 4 November 1864. Under “Diagnosis,” it says merely “Convalescent.” Another hospital record (or perhaps the other side of the first) reads “Nov 5th 1864 – Voting furlough for fifteen days. Returned to duty Dec 21 64, wound healed.”

Several articles from “Chronicling America” confirm the practice of furloughing soldiers home so they could vote in the presidential election on 8 November 1864.

On 2 June 1865, the Confederacy surrendered. The 15th Infantry mustered out on 14 June 1865, and Thomas was assigned to the 10th West Virginia Infantry, which mustered out on 9 August 1865.

He and Annie married on 21 December the same year in Marion County, where their first five children were born. Sometime between the 3 January 1879, when Mattie was born in Marion, and the 1880 census, they moved to Ritchie County where their remaining four children were born, a distance of about 88 miles — quite a ways before motorized vehicles.

On 6 December 1886, at the age of 39, Thomas received a pension as an invalid. The 1890 Veterans’ Schedule lists his service dates at February 1864 to August 1865, a year and six months, 18 months total.

With his eight months spent “absent sick,” this means he was on duty for about ten months, a little over half his service time. I wonder if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Spending eight months as a convalescent would seem to imply his injury was fairly serious, but on the other hand, at least he probably wasn’t getting shot at.

Despite receiving a pension as an invalid, he still listed his occupation as “farmer” at the age of 53 in 1900, so he must have been able to make at least some kind of living, enough of a living to write a will in 1915 and amend it in 1921, designating the dispersal of his property after his death.

In a letter posted on Ancestry, one of his grandchildren describes him.

“About Grandpa Tom and Grandma: There are a few funnies(?). I remember part of them were from my dad. (Dad said) he never saw his mother mad but once. She was out by the creek doing her washing bending over the old wash board. Grandad came by and gave her a smack on the behind. Well over went tub Grandma and all into the water. Dad said she would not talk to Grandad for a whole week. I know your mother got her personality from her, they were so much alike. But Grandad was another story. They stayed with us for a good while after they needed care. I was just little, but oh how I remember the times Grandad threatened me with his cane. I probably needed it but I never forgot. Ha, ha.”

Reading this makes me wonder. Was Thomas crabby because he was in pain from his war wound? Was that why he used a cane? Or he just a curmudgeon?

Either way, I like the sound of my 2x great grandma. She clearly had some spirit! The letter writer also talks about how much Annie’s daughter was loved, so by saying “your mother got her personality from her,” the letter writer tells us Annie was also much loved.

Reading this makes me wonder how I’ll be remembered and think about my own memories of people who are gone. They are all little things, likely long forgotten by those who made them.

What memories will we leave behind? Will we be the behind smacker and cane threatener? Or the beautiful person who everyone loved? I suppose it depends on us … and on who is doing the remembering.