I Need a Little Christmas Now!

I’m failing at the “goodwill to men” part of Christmas. 

In fact, I’m failing Christmas full stop, and can’t raise the energy to care.

Usually our cards go out the day after Thanksgiving. This year, I’ve sent exactly two.

Forget decking the halls. The decorations are still packed in their boxes.

The Engineer and I did get them out of the loft, and bought our living tree, temporarily stationed in the garage where it makes me absurdly happy to see it every time I pull in.  This is some progress, I suppose.

But, this is the time of year I’m normally busy delivering plates of baked goods, and the oven has been stone-cold all month. 

By now, maybe you’re wondering how a Christmas-loving elf becomes a Scrooge, a Grinch, a fill-the-stockings-with-coal holiday drop-out.

Well, my mom fell on November 1. She went out with her cane, rather than her walker, and did a face-plant at the Verizon store. It’s a struggle for me to not to assign blame, so I will only say after she broke her forearm (both bones) in March, I have refused to take her anywhere without her walker.

This is because I noticed her doing what I call a dipsy-doodle — losing her balance briefly and recovering with a little side-step. She’s too heavy for me to pick up if she falls, so when she goes with me, she takes the walker.

She wasn’t with me. Furthermore, she’s an adult, certainly capable of making her own decisions, even if that choice results in a bruised face and broken (the orthopedic surgeon called it “crumbled”) elbow.

Do you know what happens when you are eighty-eight, live alone, with arthritis in your left shoulder and atrial fibrillation, and you break your right elbow (after breaking the same arm seven months earlier)?

They send you home from the emergency room with a note to see the orthopedic surgeon the following week.

Chance would be a fine thing. The earliest appointment available was November 26 — twenty-six days after the fall — although ultimately, she got in earlier due to a cancellation.

The ER report also recommended following up with her GP, but they always say that. As far as I know, no one told my brother the GP was the one who might help us coordinate care for our mother.

Here are some of the things Mom could not do unassisted:

  • Dress.
  • Feed herself anything that required cutting.
  • Use the bathroom.
  • Write anything.
  • Walk, even with a walker (it takes two hands to steer).
  • Shower.
  • Put in her hearing aids.
  • Clean her false teeth.
  • Feed her cat.
  • Clean the cat box.
  • Do dishes.
  • Sweep the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Pour a glass of water.

Yet, they sent her home. And for various reasons, after about a week, the bulk of her care ended up falling to me, which meant going over each morning to help her dress and get set up for the day, and going back in the evening to get her to bed.

In between, I was terrified she would fall again, until finally she suggested checking herself into a nursing home for a few weeks until we could sort out some help.

There, at least, they had nurses on duty, aides to help her shower and dress, and a doctor to keep an eye on her progress. 

The downside was, she mostly sat in her room. And then she caught a cold, which turned into a respiratory infection. 

Still, it gave me time to organize some non-medical help for her. To my surprise, the doctor at the nursing home also wrote orders for a nurse, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. 

Meanwhile, on the day before I took Mom home (and several days before all the help kicked in), I got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and bronchitis. 

The last time I felt that bad, I had pleurisy (which was way more painful, but a lot shorter lived). I could hardly raise the energy to get off the couch, but the thought of Mom sitting there waiting, unfed, unwashed, undressed, forced me to go. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure who would. 

I should mention that I have several friends, as well as a cousin, who expressed a willingness to help, but, well, you can’t exactly expect a friend to clean your mother’s false teeth, can you?

To complicate things, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the doctor, even when I knew I needed antibiotics, because the last few times I saw a doctor, I was charged not only for the doctor and prescription, but also a “facility fee.” The Engineer calls this a charge for “the pleasure of walking on their tiles,” and since it was over $200 to essentially pay their electricity bills, I just couldn’t do it. (See my previous blog on the subject.) 

Finally, I remembered some drug stores have clinics with nurse-practitioners and/or physician assistants. I went to one of them for a total cost of $109, plus about $5 for the prescription. 

I know this post sounds whiny. Be thankful I didn’t have the energy to write it earlier when I was really feeling peevish. (And can I just say here what a brilliant word that is? Peeeee-vish. Somehow it sounds exactly like what it’s saying.)

Things are finally getting better. Mom has a helper three mornings a week, which means I’m only “on duty” for the remaining four, and she can get herself to bed. After she sent the aide home early one day, I’ve also signed off laundry as a task for the aides, instead of dragging it to my house and back. 

This has freed me to do things like buy Mom a lift chair and one with arms for her kitchen table (to better enable her to get up on her own), take her to the doctor, buy groceries, and all the rest. Thankfully, I’m feeling well enough now so these no longer seem like insurmountable jobs. 

I even got out for a walk today (walking, Yoga, and Pound class having been distant dreams for the last six weeks).

The “walkers” have been trimming the trees of our beautiful park as they do every year. The sight always makes me smile, and I’m sharing these pictures in the hope they’ll do the same for you.

Also, if you feel the need to hear the song that’s been rolling around in my head for the last week and a half, visit here to see a Youtube video of “We Need a Little Christmas” as sung by Johnny Mathis. 

Eventually, I expect to feel energetic enough to put up a few decorations, wrap presents, and bake. It may not be Christmas as usual, but it will have to do. As John Lennon supposedly said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” (I just looked it up, and Lennon may not have been the first to say this.) 

To sum up the Christmas part of this post, I encourage you to read some of the  “Christmas Notes” on my original “Reading, Writing, Ranting, and Raving” blog. Just search “Christmas,” and see what you get. If this is too much work, go here to see the best Christmas carol ever, performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I realize this is only an opinion, but I am a Christmas song aficionado, so feel my thoughts on the subject should bear some weight.

As always, I am grateful for your readership, and I promise not to make a habit of writing posts when I’m feeling cranky.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas.

Bee update:
We winterized the hives a few days after Thanksgiving. First we pushed them together as close as we could, fit foam insulation between to keep in the warmth, and wrapped them together. We also put in shims, fit sugar patties in the open space, and put more foam insulation under the outer cover. The Engineer built a little shelter for them, which I’ve mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera,” which if I’m translating correctly means “The House of the Honey Bee.” IMG_0855

On sunny days like today, a few crazy girls come out for little flights, even when it’s only in the thirties. Inevitably, a few end up in the snow. One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he always goes out, scoops them up, brings them inside to warm up, and then returns the survivors to the hive. 

Have a honey of a New Year.

 

 

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Morning Feedings

It’s been over twenty years since my last one, but I’m back to morning feedings. This time, however, the process doesn’t involve getting up at 4 am, and there is no milk involved.

As you may have guessed, this time around I’m feeding bees, and they eat (drink?) sugar water. A 2:1 mixture, if you must know, with some “Honey-B-Healthy” essential oil mixture to pique their appetite.

And you thought essential oils were just for diffusers.

We’re feeding because we’re trying to help the hives store enough honey for winter.

On our last full hive check before things cooled down, we discovered FreeBees had very little to show for all their activity. Despite the abundance of nectar they had previously stored, they didn’t have much honey. Lots of nectar, but not much honey.

Yet, Buzzers’ Roost was getting heavy, as displayed by the picture below.

It was time to remove the honey supers (the medium-sized boxes generally used for honey that’s meant to be harvested). FreeBees’ needed moved because they needed feeding, and Buzzers’ because we were going to take a little honey for ourselves this year.

An argument could have been made to just move the smaller frames of honey down into the big boxes on Buzzers’ hive because we’re not 100% sure even they have enough, but after two years, we decided we were taking some.

Here’s how that worked:

Morning 1: Take super off FreeBees. Remove queen excluder, and replace with escape board. (For a picture, go back to this post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/minding-our-bees-and-qs/.) Put super back on. Make feeding mixture and put in large mason jars with holes punched in the lids (pointy bits facing inside of jar).

Morning 2: Take super and escape board off FreeBees. Put deep hive box on top of inner cover, but below outer cover. Invert jar of syrup over something to provide bee space for bees to get beneath it to eat. Encourage bees remaining in escape board to go back in their hive. Move on to Buzzers’ and repeat steps from morning 1.

Morning 3: Repeat steps from morning 2, but do them on Buzzers’. Extract honey from two frames. Return those frames to bees to clean. (We stuck them in the upper deep boxes because the day after we extracted, the weather changed. It’s been too cold to actually get into the hive.) Also return the two full frames of honey we didn’t extract. Freeze remaining frames. Clean all equipment for next year.

I’m starting to think we should focus on harvesting propolis instead of honey.

Every morning since: Replace jars with ones that haven’t been outside in the cold. Not sure if this is necessary, but someone at a bee club meeting once said bees don’t like cold food. True or not, it’s been a good way to keep track of how much food they’re consuming.

We’ll continue the feeding until they stop taking syrup. Also, we’re hoping for a nice day to have one more look inside the boxes. And we need to treat both hives again before wrapping them for winter around Thanksgiving.

But back to our first honey harvest. We took two frames, which we extracted without an extractor. If you’re curious how this works, go here: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/extracting-honey-without-extractor/.

This is probably between four and five pounds of honey. I bought honey in the quart jar, and it was labeled as 2.25 pounds. We aren’t selling any so it doesn’t matter.

As things stand, I don’t think FreeBees will survive the winter unless they somehow manage to make enough honey from these feedings. We had a big goldenrod flow, and they seemed to be gathering as much as Buzzers’ so I’m not sure what went wrong

The two things I do know are I don’t really know anything, and anything could happen.

We can feed them, but in the end, the bees’ survival is up to the bees.

Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

Dr Warwick Kerr, the “Man Who Created Killer Bees”, has died | Bad Beekeeping Blog

It is with regret that we report that the humanitarian, geneticist, and scientist, Professor Warwick Kerr, passed away this morning, September 15, 2018. He was six days past his 96th birthday.  Dr Kerr, a Brazilian bee scientist, had one of the most maligned lives of any research scientist. He will be remembered by some as…
— Read on badbeekeepingblog.com/2018/09/15/dr-warwick-kerr-the-man-who-created-killer-bees-has-died/

Sarah Jane, Jacob, and Julia

I started climbing the family tree again last night and found myself back on the branch of Sarah Jane Daugherty Feather(s) Scott. (Click through for background on her story.)

Somehow I had stumbled across the Ritchie County (WV) page of the USGenWeb Project. Most the project’s sites are hosted on RootsWeb, long offline, but now coming back up.

Browsing through the Scott Cemetery transcriptions, I came across the following:

Amos M. Scott
Born Aug. 28, 1845
Died Dec. 11, 1918

Sarah J., wife of Amos M. Scott
Born Nov. 1842
Died Oct. 7, 1901

Charles E., son of  A.M. & S. J. Scott
Born Dec. 3, 1883
Died Aug. 4, 1884

? W., son of A.M. & S.J. Scott
Born Dec. 30, 1881
Died July 26, 1882

Alfred G., Son of A.M. & S.J Scott
Born Mar. 10, 1876
Died July 20, 1877

Look at the dates of the children’s deaths, born over a period of six years and dead before any of them reached their first birthday.

Above these dates are two others, who proved to be Sarah’s grandchildren through her eldest son Aldine (whose father, Cornelius, was killed in the Civil War).

Willie I. Feather
Feb. 10, 1898
May 8, 1906

Edna Feather
Aug. 3, 1893
Apr. 18, 1900

I moved on to the Reeves Cemetery transcriptions, and discovered Jacob — Sarah’s brother who fought for the Confederacy — and his wife Julia suffered their own share of sorrow.

Julia wife of Jacob Daugherty  Aug 30, 1832  Aug 27, 1891
Jacob Daugherty  June 27, 1892  May 15, 1908
Children of J. & J. Daugherty
E. U. Wm  Aug 18, 1857  Sept 20, 1861
Mary C.  May 10, 1853  Oct 8, 1861
Allis L.  Jul 21, 1864  Aug 11, 1868

Two children dead within eighteen days of each other at a time when Jacob and Julia’s home counties were in the process of seceding from Virginia. The secession could only have added to the emotional turmoil Julia and Jacob were feeling at the death of their children, especially since we know, in the end, Jacob decided to fight on the opposite side of his brothers.

Thinking perhaps the Butchers (Julia’s family) were Confederates and had influenced this decision, I had a look at one of her brothers (Valentine) and learned he fought for the Union. Of course, there may have been others in both families (Daugherty and Butcher) who favored the Confederacy, and we can never truly know why another person makes any decision.

Yet when I think of these families, I don’t think about the men and their big decisions about who to fight for. I think of the women and how they paid for living in a time where the death of a child was the possible price of having them.

Having seen how quickly a child could be taken, did they cling more tightly to ones that remained or followed? Maybe the knowledge of how easily their heart could be broken made them more reluctant to let a new baby into that heart. Perhaps these losses were accepted as part of the sorrows of living.  Life was hard. Children died. And I’m sure the war magnified the hardship exponentially. Yet each of these couples had other children that survived to have children of their own.

As I discover this type of hardship in my family history, I am forced to recall that these same hardships — child mortality and civil war — are a daily reality for others, and I hope that this realization continues to spur me toward a more charitable way of living.

 

 

Cleaning House

I wrote too soon about the microfiber strips staying in the hive.

While doing dishes this morning, I noticed something yellow near Buzzers’ downstairs entry. I thought it was a leaf until it began moving. I got out the kitchen binoculars for closer look, saw a small regiment of workers inching this out of the hive, and laughed out loud.

This yellow scrap is all that remains of one of our would-be beetle cloth traps.

Different queen. Different race. Different bees.

Same reaction.

Will they do this to all the strips? Will FreeBees do the same? I’ll keep you posted.

We do not like this yellow strip.

We do not like it, not one bit.

We do not like it here nor there.

A beetle trap? We do not care.

We do not like it on the floor.

We do not like it in our door.

We do not like this yellow strip.

And now we have got rid of it.

Minding Our Bees and Qs

A quick update on the bees.

  • Despite carefully setting the power washer away from the hives, The Engineer was stung last week when he attempted to wash our deck. Maybe the vibration upset them. Whatever it was, my poor husband ended up cleaning the deck in the August heat clothed from head to toe, including a bee hat and veil. Since his reaction to the sting was nearly identical to mine, I’ve concluded mine was probably one of our girls after all.
  • Below is a short clip of FreeBees on the front of their hive. I learned their “dancing” is also called “washboarding,” and nobody really knows for sure why they do it. It may be they are orienting themselves as mentioned in my earlier post. Or maybe they do it for a completely different reason. It’s interesting that, despite being the same race, Buzzers’ Roost bees haven’t behaved in this manner, especially since both hives seem well-populated.
  • FreeBees also “beard” more than Buzzers’ Roost. Bees do this when it’s hot — kind of hang out on the front of the hive and porch to alleviate the heat. To help in this endeavor, beekeepers can ensure the hive has adequate ventilation (a screened bottom board, more than one entrance, and possibly offset the boxes to allow more air to circulate) and water nearby. We’d already taken off the robbing screens, and both hives have screened boards, and top and bottom entrances, so all that was left was offsetting the boxes, which we did yesterday. We also set out a dish of water with sides shallow enough to prevent drowning while drinking. I’d done this earlier in the summer, but the bees ignored it. We’re trying again anyway.

  • The goldenrod is blooming! And as you can see from the video, our girls are as busy as bees, making their home a veritable hive of activity. (Sorry, but as soon as I sit down to write about them, the clichés flow just like, well, honey.) Maybe this new bounty will improve their mood. If you look carefully below, you’ll see cells packed with yellow pollen, and the glisten of nectar in a few other cells.

img_0537

  • I had high hopes of seeing honey in the supers, but there was only a smidgen in Buzzers’ Roost and none at all in FreeBees. Still, I caught the faint whiff of butterscotch (some compare the scent of goldenrod honey curing to dirty socks, but it’s butterscotch-y to me), so maybe they’ve got some in the deep boxes.
  • We’ve avoided doing lengthy hive checks during the past month. No point in annoying them more than necessary! Yesterday’s check was just a quick peek at the supers.
  • Both hives have had issues with hive beetles. We’ve been using the traps, changing them out regularly, and are again trying the microfiber cloth. We tried this several times last year with Buzzers. Each time, they carried every strip of cloth all the way down through two deep boxes and out the front. Perhaps with a new queen, and all all new bees, they’ll leave it in place to catch beetles. Good news is: There were no flags of cloth out front this morning.
  • We still need to do an alcohol wash and mite count. Depending on the results, one or both hives may be due for another treatment before too long. I’m a little nervous about this, especially with FreeBees, because the process kills all the test bees, and their queen isn’t marked. If the weather cooperates, we’ll try for this weekend, maybe get an idea of their stores in the process. Please cross your fingers that all goes well.

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Zucchini relish 

In other news (and I use the term “news” loosely), I’ve been trying out new recipes like crazy in an effort to waste as little of our CSA share as possible. Earlier this month, I made and canned zucchini relish.

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Spicy-hot, But Not Atomic, Zucchini Tomato Salsa

This week, it was zucchini tomato salsa. It’s definitely zucchini time!

They look a lot alike, but taste completely different. Both delicious, of course!

Soon, it will be pepper season, which means hot pepper jelly. I always make as many jars as possible because I give it as gifts at the holiday.

Pears, apples, and cider will follow, and be transformed into jars of applesauce, jams and jellies.

I know it’s silly, but I find canning so satisfying, not only for the food, but because it’s like a connection to my ancestors. My parents grew and canned almost all the jellies, fruit and vegetables we ate. They also put up grape and tomato juice. And I know that’s how my grandma and grandpa, and their parents managed to raise families down in West Virginia. Somewhere in heaven, I know Grandma is laughing that I’m so proud of a few jars in my pantry.

That’s okay. She, Grandpa, and my dad would also be pleased. And I know my mom is because she tells me so every time I take her a jar of jelly.

The Sting

In a little over a year of beekeeping, I’ve been stung four times, three times last year and once two days ago.

The first sting made my hand look like someone had blown air into a rubber glove. It hurt like hell, and throbbed and itched for several days before subsiding. I never saw the bee.

A few weeks later, I decided to have a look at the bee hives at our airport. Accustomed as I was to the laidback temperament of our hives, I was astonished when the airport hive’s guard bees came at me before I got within three feet of their hive. I backed off, but they actually followed me back to our hangar, a distance of over 50 feet (maybe way over – I’m no good at estimating distance). Despite waving my hat and jacket to disrupt their plans, I got stung in the back of my head – a sharp hot zap that eventually became a small knot.

Toward the end of last summer – probably during the nectar dearth, when bees are particularly defensive about their hard earned stores, one of ours got me near the eyebrow. Being stung near the eye (or anywhere on the face) is cause for alarm, but other than that hot, sharp pain, I had no reaction. No swelling, and I don’t even remember itching.

This photo shows the swelling and redness of my latest experience with venom – another time I never saw the insect.

It’s a just like the first one – crazy pain the minute it happened, followed by swelling, throbbing, and itching as the poison works its way down my arm.

Each time I’ve been stung, I immediately scraped the area to get the stinger out, so the difference can’t be from an imbedded stinger.

I’m beginning to think that stings #1 and #4 weren’t bees at all, but wasps.

You see, I’ve learned bee venom is different from wasp venom. And it turns out you can be allergic to either, but rarely both. (Go here for more info: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/17/how_do_bee_and_wasp_stings_differ/)

Also some wasp stings are more painful than a bee’s. We know this because a guy named Justin Schmidt subjected himself to a variety of stings and bites to create the Schmidt Pain Index (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2148089/The-10-painful-stings-planet-self-sacrificing-man-tried-150-different-varieties-science.html). Crazy, right?

Paper wasps (which I’ve seen in our traps) are right up there, above both yellow jackets and honey bees.

So maybe #1 and #4 were paper wasp stings. That would account for the different pain levels, and if I’m more sensitive (not allergic, but sensitive) to wasp venom, this would also account for the ballooning.

If my theory is correct, I got off easy both times because unlike honeybee workers, whose barbed stinger can only sting once (causing them to die), wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.

On a side note: queen honey bees stingers are not barbed, so they also can sting multiple times. And a drone honey bee has no stinger.

Hot Day at the Hive

According to “Mother Earth News,” these young bees are orienting themselves to the entrance, a good sign the hive is healthy and queenright. Since we did a hive check on Friday and counted four frames filled with capped brood and many more partly full, this would seem to be true. And we only checked one of the deep boxes.

The robber screen is to help keep keep out potential hive raiders. Like the hateful Yellow Jackets we have in abundance. For more info on this behavior, go to https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/at-the-hive-entrance-zbcz1408