Kayak and Bike Day Plus Some Lake Erie for Good Measure: A Photoblog (photodump)

The Engineer and I have been quite busy all summer. Between beekeeping, getting the plane annual done, prepping for my sister-in-law’s visit and Oshkosh, every day has felt like a marathon right until we collapse on the couch to watch David Tennant’s “Around the World in 80 Days.”

However, well over a month ago, a friend invited me up to her lakeside condo for a day out, and the only day we could find that would work for both of us was Thursday. Thus, two days ago, she picked me up for a day of wandering around Vermilion, Ohio and lunch at her place.

It was lovely. There’s just something about being around water that stills the soul.

Vermilion is — and I hesitate to use the word, but it fits — quaint with beautiful planters downtown and the biggest Black-eyed Susan blossoms I’ve ever seen.

Then, yesterday, The Engineer and I took a day off together. We kayaked six miles on the Tuscarawas River, then cycled eight on the Towpath.

Lunch stop
Lunch by the river
Lock 4 on the bike path

It was just what we needed, and though I was Very Tired last night, we are now ready to face the final lap in our race to get everything done!

Split Shifts

Honestly, I don’t know how people who have large apiaries do it, especially those who do it as a side hustle. I suppose the more hives you have, the less you fret over each. That’s certainly been the case with us. I mean, we fret in the sense that we try to do what’s best for them, but I think we’re a little calmer about the possibility of things going wrong.

Thankfully, we seem to have settled with six colonies, at least for the time being. Still, we’ve had to split our hive checks into two days. It’s just too hard to go through six hives in one go. Hence the double wordplay in the title — it’s split shifts because our bee duties have been split into two shifts, and split shifts because four of the eight hives we’ve had this year were the result of splits.

Today, we checked 1A, 1, 2, and 2B.

1A was split from 1, taking the original queen with it. It’s our only eight-frame hive, and it’s pretty packed. If any of our hives is a candidate for swarming, it’s this one. The fact that there were eight or ten queen cups on the bottom of a couple of frames would lend weight to this possibility. With the discovery of eggs in several of those cups (turning them into queen cells), a swarm becomes even more likely.

Since we also saw the queen — and she was clearly laying well — we’d normally split the hive, but frankly, we’re running out of room and supplies, despite having spent about $400 on wooden ware in the last month.

Instead, we took out that brood-laden, multi-queen cell/cup frame to move to another hive and added another honey super because the first one is full of capped and uncapped honey and nectar.

They may still swarm, but we bought Swarm Commander to spray on the little bushes the last swarm picked. According to several people who should know, if you spray a little on a cotton ball and attach it where you want swarms to land, they’ll go there.

Apparently, nothing else does the job quite as well. I sure hope they’re right because it’s $35.95 for a 2 ounce bottle!

We moved on to 1, last checked on 20 May. There was a queen present on 11 May, but no larvae, eggs, or evidence she was laying. When we looked on the 20th, we didn’t see any either, so we’d given them a frame of eggs to make a queen if they needed one. Now, we’re questioning if we bothered to look in the super because today we did, and there was brood, eggs, and larvae. We didn’t see the queen, so we took out the queen excluder, hoping she’ll move downstairs where there’s more room.

There was also lots of honey in the supers, so we swapped two fully capped frames for some empties.

So, the good news is the hive is queen right and they’re making honey. The bad news is she’s been laying in the wrong place.

On the other hand, some beekeepers swear the bees make more honey if there’s no queen excluder to hinder their work, and I’ve kind of wanted to see if this is true.

Maybe this is our chance to find out.

One worker, who apparently took offense at our presence, stung me through my glove. I can’t blame her for being cranky. It was a hot day (mid 80s), and the hive was crowded, especially upstairs in the “nursery.” It hurt a bit, but the stinger scarcely penetrated the glove. Of course, the bee’s crankiness cost her a lot more.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere … something about a person’s bad temper causing them more pain than it does others maybe?

Next, we came to #2, the one where we watched the queen emerge. When we last peeked inside, we saw the queen — who was nice and big and therefore clearly mated — but no evidence she’d started laying.

We went through the bottom box … and found lots of pollen, nectar, and honey, as well as some comb they were drawing.

Thinking something had happened to the queen, we put the brood-laden frame with queen cells in the box.

I love the pattern made by the varied colors of the pollen.

It wasn’t until we reached the top deep box that we found what we were looking for — brood, eggs, and larvae, followed by a spotting of the queen.

Can you spot her?

I’ll make it a little easier for you. Here’s a couple with The Engineer’s hive tool pointing at Her Loveliness.

Are you ready for a challenge? See if you can find her below!

I’ve circled her. Did you spot her?

So, what will happen to the queen cells from the other hive? Our hope is if the bees are happy with their queen — and they have no reason not to be — they’ll ignore those eggs and let nature take its course.

Still, who knows what goes through their tiny little brains?

Last up was 2B, the hive from the swarm. We have a board with mason jars acting as a honey super for this hive, in the hope they will make comb in a jar for us.

So far, all that’s happened is the comb “starter strips” keep falling down, and the jars have gotten moisture in them, which we’ve tried to alleviate by adding a couple of sticks beneath the board and an inner cover with a front entrance to allow more circulation.

Since we had to do some repair work on the starter strips, we decided we might as well check that hive too.

We spotted the queen, as well as some larvae, eggs, and brood, and the bees have been making comb.

However, they still have three empty frames in their living quarters, which explains why they’re not interested in making comb in jars.

When we took the jars off to repair their strips, we discovered the ants had moved in. We’ve been ignoring ants around the hives ever since we learned they produce formic acid (the same stuff we use to get rid of the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites). Still, nesting in our experimental comb honey jars before the bees even got in them was pushing it too far, so we used the old cinnamon trick to discourage them.

In writing this just now, I’ve had the idea that perhaps we should steal some brood from the crowded hives, say 1 or 1A, and put it in this one to give them a little boost. I’ll have to discuss that idea with The Engineer to see if he agrees.

In summary, today we checked four hives and either saw queens or evidence one had been busy laying in all of the colonies.

Later this week, we will check 3A and 3B. 3A should have a queen because when we split the hive, we moved her into that colony. 3B is the tall nuc, which may or may not have a queen yet. If they do, she’s probably not started laying.

After that, hopefully sometime next week, we’ll treat the hives, probably with Formic Pro since most of them have brood.

Welcome to the OH Honey Apiary!

From left to right, we 1A and 1 (checked today and currently sporting heavy beards), 2 (also checked today), 3B (tall, skinny pink nuc we will check later in the week), 3 (on picnic table), empty nuc box (in case a hive wants another option to swarm to), 2B (swarm hive with comb honey setup).

Other than that, we’ve enjoyed seeing Tears for Fears and Garbage (a Christmas gift from Darling Daughter) at a nearby venue. We were very grateful DD sprang for pavilion seats (for us oldies) because it poured buckets as soon as we got out of the car.

I’ve exited the shower drier than I was when we got to our seats. Fortunately, it was warm so it didn’t spoil the evening.

Two days later, we went camping for four nights where we dined on such delicacies as pie iron samosas.

Once again, we snagged a site by the river, so fell asleep to the rippling of the water.

It was delightful.

Although we left the kayak at home (we were driving to Columbus and didn’t want to leave it in a hotel parking lot overnight), we hoped to rent one for a days paddling. Unfortunately, the river was too high, so we spent two days cycling a nearby rail-trail

Near one of the trailheads, there’s a grass strip. We paused a moment to envy the pilot who was using it.

It’s a nice bike path. I recommend it if you’re ever near Mansfield, Ohio.

After camping, we threw all our gear into the van and went to Columbus. There, we ate gyros with Darling Daughter and Partner. It was so pleasant to see them again … and to enjoy dining in their screened-in porch.

We were in town to see the Beach Boys, who were performing a free concert at Columbus Commons, (another outdoor venue, but one without pavilion seats). Disappointingly, a major storm came through just as the gates were supposed to open. Because it was significantly cooler than the previous concert night, and we’d already had our outdoor shower for the week, we decided to skip the concert.

Instead we enjoyed the novelty of a bed that wasn’t the ground and food that hadn’t been cooked outside.

It rained all night, so this decision turned out to be the right one, at least for us.

On the way home, we were passed two R-Vs. Both had unusual spare wheel covers, although I was only able to capture a picture of one.

In our twenty-four hours at home, we managed to get the camping gear unpacked, although not re-packed, and The Engineer cleaned the van. I got in a fast visit to my mom, did the laundry and made a dish for the Memorial Day picnic we were attending.

I made this super-easy and delicious cinnamon cheesecake. I’ve seen a similar recipe made with lemon, which I’ll try sometime, but I don’t usually have lemons on hand, so it will wait until we’re not quite so busy.

The picnic was yesterday (another hotel night — thank heaven for The Engineer’s points from all his nights away before retirement), with lots of delicious food and good company.

Thankfully, this week we have no plans that involve overnights away because, in addition to bee work, we want to try out the kayak on our local lake, get some house work done, and prepare for our garage sale.

I’m looking forward to having two days with nowhere to go but inside a garage full of our cleared out stuff!

Bordeaux — Cite’ du Vin and Chateau La Freynelle

Before we went to France in 2019, we were in Kentucky, and I made The Engineer stop at a Liquor Barn, kind of like a supermarket of alcoholic beverages. We were inside wandering the aisles of the wine department when a salesman approached, volunteering that he knew a lot about wine and asking what we were looking for. I told him we were interested in trying some French wine before our trip, and he pulled a few bottles from the shelves saying they’d be a good start.

The only one I remember is Chateau La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc. We like that wine, like it a lot. Surprisingly, because I’m not an oenophile, the critics seem to agree. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2018 vintage an 87 and “The Reverse Wine Snob” called it “A juicy French Bordeaux blend that is a great alternative to boring whites.”

Still, our 2019 trip was already jam packed, with no room left for any extra stops. It also hadn’t occurred to me we might actually be able to visit the actual Chateau where they make such deliciousness!

That particular lightbulb didn’t go on until much later when I spoke to the wine specialists at the grocery store where I work. One told me the store might be able to arrange visits to some vineyards, and the other mentioned La Cite’ du Vin, a new(ish) museum of wine in Bordeaux.

Pulling out my big map of France, I saw Bordeaux was only about two hours from each of The Engineer’s aunties, who we planned to visit again.

And that’s how we ended up in Bordeaux a few short weeks ago.

The drive there was dreary, under an atmospheric sky.

Balls of mistletoe in the trees — We saw lots of these on our way out of Normandy.

When we stopped for fuel, I took a picture of how much it cost to fill the tank of our compact rental car. Fuel, which is sold by the litre, is a lot more expensive than here in the US. However, public transport is a much better, and most cars get many more miles to the gallon than the ones driven in America. I saw very few of the huge trucks and SUVs so common here, and there are charging stations for electric cars in the cities.

Calculated by today’s exchange rate, that’s $94.99.

The morning after arriving in Bordeaux, we took the tram to La Cite’ du Vin. It was cheap, easy to use, and riding it gave us a 44-minute tour of the area.

As for the museum, I liked it, and The Engineer was bored.

The exhibits are interactive but in a techy kind of way. Upon entering, each visitor receives a pair of (uncomfortable) headphones attached to what lookes like an iPhone. You sort of point your “phone” at each display, then select the topic you want to explore.

The audio and video sync so you see and hear about the subject in whichever of the eight languages you selected when you bought your ticket. Some of the subjects were more physically interactive, exploring the smells used to describe wines and selecting wines to pair with different foods.

The virtual sommelier gave mixed reviews on my choices. For one, he said, “Why not?” and talked about my unexpected, but interesting, pairing. On another, he said, “You’ll never be a sommelier if you make choices like that!” His response made me giggle.

To end the tour, visitors take the elevator to an upper floor for a glass of wine.

I liked the ceiling.

View from above: gardens on a roof

The view was nice, but the glass of wine was small, so we headed out to see a little more of the city of Bordeaux.

We ate at a small cafe across from the river Garonne, on which Bordeaux is situated. The server didn’t speak English, so we got out the phrasebook to figure out what to order. A minute or so later, she appeared with the chef, who asked in a stiff Scottish brogue, “Can I help you?” After telling him we wanted to order lunch, he said, “What do you want?” (Sadly, I can’t capture the sound of his speech in writing, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)

“An omelette.”

He asked what we’d like in it and how we’d like it done — something neither of us had ever been asked before in regard to an omelette. We settled on some ingredients, omelette well-cooked, and I asked for a “pain du chocolat,” which he corrected to something else.

A few minutes later, we received a huge omelette, with a beautiful salad, and my chocolate pastry.

It was wonderful, a small incident of travel magic.

Because we’d had such a nice lunch, and dinner options were limited around our hotel, we did a little shopping at the local Aldi, which was similar enough to our local ones at home that I could navigate with no problem.

Cans of beer were 44c, and the baguette we bought was under a euro; if I recall correctly, it was under 50c. We bought a big hunk of cheese, a baguette, four cans of beer, a bottle of wine, a bag of crisps, a large bar of chocolate, some fruit, and a package of about fifteen mini squares of chocolate. I may have forgotten a few items, but the bill was only 18 euro, far less than a meal out.

It was even less than the 34 euro it would have cost to eat breakfast at the hotel, and since we had the bread and cheese and fruit for both dinner that night and breakfast the following morning, I think we did well. And it was delicious. We only finished the hunk of cheese at Auntie #2’s house on the last night before we left to return to Paris for our flight home!

But before we left Bordeaux to visit those aunties, we were off to the vineyard.

I had emailed Chateau La Freynelle when I was planning our trip, asking if we might arrange a tour and tasting, and gotten a reply a few days later from Veronique Barthe saying they would be delighted to welcome us. I was thrilled!

Veronique is the first female head of her family’s vineyard/chateau, taking the reins in 1990 after it had passed from father to son for seven generations since the French Revolution, so she’s a bit of a trailblazer.

Chateau La Freynelle was established in 1789 by Jean Barthe using gold he received from Napoleon for marrying on the same day, and is now one of several chateaus owned by the family.

As seems to happen whenever we look for anything in France, we spent some time trying to find the vineyard, despite having GPS and an address. There are vines everywhere and many, many chateaus, but eventually we found the right road and saw a small sign for La Freynelle.

We were met by Jade, who had arranged the logistics of our visit, and as she greeted us, she remarked on the condition of our car, saying it had caught the sand from the Sahara too. Although we’d noticed the dust on our hotel window and car that morning (how could you not?), we hadn’t known where it had come from. It was interesting to learn the explanation.

Jade was pursuing a Masters Degree, with a focus on marketing wine, and was interning at La Freynelle. She couldn’t have been nicer as she showed us around.

Cases of wine in what will be a public sales area
Barrels of wine, with one experimental clay vessel in the middle
A pair of would-be wine connoisseurs
Some of the wines available to taste at Chateau La Freynelle — I especially liked the Clairet (which Jade is pointing at) and the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Engineer preferred the Rose’.

I can’t describe how welcome Jade made us feel — as if we were celebrities instead of just a couple of people from Ohio who like to drink wine. We’ve been to some tastings here at home, and although they have been fine, we’ve never been treated as we were at Chateau La Freynelle, like honored guests instead of a couple of novices come to sample wines.

Jade told us about each wine, providing just enough detail for our level of knowledge. We also talked about climate change, and the steps they were taking to deal with, mostly experimenting with new grape varietals if I remember correctly.

The changing temperature is a great concern because the rules for watering vines in France are very strict. In fact, according to Jade, irrigation is not allowed in the Bordeaux appellation. From what I’ve read that’s because watered vines can grow bigger grapes, but those grapes make a poorer quality wine.

It’s certainly a challenging time to be a winemaker.

Tasting so many good wines made it difficult to decide what kind to buy, even though I’d previously received a price list via email and been amazed at the price difference between a bottle at the Chateau and one at an Ohio grocery store.

I’d also already hatched a plan to buy several cartons to take as host/hostess gifts to The Engineer’s Aunties (and Uncles) and bought a couple of reusable wine bags for travel at La Cite’ du Vin so we could take some home.

Eventually, I came to a conclusion, and Jade packed up the bottles.

Of course, I promptly forgot who was meant to get what, and had to figure it all out again when we arrived at Auntie #1’s!

Before going outside, I took one final picture of the building.

As we said goodbye, The Engineer asked if we could picnic under a tree in the parking area, which was fine as long as we watched out for boars.

Fortunately, we planned to stay in the car anyway because it was chilly, and we were able to enjoy our lunch — more bread and cheese 🙂 — before hitting the road for Auntie #1’s house.

Travel Magic and Mayhem score: 100% Magic thanks to Jade and Chateu La Freynelle.

Omaha and Gold Beaches with a Side Note on Richard E. Byrd, and Also a Shed

What happened at Omaha Beach on D-Day (also known as Operation Overlord) is a tale too big to relate here, and I couldn’t do it justice anyway. With a good overview on the Brittanica website and countless books, anything I could tell you would be superflous, so I will share what I noticed when we visited Omaha and Gold Beaches.

To see Omaha in person is to comprehend the distance soldiers had to cross (under heavy enemy fire) to reach the base of the hillock/dune they needed to climb to reach the bunkers they were meant to capture.

Those bunkers were full of German soldiers who, instead of being “softened” by pre-invasion shelling, had merely been put on high alert.

According to Ben, the beach is about 400 feet wide, which my mind translates to the length of one and a third high school football fields. The beach ends in a breakwall, behind which is a road, and an area of brush. These also had to be crossed before the soldier could attempt to clamber up the hill/dune, all the while being shot at by the German soldiers at more or less pointblank range.

This view from the road gives some indication of the distance from the sea to the bunkers.
In this photo, one can see a small part of the beach the soldiers had to cross.

The bunkers were — and are — all along the coast, designed by the Germans not to shoot at enemy ships, but to take out any invading troops on the beach.

They did their jobs well. Allied troops suffered about 10,000 casualties on the beaches, 2,000 of them on Omaha alone. Recent calculations put the number of deaths at just above 4,000.

View from behind a German gun (probably at Gold Beach)
How easy it must have been to pick off American or English soldiers as they appeared at the top of the hill!

Unsurprisingly, some soldiers who reached the protection of the breakwall were unwilling to go further, but as Colonol George Taylor told them, “There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now, let’s get the hell out of here.”

The soldiers attacked, and eventually, one by one, the German guns went silent.

Operation Overlord was a massive operation: The logistics of the invasion are almost beyond comprehension. Imagine planning to land 150,000 troops, 11,000 aircraft, 20,000 vehicles, 1,000 tanks, and nearly 7,000 sea vessels from multiple countries on about 50 miles of beach under heavy enemy fire in one day. Then, try to imagine doing so under a cloak of complete secrecy where few involved in the plan have any idea of its totality. (For a more complete overview of those numbers, go here and/or here.)

What’s incredible is not that so many things went wrong, but that the plan ultimately succeeded despite the cost in lives.

That success comes down to one thing: the sheer bravery of the troops on the beaches and those who dropped behind enemy lines.

There was also some good old British ingenuity involved, learned the hard way at Dieppe in 1942. Realizing the Germans nearly insurmountable defenses were centered around the ports of France, the Brits came up with a way around those defenses.

They would bring ports with them.

These manmade harbors were called — for reasons known only to the Brits — “mulberries,” and there were two of them, made in England, and fully functional twelve days after the invasion. The one built for the use of American troops near Omaha Beach was destroyed in a storm, but you can still see the remains of the one used by the Brits by Arromanches (Gold Beach).

Also on Gold Beach (Ver-sur-Mer), we came across this sign.

Byrd is my maiden name (hence the name of this blog), and when I saw it on this sign, I had to find out why it was there. It’s possible — perhaps even likely — Richard Evelyn Byrd, aviator, explorer and naval officer, and I share a common ancestor, but what was he doing in France?

As it happens, he was crash-landing an airplane during a flight that began as an effort to win the Orteig Prize, a prize that had already been won by Charles Lindbergh.

Seventeen years later, the beach at Ver-sur-Mer became Gold Beach.

Bomb crater — the land all around the beaches is like this, showing how destructive even non-nuclear shells can be.

To end this post on a lighter note, I’m sharing the photo below, which I think qualifies as travel magic because it’s so unexpected.

It brightened my day to see that someone had turned a gun bunker into what appears to be a shed, complete with concrete steps to the roof, a bit like beating swords into plowshare to paraphrase the Bible verse.

On that positive note, I’ll close this post. A bientot!