Bees alive as glaciers recede at Maywood

Let It Bee Spring--Beekeeper starts the season

Let It Bee Spring–Beekeeper starts the season

It’s sunny and positively balmy with temps in the 50’s as we trudge through the snow to get to the bees.  Some parts of the yard still measure six inches of snow.  This snow is not uniformly melting so much as it is receding, like a slow moving glacier.  Or, to think more positively towards warm beach days, like the tide going out.  Winter tide.

Down in the  bee yard, we are delighted to see three hives busy, with bees coming and going and buzzing and sunning and enjoying the day.  We have exited winter with more  bees than ever before. Red maples are budding and these bees are ready to charge into spring.

Hive D is thriving

Hive D is thriving

Tar paper comes off.  After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Tar paper comes off. After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Today’s task is to unwrap the hives from their winter protection of roofer’s tar paper.  Mr. Beekeeper also wants to set up the hive feeders.  The bees are ready to go, but there is not much for them to get to yet.  Red maples are the first flowering tree for the bees.  Fortunately, in spite of the semi-glacial look around here, the maples are waking up right on schedule. Why are humans so desperate for spring to arrive and then so surprised that it actually does?

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Lids come off the hives to remove the tar paper.  We get to peek in at the bees.  They look so happy.  They buzz around us, landing on our jackets and hanging out on my camera.  Are they as happy to see us as we are to see them?

The bees don't know that they can't take selfies through the viewfinder.

The bees don’t know that they can’t take selfies through the viewfinder.

They are happy to bee with me.

They are happy to bee with me.

Little bee, don't freeze on the snow!

Little bee, don’t freeze on the snow!

The golden burr comb is a delightful contrast to the snowy ground and the emerging mucky mud of March.  Yet, here and there, single bees lie frozen on the snow.  I wonder, do they die because they landed on the snow?  Or did they land on the snow to die?  I watch one crawling slowly across its frozen landscape, slower and slower, and finally not advancing.  I lift her off the snow.  She warms up and takes flight.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Hive D, which went through winter with two boxes, is going gangbusters.  Mr. Beekeeper decides to go ahead and switch the boxes.  The top box–where the bees have been clustered all winter–gets moved to the bottom.  The bottom box gets put on top.  This will encourage the bees to build up.  Literally.  Soon, Hive D will get a honey box.  Maybe next week.

Back in the house, Beekeeper Man orders another package of bees to replace the hive we lost over the winter.

And another season of beekeeping begins.

Yay!

Golden honeycomb...a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Golden honeycomb…a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

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Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

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And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pioneer Chronicles or More Reasons Why I Don’t Do Camping

Never underestimate a snow storm.

It sure isn't summer time.

It sure isn’t summer time.

I should know this by now.  Twenty years at Maywood.  We survived the Winter of 1994 when the stream froze and the ground was white with snow and/or ice from Christmas until the first day of spring.  We sledded groceries down to the house…when we could get out to get groceries.  We wheelbarrowed wood to the wood furnace to try to stay warm in the uninsulated Maywood House.

In ’96 we made the evening news when we were the last family in Baltimore County to get plowed out.  They needed front-end loaders to deal with all the snow.  That was the year we drank raw milk from Vernon Foster’s cows.  His grandkids didn’t want to drink it, but we were plenty glad to have it.  One mile of road and we couldn’t drive it.  The only way out was to drive over the corn fields where Robert Warns had plowed a path with some farm machinery.

In 2010 we survived Snow-pocalyse, two back to back monster storms and a snowed in family party that I thought would never end.

We got this much snow.  YOU go out and measure it.

We got this much snow. YOU go out and measure it.

So what’s a little prediction of 3-6 inches.  That changes to 6-12 inches.  Accompanied by single digit temperatures and high winds. Right?

First, my in-laws lost land-line phone service.  My father-in-law called on his cell phone to let me know.  Our land-line is with the cable service so it didn’t affect us.

Then the cable went out.  No phone, no internet, no TV.  No Pandora on my new wireless Bose speaker.  It was looking like hubby and I would have to spend the evening in scintillating conversation.  Fortunately, the smart phones still worked.  I could text and post to Facebook.   Cable service was restored amazingly quickly.  No small feat for Comcast.  Music was playing again within two hours.

No sooner had I finished cleaning up the kitchen and taken a potty break, when the power went out. No lights.  No water.  No heat.

At least the dishes were done and my bladder was empty.  Pottery Barn wickless candles all over the house provided soft illumination. The flashlight app on our smartphones guided us around the house.  We read by the glow of the Nook.

Now, we were relaxing by the wood stove without a fire because hubby said we were out of wood.  With no heat (although the house was still warm), it was time to get picky about what “out of wood” meant.  It did not mean “no wood.”  So the few pieces down in mancave were put to use in the fireplace insert.  Which, by the way, does not have a blower fan when the power is out.  Radiant heat is all you get.

When BGE updated the return of service from 11:15 pm to 6:45 am, it was time to call it a day.  Up to bed fully clothed in fuzzy sweater, fleece pants and socks.  The bed was piled high with blankets.  And hubby puts off a lot of heat.  I was rather comfortable.  Hubby was so comfortable that he slept right through the return of power at 1:55 am, at which time the bedroom was a toasty 56 degrees.

With morning we have lights, water, internet, phone, heat.  There is even a fire going in the fireplace. (“Out of wood” today means that there is wood but it needs to be split.)  It is time for Pioneer Man to get out there on Betsy the Tractor and plow us out.  Yeah, so it’s like 5 degrees out there with a wind chill.  Betsy is not cooperative.  She refuses to start.  Oh, she was quite willing to start two nights ago when it was 40 degrees out.  But now her hydraulic fluid is like sludge.  I don’t blame her, really.  I feel that way too on cold mornings.

Don't you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

Don’t you just hate it when your hydraulic fluid feels like sludge?

But how will we get out?  This snow is not going to be melting anytime soon.

Pioneer Man calls our neighbor who also has a vintage tractor like Betsy.  Neighbor and family are sick with the flu.  They hired someone to plow them out.

“How much?” asks Pioneer Man.

“Don’t know.  He’s going to bill me,” replies flu-stricken neighbor.

Whoa.  He’s really going to feel ill when that bill comes.

We ponder ways to warm up Betsy.  There is a torpedo-like heater in the  Room of Outer Darkness.  (“Which room of outer darkness?”the daughters may ask.  We have so many. The Room of Outer Darkness is the room off the shop underneath the side porch.  It would make an excellent wine cellar for someone organized and with an ability to not drink every bottle as soon as it enters the house.)  Anyway, this torpedo heater is like the ones you see on the sidelines of football games to warm up the players.  It was left here by a contractor once upon a time.  It runs on kerosene.

We don’t have any kerosene.

We have wine and whiskey, though.  I stocked up on important things before the storm.

Frozen Fog

Frozen fog?

I’ve listened to a lot of weather reports over the years, but this morning’s was a first.  Frozen fog was causing accidents all over Carroll County.  The pre-caffeinated brain has trouble conceptualizing this.  How can fog freeze?  Isn’t that oxymoronic?  Isn’t fog water suspended in the air?  If it freezes, wouldn’t that make it sleet or snow?  If fog freezes, can you walk through it?  Or it is like crunchy air?  Could you get stuck in it?  These are difficult questions to ponder in the early morning darkness.

Is  it any wonder I hate waking up?  Too much information bombards me too  early in the day.  Snow and sub-zero temperatures are bad enough…but at least they are predicted.  But freezing fog?  What am I supposed to do with this information?

Ah, but a cup of coffee lifts my mental fog.  The air is foggy but the temperature has dropped to below freezing, so all that oogy dampness on the sidewalks and roads has frozen.  And that makes for very treacherous driving.

Ok.  Now the caffeine needs to kick in so I can plan my alternate route to work.  The traffic  report lists many roads that I traverse on my avoid-the-highway route. Alas, the back roads are not an option today.  I will be forced to take the Beltway.  Oh, let’s hope that drivers can avoid crunching into each other or it will take me twice as long to get to school.

While I ponder this, Carroll County decides on a two-hour delay.  It’s a rather late call and I know at least one of my colleagues is already on her way to school.  Now the question is whether we will shift our half-day exam schedule or cancel school.  I wait for the call.  Caffeine and anxiety course through my system.

School is cancelled.  And I’m wide awake. Frozen at the window.  Peering into the fog.

Woo hoo!

In the bee’s midwinter

In the bee’s midwinter frosty winds made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow was falling, snow on snow, snow on snow

In the bee’s midwinter not so long ago.

beesmidwinter2

Ok, so I changed a couple of words.

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch.  But he got the job done!

After a morning fussing with the tractor, he identified the problem as the ignition switch. But he got the job done!

Winter has hit hard with the New Year.  Six  inches of fresh snow blanket Maywood.  My car remains halfway down the driveway where I abandoned it last night for fear of sliding right into the house.  (I had already inched my way down the Wicked Curve on Miller Lane as another car tried to make its way up the Wicked Curve, neither of us able to back up.) As I click at the keyboard this morning in blinding snowlight, Maywood Man is outside trying to get the tractor to start so that he can begin plowing.

It is 11 degrees with 25 mph winds. The snow dazzles under cloudless blue skies.  Gusts of wind blow through snow-laden branches and send the powdery flakes whirling like smoke. It is stunningly beautiful from my indoor perspective near a cozy wood stove.   Homemade butternut squash awaits my frozen plowman when he comes in from clearing the road.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it.  Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

Judging from the dip in the snow on top, the hive is warm enough to melt it. Icicles are on the outside of the hive.

I’m guessing the perspective inside the bee hives is less spectacular.  It is the bleak midwinter  for them.  Too cold to leave the hive, they huddle in a  ball to maintain the hive temperature.  They eat the honey they stored last summer.  They also have grease patties that Mr. Beekeeper/Plowman made for them, a combination of sugar and Crisco.  If they have sufficient numbers, they can keep the hive warm enough to move around to the honey.  If not, they eat what is nearby and hopefully don’t starve before the weather warms up.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but  still had plenty of grease patties.

At Winter Solstice, bees were busy, but still had plenty of grease patties.

Two weeks ago, on a balmy almost 70 degree day, we took a peek in the hives to assess their strength and to offer more grease patties.  The hives were all active with plenty of bees coming and going.  Although the bees have no plants to pollinate in winter, they use the warm winter days for cleansing flights.  Yes, the ladies must keep the hive clean!   Some bees were nibbling at the grease patties,  but they had still had plenty from the last gift– good sign, I think, that they had plenty else to eat.

A week later, Mr. Beekeeper took another quick peek.  Hive B was low in numbers.  So now he has reason to worry.  Should he have removed the grease patties and replaced them with easier to digest fondant?  Is there enough air circulation to keep moisture from building up and freezing into tiny stalactites in the hives?  Should he sweep the snow from around the hives?  Or leave it to act as a blanket?  If he could put tiny little blankets on each of his bees, I think he would do it.

A couple of dead  bees at the entrance to Hive C.

A couple of dead bees at the entrance to Hive C.

Last winter we lost all four hives before Christmas.  It hadn’t even gotten really cold yet, but their numbers were too low to keep themselves warm.  This year, the hives are wrapped for solar heat in tar paper and they have plenty to eat.  They just need to stay warm.  Weather like today’s does not make it easy.  As my son-in-law commented, we went to bed in Maryland but woke up in Siberia.

Ah, but that’s the thing about Maryland.  The weather is always changing.  If the bees can get through this week’s projected snow, rain, ice, and minus two degrees, by next Friday it is supposed to reach 40.

Minus two?

Hang in there, little bees!  We’ve passed the Winter Solstice.  The days are getting longer.CIMG8068

Pioneers in the woods…or is it wood?

This week we hosted a Pioneer Day at Maywood for the new international students at school.  The ESL history  teacher had shown the students Colonial House and told them that I lived like that…sort of.  Well, ok, yeah, I live like that except that I have indoor plumbing, electricity, 2 zoned heat and AC, high speed internet, and a few other modern conveniences that were unknown to the pioneers.  I do, however, live in the woods.  And that is a big deal to kids who are from Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong.

First off, we showed the students the house.  It’s a log house “just like the pioneers”–except that it is much  bigger and has insulated windows and carpet and kitchen appliances.  Did I mention wireless internet?  These city kids who live in high rise apartments are not impressed with modernity, but the big house surprised them.  And it’s made of real wood.

hauling water

Hauling water in “baskets”

Next, we walked them down to the stream.  According to the Map My Walk iphone app with GPS that monitors my every step even in the woods at Maywood (just like God does!), it’s almost a half mile down to the stream.  Boys being boys, the  first thing they did was walk across a little stone dam someone had built and get their jeans wet.  Then we had them fill buckets of water–because pioneers did not have indoor plumbing–and carry the buckets back up to our yard where our next task was to prepare lunch.

One of the guys with ax

One of the guys with an axe.

Lunch was hot dogs cooked over a fire.  But they had to build the fire.  And before building the fire they had to cut wood for the fire.  One of the girls described it better than I can:

“Then the boys worked on the woods, they chopped the woods, it was pretty funny how they chopped it…They took a longtime to chopped the woods…Finally, the woods are done, it took about all the boys to make a fire.”

At least one girl tried splitting wood--she was pretty good at it!

At least one girl tried splitting wood–she was pretty good at it!

One of the boys put it this way:

The axe was very heavy and the woods were very thick, so chopping the wood was difficult.

I’m thinking a little vocabulary lesson is in order this week.  There’s a teensy difference between clearing a forest and splitting a few pieces of log.

If the fire doesn't light, we eat raw hot dogs, guys.

If the fire doesn’t light, we eat raw hot dogs, guys.

hotdogs over a fireOnly one of the students had any Boy Scout type of background.  Lighting a fire for cooking was a challenging experience, and my husband Mr. Pioneer Man even let them use matches.  They finally got it going, although I briefly thought we might have to resort to eating raw hotdogs.   Next year, they are going to start the fire with flint (which will take them even longer).  Next year, I am also going to buy more hotdogs.  I did not take into consideration the number of wieners that would fall off their sticks into the fire.  We had enough to eat, but they had worked up quite an appetite from chopping down all the woods.

Campfires call for s’mores.  It’s not a pioneer thing.  It’s just plain ol’ American.  Originally I was going to skip the s’mores because the international students are usually put off by the super sweet stuff that Americans eat.  But when I asked in class if they liked marshmallow, they immediately asked if we would be doing s’mores.  So we did.  I did not get any amazing photos of  torched marshmallows because I was so busy breaking Hershey bars and graham crackers into squares.  So much for internationals not liking sweets.

For most of the students it was their first American field trip–and to an actual field, at that.  On the ride back to school (after a final act of dousing the fire with the water they had hauled from the stream), half the students fell asleep.  It was probably because of their homework-induced sleep deprivation.  But I’d rather attribute it to a day in the great American outdoors.

Some vocabulary issues to touch on this week (and a peek into why the vocabulary load in chemistry is so daunting):

  • Wood is what trees are made of.
  • The woods is large group of trees.
  • A forest is bigger than a woods.
  • A stream is a small river.
  • A stream is not the same thing as a lake.
  • Water is carried in a bucket or pail, not a box or  basket.
  • A hotdog is technically a type of sausage but Americans think of them differently.
  • S’mores are made with graham crackers, not biscuits.  However graham crackers are not really crackers. Crackers are what Americans put cheese on.  Graham crackers are more like a cookie that the Brits call a biscuit.
cooking hotdogs

Williamsburg hat, yes. Plastic cup, maybe not so Colonial.

First frost and fingers crossed: winterizing the hive

Sunlight sparkling on the bees...a bee-utiful sight.

Sunlight sparkling on the bees…a bee-utiful sight.

The temperature has dipped low enough to zap the basil, which I did not snatch in time.  So much for making pesto.  A  more pressing issue is getting the bees ready for winter.  Saturday was a delightful day with crisp sunny weather and crunchy leaves underfoot, but it was still warm enough for the bees to be out and about.  Mr. Beekeeper had three tasks in mind:

  • put sugar patties in each hive for food and for mite control
  • put bottom boards on the hives to reduce drafts
  • insulate the hives with tar paper to keep the bees from getting too cold

We have had a 50% success rate in getting bees through the winter.  One year they were too cold and would not leave the warmth of their cluster to eat honey elsewhere in the hive and so they starved to death.  Last year, they were unable to maintain critical mass to stay warm, due most likely to a mite infestation.

CIMG7933

Crisco and sugar. Bees eat the sugar. Crisco masks their scent so mites have trouble finding them.

CIMG7980

The wax paper helps keep the patties on the frames instead of falling in them.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder.  Giving them sugar did not make them lazy...they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder. Giving them sugar did not make them lazy…they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

This year we replaced all four hives.  Due to a lengthy winter in Georgia, the bees did not arrive in Maryland until the first day of summer.  They missed the abundant spring blooming season, so Beekeeper Man has been feeding them sugar water all season long.  He also started them off with sugar patties.  Sugar patties are a simple mixture of Crisco and sugar.  The bees eat the sugar but, in the process, get Crisco on them.  This supposedly masks their scent so the mites can’t find them.  As we head into winter, the sugar patties are a better way to feed than glass jars of sugar water which would freeze.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

To help the bees stay warm, Mr. Beekeeper slides a bottom board onto the bottom of the hive which is just open screen.  This minimizes cold air rushing in.  Bee Man also wraps tar paper (the kind used for roofing) around the hive and on the top lid.  We’ve had bees survive without the tar paper and we’ve lost them from pests with the tar paper.  If nothing else, it keeps a certain beekeeper’s worry level low.  He will still fret over his “girls” all winter, but at least I won’t be hearing him moan every time it snows, “I should have wrapped the hives.”

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

A primary but unlisted task when opening the hives is always to assess how the bees are doing and to enjoy them.

Opening one hive broke open some burr comb that was attached to the lid.  And it gave me a chance to peek at the bees on some honey.

Burr comb...the bees don't always keep their honeycombs in the frames.

Burr comb…the bees don’t always keep their honeycombs in the frames.

CIMG7960

Assassin bugGoing in the hive also means checking for pests.  One was found outside of a hive–an assassin bug.  Assassin bugs are considered a beneficial bug in the garden and they don’t thrive in numbers to make them a danger to the hive, but this hapless bee sure did not benefit from the bug at her doorstep.  The assassin bug inserts a paralyzing enzyme into the victim and then sucks the “juice” out of it.  The assassin bug normally hangs around flowering plants where nectar loving insects hang out.  With the first frost killing off the flowers but warm weather keeping the bugs alive, this guy was running out of places to hang out.

A more nefarious pest was found in the third hive–small hive beetles.  But that will require some research and another post.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony.  We'll have to get on this.  Stay tuned.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony. We’ll have to get on this. Stay tuned.

Musings while medicated…

It’s been over a week since I traded in my last original hip for a new sleeker model. Not that anyone but an airport security officer can tell. I don’t think I weigh any less. I’m still wearing the same size pants. However, for those who have observed my gimpy gait since I got the first hip, the doc appears to have evened things out. I no longer ga-lump ga-lump with a side to side sway. I sashay with a sophisticated soft sock shuffle, gliding the walker through some indoor laps: kitchen to hallway to music room with a return to the kitchen and a victory loop around the island. The grunting with each step has been replaced by little phoo-phoo cleansing breaths. Me and my walker…the Little Engine That Could.

This morning, after two good cups of coffee,a shower, and a load of laundry spinning in the washer, I came downstairs to enjoy breakfast on the screen porch. What a good start to the day, you say. That pretty much WAS my day. Aside from some laps, the rest of the day involved resting on the glider, sometimes with my eyes open.

I thought of having some thoughts. People have been known to have creative spurts while on narcotics. Take Ethan Allen Poe, for example. Or was that Edgar Allen Poe? Yeah, so thinking was a bit of a challenge. A wisp of a thought would float by and I could almost grasp it. Or…I could stare at clouds with my eyes closed. It was a good day for that too.

I do have goals for this summer. I plan to see how many things I can accomplish without actually doing any of it myself. Yesterday was very productive. John cleaned the dryer vent AND I had the piano tuned. The piano and the dryer vent were equally overdue for attention. The dryer was potentially more dangerous, but the piano tuning was not without risk. Listening to the tuning was like being pulled into an upright position by my hair. As each string stretched its way toward proper pitch, each hair on my head felt pulled tighter and tighter upward.

Why did I think this would be a good idea while recovering from surgery? Because the piano needed to be tuned in order to have rehearsal for our singing group at our house. And why did I think I’d be in any condition to host rehearsal? Because I knew I’d be too incapacitated to drive to rehearsal.

Here’s a thought…I can almost grasp it…THE BIONIC WOMAN WAS A TV SHOW. SHE NEVER REALLY EXISTED. Last time I noticed, the actress was doing commercials for the Sleep Number Bed.

Why do I keep thinking I can do all this stuff? And then I think replacement parts will enable me to keep on doing all this stuff. Joint replacement is a lucrative field because it has a ready-made market of Superwomen who are wearing out. We need bionics. Get a new joint and be better than ever. Your employer and every one else can continue to expect you to perform beyond normal human endurance.

And the Little Engine said, “Phoo-phoo-phooey. Take a nap.” So I did. On my Sleep Number Bed. And when I woke up, I felt ready to face tomorrow’s challenge and the real reason I need replacement parts: Super MomMom will venture to the hospital tomorrow to meet her newest grand babe.

Taming the beast: A tale of customer service

CIMG7799A very sweet student confessed last week, “Sometimes I wish I had a good reason to punch someone in the face.  I think it would be really fun.”  After an initial double-take on my part, we went on to discuss how we love those scenes in movies where the girl hauls off and slugs someone who really deserves it, often a big clueless guy who never sees the swing coming.  The best scenes are when the gal has accidentally slugged the wrong person–or smashed a vase on his head– and then has to repair the relational damage.

I  am no advocate of punching people in the face, but my sister and I have been known…ahem…to verbally explode, sometimes in public places.  I was going to credit/blame this trait on our father’s choleric temperament, but upon reflection, Mom has done this a couple of times herself and we have cheered her on. Dad’s explosions were like a constant barrage of fireworks.  Ours are more like the explosion that results from a very long slow steady gas leak.  And the person holding the match gets blown to smithereens, usually with a pithy quote.

Some of our classic “punch” lines:

  • “I’m not just buying a toaster oven from you people!” (This was me in the appliance section of Montgomery Ward over the delivery of a houseful of major appliances.)
  • “I am appalled!!!” (Me again, at a restaurant in Cape May.  This is my mom’s favorite.  She’s been quoting it back to me for twenty-five years.)
  • “Don’t ever buy a vacuum cleaner from this store!” (My sister to everyone in Best Buy.)

And the latest (by phone): “I don’t expect you to fix it.  All you can do is listen to me yell at you!”

I’m also not an advocate of yelling at people in lieu of punching them.  Arrogant people who bully others to booster their feelings of self-importance are really annoying.  After all, a person’s a person no matter how small…or stupid…or incompetent.  And who’s to say who has had a worse day…the customer or the employee?  But sometimes explosions happen.

Here’s a tale from Friday. It has a happy ending.

It’s the end of a five-day week that felt twice that long.  I drive to the new Harris Teeter grocery store across the street from school.  My mission: to buy kid-sized Adirondack chairs for my granddaughter.  While there, I pick up some things for dinner.  Three weeks away from total hip replacement surgery, I keep swearing off shopping, but I still find myself in the grocery store.

I  get in the checkout line behind a woman with a large order.  I am really feeling the pain, but have the cart to lean on.  An employee says she can assist me through the self-checkout.  Now, I don’t like self-checkout.  I want a person to check the items, put them in bags and, in an ideal world, put them into the cart for me.  Harris Teeter’s checkout lanes are uniquely designed to facilitate this ideal world.

But I follow the helpful employee to the self-checkout lane.  I do not yet have a Harris Teeter “VIC” card.  The employee says she will scan my items while I go to customer service for a VIC card.  Fine.  Step by tortured step, I hobble over to the service desk and get a VIC card.

Would they have been so friendly if I weren't a Very Important Customer?

Would they have been so friendly if I weren’t a Very Important Customer?

Meanwhile, back at self-checkout, my items are scanned and bagged, but not loaded into my cart.  Furthermore, the helpful employee has gone off to be helpful somewhere else.  A different person handles my payment.  I begin to leave but realize that only the kiddie chairs are in the cart.  I grab my two bags from the bagging shelf and head home.

Thirty miles and forty-five minutes later, I peel myself out of the car, stretch out my locked-in-position hips and drag my body up the three steps into the house.  I plop two bags onto the counter.  Finally, I’m home.

“You can light the grill!” I call to my husband.

“What did you get?”

“Steaks!”

This water bottle apparently couldn't share a bag with a steak.

This water bottle apparently couldn’t share a bag with a steak.

I go through the bags.  The first bag contains one item– a water bottle.  Really.  From the other bag I  pull out cheese, a baguette, olives, and tomatoes.  There’s no steak.

There’s no steak.

I have driven thirty miles and there’s no steak.   I’m not driving back.

I had grabbed two bags at the store.  Why would you need three bags for an order that small???  If Helpful Employee #1 had stayed on task, she would have said, “Excuse me, ma’am, here’s a third bag.”  Helpful Employee #2 didn’t know there were three bags because she arrived at the end of the transaction.  I didn’t know there were three bags because I was off getting a VIC card instead of supervising Helpful Employee #1.

This is a classic example of multi-tasking gone awry.  Can we please, as a society, learn to carry one simple task to completion?

So now I’m tired, in pain, and angry.  John heads off to our local grocery, just five minutes away, to pick up a steak.  I call the Harris Teeter store and speak with the manager, who just happens to be Helpful Employee #2.

“We want to do whatever we can to make this up to you,  ” she said.

That’s when I tell her the only thing she can do at this point is listen to me yell at her.

Then she says, “We will drive the steaks over to your house.”

It’s thirty miles the back way to my house.  The normal way–the Beltway–is thirty-five miles and it’s a Friday evening.  It could easily take an hour and a half to get from Ellicott City to Hereford.  I tell the manager that it is a ridiculous idea.

“No, really, we will do it.”

“Ok.  I accept your offer.”  I feel guilty for about a nano-second for the employee who is going to have to sit in rush hour traffic for an eternity and a day.  But I accept the offer because waiting until Monday to go back into the store for a refund will keep me annoyed until at least Monday and even then I will probably be hesitant to ever again stop in at Harris Teeter on my way home.  And I want to stop at Harris Teeter on my way home.

(Those of you who are wondering why I can’t just stop at the store five minutes from my house do not understand the effects of a long commute on the body.  By the time I am five minutes from home, I want to be home.)

So, Helpful Employee #2, a.k.a. Manager, says that hopefully the steaks will arrive by the time the grill is hot.  My husband and I know better.  Sure, enough, when the car comes rolling down the driveway, we are finishing our meal.

I was 90% satisfied when the manager offered to deliver the steak.  It was such an outrageous offer.  With the arrival of the assistant store manager I am more than 100% satisfied.  And then she goes completely over the top.  Instead of one steak, there are two–for my aggravation.  And a rotisserie chicken, because someone realized that dinner was going to be really late.  And a cake, to sweeten things up.  And flowers, to make me happy.

And it worked.  When I look at the flowers I think, “How lovely!”  When my in-laws got a gift of some steak they thought, “How thoughtful!”  When we eat the rotisserie chicken I think, “How helpful!”  Next week, when I pull the cake from the freezer to celebrate my daughter’s new house we’ll think, “How sweet!”

Will I go back to Harris Teeter?  Absolutely.  Will I check to see that I have everything when I leave the store? Darn tootin’ I will.  Will I let the manager send someone all the way to my house again?  No.  They’ve already proven that they go the extra mile.

As for me, maybe I should wear a count-down to surgery button, just to warn people in my path.  Or maybe my husband should do the world a favor and let me avoid grocery stores for the next couple of months.

Busy as…

images[5]With the school year heading into its final stretch, I’m feeling as busy as a bee.  And I’m feeling about as  productive as the honeybees in our yard.  Oh wait, we don’t have any honeybees in our yard.  The 44,000 bees we ordered from Georgia haven’t arrived yet.  We have carpenter bees in droves, doing their destructive thing and also dive-bombing me while I try to weed the gill-over-the-ground from snaking all over the oregano.  Between the carpenter bees and my limited flexibility (new hip #2 coming in a mere six weeks!), I didn’t get much weeding done this weekend.  I gave up the bending and pulling to sit in a sunny spot to watch Mr. Beekeeper clean the empty beehives with his new power washer.

After a good nap, I pondered lesson plans.  Ugh.  At this point in my career I should be on auto-pilot like a few teachers I know.  Alas, my ESL prep is new this year and requires actual thought.  And my juniors and seniors in French are heading into AP season, so my French IV-V lessons have to try to sync with the craziness of who’s in class on which day.  I try to accommodate them with a more or less self-paced unit, but they will try to whine and complain about their AP tests…which will activate my hyper-angry button.  They have been warned.  Someone tried to pull the AP card last week and I went ballistic.  You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom which normally is so full of laughter that the math teacher next door can’t imagine what is so funny about French class.

(Warning to pretty much anyone in my vicinity: don’t complain to me about anything.  My pain tolerance does not allow for whining. Exceptions are made for my pregnant daughters, especially the one who is teaching full time up until her due date while also moving into a new house the week of her spring concert.  She’s allowed to whine.)

I took a break from my meager attempt at lesson planning to get more familiar with my new school-issued iPad.  Teachers were given iPads in order to explore the possibilities of teaching via tablet.  Training is coming in the new school year.  For now, we’re supposed to figure the thing out.  “Just play with it,” we were told.

I started out very professionally, looking for word-processing apps and wondering if they were worth exploring.  Then I wandered into French apps and downloaded one freebie from a site that I regularly use online.  After that, I let the iPad inform me on new apps.  Well, the free app of the week was a clever little game called Bee Leader.  Since it was free, I downloaded it and got sucked into its little world.  I am pretty sure that my seven year old grandson would have caught on to it quicker, but I got the hang of it.  The goal is to collect as much pollen, nectar, honey, and  bee buddies as you can before the sun goes down..while also avoiding nasties like spiders, wasps, and little black rain clouds.  If you smash into little alarm clocks you gain more minutes in your day.   Maybe you only have to touch the alarm  clock to gain the minutes, but the way my bee was flying, everything got smashed.  He was buzzing through his day like a maniac.  I could relate.

I don’t really want to fly through this week like a maniac.  I’d rather be a calm, focused, productive little bee, intent on the task at hand. And, wow, I could really use some of those time stretching alarm clocks placed strategically throughout my day.  Is there an app for that?