How Much Honey?

Honey box filled with honey

Honey box filled with honey

It’s the big question everyone has when we harvest a honey box. How much honey is in there?
Family wants to know, “Will we get some for Christmas?”
Colleagues ask, “Will you have any to sell this year?
Mr. Beekeeper asks, “How many pounds did I carry up from the bee yard?”
Mrs. Beekeeper asks, “How many jars do I need?”

One day this week found Mr. Beekeeper and Junior Beekeeper at home together. With the Star Beekeepers aligned, it was surely the day to harvest honey.

Removing the honey box

Removing the honey box

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

Hive D.  We took the lower brown box and kept the  top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Hive D. We took the lower brown box and kept the top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Only one honey box was harvested this time. Hive D had clearly finished filling one honey box but was still working on their second one. We leave that to them to continue to fill. Hive A, new this year and thriving, already filling two hive body boxes, received a honey box just a couple of weeks ago. We leave them to their work.
Hives B and C, who had come through winter with one hive box, have struggled to fill a second hive box. They currently have no honey boxes on them at all. Hive C had a honey box, but it was removed and given to Hive A.

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

So we harvested one honey box. In the fall we will see if we can harvest some more.

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

This was Junior Beekeeper’s first experience with spinning honey. Grandma Beekeeper has been working her arms lifting grandbabies and willingly handed the privilege of honey spinning to the Oldest Grandchild.

He also learned a physics lesson about centrifugal force. As he turns the crank, a basket containing two frames spins round and round, faster and faster the harder he cranks. The honey is pulled out of the frames to the side of the container. When he stops spinning, the honey slides to the bottom of the container. We open the valve and pour honey into the bucket. It’s just like that ride at the fair that he dislikes so much…the one where you spin and stick to the side walls while the floor drops out from beneath you. (Junior Beekeeper is more of a Tower of Terror guy.)

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later...right before his water ride

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later…right before his water ride

And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to a lone bee who got processed with the honey. He got spun and dripped out onto the filter. Another lone bee got stuck in the cappings which were also placed on the filter to drain. He was still barely moving the next day when it was time to process the wax. Alas, he went down the drain on a “water ride.” Some people think raw honey should not be filtered, but I personally prefer my honey without dead bees in it.

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 48,000 cells with a little spoon

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 43,000 cells with a little spoon

So, how much honey is in a honey box? Time for some math.
There are 9 frames in each honey box.
Each side of each frame contains about 80 x 30 honey comb cells. That’s 2400 little cells per side…or 4800 per frame times 9 frames. That comes to 43,000 little cells filled by busy bees.



Frame filled with capped honey

Frame filled with capped honey

Or about 3 gallons.
One pound of honey equals 1 1/4 cups. We have about 48 cups. So maybe we’ll get 38 one pound jars of honey.

Maywood Honey 2014

Maywood Honey 2014: a delicate fruity blend of black locust, wild  grape, and wildflowers.

Which means Christmas gifts of honey will be liquid gold and jars for sale will have to wait until we see what we get in the fall. Or if one of the weak hives fails to make it, then we get all their honey. But who wants a hive to fail?

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.

At least I’m not pregnant

Q: What does a pregnant daughter have in common with her mother who is getting a hip replacement?
A: Physical limitations, lack of sleep,  pathetic body image, and an overwhelming desire to go through torturous pain in order to be done with this!

Monday morning, bright and early, I head to the hospital to get a new hip.  Sunday, I stopped by Pregnant Daughter #1’s house to hoist the two year old grandson up in my arms for a big hug.  After surgery I’ll be on weight restrictions and will have to limit my hoisting to grandson’s baby sister.  Ah, but when Baby comes, Daughter #1 will be able to resume lifting the two year old because her belly won’t be in the way.  Trade-off.

Saturday I visited Pregnant Daughter #3 for the same reason.  She and I have been grunting our way to the finish line of the school year together.  Both of us have been tackling to-do lists with Time as our enemy.  I felt a little bad sitting around her new house on Saturday while boxes still needed unpacking, but it’s not like I could do much to help.  Still, maybe I was keeping her from doing things.  “It’s ok,” she said. “I can only work for 15 minutes before needing to sit down.”  Just like me, she’s trying to get things done in short spurts followed by longer bouts of recovery time.

Friday I tried to visit Pregnant Daughter #2, but she needed a nap. I was certainly not going to keep her from a nap.  I’ve been into serious napping myself lately.  By the end of the school year, I was needing an hour nap just to generate energy to cook dinner.  That’s when Long-Suffering Hubby took over the cooking chores.  (He was too hungry to wait  for me to wake up!) Fortunately for me, he’s good in the kitchen.

Last month the family went to Cape May for a celebratory weekend.  I was afraid that I was going to be the wet blanket in the group,  but when all three daughters announced that they needed naps before dinner, I didn’t feel so bad.  And my hobbling on a cane wasn’t much different than Daughter #3 moaning about groin pain from walking too much.  I knew exactly how she felt.  The pain of a bad hip feels just like the pain of walking too much in your third trimester.

Last week Pregnant Daughters 1 and 3 were complaining about difficulty sleeping.  I was right there with them.  Rolling over?  Oh my gosh.  It’s hardly worth the effort.  Daughter #1 decided one night that it wasn’t, so she didn’t.  But sleeping on one side all night left her with a pain in her shoulder that did not  want to go away.

Friday, as part of my get-ready for surgery, I had a massage.  The masseuse asked me to roll over.  Groan.  “It’s ok,” she said, “Take your time.”   She was really nice, but there is just no way that “take your time rolling from your back to your tummy” doesn’t make one sound like a totally pathetic loser.  This is a skill that I mastered when I was about four months old.  The only other time in my life when I couldn’t roll over was…when I was pregnant.

Pregnancy is one of those times when catching a glance at one’s reflection can be demoralizing.  Watching oneself do the old lady hobble toward the reflection in a store window is just as hideous as watching oneself do the pregnant waddle toward the window.  Of course, my daughters all look really good when they are pregnant.  Daughter #1 is still really tiny except for the huge basketball she’s carrying in front.  However, watching her from behind last week while she sat in a swing with her little guy, well…she still sat like a pregnant woman.

So Monday, after months and months and months of waiting for the school year to end, I look forward to the surgeon taking  a power saw to my hip.  Yank this thing out and let’s be done with it.  It’s bad when you would rather do that than pretty much anything else you’re doing.  It’s not unlike reaching the end of a pregnancy.  Why would anyone look forward to going into labor?  It’s because it’s a lot better than staying pregnant.

Q: So what’s the difference between having hip replacement and having a baby?

A: When it ‘s over my life will be easier than it was before.  And I will get to sleep through the night.

Sorry, girls.  ; )

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?”


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?

The Chair

When  parents down-size and elderly relatives pass away, stuff gets scattered and settles into the homes of different family members.  Pretty much every room in my house contains something that originally came from someone else’s house, from the lamp and mirror in my office to the china cabinet in the dining room.  Once in awhile someone in the family, someone who has been over a bazillion times, will say, “Hey, didn’t that (fill-in-the-blank) used to be in (fill-in-another-blank)’s house?”

Last week we were gathered at my sister’s for Easter dinner.  We’ve all been there a bazillion times.  This time, a group of siblings were dining in the music room.  It’s not like we’ve never been in the music room; we just never ate there before.  Someone looked toward the corner of the room and noticed the chair.

“Hey, look, it’s The Chair.”

The Chair

The Chair

Lo and behold, there was The Chair that used to be in the living room of our home before our parents downsized to a condo, oh, twenty years ago.  It’s been in my sister’s house ever since.  Somehow we had never paid any attention to it until this very moment.

The Chair, in its pre-redo floral slipcovered days, was the setting for one of my earliest memories.  My mother sat in it holding my brand new baby sister.  My brothers and I sat on the sofa waiting our turn to come meet her.  I, at age four the eldest of four , went first. Then my three year old brother came forward, followed by my two year old brother, and finally my one year old brother, who promptly slapped baby sister in the face.  That’s why it’s one of my earliest memories.  Who’d forget a scene like that?

"I did not slap my sister."

“I did not slap my sister.”

"Trust me.  I did not slap my sister."

“You can trust this face. I did not slap my sister.”

"Huh? What?"

“Huh? What?”

"Don't blame me.  I wasn't born yet."

“Don’t blame me. I wasn’t born yet.”

The Chair.  You’d think we had only had one chair in our house, the way we preface it with a definite article.

One of the in-laws commented, “It’s in such great shape.  Did Theresa have it redone?”

“Oh, no,” we replied.  “It’s in great shape because no one ever sat in it.”

Why did no one ever sit in it?  Because it had been redone.  Of all the pieces that my parents gained when my grandparents downsized, The Chair was one piece that my mother actually had reupholstered.  The other pieces (two golden-clad loveseats come to mind) were adopted and used to death.  I’m  guessing that those were the pieces my mother hated and wanted desperately to replace.  The loveseats must have been really good furniture, though, because it took seven kids years to destroy them.   The Chair, however, reupholstered in white (what was my mother thinking?), was now new and was not to be soiled by our grimy little bodies.

So we did not sit in it.

Well, ok, sometimes we sat in it.  On rare occasions.  So rare, that people piped up with stories about The Chair.

One sister-in-law: “I sat in the chair once holding Danny when he was a baby.” (Danny is now in his late twenties.)

Did he profess his love in The Chair?

Did he profess his love in The Chair?

The Chair figured prominently in some stories about wooing spouses.  In the one story that I dare share, my brother-in-law told my sister he loved her for the first time in The Chair.  She tried to re-enact it.  She made him sit in the chair.  She sat in his lap.

“We were sitting in this chair the first time you told me you loved me.”

“We were?”

“Well, you did it in sign language.”

“I did?”

Moment killed.

Did he forget that he professed his love in The Chair?

Did he forget that he professed his love in The Chair?

Every sibling then sat in the chair and we took photos.  Proof that we had sat in The Chair. And now I remember the biggest reason we didn’t sit in The Chair.  It’s not that comfortable.

It's a good chair for a Grand Duchess, though.

It’s a good chair for a Grand Duchess, though.

Life-long learning…

Teachers are constantly astounded at how much there is to learn.  We are so surprised that, some days, it’s what draws us to the classroom.  Other days, it makes us want to hide under our warm comfy covers until summer.

What lack of knowledge will we face today?

This past week, the teachers at my school were encouraged to work out a professional growth plan.  What courses, conferences, seminars, videos, books, and what-not do we need to maintain certification and/or grow professionally?  This is, of course, in addition to mastering the interactive whiteboards, the new computer operating system, and the many features of Edline, while simultaneously test-driving a new grading software package as we await the imminent arrival of Ipads so that we can teach ourselves how to teach electronically with one-to-one student/teacher interactivity.

imagesCAC2OJ3BMeanwhile, we also teach actual content lessons.  To teenagers.  With attention spans the length of a tweet.  The big excitement in French class recently was finding out that the Academie Française had banned the word “hashtag”  (that’s the symbol #, known to us old people as the pound sign or to even older people as the number sign).  The students came running to me with the news:  “Madame!!!  The Academie Française has banned the word ‘hashtag’!!!!!  It’s now called a mot-dièse!” 

Every once in a while we have discovery learning moments like this.  The rest of the time, we discover amazing things that the students don’t know.  Like how to operate the digital recorders.

I have a classroom set of digital recorders for recording student oral work.  I got them over ten years ago, thanks to a computer-teacher colleague who found them cheap on eBay.  Although a few of the recorders have died, I still have enough for them to be a pretty great classroom tool.  Except, the students can’t figure out how to use them.  If the device had an intuitive circle in the center or a screen to pinch and slide, the students would be ok.  As it is, there are buttons labeled with words: ON, OFF, RECORD, PLAY, STOP.

All through French I,  the same questions come at me: “Mrs. Harp, how do you turn it on?” (Press ON.)  “Madame, how do you record?” (Press RECORD.)  “What do we do when we’re finished?”  (Press STOP.) Then in French II: “Madame, I can’t remember how to use these.”  (Sigh.)

Alas, my antique technology does not compare with what the drama teacher learned at school this week.  While rehearsing with costumes for the school play, she discovered that the male actors did not know how to put on an overcoat.

Man in overcoat

Man in overcoat

Later, we shared this incident with the incredibly brilliant older brother of the lead actor.  His response: “What’s an overcoat?”

“You don’t know what an overcoat is?”

“I know trench coats.  They are light and khaki-colored.  And I know pea-coats.  I don’t know overcoats.”

Well, why would a young man know overcoats?  They never wear coats.  They exit the climate controlled comfort of a car to dash a few yards into a climate controlled building–in polo shirts in twenty degree weather with a windchill of minus three.

“It is scientifically proven,”said one shorts and flip-flops in winter student to his Spanish teacher mom, “that going outside without a coat will not make you sick.”

The teachers’ reply (in chorus): “But if the car breaks down and you are  stuck by the side of the road, you will die.”

The overcoat-challenged actors were baffled by the difficulties of putting the coat on over a suit jacket.  Clueless as to the technique of gripping the jacket cuff while sliding the arm into the coat, the boys found their jacket sleeves bunched up around their elbows.

” I can’t move my arms!”

"I can't put my arms down!" from A Christmas Story.

“I can’t put my arms down!” from A Christmas Story.

After teaching the boys how to put on an overcoat, the drama teacher had to  teach them how to take one off.  No, it does not fall into a puddle of fabric on the floor.  For the scene in question, the coat is to be folded gently shoulder to shoulder and draped over the back of the chair.

I can’t wait to see the school play next weekend, just to watch the boys put on overcoats. And someone should give the drama teacher an award for teaching life-skills.  With all that these students still need to learn, they are going to have to live a very long life.

As for all the things I’m going to learn this week, hiding under the covers sounds really inviting.

Plodding and Stomping Toward Spring

The clocks are set forward and my sleep schedule is skewed.  The delight of coming home to hours of sunlight will not have me springing forward into my day.  I will be staying up too late for the next week and then feeling morose when the sunbeam that had finally started coming in my window to wake me delays its entrance until I’ve left the house.  Sigh.

But springtime is a time of optimism.  After the week of the no show snow-quester, the balmy weather this weekend was exhilarating.  It was a good weekend for getting outside.  If I hadn’t been conserving energy for an overnighter with our toddler granddaughter, I would have attacked the yard. Still, even with little Emily en route to our house, I couldn’t resist pulling out the rake and at least poking around the gardens.

The daffodils are popping up so I was sure I’d unrake some Spring.  I was on a search for chives.  Even though I need to replenish them this year, I’m still on the lookout for the first sprigs for my eggs.  Nothing yet.  They really don’t peek until St. Patrick’s Day, another week from now.  I raked their bed anyway.

Crocus.  If the daffodils are popping, shouldn’t the crocus be hiding under the leaves?   I raked the crocus/black-eyed susan bed and found nothing but dirt and some mole trails.  ACK!  Moles!!!  I thought that bed was safe because it is surrounded  by sidewalk.  Errrrgg.  Now I don’t know if they have totally destroyed the bed or if I’m just peeking early than usual because of the early daylight savings time and a balmy weekend.  It’s not officially spring yet.  The susans should not be up yet anyway, but have the moles destroyed the crocus?

In the fall, a colleague of mine gave me a mole “device.”  If I call it a mole killer, someone will get weepy over the poor little critters.  So I won’t call it a mole killer.  It’s a “device” for dealing with moles.  I will say, though, that the “device” looks like it was invented by Edward Scissorhands.  When I brought it home from school (It never entered the school, by the way.  We transferred the “device” to my car in the parking lot, although it could have been a very effective class management tool.)…anyway, I gave it very carefully to my husband who was ready to nonchalantly toss it into the outer mudroom.

Some people don’t know we have an “outer mudroom.”  They’ve seen the mudroom and thought that was bad enough.  The “outer mudroom” is the room beyond the mudroom door.  It is supposed to be the place to put the stuff that people who have garages store where the car is supposed to go.  Are you with me?  Because I’m getting lost–which is what happens to anything that goes into the “outer mudroom.”

John was about to toss the mole “device” into the outer mudroom when I started “talking” to him:

“You can’t throw that thing in there!!! It will cut someone’s hand off!”

So he put it in a  box.  And tossed the box into the outer mudroom.  I would not be able to find it today if my life depended on it.  He will claim that he knows exactly where it is.  But in case he doesn’t and something should happen to my husband and me, I’m hereby alerting dear grown children who would have to go through our possessions that there is a mole “device” in a box in the mudroom.  Somewhere.

We have another ten days until the official start of Spring.  Ten days for the crocus and chives to present themselves.  While I wait, I’ll stomp on mole trails and try to get Someone to activate a critter management plan.

March mudness

Unless you’re into basketball, is there anything to like about March?  St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps.  You  have to wonder, though, if St. Patrick’s day was really originally in March or if the Irish just wanted to bless us all with an official drinking holiday in this most dreary of months.

Many people hate the month of January.  It represents diets and Christmas bills.  But January isn’t so bad–by the time we wake up to fact that we’re in it, we’re through it.  February gives us Valentine’s Day and a 3-day Presidents Day weekend. But March. Ugh.  Overcome with sunlight deprivation, we’re desperate for spring to come.  We can almost feel the sunbeams of spring vacation.  The garden is thinking about waking up.  And then what happens?  A snow forecast.

I’m not in the mood for snow anymore.  I’m in the mood for green. I want to peek into the herb garden and see little shoots of chives volunteering themselves to flavor my scrambled egg.  I want to rake away some leaves and discover happy little crocus.  Actually, this year I’d be happy just to see some sunshine.

It will snow this week.  I’m sure of it.  I took my car through the car wash.  It is shiny and clean; therefore,  it’s all ready for road salt. (It has already been baptized with bird-poop, but the windshield wipers took care of that.)

My aversion to March snows goes back to our early days at Maywood.  We had a couple of brutal winters in the 90’s.  Snow and ice in February was difficult, but snow in March was maddening.  Snow in March melts faster than snow in February.  This is not a problem unless you live on a dirt road.  Dirt roads turn to mud in March.

When we first moved out here to the Hereford Zone, to a property that had been used only as a summer retreat, all signs of asphalt stopped almost half a mile from the house.  At a certain point along the road, the county stopped paving or maintaining it.  The road continued as a  dirt road past our nearest neighbor’s house, and gravel began at the Maywood property line.

One soggy March, an 8-inch snow storm melted in one day.  Fifty years of hand-shoveled gravel sank in mud beneath the tires of our minivan.  The dirt road section was even worse.  The sled run of iceruts where we had aimed the car wheels in February turned into a sloppy mud pit.  The mud was so deep it threw the tires off balance.

I took the car to a Mr. Tire for a balancing and alignment.  They put the minivan up on the lift with mud dripping from it.

“Where on earth have you been?” they asked.

“Home,” I replied.

So it’s been twenty years and I really should get over it.  The county has paved all the way to the Maywood property line.  We added asphalt millings on top of the fifty years of gravel, and we paved our driveway.  It’s really ok to drive here in March.   But March, with the gray-brown woods and green-ish brown grass, is still the color of mud.  I’d be in favor of using next week’s time change to leap right into April.

That said, I’m a teacher and will never say no to a snow day.  So if we’re to have snow, bring it on.  If it’s to be a sloppy, gloppy wintry-mix of snowy rain, students beware.  The Ides of March can make teachers crazy.

Up to our ears in wax

Beeswax.  We’re up to our ears in beeswax.

(I’m so tempted to recount an earwax story my sister told me about a certain niece’s boyfriend, but I’ll behave myself.  Family members have here enough data to figure out the source and ask her–if they dare.)

Cleaning the frames

Cleaning the frames

Actually, it’s not the beeswax but old honeycomb that we have in great supply.  Mr. Beekeeper is using the demise of all the bees as an opportunity to clean all the frames. This, ideally, should be done regularly on a rotating basis so that we aren’t dealing with processing 80 frames of comb. (The real reason is to provide healthy conditions for the bees, but this is not about the bees today, this is about me.)   However, we never claimed to be ideal beekeepers and we do have 80 frames of comb in the mancave to deal with.


Beeswax cappings

Four hives full of old honeycomb is a much bigger ordeal than melting the cappings from a honey harvest.  Cappings are beautiful white fresh wax that bees make to seal the finished honey product.  Cappings are the tops of the comb.  Harvesting our honey yields about a kitchen colander full of cappings, enough to make a batch or two of lip balm.  In contrast, old brood comb that has been sitting around is brown and black.  It is full of sticky propolis and pollen and old cocoons and yuck.  Scraped off the frames, it is crumbly like granola and sawdust.  To make a grand understatement, there is a lot more debris in the comb than in the cappings.  The comb from our four hives will eventually fill multiple 5 gallon buckets.

Old comb from the empty hives

Old comb from the empty hives

Why do I even want to deal with this?  I want the wax.   I want to have wax so I can make some lip balm and some candles.  I want to be able to offer the art teacher at my school some wax so that a student can try a hand at encaustic painting.  I want to be able to say to my brother-in-law, “Sure, you can have some wax to lubricate the bullets for your black powder shooting!” And Mr. Beekeeper plans to roll some of this clean wax onto the empty frames to give the new bees a jump start.

There really is a lot of debris in old comb.  The debris not only accounts for the volume in the bucket; the wax sticks to all that glop, making it difficult to extract all the wax.  Melting Batch #1 of comb resulted in a layer of wax so thin that Mr. Beekeeper broke it  into crumbs when he touched it.   (And then I yelled at him.)  With Batch #2, I  squeezed the cheesecloth-enveloped glop (the “official” beekeeper term–I kid you not–is slumgum) to extract more wax.  That resulted in a wax disc the size I normally get from cappings. By Batch #3, I was running out of cheesecloth so I raided John’s undershirt drawer.  (He’s due for new undershirts anyway.)  I’m now reaching the end of Bucket #1 and pondering how many pairs of dead pantyhose are lying at the bottom of the laundry pile in my closet.

For the uninitiated, I first wrap the comb wax in a filtering fabric like cheesecloth.  Then I heat it in a pot of water until all the wax melts (about 20 minutes).  I squeeze the cheesecloth to extract as much wax as I can.  I remove the cheesecloth and let the liquid cool.  The wax rises to the top and solidifies.  I lift off  the wax and dump the rest of the liquid.  (For more detail and photos, check my archived post “Purifying the beeswax.”)

This is what I got from the better part of a 5 gallon bucket.

This is what I got from the better part of a 5 gallon bucket.

The first bucket yielded 2 disks of wax and some crumbs.   It will have to be processed again to make it cleaner.  And the blobs of slumgum can be re-processed to extract even more wax.

A normal person would abandon the melting-bee-glop-in-underwear-on-the-stove project and do something more productive, like bake cookies.  Alas, my first three batches of wax and a Sunday afternoon in cyberspace have merely motivated me to do it more efficiently with the next batch.

You may think I’m nuts to spend my time on this.  Fine.  You mind your  own beeswax and I’ll mind mine.  But don’t complain when I charge money for my lip balm.

Filled tubes of lip balm

Filled tubes of lip balm