Monthly Archives: April 2009

Off to the allergist

Since I was a kid, I have been allergic.  I am allergic to everything that walks or talks or floats through the air.  We didn’t have air conditioning, of course, when I was a kid.  We didn’t need it in the woods of NW PA (though it’s hotter there now).  But we did sleep with the windows open all night so I often woke with a solid dusting of pollen all over my body.  Of course, that also meant I was sick pretty much all of the time.  I went to an allergist in NY (the closest there was) and he wrote on my chart (which I still have) that I was “a most unusual and interesing case”.  He also noted that, while in his office, “…I coughed until I threw up and then continued coughing.”  Charming…so I have allergies to all sorts of foods and trees and everything, like I said…and they are bad.

When we lived in TN, there was something different.  Very few things bothered me there.  The trees in Nashville were, in many cases, very different from what we had in PA or here in WV.  It was a pretty easy-going time allergy-wise for me.  I just figured that all my brains had leaked out through my nose or that I had outgrown my allergies.

Fastforward a few years and we returned to live in WV.  Allergies kicked my butt all over again.  Folks think I am in a constant state of mourning as my eyes are always red.  I must seem more emotional than a teenage girl!  I am actually a bit like an older lady who keeps tissues up her sleeve.  I can’t leave home without them.  All that was the case until last year when I decided I couldn’t live like that (puberty and menopause at the same time was a drag!)  I went to a local allergist and he confirmed that I am a most unusual and interesting case.  I started allergy shots last year and have continued.  So far I am still boy-like and not a miserable mess of histamine-reaction!


Today I have to go back to the doctor for my checkup.  I am not sure what exactly goes down at an allergy checkup.  I suppose he needs to make sure it is all working as planned.  Whatever the case, I am happy to go back because it seems as if my allergies are under control with the shots I have been taking this past year!  The best part is that every time I go to the allergist, I leave with a lollipop…without fail.  I suppose they leave the candy out there for the kids, but I need encouragement to get my shots too!

Anyhow, do you folks have allergies?  Do you take shots or have other remedies?

Swedish Fish

When I was a kid, we used to spend every day at the Tionesta beach. It was wonderful basking in the sun, preparing ourselves for skin cancer, learning about swimming and other kids and fish and crawdads.  One of my favorite memories of the beach was the concession stand.  They sold all sorts of junk there and we got a quarter to spend each day.

They sold frozen candy bars and popscicles and fun-dip and wacky wafers.  I love sugary candy.  It’s a terrible weakness that I still carry.  Probably my all time favorite thing to buy was swedish fish.  I guess they were a precursor to gummy-bears?  Anyhow, I like the red ones.  They sold swedish fish at the beach for a penny each….bag included!  Just about every day, I would get a little sandwich bag full of 25 swedish fish…the red ones.  

I have eaten them since then, but it is fairly uncommon for me nowadays.  The other day though, I was passing through a store and saw a bag of swedish fish.  The are significantly more expensive now than the used to be.  I didn’t count, but I suppose they cost at least 2 pennies each now.  Anyhow, I bought a bag…the red ones.  I ate the whole bag by myself the day I bought  them.  That’s right, 1400 calories of red sugary goodness!  I skipped breakfast and lunch and figure I broke even for the day.

I got another bag a few days later and spaced them out a bit.  I figured that buying swedish fish this way wasn’t sustainable though.  I decided to try my hand at a breeding program.  I looked very carefully and choose a male and female swedish fish and put them in a fishbowl I had laying around at the house.  I do have some experience with fish reproduction (a story for another time), so I figure it ought to be a piece of cake.  Anyhow, I expect to be up to my eyes in swedish fish in just a few days.  I’ll be taking orders soon!

Do you have anything from your childhood like in which you still indulge now and then?

Installing a window

In our house in TN and our house here in WV, we have been “blessed” with houses that had old, junky windows. When we first bought our place in TN, I wasn’t terribly confident in doing somewhat major home improvement projects, but one December, right after we moved in, I broke the window in Isaac’s room. We couldn’t have my young son’s window broken all winter, but I was too cheap to hire someone to put in a new window so we decided that I should have a go at installing a new one on my own. My first experience at it took a little time and a lot of shaky nerves, but since then, I have replaced tons of windows and tackled all sorts of projects.

(before and after…can you see the width we gained by removing the old framing?  Hover your mouse over the pics for more description)

So, that leads me to the current house, here in Charleston. This house was built in 1939. Because of that, it has all sorts of cool quirks and neat craftsmanship. It also seems, however, that it has some pretty strange features and things that are not really up to snuff. Adjacent to our family room on the bottom floor is a small craft room and a full bathroom. One wall of these rooms is below grade. It turns out that the original builders did nothing to drain or waterproof around those walls. Water has been leaking in to those rooms probably since it was built. I started gutting the room and found all sorts of fun stuff like a rotted wall (which I will replace), crumbling plaster (which I am removing), and lintel-less windows.

Typically, lintels are used to reinforce the span across a window. The floor joists from the room above are spaced evenly and rest on the support of the wall in the room in which I was working. In most houses, a lintel carries the weight of those joists across the window span so their weight doesn’t press on the window itself. Of course, my house is not most houses. Rather than a metal lintel or even a board or two laid on edge (which is strong), my floor joists were resting on a single 2×6 board laid flat (the weak way). “So what?”, you may be asking yourself. The thing is, after 70 years of weight and kids bouncing up and down and too much furniture, the “lintels” and starting to seriously sag and look awful. Eventually, the windows will be seriously affected as well.

So, as a part of the process of fixing the room, we decided to replace the windows and to install a proper lintel. If you ever get a wild hair to replace windows in your house, it is very easy…and you can save a ton of money! Anyhow, Saturday, I ripped out the old window. We had preordered a special sized window to fit in the opening. There are many ways to measure a window depending on your fit. You’ll need to remove the interior trim to see exactly what you want to remove/leave so you can get a proper measurement. Professionals sometimes will leave the trim when they measure. That’s usually a giveaway that they will be leaving a lot of the old window’s framing. The old framing as well as the frame from the new window often leave you with a much smaller piece of glass than the original window. It usually looks ok, but you get a lot less light through. I measured the exact opening without any of the old window to maximize the size of the window.

I rough fit the window (to make sure I hadn’t screwed up the measurement) which fit, and prepared to jack the floor joists of the room above so I could install a proper lintel. Jacking up a floor is a bit of a big deal so if you do it, be sure of what you are doing. The actual weight of a house in a given spot is actually not too great (I mean, you wouldn’t be able to hold it, but Superman easily could). I used two 2-ton bottle jacks to lift the 3 1/2 foot span of the window. Part of the key of jacking a house is to spread out the weight. The jack has a quarter-sized piston that carries the weight. The pressure of the jack’s piston, if applied directly to a piece of wood, would punch right through the wood. I had a few pieces of steel to spread the weight of the piston across the 4×4 wooden post I used to lift the house (see the pics). The nice thing about wood framing is that you can hear the house and wood fibers as they move. They are not likely to fail all at once. I felt at ease operating the jack directly below the area I was lifting.

Anyhow, I lifted the house slightly and slipped the new lintel in place. I slowly let the house settle again and the new lintel was level and eliminated the sag above the window. After that, installing the window was a breeze. I just set it in place, shimmed it as necessary to make sure it was level and plumb, and installed the four screws through the sidewalls of the window into the brick (you do the same thing if you have a wooden house, by the way). After that, I caulked around the exterior, applied expanding foam insulation in the gaps on the interior and reapplied the trim, window sill, etc.

It truly is as simple as that to replace a window. Every bit of the work can be done from the inside (though if you can get exterior access, it is much easier and more fun). Of course, anything I say here is how I do it and your experience may vary. I am not a professional so don’t take my word for anything. Still, with a little research and some effort, this is definitely a job anyone who is a bit handy can do!

Our litter bug

Abigail’s class had an assignment to make a litterbug in preparation for Earth Day.  The litterbug was to be constructed from recyclable items found around the house.  Lucky for us, all our recycling was sitting in a huge pile in the kitchen rather than being taken out by the road.  Abigail decided to make a fly so she gathered pieces and laid it out so we could plan.

I did the spray painting but she did the hand-painting and hot gluing.  Initially, we had planned to give the fly rigid legs so he could stand, but we couldn’t find anything good in our junk pile.  Instead, we decided to make him flyable.  We had just emptied out some old cough syrup so the empty bottle made a perfect handle.  So we constructed her litterbug and she flew it to school.  It occurs to me know though…I wonder if her litterbug will ever be recycled now?  I suppose if he makes it home, he will find his way to the recycle bin during one of our seasonal “hoe outs” where we run the kids out and then throw away everything in their rooms (shhhh…don’t tell).

The other cool thing the school did was to take Abigail’s class (and others?) to the movie theater to see Earth, the new Disney movie.  Abigail gave it 2 thumbs up so I figure we’ll all see it soon.

All this got me to thinking about how we might celebrate Earth Day.  I am not one to go hold hands and dance around a tree.  Still, I see the day as a neat time to consider what we might do to lessen our impact on things.  We have already changed to using all CFLs rather than incandescent lightbulbs.  We recycle or compost much of our waste and I stopped using gas powered lawn equipment.  I don’t mean to try to sound like Captain Earth or something, but I wonder what other things we ought to be doing to lessen our impact and live more sustainable.  

What sorts of things do you do to live more sustainably?

Honey Super Cell

I have typically kept bees according to mostly typical standards. I usually have 2 deep brood boxes (the big white boxes that most people think of as a beehive). I use a screened bottom board all year round for integrated pest management (IPM…i.e. I use it for mite control) and ventilation.  My hives all sit on cement blocks to raise them off the ground  and I have a typical lid on top of the hive to keep rain and snow out.  Until 2 year ago, I used 10 wax frames (the frames are where the bees make honeycomb to raise more bees and store honey) per box as is typical of most beekeepers.  

At the end of the season 2 years ago, my honey supers became infested with wax moths.  Wax moths are little brown moths that are attracted to honeycomb.  They lay eggs in the wax and their larvae eat through the wax and make a serious mess as they fill the honeycomb with poop and their silky cocoons.  Esentially, a wax moth infestation ruins any wax in which they come in contact.  In a typical strong hive, the bees maintain cleanliness and run the moths off.  My problem was with my honey supers (shallower white boxes where honey is stored by the bees for me to harvest) which I had just harvested.  After the honey flow, beekeepers remove the honey supers and have to store them until the next honey season.  

To prevent wax moths from infesting honey supers, most beekeepers have only a few choices.  Honey supers can be stored in a sunlight exposed shed (wax moths won’t typically lay eggs in the sun…but any dark spot in a super and they will lay).  Beekeepers can add paradichlorobenzene (PDB moth balls…not napthelene moth balls) on each honey super and seal them in storage so the PDB can fumagate the wax.  Finally, beekeepers can freeze each frame to kill any eggs and then store them in plastic bags inside the house (a shed is not typically tight enough and wax moths will eat through plastic bags).  I used to apply PDB moth balls but 2 years ago, the wax moths infested the supers as soon as the fumigant was depleted.  All of my honey supers were ruined and I could not see repeating the cycle again.  In addition to that, I decided that I was not content with using a chemical to treat my honey supers any longer.

About that same time, I began to read about honey super cell (HSC), a new product that was being discussed online quite a bit.  Honey super cell is fully drawn honey comb, made entirely of virgin food grade polypropylene.  The first benefit of HSC is that the bees do not have to expend additional effort to replace all of the wax that they had drawn out on the ruined honey supers.  When introducing new frames, as I would need to do, bees are typically given flat pieces of wax with a honeycomb pattern embossed in the wax.  They have to expend honey and time to build the honeycomb on top of the wax foundation.  Since this honey comb is fully drawn out, they do not have to generate more wax to make these frames usable.  Secondly, plastic is not attractive to wax moths so I will never have to worry about wax moths again.  Finally, the real benefit that the manufacturers of HSC tout is that it is small cell honey comb.  Whereas a typical bit of honeycomb in use in a commercial hive has a cell size of 5.4mm, HSC has a honeycomb cell inner diameter of 4.8-4.9mm.  So why in the world would you care about that?  It turns out that the larger size honeycomb cells are not necessarily natural and in fact, may actually help varroa mites breed in a hive.  Small cell comb is capped more quickly which interrupts the varroa breeding cycle.  Small cell comb provides less room for the varroa to breed (wahoo…bug sex!), and small cell comb apparently makes for a healthier colony in general (see reference above).

The drawback of HSC is that it is fairly expensive, though, the fact that I will not have to replace it and it may provide healthier bees will offset that cost if it bears fruit.  I am gradually converting my colonies to HSC in the brood nest.  My plan is to proceed slowly for financial reasons as well as to make sure that this won’t hurt my colonies.  This is the first spring after converting some hives to HSC last summer.  I am pleased to say that my absolute strongest colony is one raised on HSC!  I will convert more colonies this summer and monitor the progress.  More pertinent to the season however, is that I have converted all of my honey supers to HSC.  Frames in the brood nest (the big white boxes) are typically about 9.125 inches high.  Frames in honey supers are typically 6.25 inches high (smaller because honey is heavy and lifting a full honey super off is 40-50 pounds.  Larger would be even heavier).  I have found that HSC cuts very nicely down to honey super size on a table saw.  The best part is, I can take the sections I cut down and glue them together to make additional frames (more on that in another post).  The point is, I can easily convert to HSC thougout my operation and will generate very little waste.

Ok, this is a long post.  Please let me know what you think or if you have questions!  I will report back on bee progress soon!


In 1985, the Boy Scouts celebrated their 75th anniversary.  In 1907, British General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scouting movement in England. Shortly afterwards, Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce visited London and learned of the Scouting movement. When he returned to the U.S., Boyce formed the Boy Scouts of America in 1910.

As I have mentioned before, I was big into Boy Scouts and had a lot of fun in the organization. Every February, the month that the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated, every troop has a big celebration dinner. At our 75th anniversary dinner, we decided to make a big production. There is a famous (to scouts anyhow) statue sculpted by Tait McKenzie, of a scout standing at the ready.  The sculpture is titled, “The Ideal Scout”.  The original stand in Philadelphia where scouting really started in the United States.  We decided to trick folks by pretending that we had ordered a replica of the statue for our small town.  I was, of course, a natural for “the ideal scout” (mainly, the uniform fit me).  We painted an old uniform gold and any part of my body not covered by a uniform was also covered in gold dust, just like Goldfinger.  It was really weird to see if all go down the drain later.  Anyhow, I was prepared by scout leaders and stood behind a curtain, waiting to be unveiled.  

Several regional scout leaders were invited and were in attendance and could not believe that we had acquired a replica statue.  The dinner went on and numerous awards were presented.  All the while, the mysterious statue remained behind the cutrain.  Finally, as anticipation built, I was unveiled.  The lights were dim and I stood completely motionless as folks looked on in amazement that scouting was so important in our town.  Fellow scouts recited the scout pledge while looking on the statue tom commemorate the occasion.  At the end, however, as they finished, the “bronze” statue lifted one arm to salute them in response to their pledge.  No one knew I was the statue until I moved to salute.  It was awesome as the trick played out!

Homemade hooch

About 15 years ago, my Dad and I decided to make wine with a bumper crop of raspberries that we had harvested.  We had never tried making wine but we figured if Hank Jr said a country boy could do it, we needed to make sure we were up to snuff.  So we headed to the recycling place to snap up a few gallon jugs in which to ferment our hooch.  We made homemade “bubblers” to vent carbon dioxide from the fermentation and started along our way.  The internet was, of course, young, so online stores hadn’t cropped up.  Finding wine or champagne yeast was not a simple process so we started our fermentation with regular bread yeast.

In case you didn’t know, wine is made by adding fruit/flowers/sweat socks to a mixture of sugar and yeast.  If all goes well, the yeast feeds on the sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.  To prevent a mess, the carbon dioxide is vented off (without allowing new air or contaminates to enter the mixture) leaving the alcohol.  At some point (usually no more than 15% alcohol), the alcohol kills the yeast and fermentation stops.  Of course, if the yeast runs out of nutrients (i.e. sugar) before that point, fermentation also stops.  Our first batches of wine made from regular bread yeast were not as high in alcohol (and we sweeter than usual wine) since the yeast was not meant to tolerate full wine-level alcohol content.  They also didn’t taste quite as good as regularly fermented wine tasted, I suppose.  Still, they were dang drinkable and well worth our effort.  We eventually branched out and, quite successfully, made apple and grape and dandelion and all sorts of other types of wines as well.

As is typical, I recently got a wild hair and decided that it was time to once again get back into the wine making business.  It is legal for individuals to make homemade wine (thanks to the 21st Amendment).  In fact, one can make several hundred gallons of wine before there begins to be any problem (look it up on your own and with regard to your own local laws).  No one is allowed to sell homemade wine, however, without proper licenses, taxes, etc.  I don’t intend to make much wine, and certainly not hundreds of gallons so this operation will be well within legal limits.  

Anyhow, I ordered some real champagne yeast, nice bubblers and some other additives to make my own wine.  I still recycled my fermentation vessel like I did before as that worked perfectly well.  Later on this week I will tell you the specific sort of wine I am making (it ain’t boring old grape) and show you how I put it all together.  I suppose the wine we are making is one that is in line with what Hank had in mind for a country boy!

A note from the teacher

Abigail brought a note home from her teacher on Friday. Her teacher wants to talk about Abigail’s behavior and performance in the classroom. I was so excited! I am certain that she is such an example to the other children that the teacher can’t wait to commend us on our parenting and ask us how she can train the other children to be such shining examples and model students!

I mean, with a face like that, who could doubt that she is anything but an angel in class?

Just in case that is not what the teacher has in mind, I suppose I will approach the situation with a humble demeanor. Abigail’s mom, (my first wife, Emily) was a gem in school and seemed to be in constant trouble. Actually, she was mostly good in school but was awful at home. Apparently, she told her parents that she could only be good so long, and they could decide when she would be good…at home or at school.

Anyhow, we are planning to attend the conference with Abigail’s teacher (tomorrow at 6:30 am) to see just what exactly is going on and to offer our services as parenting coaches

A mood

I have been in a mood lately.  I suppose it has been for the last month or so, but I am tired of it.  Several people have commented about it and I can feel it myself.  I am not sure why we get in moods or if it is seasonal or something else.  I really suppose it must be related to my recent escape from the caffeine habit!  Anyhow, as spring seems to have finally arrived in WV, I have high hopes of getting back to normal.  So please, dear readers, bear with me as I boost my vitamin d intake and sneak nips from the old Mt Dew bottle now and then.

In the meantime, I took this picture and thought it was just about the cutest thing I had seen since I last looked in the mirror!


Happy Friday!

You gotta see this…

I have a few things that I just have to share.  These are, of course, not my creations, but are so cool (I think) that you gotta see them…

We love the Sound of Music so this was too cool not to show. I had no idea the mansion was a public place. How cool is that!

And this guy just amazes me…I don’t know what to say!




I have never been much into this stuff, but this is too amazing to ignore I think