Monthly Archives: April 2010

No sax but plenty of violins

Last night was the All County Strings Festival for Kanawha county. Many of the schools from the county sent their best string players to the Clay Center for a wonderful evening of music. Isaac was one of the students selected from his school…and he was so excited!

The funny thing is all of the lead up to the performance. We found out that he had “made the team” a few months ago so he has been practicing his pieces. The last few weeks or so, he has attended group practices where all of the kids get together and do their thing. Still, none of it really seemed to click with him that the performance was near.

We aren’t a dress-up sort of family so Isaac was pretty excited when he found out he had to have dress shoes, nice shirt and pants and a tie. We had all sorts of fun (and a small fight) about learning how to tie a necktie. I think he was unimpressed. Anyhow, with the purchase of clothes and hours (it seemed) of looking at himself in the mirror, it finally clicked that the performance was near. He has been super excited…so much so that last night, before the show, he walked around the yard playing his pieces for the neighbors to hear. It was wonderful!

So we all headed to the Clay center where the kids performed on the same stage as the WV symphony. I didn’t know what to expect but the kids (Isaac thinks there were 112 4th graders) all settled down when the conductor walked on the stage. As they started, I couldn’t believe the sound that came from those kids! They did an absolutely wonderful job!

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(or click here if the other link does not work on your computer)

Fifth graders played, then junior high students and finally high school students. The talent we saw last night was pretty amazing and all because the WV symphony sponsors a strings in the schools program in Charleston area schools. Bravo for music in WV and bravo to my budding musician!

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(or click here if the other link does not work on your computer)

The first swarm of bees in 2010

There are all sorts of jobs related to keeping bees.  I need to check for a robust queen, I need to check to make sure they have enough open comb, I need to treat them for mites and the honey flow needs managed.  Some of these jobs are pretty fun but many of them are extremely hot and tiring…and sticky.

Every spring, though, I seem to get a chance to do my absolute favorite beekeeping job of all…I get to catch swarms of bees.  Most years I do splits and other manipulations so my bees don’t swarm.  Usually the 911 center calls me to report a swarm of bees in someone’s tree or by their house.  I love going to get swarms of bees, especially when the swarm is from someone else’s hive.

Swarming, you see, is the bees’ way of growing.  When a colony gets too packed into its existing digs, it forces another queen to be created and, when the new queen is nearly ready, the old queen and half (or so) of the overcrowded bees head for the hills…or the nearest tree branch.  Once they make it to the branch, the queen hides in the middle of the swarm and scout bees go out looking for a new place to live.  Back before the days of varroa mites, these bees usually ended up in a tree out in the woods.  That still happens today, but they don’t live for more than a year or two.  So, back to why I like to catch other people’s swarms – when the bees came from my hives, I end up with two half-strength colonies instead of one really strong one.  In one way, it is cool because I get two hives that will grow into good colonies and may make some honey this year.  The bad thing is, if I had one strong colony, it would make honey this year.  Oh well, it can’t be helped!

Anyhow, when the bees are in waiting for scouts to find a new home, they are pretty vulnerable.  Each bee filled up on honey before it left, but that’s all the food they have to go on until they get to a new location.  They are completely exposed to animals and humans and weather and cold.  Being in a swarm is a dangerous proposition for a bee.

So, next door to one of the locations where I keep bees, the homeowners saw the swarm take off out of the hive and end up in one of their trees.  They knew it was mine so they called and I rushed to see if I could catch them.  There is no real trick to catching a swarm of bees (but please don’t try unless you know what you are doing).  All one has to do is get the swarm into a container along with the queen.  If the queen makes it into the container, the swarm will stay and claim the new location as their home.

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(try this link if the one above doesn’t work on your computer)

So, I got to the swarm location and saw the largest swarm I had ever caught hanging about shoulder-high in a tree…in the middle of a bunch of poison ivy…which I now have on my leg.  I carried my empty hive box to the location and cut the branch with the bees.  I shook them into the box…mostly.  A bunch of bees (since it was such a huge group) fell onto the ground in front of the colony.  Typically the bees will “sense” that a good hive is near and they will march into it.  I have no idea whether the queen walked in herself or if I got her into the box on the initial shake.  Either way, she ended up in the colony and all of the remaining bees followed her inside!

Click for video

(try this link if the one above doesn’t work on your computer)

Bees in a swarm are pretty docile (but don’t mess with them unless you know what you are doing…they still have stingers) and fun to be around.  It’s like pure energy…it’s just amazing to me.  The buzz that they  generate is incredible and it’s just a sight to behold.  I cannot begin to really explain how cool and exciting it is to see and catch a swarm of bees.  It is my absolute favorite part of beekeeping though!  I love this time of year!

More swarms…

A bridge

A few weeks ago, we went to Pittsburgh so Emily could participate in some training.  The kids and I basically tromped around the city on foot and saw some interesting things.  Of particular interest to me (and not at all for the kids) were the bridges.  Of course, Pittsburgh is famous for its bridges…the number of them if not the beauty.

So we walked from our hotel in the downtown area across several of the bridges and saw some pretty neat things.  I pretty much don’t think about bridges at all as I drive over them.  Rarely do I get the chance to walk on them so it was pretty cool to sort of explore the bridges in Pittsburgh with my kids.

The “art of steel” that holds those bridges up is really interesting and somehow appealing to look at for me.  Maybe it’s the guy in me who still likes to play with matchbox cars and tonka toys and the like, but I really liked standing on the bridge admiring its strength (I feel so inferior).  I guess I am pretty fascinated by the parts that make up the bridge…imagining the folks hammering and twisting and cursing the pieces into place.  Pittsburgh sort of means all that to me anyhow.

We also saw some more human things there including tons of gum and the graffiti that seemed too philosophical to be left as a scrawling on a wall…though more people probably saw that than if it had been written somewhere more “appropriate”.  We saw panhandlers on the bridge and the kids had some serious questions for me about their plight.

Once again, I am reminded to take time to smell the…uh…bridge?  Well, I guess I’ll stick to smelling the roses but if you get a chance, spend time exploring a bridge.  You won’t be disappointed!  Most of these pictures were of the Roberto Clemente bridge by the way….

Strong Swimmers

Most times, when I drive down the road I pretty much ignore signs and billboards.  So many of them are not clever or are visually assaulting.   WV has way too many other things to look at. Every now and then, though, I see one that makes me smile.  One of the local hospital chains in Charleston placed signs all over and this one is just down-right hilarious I think!  The poor kid will be scarred for life once his friends show him that picture in junior high, but until then, way to go little swimmer!

In other news, we had a bit of an adventure with the little orange kitten this weekend…I think you will enjoy!

The kung fu is strong with this one

Not long ago, Isaac earned his yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do. He has been going 3 nights a week to prepare for his next belt and this weekend, he tested for his green belt.  Like I mentioned before, it takes a certain kind of crazy to want your kid to learn how to fight, but I look at it as a confidence builder and a practical skill for defense (and that’s how his instructors view it as well).

Preparing for forms

There are several components of testing for the belts including forms (patterns of movements), terminology, board breaking and fighting.  Isaac broke his boards easily and knew all the forms and terminology he needed.  The fighting was a bit of a worry though as he has been a little more reserved and didn’t make contact like he should.

(click here for a different version if the above doesn’t work on your machine)

I was certainly surprised at his testing this weekend though.  His fighting has come a long way.  He had great confidence and speed and made good contact.  The boy will be fierce as he gets more training and more strength.

(click here for a different version if the above doesn’t work on your machine)

I am super proud and more than a little weirded out by it all, but I love the pride he takes in his art and himself!

Bees are here! Hiving a package of bees

I keep 11-12 hives of bees.  Over the winter-time, some of them usually die for one reason or another.  This year I lost 4.  Compared to a lot of folks, that is a pretty great survival rate, but I sort of like having a full compliment of hives.  Most years I make splits where I take some bees from a “booming” hive and put them in a new hive box (i.e. from the hive that died).  Depending on the year, I add a queen I get from a breeder or else I add a queen cell that I find in the original hive.

This year we ordered packages from a supplier in NC.  My in-laws drove down and back this weekend and picked up 4 packages and 3 new queens in addition.  On Sunday we installed the bees, made splits, requeened and generally had a good time messing around with the bees.  Installing a package of bees is about the simplest thing a beekeeper can do, but new beekeepers often panic at the thought of dumping bees from a box into the new hive.  I figured I would video tape my hiving a package of bees so anyone who might want to have a look can see how I do it!

Link to Video

(Try this link to video of the above didn’t work on your computer)

Confirmed: They are crazy

Yesterday was a good day for Charleston.  You see, the folks from Westboro “baptist” were in town (and will be until Sunday) protesting everything in WV (apparently).  There are Catholic folks and Jewish folks and LGBT folks and Irish folks (and all sorts of other folks) that live here.  That makes WV a target.  Yes, you heard it right…if you are breathing, Westboro “baptist” hates you.  Actually, they hate things that are no longer breathing as well.

By itself, their presence wasn’t great for Charleston or WV, but Charleston’s response showed the greatness of the city and its people.  I suppose 200-300 people came out to tell the haters to go home.  Most folks didn’t hate back, they just asked them to go home.  I think a lot of people in the city sort of bonded together and that is always good for community.

I wonder if they paid the licensing fees to the WVU for using their symbol

I know this is hateful, but it was my favorite sign

I initially participated in a flashmob (that was announced to the media so was less flash-like) to say something like, “you can hate, but we aren’t about that…we’re gonna dance”.  Charleston’s Covenant House, a community action group that helps disadvantaged folks, started the flash mob idea.  At every protest (and there are many) the flashmobbers are going to do the dance (video below).  Some say that we played into their plan of more attention, but I think they are drawing attention to themselves and the media is going to cover that anyhow.  As long as they cover it, these people won’t go away.  So, we decided to try to steal some of their media coverage and we did…and we strengthened community a bit more.

Unbelievable, bringing their kids...

Anyhow, after the flashmob, a ton of people headed to the front side of the capitol and basically tried to surround and hide the Westboro people.  People from here brought signs and posters and flags to hold in front of the hate signs.  People came out in numbers to surround the protesters and their message and, in a non-violent (and mostly non-hateful) way, told them they aren’t wanted here.

Pretty cool video capturing the flashmob as well as the other protesting – some good and a little rougher:

I was proud of Charleston and WV.  While Westboro people spewed hate and exploited their kids, we came together in unity and had a great time showing that diversity is great and fun and to be celebrated!

She’s a good kid

We celebrated Abigail’s birthday last weekend.  It’s hard to believe she is 7 years old!  I think she is really much older.  You see, she asked everyone to bring things for the animal shelter instead of bringing presents for her.  We never suggested it or even mentioned that they need stuff at the shelter.  She decided completely on her own to ask for donations.  So, everyone who came to her party brought things for animals including leashes and collars, dog and cat food, cleaning products, and cat litter.  She was delighted as she delivered it to the shelter yesterday.  I am so proud of my big little girl!

Delivery time!

She still had a big time at her party too.  We rented a shelter at a local city park and she invited family and some  friends.  There was a playground nearby so they stormed the castle and launched off in space ships and taught school, all in the jungle gym.  We jump-roped and hula-hooped and played whiffle ball.  It was a great time and Abigail told me it was her best birthday ever!

My birthday is a ways off yet, but I think I may follow her lead…it’s hard to beat a good game of whiffle ball!