Monthly Archives: May 2010

(not) Strawberry wine…(not) 17

Last Sunday we picked a powerful lot of strawberries and canned most of it as jam.  We were all jammed up (at 53 or so jars which should last us a year) and still had plenty of berries left.  My beautiful and loving wife finally heard my subtle hints that a strawberry pie was in order.  Though subtle, my wife understood my need for pie.  She just knows what I need…because I was subtle after all!

We looked around at various recipes, some from family and some from cookbooks, but we (meaning she) decided upon one from the Interwebs.

Anyhow, Deana Carter sings about strawberry wine and being 17 and all that stuff.  I am not too old but I guess I am not 17 either…I’ll take strawberry pie and 38 any day!

Still, this is a cool song:

Anyhow, so here is the recipe:

  • Eight cups of strawberries
  • One and a half cup sugar
  • One and a half cup water
  • Six tablespoons of Cornstarch
  • Half teaspoon salt
  • A baked Crust

Take a bowl and put two cups of strawberry in it. Crush the strawberries completely and add one and a half cups of water to them. Pour this mixture in a pan and bring to boil. Let the mixture simmer for about five minutes. Next, strain out the juice from the mixture and add about one cup of water to it. Add one and a half cup sugar, six tablespoons of cornstarch and half a teaspoon of salt to the pan. Pour the strawberry juice strained earlier in the pan too. Bring the mixture to boil, let it simmer till it becomes thick. Remove the mixture from the stove and let it cool. Take a baked crust and put some whole strawberries in it. Pour the mixture prepared earlier on it. Refrigerate for a few hours and serve the strawberries chilled.

(from here)

The climb

Abigail, Emily and I walked around South Charleston the other day and she wanted to climb “the Mound”.  The Mound is an ancient native burial ground that sits as sort of a focal point of downtown S. Chas.  I had never climbed it before so it seemed like a pretty cool thing to do.  Abigail and I walked to the top by climbing stone steps that wrap around the Mound.  It’s not a huge walk but it has a great view of the area.  I sort of wonder what the people who built the mound must have seen and thought when they were hauling dirt and rock up the mound.

I suppose it looked a lot different (duh) but uncertainty was no doubt a part of their lives as well…especially after losing whomever was buried under that mound.  I guess it’s a part of life and all but I am not sure I am exactly delighted with the craziness that seems to be going on now with Jamaica and North Korea and and BP oil and Greece and the economy in general.  I’ll tell you one thing, I am certain that the time we spent climbing the Mound was time well spent.  I guess the uncertainty that the original builders must have felt and which caused them to build such a monument gave me a sense of certainty in the love I have for my family and the simple times we share together.

The story behind the Mound

Fun with tilt shift from atop the Mound!

Lots of strawberries…some on the floor

We went to a you-pick strawberry place in Cottageville, WV on Sunday.  It’s about 35 minutes away (though for the kids, it was a 2 year long trip) and was a nice Sunday drive.  We got to Hartley Farms and found a huge field of the biggest and best strawberries I have ever seen (though I didn’t know that part right away).  The proprietor took us over to a row and told us to, “have at it”.  I fully expected to have to search and dig and really work to find a few scrawny strawberries.  We picked 2 years ago at a place closer to home and it was pitiful.  Hartley Farms was $0.55 per pound cheaper and there were hundreds of big fat berries everywhere!

We filled 7 ice cream buckets to overflowing and weighed in.  All told, we had about 32 pounds of berries!  The best part is that the kids even helped pick!  We jumped in the car hoping to get home before Isaac ate every last strawberry.  Though he made a run at eating 32#, we did make it home with a few berries.  All four of us started making jam though the kids were tired after a batch each.  They wanted to take a jar to their teachers that they had made.

Emily and I continued on into the night making jar after jar of jam.  Isaac in particular like strawberry jam so the 43 half-pints we made may last us the year (and may not).  We still have somewhere around 8 pounds of berries to go…not sure if that will be jam or something else yet.  We have a fair bit of cleanup yet to do.  Of course, it is impossible to make jam without making stuff sticky and our floor is sticky indeed.  I have mopped it several times but my socks still leave little fuzzy footprints when I walk in the kitchen.

And by the way, when you make strawberry jam, make sure you use a huge pot to boil your mixture.  We forgot since last time and we boiled a pot of sticky strawberry syrup over the edge of the sauce pan we had and onto the hot burner on our (wretched) glass-topped stove.  You guessed it…it caramelized and tried to burst into flame.  We never saw fire, but our house was full of smoke before I could get the mess cleaned up…so, word to the wise, use a huge pot to boil the mix!  Luckily we had a better pot so subsequent batches were fine!

It was fun to clean up too!

My patents

A long time ago in a land far, far away, I worked on some projects from which some colleagues and I applied for a couple of patents.  We were doing some pretty cool software development and had the opportunity to be officially labelled as  “inventors”.

The most recent patent was just awarded last week and I have since been inundated with mail from companies ready and willing to help me bring my new invention to market.  Though I am very appreciative of these folks trying to take a cut of whatever money I might make from it, I would prefer that they stop sending me mail.  They say, “hurry, you need to get <insert your invention here> to market as soon as possible!”

The funny thing is that it has taken four and a half years for this most recent patent to be awarded.  I wonder how many things are out there that could be saving lives or cleaning up oil spills, etc that are stuck in the big patent machine.  There are tons of silly patents and mean patents and patents that will have a profound impact on people’s lives.  I can’t imagine patenting human genes (which is quite a scary mess).  Seeds are patented and patent owners may do all sorts of evil enforcing those patents.

My patents are not evil and will not ever make me a single cent but I often wonder why some patents are awarded and who in the world thinks it is ok to patent some stuff. I am pretty proud to have been awarded these patents but I can’t imagine being so proud of a bit of work I might do that I would be willing to withhold treatment for someone’s illness because I own a patent on some gene. I cannot imagine forcing third-world farmers to buy my genetically modified seed (or suing them if their seed crosses with someone else’s seed for which I owned a patent).  I just can’t imagine!

I guess I am rambling as usual…of course, maybe if I owned a patent on a gene, I could afford to buy one of the plaques that the aforementioned “take your product to market” companies was selling and I might actually have something to take a picture of so I could do a proper picture-filled post. Until then, I will be content with having my name buried in the records of the US patent office.

By the way, if anyone is interested in tattooing my patent numbers on their bodies, I am willing to sell the rights to the numbers for a small fee…

(oh yeah, none of the pics are my patents…though I wish!)

Swarms and storms

We have had off-and-on storms/rain this weekend which isn’t so much of a surprise itself.  What is odd though is that I got two calls to capture swarms of bees this weekend.  A nice woman in Nitro called me first as she had found a swarm on a branch near her house.  We first talked before the huge rain on Friday.  I figured that the rain surely must have washed the bees away but she called back after the storm and said they were still there so Isaac and I loaded up the bee-mobile and headed to Nitro.

We met the “finder” and some family/friends and the kids were super friendly and excited to check out how the whole “catch-a-swarm” thing goes down.  Isaac and I showed them the hive box and our equipment and talked with them about all sorts of questions they had.  We finally decided we better get busy before rain or dark made it tougher.  I held the branch and Isaac cut it and we had ourselves the first swarm of the weekend.

Sunday afternoon, I got a call from Charleston’s metro 911 service.  They reported a swarm of bees near the United Bank building in downtown Charleston.  Charleston is WV’s largest city so we have all sorts of business, medical and legal buildings here including several high-rise buildings.  Anyhow, the United building is a pretty large white building in the center of the city.  I drove around once looking for a swarm hanging from a tree in the courtyard or someplace more “typical” for a swarm of bees.  Finally I found them on a barrier in front of the building.  It really wasn’t much of a swarm by the time I got there.  I figure the real swarm had probably moved on and the remaining bees were ones that had been out scouting for a new home.  Anyhow, there were enough bees that I had to remove them so no one would come upon them and get hurt (or act stupid).

I parked around the side of the bank adjacent to the swarm.  As I was hauling my equipment out, it occurred to me that I may end up meeting the swat team.  “A bald-headed guy wearing a camo shirt carrying a ladder and a mysterious white box has been spotted walking down Virginia street…all units respond!” went through my mind given the recent stuff happening in New York City.  Anyhow, I donned my suit and moved the bees from the pole to my hive box and headed home as quickly as I could.

As swarm weekends go, I think this was a pretty good one and we had a good time catching them…nothing beats catching a swarm, especially when we have an audience!

More swarms…

It was raining…in my house

I love our old house and our neighborhood.  We have lots of old and large trees on our property and the properties around us.  We also have gutters on our house.  Leaves and debris…meet gutters…gutters – debris.

Mine was worse than this...and it was raining

You see, in the spring-time, the black locusts make thousands of little leaves and flowers that fall off, oh…um…about this time of year.  They are small enough that they are not stopped by gutter guards so they accumulate in the gutters.  I clean them every year but if my timing is not right, they build up and absorb just the right amount of water from light rains to form a great organic gutter-dam when the heavy rains come.

Anyhow, the dam did its dam thing last night and backed up the gutter right above one of the window wells to a basement window.  We noticed water coming in the house and I looked up and saw water in the window.  It was like my own little aquarium!  I ran outside in the pouring rain (and I mean pouring) to clean out all of the gutters.  I really hate climbing a ladder in the rain but I was able to break all of the dams on all of the gutters which washed all of the dam junk out into the yard.

I had to go back and dip the water from the window well as best I could.  I guess I could have waited until it fully drained into the house but that didn’t seem like a good option.  By the time I was all done, I was soaked through to the bone…and then it stopped raining.

I am going to buy a new blade for my chainsaw today…

All hot and steamy this weekend

Perverts…I know what you thought…

We had a shindig at our house this weekend in celebration of Mother’s Day.  It seems like we only clean our house once each quarter…either that or we have two kids who are messy and don’t mind leaving their stuff all over the place.  Anyhow, we had to straighten up and do the usual cleaning stuff.  With the zoo full of animals that now live with us, we also needed to do a good solid mopping of the wooden floors.  We usually use a mop and vinegary water.  That works well but the house is aromatic to say the least.  I refer to the smell in unkind terms which I will spare you.  Vinegar is nice and all, but I prefer it in smaller doses.

Anyhow, I was talking to my mom awhile back and she mentioned steam mops.  She saw some demo on the home shopping channel (you know those old people…they always check that and the weather channel before going out for the early-bird 4pm supper)  She has been thinking about getting one since seeing the demo.  I, of course, am interested in one-upping my parents whenever possible so we bought one a few weeks ago.  I read some reviews online and searched for the proper color that would best highlight my skin-tone.  Finally, we decided on the Eureka Enviro Steamer.

Steam mops are nice because they clean using only…steam!  There is no need to use any chemicals or detergents.  Depending on how you use them (and which brand you get), they will sanitize floors too.  We are very happy with the one we got and it does a great job of cleaning the floors.

Our hootenanny was a success and we didn’t all smell like we had been canning pickles all day when the party was over…I love you steam mop!

Sometimes it sucks

Sometimes I dislike being a parent.  I like being friends with people (well, sort of…I don’t really like people all that much honestly, but friends are usually good I have heard).  It’s easy to get along with most people.  I guess a big part of that is because I don’t have a gigantic vested interest in the details of their lives.  Surely I care about my friends, but they are all adults and make their own decisions.

I want to teach/allow my kids to make their own decisions, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.  It seems like Isaac and I have been fighting lately about homework (mostly).  He doesn’t really care if things are done or turned in, so long as he “gets it”.  Well, I “get that”, but there comes a time when one has to just do what is required.  Honestly, I think homework and the idea of proving one knows the material is a good thing.  So, we just clash.  You know, I think I hate to clash with the kids more than just about anything else in the world.  Some folks might think I am an antagonist (and maybe I am), but I always try to be patient, even in the face of smart-aleck  responses.  I am torn between teaching my kids to respect authority and allowing them the freedom to express their emotions however they see fit.  It’s difficult and I often wonder if I am doing anything right in this mess called parenting.  Sometimes, it just sucks.

Of course, it is worth it, doing the best I can for the kids…I just wish they came with instruction manuals!

Tilt Shift

I am not much of a photographer but I like trying.  Sort of like most things I guess.  Anyhow, I have always been a fan of tilt-shift photography.  I won’t pretend to really know the details of how tilt-shift photography works other than to say that by manipulating the angle/position of a lens relative to a subject matter, the focus will be skewed enough to make regions of the image look miniature.  One can buy fancy lenses for D/SLR cameras to accomplish such a task but they are pretty expensive for the limited use that I would get out of them.

Like nearly everyone on the planet, I have an iPhone which has a camera and all sorts of apps to take and manipulate pictures.  I found one program called (now get this) TiltShift.  I think it cost a buck which happens to be within my budget, so I downloaded it and have played with it a good bunch.  Below are some pictures I took and manipulated with it.  I suspect that a high dollar lens will take better looking pictures that I can produce with my dollar-app, but for my own fun, I am pretty pleased with the effect.  Have you ever messed with tilt-shift photography?

Moving bees

Last week I caught a couple of swarms of bees.  After I hived them, I sort of basically left them where they were so they could settle in (and because I was too lazy to do anything about it.)  After a weekend of talking myself into it, I finally mustered up the will to move them to a permanent location yesterday evening.

Weather radar on Sunday - I live at the blue star...

I happened to take a look at the weather radar and figured I needed to do something and soon as their temporary location was not great, rain-wise.  As always, I wait until just short of the last minute to do stuff, so I scrambled around the house and found some duct tape and a roll of baling twine (as well as a toilet plunger and a box of plastic spoons) and loaded up the man-van to move some bees before the coming storms hit (and I almost made it).

Before I go any farther, let me warn you…what I am about to tell you should not be attempted under any circumstances and is merely a figment of your imagination…I would never really do this ; -)

To move bees, I wad up some paper and stuff it into the entrance which I tape in place.  I do the same with the top entrance (basically a “breather hole”).  Then I wrap a ratcheting strap around the hive and beat feet with it to the back of the van.  There are always bees that hang on the outside and underneath.  Most times a couple of dozen bees seem to outsmart  my tape job too.  Still, I slam the door down and go for it.  You see, if I ever really did this I would not be fearful because, as it turns out, the bees that do escape have absolutely no interest in messing with me.  They see the light through the windows and buzz around as bugs do when caught behind glass.

If I ever really did do this a bunch of times, I would probably be able to tell you that I have never once been bothered by bees with this method and the bees have always been transported successfully and with no damage to me or them.  But, of course, I have never done any of this, right?

Beekeeping is always an adventure.  As always, there are risks when messing with thousands of stinging insects with no moral compulsion towards fair play…but the nature of bees is incredibly fascinating and mostly understandable…or so I have heard…I never do these sorts of things though…