Monthly Archives: July 2010

A visit…

Awhile back we went to visit my family in PA.  I grew up in the area just past the boonies.  I like going back because it gives the kids a chance to be surrounded by nature and to be free from the usual stuff in the city.  We took a bunch of pics of the kids doing what kids do when they are free to play!

So…there it is…our trip!

81 pounds

We work a pretty big garden at Emily’s grandparents’ place. It’s somewhere around the size of Delaware I think. Planting is always a ton of fun and it looks so pretty when all of the plants are just starting to come up. Sometime in June though, craziness happens there. The tomatoes pop overnight and develop hundreds of little green wonders.  Without any warning at all, they go from green to red (and on to nasty if we’re not careful) overnight!  This year we have somewhere around 55 tomato plants and they each make 1 ton of tomatoes. So, yesterday, in the heat of the day, we crawled out into the garden to weed and pick and work on our tans…and pick tomatoes (and other stuff too…but more on that later)  We picked a good number of tomatoes last week…probably 35-40 pounds. I was pretty proud of that…until this week. We kept picking and picking and picking. We weighed in when we got home (for this week…there’s always next week too!!) and found we had collected 81 pounds of tomatoes.

(this is about 2/3 of them…in my family room…)

Now I like tomato stuff. We love to make salsa and pizza sauce and just plain old tomato sauce, but 81 pounds all at once is  a bit of a chore.  We are fortunate to have a tomato press but it is still a ton of work processing the little squirting devils!  I really need to get the child labor bit working better…

16 to life

Sixteen years ago Emily and I were married.  I joke and say that it seems like much longer than that.  I know that sounds bad and that’s the joke part of it, but in another way, it’s a good thing too.  We were married right out of college (only weeks after graduation).  We actually met the first day of classes in our freshman year and started dating 6 months later so we’ve been together for a long time…in fact, we’ve been together longer than we haven’t.

Anyhow, the other part of it seeming like we have been together for a long time is that we grew up together in a way.  We were still kids and had no idea about anything.  We shared so many of the really cool things about transitioning into adulthood (we shared the crappy things too of course).  I guess sharing all that makes us just feel timeless…like we’ve always been together.  That’s just super comforting (now that we’re all growed up and such).

I have done my share of really stupid stuff (that also seems timeless…it just never stops) but Emily seems to ride through the storms without too many frying-pan-against-Warren’s-head moments.  I wasn’t sure at first, but I am sure now that I want the maximum…16 years to life!

Wax harvesting

Honeybees are amazing…first of all, there are 60,000 or so females living together under one roof.  That could be the end of the story really…but I’ll go on.  Every bit of every day is about being busy.  They warm the hive or cool the hive.  They gather nectar or raise newly hatched bees.  Sometimes they die protecting the hives from…well…me.  I think one of the most interesting things they do, however, is make wax.

(click each of the pics – you will see more detail in the expanded view)

Bees mainly produce wax during the early bit of their lives…in particular, from days 10-16.  They eat honey which is necessary for the wax glands to produce.  It takes 6-10 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.  Small flakes of wax protrude from the underside of the bee’s abdomen when the glands are in production.  The bees pull the flakes and chew them so they can be molded into whatever shape they need.

The cool part is that bees can also recycle wax!  Bees are the ultimate green community!  I had some extra honeycomb that I pulled from a hive that I had been working on earlier.  I always leave the bits of wax out for a period after I remove it so the bees can have a go at it.  This most recent batch has been particularly tasty I guess because bees have been all over it for 2 weeks snatching bits of old wax.  They bite chunks of the wax off of the old honey comb and chew it until it can be shoved into their pollen baskets to be carried back to the hive.

I have often seen bees work with wax I leave out for them, but I have never seen them work so long and hard on a single “pull” of wax.  It really is sort of inspiring how they use what they have and make do.  I think there is a lesson there for everyone…

Dye job

Today is wild hair day at the summer camp the kids attend.  They have all sorts of fun activities for the kids but wild hair day has been the most anticipated in our house.  Abigail was going for the tie dyed look.  Emily braided her hair last night and let it dry in braids.  This morning they sprayed the braids then undid her hair.  The color didn’t take the way we expected but the dried-in braids were awesome!

Isaac’s hair is so short that it didn’t have much chance to stand up but the color was awesome!  He’s got a cool iceman look and it works for him!  When I dropped them off this morning, they definitely had the coolest looks of the kids who were there!

As usual, I am having a bad hair day.  I am ok though…don’t worry

Ready by Halloween?

Look! A baby green bean!

We were a little late getting the garden in place and it seems to be reminding us of that lately.  All sorts of stuff came up and it all looks nice…we have beans and squash, and tomatoes.  There are all sorts of peppers and corn coming along.  We haven’t really eaten anything from the garden yet.  Lots of people are eating from the garden and I am jealous!  I just hope we’re ready by Halloween!

I have been running around doing all sorts of stuff (sounds like a good excuse, right?) so Emily and her grandfather have done the bulk of the weeding this year.  The garden looks beautiful and the end of this month is going to be insane!  Like most garden people, it’s a ton of fun at first and by the end, you are ready for a plague of some swarming creature to finish you/the garden off.  For me now, though, I am ready to pick and can stuff and eat!

We were in such a hurry to plant earlier this spring, that we accidentally planted corn and beans over top of one another.  Of course, that’s a perfectly acceptable way of planting and it is doing well so far…it was just not planned.  Seeing things grow in spite of us might be one of the best parts of messing with a garden…well, besides walking barefoot in dirt and seeing all sort of new bugs I can put on Emily’s arm to see her reaction.  Yes, other than those things, seeing stuff grow is my favorite part!

To the river gods

Last weekend we went canoeing with the kids and Emily’s aunt and uncle.  The Little Coal river is near where we all live so it is convenient and really, a pretty great river for canoeing.  Like most of the East, we have been hot and dry for quite awhile so I had pretty low expectations about the quality of the water on the trip.  I grew up in NW PA near the beginning of the Allegheny river.  It is pretty shallow and slow there so I have plenty of experience in carrying a canoe through shallow water.  I didn’t really want to carry a canoe full of my offspring over rocks and downed trees.

We threw our canoes in (actually, the kayak started down the river without us) and headed out.  The water was perfect!  My shallow-water-eyes were just flat out wrong.  There were spots that weren’t deep but in every case, there was a ton of room to navigate the river anywhere we wanted!  The last time we went on this river, the water was raging.  We absolutely could not  get out of the boats (and truth be told, probably shouldn’t have even been in the boats) and our trip down the river was speedy.  This time, we got to really enjoy the river!

There were a few “rapids” that we got to ride.  I wasn’t sure whether the kids would enjoy it but they laughed and Isaac yelled, “Caribou!” at the top of his lungs (yeah, it’s a 4th/5th grade boy thing I think).  We stopped at the end of several of the rapids and walked back up to ride down in the rapids sans boat.  Holy mackerel that was fun!  I had to hold on to the kids the first few times because they were wary, but in no time, they were itching to go on their own…we just had to catch them at the bottom!

At one point, we saw a few cassette tapes in the water.  I suspect that someones house or camp was flooded at some point as no one would just dump old Motley Crue cassettes.  Anyhow, the kids saw them and asked what they were…that’s right, my kids had no idea what a cassette tape was or why people would use them instead of cds or dvds.  That was a bit shocking to me but we had a great conversation about how life was when I was a kid (and that wasn’t super long ago…I can’t imagine if they had the conversation with my 96 year old Grandpa!)  I enjoyed telling them about sleeping in the back of the station wagon on trips and how our legs would burn and stick to the plastic seats…how we didn’t have A/C in the house  or cars and no cell phones or video games.  Abigail asked me, “How did you make it through?”  HA!  And our lives were still pretty easy compared to people before us!

Anyhow, it didn’t take long for Diva…I mean Abigail…to get tired.  She propped back in the kayak and toured the rest of the river “princess style”.  We ate lunch on the river and laughed and had a great time not worrying about a thing.  Our only donation to the river gods was one pair of old sunglasses.  They were easily satisfied with our sacrifice.  I think the river was just what we needed…and I can’t wait to go again!

Video 1 Video 2 Video 3 Video 4

You may need to download Quicktime viewer if these videos don’t work for you…

Mushrooms too!

I mentioned that we found a new spot for picking blackberries.  The new spot is into the woods a bit so we have to take a little time to walk to the best berries.  Along the way, we found some great mushrooms…these are chanterelles but there were all different sorts.  We’ve harvested them before but these ones looked especially cool to me.  There were tons of this variety and they were in all conditions and sizes.

There really is a lot of good about walking into the woods.  It seems like most people don’t venture in too far so there is a lot of beautiful stuff that just goes unnoticed.  I know that but I think I had forgotten too.  Sometimes I wonder how much other stuff like this I have forgotten.  It’s funny how day-to-day life buzzes right on by as the really cool stuff of life gets forgotten…

It’s purple…and huge!

So…ahem…the blackberries are in full glory right now and we found a newish place to pick and this year’s berries are as big as I have ever seen (including those pretend ones you can get at the grocery store).  We have picked several “messes” of berries and I have enjoyed 2 blackberry pies that my delightful wife has prepared.  She made some good ones 2 years ago, but this year, the berries are purple and huge and AWESOME!

Of course, we live in West-by-God-Virginia where mountain goat commandos go to train.  Our new location is significantly more hilly than previous years so picking in our new secret spot has been interesting and a little prickly.  I have to wear soccer cleats so I don’t slide down the hill through the briers.  I really wish I was more successful at that.  Anyhow, because of the danger (yes, the hills are steep enough that it is dangerous), the kids are not picking this year.  They mostly run around and look for new spots for me to scale.  I think they have grown up a good bunch though.  They still fight like mountain goat commandos and mountain lions, but not while we are working on berries…and that’s worth a big hee-haw from me!

so much for focus...

Aside from the hills being interesting, our new spot is farther into the woods and we have been assaulted by a few ticks this year.  Ticks suck.  I think I hate ticks and roaches more than about anything…not sure why because bugs in general don’t offend me, but I am personally offended when I see either of my nemeses.  Alas, I shall push on in pursuit of the berry.  The blackberry pie calls to me…I must heed its call!

Time to go picking...

2010 – the year of the bee

I know the Chinese have long been in charge of managing the years and their animal counterparts.  This year for instance, the Chinese calendar claims it is the year of the tiger.  I see it slightly different here in West-by-God-Virginia though.  This has been the year of the honeybee!

These bees are headed inside the house

On Tuesday evening of this week, I got a call from a couple in South Hills who had a swarm of bees on their window.  I checked it out and it seemed that the swarm had decided to take up residence inside the soffit of their house.  That swarm is still in progress.  We’re waiting to see if they are truly headed in or if they were just running from me as I tried to catch them.

Last night I got home a little before 8.  There was a message about another swarm in Dunbar (a nearby town).   My father-in-law came with me as we loaded up the van and headed out.  The homeowner and her daughter and grandson noticed the swarm in a tree that they had planted for Mother’s day this year.  The usual way to get a swarm off of a branch is to cut the branch and lower it gently into a hive.  Of course, this tree was small and important to them so we went with Plan B (cue the scary music and crazy eyes).  I always carry a cardboard box so I had my father-in-law (who was fully suited up) hold the box while I gave the tree a good shake.  Most of the bees were jolted into the box which we then dumped into the nearby hive.

Home-owner's Grandson L.

The swarm itself was really easy to catch so that part was done pretty quickly.  My favorite part of swarm catching is not really getting the actual bees into the hive though.  The home-owner’s grandson had a lot of questions and was very curious about bees and beeswax and whether they would hurt him, and how they made honey, etc.  Answering questions and talking to people who are curious about bees is my favorite part of catching swarms…and Grandson L.  really made my day.  I chatted with him for 15 (?) minutes after the bees were captured.

All-in-all, it has been a great bee week and a good bee summer…this is definitely the year of the bee!

More swarms…