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Fitting In

I went to my high school 40th class reunion a couple of weeks ago.  I haven’t been able to make it to any of my previous reunions but this year thanks to social media, I found out about it months in advance and was able to book a trip back to Wisconsin for the weekend.  I must admit, I went with a little trepidation.  I never really felt like I fit in while in high school.

St. Joseph’s Academy was an all girls school and is no longer in existence.  The building is still there – parts of it are over 100 years old, but it has been sold a couple of times and is now being used by the public school system.

   

Much of it has been renovated, there has been a big addition put on and the old convent is gone.  As part of the reunion, we were able to take a tour of the school led by one of our classmates who works there now.  What a blast from the past!  It’s amazing how many memories came rushing back as we walked down those halls.  Teachers’ names and classmates that we hadn’t thought of in years suddenly came back to us as we walked around the building.  The 10 cent popcorn at lunch, the phone booth in the basement that we used to call home, and the horrible gym uniforms we had to wear had us in stitches as we reminisced.

    

We had a pretty good turn out – the best since our 10 year reunion.  After our tour, we all got together for lunch and each one of us spoke about what we are doing and where we live.  There are a few members of our class that nobody has heard from in years, but I was surprised how many of the people who live in town have run into former classmates and were able to give us an update.

What I found so interesting was from our common experience in high school, our lives have taken such different paths.  We have gone on to become doctors, nurses, journalists, actors, accountants, stay at home moms, social workers, educators, pharmacists, entrepreneurs – I can go on and on.  We may have been with the same company for decades, or just beginning to work outside the home after raising kids, or may have recently retired.  Some of us married high school sweethearts right out of high school or college, some married later, some never married, others are widowed or divorced.  We have classmates that don’t have any children, some have one or two, some have many children.  Our children may be middle or high schoolers, college age or grown and living on their own (or at home with us!) or already married with children of their own.  People from our class live all over the country, from Arizona to New England and Florida to California – in the middle of cities, suburbia and on farms.

It’s funny, I think back to that group of 150 girls all wearing navy blue skirts and white blouses, and I look at the women we have become with the diversity in our lives and I realize I always fit in!

Thank you Joyce Davidson for allowing me to use pictures that you took!

Crisis in the Hive

We have an amazing beekeeping mentor who has been so helpful in making sure that we don’t go into the hives too often, yet often enough to detect problems soon enough to take corrective action. Every time a hive is opened, damage is done to the comb and usually several bees are killed.  At the very least, it is disruptive to the hive.  We specifically planned to open the hives and inspect the frames three weeks after we installed them, giving the queens enough time to get established and start laying eggs.

On the designated day, our mentor came over right after work so that a lot of the bees would still be outside.  He showed us how to properly smoke a hive, which calms the bees down and how to get the hive top feeder off the hive with a minimal amount of damage.

Once we got the first hive open, our mentor immediately knew something wasn’t right.  First of all, there weren’t enough bees.  By this time, the hive should be growing and the bees should be drawing comb on 5-6 frames.

When we pulled a frame out to look at it, his fears were confirmed – no queen.

How did he know that by looking at this first frame?  I certainly couldn’t tell, and I didn’t know what to look for.  This is precisely why all of the first year beekeepers in our class were assigned mentors.  We would have questioned why there weren’t more bees, but we didn’t know enough to figure out we had lost the queen.  By the time we would have realized that, the whole hive would have been dead.

OK, back to the frame.  It’s hard to see in the picture, but the comb is very uneven and there were several eggs in many of the cells.  What this told us was that because there was no queen, the worker bees were laying eggs and they are only able to lay drone eggs and drone cells are bigger than regular worker bee cells.  Usually there only a few of them on a frame – off to the side or at the bottom.  These were all through the frame.

Now, what to do?  Well it all depended on how things looked in the second hive.

 

As you can see from these pictures, things look a lot better.  Not as many bees as our mentor had hoped for, but we found the queen (the supplier marks the queens with a colored dot on their backs for easy identification) and she was busy laying eggs.

The healthy hive gave us the best option for saving the queenless hive.  We took a frame from the healthy hive that had newly laid eggs in it, making sure not to take the queen with it, and moved it to the queenless hive.  The idea here is that there are good, healthy worker bee eggs in the frame and the bees would grow a queen from them by feeding some of them a special food. It is a slow process and at best, this hive will be a full month to six weeks behind the other hive, but if all goes well, we will get this hive thriving and built up enough to get through next winter.

At this point, there is not much we can do but wait.  In a couple of weeks, we will check both hives again. In the first hive, we will look to make sure there are queen cells developing and in the second hive, we will be just making sure that it has recovered from losing a whole frame full of eggs.

I’ll keep you posted!

Beekeeping beginnings

At long last, our bees arrived last week!  We’ve been looking forward to this for several months.  When we started this process, I had no idea how complicated beekeeping would be.  Actually, I knew practically  nothing about it, which is why Gator and I decided we better take a class through the local beekeeping society.  As we learned how complicated it is, we also learned how important it is.  I knew that honeybees were on the decline, but I had no idea how fragile their existence is.  The more we learned, the more we got excited about working to increase the bee population in our area.

So here we are.  The bees arrive in wooden boxes, otherwise known as packages, each with 10,000 bees.  Sounds like a lot, but they all fit in a package about the size of a shoebox.  Included in each package is a queen in a cage with a couple of attendants (no joke!) as well as a can of sugar water with holes poked in the bottom for the rest of the bees to feed on until they get into their hive.

 

The bees come in packages of two and are shipped from Georgia.  Our bee club orders them in November for April delivery, and they are delivered to a central location where we pick them up the day they are delivered.  By the time the bees arrive, they are pretty unhappy.  In two days, they are pulled out of their hives away from their queen and regular jobs, dumped into the package, put on a truck and shipped half way across the country.  In order to calm them down, we put them in the cellar, which is cool and dark for a couple of days.

We are lucky enough to have a mentor through our club and when we were ready to install the bees in their hives, he came out to help us with the process.

 

The first thing they did was to get the queen cage out of the package and hang it in the hive.  The queen eats through a piece of candy from the inside and worker bees eat their way in over a few days, while they adjust to her scent and learn that she is their new queen.

 

Once the queen was all set, then the rest of the bees go in.  It’s called “shaking” the bees and that is exactly what happens.  Gator did the honors.  There are quite a few dead bees in the bottom of the package, but any that fall into the hive will be cleaned out as part of the regular housekeeping process.

 

After letting the bees work their way down into the hive, the feeder full of sugar water goes on top and the lid goes on.  Then it’s just a matter of checking on them every couple of days to make sure they have enough food.  I didn’t realize we’d be feeding the bees, but this first year, they will need some help getting their numbers built up so that the hive will be strong enough to get through the winter.

Today we went out to check the hives and the queens have worked their way out of their cages!  So far, things are going according to plan.  Other than keeping food supplied, we will leave the hives alone for a couple more weeks.  Then our mentor will come out and we will go into the hives to see if the queens are laying eggs.  I’ll keep you posted!

Signs of Spring

March came in like a lion and went out like a lion – not the way it’s supposed to happen, but spring is finally here.  April has been a bit bumpy as well so far.  We’ve had some beautiful days and we’ve had several big storms with torrential wind and rain, even tornadoes!  We just don’t normally get tornadoes in this part of Virginia.  It is spring, though and anything goes.

We’ve had to pick up branches,

deal with mud,

shedding, and lost horse shoes.

 

Even though we are still getting some cool days, they are progressively getting warmer.  Our peach tree had just started blooming when the cold weather hit, but it recovered nicely.

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The daffodils my sister and I planted a couple of years ago are having their best bloom yet!

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Gator has been working on the bee yard.  Bees will be here this week.  I had no idea how complicated beekeeping is.  After finishing our seven week course, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of getting these hives up and running.

In spite of the challenges of spring, it is an exciting time.  We’ve got some very busy weeks coming up.  I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

The Birds and the Bees

We’ve had some interesting experiences with birds over the past several months. One is the injured buzzard that has been living in the old dairy barn just across our property line. We noticed it out on the dirt road that runs through the farm last fall. It would flap around but never could get off the ground. Then after the corn was cut down, we would occasionally see it out in the cornfield. I thought this was one of those cases where after a week or two, Mother Nature would take its course and either a fox or some other critter would be able to take advantage of  the buzzadrd’s inability to fly, but it has managed to find food and keep safe all winter. I guess they don’t call them tough old buzzards for nothing!

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We have also been seeing a pair of bald eagles flying around. Of course they never seem to make an appearance when I have my camera handy.  I did get one quick picture with my cell phone one day, so this is the best I’ve been able to do.

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Hopefully they will hang around and I’ll be able to get some decent pictures. I have no idea where their nest is but we have seen them in the trees along the creek. I need to do some reading up on eagles – I really don’t know much about their habits. They sure take my breath away every time I see them.

Another interesting bird we’ve come across is a little owl that sits in the middle of the driveway at night. I haven’t been able to get a picture of this one. We’ve only seen it four or five times but all the other owls I’ve seen are BIG. This one doesn’t appear to be any bigger than a robin, only with a head that’s much bigger in proportion to its body.  Once agin, I need to do some reading up on owls, because I don’t know if this particular one is a baby owl or just a little owl. Anyhow it sits in the middle of the driveway and it’s hard to figure out what it is until you get right up on it. It just looks like a rock or some debris in the dark. The first  time we saw it, it didn’t fly up until we were almost on top of it and then it came right over the windshield – oh boy, was that a surprise!

Now for the bee part. I’m happy to say that Gator and I are starting two beehives this spring! This is one thing I have been reading up on.  We’ve been taking a course with the Northern Piedmont Beekeeper’s Association. I must say, there is way more to beekeeping than I ever imagined. Our bees won’t get here until mid-April at the earliest, but we are getting our hives and other equipment ordered, so I’ll keep you posted on how all of this goes.

Going Solo

Gator and I have done a lot of projects together over the years – we make a pretty good team.  We are both usually off for ten days to two weeks over Christmas and New Years, so we often take advantage of that time to knock out a big project now that we don’t have kids at home anymore.  Last year, we fenced in two pastures, other years we’ve done painting, bathroom remodels – the list goes on and on.

This year, I had in mind that we would replace the kitchen floor.  It’s really been bugging me.  I would say that the floor in the kitchen is probably the the thing I dislike most about our house.  As I’ve talked about in a previous blog, our kitchen cabinets are made from hard to find wormy chestnut wood and were taken from an old cabin that the previous owners of our house had purchased and dismantled. It definitely has a rustic look.  The floor, however, is red and green vinyl composition tile, which in my opinion, screams retro – not rustic.

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Besides the look, the maintenance on VCT is lots of work.  A couple of times a year, the finish needs to be stripped, it needs to be resealed and then refinished.  And the only way to get it done right is to rent a floor polishing machine.  I don’t have time for all of that.  After the last time Gator and I spent a whole day refinishing the floor, he finally caved and said “never again!”  YAY!!!  That was my signal to start shopping!

I finally settled on a slate look porcelain tile and I even convinced Gator to get a price from the flooring store to have them install it.  That didn’t last long – as soon as we got the price for installation Gator decided that we would install it ourselves and save 65% of the price.  OK, it looked like the holiday project was all lined up for this year.

Gator threw me a curve ball though.  As it turned out, he decided that he didn’t want to do any big projects over the holidays.  He wanted for the two of us just to relax, have fun and since he has time off between jobs, he volunteered to do the project himself when I went back to work after the first of the year.  I skeptically agreed, knowing that I could help on the weekends but also knowing this project was going to be a major interruption to the functioning of my kitchen for several weeks.

So we ordered the tile and got to work on demolition.  The ceremonial “ground breaking” –

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and the real work beginning

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It took the better part of three weeks, but Gator came through once again!

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What a difference!  He did an amazing job – he even made all new thresholds and transitions out of old barn wood.  The only problem is that now the green paint doesn’t go with the new kitchen.  I guess I’ll just add that to the project list.  I bet Gator doesn’t volunteer to do that solo….

 

 

Sympathy Weight

I have the most amazing dogs.  There, I said it.  I know everyone thinks their dogs are amazing – and they are.  I just happen to know my dogs better than I know others, so I think they are the most amazing.

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Although they are both black Lab-type dogs (Kody is only part Lab), they are really very different.  Carly, our female, is built like a tank with a low deep bark and is not the least bit feminine.  Kody, our male, is taller but lighter than Carly, and extremely sweet and sensitive.  Carly is obsessed with Gator – she is definitely a daddy’s girl.  Kody is much more of a mama’s boy.

In spite of their differences, those two dogs are extremely attached to each other.   They love chasing a Kong donut (also known as “the squeaky”) that we throw for them. Even though they have similar speed, Kody has always been more of a thinker than Carly, but she has had the weight advantage and has never been afraid to throw it around if it will help her push Kody out of the way to get to the squeaky first.

Normally it is a friendly rivalry.  They both have times when they will back off and let the other take the throw.  However, a couple of months ago, we had a rare but impressive crash.  Both Kody and Carly went for the squeaky at full tilt and they slammed into each other. Kody came out of it limping.  Usually he shakes it off within a few minutes, but this time he was still lame after a couple of days, so I decided to take him to the vet to have him checked out.  Nothing was broken, but he definitely had a strain and is showing signs of arthritis in his back lower legs, so he was put on rest and given pain and anti-inflammatory medicine.

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I wasn’t terribly concerned until I heard the definition of rest – it meant NO activity for 6 weeks.  Kody was allowed to go outside to do his business (and even then it should be on a leash), and that’s all.  No running, no walking – theoretically he should be in a crate all of the time.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  My vet flinched as I started negotiating with her.  I was pretty sure she didn’t understand – we live on a farm, our dogs go everywhere we go.   There was no way Kody was going to tolerate getting left behind all of the time.  Actually, I think she understood just fine – everyone around here lives on a farm.  We finally agreed that I would limit Kody’s activity as much as possible, knowing that more rest would give him the best chance of recovery.

The crate wasn’t really an issue.  When Kody is in the house, he spends nearly all of his time on the couch.  He doesn’t move around much at all.  As it turned out, as long as both Gator and I were home, we were able to keep Kody in the house with one of us while the other one went out to feed horses and chickens.  However,  Gator was leaving for work at 5:00 AM at least three days a week and there weren’t many days that he would get home from work before dark, so the tag team method didn’t get used nearly as much as I would have liked.

I tried just leaving Kody in the house while Carly and I went out and did chores for the first week or so.  It was one of the most miserable weeks I can remember.  He howled like he was being tortured!  I could hear him all the way down at the barn.  I’m not sure how much running around he did, but I can say that he wasn’t staying on the couch because he would be standing at the door panting the second we came back in.

Clearly, that didn’t work.  Next, I tried leaving both of them in the house.  Not much better – I had two howling dogs.  It’s funny, because when we leave them to go out to dinner or something, they are just fine.  But they know when we are here on the property, and they don’t appreciate being stuck in the house.

After a couple of weeks, Kody had improved enough that I let him go out with us as long as he didn’t run.  He quickly learned the “don’t run” command and was really very good about it, especially since Carly did everything she could to get him to run and play.  Actually, Carly was suffering much more than Kody during this ordeal.  She had lost her running buddy and was not happy about it.  The worst part was that even though Kody was now allowed to go out with us, I wouldn’t throw the squeaky anymore.  There was just no way to keep Kody from chasing it, so it was off limits.  Carly was devastated.

We took both dogs back in when it was time to check on Kody’s progress because they each needed vaccinations. Kody had improved a lot.  Still not great – he will still need to keep his activity in check, however the vet said that moderate exercise will help with the arthritis.  He had gained a couple of pounds, so we were instructed to get them off because any extra weight would just aggravate it. When Carly got on the scale, I got the shock of my life.  She had gained 12 pounds!!

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It looks like phase two is going to be getting Carly to lose the sympathy weight.  Oh, this is going to be fun….

 

Belated Birthday

As you may have gathered, we have gone a little crazy with the projects here at Glenmore.  In our defense, this was not a horse property when we bought it and that’s what we really needed, so a lot of these jobs have helped to make it one.  We have cleared out overgrown land, built a barn, fenced in pasture and built an arena.  The arena is really great, but I have hesitated on putting a fence around it.  There are a lot of good reasons for having an open arena, but it is also nice having a fenced in area to ride or work a horse from the ground.  The solution, we decided, was to put in a round pen.

Oh great – another project.  Although I have a habit of making anything horse related a high priority, I have been able to work the horses just fine without a round pen, so it was low on my list – too many other things I want to get done.  Gator, however, had other ideas.  Once we decided on a relatively flat place to put it, he started the dirt work  like a man obsessed.  He spent several weekends scraping and moving dirt, making sure the spot was perfectly level.  Around the middle of September, he told me he had gotten a great deal on  the round pen that our local co-op was using as a display, so that was his birthday present to me.  OK, well that explains the rush since my birthday was just a week away.

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Now just to explain a little, this particular round pen is only about 57 feet across.  Although we have worked in many round pens that aren’t on level ground, it is a fairly tight circle for a horse to canter, so the more level the ground can be, the better.

However, I was not prepared for what I was going to hear next – we need a retaining wall.  Remember one of my previous posts about the sucking vortex?  Well here we go again! As he was walking it off and showing me what he had planned, my head began to spin.  This wall was going to be almost 100 feet long! Did we really need all of this?  Gator calmly explained that if we were going to do it right and have good drainage so that the water wouldn’t puddle in the middle of the pen, this was the only way to go. Before I know it, a huge truck pulled up with six pallets of cement blocks.

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Normally, Gator and I work together on big projects like this, but this time things were really busy at my job I and had to work several weekends, so for the most part, he was on his own.  With several weekends of interruptions with rain and company coming to visit, Gator finally got the wall finished.  I must say, it’s beautiful!

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Once the wall was done, it was just a matter of having sand hauled in and getting the round pen delivered and set up.  Two months later, I have a first class round pen that is level and won’t get washed out when it rains!

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That Gator – he really knows how to win my heart!

 

Hunting Season

In this part of Virginia like many other states, late fall is the beginning of hunting season. Many weekend mornings, we wake up to the sound of gun shots from deer or goose hunters in the distance and Kody cowering in the closet.

That’s not the only hunting going on around here though.  Fox hunting is huge in this part of the country.  Now for those of you not familiar with fox hunting, there are no guns involved.  A whole bunch of people get together and  ride their horses all over the countryside following a pack of hounds that are chasing a fox.  Usually the fox gets away but after several hours of galloping through fields and jumping fences with a bunch of other people on horses (some in more control than others), anyone that survives couldn’t care less about losing the fox.  They are so happy to have come out unscathed, they just want to party – and party they do!  After the hunt, they have huge champaign brunches out in the field.  It’s as much about the party afterward as it is about the actual hunt.  There are a few deer hunters I know that can relate to that!  I don’t want to make fox hunting sound uncivilized, though.  It is a sport that is filled with rules and traditions.  There is a very strict dress code for both riders and horses, as well as etiquette and protocol that must be followed by members of the hunt clubs and their guests.

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Another kind of hunting going on in this part of Virginia doesn’t involve animals.  It’s the Civil War artifacts hunting that club do after the harvest.  In this neck of the woods, farmers don’t till the soil after they cut the corn, soybeans, or other crops.  They often plant rye grass over the winter which prevents erosion and keeps the weeds down.  That leaves a short window of only a couple of weeks when there is bare ground.  During that time, people can play a flat fee and come in for a weekend with their metal detectors and hunt for Civil War treasures.  Since the farms all around this area were either the site of battles or encampments, there were a lot of relics left behind that have been buried over time and seem to keep working their way back up to the surface.

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Now we don’t get a lot of traffic out here, so when a hundred or so people descend on on farm at daylight on a Friday morning, it creates quite a traffic jam!   I was coming home from the gym a few weeks ago when a whole caravan of cars and trucks pulled out of one of the local hotels and drove to one of the neighboring farms.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but once I did, I went over there and got some pictures.

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After a couple of days, they all pack up and go, leaving the fields looking like they are full of prairie dog holes.  In a few weeks, the grass has filled in and there is no sign that anyone was ever there.  Just in time  for deer and goose hunting seasons – I sure wouldn’t want to see all of these people out in the fields with hunters shooting guns all around them!

 

Another Busy Weekend

We have had just spectacular weather the past several days.

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Not knowing how many more beautiful weekends we are going to have before winter,  Gator and I took advantage and got an enormous amount of work done.

All three water troughs got scrubbed, both horses got bathed and their brushes got cleaned.  That would have been a successful weekend right there – but no!!  We got so much more done than that.  We washed windows, got firewood cut and cleaned the chicken coop too.

To top it all off, Gator and I both rode our horses twice!!  I’m telling you, that’s a feat.  It’s a big deal when I get to ride twice in one weekend – when Gator rides twice, well, I can’t remember the last time that happened…

All of this activity has been exhausting for the dogs.  They are wiped out!

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As for me, I’m wiped out too.  I’m going to sleep well tonight!

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