A midwinter break

For many creatures out in the great wild, winter is a potentially life-threatening period.  Heck, for me it sometimes feels that way.  Anyhow, many mammals hibernate and some creatures otherwise adapt their behavior to just make it through.  Honeybees are like that.  Winter is a time to just survive.  Honeybees are cold blooded so cannot self-regulate their temperature.  Individually, they would freeze to death quickly if exposed to the cold of winter.  Luckily bees live in community and work together to keep the inside of their hive warm through the winter.

Honeybees in winter

Honeybees progress through various job functions between hatching and becoming field workers that collect pollen and nectar.  Some bees clean honeycomb cells, others guard the hive from intruders and others take care of the queen.  Researchers have discovered a previously unknown job in the hive.  There are “heater bees” whose job it is to keep the hive warm in fall, winter and spring when temperatures are low.  Basically, they can vibrate their abdomen or…get this…decouple their wings from their wing muscles so they can vibrate those muscles without having fluttering wings flying around all over the place in a cramped hive.  Muscular vibrations cause friction which causes heat.  Beekeepers have always known that bees somehow vibrate in a hive to keep warm, but the discovery that there is a class of workers who can detach their wing muscles to manage heat is new.

Honeybees in winter

So, last week we had a few nice days.  As I have mentioned before, bees don’t poop inside the hive (as long as it is a healthy hive and they don’t have nosema…bee dysentery).  They still eat honey through the winter as they need the energy to keep warm…food in means they still make waste…but they hold it…until nice days like last week.  I wandered down to the apiary to see how the bees were faring….to see if they were surviving the winter.  If things aren’t just right, bees can starve to death, freeze to death, or otherwise disease to death.  On nice days, I like to take a look to see how many colonies are flying…warm sunny days guarantee the bees will head out to poop!  I love to see them out on these kinds of days as they are generally pretty docile and seem to enjoy landing on me to gain a little warmth.  Sure, they can sting, but they rarely do.

Honeybees in winter

So, friends, the bees look pretty good so far this winter.  We are nowhere done with winter and many hard days are yet ahead, but this is a good sign for the midpoint of winter in the apiary!

More bee stuff

Rubik’s Cube…Solved

Most people have touched a Rubik’s Cube at some point or another and most probably tossed it aside after awhile, the blocks approximately as disordered as when they received the cube.  Of course, plenty of people know an algorithm to solve the cube and some can even do it behind their backs in a matter of seconds.  I am not either of those…I can usually solve one side and part of another, but I have never solved one out-right…I don’t know the algorithm.

Working a Rubik's Cube

I remember when I went to the Knoxville World’s Fair in 1982…the Hungary Pavilion had a large Rubik’s cube as a major focal point of its display.  I think 1982 was probably at the height of the Rubik’s cube craze, and it’s inventor, Ernő Rubik is Hungarian.  I am pretty sure that’s about the time that I got my first cube.  Some people knew the tricks to solve it, but I was 10 or so and without the Internet, there were no real shortcuts.  Many of my friends had Rubik’s Cubes and none of us, as far as I know, ever solved them on our own when we were in school.  A few people peeled the stickers to solve their cubes and a few people threw them in the river I suppose.  Mrs. Donato, one of our elementary lunch ladies knew how to solve the cube so some kids let her solve them during lunch.  I am sure my old cube is at my parents’ house somewhere, still unsolved.

Working a Rubik's Cube

Anyhow, back to now…Isaac and some of his buddies are into cool stuff…ciphering and figuring and, of course, puzzles and games and stuff like that.  The other night, Isaac brought a Rubik’s Cube home to solve.  One of his buddies learned one of the algorithms to solve it and Isaac was busy learning as well.  Of course, being into things like that, he dedicated a fair amount of brain time to learning the tricks that night and can solve it on his own now.  Honestly, as a kid stuck in 1982 (apparently), I was amazed that someone in my own house could solve the Rubik’s cube!

The flu…one down, three to go

All four of us dutifully got our flu shots in October or November…whenever they came in at our doctor’s office.  We usually get them every year and have mostly been well served.  Both kids and Emily are exposed to a lot of potential flu-people though so it’s always a bit of a gamble as to whether or not someone will end up with the flu at our house.

This year, of course, the flu shot is apparently not as effective as the CDC had hoped…and sure enough, Abigail was diagnosed with the flu last night.  I didn’t realize they had a quick-swab test thingy that could positively identify the flu in a matter of a few minutes…thankfully they do and she and Emily were on their way a few minutes later.  Of course, the flu isn’t gone in a few minutes and tamiflu apparently only knocks it down a day earlier than it would have been,  I guess a day is a day so that helps.

I went to the pharmacy last night to pick up her meds and was helped by the parent of one of the boys on my soccer team.  She knew why I was there based on my prescription for tamiflu.  I think it also was clear what the 4 bottles of wine were for as well…my medicine!  Wine, you see, is prophylactic for all illnesses.  I should be good with the wine only, but if I come down with anything, I’ll kick it up a notch like my Grandpa used to do…ginger brandy cures all!  Time will tell, dear friends!

So, right before lunch time, I called Abigail to check on her and see what she wanted for lunch today.  Her throat and snot-maker are so congested/screwed up that she couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to determine what she wanted.  We hung up and 10 seconds later I got a text, “Donuts”  As a donut connoisseur myself, I certainly appreciated her need.  I popped into Krispy Kreme, which, incidentally, I think makes the weakest of all chain-donuts, to buy a cool dozen for Abigail to eat at lunch.  I mean, one needs energy and comfort when fighting an illness, right?  Hopefully the other 3 of us can remain healthy.  We’ve broken out the disinfecting wipes and gas masks and flame throwers and stuff we use to kill germs in the house.  Hopefully we can stay ahead of it!

Wish us luck dear friends…today is also the one year anniversary of Aquapocalypse 2014…the mess where some chemical storage tanks leaked a bunch of crap into our water system which resulted in 300,000 local folks not having safe water to drink.

A Christmas to Remember

Christmas is such a nice time of year.  Like most people who celebrate Christmas, we enjoy the time with family, the great food, and the fun we share exchanging gifts, baking cookies and listening to holiday music.  It’s always a special time and a real joy for me.

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This year (actually just a few weeks ago), my parents have bought a house nearby and came to their new place (into which they have not yet really moved).  My elderly aunt and uncle and my brother and sister-in-law came and stayed with my parents in their new house.  My gang hung around the new place too and it was setting up to be a really fun time.  My brother and I planned to do a few projects to “tighten up” the new place and then just goof around for fun.

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The house had been empty for a good period of time so there are always kinks that need to be worked out.  The kitchen and bathrooms were remodeled and had never been used so we figured there might be a few little things as is common with new construction.  Little did we know…

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As people started using the plumbing, we discovered that the shower drain leaked, the installers had cracked the tub spigot, the door was not sealed in and the water control valve was not installed correctly.  My brother and I set about remedying all of those issues by basically yanking out all of the things and re-installing the tub/shower correctly.  Meanwhile, we found that the wax ring on one of the toilets was leaking.  It turns out that the plumbers had not tightened the hold-down bolts at all…it’s a wonder the toilet didn’t just topple over when used.

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Meanwhile, my Mom was cooking in the kitchen and ran some peels down the disposal.  I think there was a drainage problem beforehand with a clogged pipe, but the peels made it very apparent and stopped up the kitchen drain completely.  We had a snake and ran a good bit into the drain to clear it but it was a job for a plumber…after-hours on a weekend.  The guy came out and was great and ran 50 feet of snake into the drain and made it better but definitely not clear.  He’s coming back to finish later this week when regular rates apply.  Hopefully that will be a simple fix!

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My aunt became very ill during the shower fix and we were concerned that she was in very bad shape during all of this…it came to the point where we called an ambulance to take her to the ER.  Since my brother and I had the shower apart, Emily volunteered to go along to the hospital with my aunt and uncle.  About 5 hours later, we found she had both kidney and gall stones and all was basically ok (the wonders of medicine!)

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Around 8 or 9 that evening, when everything seemed to be winding down and it seemed like nothing else could go wrong…you guessed it…more went wrong!  The hot water heater started leaking water pretty badly…it turns out there was a faulty pressure relief valve that didn’t really need any pressure before it decided to relieve itself.  No hardware stores were open when we figured out what was going on so I got a new one the next morning.  We were back in business in 20 minutes or so and everyone could get hot showers!

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As bad as all of this sounds, for some reason, it just wasn’t a stressful weekend for me.  LOTS of stuff went wrong, but it all had fairly clear solutions.  I knew everything was going to be ok and that I’d have a good story to tell.  I doubt it is necessary to document this entire weekend here as I doubt I’ll ever forget it, but just in case, this was definitely a Christmas unlike any other!

Abigail’s trio

Abigail started taking flute lessons in 3rd grade.  It’s had its ups and downs but mostly she enjoys playing and she has done very well playing in various school events in elementary school.  Now she is in middle school where she is in the school band, a five-days-per-week endeavor.  Of course, with a lot more playing time, she has really seen a jump in her ability.  Practice makes perfect of course!12_23_2014 006The other day, her band had the opportunity to play various duets, trios, etc at the local mall.  It was packed with shoppers and felt all festivey, especially with the beautiful music the kids played.  I am always amazed at the ability of these kids and their band instructor to make kids, many of whom had never touched an instrument, into pretty amazing musicians in a year-and-a half or two years!  It’s really wonderful and makes me so proud!

 Performance 1

Performance 2

Anyhow, Abigail was (I think) the only 6th grader to play in the group.  She had a duet and a trio.  I recorded both but the acoustics in the mall along with my position make it harder to hear in the video than it was in real life.  Anyhow, I loved hearing the groups play Christmas songs and carols and have a good time!

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At the end, they decided to walk to the next stage area over and have a group shot with Santa.  He was a pretty good sport!

Time flies!

I can’t believe that Isaac is another year older already!  All parents say this I know, but I can’t believe he isn’t still the tiny little baby who had such a horrific start.  It seems like yesterday we were learning to ride a bike and here he is about to drive a car!  Although he has had some issues, he has grown into a fun and wonderful young man of whom I am so very proud!

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I made these recordings on my phone…

Concert band 1

Concert band 2

Concert band 3

Concert band 4

Concert band 5

Concert band 6

Concert band 7

Concert band 8

Last night we heard his Christmas band concert, and it was a thing of beauty!  He is the first chair tenor sax player in his concert band which makes me very proud.  He loves to play his horn and with a band that can make music like they can, who wouldn’t love it?!

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Anyhow, we celebrated Isaac’s birthday among family the other night and had a great time celebrating both Isaac and his uncle who share a birthday.  It’s such a fun and wonderful time as they both get into the party and make it a lot of fun for everyone.

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I think as much as anything, I was happy to see Isaac, both at his birthday party and at the band concert, just having fun and making people laugh.  His name is Hebrew for laughter and he has always been one to make people comfortable and happy through his laughter and sense of humor.  He is one of my true joys and I am so proud to be his father!

Bye bye beardie

I can’t sing worth a nickel…maybe I could, at some point, sing better, but I have never been much of a singer.  For some reason, though, I was in chorus in school.  I was even in show choir.  For me, I guess it was to be around more females.  You see, in my little school, males didn’t really do chorus.  I figured my odds were better that way.  Not being worth anything as a singer, all I can figure is that the director just needed warmish male bodies to move the risers and the piano.

Chorus1 Chorus2

I’m in both pics…I look a little different now…these pics are not mine but I appreciate using them

So, in addition to chorus, I participated in a production of Bye Bye Birdie, the musical.  I’ll leave it to you to find the story, but it was a fun musical in which I had a small bit-role.  I honestly don’t even remember what the role was, but I am sure I was brilliant in it!  It’s funny, but that production, or rather it’s music has really stuck with me.  Whenever I hear someone say “bye bye”, I always sing in my head, “…birdie, good bye…bye bye birdie, don’t cry…”.  I try it on the kids, but they always look at me like I am crazy.

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Ok, so to the real point of this…I shaved off my offering for No-Shave-November at the end of last month.  It really had gotten to be a nuisance and I was happy to see it go…bye bye beardie, good-bye…bye bye beardie, don’t cry.  Gee whiz I was happy to see it go.  God bless people who have beards and who like beards, but it just isn’t for me!  I always felt like I had things crawling on my face…strike 1.  Emily called it No-Kiss-November…strike 2.  Many people said I looked older and with all of the gray that has apparently developed, I am out with strike 3!

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Anyhow, I always like to shave it off in bits to see just how ridiculous I can look.  It doesn’t last long…maybe a few days…just long enough to irritate Emily and embarrass the kids!

I had a birthday awhile back

I guess it’s been over a week now, but I had another birthday!  I like having birthdays…the more the better of course!  Like most December birthdays, mine runs the risk of getting lost in the Christmas hubbub.  My family is really good, though, about making sure that both Isaac and I get birthdays apart from Christmas.

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So, this year we went to my favorite Japanese steak place…you know, where they cook out in front of the guests.  We had 15 or so people come and have a fun time eating way too much food.  I got some cool gifts too!  I got some gift cards and money and a new piece of cast iron cookware.  I cook breakfast for the family every morning and I love using cast iron to cook.  Maybe it’s the trendy thing or something…maybe it is so heavy it just cooks better…anyhow, more cast iron is always better!

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The big surprise came from my lovely wife.  You may remember, I recently bought a record player.  She bought me a new record…the soundtrack to Footloose, one of my all-time favorite movies!  As a purist, I only recognize the existence of the original Kevin Bacon movie release in 1984.  The 2011 “movie” doesn’t really count.  Anyhow, I was thrilled with the original soundtrack on LP.  To top off my 80s music-filled birthday, she got us tickets to hear John Mellencamp in the spring!  Everyone knows Jack and Dianne and a few of John Mellencamp’s songs, but my all-time favorite is “Rain on the Scarecrow”.  I hope I’ll get to hear it live!  I am so excited!!!  We have seen a few bands from when we were kids and it is just absolutely some of the most fun ever!  We heard Billy Joel and Elton John for our anniversary in 2009 and Bryan Adams last year…and now we add John Mellencamp (gosh I want to call him John Cougar Mellencamp)!

So, getting older is just fine and we still have a lot of 80s bands yet to see!  Let’s just hope we all continue to be able to R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.!

As Thanksgiving should be

As always, I am late to the party as Thanksgiving was nearly a week ago.  I had Black Friday shopping to ignore…and of course, we had to ignore Cyber-Monday as well.  I had a lot of shopping not to do between Thanksgiving and now.  Actually, we did absolutely all of our Christmas shopping in one night…on-line.  We basically had wishlists set up on Amazon and just bought out of the lists…slick and easy and done!  That sounds like I am only giving gifts out of obligation, but that’s not how we feel about it.  I just prefer the actual giving rather than the shopping.

Maybe a little pie...
Maybe a little pie…

Anyhow, even though we didn’t do any real shopping, we have been busy.  We worked on the executive deer stand a few days and I had to manage my killer beard as well!  But the real event was Thanksgiving day…we gathered 20-some people together and ate a lot of food.  I guess it was probably too much food, but we have never been ones to go too hog-wild.  I like a nice serving of turkey and taters and gravy…maybe a few slices of pie, but not too far overboard.

Reddi-wip, straight from the can!
Reddi-wip, straight from the can!

I am not sure I can say the same for Isaac.  He was pulling sugar straight from the can…truly it was a thing of beauty!

Almost nap time!
Almost nap time!

We took a bunch of group pics, but not everyone wants to be seen with me online so I will only show Abigail prepping for the family to sit around the bench…I think she was staking out a napping location, honestly.  So, we had a pretty nice Thanksgiving and a busy but nice mini-break from school and work.  I think that Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite holidays (after Groundhog Day of course), because it is mostly a relaxing time with family…and pie!