Majorette and Band Festival – 2014

Tuesday night was the Majorette and Band Festival where all of the high schools in Kanawha county come to show off their field shows.  We joined several hundred other folks in watching 8 great bands play their very best in the University of Charleston stadium.

Our band
Our band on the field

This is our first year to have a band member on the field and we were super excited for all of the build-up and preparation for this show.  The season started with band camp in August where the entire band went away to set up their marching field show and practice their music.  It’s amazing how fast (a week!), the band came together to produce a really nice show.  Since that time, they practice daily and have refined their show incredibly!

Us with the other bands
Us with the other bands
Click to play the small version

Here’s a better version if your machine will play it

We are very fortunate to have a really great band director who expects a lot from the kids, and leads them demand a lot from themselves.  Their pride and hard work that the director instilled in them really showed as they  took the field Tuesday.  The band exhibited fantastic precision in marching and delivered as crisp a performance as I’ve ever heard/seen.  They were in synch and smooth and just looked first-class.  I couldn’t be more proud of how these kids performed!

Youtube video with bits from all of the bands

As a special treat, Marshall University’s Marching Thunder performed the finale at the festival and showed the bands at the festival what the next level of play might be for them.  They were great and dynamic and made a lot of sound (in a great way) as you would expect from a good sized university band!

Marshall Marching Thunder
Marshall Marching Thunder – Click to play small version

Here’s a better version if your machine will play it

Among other songs, they played Big Noise from Winnetka, one of the songs that Isaac’s jazz band played last year…both were great renditions…it was a lot of fun to hear the different takes on the same song.  While we were disappointed that our band wasn’t awarded the grand champion trophy, I am so proud of Isaac and his friends and look forward to many more competitions!

We’re in the green

We plant a garden every year…some years it’s good, some years we look forward to the next year.  We used to plant a large garden at Emily’s grandparents’ house.  With all the running around we do, it became unmanageable.  We still love fresh food and you can’t beat the price (although, building up the garden area ain’t cheap…though that was our decision).

Green beans!

So, we built a few raised beds in our back yard and planted them full of stuff.  We started with the largest area built from old railroad ties.  We filled it with peppers, broccoli, onions, tomatoes and potatoes.  About midway through the summer, we added two 8-foot beds to the mix.  You see, we didn’t have any green beans and we absolutely love home-grown green beans.  I think the most we ever canned was 70 quarts one year.  That might have been a bit much but we really enjoy beans.

Our trusty All American pressure canner
Our trusty All American pressure canner

Anyhow, with our decision not to plant a garden at Emily’s grands’ place, we were sort of without when it came to beans…on a chance, we decided to plant green beans in July, hoping to have a small crop by frost.  We harvested a bunch of beans yesterday and had more than a small crop.  Although not a 70-quart crop, we canned 20 pints last night!

Green beans - before and after canning
Green beans – before and after canning

Next year, we will be ready to plant an early spring crop as well as a July crop, hoping to double our return!  It’s so cool that two small rows of seed can make us a bunch of food that we will enjoy until next year!The best part is that they were canned within a few hours of being picked…hard to get any fresher than that!

Follow up to my weight loss

A few months ago, I wrote about changing diet and losing weight.  Today is the 6 month anniversary of that last update so I know you must be dying for another update.  All told, I lost 54 pounds during this process.  It was long and difficult as you might expect.  It wasn’t hard so much because I had to do a lot of physical labor (in fact, I did not exercise one bit) or because I was angry about having to lose weight, but rather because it was a very trying test of my will-power and an amazing illustration of the power of food.

I am talking anecdotally here of course, but I think I was addicted to sugary stuff…not like cocaine addicted, but I sought sugary stuff over other food sources for sure.  I drank a 2-liter of Mountain Dew a day and ate all manner of whatever other crap I felt like, whenever I felt like it.  I am not a dummy…I knew better than to eat so much junk, but it just tasted so good and I craved carbs constantly.  Fruit didn’t really taste good to me.  I only wanted junk.  As I look back on it now, I know my head was addled by something…weight or sugar or both.

Some folks have mentioned that they do not eat as much junk as I did so they do not think they will be able to lose weight, or that it will not be easy.  It wasn’t easy for me either, but I understand what they mean.  Honestly, I needed to be educated about what causes weight loss and weight gain.  Of course, I know there are many medical aspects to weight that some folks suffer, but in the absence of those, I’d bet that if you are overweight, your diet probably is not as healthy as you think.  Lots of bread, whole grain or not, and lots of pasta or potatoes and rice, come to mind as things that may be keeping weight on.  There is a lot to weight gain and “junk” hides in all sorts of ways in a typical menu.

So, here it is 6 months later.  I am within 2-3 pounds of my weight-loss weight, so I am still 50+ pounds down from where I was.  The exciting part is that my blood pressure is down to normal without medication.  The really surprising part is that my cholesterol numbers are all back in line too!  I basically dropped 40 points off of my overall cholesterol number.  My good-cholesterol numbers are good and my bad-cholesterol and triglycerides are normal again!

I still occasionally crave junk food a little, but not often and not bad.  I haven’t touched soda since January of this year.  I only drink water, coffee and hot tea.  Every now and then I will have a cookie or two or a small bowl of ice cream, but it doesn’t mean much to me any more. The cool thing is that fruit and vegetables taste good to me again.  I find myself not drawn to junk but rather to whole foods that I can identify.  I know that sounds like a load of crap, but I discovered plums and almonds.  I love plums and almonds!  I know what a plum and an almond look like!  Who knew they actually taste great?!

When I pick up a 50 pound bag of cat litter, I wondered how I ever even moved around before with the extra weight.  I lost 10 bags of sugar!  That just amazes me when I think about it that way.  Of course, I know my body built up muscle to handle it, but it astounds me how much more pressure I was putting on my joints and my heart.  I am so happy to have dropped the weight and I have found that I can easily keep it off, so long as I just decide to eat what I now know is good.  So, your mileage may vary, but I am pleased with my weight-maintenance plan…

Stuff I’ve seen

I’ve seen things…strange and wonderful things.  Well, I wish it was really that dramatic, but I was just leafing back over some old pics the last few evenings, and I came across a few pics that I thought were cool.  We have been running so much lately with band and cross-country and soccer and work stuff.  It feels like there hasn’t been time to do anything …I almost said fun, but of course, all of that running is fun.  Sometimes it’s pretty easy, though, to lose sight of that.

Yeah fun!

Anyhow, a month or so ago, we were at my parents house visiting.  They like flowers and have a really nice flowerbed out front.  I took a few pics of the crop they had around there.  Pollinators were about gathering what pollen they could.  I love yellow flowers so their Black-eyed Susan’s were exquisite.  Yes, I just said that…shut up.

Black-eyed Susans

Pollen on the flowers

Pollen on the flowers

I was messing in the  bees awhile back and this time of year is interesting.  After spring and summer blooms pass and before fall blooms start, bees and hornets and wasps and yellow jackets all compete for limited resources.  I always see bunches of yellow jackets in particular, “make a go” at the beehives to try and steal a little of the honey they keep inside.  In a healthy hive, the bees keep the yellow jackets away easily.  In one hive box that was empty, but in my apiary, I took a look in to see if any bees or other critters were collecting any of the wax scraps that were about…Imagine my surprise when I saw these lovelies…They were not aggressive so I just put the lid back on and walked away…that’s how I roll.

Wasp larvae and eggs
Wasp eggs
Wasp larvae and eggs
Wasp larvae

I did find another nest in other bee stuff I had at the house and found a really cool looking nest.  It showed all stages of waspers inside…capped brood, larvae, and eggs.  You can kind of see them if you look hard and use your imagination.

This stuff fascinates me…I am always amazed at the wonders that are right under our noses!

Kids these days

Kids these days…You know, kids these days are different than when I was a kid. I had good pals and best friends and we did a lot together and had a lot of fun and all that. Something about kids these days seems different though. I have noticed that these kids share more and better than I remember doing. Sure, we took turns drinking from the garden hose and maybe we traded cookies from our lunch boxes, but Isaac and many of his pals give things to each other freely…and not just little things. They share what’s important to them among each other. I have seen them share money and clothes and electronics and all sorts of things without hesitation. I don’t mean, “here, you can borrow my shirt” kind of stuff, but “here, you can have my shirt.”

I wonder if it comes down to economics of it or if it is a true change in how kids are these days. I grew up in an economically disadvantaged region of PA. Most people there worked very hard to get by and few had a life of plenty. Of course, I had plenty of love and support, but we didn’t have stuff in plenty. I am and was perfectly content with that life, but maybe my growing up was different because of that.  Maybe I didn’t share as freely because I didn’t have as much to share or what I did have was a little more precious to me.  Maybe it was the time and the world and all that.  I don’t have any idea.

Last weekend, Abigail ran in a cross-country meet.  She ran well and came in among the middle of the pack.  I was very happy for her, especially considering she is a new runner and a 6th grader competing among 8th graders.  As the last of the pack was coming in for one of the other races, one boy was obviously struggling to complete the race.  I was so proud to see a number of other runners who had finished their race return back to the lone runner and encourage and support him.  They ran beside him, encouraging him to keep going, that they were there to keep cheering him and that they were proud to run with him.  I don’t know that everyone got a ribbon, but in my eyes, I saw a team of kids that, rather than teasing or bullying, or even just being indifferent, proved that they were champions and that they shared the joy together.

Still running
Still running

I hear people complain about how kids these days feel entitled because everyone gets a ribbon and everyone gets constant praise.  Maybe that can be taken too far and maybe it is taken too far, too often, but honestly, I do not know that I have seen that problem.  If that sort of thing breeds the kind of sharing and concern that I have seen among my kids’ friends, I am all for giving every kid I see a ribbon.

Maybe it’s a different time or maybe I was just a bad friend, but many kids these days simply make me proud and give me hope that it’s all going to be ok…

A late season swarm

There is an old saying in beekeeping…”A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.  A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.  A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.”  I am not sure what a swarm in September is worth but I am pretty sure I owe somebody something.

A swarm of bees in the air
A swarm of bees in the air

You see, I got a call over the holiday weekend about a swarm that had just landed at someone’s house.  I sort of had to do a double-take.  Honeybees don’t usually swarm this late.  I figured the homeowner had seen a hornets’ nest or maybe a bunch of wasps or yellow jackets.  Those critters are all pretty common this time of year and I often get calls from people asking me to deal with their “bees”.

A late-season swarm of bees
A late-season swarm of bees

I looked at the picture they sent and sure enough, they had a swarm of honeybees swarming on their gutter.  Now swarm catching is one of my all-time fav-o-rite things to do in beekeeping so I grabbed my stuff and headed over.

Tag-a-long bee!
Tag-a-long bee!

Sure enough, a small swarm had chosen the lucky homeowners and it wasn’t too high off the ground for me to get.  I coaxed the bees into the swarm box that is part of the swarm catching gear that makes my excited trip each time I get a call.  Into the back of the car they went and we all happily headed home!  The bees are currently on my garden wall where they will probably remain through the next few weeks until I can determine if they are worth trying to keep all winter as-is or if I should combine them with another colony.

Getting ready to catch a swarm
Getting ready to catch a swarm

So, what caused them to swarm this late in the season?  Who knows?  Maybe their tree-home was cut or fell down.  Maybe a bear or other creature messed up their place.  I do not know for sure but I think this is my first ever swarm that is worth less than even single fly!

Other bee stuff

Honey harvest 2014

It’s that time of year again.  Each year around tax day, I add honey supers to my hives. It’s no exact science, but I like to keep honey supers on my hives from, roughly, Tax day to Independence day. The bulk of the Spring and Summer blooms occur during that time period so my bees get an opportunity to work the best blooms and store away honey. Usually this process works well and I harvest several hundred pounds of honey. I see some variance as you might expect…some years I get 200 pounds, some years I get 500+ pounds…either way, a good bit of honey

Trying not to overheat!
Trying not to overheat!

I harvested the honey last weekend with high expectations as the grass around me was green and trees and things seemed healthy.  Unlike my friends elsewhere in the country, we have had a good deal of rain so things are growing well here in WV.  Imagine my surprise then when I cracked the first hive and found only a frame or two of capped honey.  I repeated this same scenario in hive after hive.  The bees seemed mostly in pretty good shape but I found very little honey.

One of the jars of honey this year
One of the jars of honey this year

A sudden mini-panic set over me as I closed up the last hive….something is wrong!  As I pondered it, my only conclusion is that our late frosts, cool spring and abundant rainfall came at the exact wrong time on my ridge top apiary and it left me with a poor honey crop.  As confirmation (I need this now…it hurts my heart you know…), none of my fruit trees bore a single piece of fruit.  My sorghum crop flopped.  In general, it was just bad I think.  As I mentioned, the bees look good so I have to blame it on the weather.  That line of thought settled me down.  I was so frustrated though, that I barely took any pics of the harvest this year.  Instead, please enjoy this picture of my cat…the internet loves cats, right?

My cat

We processed the honey and all-told, we got around 60 pounds of honey. That’s 10-20% of normal so you can see the problem here. Unfortunately, that means I am already sold out of this year’s honey crop. Not a great way to pay for hive repairs or new queens. Alas, that is the life of a beekeeper I suppose…

Marbled Orb Weaver spider around the hive
Marbled Orb Weaver spider around the hive

The only other thing that is noteworthy is this cool Marbled Orb Weaver spider I found outside one of the hives.  He was a pretty thing.  I tend not to mess with stuff around the hive.  I figure everything has a purpose…well, except mosquitoes and ticks…those things just suck.  Anyhow, a pretty spider always goes a long way to brighten my day too!  Next year, we’ll hope my new spider friend brings me good luck and a better harvest!

Other beekeeping stuff

Who is right?

Emily and I are having problems.  We’ve been married for 20 years now, and this problem has festered beneath the surface for as long as we have been together.  She thinks that she is right and I know I am right.  I just don’t know that we can ever come to an agreement on this.

Green atrocity!
Green bananas…an atrocity!

You see, she likes bananas when they are obscenely green.  Truly, it is a crime against nature.  I prefer bananas as God intended them…yellow with slight hints of brown.  Although we have not yet sought out counseling for this problem, we may have come across a solution.  I am not sure why it didn’t occur to us until this week, but Emily and I are planning to start buying two bunches of bananas at a time…one that she will (incorrectly) eat immediately, and one that I will let age (like fine wine) for a few days and then eat.  We should be able to manage our troubles this way.  It appears she will not open her eyes to what is good and right, so I think our best shot is to accommodate her imperfections as best we can!

Ripe bananas...the right way to eat them!
Ripe bananas…the right way to eat them!

Math facts

Abigail is in middle school this year.  Kids seem to get interesting starting in middle school.  They think differently.  Well, I guess most folks wonder if middle school kids think at all, but I like the way they think (mostly).  It’s fun to watch as things dawn on the kids as they age…I guess I can almost see the world open up for them to all of the neat things that maybe I take for granted.  But beyond that, they still have that spark where just enough is different and new for them.  They aren’t yet jaded…naivete remains, at least a little.

Abigail Math

So Abigail had a task to use mathy stuff to describe a few things about herself in her math class.  I think this project was sort of fun for her, but she didn’t mention a thing about it until Emily discovered it during open house (yes, we are already in school and have already done open house). I love how she loves PI stuff.  I love how she drew her brother as tall as taller than me and bald.  I love how she drew our 3 cats and 5 chickens as our pets.  This is no artistic masterpiece, but, like most parents, I couldn’t be happier with the result of what comes from my own kids!

Scout camp…a long time ago!

Way back when, I was in the Boy Scouts.  My Dad was the scoutmaster for a large portion of my scouting career so it was doubly neat to be involved together.  I grew up in the boonies, so scouting type stuff was pretty much what we did anyhow…it was just organized.  We were outdoors all the time.  We hiked and canoed and camped seemingly every weekend.  Many kids growing up before the computer age lived like that I guess and I am fortunate to have been a part of it.

Anyhow, we went to scout camp each summer.  As I got older, the time got to be a lot more fun.   I guess we all got confident and a little cocky.  We went to camp and sort of looked for mischief…good mischief, but mischief none-the-less.

Camp Custaloga Town 1986
Camp Custaloga Town 1986

We went to visit my parents this weekend and my Dad turned up an old camp picture from 1986.  Where I lived, our scout camp was called Custaloga Town Scout Reservation.  I have all sorts of fond memories walking about the woods at the camp, mucking around in the lake and rappelling off the water tower.  I did my mile-swim at camp and had a grand time staying up too late acting stupid.  It’s fun to look at this old pic and see faces of me, my dad and my brother…all when we were a lot younger!

Scouting is stuck in a no-win political mess and has to compete with so many activities that are available for young men.  My kids are not involved in scouts because of all of the other things they are in, so they get a similar experience I hope.  I know they find plenty of time for mischief so that doesn’t worry me…it isn’t Camp Custaloga Town for my kids, but rather band camp now…it’s all good!