Monday, June 20, 2016

Isaac Rides!

More video and commentary to come on this one, but here's the evidence.  We're on the Wolf Creek bike path, which takes us 2/3 of the way to and from church of a Sunday morning. (We pack the boys and bikes in bike trailers for the road part).
Now Isaac is starting himself, and he and Alten enjoy racing.  They take turns winning.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Blanket Update for Early 2016

Whew!  I've resorted to vague and noncommittal titles to avoid disappointing myself and others.  But it's been a while since I posted anything at all, so I'll go for it.
 We have finally moved into our garden house.  It is good to be here!  We moved in June of last year, the culmination of a year and a half (maybe more, I've kind of lost track) of sporadic labor.  The prerequisite for the transition to living here was a working bathroom, and the toilet went in the day we moved.  It was hot, and we had help.  That's all I remember :)  The move was followed by a few weeks of a strong sense of dislocation for the boys and me.  Which was, in turn, followed by exceeding happiness.
  In this house, just about anything can be broken without it being a disaster.  I do ask that the boys go on the porch or put a board on the floor before they "scrap".  This is a practice of hitting toy cars, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, etc, with hammers until they break apart, then adding them to the scrap yard somewhere on the floor.  They use trains and dump trucks to haul things to and from the scrap yard as they feel inspired... 
 I had thought that living here would allow me to get a lot more work done on the house, but more often we use the time I have at home playing until the boys go to sleep, than cleaning and doing dishes until the most necessary stuff is finished.  Then we go to sleep.  All the same, we do get things done.  At the best of times, the boys help me.  For instance, we got insulation blown in the walls back in November.  I cannot imagine how they made it for over a hundred years in this house without it, by the way.  The only downside to the process was the 250+ holes in the interior walls.  I try to wait to work on them until the boys are interested, then I go get the setting compound, a few containers and mudding knives, and all three of us go at it!  Alten and Isaac get the low holes, I get the high ones and clean up their patches.  And Margo does something quietly by herself.  Fun for the whole family!
Alten and Isaac also both enjoy tiling.  They put on their ear-protection for the wet-sawing, mostly just watching me work, then they help me organize the tiles and stick them on the walls.  Where are all the photos?  I don't know, but if I can find some I'll put them on.  This photo of the nearly-finished bath will have to suffice for now.
In the eight-plus months we've been here, I have had many opportunities to reflect on the joy of friends and family who have come to help.  Some of them many times, some of them taking on pet projects they wanted to finish themselves.  What a gift!  At the risk of forgetting some, I'll try to list the folks who have participated in no certain order:  Roxie and Bob, brother Jacob, two Bens, a Jonathan, Glenn and Linda, Dick and Erma, two Dads, brother Matt, brother Chris, sister Ragan, Bob and Rachel, Lisa, Lori and Brian, friend Chris, Zach, Mary Sue, and many more, no doubt.  If you read this and I've forgotten you, tell me and remind me what you did.  I'll beg forgiveness and add you :)
We've been learning all about heating with wood, cooking with wood, living in the moment with young children, and trying to figure out what else really matters.  We are walking the line between comfort and simplicity, and are learning a lot about ourselves and our perceived needs in the process.
 To be continued!  As always, I hope more posts will follow quickly on the heels of this one.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Here's a quote uttered this morning by Margo:
   Wow.  I haven't gone to the bathroom alone so many times in one week for five years!
That's a testament to the fact that children do, in fact, get older.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Menace of the Midwest

Was there ever any doubt about what is the most disturbing animal in the natural world?  Of course not.  As Isaac can tell you, it is the White-Tailed Deer.
This morning I was playing with the boys, and noticed the plastic bag that holds the trains we're borrowing had a big hole in the side.  I suspected Alten had been a bit impatient in getting them out, tearing his own opening instead of using the existing one.  So I put the question to him: "Huh.  I wonder how this bag got a hole in it between last night and this morning.  Do you know?"
It was Isaac who spoke up. "Deer did it.  Deer poked hole in bag with hoofs.  Deer tore hole in bag with bellies."
Just one more manifestation of his fascination with the destructive tendencies of deer.
Usually, though, he expresses worry about the deer coming to eat him.  "Deer in field," he says.
  "I don't see any deer out there," I reply.
  "Deer in field," he maintains. "Deer eat me."
  Margo is great at the back-and-forth.  "Deer are herbivores.  They eat plants.  Are you a plant?"
  "Tell the deer you aren't grass, and that they can't eat you."
  "No eat me! No I'm grass!  Not deer food."
 This exchange happens with some frequency, but this morning was the first I'd heard it expanded to other destructive habits.  We don't really know if deer are a stand-in for worry in general, or if he has an actual aversion to the animal.  Often it seems like he's teasing about it, other times he seems genuinely worried.
 Just wait till he learns about the agricultural and environmental damage they do.  Get that boy a bow!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hive Update, Fall 2014. Bees This Time.

I have hives.
Alright, lets see if we can get at least two posts in this year.
I wish I had the time and focus to fit all the experiments I tried on my bees in the last two years here, but I'll just have to go with a synopsis:
I split my 2012 hive in 2013, after it made it successfully through its first winter.  I did it too early, though, basing timing more on my recollections of the previous Spring than what I was seeing in the hive.  It took both hives the whole season to get in good position to survive winter, and even then I fed one of them a gallon of sugar water.
This Spring, 2014, both hives had survived a brutal winter.  I waited till I saw swarm cells (queen cells indicating overcrowding and the hive's readiness to swarm) and moved the frames with swarm cells from both colonies to a new split.  The split didn't take. Did the hives end up swarming?  Who knows.  They're placed at a distance from my everyday routine so I wouldn't have seen them.
I put on honey supers, then added more as they filled, ending up with one super on one hive and three on the other.  The hive with one only filled it 1/3 or less.  The one with three put away a full 2 1/2 supers, so that was good.  The full tally was around 68 lb of honey and twelve ~4 oz pieces of cut comb. The cut comb was an experiment on its own, but I remembered it so fondly from youth that I thought it would be worth a go.  (The cut comb story will be a later post.)
The honey harvest was good experience, though harrowing at moments.  The basic idea is to take the honey supers off, clear all the bees from them, and put them somewhere the bees can't get into them until you extract the honey from the frames.  As you can imagine, the time consuming part is getting the bees out.  Last time, back in 2012, I had two supers.  I went through them at the hives, frame by frame, sweeping the bees off with a feather and putting them in another box with a lid.  Didn't take too long.
This time I had four supers, and one of two colonies that seemed a titch aggressive.  Mom was interested in helping, and brother Chris wanted to see the process (the harvest photos are thanks to him).  My plan this time was to take the honey off a super at a time, carry it about 20' away from the colony, then go through frame by frame.  I thought some distance would be good, since the bee activity would only increase at the site of the hives.  So I'd take out a frame, carry it closer to the hives, shake most of the bees off, hand the frame to Mom who would sweep the remaining bees off with the feather, then she'd give it to Chris who would put it in the bee-free box and lid it.  It would have taken soooo much longer to do it myself, and time turned out to be of the essence.
Trading off
We did the one-super hive first, then moved on to the three-super hive.  Of the latter, the first one and a half supers went great, then Mom said "It seems like there are a lot of bees at the hives."
I wish we'd gotten a video of it.  Thousands of bees in the air above the hives, like a hurricane.  I waded in to put the lid on the hive that still had a super on it, just in case the bees were trying to rob it out, then we finished processing the second to last super.  By the time we were done, all those bees had settled on the outside of the hive, covering it nearly completely.  And we still had to pull a super off.  I figured if I waited, the bees would just
The photographer taking a peek
become more irate at having lost their stocks, so I waded in again, smoking everywhere, and got the last super.  No trouble, just some added anxiety.  We cleaned out that super much further from the hive area.
We hauled the supers full of honey back to the shed on a Flexible Flyer my Aunt Jean gave us, and brought the two experimental comb honey frames inside to deal with.
One had very little of anything on it, so we spooned off the comb and ate it right there - Mom, Chris, Margo, Alten, Isaac and I.  Then we cut up the full frame with dental floss, let it sit for a day or so to drip the extra honey off, then stuck it in the freezer for a day.  That kills eggs of anything that might hatch out, namely wax moth larvae.  Sounds gross, I know, but that's the way things are.  I am told that wax moths inhabit virtually every hive in existence, and a healthy colony of bees keeps them in check.  But after you remove the honeycomb from the bees, nothing stops them.  Except the freezer.
And boy, is that comb honey tasty!
Daddy scrapes cappings off, boys eat honey off of every surface
We took the four supers over the next day to our friend Steve's, where he has an extractor and a larger number of supers of his own.  Half a day of extracting later, it was all finished and bucketed!
So for three years of beekeeping I have two years of honey to show for it, and no dead colonies.  Not too shabby!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hive Update, Early Spring 2014

What was I just saying?  Oh yeah.  The bees.  At least they have been dormant this winter.  This update will be about the Royer-Miller Hive.
Needless to say, it has been quite the time these past nine months since the last post.  The point at which I posted Isaac was probably just about to become more mobile.  I was probably just telling Alten to be patient, that someday Isaac would actually be able to chase him and be chased, instead of just sitting there looking cute and needing the attention that Alten wanted.  And we were gearing up to figure out how to get in a yurt that wouldn't collapse.
We are now at the point where Isaac is chasing Alten, and it seems like we have been running around like crazy ever since last May (if not before).  The gap between posts will attest to that.
In the intervening time we went from choosing a yurt from Pacific Yurts to deciding we couldn't do a yurt right now after all, from Alten wanting his hair buzzed like Daddy to Alten not wanting his hair even trimmed, from an Alten who would rather hit his brother with any convenient blunt object (block, box, baseball bat, etc.) to an Alten who can sit next to his brother and trade toys in the sandbox, and from a couple of parents collapsing into bed at 11:00 having done the dishes and answered the urgent emails to a couple of parents who have twice gotten to play a game of Yahtzee together in the span of two weeks.  Wow!
There will be updates and clarifications on each of these points as I step back into blogging, especially the bees. But some photos are warranted..
Isaac and Alten frolicking in what's left of Margo's birthday carnations.
We saw this "Baby Got Backhoe" shirt on a visit with Uncle Chris and Aunt Ragan in North Carolina.  We all laughed about it.  After telling Alten what it said, his reaction was "That's not a backhoe.  That's an excavator.  It should say 'Baby Got Excavator'."  That's our boy!

Meals sometimes get crowded in Mama's lap.

Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

I've got a dollar and Daddy's socks!  Let's go!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hive Update, Spring 2013

Just a brief few words on the state of beekeeping at Circle of the Sun.  The hive has multiplied, though not of its own volition.
The most common way beekeepers get extra colonies is to wait till the hive swarms, then capture the swarm and house it.  Because our bees aren't in a well-traveled path, I wasn't sure I'd know they swarmed before they moved on and found a permanent home.  I decided to make a split, using the information I found on a great blog offering beekeeping advice, Basic Beekeeping.
The long and short of it is, you take a thriving colony and remove a few frames of eggs and brood in different stages, leaving at least a few of the same in the donor colony.  You also take a few frames of honey and pollen, and the bees on the frames, and put all of these in a new box.  If the brood frames you took had eggs in them, the new colony can raise its own queen.
I'm pretty impatient, and don't have a lot of experience with beekeeping, so I was ready to make a split in late April, about the time Steve's colonies were fixin' to swarm last spring.  But that was an exceptionally mild and early spring, and this spring was cold and late, so the bees were not in a position to swarm.  So I waited, and waited.  But not really long enough.  I ended up doing the split around May 15, moving two frames of brood and two frames of food into the new colony.  The donor colony was left with about the same.  It was not booming in any sense of the word, and I began second-guessing myself almost immediately.  I was ready a day later to recombine them, but our friend Carol Cox (who is beginning to know something about beekeeping) encouraged me to see the experiment through.  She pointed out that, really, the worst that could happen is that I don't get any honey this year and the split dies in the coming winter.  One year of large, but not devastating, loss for a great experiment and first-hand knowledge.  So I'm watching them now.
I opened both hives up a few days ago to check out the progress. I had assumed that the queen was left in the donor colony, having been pretty sure that I spotted an emergency supercedure cell (a sign that the colony is grooming a queen) in the split a week after making it.  But it is clear that the split is growing too fast, and has brood so recent that it can only be explained by the presence of a queen, while the donor colony also appears now to have some supercedure cells.
Time will tell how this all plays out, and you can count on a fall update to fill you in.

Meanwhile, I got my first glimpse of wax moth damage.  Not in my own hives, thank goodness, but at work.  I was pulling up a couple of short lengths of floorboards in an apartment we're working in, and found this:

You can see the hole the boards were pulled from to the right.  The first things I saw when I removed them were rows of very old, brittle honeycomb. Then I looked at the bottom of the boards and saw the cocoons.  Wax moths are often found in hives, but a healthy hive will evict or manage their population.  If they take hold and lay eggs, though, they can do immense damage, burrowing through comb and destroying the colony.  (The cocoons are the rice krispie-looking things.)  How about that?