Musings while medicated…

It’s been over a week since I traded in my last original hip for a new sleeker model. Not that anyone but an airport security officer can tell. I don’t think I weigh any less. I’m still wearing the same size pants. However, for those who have observed my gimpy gait since I got the first hip, the doc appears to have evened things out. I no longer ga-lump ga-lump with a side to side sway. I sashay with a sophisticated soft sock shuffle, gliding the walker through some indoor laps: kitchen to hallway to music room with a return to the kitchen and a victory loop around the island. The grunting with each step has been replaced by little phoo-phoo cleansing breaths. Me and my walker…the Little Engine That Could.

This morning, after two good cups of coffee,a shower, and a load of laundry spinning in the washer, I came downstairs to enjoy breakfast on the screen porch. What a good start to the day, you say. That pretty much WAS my day. Aside from some laps, the rest of the day involved resting on the glider, sometimes with my eyes open.

I thought of having some thoughts. People have been known to have creative spurts while on narcotics. Take Ethan Allen Poe, for example. Or was that Edgar Allen Poe? Yeah, so thinking was a bit of a challenge. A wisp of a thought would float by and I could almost grasp it. Or…I could stare at clouds with my eyes closed. It was a good day for that too.

I do have goals for this summer. I plan to see how many things I can accomplish without actually doing any of it myself. Yesterday was very productive. John cleaned the dryer vent AND I had the piano tuned. The piano and the dryer vent were equally overdue for attention. The dryer was potentially more dangerous, but the piano tuning was not without risk. Listening to the tuning was like being pulled into an upright position by my hair. As each string stretched its way toward proper pitch, each hair on my head felt pulled tighter and tighter upward.

Why did I think this would be a good idea while recovering from surgery? Because the piano needed to be tuned in order to have rehearsal for our singing group at our house. And why did I think I’d be in any condition to host rehearsal? Because I knew I’d be too incapacitated to drive to rehearsal.

Here’s a thought…I can almost grasp it…THE BIONIC WOMAN WAS A TV SHOW. SHE NEVER REALLY EXISTED. Last time I noticed, the actress was doing commercials for the Sleep Number Bed.

Why do I keep thinking I can do all this stuff? And then I think replacement parts will enable me to keep on doing all this stuff. Joint replacement is a lucrative field because it has a ready-made market of Superwomen who are wearing out. We need bionics. Get a new joint and be better than ever. Your employer and every one else can continue to expect you to perform beyond normal human endurance.

And the Little Engine said, “Phoo-phoo-phooey. Take a nap.” So I did. On my Sleep Number Bed. And when I woke up, I felt ready to face tomorrow’s challenge and the real reason I need replacement parts: Super MomMom will venture to the hospital tomorrow to meet her newest grand babe.

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Busy as…

images[5]With the school year heading into its final stretch, I’m feeling as busy as a bee.  And I’m feeling about as  productive as the honeybees in our yard.  Oh wait, we don’t have any honeybees in our yard.  The 44,000 bees we ordered from Georgia haven’t arrived yet.  We have carpenter bees in droves, doing their destructive thing and also dive-bombing me while I try to weed the gill-over-the-ground from snaking all over the oregano.  Between the carpenter bees and my limited flexibility (new hip #2 coming in a mere six weeks!), I didn’t get much weeding done this weekend.  I gave up the bending and pulling to sit in a sunny spot to watch Mr. Beekeeper clean the empty beehives with his new power washer.

After a good nap, I pondered lesson plans.  Ugh.  At this point in my career I should be on auto-pilot like a few teachers I know.  Alas, my ESL prep is new this year and requires actual thought.  And my juniors and seniors in French are heading into AP season, so my French IV-V lessons have to try to sync with the craziness of who’s in class on which day.  I try to accommodate them with a more or less self-paced unit, but they will try to whine and complain about their AP tests…which will activate my hyper-angry button.  They have been warned.  Someone tried to pull the AP card last week and I went ballistic.  You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom which normally is so full of laughter that the math teacher next door can’t imagine what is so funny about French class.

(Warning to pretty much anyone in my vicinity: don’t complain to me about anything.  My pain tolerance does not allow for whining. Exceptions are made for my pregnant daughters, especially the one who is teaching full time up until her due date while also moving into a new house the week of her spring concert.  She’s allowed to whine.)

I took a break from my meager attempt at lesson planning to get more familiar with my new school-issued iPad.  Teachers were given iPads in order to explore the possibilities of teaching via tablet.  Training is coming in the new school year.  For now, we’re supposed to figure the thing out.  “Just play with it,” we were told.

I started out very professionally, looking for word-processing apps and wondering if they were worth exploring.  Then I wandered into French apps and downloaded one freebie from a site that I regularly use online.  After that, I let the iPad inform me on new apps.  Well, the free app of the week was a clever little game called Bee Leader.  Since it was free, I downloaded it and got sucked into its little world.  I am pretty sure that my seven year old grandson would have caught on to it quicker, but I got the hang of it.  The goal is to collect as much pollen, nectar, honey, and  bee buddies as you can before the sun goes down..while also avoiding nasties like spiders, wasps, and little black rain clouds.  If you smash into little alarm clocks you gain more minutes in your day.   Maybe you only have to touch the alarm  clock to gain the minutes, but the way my bee was flying, everything got smashed.  He was buzzing through his day like a maniac.  I could relate.

I don’t really want to fly through this week like a maniac.  I’d rather be a calm, focused, productive little bee, intent on the task at hand. And, wow, I could really use some of those time stretching alarm clocks placed strategically throughout my day.  Is there an app for that?

The Chair

When  parents down-size and elderly relatives pass away, stuff gets scattered and settles into the homes of different family members.  Pretty much every room in my house contains something that originally came from someone else’s house, from the lamp and mirror in my office to the china cabinet in the dining room.  Once in awhile someone in the family, someone who has been over a bazillion times, will say, “Hey, didn’t that (fill-in-the-blank) used to be in (fill-in-another-blank)’s house?”

Last week we were gathered at my sister’s for Easter dinner.  We’ve all been there a bazillion times.  This time, a group of siblings were dining in the music room.  It’s not like we’ve never been in the music room; we just never ate there before.  Someone looked toward the corner of the room and noticed the chair.

“Hey, look, it’s The Chair.”

The Chair

The Chair

Lo and behold, there was The Chair that used to be in the living room of our home before our parents downsized to a condo, oh, twenty years ago.  It’s been in my sister’s house ever since.  Somehow we had never paid any attention to it until this very moment.

The Chair, in its pre-redo floral slipcovered days, was the setting for one of my earliest memories.  My mother sat in it holding my brand new baby sister.  My brothers and I sat on the sofa waiting our turn to come meet her.  I, at age four the eldest of four , went first. Then my three year old brother came forward, followed by my two year old brother, and finally my one year old brother, who promptly slapped baby sister in the face.  That’s why it’s one of my earliest memories.  Who’d forget a scene like that?

"I did not slap my sister."

“I did not slap my sister.”

"Trust me.  I did not slap my sister."

“You can trust this face. I did not slap my sister.”

"Huh? What?"

“Huh? What?”

"Don't blame me.  I wasn't born yet."

“Don’t blame me. I wasn’t born yet.”

The Chair.  You’d think we had only had one chair in our house, the way we preface it with a definite article.

One of the in-laws commented, “It’s in such great shape.  Did Theresa have it redone?”

“Oh, no,” we replied.  “It’s in great shape because no one ever sat in it.”

Why did no one ever sit in it?  Because it had been redone.  Of all the pieces that my parents gained when my grandparents downsized, The Chair was one piece that my mother actually had reupholstered.  The other pieces (two golden-clad loveseats come to mind) were adopted and used to death.  I’m  guessing that those were the pieces my mother hated and wanted desperately to replace.  The loveseats must have been really good furniture, though, because it took seven kids years to destroy them.   The Chair, however, reupholstered in white (what was my mother thinking?), was now new and was not to be soiled by our grimy little bodies.

So we did not sit in it.

Well, ok, sometimes we sat in it.  On rare occasions.  So rare, that people piped up with stories about The Chair.

One sister-in-law: “I sat in the chair once holding Danny when he was a baby.” (Danny is now in his late twenties.)

Did he profess his love in The Chair?

Did he profess his love in The Chair?

The Chair figured prominently in some stories about wooing spouses.  In the one story that I dare share, my brother-in-law told my sister he loved her for the first time in The Chair.  She tried to re-enact it.  She made him sit in the chair.  She sat in his lap.

“We were sitting in this chair the first time you told me you loved me.”

“We were?”

“Well, you did it in sign language.”

“I did?”

Moment killed.

Did he forget that he professed his love in The Chair?

Did he forget that he professed his love in The Chair?

Every sibling then sat in the chair and we took photos.  Proof that we had sat in The Chair. And now I remember the biggest reason we didn’t sit in The Chair.  It’s not that comfortable.

It's a good chair for a Grand Duchess, though.

It’s a good chair for a Grand Duchess, though.

Life-long learning…

Teachers are constantly astounded at how much there is to learn.  We are so surprised that, some days, it’s what draws us to the classroom.  Other days, it makes us want to hide under our warm comfy covers until summer.

What lack of knowledge will we face today?

This past week, the teachers at my school were encouraged to work out a professional growth plan.  What courses, conferences, seminars, videos, books, and what-not do we need to maintain certification and/or grow professionally?  This is, of course, in addition to mastering the interactive whiteboards, the new computer operating system, and the many features of Edline, while simultaneously test-driving a new grading software package as we await the imminent arrival of Ipads so that we can teach ourselves how to teach electronically with one-to-one student/teacher interactivity.

imagesCAC2OJ3BMeanwhile, we also teach actual content lessons.  To teenagers.  With attention spans the length of a tweet.  The big excitement in French class recently was finding out that the Academie Française had banned the word “hashtag”  (that’s the symbol #, known to us old people as the pound sign or to even older people as the number sign).  The students came running to me with the news:  “Madame!!!  The Academie Française has banned the word ‘hashtag’!!!!!  It’s now called a mot-dièse!” 

Every once in a while we have discovery learning moments like this.  The rest of the time, we discover amazing things that the students don’t know.  Like how to operate the digital recorders.

I have a classroom set of digital recorders for recording student oral work.  I got them over ten years ago, thanks to a computer-teacher colleague who found them cheap on eBay.  Although a few of the recorders have died, I still have enough for them to be a pretty great classroom tool.  Except, the students can’t figure out how to use them.  If the device had an intuitive circle in the center or a screen to pinch and slide, the students would be ok.  As it is, there are buttons labeled with words: ON, OFF, RECORD, PLAY, STOP.

All through French I,  the same questions come at me: “Mrs. Harp, how do you turn it on?” (Press ON.)  “Madame, how do you record?” (Press RECORD.)  “What do we do when we’re finished?”  (Press STOP.) Then in French II: “Madame, I can’t remember how to use these.”  (Sigh.)

Alas, my antique technology does not compare with what the drama teacher learned at school this week.  While rehearsing with costumes for the school play, she discovered that the male actors did not know how to put on an overcoat.

Man in overcoat

Man in overcoat

Later, we shared this incident with the incredibly brilliant older brother of the lead actor.  His response: “What’s an overcoat?”

“You don’t know what an overcoat is?”

“I know trench coats.  They are light and khaki-colored.  And I know pea-coats.  I don’t know overcoats.”

Well, why would a young man know overcoats?  They never wear coats.  They exit the climate controlled comfort of a car to dash a few yards into a climate controlled building–in polo shirts in twenty degree weather with a windchill of minus three.

“It is scientifically proven,”said one shorts and flip-flops in winter student to his Spanish teacher mom, “that going outside without a coat will not make you sick.”

The teachers’ reply (in chorus): “But if the car breaks down and you are  stuck by the side of the road, you will die.”

The overcoat-challenged actors were baffled by the difficulties of putting the coat on over a suit jacket.  Clueless as to the technique of gripping the jacket cuff while sliding the arm into the coat, the boys found their jacket sleeves bunched up around their elbows.

” I can’t move my arms!”

"I can't put my arms down!" from A Christmas Story.

“I can’t put my arms down!” from A Christmas Story.

After teaching the boys how to put on an overcoat, the drama teacher had to  teach them how to take one off.  No, it does not fall into a puddle of fabric on the floor.  For the scene in question, the coat is to be folded gently shoulder to shoulder and draped over the back of the chair.

I can’t wait to see the school play next weekend, just to watch the boys put on overcoats. And someone should give the drama teacher an award for teaching life-skills.  With all that these students still need to learn, they are going to have to live a very long life.

As for all the things I’m going to learn this week, hiding under the covers sounds really inviting.

Plodding and Stomping Toward Spring

The clocks are set forward and my sleep schedule is skewed.  The delight of coming home to hours of sunlight will not have me springing forward into my day.  I will be staying up too late for the next week and then feeling morose when the sunbeam that had finally started coming in my window to wake me delays its entrance until I’ve left the house.  Sigh.

But springtime is a time of optimism.  After the week of the no show snow-quester, the balmy weather this weekend was exhilarating.  It was a good weekend for getting outside.  If I hadn’t been conserving energy for an overnighter with our toddler granddaughter, I would have attacked the yard. Still, even with little Emily en route to our house, I couldn’t resist pulling out the rake and at least poking around the gardens.

The daffodils are popping up so I was sure I’d unrake some Spring.  I was on a search for chives.  Even though I need to replenish them this year, I’m still on the lookout for the first sprigs for my eggs.  Nothing yet.  They really don’t peek until St. Patrick’s Day, another week from now.  I raked their bed anyway.

Crocus.  If the daffodils are popping, shouldn’t the crocus be hiding under the leaves?   I raked the crocus/black-eyed susan bed and found nothing but dirt and some mole trails.  ACK!  Moles!!!  I thought that bed was safe because it is surrounded  by sidewalk.  Errrrgg.  Now I don’t know if they have totally destroyed the bed or if I’m just peeking early than usual because of the early daylight savings time and a balmy weekend.  It’s not officially spring yet.  The susans should not be up yet anyway, but have the moles destroyed the crocus?

In the fall, a colleague of mine gave me a mole “device.”  If I call it a mole killer, someone will get weepy over the poor little critters.  So I won’t call it a mole killer.  It’s a “device” for dealing with moles.  I will say, though, that the “device” looks like it was invented by Edward Scissorhands.  When I brought it home from school (It never entered the school, by the way.  We transferred the “device” to my car in the parking lot, although it could have been a very effective class management tool.)…anyway, I gave it very carefully to my husband who was ready to nonchalantly toss it into the outer mudroom.

Some people don’t know we have an “outer mudroom.”  They’ve seen the mudroom and thought that was bad enough.  The “outer mudroom” is the room beyond the mudroom door.  It is supposed to be the place to put the stuff that people who have garages store where the car is supposed to go.  Are you with me?  Because I’m getting lost–which is what happens to anything that goes into the “outer mudroom.”

John was about to toss the mole “device” into the outer mudroom when I started “talking” to him:

“You can’t throw that thing in there!!! It will cut someone’s hand off!”

So he put it in a  box.  And tossed the box into the outer mudroom.  I would not be able to find it today if my life depended on it.  He will claim that he knows exactly where it is.  But in case he doesn’t and something should happen to my husband and me, I’m hereby alerting dear grown children who would have to go through our possessions that there is a mole “device” in a box in the mudroom.  Somewhere.

We have another ten days until the official start of Spring.  Ten days for the crocus and chives to present themselves.  While I wait, I’ll stomp on mole trails and try to get Someone to activate a critter management plan.

March mudness

Unless you’re into basketball, is there anything to like about March?  St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps.  You  have to wonder, though, if St. Patrick’s day was really originally in March or if the Irish just wanted to bless us all with an official drinking holiday in this most dreary of months.

Many people hate the month of January.  It represents diets and Christmas bills.  But January isn’t so bad–by the time we wake up to fact that we’re in it, we’re through it.  February gives us Valentine’s Day and a 3-day Presidents Day weekend. But March. Ugh.  Overcome with sunlight deprivation, we’re desperate for spring to come.  We can almost feel the sunbeams of spring vacation.  The garden is thinking about waking up.  And then what happens?  A snow forecast.

I’m not in the mood for snow anymore.  I’m in the mood for green. I want to peek into the herb garden and see little shoots of chives volunteering themselves to flavor my scrambled egg.  I want to rake away some leaves and discover happy little crocus.  Actually, this year I’d be happy just to see some sunshine.

It will snow this week.  I’m sure of it.  I took my car through the car wash.  It is shiny and clean; therefore,  it’s all ready for road salt. (It has already been baptized with bird-poop, but the windshield wipers took care of that.)

My aversion to March snows goes back to our early days at Maywood.  We had a couple of brutal winters in the 90’s.  Snow and ice in February was difficult, but snow in March was maddening.  Snow in March melts faster than snow in February.  This is not a problem unless you live on a dirt road.  Dirt roads turn to mud in March.

When we first moved out here to the Hereford Zone, to a property that had been used only as a summer retreat, all signs of asphalt stopped almost half a mile from the house.  At a certain point along the road, the county stopped paving or maintaining it.  The road continued as a  dirt road past our nearest neighbor’s house, and gravel began at the Maywood property line.

One soggy March, an 8-inch snow storm melted in one day.  Fifty years of hand-shoveled gravel sank in mud beneath the tires of our minivan.  The dirt road section was even worse.  The sled run of iceruts where we had aimed the car wheels in February turned into a sloppy mud pit.  The mud was so deep it threw the tires off balance.

I took the car to a Mr. Tire for a balancing and alignment.  They put the minivan up on the lift with mud dripping from it.

“Where on earth have you been?” they asked.

“Home,” I replied.

So it’s been twenty years and I really should get over it.  The county has paved all the way to the Maywood property line.  We added asphalt millings on top of the fifty years of gravel, and we paved our driveway.  It’s really ok to drive here in March.   But March, with the gray-brown woods and green-ish brown grass, is still the color of mud.  I’d be in favor of using next week’s time change to leap right into April.

That said, I’m a teacher and will never say no to a snow day.  So if we’re to have snow, bring it on.  If it’s to be a sloppy, gloppy wintry-mix of snowy rain, students beware.  The Ides of March can make teachers crazy.

Hey, Murphy, pass the hydraulic fluid

Q: What does one do the Sunday between football play-offs and the Super Bowl?

A: The things that didn’t get done while lolling on the sofa quaffing beers every Sunday since August.

One could watch TV–there’s a Barry Manilow themed ice-skating show on.  That’ll get a man outside doing manly things quicker than you can say, well, Barry Manilow.  It’s bad enough getting sucked into Downton Abbey, but ice-skating?  One has to draw the line somewhere.  And this is why Maywood Man is outside with his vintage Maywood equipment doing Maywood tasks.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

Best alternate source of heat is the woodstove.

It’s good timing for a by-week from football.  Last week, just as the arctic chill sent Maryland temperatures into the teens, the furnace conked out.  The new furnace is being installed tomorrow, as the temperatures begin to climb this week toward the 50’s.  It hasn’t been too painful, though.  Like NASA, we have engineered redundancy around here.  We have two furnaces.  Bedroom doors stayed open while the downstairs furnace worked to heat the whole house.  The wood stove supplemented the downstairs furnace.  At night, we shut bedroom doors and kept quite comfortably warm with space heaters.

Murphy's Law #658--If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn't have to give up hers, your room will become too hot to need a heater.

Murphy’s Law #658–If you buy an extra heater for the classroom so that your assistant principal doesn’t have to give up hers, your classroom will be too hot to need a heater.

But we are now out of firewood.  Well, not out of wood.  We’re just out of pre-cut pieces ready to toss in the wood-stove. This afternoon, I type to the soothing buzz of the chain-saw in the “lumber yard.”  Tonight, I look forward to watching Downton Abbey in real time by a roaring fire.  Maywood Man will probably fall asleep from this afternoon’s exertions.  Maybe–just to get a rise out of him– I’ll jump up periodically and scream, “Come on, Flacco!” like our toddler grandson John.

It's a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen.   You think I'm going out in the  cold to take a picture of a tractor?

It’s a fuzzy picture because I took it through a screen. You think I’m going out in the cold to take a picture of a tractor?

Big John would have cut firewood yesterday, but he was wrapped up with tractor repairs.  Well, of course.  Or as the French say, Mais oui.  Murphy’s Law #342:  The furnace will conk out when the temperature nose dives into the teens.  Murphy’s Law #572: The tractor will break down if it snows.

It snowed.

Not a lot.  I got a two-hour school delay for snow on Thursday.  Friday I got a two-hour early dismissal.  Mere dustings…just enough to cause massive traffic delays around the Baltimore-D.C area.  Just enough to tell the tractor to break down.

What this time?  Points and capacitor.  Don’t ask me what that is; I thought it was related to spark plugs.  According to John, they work together to provide spark to the spark plugs.  (I knew the spark plugs were connected somehow.  I’m learning bee-lingo; I have not mastered tractor mechanics.)  I suggested that he call before heading up to Shrewsbury–to avoid Murphy’s Law #690:  If you drive to Shrewsbury, they won’t have the part you need.  Ah, sure enough, he ended up driving to Hanover to get the part he needed.  While in Hanover, he looked at hydraulic fluid and thought, “Nah, I’ve got enough.”

Murphy’s Law # 691: If you think you have enough hydraulic fluid at home, you will discover that you do not.

This is where I find myself not believing that I’m actually saying what I’m saying:

“Dear, maybe we should just always keep a supply of hydraulic fluid on hand.”

Today, before bonding with his chain saw, Maywood Man took a ride to Shewsbury for hydraulic fluid.  The tractor is now ready to go.   Tomorrow the furnace will be purring and the firewood will be stacked high on the porch.

Pottery Barn wickless candles--great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Pottery Barn wickless candles–great for ambience but useless as a heat source.

Dare I predict balmy weather in Baltimore for the Super Bowl?  I’m not going to get cocky.   A quick check at weather tells me that the furnace could be delayed by ice tomorrow.

Murphy’s Law #343: Ice storms will hit the day you schedule a furnace installation.

Now I have a real dilemma.  Do I wish for a day off school due to weather?  Or do I wish for clear weather and a furnace?

What I wish for is to watch the Raven’s win the Super Bowl in a nice warm house.  And Murphy is not invited.202380576976815018_hG09CAUH_b[1]

BSI: Bee Scene Investigator

(Note and disclaimer:  The following post might actually contain factual information relevant to beekeepers.)

The bee scene to be investigated

The bee scene to be investigated

All the bees are dead and I want to know why.  I want to autopsy the bees.  Technically, since they are not human  beings, I want to dissect the bees.  But Mr. Beekeeper husband is feeling really sad about these bees.  He feels like he failed to take care of his girls.  We, therefore, are treating his loss with all due respect.  Autopsies are in order.

I  personally can’t wait to dissect…I mean, autopsy…the bees.  It takes me back to the dissection unit of my 10th grade biology class.  I had really squeamish lab partners, so I ended up pretty good at dissecting by the end of the unit.   By the time we got to the pithed frog I felt like I was doing surgery.  It was cool, even though the frog died.

John doesn’t quite share my enthusiasm.  While I set up my equipment, he gets out the build-your-own-volcano kit that Harper got for Christmas.  And he and Harper later go feed a pinkie mouse to the snake.  That apparently is more interestsing than cutting open honeybees.   Nevertheless, John brings a frame containing dead bees up from the basement.

Kathy Harp, BSI

Kathy Harp, BSI

Although the bright flourescent light in the basement is better for microscope work than the warm cozy sleep-inducing glow in the log-framed kitchen, it’s cold in the basement.  So, once again, the kitchen becomes the staging area.  I gather my supplies:

microscope (We need 20x-50x.   The one we have says 1x-2x but John swears it’s 100-200 because he researched the model number when he bought it–at work–from General Electric.)

cork (Plenty of those at our house!  We have a whole jar of wine bottle corks saved for what?  My sister-in-law uses hers to anchor pillar candles in sconces.  I am using mine to anchor honeybees with pins.)

pins (Jos A Bank still pins men’s dress shirts, so I have a bunch of pins.  It’s not like I ever use them for sewing.)

razor blade (No, I do not take apart a safety razor.  John actually has blades in his shop.)

The Beekeeper's Bible (Richard Jones)

The Beekeeper’s Bible (Richard Jones & Sharon Sweeny-Lynch)

Now it is time to actually dissect the bee.  Umm…what am I supposed to do exactly?  It was Richard Jones & Sharon Sweeney-Lynch’s The Beekeeper’s Bible (Stewart, Tabori & Chang,  2011) that put this idea in my head in the first place.  It tells me to pin the bee onto the cork at an angle for better viewing and then cut off the bee’s head and thoracic collar.  This requires a little more research because The Beekeeper’s Bible does not provide me with critical information, like how the heck one finds the thoracic collar of a bee.

Dave Cushman’s instructions provide some clarity.                                        (http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/acarine_diagnosis.html)

This technique can also be used for interrogating the bees.  The flashlight is particularly effective.

This technique can also be used for interrogating the bees. The flashlight is particularly effective.

Oh, the cork is cut at an angle.  The bee is pinned to the cork.  The cut is made between the first and second sets of legs.  The thoracic collar, which is to be pealed off with tweezers, is nicely highlighted in red.

This is where French teaching and beekeeping intersect--the guillotine.

This is where French teaching and beekeeping intersect–the guillotine.

Minor problem.  The thoracic collars of my bees are not highlighted in red.  And, second minor problem, the tweezers are not official dissecting forceps and are a little clumsy to work with.  So, even if I think I know where the thoracic collar is, trying to remove it to get a better look at trachea pretty much rips the bee apart.  Not that I have any lack of bees to experiment with.  I decide, for the sake of my own sanity, to forego the removal of the thoracic collar and just see what I can see.

And just what am I supposed to see?  I  have no idea.  Dave Cushman has some great pictures, but they are black and white illustrations.   I end up at youtube.  Jamie Ellis’ video is very helpful. http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/resources/Trachaelmites.shtml

I really have no idea what I'm showing you here.

I really have no idea what I’m showing you here.

Here I actually see video images of what healthy bee insides look like.  Our bees don’t look anything Dr. Ellis’ bees.  I’m thinking maybe our bees have been dead just a little too long.  Either the autopsies are strongly conclusive of mite destruction or they are completely inconclusive of anything.  I lean toward the latter.

Do stale bee bodies mean the end of our investigation?  Not at all.  The presentation of bees in the hive tells us something.  The bees are not as clumped together as we would have expected.  That could be symptomatic of erratic behavior induced  by tracheal mites.  More importantly, we think back to the behaviors of the hives since last spring.

Hive D never did get off to a good start.  It never thrived and was the first hive to die in the fall.  John had thought that it was a problem with weak queens and so he requeened some of the hives.  He didn’t realize that the weakness of the hive in the spring could also have been due to tracheal mites.   Requeening was not a bad idea.  However, according to Dr. Ellis’ report, it would have been more successful with queens who were resistant to tracheal mites.  This supports our current thinking of buying Minnesota Hygienics in the spring.

Do these wings look weird to you?

Do these wings look weird to you?

There is one really obvious symptom of tracheal mites that we have observed but were clueless as to its significance:  bees walking around the beeyard.  More specifically, bees with odd wings walking around the beeyard.  Bees don’t walk places.  They fly.  Walking bees, particularly if they walk up a blade of grass and are unable to take off in flight, are not normal.  We found this phenomenon fascinating.  In hindsight, those are the bees I should have been dissecting.  Those were the bees afflicted with tracheal mites.  Instead, we watched doomed bees wander around on the ground while we sipped chardonnay and beer, oblivious to the knowledge that the doomed bees’ sisters were infected as well.

Oh, how callous we were!  Oh, how expensive a lesson we learned.   We’re like detectives who went out for a drink with the prime suspect and let him get away. And now there are bee bodies everywhere.  Really.  John dropped a few coming and going to the basement.  He thinks he picked them all up, but he didn’t.  The evidence speaks for itself.

Evidence

Evidence

Disaster Strikes the Hives

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A sad sight…a lost hive

The bees are dead.  All of them.

John is distressed.  In the fall, he loaded each hive with fondant (bee candy made from sugar-water) for them to eat.  He insulated their hives.  They should have been warm and cozy with plenty to tide them over til spring.  This past week, when he was home on a warmish January day, John visited the hives to check on their fondant supply.  He discovered all the bees dead with plenty of honey and fondant still in the hives.  Many of the dead bees had fallen to the bottoms of the hives, but small groups still lay in clusters, faces into the frames.  It appears to be a classic case of starvation death by cold.

Huh, you say?  No, it was not Mrs.  Peacock in the library with a candlestick.

Bees maintain a constant temperature in their hive around 96 degrees.  In the winter, they do this by clustering together in a huddle and vibrating their muscles, kind of like when we shiver.  As the bees on the outside get cold they move inward and others take their place.  (It reminds me of geese flying in the V formation, who take turns in the lead and fall back when they need a break.)  If the temperature gets too cold, the bee colony won’t be able to maintain the proper temperature.  Or, if the bee colony is lacking in critical mass, they won’t have enough bees to generate enough heat.

Capped honey on the left and a cluster of dead bees on the right

Capped honey on the left and a cluster of dead bees on the right

If bees get too cold, they will stick together to conserve heat and to protect any brood in the hive rather than move over to get food. So, a cold cluster of bees will actually starve to death, even though there is food nearby.

Our bees had honey and they had fondant.  They had  been eating the fondant.  They must have gotten cold.

Why?  It hasn’t been terribly cold here.  We understood, a couple of years  back, when the bees did not survive Snowmageddon.  That was an extreme winter.  We had a little bit of snow last month, but overall the weather has been rather mild.  So we are confused.

One hive died before Thanksgiving.  That was disappointing, but since that hive had never been very strong, it was not too surprising.  The other three hives went into winter very strong.  All three hives had young queens who were very productive through the summer.  To lose those hives is very unexpected.

One current working theory is that the bees we have been buying from Georgia are not suited to Maryland winters.  Georgia is a popular source for bees because the mild southern winter means that bees are ready to be shipped north earlier in the spring than bees from, say, Ohio.  An earlier shipment means Maryland beekeepers can have bees taking fuller advantage of the spring blooming.  It means getting more honey that first year.

Another theory is that something caused a massive loss of adult bees in the late fall.  If many bees died off, there would not be enough bees to keep the hive warm.   The usual suspects for such a die-off are the varroa mite and the tracheal mite.

There is evidence in this photo.  Wish I knew what it was.

There is evidence in this photo. Wish I knew what it was.

Mr. Beekeeper did not notice evidence of mites.  And Mr. Beekeeper has tossed away the dead bees that were lying in the bottom of the hive.  Will the remaining few dead bees on the frames reveal anything?  Were they infected with anything or just innocent victims of the cold?

Do we need to do some bee autopsies?  I may be a French teacher, but I was really good at dissecting in my 10th grade biology class.  Give me some tiny tools.  Get me the microscope.  I want to KNOW!

I had no idea when John starting doing beekeeping that I would have to study bee forensics.  We have a mystery on our hands.  We need to solve it.  Buying new bees every year is a very expensive way to get honey.  After four years of this, we were rather hoping to be able to start expanding the number of hives.  Instead, we find ourselves with a lot of beekeeping equipment but no bees.  Clearly, something needs to change.

Last October when we went to the Lima Bean Festival in Cape May, we got talking to a beekeeper from New Jersey.  He tipped us off to his preferred bee– the Minnesota Hygienic.  He has 150 hives and has never lost a hive of Minnesota Hygienics over the winter. They have the advantage of being bred in a more northern climate and (this is the hygienic part) they keep a very clean hive which greatly reduces their susceptibility to the varroa and tracheal mites.

It looks like John will be spending the winter researching a good (northern) source of Minnesota Hygienics.  I will carry on my forensic research on the probable cause of death of the Maywood bees.

I’m not Santa

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I’m not Santa.  I have played his representative at this household for …um…thirty years, but I suddenly find that my term is over.  All my girls have their own little ones and, hence, have assumed the role of Santa for themselves.  And all my girls have their own guys who are responsible for ensuring Christmas happiness and long life for themselves by buying the appropriate girly-pleasing gifts for them.

I am off the hook.CIMG7567

WOO HOO!!!

What does this mean exactly?  Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I spend less on Christmas.  Relinquishing the role of Santa corresponds with assuming the role of grandmother–to an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.  (Insert smiley face.)  Consequently, even though I had said that the grands were getting only one thing, I still zipped over to the Hereford Pharmacy to buy some cute little stuffed critters.  I just couldn’t bear to give them each just a plastic thing. For toddlers you  get a lot of bang for your buck with plastic toys, but on Christmas Day, when their naps schedules are all messed up, they need something cuddly to calm them down.  They do.  Trust me.  I’m a professional.   I’ve been doing this Santa thing a loooooooooong time.

There are categories of Santa presents.  If I’ve told you this before, bear with me.  It’s just that it’s important.  Pathetic little tears on Christmas are at stake.   Categories start simple.  Little ones don’t even know Christmas is coming, so lights and boxes to play with are enough.  Soon, very soon, categories become essential.

  • Category 1:  Something to do.  The gift has to keep them  busy for at least part of Christmas Day, and preferably days thereafter.  That is why six year old boys are given 1000 piece Lego sets.  Anything smaller will be assembled in less than twenty minutes.  This could also be called the technology category–Ipads, Ipods, Iphones, I-whatevers.  I..I..I… (me…me…me…?)
  • Category 2:  Something to cuddle.  For little ones, it (hopefully) soothes them through a disrupted nap schedule.  For older ones,  it (hopefully) soothes them through the disappointments of the day.  I failed to fill this category the year my oldest stopped believing in Santa.  She went to bed in tears because she did not get a teddy bear.  How was I supposed to know that it was her test item–the only item on her list that she told no one but Santa?  This category continues to be important through the hormonally treacherous teen years.
  • Category 3:  Something to wear.  Initially this is more a gift to the parents than to the child.  Once the school years begin, it is really important that the child have something new to wear back to school in January, preferably something that is “cool”-whatever “cool” happens to be that year.  Underwear technically fits this category but, for lack of coolness, does not count. Clothing continues to be significant until the child is old enough to work at, say, White House Black Market or Loft.  Once that happens, there is no reason to compete with their hefty discount.  They should be buying you clothes at that point.
  • Category 4:  Something to take to bed.  This can be combined with Category 2.  But usually this involves pjs.  You can’t go to bed with a Lego set or a bicycle.  The perfect Christmas Day ends with warm snuggly pajamas.
  • Category 5:  A surprise.  It’s no fun to only get what you asked for.  That reflects a lack of creativity on Santa’s part.  Some children make this a very difficult category to fill by providing extensive wish lists.   A certain six year old I know thinks he didn’t miss a thing on his list this year.  Responsible adults in the family informed him that even Santa doesn’t have a TV in his room.

    This list is comprehensive but not complete...Santa must fill in missing categories.

    This list is comprehensive but not complete…Santa must fill in missing categories.

So, since I’m no longer Santa, I don’t have to worry about categories.  I am not responsible for their Christmas happiness.  They are responsible for their own families.  And they have men in their lives to fulfill their deepest longings.  So all I have to do is get them a present.  The happiness of the day does not depend on what I get them.  What a relief!  If Christmas Day is a gift-giving disaster, it won’t be my fault.

I repeat the mantra to myself: Not the Santa, not the Santa, not the Santa…  It’s liberating, like when my daughters got married and I was no longer responsible for them.

Then why the extra trip out to buy stuffed animals?  Santa-emeritus just knows.

Santa from Wanamakers in Philly circa 1960

Santa from Wanamakers in Philly circa 1960