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Bees!

I have been enamored with the idea of keeping bees for ages. I don’t remember when it started – maybe when we studied bees as a unit study when I was a kid? Basically I just think bees are cool and that it would be fun to have some to watch.

In the definitely hippy leaning birth class we took, at the last class the fathers were encouraged to make something for the mother and give it to her in a “mother blessing” ceremony that included foot washing. Sorta weird, but the upshot of it was that Ken made me a beehive (totally showing up the other 6 or so fathers, by the way. Not that we’re comparing.) I was totally surprised!

It’s a top bar hive, which is a different setup than most commercial beekeepers use – the rectangular boxes (Langstroth hives). It’s basically easier to build, so cheaper to get into, but you don’t get honey as efficiently. If you’re doing it for fun like us you don’t need hundreds of pound of honey anyway. Some people like it because it’s a bit more “natural” and more mimics what bees do in nature. I like it because there’s an observation window (The blue painted area in the pictures below) and pulling out the bars to inspect the hive doesn’t disturb the bees as much.

The way it works is that the bees build comb hanging from the triangular bars that make up the top of the hive – you can see some installed and some laying on top at an angle. Yes, that’s baby. Don’t worry, the bees hadn’t yet taken up residence and she wasn’t yet rolling.
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Here’s a view down inside. You can see the entrance holes on the right. The board on the left is movable so you can add more bars as the hive grows.

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This shows how the roof is hinged and the hive is on a stand that will hopefully deter skunks and raccoons. I’m afraid if we have a bear wander through who wants it we’re just out of luck. Hopefully they stay up in the mountains.

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Here’s the bees as they arrived in their package. I say “they arrived” like they showed up by UPS or something, but no, a local guy drives all the way to California to pick up like 4000 of these packages and drives them all the way back for beekeepers in Arizona and New Mexico. We had to drive about 35 minutes to meet him to pick up our bees. (Not bad, from what I’ve seen on the internet – some people drive for like 6 hours to meet a bee package). It was a Friday morning, so “we” was me and Anna. It was a bit nerve wracking picking up and transporting 4 lbs of bees in the same car as a 5 month old, but there was a very nice lady at the pickup who volunteered to hold Anna while I actually got the package, and all the bees stayed back in the trunk happily on the drive home. Installing them was definitely interesting (when Anna finally decided to take a decent nap). I’ve seen it described as pouring a thick liquid like oil, and it’s just like that except that the bees are much less dense. They didn’t seem too perturbed by it, they were just happy that the queen was still there with them.

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The bees have been in-house for just over 2 weeks now, and you can actually see that they’ve built quite a bit of comb in that time. Hopefully that means that we’ve got a healthy queen who’s laying lots of eggs that will hatch into new bees in the next couple of weeks. They’re certainly busy flying out and bringing in loads of pollen when the weather is nice. Usually the side of the comb is completely covered with bees, but today it happened to be exposed when I peeked through the observation window, so I took a picture.

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I haven’t yet felt comfortable enough to bring the camera down while I’m actually opening the hive – I’m busy not panicking and trying to avoid squishing the little ladies. I’m still nervous, but in the two times I’ve had the hive actually open I’ve only seen one bee try to sting me and awesome bee shirt/hat and gloves protected me just fine. Maybe sometime in the next few months I can build up the courage to take some in-hive pictures.

Keeping bees seems to be a sort of heartbreaking thing. At the local beekeeper’s club meeting, the average from all the data they’ve collected is that 50% of hives make it through the winter. So… We should probably get at least one more hive to avoid having to buy a package on average every other spring, and to have a place to put our ladies if they grow enough bees that we could start a new hive. All credit goes to Ken for this hive, the only thing I did to assist in building it was to paint the outside. So Ken, better get crackin’ on another hive! Unfortunately (well, fortunately) one of our other live creatures that we take care of is about to need a major carpentry project. And frankly, this baby who is about to crawl around our baby-death-trap house is far more important than the bees. Railings and stairs come before a new bee-hive, I guess.

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The baby is a-growing

She is pretty much super cute.
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Working – why?

I went back to work about a month ago, and turns out that working 4 days a week and trying to get other stuff done around the house puts a damper on the blogging time even with an awesome mother-in-law around to help with the household chores.

Hiking with Grandma
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I was not looking forward to going back to work at all. I wasn’t looking forward to “me” time away from a demanding baby – I like her and she’s not particularly demanding. I wasn’t looking forward to looking “put together” and wearing nicer clothes. I wasn’t looking forward to adult interaction. I wasn’t looking forward to finishing my coffee in peace. Also, we intentionally structured our lives so we could live off of one income with minor hardship, so I don’t have to go back to work to afford to eat.

Watching Grandma hit some golf balls
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So why go back? Perhaps this is self aggrandizing, but I really think the work I do is important and there are relatively few people who can do it. God gave me the aptitude and desire to do what I do, so I feel like I should use that talent. I also enjoy my job and my coworkers, and I know this is sorta rare and a great blessing. I went to school for 8 years to get this job. I would not have considered my education a waste even if I hadn’t worked a day in the field because I enjoyed the vast majority of all 8 years of school and got paid to do it. However, I’m still having fun, so it seems like I should keep using that education that generous donors and the government paid for. Me working also gives Ken more freedom to take a greater risk in his career if the opportunity arises.

So far working is going fine. I’d still rather be home, but Anna seems to be thriving in the care of her Grandma, we are so thankful that she came to watch her for a couple of months.

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Raised bed building

I wanted a spot to put beans that was completely safe from critters above and below. 1 inch chicken wire was not doing the trick, and apparently nothing in the garden is as absolutely irresistible as green beans. So, I ordered some hardware cloth and aluminum screen, scrounged lumber, and went to work.

Hardware cloth is pretty much ridiculously expensive, so I didn’t really want to put it on the bottom of the box to keep out whatever burrows around here and eats all the roots – gophers, I suppose. Because I’m a materials engineer and had to take multiple thermodynamics, kinetics, and corrosion classes, I know that aluminum should be stable from corrosion in a certain pH range which is about what I’d like to keep the raised bed for gardening, so we’ll see how it works. The native dirt it’s sitting on is pretty basic though, so we’ll see how long the aluminum screen I installed lasts.
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I don’t know how well this shows up in this picture, but I basically just built a box with six supports that go down about 8 inches to keep things from settling too much. The wood I used for the sides was what used to line our front porch and is pretty warped to start with, so I’m not sure how necessary the supports were. I stapled the aluminum screen on the bottom, then spent a long time with a shovel and pickax (caliche is the worst) trying to get the box relatively level.
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I started with a layer of cardboard. In places where things grow naturally, people do this to keep weeds down, I did it in hopes it would retain some water.
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Then I put a layer of pine needles on top of the cardboard. I’m hoping they’ll help retain water as well as providing some acidity as they decompose.
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Next I put a layer of dirt, then a layer of compost. The pile I started last fall had decomposed enough to cover about half of the bed, and I used some from the pile that we made over last summer to do the rest.
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I put another layer of dirt, and bought three cubic feet of steer manure for the top layer. My eight year old friend who came to visit earlier this week because he had an unexpected day off from school mixed it in for me. Too bad I didn’t get a picture of him mixing.
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These covers took me quite a while to make because I was determined not to buy any lumber and spent a lot of quality time with the table saw playing sawmill to get pieces the right size. That is $41 worth of hardware cloth. I couldn’t use the window screen because I want bees to be able to get in to pollinate, and I know by experience that 1″ chicken wire doesn’t keep out the bean eaters, whoever it might be. Oh well, this better provide me with years of beans for my effort and expense.
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The truck is running again, and other triumphal tales of progress

Big news, Ken drove the truck to work today! Last Wednesday night was the first time it was started. Ken started it up, started backing it out of the garage, then shut it off when I started screaming and waving because oil was shooting out all over the floor! Happily, it was an easy fix, there was an accessible plug in the engine block that hadn’t been moved to the new engine. Side note, I had no idea how many holes with plugs are in engines, or at least in this engine. Super fun to clean up about 2 gallons of oil all over the floor… There are a few more things that need to be reinstalled or fixed – drive shaft, R134A, couple of broken light bulbs, new brake booster, door handles, some question about oil pressure to be resolved, etc – BUT KEN DROVE IT TO WORK TODAY! It took a mere 14 months from when the new to us engine arrived and about 8 months from when it was driven into the shop to be torn apart. Huge thanks to my cousin Peter who helped a LOT. I don’t know how it would have gotten done without his help. Probably would have taken another year.
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In other news, I sold the Porsche! It’s not yet off of the property, but we’ve exchanged money and title, so I expect it will be gone soon.

I have also completed all sorts of mundane but necessary tasks like getting rid of old laptops, filing taxes, sorting out insurance billing for Anna’s arrival, writing wills, setting up daycare, filing papers, reviewing budgets, etc. Boooring. But they’re done and it feels great!

I’ve also built shelves for one closet, although they need to be sanded, finished, and permanently installed.
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I also have plans for how to build the door, here’s a mock-up of a small one, but other projects have taken precedence with the arrival of spring.
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Speaking of the arrival of spring, this is the view out one of my kitchen windows. I love this house!
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This raised bed is one of the things I’ve been working on, in fact I just finished it and planted some lettuce about an hour ago. It should be gopher and hopefully above-ground rodent proof. I WILL be eating my green beans this year.
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We’ve also started seedlings, despite me swearing last year that I wasn’t going to put so much effort into growing plants from seed only to have them chomped by rodents. I will never learn, probably.
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I have 1.5 weeks of leave left, and way more projects to do than I have time. We need a new top for the glass outside table which blew over and broke. I want to try some simple smocking to make Anna a dress. The beehive needs to be finished and prepared for bees. I want to build an owl box to attract automatic rodent control. The irrigation system needs to be fixed and re-started. Trees need to be sprayed. Dogs need to be kennel trained.

Oh, and we somehow need to get this baby who has lived her entire life having her needs met by me used to having somebody else take care of her. That means getting her to take a bottle and nap without nursing to sleep. We’re making slow progress on both, I think, so she probably won’t immediately perish when I go back to work. She’s wearing an outfit that my aunt (the aforementioned Peter’s mom, actually) knit for me before I was born in this picture.
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A relaxed approach to cloth diapers

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I now have data which strongly indicates that posts about handkerchiefs are far less popular than posts containing baby pictures. This post is going to be about cloth diapers. I predict it will be less popular than baby pictures, but more than the discussion of my snot habits.

People cite multiple reasons for using cloth diapers: better for the environment, fear of chemicals, cuteness of cloth diapers, sensitive skin on the baby, and cost. I’m not afraid of chemicals, I’m not particularly motivated by cute in any area of my life, my baby does not have sensitive skin, and I’m not sure cloth diapers are better for New Mexico’s environment. Know what we have lots of? Space. What we don’t have here is water, and it takes 5 partial fillings of the washer to clean cloth diapers. Now, our water comes from a well down the valley a bit and once we use it it goes out our drain field, so one might argue that it just goes right back to the aquifer, but I’m not sure that’s entirely the case. Anyway, my main interest is cost savings. Also, it turns out in our case they are significantly less prone to blowouts. I didn’t know that would be an advantage going into this and hadn’t read that anywhere, so it might just be a benefit of this particular baby’s geometry.

I got 12 used but perfect condition Bum Genius Freestyle diapers and a couple of extra inserts for $60 at a yard sale (savings of approximately $160 over new, not including tax).

Washing and drying is easy. My tune may change once she eats food and poop becomes gross.

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I use them at home during the day, then wash once they’re all used. It takes about 2 days to use the 12 and 1 to wash and dry (although washing and drying could be done overnight were I dedicated.)

The diapers didn’t fit until she was about 1 month old. We also didn’t bring them on our 10 day vacation. When she was 99 days old I had used approximately 351 disposable diapers. I think she averaged about 6 disposables a day up until about two weeks ago and now we’re down to 5ish, so that is 229 disposable diapers not used.

At 17.4 cents a diaper (what I paid today for Costco diapers), that’s $39.85 saved so far. We pay a fixed price for water no matter how much we use, so the only other costs are the electricity to run the washer (minimal) and the cost of laundry soap (also minimal – I just use a little of our normal soap from Costco).

So, we haven’t yet saved what I put into the diapers, but I think we will quickly get there. Besides, I expect I can sell them for what I put into them with no problem. Or use them for more babies, should we have them. Either way, so far I’m a fan. I wouldn’t want to go completely militantly cloth, but I’m liking using them in this relaxed way.

Why I love big gross man hankys

I’m on my second dreadful cold since late December, which maybe isn’t so bad, but I don’t normally get sick often and I’m a big whiner. Besides, this one came with aches and fever and chills for an afternoon, and that was not my favorite so I feel I am allowed to complain.

Anyway, as I was blowing my nose into my big ol’ gross man hanky this morning I thought about how much better they are than Kleenex (and in this case it actually is Kleenex because for some reason Costco had a lower price on them).

And I just had to share. You’re welcome. Don’t worry, I didn’t include any pictures.

1. I can fill a Kleenex in one go, and sometimes my effort is so mighty the tissue ruptures and then I have snot everywhere. This is just as gross as the baby poop that has been exploding daily around here. Nursing baby poop is not all that gross; I rank it on the same level as snot. Point is, I have enough gross in my life. I don’t need more.

2. I hate having to find a Kleenex when I need to blow my nose. Then when I’m done I need to find a trash can. Or at least I would if I were a good human being. As I’m a sinner, more often I have to come back later and pick up my disgusting mess of dried snot paper. This behavior is not considerate of my poor family. If your Kleenex habit causes you to sin, cut it off, for it’s better to go through life without Kleenex than to spend an eternity in hell. That may be paraphrased a bit from Matthew’s version, but you get the gist.

3. Kleenex make my nose chapped much faster than the nice soft cotton hankys. It doesn’t matter how much aloe and lotion and magic they infuse into them, even if I were not too cheap to buy the fancy kind of Kleenex, they don’t help. My nose gets chapped with any variety.

4. Assuming I actually put the Kleenex into the garbage, they fill it up instantly, then I have to take it out. And that is not something I want to do more than once a week. Heck, I don’t even want to do it once a week, but somebody has to. And that somebody tends to be me because Ken doesn’t remember, Anna can’t walk, and the animals are completely useless for everything with the possible exception of rodent control.

5. They’re cheap. A box of Kleenex costs $2.89 at Costco. Six handkerchiefs from Target cost $4.99. A box of Kleenex will last through maybe one cold. Six handkerchiefs will last FOR ETERNITY. For reals. Some of the ones I have I didn’t even buy – I think I either stole them from my parents or from one of my deceased grandparents. How’s that for an inheritance?

Maybe it’s a little gross to carry a piece of fabric full of snot, but I think the benefits far outweigh this one downside. And thanks to the wonders of the modern (or 20+ years old if you’re me) washing machine, it’s super easy to make them good as new. Besides, if I make my daughter’s precious bottom hang out in reusable cloth diapers, my nose shouldn’t feel that it’s entitled to better things. But my experience so far with cloth diapers is a post for another day.

I feel like I should include some statement about the beautiful, dainty handkerchiefs with the handmade lace and crocheted edges and embroidered flowers carried by the ladies of my grandmother’s generation in their pocketbooks (while sitting on their davenports and making an incomprehensible distinction between dinner and supper). They’re beautiful. My grandma would give me hers in church to play with right after she gave me a piece of hard candy to suck on and I loved it. However, I’ve also inherited a few of them and they just do not get the snot removal job done. But perhaps I’ll start keeping one in my purse to give small children during church. They will proceed to look at me like I’m an alien with three heads and demand my smart phone. Kids these days are not the morons we used to be, to be entertained by a mere thirty six square inches of cloth.


June 2017
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