Friday, February 5, 2016

Family Ties

Thursday morning we were off bright and early, picking up Mark and Sara on the way to Des Moines for a family funeral. The Nielsen cousins are all very close having grown up together around here, Bruce said when he was a kid, nearly every summer Sunday brought a crowd to Leo's Pond after church. They picnicked and swam, playing King of the Mountain on a pile of inner tubes. Lots of weekend nights were spent sleeping overnight in the cabin, cooking breakfast on the outdoor grill in the morning.

That closeness didn't fade even though some families moved away, it just made the times they do get together all the more precious, whether it is for a happy occasion such as Dick and Marilyn's 50th anniversary two years ago, or Marilyn's funeral on Thursday. I was welcomed into this family with open arms and everyone who was able, attended our wedding, Dick and Marilyn among them. They came to all of the family get togethesr and Dick always told good stories.

Two years ago Marilyn was diagnosed with a terrible brain disease that finally claimed her life.

I used to avoid funerals at all costs but have come to realize that it an important time to share memories with others and celebrate their life. It was so heartwarming to hear the stories from Marilyn's three daughters and one grandson, makes me wish I had known her better. They all talked about how involved she was with their and their children's lives. Having only known one grandparent, seeing her infrequently, my memories consist of drinking tea heavily laced with milk, spam and crackers and playing with her sparse collection of toys, it was very different from their stories. 

Their grandmother taught them in pre-school, took them for ice cream, went to football games even though she didn't like the cold, sitting out half the game in the car and praising them for the good game, took them to plays and out to eat at fancy restaurants, always had a special treat when they came to visit, was a great cook and planned a girl's weekend for daughters and granddaughters that was always a highlight for all.

I watched my own parent's involvement with their grandchildren later in life and hope my niece and nephews have fond memories of going camping, fishing and of Mom attending ball games and wrestling matches even though she really didn't like them much.

After the funeral we were treated to a tasty lunch, complete with glass plates and cloth napkins before caravaning to the cemetery. These church ladies really know how to feed a crowd in style.

Bruce approved of the lunch.

 That was when the cousins met up, pulling two round tables together and commandeering chairs so we could all eat together, making ourselves at home.

We hadn't seen Pat, who now lives in Duluth, for a few years but it was as though it was yesterday.

L - R, Kim, Pat's daughter from CA, Debbie, Dennis (one of Bruce's favorite fishing partners), Bruce, Sara, Mark, Les and Linda. The stories flow, even if they have been told before, again and again, everyone laughs as though they are hearing it for the first time.

Mark is holding court and has everyone's attention.

L-R, Pat, Larry, Larry's son, Larry's wife, someone I don't know, and Michael, Marilyn's son in law who is a minister and presided over the funeral. Mike pointed out, proudly, that he had over 20 years of pampering by Marilyn, on the other two son in laws.

A group photo of the guys as we were getting ready to leave for the cemetery, Mark, Dennis, Dick and Bruce.

The police escorted funeral procession to the cemetery through downtown Des Moines and then on I-80 was an experience that only be labeled chaotic. With two escorts trying to leap frog each other to traffic lights and keep the procession moving was akin to herding cats. One of the police tried in vain to stop a little old lady at a traffic light but she only saw the green light, looked straight ahead and paid no attention to him.

"Get out of my way, Sonny!"

It was even more hair raising on I-80, 70 MPH, vehicles zipping on and off ramps, the escorts trying to keep us all in a line, we were desperate to keep the hazard lights in our sight since we didn't know where we were headed. We finally were safely out of the rat race and driving off the interstate toward Waukee. We passed a gas station that advertised E-85 for $1.35! Wow, we have never bought it that cheap but we didn't dare leave the line of cars since we still didn't know where we headed.

After a brief, chilly service at the cemetery, we bid everyone goodbye, a last round of hugs and headed for home. Now the family has to learn to live without Marilyn in their lives but all the memories will carry them through. Bruce said that we should hit Sac City, home of the Cattleman's Restaurant about 5, just in time for them to be open for supper and we were all very receptive to that.

But first we had to get there, we never found another station with E-85, our fuel of choice, Bruce hit the fuel range button on the menu and it assured us the car could go another 69 miles.

It lied. We planned on fueling at the Hwy 4 station on Hwy 20 and we had reached the point of no return with no stations in sight. About 10 miles from our destination the warning light started pinging away and it refused to tell us how far we could drive.

In other words, we were on our own!

We all heaved a sigh of relief when we saw the station and held our breath until we were beside the pump, it held 16.9 gallons, it has a 17 gallon tank. Just a little too close for comfort. But the good news was, the price was $1.35!

We pulled in front of the Cattleman's at 4:55, the inside door was open so we took that as a good sign. Three burgers, one pork tenderloin, two orders of fries, one order of cheese balls, two Blue Moons complete with oranges in the mug, one hot tea and one diet coke for our designated driver later, we loaded up for the final leg of the trip.

As we drove past the coop elevator, we were in for a surprise, a huge herd of deer cleaning up corn that was left behind when they cleaned out the bunker! There had to be at least a hundred deer, some calming eating, some frisking around so I lobbied for a photo. It was hard because it was getting dark so this was the best I could get.

We made it home safely, dropping Mark and Sara off about 12 hours after we picked them up. It was a long, cold day with a lot of miles under our butts but our hearts were warm with more memories.

And I'm thinking we need to take a road trip back to Sac City with all my camera equipment, anyone want to ride along?

Winter Storm Kayla

Monday was an absolutely beautiful day, if not for the diligence of the weather service, we would never have known 'Winter Storm Kayla' was bearing down on us. Bruce and I were both in high gear, cleaning, bedding and feeding livestock in preparation of the big blow.

And blow it did, we were holed up all day Tuesday, venturing to the windows now and then to peer out and watch the snow pile up. Nothing much was moving, the dogs came out of the barn occasionally, where they had taken up residence for the day, circled the yard to see if there was anything out to chase or bark at, and returned, disappointed.

We knew what would be waiting for us Wed morning, there was no lounging around the house, we had snow to move. Bruce left first, after cleaning around the yard and said he would call when he had a spot for me to park at the farm.

This is what greeted me at the road...

....I was so glad I had Bruce ahead of me to forge the path, my little car would never have made it through the drift on the road.

At the farm Bruce opens the gate to the calf bunk that is drifted full....

.....I mounted my trusty Mustang skidloader and cleaned it, so happy that Bruce had the foresight to make the bunk wide enough to use the machine.

Can you imagine having to do this by hand? Oh my aching back!!

The cow bunk was full of snow but the girls didn't hesitate to burrow through it to get at the prize underneath, some silage. It left them with a snow beard.

And finally George came riding to the rescue, clearing snow drifts in a big way.

With all the snow, the creek came up again filling it bank full. It must be very frustrating for the resident beaver, it keeps flooding his den. We aren't sure where he moves during high water but he always returns and continue his quest to cut down all the trees by the bridge.

Despite the cold and snow, the beauty can't be ignored, this is the sight that greets us at the driveway.

Kind of makes all the work worthwhile....

....on second thought, naw!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Then they don't call....

Sure, they court you for months, send you letters, promising the world - then, just like that, all communication is over.

They made you think you are the only one.

And you wonder, what did I do wrong, why aren't they calling anymore?

Wasn't I fun?

Wasn't I pretty enough?

Was it something I said?

Or didn't say?


But then you remember, the caucus is over and you know they will be back.....all too soon....

And then you smile, you can watch TV again!

When the phone rings, it will most likely be someone you know!!

You can go to the mailbox and not have to take the wagon!!

Life is good once again, memories will fade....for now.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The week in review

Yesterday when Bruce and I stopped to see a friend in the nursing home, she said, "What have you guys been doing?" To that we pretty much had to reply, "Not much!" Well, except for cleaning yards, hauling manure, feeding animals, splitting wood, hauling out ashes, cursing rabbits (they are devouring everything in sight), walking on the treadclimber, sweating bullets, cursing the contraption, weighing myself, cursing the scale, other than that, not much.

Yesterday I decided I needed to check on the bees to make my decision whether to restock the empty hive. It was a lovely winter day, we are getting our January thaw. I fired up the Gator and strapped the dogs in their camo vests.

Murphy loves hers....

....Mollie not so much. I put her's on first and when Murphy saw us, she jumped in the Gator, "Put mine on, put mine on!!"

I knew something had been messing with the hive, the last time I was there two of the wine corks were pulled out that block the extra entrance holes and the hardware cloth wire covering the one entrance hole to discourage mice from getting inside. I took along the industrial staple gun and glad I did. I was quite surprised when I pulled away the hay bales blocking the south side to find a possum had taken up residence and made a mess. He pulled the corks back out, completely tore off the wire and was busy shredding the 2 layers of tar paper that covers the hive, trying to get inside.

The bastard!

I called Mollie and she quickly dispatched him and if you think that is cruel and inhumane, possums can carry a parasite that infects horses with EPM, Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, a serious disease that eventually killed my big, beautiful, Phantom, on the left.

Needless to say, possums are not welcome around here. 

I read on my bee forum to use a stethoscope to listen inside the hive for activity without opening it. Years ago, Janet gave me one to check blood pressure and the only thing I ever used it for was when Lacey coliced and I listened to her belly for 'gut sounds.' If you don't hear anything moving, you got big trouble.

I searched for my stethoscope under the bathroom sink, it wasn't there. I searched my shoe bag that hangs on the basement door that is a catch all, it wasn't there. In desperation, I cleaned off the back table, it wasn't there. Then the lightbulb came on and I searched the tack room, found it!

Dodging the possum poop, he really made a mess under the hive, I put the diaphragm to the entrance hole and was rewarded with buzzing, lots and lots of buzzing, it made my day! I set to work with the staple gun, luckily I left a piece of tar paper over there and was able to shut it up again until I ran out of staples, dang it.

On the way home we were treated to a beautiful sunset, I have my big honking lens on, the bins and the tower are in Cleghorn.

Today it was still mild, so the dogs and I went back to the pond to make sure the possum didn't have a family. I reloaded the staple gun to finish my job and then peeked under the lid where the sugar bricks are. There were bees all over the sugar, I did my happy dance and got the heck out of there before any came out to sting me. 

That made my decision whether 'to bee or not to bee', I'm going to bee, in fact I bee'd this morning when I sent a check off to my bee guy to reserve a package.

Maybe someday I will actually get some honey.

A girl can hope.

Friday, January 22, 2016

To Bee or not To Bee, that is the beekeepers question.

I became an accidental beekeeper when a young man abandoned two bee hives that he had put at the pond 3 years earlier. Multiple phone calls to his home went unanswered so one day I decided I now owned two bee hives. My 'Honey Man, Dan' inspected the hives and found one was dead but the other alive and stinging. That fall Dan helped me extract 7 1/2 gallons of honey and I was on a honey high! I passed out honey filled jars right and left, after all, the bees were in their hive replenishing it, right?

Wrong, when spring came around, I found a dead hive, AAUUGGGHHHH!!! What made me the most sad, was that I think they starved to death, I did not leave them enough honey stores to make it over the winter. But Dan helped me restock the hive and the bees were busy all summer making honey, right?

Wrong, the bees swarmed, took their queen and left the hive en-mass with only a few fat lazy drones to hold down the fort. Boy, this bee keeping isn't as easy as I thought! I did a blog post on 
  • Redneck honey extracting. in July 2013 if you wish to refresh your memory. Then I did a lot of thinking about raising bees. Bruce's 2nd cousin, Todd, was really interested in top bar bee hives and sent me some information.

Todd and Mollie 

So two years ago, Rosanne, Sue and I built some top bar bee hives...

....two for me, one for Rosanne and a trap hive for Sue. (So far we haven't trapped any bees!)

Bruce and I set up the hives at the pond and I installed two packages of bees......

.....I was thrilled to see my bees building their free form comb!

With 14 acres of trees, bushes and plants, it should have been Utopia, but it didn't seem to be. By fall a check of the hives showed few honey stores for winter, Bruce and I brought them home and I tried feeding them fondant to get them through the winter, it did not work, by mid winter I had two dead hives.

I was not going to be deterred that easy, I found another supplier and last May picked up two packages of bees in Sioux City and again, installed them in the hives. They took off going great guns, they had a leg up on the previous hives because the comb was already built, all they had to do was lay eggs and fill the honey stores.

They did well all summer but by fall I could see that one hive was failing and the other did not have a lot of honey stores so I started feeding sugar water. I lost one hive but hoped to save the other one so when it was too cold for sugar water, I made sugar bricks and installed them inside the hive and on top of the bars.

I can only open the hive for inspection when it's 40 or above and one day last week it reached the magic temperature. I took another pan of sugar bricks, tentatively pushed away the hay bales, swept the snow away and raised the lid. I was pleased to see some live bees feeding on the remaining sugar bricks. I quickly laid down some more newspaper but not before one cheeky bee flew out and stung me in the neck. I hated it, it hurt her a lot more than me, she would die. I scraped out the pan of sugar and closed everything back up, replacing the hay bales. 

I won't know until spring whether I was successful or not. I just received an email from my 'bee guy' that he is taking orders for 2016 bees packages. He said there is a bee shortage and that he is getting 30% less this year so if we are interested, we need to get our orders and down payment in now.

I'm in a quandary, to Bee or not to Bee?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

They all have their own unique personality..

Of course I'm talking about our cats and I've divided them into different categories, the Good, the Bad, the Infirmed, the Challenged and the Naughty.

The Good is Bruiser LaRue..

He arrived at the farm, still inside his very pregnant mother, she was tame so I knew someone had dumped her off to rid themselves of the responsibility. Five days later she came up to eat and her belly was gone, she ended up leading me to them, five tiny babies in the old hog house. I knew if I left them there, a tom cat would most likely kill them.


I took her and the kittens home and set up a nest box in the garden shed, she and the kittens were safe from marauding toms and anything else that might do them harm. Three of the kittens did not survive, two died in the garden shed and one was tragically run over in the driveway. My niece, Carri chose Appleton and that left Bruiser to re-home. He was a very shy kitten, wouldn't play, cringed when I picked him up so I set about to socialize him. Everyday I cuddled and played with Bruiser and one day when I came home, he ran to me, threw himself on the ground and rolled on his back for me to tickle his belly. That was the day I knew he already had his forever home, how could I give him away?

He's a big, fluffy teddy bear who gets along with everyone, each morning I see him walking side by side with one or two dogs and he is always ready for a cuddle by me when I'm feeding the horses. But don't mess with him, he has been known to body slam a dissenter.

The Bad is Stinky, a bully who terrorizes the other cats, except Bruiser, he has been on the receiving end of his wrath. 

My Mom took Stinky in when she was living in Whiting but when he pitched onto her cat, she banished him to the basement. I didn't think that was any life for a cat so brought him home and neutered him, thinking farm life would be good for him. Perhaps he did not take the neutering in stride?

It didn't take long to see that he has a dark side, Stinky can be such a lover one minute and turn around and attack one of the cats the next.The dogs are law around here and have carte blanche to break up cat fights and they do so with gusto, rattling him between their front legs,  getting in a bite or two, Stinky pays the price but that doesn't stop him. After the chase is over, all is forgiven and they lie down together - until next time.

The Infirmed is Clyde, life started out hard when he was abandoned by his mother, had his leg broke by his exuberant sister, Bonnie and accidentally poisoned by me, with the vet's help. 

Despite this rough start, he has grown up a happy cat, he just doesn't know he's handicapped. He can climb into the cat tower, it just takes him longer and he might lose his balance and fall out before he reaches the top. But he perseveres and claims the King of the Mountain prize.

Clyde walks with the the gait of a drunken sailor and has a lot of 'falling dreams' while sleeping on the couch that come to fruition when he then launches himself onto the floor out of a sound sleep. His bobble head becomes more pronounced when he is under stress and my fluffy robe sends him into paroxysms of ecstasy when he climbs on my lap, stares into my eyes and kneads it slowly and deliberately, "Are you my Mum?"  

The Challenged is the Ghost, who was born in a cornfield to her feral mother. I thought she was just too pretty to leave in the wild and trapped her but her feral roots ran deep. Even though she grew up in the house, she has never been as ease around anyone but me and lived most of her life upstairs in our bedroom, dashing downstairs to eat and use the litter box. When we have company, she is never seen, that's why she's the Ghost.

Todd, a young family member, spent a summer with us several years ago and Ghost grudgingly had to accepted him, but she made it clear the sooner he left, the better off we would all be. He set up his computer in the radio room and everyday Ghost ran downstairs, into the room, stopped, looked at Todd and continued on her way to the food. On her way back upstairs, she'd stop, look at Todd as though to say, "Are you STILL here??" then run upstairs. 

"I may have to accept him but I don't have to like him!"

Ghost is really old, I'm guessing 16 or 17 and suffers from near blindness from hypertension. I wasn't sure what her future would hold but found out that cats are quite resilient - just don't move the furniture around! Ghost is like these Roomba automatic vacuum cleaners, when they bump into a wall or object, they reverse course. Everyone treads lightly when the Ghost is on the move, trying not to startle her or get in the way. It's almost like the Secret Service, "Head's up, 12 o'clock, the Ghost is heading north, move, move, move!"

As cute as Zoe is, she gets the moniker of The Naughty, she is the youngest and probably a bit spoiled, ya think?

She has always terrorized the Ghost, lying in wait on the computer chair, hiding around a hidden corner, crouching in the shadow of a stair step, attacking the Ghost when she least suspects it. When I hear a kerfuffle break out, my first response it to yell, then hunt down the perpetrator. Zoe is fast but she sometimes doesn't choose her hiding place well. I found her on the back of the toilet tank, behind Bruce's towel hanging from the wall rack, she was well hidden but her tail gave her away, she forgot to pull it up.

The Ghost is spending the winter downstairs so Zoe doesn't get too many licks in on her because I'm always watching. She has turned to tormenting Clyde but since they are buds, she is a bit more devious. Zoe tears through the house, working off excess energy and grazes him or jumps over him, working Clyde into a frazzle and causing his palsy to kick into high gear.

I've never had a cat that is so jealous of me, if Clyde is in my lap, she 'innocently' slides in beside him, knowing full well that will tick him off and he leaves. If I call to Ghost come up, Zoe appears out of nowhere and stakes her claim in my lap, just because she can.

After all, she is the cutest kitten in the world.