Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Thrifty Cook: Lots of Leftovers; I'm in my Glory!

I love leftovers. They represent a challenge to the thrifty cook who wants to present them in a new way that makes them a special meal unto themselves.

Holidays provide a real opportunity to make the old new and fresh.

Tonight I had a lot to work with: the Christmas ham, Texas "caviar" made by my daughter-in-law which is a combination of black beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, onions, etc. and rice from the parmesan chicken with rice. (I always make enough rice to feed an army.) Now, what can I do with these?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Best Way to Prepare for Christmas? Spend Time with Grandchildren

Of course! If you want to see the true meaning of Christmas, look at the season through the eyes of a child (or two). We had a sleepover with two little munchkins who helped decorate our tree, watched two movies about St. Nicholas and St. Patrick, slept peacefully all night, and woke up to go to Mass and then breakfast with Santa. At home, Anya practiced her bike riding -- she is now an independent rider and both girls spent the entire afternoon creating the Playdough (or "Pluto" as Bianca puts it) Bakery. Yummy cookies, whoppers, and even cannoli.  I was surprised Bianca even knew the word. My cookie cutters got a tremendous workout which they rarely get from making cookies.

Getting ready for bed. Good thing there are extra toothbrushes at Gramma's when visitors forget theirs.

Sleepy time.

Breakfast with Santa -- Bianca wants a violin (????) for Christmas. Where did that idea come from?

Anya just wants "stuff."

Now this is the lap that granddaughters prefer to Santa's. 
Time to dye the play dough or "pluto" as Bianca calls it.

And the little proprietor of the Pluto Bakery has lots of yummy treats to offer.

We talked about making gingerbread boys, but the play dough substitutes look like the real thing!

We are getting ready for dinner now and our sleepover is coming to an end, but we expect to have another next week when out of town cousins arrive. Neither of the girls wanted to leave and begged for another night at Gramma and Paka's house. It was tempting, but the, as they say, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wondering What's Up in the Bee Yard!

October 12 --

We inspected the hives today. We weren't really planning to inspect Queen Anya's hive because we figured she was gone and the hive was finished. But what really surprised us was that Queen Rachel appears to be gone as well and there was hardly any brood in that hive. We opened Queen Bianca's hive but there was still a full bag of syrup so we decided to inspect that hive later. 

Since there were still bees going in and out of Queen Anya's hive we opened it and went through it. What the.......!!! Lots of bees and lots of shiny, uncapped honey in the top box. When we went down to the middle box we found both capped and uncapped brood. There certainly isn't enough brood to get through the winter but the queen still has time to lay so we are hopeful. 

But where the queen came from is beyond us. There was no evidence three weeks ago of a queen. There was no brood at all. The only thing we can think of is that there was a virgin queen we didn't see, but all the brood laid by the old queen had hatched. It's all very puzzling. We wonder whether we will have any bees next Spring at this rate. 

What a mystery!

Why did Queen Rachel quit? 

And what is going on with Queen Bianca? 

And where did the new Queen Anya come from? 

Are the bees playing musical hives? 

Curiouser and curiouser.   

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Biking, Hiking and Enjoying our Vacation to Niagara Falls

We only went for twelve days, but packed lots of adventures in during that time. We stayed at the KOA on the Canadian side from Monday - Friday. What a place: nice, level campsites, two swimming pools outside and one inside with two hot tubs. It was more like a resort. There were cabins for the non-campers and plenty for the children with a jumping pillow, mini golf ($), and a nice playground. We didn't stay at the campground much but enjoyed the indoor pool and hot tub in the evening. The falls were beautiful although riding the boat (The Hornblower on the Canadian side.) was an exercise in being blinded and soaked by the mist. Great fun anyway.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August - September 2015: It's that time of year -- feeding bees and feeding bees and feeding bees....

Rescued this bee from the fish pond
while we were camping this week. 
August18 -- Fed all three hives about 2.6 quarts each. Queen Anya's hive is not looking good. Queen Rachel's kingdom is strong. Queen Bianca is between the two.

August 22 -- Fed again. 2 to 1 sugar to water mix these days. Same comments re hive strength. We will do an inspection before next feeding and are considering moving a frame of brood from the strong hive to the weak hive.

August 25 -- Well, we didn't do an inspection yet. No time, but fed the bees. The middle hive (Queen Rachel) is looking good and strong. Queen Anya is questionable. Queen Bianca looks okay.

August 27 -- Fed again. Bags were completely drive. The bees are clearly hungry. The dry weather for the past few weeks has no doubt obliterated any nectar so they need the syrup to both feed on and store. We definitely need rain! As of the next feeding (tomorrow) we will have used 85 pounds of sugar. Still haven't had time to inspect.

September 1 -- More feeding before heading off to the Country Fair with two daughters and six grandchildren. Hot but what a fun day!

September 3 -- Fed all three hives 2/1 solution about 2/3 gallons each.

September 16 - 19 -- We inspected all three hives. Queen Anya is gone. We're not sure whether they swarmed or absconded. There is no brood in the hive at all and very few drones -- only worker bees. We thought they were probably robber bees but Larry closed up the hive after dark on the 18th. If they were all robbers they would have gone home, but this morning (Sept 19) when he opened the hive there were lots of bees. These are all summer bees and will die so that hive is essentially finished. The other two are still strong with lots of brood and plenty of stores. We saw Queen Rachel. She is a pretty thing. Didn't find Queen Bianca. We fed the two strong hives on the 16th giving Queen Rachel's two bags (about a gallon and a third) and Queen Bianca's one (2/3 gallon). All the syrup was gone when Larry checked this morning. Oh my goodness but beekeeping is a challenge.

September 25 - Gave both hives a gallon of 1/1 sugar syrup.

September 28 - Fed both hives but Queen Rachels still had 1/4 bag left so she got 1/2 gallon, Queen Bianca got a full gallon. It was a heavier syrup but not 2/1.

Friday, August 14, 2015

August 13-14: Beekeepers' Winter is Beginning

In August, beekeepers begin to look toward the winter. We inspected our hives yesterday to determine status. All four hives presently have four supers.

Queen Anya -- looks like her kingdom is in trouble. There wasn't much nectar and the brood is light and spotty, although we saw uncapped brood. We didn't see the queen. This hive definitely needs heavy feeding. There were queen cells which makes us wonder if the queen is gone. Five frames in the top box had some honey and nectar, the other four were mostly empty. The bottom box was also mostly empty. The two in between had some stores and light brood. We moved the bottom box to the top and fed about three quarts of syrup today.

Queen Rachel -- This continues to be the strongest hive. The top box had a lot of capped honey, but bees were also feeding on the stores. We saw the queen in the second box down so we did not go further. That also had capped honey. Both boxes had frames of solid brood. She is doing her job. We also fed them today.

Queen Bianca -- This hive also has more capped honey and good brood pattern, but not as strong as Queen Rachel's kingdom. The bottom box was mostly empty so we moved it to the top. We also fed them today.

It looks like we will need to do serious feeding over the next few months and we are considering moving a frame of brood from Queen Rachel's hive to Queen Anya's. We'll determine after we see what the results of feeding are.

All the hives were bringing in pollen today, but not a lot.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Our Fresh Air Girls are Visiting from NYC and We're Having a Blast!

It was a great reunion to have our two young friends from the Big Apple visit us again this year. We're in the middle of all kinds of fun: going to Brusters for ice cream, dancing at Skyline Terrace Nursing Home, swimming, picking peaches and blackberries at Marker Miller, visiting the horse ranch to watch Anya and Bianca's riding lessons. Today we're off to the farm to milk a cow and help with other farm chores. And tomorrow will be a marathon of fun: touring Shenandoah Caverns, eating at a Thai restaurant, playing Putt-Putt and going to the Fresh Air swim party. Just take a look at the pictures and you'll see the smiles and know how much fun it is to be a Fresh Air family. (The girls were also interviewed and photographed by the Northern Virginia Daily and will be in the paper. What a souvenir to take home!)

Pick up in Harrisonburg and ready for fun!

Stop at Southern Kitchen for supper and make a couple of new friends.

"Boot Scootin' Boogie" at Skyline Terrace - Line dancing is fun!

Picking apples at Camp Kreitzer.

A bumper crop for making apple sauce.

Enjoying the breeze on the porch at Marker Miller while we wait for Anya and Bianca.

Wow, those blackberries are sweet and good!

Now if we just had a horse or donkey to pull the wagon...

More new friends at the horseback riding facility

Celebrating Anya's big seventh birthday

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Honey Harvest. Yum! Yum!

We checked the hives about ten days ago to see what we would have for the honey harvest. We counted twenty frames of good capped honey, but when we went to collect the frames on Friday (July24) for the harvest on Saturday, some of the frames were not 90% capped and the bees had eaten some. (I guess they're entitled!)

If the uncapped honey cells are opaque and "dry" you can treat it same as capped, but if it is shiny and "wet" looking it can make the honey ferment and spoil it. We picked out 17 good frames for the harvest. One frame got dropped (and then there were sixteen), but even though we couldn't put that frame in the spinner, I salvaged the comb and put it in jars which makes a very pretty addition. And some people really like a bit of comb to chew on like gum. We ended up with 48 pounds of beautiful light honey which was probably primarily from the early spring nectar flow since one box was and capped before mid June. What does that mean? The honey taste and color depends on the nectar flow --- what the bees are working and what kind of honey it makes. Our honey probably came at least partly from the locust trees, one of the earliest to bloom in the Spring. We also have a street nearby lined with Golden Rain Trees which we've seen covered with bees. Also our neighbor attracts bees with his oregano patch and has often commented that our bees are over visiting. So all those are probably crops our bees were working.

At the harvest, it was fun to compare the look of our honey with what came from Gordon's bee yard which is only about two miles away from ours as the crow flies. Very different as you can see from the photo below. What's near Gordon's  I'm not sure, but his bees obviously were working different plants since the honey is very different both in color and taste -- much darker than ours, an amber color. Our light honey, on the left below (the dark at the top is a bit of honeycomb), has a flower-life taste; The honey from Gordon's bee yard is more robust. They are both absolutely delicious. And beautiful too. So stop by for a visit. We'll have tea and toast with butter and honey. Yum!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July Parade at Camp Kreitzer

What a great day! It began with Larry and I going to Mass with granddaughter Sophie and then taking patriotic balloons to the nursing home. Unfortunately, I forgot the camera so no pictures. But there were lots of smiles and we gave away sixteen balloons to residents and a few staff members. One sweet lady accepted a balloon and then gave it back to Sophie who was thrilled. Another resident was crocheting crosses which she stiffens with glue to make lovely bookmarks. She gave one to Sophie and one to me. I look forward to visiting her again.

Back at home we made plans for a parade. We teamed up and each group decorated the tractor, bikes, a stroller, etc. Lots of creativity going on! Fun was had by all. A big thank you to Alice for planning it and providing so many of the decorations! And here are the results.

The tractor parade entry

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Camp Out at Colonial Beach

Last weekend was our square dance camp out held at Harbor View Campground in Colonial Beach, VA. Last time we were in Colonial Beach the only thing we did was go to nearby Ingleside Vineyard. This time we went down a day early to see the sights. What a great place with so much to do. We only scratched the surface.

Our first stop was George Washington's birthplace which is right on the Potomac River.

This is NOT the original home which was destroyed in a fire. This was a more
 elaborate home built for the bicentennial of Washington's birth in 1932. At that time they
had very little information about the original house. During the excavation for the house, 
they found the foundation for the original a short distance away.

Most homes built on the river had the front door facing the river, 
but when the original foundation was found it showed 
that the sideof the house was toward the river.

Washington lived there until he was three and, later after his father died and his brother Augustine inherited the estate, he spent time there off and on. It's probably where he first learned the surveyer's trade. The Washingtons were not wealthy, but they were land rich. They farmed crops for their table and tobacco as a cash crop for the luxuries they wanted to purchase from England.

The farm reminds me of Jamestown. The grounds are beautiful and there's an informative short film and small museum. We spent several enjoyable hours taking the tour and walking the grounds.

I had to laugh when I saw this poor headless scarecrow dressed
in colonial garb. He reminded me of Ichabod Crane. If you've never read 
Washington Irving's story about the headless horseman, remedy the situation immediately!

 These two handsome creatures cooperated by coming close 
to the fence around their enclosures.

On the way to the burial grounds we passed a fence behind which were several beehives and two beekeepers at work. We stopped to say hello and ask how the bees are doing. It was a young man with his mentor and we chatted for several minutes in beekeepers' jargon. He said his bees were doing well and we shared that ours are also. It is always fun to find other beekeepers on our jaunts.

 They say "knee high by the 4th of July," but with all the rain 
the corn is growing super tall this year. this was next to the burial ground.

 Washington's brother Augustine and his wife are buried here. Also Washington's
 baby sister who only lived six months. So many children died young in those das.

This replica of the Washington Monument greets visitors at the front gate. 
If you get to Colonial Beach don't miss this great attraction. Best of all --- 
it's free. It's a hidden jewel. There were very few people visiting when we got there at 11:00.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18 - Bee status: All's Well!

Golden Rain Tree is good choice for attracting bees.
We had a revelation last week on what NOT to do with your bees. Putting a bee escape on Queen Bianca's hive before we were ready to harvest honey was REALLY DUMB. We ended up with the full box of capped being invaded by robber bees and ants who uncapped some of the honey and helped themselves. Can't really blame them, but, after wising up and removing the bee escape, the poor bees have lots of work to do to repair the damage. 

We checked them today and they are, in fact, busy refilling empty cells with nectar and recapping the honey. Hard lesson learned for these two beekeepers. We won't make that mistake again.

We only checked the top box in Queen Bianca's hive today because we put on a new box with new foundation last week. We did a more thorough examination in Queen Rachel and Queen Anya's hives. We only went as far as the second box from the bottom in Queen Rachel's hive where we found plenty of frames of capped and uncapped larvae. We didn't see the queen but, once we were sure things were A-okay, we stopped looking and put the hive back together. No sense disturbing the bees more than necessary. They are doing fine.

Queen Anya's hive still has room to work. We added a new box on June 6th, but the queen is so busy laying we need to prepare another super (bee box) so they don't run out of room. Go, bees, go! 

Another good week in the bee yard. 

We stopped down on Water Street because the trees there (Golden Rain Trees) are blooming. There were honeybees all over them. We plan to buy some next Spring and plant them. They are fast growing so we should see results within three years. I was reading comments on one nursery website and a customer said his tree grew six feet in one season. Wow! Sounds like it takes three years until they bloom. I think we'll plant a few in the Fall.

Why are you using toxic chemicals in your garden?

....I sprayed the weeds in my circle garden a few days ago....with vinegar.  Why would anyone use toxic chemicals when good, old, cheap, white vinegar does such an outstanding job? Actually I don't mind weeds in the lawn. Dandelions are a great nectar source for the bees and so is chickweed. But my gardens are another matter.I like to keep the paths clear of prickly things and I enjoy a little order in my otherwise chaotic life. Also, pulling weeds is good therapy and I don't like to spray anything in the garden beds themselves.

Now check out the results of vinegar as a weedkiller.

This is a broad-leafed weed common in the garden path and around the outside.

This is the same weed thirty minutes after spraying with 100% vinegar

Same weed three days later.

This is a narrow-leafed weed that grows like ground cover.
Compare weeds onthe  path to the same  non-sprayed weeds in garden bed.
Yes, it's high time people stopped using toxic chemicals when good, old-fashioned home remedies work as well or better. Vinegar is one of my favorites. It's a great cleaning agent as well!

And here's a picture of my circle garden with the lavender in bloom and. attracting our honeybees. Not too much color at present but my daylilies are about to bloom and they will brighten things up considerably. And now....I need to refill my sprayer and finish the job of spraying all the weeds on the outer edge of the garden. Why is it that weeds always grow so much more easily than everything else?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fun at the Pittsburgh Zoo!

We just returned from a short visit to Zelienople, PA where one of our daughters lives. (Don't you love that name? Zelienople is near Mars and Cranberry. And Mars actually has a flying saucer in the middle of town.

But I digress. The Pittsburgh zoo is wonderful. We spent the afternoon visiting most of the exhibits, riding the tram, playing (or sitting) at the playground, and enjoying all the antics of the animals. I describe some of them here.

But the best part of the day was the company. What a delightful group of little girls (and their mom).