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BUZZZZZZZZ

Have I mentioned lately how awesome my children are?  Well, I should and I should do it often because –  they are.  Especially the wonderful daughter we got when our son married her.   I love my daughter-in-law Dani.  She is fearless!

When Dalton & Dani came back from Cheyenne (with the new hat, pretty little filly & sweet tattoo) they helped me do something else I had been putting off.  Something they got stuck doing the last time they came to the ranch and something they will probably have to do next time they come for a visit – we added more boxes to the bee hives.  Even though Dani is afraid of bees she has always jumped right in and helped out. 

I told you – she is fearless!!!

For the last month or so I had been watching those busy bees.  Watching as they came and went, packing in load after fat-legged load of pollen.  So far they’ve gathered white pollen, pale yellow pollen, bright yellow pollen and now it’s such a dark orange that it’s almost red.  Sometimes you’ll see 2 bees arrive at the same time with different colored pollen – obviously from foraging at different flowers.  And, if you sit there long enough, you’ll see the girls who have loaded themselves down with too much pollen.  These ladies are easy to spot because they’ll misjudge the landing pad and crash into the side of the hive or even miss the hive completely and fall to the ground.  It’s better than watching TV. 

As you can tell I watch them a lot.

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“Does this pollen make my butt look big?”

Besides pollen, they have been packing in other things too – stuff you can’t see like water.  We have an old galvanized bath tub under the eaves of our house.  It gathers the rain from our roof which I usually use to water the flower beds but this year there is always a bunch of bees at the tub.  They land on an old board floating on the water and get a drink before heading back to the hive.  Occasionally, I’ve seen them resting on the back of the large fat toad that lives in the plants beside the tub and swims in his own private pool.  When he’s not swimming he’ll sit on the board and be literally crawling with bees.  I think he likes it. 

Whenever I pass the tub I always look for bees – especially ones that have fallen from their perch and are swimming the best they can.  Which I have to admit, bees don’t do very well.  That’s probably why they are so quick to grab onto the end of my finger and crawl up my hand to escape a watery grave.  It’s fascinating to watch as they dry themselves off – needing the warmth of my hand and the sun as they wipe the water from their body and spread their wings to dry.  In less than a minute they are on their way back to work.  Once in a while one will slow down long enough to buzz my face before they leave. 

I always say “You’re welcome, Honey”.

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Some bees search out the sticky tree sap which they convert to a substance called propolis.  This is an antibacterial goo they use to seal every crack & crevice in their hive and basically glue everything together.  I’ve seen pictures of mice that have been stung to death in a hive and since the carcass is too large for the bees to throw outside they have sealed the whole mouse in propolis – sort of a sticky molasses-colored mouse mummy at the bottom of the hive. 

Lovely.

On calm evenings I like to stand beside the hives with my ear pressed against the sides – listening to the hum of happy bees as they put up their winter food supply.  A steady stream of bees coming and going with their pollen pouches full keeps the entrance of the hive hopping but if I’m off to the side nobody seems to care.  I think they have even gotten used to me being there.  It is a documented fact that bees can recognize human faces – amazing!  I imagine it would be a little like us buzzing the faces on Mt. Rushmore.  But I got to tell you, it would totally freak me out if Honest Abe moved and said “Your welcome, Honey.”

But I digress…

Over the last couple of weeks it’s been pretty easy to tell that things were changing in the hives.  I have been noticing lately that the bees spend a lot of time at the entrance with their butts in the air and their wings going really fast.  My theory is that the humidity is so high that they are madly fanning the hive to dry out the honey and help it cure.  I have no proof if this is what they are actually doing and not some weird ‘happy summer’ dance.  Until I find out different this is my story and I’m sticking to it.   I’ve also noticed as I’ve listened to the hives that the real ‘hum’ of the hive has been getting lower and lower so I was pretty sure the hive was nearly full.  I bet with a stethoscope you could really pin-pointed their progress but I don’t have one – so I guessed. 

When I suggested we add the boxes our selves Hubby was less than enthusiastic so we (Hubby, the bees and I) were glad to see the kids return.

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Here are my two lovely assistants.  The beautiful and brave Dani – complete with long gloves and you will notice she will be working without a veil this time.  She is overcoming her fear of bees.  And of course, we have the handsome Dalton who has never worked with a net and is waving to his fans in the audience.

The plan is simple.  They grab onto the handles of the bottom box and lift – hopefully leaving the floor of the hive on the stand.  I am ready with a mirror in one hand so I can look up into the hive and see how full it is and an extra box at my side – ready to slide it onto the floor so they can set the hive down again.  Easy-Peasy. 

It sounds good in theory but there is always the possibility of problems. 

The first hive – Beatrix’s hive was heavy.  Dani and Dalton lifted the boxes and the floor came with it.  I quickly loosened it and set it back on the stand. 

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This is the base of the hive complete with a whole bunch of bees doing the whole ‘butt in the air – madly fanning’ thing. 

Forgetting the mirror for the moment I grabbed my camera and snapped off some pictures – looking straight up into the hive.  I was a bit confused that the camera seemed to be having trouble focusing but once I stuck the mirror in to look I could see why.

.   

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The bottom box was nearly full of comb.  In fact the comb had probably been attached to the floor and that’s why it stuck.  I love this photo! 

The bees in Beatrix’s hive have almost filled 3 boxes of comb and chances are good that the top two are full of honey.  Now if they can fill more boxes we just might get enough to harvest some this fall – as long as we leave them at least 2 boxes of honey to get them through the winter.  It takes a lot of honey to keep warm in this country!

Next we moved to Matillda’s hive.   This one is just a little behind the other hive – they are just getting a good start on the 3rd box.  The honey making still seems to be going strong so who knows how much more they can accomplish before fall sets in. 

We worked quickly but this time it just wasn’t fast enough.  As Dani & Dalton held up Matillda’s hive I was trying to get another picture when Dani started squirming and stating in a fairly calm voice that she was getting stung on her right cheek just below her eye.  I was horrified but so proud of her – she didn’t scream, she didn’t drop the hive and run, she just gritted her teeth and scrunched up her face till I could get the new box in place and brush away the angry little bee.  They quickly set the hive down and Dalton held it in place untill we could regroup.

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I am such a bad mother-in-law that I reached for my camera and snapped this photo as the rain started to fall and Dani carefully stepped away from the hive.  Our bee girls have drawn first blood!  And poor Dani was the target. 

We rushed to the house and found the ‘Sting Stick’ medicine in the cupboard.  Thankfully, Dani isn’t allergic to bee stings – since this is the first time she’s been stung she didn’t know.  The sting didn’t swell and she is as beautiful as ever!  Thank goodness.

And what did Dani say about this whole episode, you ask?

“That bee-sting hurt worse than the whole tattoo did!”

I love my kids.

 

We have had a very busy summer so far.  Thankfully, Mother Nature has remembered to turn on the rain this year so we are up to our eyebrows in hay – which is a very good thing.  We have also had company for the last couple of weeks – first Dan’s foster-brother, Bill from Boston, then Dalton & Dani and even a bighorn sheep hunter who is gearing up for the beginning of his season which opens September 1st.  It has been great!  Throw in a ranch full of cattle, a huge garden, a full-time job and 50 new chicks and it’s no wonder I haven’t gotten much done. 

We had a great time with Bill.  He’s really into metal detecting and gold panning so he is always fun to be around.  We even took an evening and joined him detecting around the old school house just east of our house.  We found some odd items – the metal sides off of old school desks (the wood was rotted away a long time ago), we found some shiny metal disks that had names of different countries so I’m betting they came off of a map of some kind and we found a whole lot of junk.  It was great!

Dalton and Dani arrived shortly after Bill left.  They brought me a horse – Dani wants to try breeding Pistol so she brought me out a beautiful buckskin mare named Becky to swap.  Hopefully, Dani will get a couple of nice foals and I will still have a good horse to ride.   We got to go riding a couple of the nights they were here and I think we’re both happy with the trade.

They stayed for a couple of days then left the horses and their two dogs with us as they headed to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo (the lucky slobs!  LOL).  They arrived back at the ranch Sunday and from the sounds of it, they had a great time. 

They saw a lot of friends.  Dalton bought a new hat and Dani got a new yearling filly and a tattoo!  Both of them (the horse and tattoo) were SWEET!  I want one!  The tattoo – I’ve already got a horse.  Ha! 

I love when the kids come to visit – they help us do all the things we keep putting off.  This time we put up a sign – and it’s not just any sign.  We put up the huge ranch sign that Dalton & Dani gave us for Christmas last year. 

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Dalton designed and cut out this sign for us.  He even made the bracket to hold it after they got here.  As you can see it took one of my ‘Garden Tractors’ to dig the holes and lift the sign into place. 

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It may appear that Dalton was screwing around while Dani was working hard but actually he was packing the soil into the hole so the sign won’t fall over.  I just love the large metal wheels around the base of the posts.  They are really old tractor wheels that came off of very old tractor.  When rubber tires became available these wheels were swapped out for nice bouncy ones that I’m sure were much easier on your backside.

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I still have to touch up the paint but I love it.  And what a great looking couple!

Now I just need to plant some flowers in the wheels – something that the cattle won’t eat like prickly pear cactus and yucca plants.

 

Guess what was in our horse pasture this morning…

Well. Yah…  I mean besides the horses.

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I counted 23 Bighorn Sheep – all rams. 

We could see them from the house as I was getting ready for work.  Hubby and I grabbed the camera, jumped into the pickup and ‘went on safari’.  There were all sizes of rams several old ones with full curls and even a couple of yearlings.

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We have been seeing Bighorn sheep around here lately but never a group this large.  It was fun to watch how they moved – traveling in a tight pack with an occasional yearling tagging along behind – jumping and kicking up his heels like he was just happy to be out with the big boys. 

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Hubby thought perhaps they stuck so close together because the flies were bothering them.  They weren’t bothered by the pickup as they slowly worked their way along the fence till they got to the spot where they crossed the fence.  With a quick jump they bounced up to the top of the rock and easily stepped over the fence.  It appears the fence is a little low there but then our cows normally don’t climb on rocks!

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What a great way to start the day!

 

It’s official.  These bees are going to drive me to drink. 

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE MY BEES!!!   But I have always been a worrier and it appears I have adopted something new to worry about. 

It’s not because they’re aggressive – far from it.  In fact, I’ve been working with the hives lately without my crazy ranch wife bee suit and we’ve been getting along just fine.  I know one of these days I will probably end up with a nice big swollen bee sting right on the end of my nose but for now they are tolerating me pretty well.

The problem is that I have only had bees for a little over a month and it seems like we have pretty much had a crash course in beekeeping.  Just when I think things are going well they throw something new at me…

One week after installing the girls into their new homes it was time to open the hives and make sure the queens (Beatrix and Matilda – of course I’ve named them) had made it out of their cages.  I suited up and headed out with my shiny new smoker and an assortment of tools any seasoned beekeeper would be proud of.   Hubby was all set to take pictures but the camera battery was dead so instead he drove the pickup as close to the hive as possible and watched from the safety of the front seat.  Yes – he had all the windows rolled up tight. 

Something tells me he’s still not sure about this whole ‘bee thing’. 

It was a beautiful day.  The bees were happy, the smoker worked like a charm and best of all the queens were out of the cages.  I was super surprised to see that each of the hives already held nearly half a box of wonderful honeycomb.  It was impressive – after only one week the bees were doing great.  Carefully, I lifted one bar of comb out of the box for Hubby to see.  It was beautiful, light yellow and covered with bees.  I looked at Hubby with a huge grin on my face when the whole comb fell off the bar and crashed onto the ground!   Nooooooooo!!!!  I felt horrible.  What was I supposed to do now?

I picked up the chunk of comb and carefully laid it back into the hive but a pile of bees lay at my feet and all I could think of was “Where’s the queen?”

I knelt there for a while and watched the churning pile of bees but couldn’t see the queen.

What a mess!  I didn’t know what to do so I closed the hive and walked away, hoping the bees could sort it out.  And in about 5 minutes the whole cluster of bees was back inside where they belonged.  I’m sure my little bee girlfriends were cussing under their bee breath about the inept beekeeper they got stuck with but at least all seemed well in the hive world once again.

At least until the next evening.

After work I went out to do some gardening and check on the bees when I noticed lots (and I do mean LOTS) of activity at the front of Beatrix’s hive.  I watched for a while thinking they must have really started gathering goodies when I realized there wasn’t hardly any flowers blooming yet.  I took a closer look.  Bees were coming and going in a frenzy.  It looked like an international airport with the departing bees climbing up the front of the boxes to take off as the incoming bees flew straight to the entrance and ran inside.  There were also clusters of bees struggling on the landing pad and dead bees had started to litter the ground.  I checked the second hive and found lots of bees coming and going but nobody wrestling on the landing pad.

What the heck???

I remember something about this in my favorite book Beekeeping for Dummies.  I looked up ‘Robbing in Hives’ and from the book’s description it was pretty obvious that’s what was going on.  Matilda’s hive was attacking Beatrix’s hive and they were stealing whatever they could.  The book stated that this behavior occasionally happens after a hive has been opened and the scent of honey has been released into the air. 

Bingo! 

I’m sure that when I dropped the piece of comb on the ground I had made matters even worse.  And to top it off, the book also stated that the type of feeder I am using is bad for causing this behavior as it places a food source (sugar-water) right at the entrance of the hive.  How did I miss that when I read the book?

OK, I had made lots of mistakes and I guess its time to build some new feeders.  But that would have to wait till I could get the robbing stopped.

I checked several websites and tried to figure out what to do.  It was getting dark so I blocked off part of the entrance with some wood chips to narrow down the opening – hopefully to make the hive easier to defend.  One of the websites I found had also shown a simple wooden frame covered with window screen to seal off the entrance so I ran to the shed and found the materials I needed and quickly whipped up one.  With staple gun in hand I waited till the temperature dropped and the robbing stopped for the night.  It was nearly 10:00pm when the bees settled down for the night and I stapled the screened frame into place.

The next morning, with the regular hive entrance completely sealed off and only a very small opening (just big enough for one bee at a time) at the very top of the frame I waited to see what would happen.  It worked like a dream.  The attacking bees remained focused at the entrance while the bees who lived in Beatrix’s hive were able to exit the hive and move around under the screened area untill they found the opening at the top.  They were soon coming and going without any problems.  After 4 or 5 days of this it appeared the attacking hive had given up and were soon side-tracked by the opening blossoms of the gooseberry bushes in our tree strip.

I heaved a sigh of relief.

I began to wonder how long we were supposed to leave the screen on then one evening (after the first warm day of the season) I noticed this:

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 OK, what the heck is this?

I ran back to my copy of Beekeeping for Dummies.  Thankfully, it appears they were simply ‘bearding’ – kind of like a beehives’ version of everybody going out to sit on the porch and enjoy the cool evening air.   That’s a relief. 

According to the book this is sometimes caused by not enough ventilation. 

OK girls – I get the hint – it’s time to remove the screen (you can see the side of it on the left side of the photo). 

Once again life is good in the beehive world….  At least I think it is.

What do you think Steve?

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 I agree – we need a drink!

Good dog!

 

Spring is in the air – finally – and I am ready.

You might remember last winter I took a few community ed classes – scuba diving, handguns and beekeeping.  While it may seem like an odd combination these are all things that interest me. 

That explains a lot – don’t you think?

Anyway, it is spring so therefore it is time for me to try out one of the interests for real.  As of a week ago I am a beekeeper! 

Anyone who knows me may have already guessed it didn’t happen without mishap – this is me we’re talking about after all.

 

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I have always loved bees – they are fascinating creatures and even though I have been stung several times that did nothing to dim my fascination for the little darlings.  Last summer when I noticed a lack of bees at the ranch I knew it was time to get serious.   The very first thing you learn when you decide to keep bees is that it actually takes some time and a lot of planning before the bees even show up.

Since the internet is a wealth of information I started there and that is where I first came across information on the Warre hive (Pronounced War-ray).   These hives, also known as the People’s Hive were created by a French Abbot – Emile Warre (1867-1951) who had studied bees and hive designs for many years.  In fact he had spent most of his life building different types of hives and testing them, usually a dozen of each model.  Instead of creating a hive that was built to be the best for the beekeeper and to get the most honey production he designed a hive that is the healthiest for the bees themselves. 

Besides that, they are easy to make and can be built for around $40.00 per hive compared to $250 – $300 for a Langstroth hive.   The plans, along with the book written by Abbe Warre are free on the internet!!!  Either google Beekeeping for All or go to:

http://www.natural-beekeeping.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/beekeeping_for_all.pdf

And for a builder’s guide with measurements in inches instead of mm’s go here:

http://thebeespace.net/category/warre-hive-construction-guide/

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Here’s one of the hives (full of bees) on May Day – we woke up to 2″ of snow.  The jar of sugar water is their feeder.

Top Bar hives are built to let bees do what they naturally do.  Imagine a wild honey bees’ home – a  hollow tree.  Warre hives aren’t round but they are smaller than the hives you see all over the countryside – the better to keep warm in the winter.  When bees move into a new tree they start at the top and build their comb downward, starting with brood comb that soon hatches out and is then filled with honey as new comb is built below for new brood.  Since the brood is always growing in new comb supposedly there is less disease.  Summer passes, and the tree fills with honey from the top down.  In hives with frames (the most common hives you see) extra boxes, or supers, are added to the top of the hive forcing the bees to build up.  Warre Hives are the opposite – the whole hive is lifted and the new boxes are added to the bottom allowing them to continue building downward.  In the fall you harvest the boxes of honey off the top without really opening the hive and disturbing the bees.

Makes sense to me.  So I built two of them last fall.

My education continued last winter when I attended a beekeeping class in Rapid City.  I was hooked and couldn’t wait for spring.  I ordered 2 packages of bees on January 2nd and then  patiently (hey – I tried) waited for the bees to arrive – sometime in April or May.  The guy who taught the class also was the one who would be coordinating the bee shipment so I checked with him several times and again on Friday and was told the packages of bees would be leaving Nebraska Friday night and would be ready to pick up Saturday morning in Rapid.  I quickly set up my hives and told everyone who would listen that “THE BEES ARE COMING, THE BEES ARE COMING!!!

Since I was making a trip to Rapid and since I am an obsessive multi-tasker, I had several errands lined up as well.  I mean – why waste a trip?  We have been cleaning out the garage which was full of stuff from Dan’s folks’ house so I filled my pickup with boxes of items to donate to the local Goodwill.  It looked like a mobile rummage sale with every available nook and cranny packed to capacity with everything from old wool suits to ceramic ducks.  I had my list made out – all numbered and listed in order so I would not waste a moment because I had to get back to the ranch ASAP!  Both our boys would be here for the weekend and since we had extra help, Hubby decided we should brand the calves.  I was feeling rather proud of myself Friday night for being soooo well organized – right up to the time the phone rang at 9:00 pm.

It was the bee guy who informed me that he had messed up and hadn’t ordered my bees.  He apologized and told me for sure they would be in the next shipment 2 weeks later.

I was bummed…  I was sad…  I am not a patient woman…

I sat up late, drinking beer and tatting into the wee hours of the night and mostly feeling sorry for myself.  But Hubby was thrilled that there would be one more set of hands to order around Saturday morning.

We got up early, saddled horses and gathered cattle.  We got them in with few mishaps and spent a good amount of the morning sorting cattle into one corral, calves into another and bulls into the last one.  The bulls were first through the chute.  We doctored the sick one, treated them all for parasites, checked them over and turned them back into the ‘horse pasture’.  Next came a few yearlings – the ones that didn’t go to the sale last fall because they were too small.  They got the same checkup plus they got branded too.  It was nearly 11:00 so I ran up to the house to check on dinner and before I could open the door I heard the beeps of the answering machine.

You guessed it – 5 calls.

“We’ve got extra bees if you can get up here to get them.”

“Where are you?  Are you coming for the bees?”

“You have to come get them if you want them.  We’ll be here till 10:00.”

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, covered in a thick layer of dust and manure, reeking of poop & branding smoke and basically looking like something the cat hawked-up.  The guys down at the corrals were getting the cows into the alley at that very moment so there was no way I could just jump in my pickup and head to Rapid.  By this point I was pissed and wanted to sit down and cry but thankfully the last message was from one of our neighbors.

“JoAnn, my son-in-law is in Rapid City picking up his wife’s bees.  He heard the bee guys mention your name and called to find out if you were the one that lived out our way.  He was wondering if you would like him to bring your bees too?”

I tripped over the chair and sprawled on the floor as I scrambled for the phone, dialing the number as fast as I could with crap encrusted fingers. By the time our neighbor answered the phone his son-in-law (whom I had never met but already loved like a member of the family) was headed for home  – with my bees and the tools I had ordered!!!

“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!  They told me my bees weren’t coming this time…  We’re in the middle of working cattle…  Tell him THANK YOU!!!  I’ll meet him at the end of he road at noon.”

I raced back to the corrals to share the news.  Hubby wasn’t exactly thrilled but what do you do?  I helped push cows through the chute for an hour than sped out to the end of the road and waited for half an hour before this wonderful young man showed up with a SUV buzzing with bees.  We sorted out my stuff and quickly made plans to get together soon to compare bee notes before I headed back to the ranch with roughly 20,000 bees and one nervous little dog in the pickup. 

Of course when I heard the bees weren’t coming I had put away all the stuff I had gathered up.  So I ran through the house like a crazy woman.  I had planned on buying a bee suit when I picked up the bees but since that didn’t happen I grabbed one of Hubby’s large white work shirts, tightened my belt around it, crammed on my hat and the veil I had made to fit over it, pulled on my new bee gloves that reach up to my armpits, and even stopped long enough to tie ribbons around my legs to keep the bees from flying up my pant legs.  Talk about your cheap thrills!  I ran out the door armed with a spray bottle and 2 quart jars of sugar-water and absolutely no idea what I was doing.

For months I had pictured this moment in my mind.  I had read every book I could get my hands on.  I had watched videos on You Tube of calm, cool and collected people dressed in spotless white suits gently introducing their bees to their new homes. 

“Take your time…  Don’t rush…  Remain calm…”

None of that was me. 

I was stressed, smelly, dirty and looked like I had been living in a barn.  Besides that, I was in a hurry and for the life of me I couldn’t remember a damn thing I had learned.  

So I winged it.

There wasn’t time for me to figure out how to run my shiny new smoker so I didn’t even try.  Instead I sprayed the bees with a fine mist of sugar-water through the screened sides of the box.  Then I lifted off the cover of the first hive and opened up the bars across the top.  Turning to the box of humming bees I lifted out the tin can of sugar-water and hanging there beneath it was a cluster of the most beautiful bees you ever saw!  They hung there like a bunch of grapes, happily humming as they waited their turn at the sticky juice.  It took me a few moments to figure out where the queen was but finally realized her cage was hanging just inside the box attached to a metal strap the stuck out through a slit in the top of the box.  I lifted her out but couldn’t even see her through the mass of bees that surrounded her.  I brushed some of them aside and the air filled with bees.  It was great!!!

Then I turned the box upside down and dumped a great mass of bees into their new home.   I pulled the cork from the bottom of the queen cage and stuck in the chunk of candy that she and the workers would have to eat through to release her then hung the cage inside the hive from one of the top bars. 

I couldn’t get all the bees out of the package so I sat it near the entrance and quickly put the top back on the hive.  I ran to the second hive and did the same steps. I didn’t know if I had done it right or messed up badly but when I ran back to the first hive I was thrilled to see guard bees at the entrance with their tails in the air and their wings fanning the scent of the hive out for the other bees to home in on.  And most of them had – only a couple remained in the box.

These truly are amazing creatures.

I wanted to stay and watch but knew I had to get back to the corrals.  I stripped off the gloves, white shirt and veiled hat while running to the pickup.  Jumped in and gunned it down the driveway to the corrals, hyped up on bee thrills and adrenaline only to get chewed out for taking so long!

Apparently, things had gone bad as soon as I left.  The cows didn’t want to go through the chute and a couple of them had even thrown hissy-fits once they got in the chute and pretty much busted it up.  Any ranch wife will tell you that when things go good it’s because her husband has planned it so well but when things go bad it is her fault – even if she is miles away at the time. 

Here’s a couple of photos of me in my crazy ranch wife bee suit.  I have been feeding them sugar-water until the flowers and trees start blooming and they are hungry little ones as they can polish off a quart in about 2 1/2 days.

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 Interesting fact:  The US Department of Agriculture lists honey bees as livestock so I guess you could say we have increased our herd by over 20,000 head!

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Steve isn’t sure what to think of this whole ‘bee’ thing but he is fearless when it comes to livestock.

 

Pearl

I can’t believe it’s the end of February already.  I have been a busy woman – the tomato and pepper seeds are planted & sprouting.  The garden plan is drawn up and the hoop house is ready to go.  I was in full garden mode and fully focused on my gardening mission when BAM! in the middle of everything I got a phone call from a man I had never met…

“I hear you restore old campers…”  He started.

“Yes?”  I answered wondering what kind of weirdo made crank calls like this.

“It’s free if you’ll drag it away…”

Not every woman would fall for a line like that.  But I did. 

Apparently, this very nice man had purchased a house and property on the outskirts of Newcastle last April and was ‘blessed’ with the old camper that had been a permanent feature for some time.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure he realized it was part of the deal when he signed the papers.  Now, after nearly a year of looking at the old beast he had decided it was time for it to go – one way or another.  Of course I offered to stop after work the next night to check it out. 

When I first saw it – I gagged.

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NO WAY!!!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 

This thing is huge – 24 feet long!  I want cute, little campers not carefree mobile home living!  Besides, the thing fairly screamed “Drag me to the junk yard!”  

I considered turning around and quietly driving away at a high rate of speed but I had told him I would stop so I did even though I had already made up my mind.

The very nice man who now owned this treasure met me at the door.  (I didn’t even have time to knock).  He knew nothing of its origins but had already offered it to several people.  From what he said I got the impression that every single one of them had run screaming into the woods!  Obviously I’m a little dumber than the rest as I was still standing there.  

One or two of them had actually stopped long enough to inquire about striping out the ‘good stuff’ before they high-tailed it down the driveway but no one was insane enough to consider taking it home.

I was desperately trying to think up an excuse to leave.   

Good Grief – I haven’t even finished the two trailers I have and you know, Hubby would probably divorce me if I drug that thing home. 

But I should at least look inside – just to be polite.

So I stepped through the only door that would open – did you notice it has two?  I walked past the rotted wood on the inside of the door and the one single board that was all that remained of the screen door.  I was trying to remember when I’d gotten my last tetanus shot when I stepped onto a solid floor!  

No Way!  I bounced on the threashold then I bounced my way around the room and down the hall (I’m pretty sure the very nice man thought I was nuts).  The floor was solid.  This thing has been open to the elements for roughly 15 years and the floor is still good?  That can’t be.

The arctic winds whistled through the trailer like a wind tunnel at an airplane test sight, chilling me to the bone as I bounced past the bathroom.  OK – that’s scary but at least there wasn’t the smell of rot and decay or mold and mildew or the stench of mice poop rotting in the corners.  The old girl was as fresh as the great outdoors.  Of course she had been airing out for 15 years.

So she’s solid underneath and smells good but I still shook my head –  No Way! 

Then I noticed she was actually pretty clean inside.  No rubbish piled up – no junk stored inside – no furniture or mouse infested upholstery to deal with.  Considering the winds in Wyoming everything had probably blown out and across the pasture years ago.

We moved to the kitchen – me, still bouncing on the floor.  He looked at me – a glimmer of hope in his eyes that he could pawn this thing off on the crazy lady but I stuck to my guns.

 “I’m sorry, but this job is way beyond my skill level.  I don’t think……I can……..Ahwwww.”

I looked up…  my jaw hung open, slack and agape.  I’m sure he could see every filling in my mouth.

Above me was the most beautiful ceiling of honey-gold birch I have ever seen in a camper.  It glowed like the setting sun.  It’s warmth filled the room.  I fell to my knees to worship at the Holy Shrine of Heavenly Birch.  How could this be?  Her roof was still sealed.  Through the tears in my eyes I could see there was very little water damage.  The worst of it – an area about 2″ square on the corner of one ceiling vent.  In hushed reverence, I reached up with a trembling hand and closed the vent.  Really? 

The freaking vent was open!!!

I took a deep breath.   The very nice man drooled in anticipation.

“Well, she’s got potential but – no.”  I shook my head…

And then I saw the kitchen cabinets – honey gold birch radiated a soft glow, gleaming in the light from the busted window.  Rounded corners and classic details from the 50’s.  Original appliances – the stove and fridge were both clean inside and in good shape protected by a layer of dust.

I smiled and heaved a weary sigh. 

“No, sorry…  I can’t”

I got in my pickup and drove away…

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You should be proud of me…  Hubby was…

 

I went home ate supper and tried to sleep that night. 

But she wouldn’t let me.

I spent the next two days trying to talk myself out of it. 

But she wouldn’t leave me alone.

For 3 nights I didn’t sleep because that nasty old camper wouldn’t stop whispering to me!

She crept into my thoughts – at night, at work, at all hours of the day. 

‘Pearl’ haunted me.

I should never have given her a name.

Dopey from lack of sleep I finally gave in.  I called the very nice man – the offer still stands. 

Now she’s mine. 

The very nice man thinks I’m totally nuts. 

Of course, Hubby has known that for years.

I spent $40.00 on used tires to fit her rims and another $40.00 on duct tape and silicone.  With the old sheet of plastic from the greenhouse I should be able to seal up the windows till I can get them fixed but first we have to get her home without a major mishap…

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Heaven help me!

Morgan came home last weekend.

It was great to see him – even though it was a really quick visit.

I love my baby and I would do anything for him but when he left he took something.

Something that Hubby and I have grown quite fond of.

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He took Steve the Wonder Dog!!!

We packed some dog food and his stuffed chicken squeeky toy and he was gone.

Morgan said he’s really missed him.

And from the looks of things it appears Steve has missed him too.

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Awwwwww!

See you both in a couple of days!

Traffic Jams

I bet you think we never have problems with traffic jams around here. 

Just for a minute, consider the odds of it happening where I live.  In a big city like New York you probably would see more cars in one day then we actually have in the whole state of South Dakota.  But believe it or not traffic can get a little messed up here too.

I admit it is a rare occasion when traffic slows to a crawl and rarer yet when it comes to a complete stand-still but I am here to tell you it did come to a screeching halt last week as I came home from work.  I ran into one of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen in all my years. 

Oh the horror…

I came flying around a corner to find that the road completely blocked, gravel and snow flying, babies bawling and the horns!  I don’t even want to think about the horns!!!  And to make matters worse the roads were snow packed and slippery.  We were all having trouble on the ice.  Slipping and sliding.  Skidding and swerving.  Trying not to run into each other.  It wasn’t pretty, obscene jesters, foul language, tempers flared. 

To tell the truth I was afraid to step out of my pickup. 

And talk about spectators – it felt like all eyes were glued on me – as if I was the one to blame for this mess! 

But it wasn’t my fault – No Siree!

I swerved to the side of the road and slid to a stop well short of the carnage.  Then quickly snapped photos with my phone – you know – for insurance purposes (just in case the need arose) and also to prove that we do run into our share of  inconsiderate road hogs even way out here in the West.

Just see for yourself…

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OK (I roll my eyes) so their not technically road ‘hogs’ but just look at those crazed, glassy-eyed stares.  especially those two on the left – gang members if I ever saw them – complete with tattoos, brands and body piercings.

Tell me, is that the crazed look of road rage?

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 OK – so it’s hard to tell with cows…

Especially when they’re the neighbors cows…

I don’t really know them that well and yes, I admit it – those babies are just about as cute as they can be!  So maybe they’re not quite as bad as they seemed at first.

Maybe they just want to look in the back of the pickup for something to eat.

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Well, they can’t be all bad – at least they weren’t speeding.

OK – I’ll go get some sleep now – I’m not sure but I think I might need it.

Have a great weekend – I’ll be curling with my Sister (Wonder Woman) and The Amazing Wanda – two women who are so good they could probably curl competitively. 

Yes, I know – sleep…

Mom…

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I have written. 

When I started this blog I swore I would never write those words but my mother passed away January 7th and I suppose in my warped and twisted mind I felt that seeing it in print would make it more ‘true’.   That could explain why I purchased all the local news papers but still haven’t opened one up to read the obituary. 

My Mom, Ellen was a beautiful lady.  She had a wonderful singing voice (1st soprano in the All State Choir) and was usually singing or humming. 

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She was an artist that loved oil painting, was very active in the church and raised 3 wild and crazy kids.  She was a great mom with a sense of humor who lead us on adventures and made holidays and birthdays special.  She gardened and loved to travel and was always ready to jump in the plane and go.

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She was only 72 years old but she has suffered from strokes for many years.  Her first stroke was while I was still in school.  She bounced back from that one but the next one she had, in the spring of 1985 left her unable to deal with numbers.  Then the strokes, the dementia and finally Alzheimer’s slowly took her from us, a little at a time. 

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Even though we’ve been saying goodbye for 25 years I don’t think any of us were ready when it happened.  But it did and we miss her.

*******

I sing because I’m happy.

I sing because I’m free.

For his eye is on the sparrow,

And I know he watches me.

We attempt to lead a normal life…  Honest, we do!

Yet ‘Weird’ seems to follow us around like a dog on a leash.

Take last Saturday for example:

The day started early.  We were up and on the road by 6:30 am, long before the sun had made its first appearance over the horizon.  This was a quick and unplanned trip to meet up with our son and daughter-in-law at Pierre, SD.  The last time they visited us at the ranch they had borrowed our large flat-bed trailer to haul an old pickup across the state to Watertown where they now live.   Dalton has been working on restoring the seventy-something Ford for several years now but he wasn’t sure she would make it the whole way on her own power.  So they were thrilled to use the trailer even though it is a heavy old beast – weighting over 2 tons all by itself. 

Dalton and Dani both grew up in households where if you borrow something from your neighbor (or family) you always bring it back better than when  you took it.  We also live by the principle that if someone brings you a covered-dish or plate of cookies, you never return the dish empty – you always fill it before you return it so it makes perfect sense that if you borrow a big, old flat-bed trailer you must fill it before you return it.

Right?

Well, they did.

They knew we have been looking for hay so when Dalton called Thursday night and said they would be headed our way with the trailer filled with hay we were excited.  Since it was going to be a very quick trip we offered to meet them half-way at the SD State Capital city of Pierre. 

Like I said – Saturday started early.  We loaded Steve in the pickup and pulled out of the yard at 6:30 am – sharp.  We stopped at the end of the driveway to mail a letter, drove thru Hell Canyon to Custer where we stopped at the bank then on to Rapid City where we stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s.  A half hour later we pulled on to the interstate and sped (Yes – I was driving and yes I have a heavy foot) to Wall, SD – the home of the world-famous Wall Drug. 

I have to stop and ask… 

“Have you dug Wall Drug?” 

If you’ve been there – you will understand.

We stopped in Wall long enough to fill up the tank and pee the dog then we were back on the road to Pierre.  That’s where we met Dalton and Dani with this:

Sweet!  They can borrow the trailer anytime they want!

Nothing ‘weird’ so far – right?

Well, actually the ‘weird’ started about 5 minutes before they pulled in to the parking lot where we were supposed to meet. 

Hubby and I arrived first at the local Perkins and since Hubby has a bladder the size of a peanut he went in to use the restroom while Steve and  I waited for the kids.  As he returned to the pickup he was the first to notice something weird…

“There’s a chicken in the parking lot.”  He stated as he climbed into the pickup.

“What do you mean there’s a chicken in the parking lot?”  I asked.   “We’re in the middle of town.”

He pointed under the truck.

“There’s a chicken in the parking lot.”

I got out to look.

He was right.  There was a chicken in the parking lot…  

A white rooster who was missing some feathers…

A white rooster,who was missing some feathers and looked strangely familiar!!!

A scowl furrowed my delicate brow.

 

Flash back to an earlier post:

”  Levi (the dog) and Franklin (the rooster who lives on the porch) supervised the whole operation so you know it was done right.  Franklin is very picky when it comes to the details.  They were very impressed by my carpentry skills.  Can you tell? “

 

Present day:

It was Franklin – just a little worse for wear.

Franklin lived on our porch for a while last spring.  By summer, we had moved him along with the other chickens to the other chicken house but he had never really gotten along with the other roosters so he had moved (escaped) out of the coop and took up residence on the road grader.  Which turned out to be his saving grace. 

It has been a bad summer for chickens at the ranch.  When Hubby started to notice that the fowl numbers were dwindling, he set out catch-em-alive traps and soon racked up the impressive tally of 11 skunks, 3 raccoons and 1 mean old badger.  Unfortunately, by the time he had thinned out the predators a bit we were down to 1 hen, 3 roosters and Thomas the turkey who is so old and tough that not even the skunks would touch him. 

A couple of weeks ago we moved what was left of our little flock back to the chicken coop by our house to keep a closer eye on them.  And once again Franklin, our ‘Lone Free-Range Rooster’ had decided he didn’t like the chicken pen full of roosters so he escaped out into  our yard and had been roosting at night amongst the vehicles. 

It appears that Friday night he chose the Chevy pickup for his roost not knowing it would be pulling out before daylight.

Hence Franklin’s trip to Pierre.

We’re not sure if he was roosting under the pickup in one of the wheel wells or under the hood next to the engine.  Hubby thinks he might have been sleeping in the bed of the pickup – which would explain the big smile I got from a passing truck driver.   What a let down – I thought he was flurting with me.

Where ever Franklin was, by the time we saw him he had ridden for 5 hours and a grand total of 250 miles before abandoning ship.

It only took a moment to catch him.  He had gotten quite tame when he lived on the porch and frankly, I think he was afraid to leave the safety of the pickup.  We rigged up a set of chicken hobbles from a piece of baling twine we found in the pickup then set him in the back – covered up with a nice warm blanket while we ate lunch.  The waitress even went out to check on him while we ate.  She thought it was hilarious!

Franklin was cold and shivering (and probably in a state of shock) after flying down the highway for the last 5 hours.  It’s amazing that he stayed put and didn’t hit the pavement at 80 mph.  If he had I’m sure there wouldn’t have been anything left but a few feathers blowing in the wind and we would have forever wondered what had happened to that crazy old bird.

Of course I had to post pictures on Facebook and we laughed all they way home about the funny comments everyone made. 

Besides the photo shown above there was this photo.

“Can I ride home inside the pickup?”

And then I posted this one of Franklin and Steve in the back seat.

My sister says:

“Puppy smells chicken.”

Franklin says:

“Beef.  It’s whats for dinner.”

Can life get any weirder?

Franklin never made a peep all the way home.  He travels very well considering this was probably the first trip he’d ever been on.  I suppose life on the ranch can get a little boring at times – especially if you’re a chicken – so maybe this was a nice change to his normal routine.  We did find out that he loves Sun Chips and he really did appreciate a little drink of water.  Maybe it’s not to bad to be hobbled as long as someone is waiting on you. 

I suppose there is the possibility that Franklin has now discovered that he enjoys traveling and he will be watching for another opportunity to stow away on the next trip.  It’s a thought.  It’s pretty easy to spoil a chicken.  Maybe I’ll have to get one of those mirrors with the long handles that the secret service agents use to check for bombs under vehicles – just so I can check for Franklin before I pull out of the yard.  I would sure hate to get caught transporting chickens across state lines even if it wasn’t my idea.  I bet you have to have a permit for that kind of thing and there’s probably all kinds of fines and jail time if you get caught without it. 

I’ll have to check into that.

On another note, I have personally declared November 3rd as National Take Your Rooster for a Ride Day.  There seems to be days for everything else so why not this?  I considered bringing it before Congress for an official declaration but we all know Congress can’t agreed on anything so I’m sure it would only add to the stack of worthy bills they need to be working on.  

But as Forest Gump would say, 

“That’s all I have to say about that.”

With that I will leave you with one parting thought by Steve the Wonder Dog.

 

“I like Chickens.  They taste like…      chicken.”