Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Party Day! Cup Cakes, Bee Hives, and Balloons

Cupcakes!  Happy Birthday cupcakes, even.  On Saturday we celebrated my nieces' birthdays.  They are 8 and 6 this year.  Time flies, doesn't it?  Has it been an entire year since I wrote about my nieces' fifth birthday party?  

I spent the early morning hours on the day of the party having fun baking cupcakes, wrapping presents, and squeezing icing.  I love an excuse to bake, but ever since we started planning our hike to Machu Picchu, over a year ago, I've limited myself to baking only healthy protein bars and cookies made with almond flour, unless it was a celebration, of course.  It was liberating to get to pile as much sugary icing on these cup cakes as I wanted!    

I even had time to create a cup cake carrying case, by wrapping a cardboard box with paper, and lining it with foil.  I used a coconut icing for German chocolate cake for some of the cupcakes, since it's a favorite flavor with some of the adults.  I had to laugh when one little girl was gazing into the cup cake box, pointed at the coconut frosting, and asked me in a very serious voice "what is that stuff?".  Ha! 

Hopefully no one noticed that I was out of birthday themed paper for my box, and that I used christmas wrap instead.  

Before the party started, Brandon and I parked the cupcakes in the shade at my parents house, and helped mom with some bee hive work.   She ordered several new hive boxes and a bunch of frames to fill them.  Everything comes un-assembled, so while mom and I painted the outsides of the boxes, Brandon used a hammer to nail the frames together.  

The four sides of the frames are nailed together with small nails.  Each frame uses eight nails, and Brandon put together about fifty frames in just a few hours.  

Here you can see the pieces of wood that will become the outside of the supers, and the new hive base.  We have enough supers now to make a whole new hive, plus put some small supers on our other hives, should they need it.  If our bees survive the winter and swarm again in the spring, we will be ready to capture another swarm.  

 Mom convinced me to peak inside our three working hives to see how they were doing.  I needed convincing, because this was supposed to be a party day, and we had already been doing so much work!  But once I got geared up and had the smoker smoking after my first try (a first!), I realized it wasn't so hot that I was going to become a sweaty mess, and it really only took a few minutes to look inside each hive.  Under the lid of the first hive was this blue tailed skink.  I know from trying to catch them when I was a kid that if you grab them by the tail, their tail pops right off!  It's very disturbing to have a wiggly skink tail in your hands, believe me.  I was happy to get a picture and let this one keep his tail.   

The small super on top of the hive that was a captured swarm, from this spring, didn't have any wax or honey built in it.  I'm not sure, but this may mean this hive isn't very strong, which means it may have a hard time making it through the winter.  In the photo above, you can see all the bees working on the thin piece of foundation wax we placed in the frame.  

The hive next door had lots of wax, but no honey in their top super, but the hive by the garden had about half of the frames filled with capped honey.  They may have enough honey to share with us!

Finally, it was party time!  By the time we got the water balloons filled using the garden hose, the kids were so anxious to get started they could barely keep their hands off the stack of balloon ammunition.  I've heard rumors of fancy water balloon gadgets that fill forty balloons at a time, but all I had were the old fashioned kind you have to do one at a time.  Filling enough balloons with water to load a tub took quite a while, even with lots of little helpers.  

Only two rules.  Don't aim for anyone's head, and before you can arm yourself with another balloon you must run and touch the tree.  This rule was to keep anyone from standing at the tub and dominating the game.  

Water balloons are just like I remembered from when I was a kid.  They don't burst when you want them too!  I saw lots of great throws which resulted in a child getting whoomped by a fully loaded water balloon which didn't pop until it hit the ground.  Ouch!  Or you drop them and they get your own feet wet.  No one seemed to mind though.  

After a day of water balloons, cake, ice cream, chili spaghetti, presents, and silly string fights, I remembered that I brought some balloons advertised as light-up balloons.  I thought this meant they would have a faint glow in the dark.  Oh no, no dim glow here, these balloons actually had lights in them!  They were so cool! 


It was really neat to watch the kids bounce the balloons in the dark.  A fitting end to party day!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I've Seen Neat Things

I've seen some neat stuff recently while working in the field.  Do you know the plant in the photo?  It's wild ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).  This is the plant that people go hunting for (it's called going "sang'n" in Kentucky) to sell the dried root.  I think most of it gets sold to folks in China.  It's considered an aphrodisiac, or a treatment for sexual dysfunctions.  I'm not sure what's going on in China, but this stuff is expensive because it's been hunted to the point that it's hard to find the plants anymore.  It's been years since I stumbled across any.  

These plants were growing in a state park, so it's probably a little safer from ginseng hunters.  

The fruits were still mostly green, but when it's done, the berries will be a tight cluster of red balls.  

This strange white flower is called Indian pipe or corpse plant (Monotropa uniflora).  It doesn't have chlorophyll because it gets it's nutrients not from the sun, but from being a parasite to fungus and trees.  

There's nothing fancy about iron weed (Vernonia gigantea), but I think it's pretty.  Especially when there's a bunch of them growing all together.  For some reason every time I see iron weed, the Black Sabath song, Iron Man comes to mind.  I've been know to sing to them in a very deep voice "I am Iron Weed..."  Nerd.  

This little bee thought they were pretty cool too.  

In all the years I've admired sassafrass trees (Sassafras albidum), I've never seen one with these red and purple things on them.  How is that possible?  I couldn't believe that sassafras would have such strange red and purple flowers, and I wouldn't have noticed before.  Well, it turns out that these are not the flowers, which are frilly and yellow, but the stalk where the seed used to be.  Oh.... well, now I know.  

Sassafras is one of the easiest plants to identify because it has three different shaped leaves.  There are regular leaf shapes, mitten leaf shapes, and a shape that has three lobes.  You can see all three in the photo above.  Do you see all three?  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sheeny Shiny and Scrap Booky

We had a hard time deciding if we should paint the wood ceiling and wood work at the little farm house.  We thought we would paint everything white, to match the trim that was already there.  But the wood looked so pretty unpainted.  What to do?  We decided to give it a coat of polyurethane, and leave it unpainted.  At least for now.  Brandon used a fluffy roller on a long handle, and I used a small roller and brush, and in one day we did a single coat on the ceilings in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and all of the upstairs.  

We used an oil based polyurethane, so it would have that lovely amber glow.  It was really stinky though, so I was glad we decided to do it before we moved in.  Even with the windows open and fan blowing, the smell was strong enough that I felt like I could taste it.  Gross.  But it does not look gross.  It looks so sheeny and shiny!  

We have plans for a rocket mass heater on the wall in the dining room, which means we might use tile or some other surface on this wall.  For now, it's plywood.  Brandon put some small trim pieces over the seams, trimmed in the windows, and we gave everything a coat of sheen.  I never knew plywood could be so pretty!  

We sanded the stringers on the stairs, and I gave them a coat of shine as well.  With the painted steps, and polyurethaned stringers and columns, it looks pretty good.  I keep telling myself I can paint them later if I decide.  Yeah, right!  I'm ready to move in!  Let's go, already.   

The pantry room has patched together drywall, and even some that's wood.  The surface is rough and ugly, and I wanted a quick way to cover the walls that wouldn't require too much work.  I thought I would use some wallpaper, but I couldn't bring myself to spend any money on those ugly walls, so I did some searching on the inter web and saw that folks were using elmers glue and newspaper to give things a new surface.  This gives me an idea...

Jamie recently cleaned our our "library room" at the office.  There was a whole stack of folded paper maps and brochures from various state parks and national forests that were slated for the trash.  Free wallpaper!  Cool.  

I mixed some water in some elmers glue, and used a small roller to make the ugly walls all sticky.  

Then I used my hands to smooth the maps onto the walls.  I had fun overlapping the maps to show the parts I thought were interesting.  For some reason we had a bunch of old road maps of Kentucky and Tennessee.  I guess now that folks have gps on their phones, we don't use as many paper maps.  

I had a poster of edible wild plants that I pasted the center of one of the walls.  

And one one wall I used some topographic maps and aerial maps from some projects that I worked on.  It's king of scrap booky, I guess.  Or maybe sort of serial killer-ish! I did the whole room in a few hours.  I'm not sure I did an excellent job getting the bubbled from under the paper, so I don't know if I would try this technique in a place that wasn't sort of hidden away, but for a pantry that had ugly scarred walls that will mostly be covered with shelves, I think it works really well.  

The last thing we did last Sunday was to paint the floors with a second coat of paint.  The floors should be dry very soon, and it won't be many more days before it's time to bring our things.  Not everything will be finished, but we're ready.  So, ready or not, house - here we come!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Good-bye, Mrs. Hall.

I just scrolled through the photos on my cell phone to find the last picture I took of Mrs. Hall, who was my first and favorite chicken.  Mrs. Hall and June had been spending a lot of their time perching on this wire box, which is placed in the strawberry bed where they had a view of the kitchen window.  Mrs. Hall liked to spy on me while I washed dishes.  

I took Mrs. Hall and June's picture after I moved the wire box off of a couple of strawberry plants that really benefited from having two chickens deposit a daily dose of fertilizer.  Look how big those plants are!  I moved the box over a scrawny looking plant so they could work their magic there, too.

I already miss Mrs. Hall.  She was so friendly that she would let me pick her up if I wanted. Not that I wanted to hold her very often, even though she was soft and fluffy like a warm feather pillow, but because she wasn't afraid of me, I felt like we spent more quality time together.  June is still a little wary of me, and if I pick her up, she gets very offended.  

I could tell Mrs. Hall wasn't feeling like her usual voracious self when she didn't seem to be that interested in her meals or in the kitchen scraps I dumped in the compost.  For a few days she wasn't very interested in her food, and her comb was droopy.  

Then, last Tuesday morning, she didn't show up for breakfast at all, and I found her resting on the back porch.  When I picked her up to examine her, she didn't stand when I put her back down.  

I gave her some water and food and left her in the shade.  When I got home from work, she was dead.  Her head was tucked under her wing, and her eyes were closed.  I think she just went to sleep and didn't wake up.  

Brandon buried her in the garden, in the morning glories near where we buried Helen.  I'm a little relieved that Mrs. Hall doesn't have to make the move with us to the little farm house.  During her life she went straight from the brooder box in the house to living in our suburban yard, and spent six years as the queen of her little domain.  She never had the stress of a move, or the stress of predators.  Six years is a respectable life span for a chicken.  

Mrs. Hall hadn't laid a egg since this spring, which was a relief, since egg laying would aggravate her prolapse, and result in a chicken bath and Preparation-H application that was a little awkward for both of us.  I'm glad she had a season of retirement from egg laying.  

I always enjoyed seeing Mrs. Hall in my garden.  Her pretty black and white pattern will be missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Remembering Ollantaytambo

Because we knew the hike to Machu Picchu was going to be up where the air is thin, we traveled to high altitude and stayed for several days before began the Inca trail hike.  One of the places we stayed, was the small town of Ollantaytambo, which is near where we would begin our big hike.  It was a beautiful place to explore.  A portion of the small town is still laid out in the grid pattern preferred by the organized Incas, and the Inca stone work on the buildings was beautiful.  A stream of water was flowing quickly along the side of the walkways, and made a nice sound in the long canyon-like passageways between the buildings.  When we arrived in town, we had some trouble locating our hotel, since no one seemed to recognize the name - Inca Paradise.  While we roamed up and down the streets asking for directions, I tried to keep track of my companions in the maze while I admired the mountains peeking above and the pretty planters on the windowsills.  

With plenty of help from friendly people, and plenty of confusion caused by our phone gps, we found our hotel, and were very pleased with the nice garden and the pretty views from our front window.  I even enjoyed the view from the bathroom window in the back, which looked over someone's poultry yard and laundry washing station near the creek.  Pigeons roosted in the window at night, and it was funny to see their sleepy faces when I turned on the light.  

In the town center is a small green space surrounded by shops advertising pizza's and free wifi connections.  We couldn't resist the promises of coffee and took a table outside so we could watch the comings and goings.   

From our table, we could see Inca ruins on the mountainside, and a few brave souls exploring the ruins.  You mean we can go up there?!  We decided to investigate.  

We found a trail with a small sign behind someone's house.  I guess this is it!  From the trail, we could look into a back yard with a chicken coop.  I've never seen such huge chickens!

The trail led us up the mountain toward the Inca ruins.  The vegetation was very interesting, and filled with beautiful aloe plants with red tipped leaves.  

The views from this trail were fantastic, of course.  We could see the famous temple and terraces on the opposite end of town.  We could even see the long lines of tourists trudging up the stone steps.  

Yes, I agree it's best to go slowly on this trail.  This was not a major tourist destination, so the trail was a rocky narrow path that was not as well maintained as more popular trails.  

Now that we're home, and I've had a chance to go through my photos and see other folks pictures, I realize that Brandon and I mostly have our mouths open in photos.  Because we are gasping for oxygen!  Like fish out of water.  We were supposed to be taking it easy and building up red blood cells as this high altitude so we can prepare for our big hike.  But who can resist exploring Inca ruins?!  

Not only were there large aloe plants, but many varieties of tiny succulents.  

We climbed through the Inca buildings, and rested on the terraces while we looked down on the town and the neatly patterned farm fields.  

As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, we made our way back down the trail, and I congratulated myself for hiking so far and so high in the low oxygen.  It gave me more confidence that I would survive the long hike we were getting ready for.  

Once off the trail, we walked through a different part of town and saw beautiful Inca stone work on doorways.  I got glimpses of people at work inside their homes.  Ancient homes, built by ancient peoples.  

I admired someones potato garden, and noticed a young teenager listening to his headphones while he tended a cow grazing near the garden.  We found a small restaurant, and disturbed an old man's dinner when he stopped eating to take our order.  Brandon tried an Inka cola, which was a bright yellow green soda that tasted like sugar and a faint flavor of cream soda.  Our meal was served with asparagus soup, which was delayed slightly as the old man had to run to the store for a packet of soup mix to deliver to his wife, who was working in the kitchen.  Ha!  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...