Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plane View of Thunderstorms

The other week I made a quick trip for work up to Boston.  On the way back there were several storms along the way and the plane felt as though it was winding its way through a forest of trees.  Looking out the window there was a great view of the thunderstorms, so a few pictures of the clouds seemed in order.

The pictures don't do the storms justice.  I could see the clouds growing and billowing as we flew by.  Even though it looked sunny in these photos, once it was time to land, that was not the case.  Only once has the in-flight sickness bag been necessary with all the miles that I have logged.  By the time we finally got on the ground, it was close to being the second time.  Luckily, the pilot decided just in time to get the plane on the ground and the unused bag was gently tucked into the seat back.  Ready for another passenger on another day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Gone!!

This chicken thing is fun and frustrating all at the same time.  Fun is seeing them grow up from chicks and get to know us, so that they come running to me when I get home from work.  Fun in lifting the lid on the nesting boxes and finding fresh eggs waiting for us every day.  Fun in listening to them talk to each other and us as they wander around the yard, eating bugs and grass, free-ranging to their hearts content.

Frustrating in watching them wander over to the neighbor's yard and hang out over there.  Frustrating in watching them start to roost in the Guinea Ghetto instead of the wonderful Chicken Condo I created for them.  Frustrating in watching them disappear, which is what happened this time.

At last count, we were seven chickens and one guinea.  One of the Black Australorp chickens went missing.  This time there was no evidence as to what my have happened.  No feather trail through the yard like there was when we lost four of the guineas.  Nothing.  Not a trace.

Last Black Australop left in the flock.

The feathers on the Black Australorps have a green tint when the sun reflects off them.  They are really a good looking chicken.  We started with pairs, and now the Black Australorp and Buff Orpington are singles.  The Ameracauna and Barred Rock chickens are still pairs.  Not that it matters since they are all hens and all seem to get along fine.

The most disappointing part is that they are all laying eggs, so we were getting a solid seven eggs a day, and now we are down to six a day.  Nothing to shake a stick at, but one less than before.  We're a little more cautious now with the chickens, keeping them in the run if we are going to be gone all morning and letting them out in the afternoon when we are home.  This seems to keep them closer to the house than if we let them out first thing in the morning.  It seems to be working and they are all hanging around closer to the house.  Hopefully, this means we will be at a steady six eggs a day until winter comes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brunswick Stew at Possum's

Today was a sign of fall.  Yes, it is technically fall, being after September 21,  but it sure hasn't felt like it.  There are a few trees starting to turn colors, and we had a few days of cooler weather, but this week it has been raining almost every day and it has been about 80 degrees this week.  It's hard to feel like it is fall when you are still in shorts and tee shirts.  My long-sleeve tee shirts have been silently crying to me to get some use.

But this was the day that Possum selected for his Brunswick stew party.  For those of you not familiar with Possum, he is the one that saw me working my original two bee hives and asked me if I would put some bees at his 3 acre garden. He starts the stew around 6am in the morning cooking over a wood fire fueled by only hickory.  He says it adds flavor to the stew.  The main ingredients are tomatoes, butter beans, corn, celery, potatoes, chicken, turkey, stock from the chicken and turkey along with water and a selection of seasonings and spices.  Mixed all together and cooked in a monstrous pot over a wood fire.  The pot is so large that he doesn't have have a matching lid.  Instead, he uses a piece of plywood cut to a matching circle with a handle screwed on the center for lifting.

Possum filling a serving bowl from the main pot of Brunswick stew.

It was delicious.  The Middle Son and Youngest Son chose not to partake and Possum had hot dogs and sausage for them, cooked up in his smoker to add some extra flavor.

A lot of people were coming and going.  Possum said about 80 people were invited, and the party started at noon and goes until the pot is empty.  That's the way to have a country get together to celebrate the changing of seasons and the coming of fall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Somebody is Watching!

From checking the blog stats here, it is known that a few people here and there have been checking out my blog and following my haphazard adventures to living the country life.  But now it is proven.  Concrete2Chickens has been given the "Liebster Blog" award by the nice couple over at Broken Road Farms. It was the bonding we had over waiting for our first eggs this summer from our first chickens.

From "Our Life on the Broken Road": "Liebster" is a German word meaning dear, sweet, kind, nice, good, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

The Liebster is awarded to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers.  Concrete2Chickens definitely fits into that category with less than 200 followers!

There are a few rules associated with the Liebster Blog award.  So without further ado, here we go.

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

     Thank you Broken Road Farms! This award may seem insignificant to some, but it means a lot to me to get some kudos from someone other than family and pre-blog friends.

2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

     This is not an easy task as there are a lot of blogs I watch and I don't want to offend those that are not listed below.  There will actually be six mentions, but one of them gave the award to me, so I assume I can't give it back.  With that in mind and Broken Road Farms already mentioned more than once, my top 5 picks are as follows:

     1 - Haphazardly Coherent - Full disclosure: Cookiedough was my college room mate and we worked together at my last job in Phoenix.  Even with that going for him, his blog stands on its own.  Most of the posts focus on two of his favorite things: mountain biking and food.  Not just any food, but unique combinations of food, and a lot of it on the grill.  His photography is excellent and I know he works hard to get better and better.  In 2010 he challenged me to do a Photo a Day with him.  Well, I made it through about May which is when we moved to VA and everything got really busy and I got distracted.  He powered through and completed the entire year with only missing about two weeks total.  If you haven't tried this yourself, you can't imagine how impressive that is!

     2 - Life in a Little Red Farmhouse - Although I have not met Kim, I feel a bit of a bond with her as we both have three boys and have moved to the country from city life.  Her posts are filled with great pictures, and that "Little Red Farmhouse" is awesome!  Her and her family built the house by themselves and made it the way they like it.  Some country, some modern and a little bit of whatever they want.  They also have patience beyond measure.  They have been taking horse riding lessons and spent a lot of time just training the horses without even riding.  I'm not sure I could have been that patient to wait.  And their menagerie of animals on their farm keeps me coming back to find out what they are going to be doing next! (After I wrote this glowing review, I realized that Kim has over 200 followers.  I still think she deserves the award though, so I am going to keep it listed here.)

     3 -  Rurally Screwed - I'm not sure how many followers Jessie has, so I am including her.  Jessie is another one that left city life and moved to the country.  And her husband is over in Afghanistan serving our country in the US Armed Forces.  She is also getting settled into country living and her posts are loaded with photos.  And Jessie tells it like it is.

     4 - The Locavore Hunter - Again, I'm not sure how many follower Jack has, but his blog is intriguing.  I just ordered his first book "The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food".  The oldest son has a lot of friends that are into hunting and he wants to give it a try.  This is a whole new topic for me that I won't get into here.  Jack is also working on a new book called "Eating Aliens".  Although it sounds odd, it is all about hunting and eating invasive species that can actually make natural species go extinct in certain areas.  And I love reading his hunting stories.

     5 - Apple Pie Gal - I have just recently started following Apple Pie Gal, but I have spent a little time checking out some of her older posts.  She definitely has variety, from hunting, to gardening, to canning, to chickens, to bees, to just about anything.  And the best part, they have a tractor that any homestead would love to have.  They have done a lot of the things that I hope to do and her blog is a wealth of information to be learned.  Looking through her blog I noticed that she has already received the "Liebster Blog" award, but hey, people can get multiple Grammy's and Emmy's, so why not multiple Liebster Blog's?

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

     Done above.

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

     I'm sure they will as all of them have been friendly and welcoming.  

5. And most of all - have fun!!

     Sometimes my posting has gaps due to either work or personal life, but I try to catch up, even if everything isn't in chronological order.  I hope that all of you have enjoyed following everything that is going on here at our home, and please, feel free to leave comments.  It is the small affirmation that what I am writing resonates with someone else out there!

Friday, September 16, 2011

20th Wedding Anniversary

August was a busy month.  Other than the Good Wife's family reunion, there was also the earthquake and the start of school.  But the big event was the Good Wife and my 20th wedding anniversary.  20 years!  That seems like such a long time ago.  It was three kids ago, two dogs ago, three houses ago, two states ago and about seven cars ago.

A little while before our anniversary, the Good Wife got one of those timeshare calls asking us to come and visit a resort in Williamsburg.  For our time, we would get two nights and three days in Williamsburg.  Why not?  It would only take 90 minutes of our time.

The weekend came and off we went, along with the three boys.  They joined us for the first night there since it was a Thursday night.  Friday morning, some friends met us part way and took them until Saturday evening.  The Good Wife and I were celebrating.  Now what?

You never know what you will see in when you get into a tourist infested area.

On the recommendation of a co-worker, we went to find Edward's Virginia Ham Shoppe.  We happened to come across one in Williamsburg and got a sandwich from their deli.  It was excellent.  They were friendly and kept offering us samples.  We could have stayed there and had a full meal.

But apparently that wasn't the original store.  We were on a quest.  The original Virginia Ham Shoppe was across the James River.  And the best way to get across the river is by the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.

Although it looks foggy, it was smoke from the Great Dismal Swamp fire.  It was a nice ride across the river.  Something different.  Once on the other side, it was a few miles down the road and there was the original Ham Shoppe.

Surprisingly it was smaller than the other shop in Williamsburg.  We had such a good sandwich the day before, we decided to get another one for later.  We asked for the same sandwich we had at the first shop, and they wouldn't give it to us!  We wanted the pretzel bread but didn't want a hot sandwich.  They refused to make it for us.  They said they only make the pretzel bread in a hot sandwich.  We told them we had just had a cold sandwich with the pretzel bread the day before at the shop in Williamsburg, but they still refused.  I don't understand how stores can stay in business being that rude.  We selected a different bread, got our sandwich and headed back to the ferry.

Before getting back on the ferry, we stopped at a dollar store for some oyster crackers.  We wanted to feed the seagulls that followed the ferry.

They were everywhere.  And most of them were very talented and would catch them up in the air.  Several families came back to watch and we shared our crackers with the kids.  Everyone had fun.

Then it was time to go to our timeshare meeting.  We had no interest at any point, and were only fulfilling our obligation.  Three hours later, it was finally over.  Yes you read that right, three hours!  The only good thing was that our salesman took us on a drive through Williamsburg to show us the sights and told us a lot of the history of the area.  That was worth it, but that is about it.

We drove the entire Colonial National Historic Parkway.  It is a nice road through the woods between Jamestown, through Williamsburg and on to Yorktown.

We got to see the Yorktown Victory Monument and walk along the beach and have some ice cream.

Too soon it was time to head home.  We had fun, even though our "free" hotel was horrible  I don't even want to mention the name.  We had originally planned to go to Las Vegas and get our wedding vows renewed by Elvis.  We did that for our 10th anniversary and wanted to do it again, but that was when we were still living in Phoenix and much closer to Las Vegas.

I rented a tux, the Good Wife slipped back into her original wedding dress, and Elvis presided.  It was just the two of us and Elvis.  We had a lot of fun.  Who knows, maybe for our 30th!  I'm sure Elvis will still be alive and kicking in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Storms and Colors

This past week we have had a lot of storms.  First it was hurricane Irene, then the remnants of tropical storm Lee.  Either way, we have had rain most of this week.

Earlier in the week, we had a break in the clouds right around sunset.  The sun was coming through the clouds and casting a very warm yellowish orange tone on everything.  All the boys saw it and commented on how different it looked outside.  Grabbing my camera, I headed outside and captured this photo.

You can see the storm clouds still there in the upper left corner.  This photo is straight out of my camera with no post processing.  Only a standard UV filter was used, which I keep on my lens for protection more than anything.  It is cheaper to replace a broken filter than a broken glass on a lens.

Every now and then we get the priviledge to capture the awesomeness of God's creation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Bee Sting

It seems that our family can't remember what our house looks like on the weekends as we have been on the road the last several weekends, this weekend included.  We headed up to Baltimore and the National Aquarium.  A friend of ours is a diver for the Henrico Fire Department, and he had the opportunity to go diving in the tanks at the aquarium with the fish, so we went along to watch.  But before we headed out on Saturday, the bees got a visit from me to see how things were going.

The bees haven't seen me since before the hurricane.  It is starting to get cooler during the nights and the bees needed to be checked to make sure they are storing up enough honey and pollen to get them through the winter months.

There was some concern about hive #2 of my original hives.  The last inspection showed that there was honey on a few of the outer frames on the top hive body only in the upper corners of the frames.  Definitely not enough for the winter.  Figured that the bees would need some additional feeding this fall, I made up three containers of 2:1 sugar syrup with a little Honey-B-Healthy added in, one for each hive.

Inspecting original hive #1, I was pleasantly surprised how many bees were in the hive and how much honey was in the hive.  The top hive body outer frames were loaded with honey on both sides.  The really surprising thing was that they even had finally drawn out the 1 and 10 frame on the top hive body.  They had left the foundation without any comb at the last inspection.  Now they had drawn it out and filled it partially with honey.  The bottom hive body showed plenty of brood, both capped and uncapped along with quite a bit of pollen.  The queen wasn't seen, but evidence was there. This hive has always been my strongest, and the confidence level is high that this hive will winter well.  The honey super on this hive was still untouched, but was left on to make sure the bees knew they didn't need to look elsewhere for space.

Inspecting original hive #2 was no surprise.  The little honey that was there on the previous inspection had dwindled down to only a few frames in the upper corners in the upper hive body.  Very little honey anywhere, and not a lot of pollen either.  There was a wasp that was right on top of me and the frames as I was doing the inspection on this hive.  It kept flying around my face and then going after the honey on the frames sitting outside the hive.  You can see it in the bottom right corner of the picture below.

After the inspection was almost complete, the wasp sat down on one of the support boards that extends from under my hives.  A quick slap of the hive tool and the wasp was permanently dispatched.  One other thing that I noticed was that there were some larvae that looked larger than would normally be uncapped laying on the bottom of the cells.  You can see them in the picture below.

There were still some drones in the hive, and some of the cells around these looked like drone cells.  Would the worker bees not cap larvae that were going to be drones this late in the summer?  If anyone knows what this situation is, and if I need to worry, please let me know.There were probably less than a dozen of these total in the hive.

This hive needed to be fed so it could start building up its winter stores of honey.  I added a hive top feeder and filled it up with syrup.  The honey super that was on the hive was left on since there were still a lot of bees in the hive, and I am hoping that they will fill up the drawn comb in the deep hive bodies, and not start to draw comb in the honey super first.  After doing that, second thoughts crept in and I may try to remove the honey super to force the bees to fill the deep hive bodies.  The brood pattern in this hive was also smaller and more patchy than original hive #1.  It probably could use a pollen patty to give it a boost.  Tomorrow after work I may try to get to the hive and remove the honey super and add in half a pollen patty.  After putting everything at the original hives back together, it was time to head over to the Possum hive.

The last inspection at the Possum hive showed that there was an average amount of honey, but not enough to keep it through the winter.  This has been a very busy hive since then.  The top hive body was full of honey and some pollen.  There was a little brood in the lower portion of the center frames.  The bottom hive body was amazing.  There was lots of pollen and other than the outside two frames on either side, it was solid brood.  And not just patchy, but solid.  This queen has the best laying pattern of all three of my hives.  At this point, I didn't add a feeder as it seems to be on the right track to preparing for winter.

A close eye will be kept on original hive #2 to see how fast it takes in the syrup.  The hive top feeder was also turned around since that hive is on a steeper slope, and this will keep the syrup usable towards the front where the access is to the hive top feeder.  This isn't standard, but we will see how it works out.  The other hives may need feeding next month, depending on how things progress, but they are looking good now.

I also got my first bee sting, on the middle of my left forearm.  I felt a little prick on my arm, looked down and didn't see anything, so kept on inspecting.  A little bit later I felt it again.  I looked closer and there was the stinger.  No bee, just the stinger.  I'm not sure what happened or why it felt it needed to sting me, but it did.  It wasn't so bad.  Nothing like a wasp or hornet sting.  Hopefully though, these will be few and far between.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Family Reunion in West Virginia

None of the Good Wife's family is from West Virginia, not that there is anything wrong with being from West Virginia, I think, but it was a nice central location for everyone.  It was decided that Stonewall Resort was the place to go.  There were tent camping sites right on the water, RV sites with full hook-ups, multi-bedroom cabins and a full feature lodge and conference center.  It would work for everyone no matter what type of accommodations they wanted.

The day before heading out, I made the decision to take our ski boat with us.  We haven't used it in a few years, but I had just run it dry the week before checking to see how it ran, and everything seemed good.  It would be about five hours of towing a boat through the mountains of West Virginia.  Do I really want to do that?  After a little second guessing while getting ready, off we went.

We had a treat along the way.  We decided to stop at a small town along the way and have lunch.  We just happened to pick Durbin, WV.  Besides it being a really quaint town nestled in the mountains of West Virginia, they have an active railroad with a steam engine.  While we were having lunch, it just happened to come into the station across the street.  We might have to make a return visit during the fall colors to enjoy the train ride.

After finally getting to the resort, we got our campsite setup.  We had chosen to camp in a tent.  What I didn't mention, was that it was the beginning of August and it was still hot and humid.  The boys had fun, but we only lasted one night in the tent.  The Good Wife's parents were in one of the two bedroom cabins and her sister and family from Knoxville, including the Good BIL (Brother-In-Law) couldn't make it, so we gladly took their place in the cabin.

I can't say enough about the resort.  Included with the cabins and for only $14/day for each campsite, all the amenities were included.  That consisted of the pools, kayaks, canoes, activity center, fishing equipment, paddle boats.  You name it, they had it.  Not only that, a couple nights some storms rolled in, so we went to the lodge and asked if there was a room our family could use to play some games.  Several times they gave us a conference room at no cost!  They were very helpful and friendly.

Taking the boat turned out to be a good decision.  All the kids enjoyed it, and the lake the resort was located on, was narrow and winding with few boats, which meant lots of glass.  That's smooth water for you non-skiing people out there.

It didn't matter that it rained on us several times while out on the lake.  Glass is glass.  Get it while you can.  A few of the adults went out with us, but for the most part, I was the driver for the weekend and all the kids got an opportunity to go out behind the boat.

Oldest son got to kneeboard...

and wakeboard.

Youngest Son even got some time on the kneeboard and was able to get up on his knees and have some fun.

Even I got a little time behind the boat on the wakeboard when I could pull the Good Wife away from her family for a few moments.  I took the first run of the day and it was still a little foggy out, but the water was smooth!

This was the first day, so we still weren't exactly sure where the lake went, so it was a little nerve wracking trying to see the shore through the fog.

It was so calm that I even got a few runs barefooting.  Since it had been a few years since this body has been barefooting, I decided to stay on the boom and not go from the rope.

The Oldest Son had the most fun doing double kneeboards with one of his cousins.  Two boys, two kneeboards with two lines.  Good fun spraying each other and trying to push each other off.

Of course, when in West Virginia, a possum must be involved somehow.  One night while coming out of the lodge after playing some games, the kids saw a possum and chased it into the parking lot.  The possum was trying to get to the woods and the kids were trying to corner the possum.  From one car to another the possum ran with the kids chasing around yelling to each other whenever they saw it.  I'm sure this is something they won't forget soon.

The only disappointing part of this trip was that we only went for a long weekend.  This resort is definitely a spot where we could easily spent a full week, with lots of time behind the boat.  We haven't used the boat in a couple years, so it was great to get it out.  Boating is a great family activity.  Everyone is captive to a small area and we get to watch each other and talk and have fun together.  And you get some exercise at the same time.  There aren't many activities that allow families to do all that.  If you know of any, let me know.

Monday, September 5, 2011

General Thoughts and Musings...

Sitting here in the middle row of the Ford Expedition heading south, time has presented itself to me. It's not time at home, which could be put to use doing a slew of tasks, including finishing any of the half started projects laying around the house. It isn't even time at work, which could be put to use looking forward and getting a development plan in place, or coming up with the next great thing. This is time sitting in a car with only the resources in my lap. Luckily my resources include a 3G iPad2. This is new to me as the driving duties traditionally fall to me. With this unheard of extra time, you will get a preview of some of my thoughts.

Chickens & Guineas
Only one guinea remains, and it decided it doesn't like us anymore. The last two nights it hasn't come to roost in the coop or the run. It is still around, but seems to spend more time at the neighbors than at our house.

Why do the chickens not roost in the Chicken Condo? They all have decided to bunch up in the Guinea Ghetto. There are two roosts in the ghetto that would hold all seven chickens, but three or four will use one roost and the others will lay on the bottom screen. They have a nice Condo with a roost, two four-pane windows and three luxurious nesting boxes. Luckily they still lay their eggs in the nesting boxes. That is except for one Americauana. It has decided to lay it's eggs in the woods. Hearing it do the egg laying sqwauk one day, I ran down to the woods but couldn't find the chicken before it finished it's duty. That chicken needs to be kept in the run for a few days so it will learn that the nesting boxes are where it should lay the eggs.

Daylight time hasn't been available as I haven't had a chance to inspect my bees after the hurricane, but I assume they are all still standing as Possum hasn't called to notify me of any issues. The Oldest Son went with me to my bee club meeting last night. After hearing the discussions there, my bees need to be fed to get their winter stores up before the cost sets in. Their feed isn't just sugar water, but also pollen so they have the right nutrition. My confidence level is high that two of my hives will be fine this winter, but I am nervous about the third. It looked weak at the last inspection. The gentleman from my church that gave me my first hands on experience this spring has wanted to see my hives, so I need to schedule a time to get together with him to go through my hives.

Around the House
There are so many things to do: finish replacing can lights and sealing outlets from the home energy audit, finish pressure washing the deck and then seal/stain the deck, get a quote for installing a retaining wall and leveling a lower patio area in the back yard, get an estimate from the lumber yard for the materials to builds the detached garage/workshop, build a new larger coop and install a second run for a second attempt at the guineas next spring, replace the fruit trees that didn't make it this past year, install some trees along the driveway for the Good Wife, clear out the woods behind the house for the Good Wife so you can see further into the woods easier, wax both cars as it has probably been years, and all the regular maintenance that needs to be done, such as cutting the lawn and general clean up. Hmmmm. Time to prioritize a few of these tasks and get some projects completed.

A friend has also brought the possibility of raising a couple beef cows. I have a horse pasture we aren't using, and figured why not put a cow or two out there. Neither of us have a clue how to raise cows, but one of the Oldest Son's friends has some calves they are willing to sell us to start our project. The meat sounds real good, fresh grass fed beef without hormones or antibiotics. Not sure why we haven't started that project. Another thing to add to the list.

But not this weekend. This weekend we are heading to the beach with some friends. The mom of the family that is joining us grew up with the Good Wife, and they are both a lot of fun to hang out with. I'm just not sure who picked a shark infested beach to hang out at! The Good Wife's older sister is going with, and she is in the passenger seat of our car right now, which is why I am in the back. The Good Wife's other sister and family from Knoxville were supposed to join us also, but their schedule didn't work out. I am really going to miss them as I really enjoy hanging out with the Good BIL (Brother In Law). He is the one that is discussing the possibility of doing meat chickens with me. I have no clue how to process a chicken and he has done it in the past, so I have offered to raise them if he will head up the processing. I'll help, but not sure how helpful I would be as it would be all new to me. This opportunity is still in the discussion phase. Maybe next year.

There was a bit of a problem with this post and my iPad, so it didn't get posted Friday afternoon as intended.  After finally getting it to work, it is now getting posted as we are getting ready to head home after the weekend.  Everyone a bit sunburned, but still alive and no sharks to be seen!