Thursday, July 24, 2008

Little Abbey Mystery

Clue Number One: She occasionally says "ouch" when eating grapes too fast.

Clue Number Two: She ran a low-grade fever for a couple hours one day last week.

Clue Number Three: The little surprise she leaves in her diaper was a little bit different her normal surprises.

Clue Number Four: She has woken up a couple times last week in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.

So using my powers of deduction, I guessed that Little Abbey was getting some teeth in. Three days later, I finally got a good look into the back of her mouth to see I was right. The next sets of molars are poking hard at the skin of her gums. It looks terribly painful to me but she hasn't seemed to be bothered much. These molars will be numbers 17 through 20. I already watch my fingers carefully when putting food into her mouth so that won't change.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

"... and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books…" - Doctrines and Covenants (D&C) #90 verse 15 revealed to Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, March 8, 1833.

I would like to say I had this D&C chapter in mind when I set out to read "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" by Jon Krakauer but in truth I hadn't read the D&C and still haven't. But I did start reading this book to further my knowledge on the Mormon faith so in the end, I ended up obeying one of Joseph Smith's many prophesies that he had during his short lifetime.

Although the book touts to be about the murder of a woman and her child by some members of a breakaway sect of Mormonism called the Fundamental Church of Later Day Saints it is mostly about the history of the early Mormon church through the modern day history of the Fundamental off shoots of the main church. But as Krakauer said at the end of the book, you do really need to know the past history of this group in order to fully understand why the murders happened.

The book itself was an excellent read and covered a great deal of material. It was so fascinating, that I would like to read another book or two on the subject that goes deeper into some of the topics that this book skimmed over. For one, although there was a lot written about Joseph Smith, I would like to read a book that covers him more in depth.

Two things amazed me about this book that was published in 2003. The first was the writings on the sect now led by Warren Jeffs, who had just became the prophet of that sect when the book was published, had now come to fruition and as we now know, Jeffs is serving time over it. The second thing was how interconnected the members of that faith really are. Krakauer would go off on what you would think was a tangent in the history of the Mormon faith only to come back to someone related to a current prophet of one of the Fundamental sects.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone wanting a basic history of the Mormon faith or the various groups of Fundamental sects or if you like me, just a Jon Krakauer fan. There are two more things that I would like to briefly add to this book review, which really has nothing to do with the book, but I felt this was the place to touch on them.

The first thing was that in writing this blog entry, I wanted to look up the exact verbage of D&C 90 for the quote I published at the beginning. I Googled in Doctrines and Covenants 90 and clicked on the first link which took me to a page that I thought was Wikipedia. Only after reading it a ways did I realized that it was actually a Mormon version of Wikipedia and not the open for editing version that the real Wikipedia is. The more I compared the real Wikipedia to the Mormon version, you could tell that one was heavily edited and much shorter in detail. Here is a link to both versions text on Joseph Smith:

Wikipedia Version
Mormom Wikipedia Version

The second thing is that if you do buy this book, I recommend not buying the first edition but a subsequent addition. After the printing of the first addition, an Elder of the Mormon faith wrote a lengthy letter dismissing various claims of Krakauer as lies, fabrications or due to poor research. Krakauer not only adds that letter at the end of all but the first edition, but also backs up his claims citing his sources, many of which the Mormon Elder used behind in his defense. After looking up some of the information, I must say that Krakauer certainly had the most convincing argument and it seemed as if the Mormon Elder was trying to pull stuff out of context to support his claims. But again, you should be the judge

P.S. Warren Jeffs in the NEWS today.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Wonderful World of Bees: Part 3

One of the most interesting parts of the beekeeping business was the extracurricular activities such as custom pollinating or catching swarms. Various people would call us up asking for bees to help pollinate various crops from fruit orchards to a field of Queen Anne's Lace that was used by a local pottery place. This meant going out one evening to plug up the openings to several hives and loading them onto a truck to be delivered. Occasionally, a fellow beekeeper would swing by our farm for the evening with a semi-load of bees heading out to the fruit orchards out west which always made me realize that no matter how big you are, there is always someone bigger.

By far the most common call was for help ridding a swarm of bees. We would load up a kit of gear that we kept ready and set out for the caller’s address but most of the time we were disappointed. If what they called a swarm was a true swarm of bees, we could find a cluster of bees on some branch of a tree or other resting point out in the open we would set up. This involved laying out a large white sheet, setting up a hive on the sheet and getting a smoker lit and smoking. We would smoke the bees which placates them and gently shake them loose from their perch onto the sheet in front of the hive or remove the cover and shake them directly into the hive if possible. Most of the times you never saw the queen which is really the key to capturing a swarm but if you got all the bees off their perch, the large majority of time they would adopt the spacious hive that we had set out as their new home. We would come back in the evening, plug up the entrance and haul them home where they were put to work producing honey.

More often than not however, the swarm turned out to be a colony that had already made a home in one of the various buildings of the caller’s residence. Most of the time there was nothing to be done but advice the owner what chemicals could be used to kill the bees. Occasionally though we would find one with a nice defined entrance that was accessible. When we found one of these, we would again set up the sheet and the hive and fashion a cone out of some fine wire mesh so that it had a small opening on one end and a large opening on the other. We would attach the cone with the large opening over the entrance the bees used and the small opening pointing away. Bees could easily escape from their hidden hive but couldn't get back inside. The scents that they followed were allowed to escape through the wire mesh but because their entrance had essentially been reduced and move back away from their old entrance by the depth of the cone, they couldn't find the hole to get back in. In theory, the bees would continue to collect on the outside until the queen came out to check where everyone had gone and got trapped on the outside as well. Then, they would spot the vacant hive nearby and call it home. But in practice, the success rate for doing this wasn't very high.

My parents are farmers and eventually their business of bees and their business of farming grew up to where they interfered with each other. Both required intensive amounts of work in the spring and fall months and something had to go. They put their hives up for sale in a trade publication and sold them. The fellow that bought them as fall wound into winter didn't want to move them until early spring. My parents agreed to those terms if he did any monitoring of them necessary over winter and a deal was struck. But also that fall, unbeknownst to us, the dreaded mites had gotten established in our hives and over winter, about 25% of them died. The buyer took what was left and we were out of the bee business.

Our extracting equipment was cleaned up and stored in a farm building about a mile from our house where a few years later it would all be stolen and no doubt sold on the scrap market. The one colony of bees that we kept behind for private honey reserves would flourish for a year or two before one day they swarmed and left a vacant hive behind. We kept the weeds mowed around it for a couple seasons waiting for new tenants and then eventually packed it away. Now all that remains of a once thriving 200-colony bee business are the memories and a few dusty bottles with our family name on the package label. Occasionally at some farmers market, I will see some beekeeper sitting behind a table of honey and with a few words, establish myself as someone who knows bees so that we can spend fifteen minutes gabbing. Royal jelly, drones, swarm cells, etc.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Wonderful World of Bees: Part 2

As the honey was being extracted it ran out a tube at the bottom of the extractor and down into a pit where a pump would pump it into a batch processor. The honey gravity extracted from the wax and drips in the uncappings tank would also be drained into the pit and pumped up to the batch processor. The processor was nothing more than a big stainless steel drum that could be heated. Heating of the honey does two things. Heated honey is much easier to strain all the bits of wax and other debris out of it and heated honey has a longer shelf life before it begins to sugar or turn solid. Some people thought heating destroys the good bacteria in the honey and preferred it "unheated" or raw. So depending on where it was going, we would heat to different temperatures so that it officially could be labeled as raw or pasteurized.

I want to inject one little side note here. If you have some honey that is sugared, it is readily fixed by soaking the bottle in a bath of hot water or if in a microwavable container, nuked for a few seconds. The sugars melt and reincorporate back into the honey so that it will be back to "normal" though if gotten hot enough, no longer considered raw by governmental standards. As a business, we were regularly inspected just like any other food processor and had to maintain a license so I got to know some of these standards though for the life of me, I can't remember the temperature limit for raw honey.

Once the honey was heated up to temperature, it was run through a filter of cheesecloth and into one of two containers. If it was for a bulk sale, we ran it directly into food safe 55-gallon drums that were sealed and hauled off. If it were to be sold to stores, it would be emptied into another stainless steel vessel with a sort of beer tap on the bottom. There, whichever brother wasn't extracting would be individual bottling the honey into jars. Of course our favorite were the five-pound jars of honey that took some time to fill. Our least favorite were the squeeze bears you see in the store since it only took a second or two to fill it and much attention had to be paid to get it full without overflowing. If it overflowed, you had a very sticky mess to clean up before handling anymore bears. The bottled honey would be labeled and crated for delivery once a week in a 120-mile diameter around where we lived.

The empty frames in good shape would be put back into supers and put into the other half of the storage room. As summer entered into those dog days before harvest and again in the deep throws of winter, my brother and I would spend a week or two repairing wax in frames and building new ones. By the time the main honey seasons of spring and fall were around, the storage room would be packed full of hundreds of supers waiting to be put onto hives

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Wonderful World of Bees: Part 1

Spring bee season was my favorite time of the year because it meant white clover honey. Compared to the goldenrod honey that was the main staple of fall, white clover had a really sweet mellow taste that went with just about anything. My favorite was to eat homemade biscuits with a little bit of butter and a slab of comb honey. Things just didn't get any better than that.

Though I was fond of the eating, the rest of the process wasn't particularly my favorite way to spend a spring. My parents raised a couple hundred hives of bees and spring started off with lots of trips to the hives, at least one trip to each hive every week, to check hive activity and to add super bodies for honey production and occasionally for brood is signs of a swarm were present. As the spring wore on, supers (large white wooden boxes full of frames where bees store their honey) were taken off as they were filled. These were hauled back to the farm and but in the storage room.

The storage room served two purposes. It allowed us to collect the honey into batches to make processing more efficient and it allowed us away to remove bees so that we could work without getting stung when it came time to extract the honey. Everyday, I would go into the bee room with a shop vacuum and sweep up the bees releasing them again outside. We always gently removed as many as possible out in the field but there were always some that would stick with the hive until being sucked off with a vacuum. After a week of this, most of the bees would be removed from the hives.

Once de-beed, we would haul them inside the honey house, which was a chicken house that had been renovated. The frames in the supers would be removed one at a time and a hot knife would be used to cut/melt the wax caps of the comb so that the honey could be extracted. Some frames were specialty frames with a thinner more edible wax in them that would go over to the cutting table where four round sections of whole comb would be removed and packaged in little plastic containers. Those that were uncapped would be sat over the uncapping tank so that any drips of honey would flow into the tank.

My job was to take these uncapped frames over to the extractor and extract the honey. Early on in the business, this meant putting the frames in a two-frame capacity hand crank extractor and turning them at high speeds to let centrifugal forces due the work. When we reached our peak of production, this mean an electric extractor with a 20-frame capacity. In either case, I had to be sure to extract the honey without damaging the comb to where it was unusable otherwise I just increased my summer and winter workload when I spent weeks assembling new wax into frames and building new wooden frames. I actually loved that job since it was air-conditioned but my dad's scorn prevented me from intentionally damaging the frames.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Little Abbey: Pure Joy

Parenting is a pure joy. Not a day goes by when I don't think that having Little Abbey running around is just the best thing. The phase that I am in now with the ability to communicate on a rudimentary scale has been fabulous. I spend my day pointing at this and that answering Little Abbey's endless curiosity of "what's that?" It is wonderful living a strange and new life through the eyes of my daughter. But despite all these joys, she does have her moments.

Take for example last night. For reasons unknown to me, she woke up at 1 a.m. for the first time in a long long time and came into our room crying. We did the usual checks to make sure she had a clean diaper, wasn't teething or hurting in some other way but she wouldn't stop crying. If we put her into her room she cried, in the spare guest bedroom she cried, where ever she cried. The only place she stopped crying was in the bathroom next to her favorite place on earth, the bathtub. Now had she been older, I might have said make yourself at home and gone back to bed but I wasn't about to leave her alone in a bathroom full of potential water hazards and scalding situations.

I carried her back to her room where she just went into full blown screaming mode. I closed the door and held the doorknob. Little Abbey has mastered the art of opening doorknobs and pretty much goes as she pleases these days which means my wife and I have to be extra vigilant about watching the outside doors and keeping them locked, something she hasn't yet mastered. Well of course Little Abbey tried the doorknob last night only to find it "locked" and that set her off into a mode I have only witnessed a couple times before. I could feel her sobbing and pulling at the doorknob and it broke my heart. Fortunately it lasted less than a minute and she went to bed.

I lay down in bed and waited ten or fifteen minutes before allowing guilt to get the best of me and snuck into her room. It was a little warm so I turned on her ceiling fan but a sleepy voice called out from her bed and said, "no fan" so I turned it back off. I went over, tucked her in and gave her a kiss. Whatever had gotten into her was now over and I could see her struggling to keep her eyes open. Once again, I was a father and having another of those moments of pure joy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Great Grandmother Was 3rd Cousin to Herself

As a genealogist, I really detest when I find myself having to research into a name like John Smith. There are perhaps hundreds of thousands of John Smith's throughout history, which makes records hard to come by. I struggled with it once before and then several months later was going through it all again when I noticed something wrong in my ancestry database. I had duplicates and I hate duplicates. I tried deleting them only to discover that I had deleted the wrong one. I would add them in again only to find that I still had duplicates. After a couple rounds of this, I figured out the problem.

My 5th great grandfather John Smith Sr. from Virginia had five sons and three daughters. Two of his sons were named William and John Jr. William had a son named Abraham who had a son named Isaac who had a daughter Grace who was my great grandmother. I spent many a lazy summer day playing cards and dominoes with my great grandmother Grace. She could clean my pockets of nickels playing Thirty-One before I knew what hit me. She and her husband Victor were the only two of my great grandparents that I ever knew. John Sr's son John Jr. would have a daughter named Amanda who would have a daughter named Annetta who would have a daughter named Grace, my great grandmother.

So Isaac, great grandson of John Smith Sr. and Annetta great granddaughter of John Smith Sr. would marry and give birth to my great grandmother. They were 2nd cousins with their great grandparents having been dead 20 years before they were born so it is probably likely that they didn't even know they were distantly related. So I guess my great grandmother Grace was a third cousin to herself. Not everyone can say that… nor probably wants to.