Monday, April 9, 2018

Spring and Bees on the Funny Farm

Mother Nature and I have a few things in common, primarily that we both can be wishy-washy and not sure of what it is we want.

Mother N had me shivering in my skivvies yesterday at Joe's trap practice. The night before, temps had dropped below freezing, and we had woken up to frost on the ground. I expected all the apple blossoms and baby leaves to wilt in defeat, but they look like they aren't playing Mother N's games this time around and will carry on as if this is a normal spring.

Last Wednesday, I picked up a new package of bees. Having made it a full year without killing off my first hive, I figured it wouldn't be completely irresponsible to add more bees to the farm. Not even bothering to don a bee veil, I dumped those bees in the new hive as if I had done it a million times. This time, though, I strapped the box with the queen bee in it directly to a frame with a rubber band and squished the two frames as closely together as I could in hopes that the worker bees wouldn't draw out any burr comb this time around. I had hoped to check on the new hive Saturday, but Mother N wasn't cooperating. It finally warmed back up enough today to let me check on my hives. I'm learning that bees will do as they please, regardless of your bright ideas.

Thankfully, the queen decided she didn't want to lay any eggs in the burr comb and had wandered off to a different frame to do her business. (She's marked with a blue dot.)

Convinced that the new bees were doing well enough, I opened up my first hive. I love these bees. While the new bees were buzzing around like mad (though not aggressively), my old hive didn't even seem to notice that I was there. Third frame in, and I found some capped brood. 

I hope I'm doing this correctly... Since I am only using medium, 8-frame boxes, I figure the bees will want 3 boxes for the brood chamber. Then I added a queen excluder and a new honey super on top of that. Pretty soon, if the bees are happy enough to make some honey, I'll need a ladder to get in.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Funny Farmers at the Swine Show

"Old dogs can learn new tricks, but things are a whole lot easier if you grow up doing them." - Me
Two days before the 4H Regional Swine Show, and two things were apparent: 1) Not having our own livestock trailer, we weren't entirely sure how we were going to transport the hogs, and 2) Chris wasn't going to be able to help me.

Our neighbor had a livestock trailer, but it was big enough to hold a small herd of cattle- far too big for me to handle. He did, however, have a pen fashioned from livestock panel that he had used to transport goats in the back of a truck. This sounded fantastic. I wouldn't have to deal with a trailer. But how were the kids and I supposed to coax two 200 pound pigs up a ramp into the bed of a truck? After soliciting advice from our other neighbor, I realized that would probably take a small large miracle, so we decided to move on to plan C.

Tuesday afternoon, the day before check-in, we strapped the livestock cage into the trailer Chris used for his mower, threw down a sheet of OSB, and wrapped the cage with a tarp for a wind break. That finished, Zivah, Joe, and I decided we should do a trial run loading the pigs so we knew what we were in for the next morning.

Now, if we had listened to our 4H agent, and if I had pushed to get the transportation figured out sooner, we would have had the trailer ready days in advance and would have been feeding the hogs on the trailer so they would be used to loading and unloading. But no. Funny Farmers have to learn the hard way.

The pigs weren't having it. More interested in digging up the dirt along the wall in the stable, it took a lot to steer them toward the ramp. Once there, one step on the ramp, and they would push their way elsewhere. It was exhausting. After a half hour or more of frustration, Joe managed to trick the pigs onto the trailer by slowly scooting the feed pans up the ramp while they ate. Letting them back into the stable that night and reloading them in the morning didn't seem like a good idea. We made them sleep on the trailer.

The next morning, we were off. Not having dealt with a trailer much before I was a little nervous about the drive, but we were in it this far. I wasn't going to back out now.

First stop was the vet for health papers. As we waited for the vet to come out, I sat on the tongue of the trailer drinking my coffee. I couldn't believe things were (finally) going so smoothly. We had manged to pull together supplies for the show, had loaded and strapped everything down, and were right on schedule. The vet came out, I sat my coffee on the bumper, and after a quick check, I was in the office paying the fee and receiving the papers. Back out to the truck, and we were on our way again.

A couple miles down the road, I reached down for my coffee. But it wasn't there. After a few moments of panic, I told myself and the kids that there was a chance it was still on the bumper. There happened to be a house at our next turn with a driveway that cut the corner, so I pulled in, and Joe jumped out to check. Sure enough, there it was.

We made the rest of the hour-long drive without incident, and pulled up to the agricultural center barns at MTSU. There was a line of trailers in front of us, waiting for check-in. A small army of people were waiting to help unload and direct the pigs to their pens, and by the time I had parked the truck and trailer, the kids and pigs were already settling in.

The other pens in our row were designated for other Marshall County exhibitors. Our "next door" neighbor was a high-schooler I hadn't met before named Jayme. We started peppering him with questions, trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. He answered our questions and let us follow him around, watching as he washed and fed his hogs. Since one of the other exhibitors hadn't shown up, there was a spare pen, and Jayme made a point to share it with us so we would have a place to store our supplies. He was scheduled to show his hogs in the pure-bred show later in the afternoon, so we finally left him alone and went to grab a bite to eat before the show started.

Now, I knew that it was customary to shave the pigs before showing them, but by Tuesday night, I was so stressed and exhausted, I figured if we just made it there and managed to show the pigs- hairy as they were- that would be a win for us. But the success of the day so far made me feel a little braver, and before leaving for the evening, the kids and I decided we would get up early the next morning to wash and clip the pigs before things got hectic in the barn.

At 5:30 the next morning, with soap and clippers in hand, we were out the door and on our way back to Murfreesboro.

Only a few people were there when we arrived, so we didn't have any trouble getting the pigs to the washing station, scrubbed down, and back to their pens. But when the pigs had dried off, I pulled out the clippers and tried to snap on the attachment. It didn't fit. We would have to hold the attachment in place while clipping them. Joe's pig, Chip, didn't give Joe too much trouble, but Rosie was another story. As I stepped into her pen to start, she started ramming and nipping at my legs. I fended her off for a good five minutes, getting in a swipe with the clippers when I could until she finally calmed down and I was able to finish the job.

Showmanship was first, starting with the older kids. We asked Jayme how we would know when our turn was up, and he showed us where the sheets were posted with the heats listed. When our time came we got the pigs to the show ring and managed to get them back. Next up was the "skillathon"- a testing of the kids' knowledge about all things hog related. By this point, I was so exhausted, I managed to convince the kids that we would skip the state show the next day and try to get the pigs home that night. Besides, snow and ice was forecast for the next day, and that was nothing I wanted to deal with on top of it all. All that was left, then, was to show the hogs in their cross-breed classes, load them up, and get home.

Surviving that round, I actively started worrying about how we were going to get the pigs loaded back up in the trailer. Thankfully, Jayme was nearby.

Now, I must admit, I was a little embarrassed by our trailer. Ours was the only one in the lot NOT an actual livestock trailer. I was expecting Jayme to at least snicker or give me a horrified look when I pulled up and he saw our trailer. But, bless him, he didn't even flinch. I was afraid I might back into someone's hog or a post, so asked Jayme to back the trailer up to the barn door for me- which he did with ease. And while Jayme was backing the trailer up, another kid about Joe's age walked up to me. "Is that your trailer?! That's great!" He proceeded to tell how impressed he was and how clever it was that we didn't spend a lot of money on a livestock trailer. And a tiny bit of my embarrassment turned to pride.

I don't know if we would have been able to get the hogs on that trailer without Jayme, but having a big, football-playing guy that knew pigs helping, it didn't take long. He proceeded to help us load up all our gear, then told us he hoped to see us back at it next year. Next I knew, we were on our way home.

I'll tell you what, it still makes me tear up a little bit with gratitude for all the help Jayme was to us. 4H kids are the best.

Back home, I managed to back the trailer up to the stable, ready to unload. Rosie tromped off the trailer fairly quickly and into the pen. But Chip was another story. He was feeling a little motion-sick from the ride, and didn't want to move- much less step onto the metal grate of the ramp. I got up in the trailer with the hog-board, got behind him, and started pushing. He grunted a little and set his feet a little firmer on the wood. I managed to get him closer to the edge of the board, but he refused to let himself get pushed onto the grate. The harder I pushed, the more intense his grunts became. I could feel the bruises forming on my knees. Every time I though I had him close, he pushed back and shoved past me. I didn't think we'd ever get him off.

After several minutes of head-scratching, I came up with the idea of scooting the cage off the trailer, so Joe and I unstrapped the cage and slowly yanked it toward the back of the trailer until Chip was finally forced off the board. Seeing that he no longer had solid footing beneath him, it didn't take a lot more effort to coax him down the ramp and into the stable.

It was nearly dark by the time we got the rest of everything unloaded and put away. Finally able to realx, we reveled in our accomplishments for the week, Zivah daydreaming about showing a hog again next year.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hogs on the Farm

Sometime in September, I got an email from the 4H office. Would any of our kids be interested in raising and showing hogs? I asked Zivah. "YES, YES, YES!" was her immediate response. Joe wasn't quite as enthused, but once he figured he might be able to make a little money off the sale of the pig in the end, agreed to participate as well. 

A couple weeks later, we had a pen erected around my garden plot in hopes the hogs would do some clean-up and tilling for me, some bales of hay and plastic-covered wood for a shelter, and a good amount of excitement. We were hoping for a male and a female. The male we would butcher when the time came and share half with my brother, who was "going in" on the whole thing with us. The female, if all went well, we would breed in an effort to expand the Funny Farm's meat production prospects.

The hogs were delivered on a Saturday in mid-October. The smaller of the two was a barrow, weighing in around 50 pounds. The bigger, pink one was a gilt, weighing about 75 pounds.

They did a great job tilling up my garden, and we ended up building a pen off the stable so they would have some dryer shelter when the rains came. The kids have taken them out a couple times to work on their showmanship skills (which was quite the thing to watch); and now it is January, and the 4H Junior Swine Show starts tomorrow. Time does fly. (I'm glad pigs don't.) Chip, the barrow is now weighing about 200 lbs, and Rosie is right behind him in size. I wasn't sure they would make it to show weight, but they did!

We are trying to decided which would be better: coaxing the pigs up a narrow ramp into a cage on the back of the truck, or me driving a trailer. It is all kind of nerve-wracking for a city-raised girl like me, but, oh, what an adventure.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wesley Nicholas Eulogy by Mark Nicholas

Good morning. For those who don’t know, I am Mark, the eldest son of Wesley Nicholas, and I’d like to share a few things about my Dad with you this morning as we remember, celebrate and give thanks for his life.

Wesley Bernard Nicholas was born on December 30th, 1946, to Joe and Isadora Nicholas, who were both in their mid 40’s when he was born. As an only child, he grew up in the small oil refinery and railroad town of Laurel, Montana, which sits on the banks of the Yellowstone River and just west of Billings by about 15 miles. Montana is well-known as the Big Sky Country and from the town of Laurel you have a good view of the Pryor Mountains to the southeast and the impressive Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. The reason I tell you this is that this place and these views were deeply imprinted in my dad and no matter where else he lived, no place could be or ever would be home to him like Montana.

Growing up the only child of older parents, my dad had a fascinating childhood in that he was exposed to a variety of things by HIS dad, who was a skilled and resourceful jack of all trades. His dad was the town’s deputy sheriff, the water treatment plant operator, mechanic, machinist, building inspector and a pilot, among other things. This meant that my dad had a broad view of the world and what was possible. As a kid my dad was a paperboy, played trumpet, was a photographer and earned his pilot’s license in high school. He also dabbled in hunting, golf, and wrestling, but the most formative and favorite activity of his childhood by far was being with his dad and working alongside him in their garage shop, which was a wonderland of tools, machines, oil, steel, bolts, and screws. It smelled industrious and was industrious. It was a place where possibilities could become a reality. And it was the place where my Dad’s jack-of-all-trades skills were cultivated and honed. (And … if any of you have ever been inside mine, my brother’s or sister’s garage, you will how see these values are still in play, a couple generations later :)

For example, in the back there is a photo of a homemade tractor that my dad and grandpa built together.

After high school, Dad moved to Bozeman and attended Montana State University, where he studied mechanical engineering. While there he connected with a girl from his hometown by the name of Barbara and they became friends, playing cards and hanging out socially. During that time, Dad became smitten with Barbara, and though I’m told it took some convincing, he won her hand and they were married in September of 1968. After graduation, Dad accepted a job as a manufacturing engineer at the Western Electric plant in Omaha, Nebraska, where they moved in 1970.

(Actually, there was a little stowaway onboard who also made the move with them. This guy, whom they hadn’t met just yet. ;)

So Omaha, Nebraska, became the place where my dad and mom set up their tents and raised their family. I was born late summer of 1970, a year a half later my brother Mike came along, and then 4 1/2 years after that, our little sister Wendy was born.

In thinking back over our dad’s life, there are so many memories, stories and values that I could stand here and tell you about. But for those of you here who have only known him the past 7 years that they’ve lived here in Middle Tennessee, I want to share a few of his meaningful traits with you, in hopes that you will know him and his legacy a bit better.

The first thing that comes to mind is our dad’s work ethic. As I mentioned previously, he was an engineer and worked at Western Electric (which later became AT&T). His job there at that plant was to design telecommunications connectors for cabling operations. In the 70’s it was all copper cabling but in the 80’s they switched to fiber optic cable connectors. He was a quintessential engineer and was always concerned with detail, precision and process. At the dinner table when my mom would badger all of us with the question “how was your day?”, when it was my dad’s turn he would tell about some supremely boring machine process and how it had to “be exact” and how the part’s variance could not be off more than “1/100th the thickness of a sheet of paper”. I still don’t know how thick a regular sheet of paper is and probably never will - but he did and he cared and that made him good at his job.

Dad was a self-described workaholic, but it never did interfere with family. His work life was deeply patterned and systematic - he went in to work early by 7am and was home by 4:30 on the dot every single day (this to avoid the non-existent ‘rush hour’ traffic in Omaha, Nebraska). He’d come in the house, drop his keys in the ashtray on top of the refrigerator and briefcase on the counter in the same spot. In the kitchen he’d kiss Mom on the cheek then head straight to his lazy-boy recliner to read the newspaper until dinner was ready at 5pm. In all our years at home, this pattern was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning and never wavered. Looking back, I am deeply grateful for the consistency that he offered, even in something as seemingly trivial as this.

My siblings and I considered our Dad to be an extraordinary and thrifty do it yourself-er and we grew up in awe of his abilities. Whether it was building us a treehouse, re-roofing the house, fixing the cars (I never once remember my dad taking a car in to a mechanic for anything), electrical, plumbing, repairing clocks, etc, no matter what it was, our dad could do or fix seemingly anything.

My dad was not selfish with his abilities and routinely shared them with others. He was the go-to guy for all the widows at church who needed their cars repaired, free of charge. He would be at church several Saturdays a month working on the antiquated boiler system so we could have heat the next day during services. He also ran the “tape ministry” at church, which meant that he would record, duplicate and distribute cassette tapes of the sermons to shut-ins around town.

Dad’s work and acts of services were very formative for us kids, and his actions showed us that we were to give ourselves away on behalf of others.

That sounds a bit like the way of Jesus as well.

Faith was a crucial element of our Dad’s life. He was raised by his parents (his mom in particular) as a Christian Scientist, which if you know anything about it, it is a pretty wacky religion. It was in college and during a time of searching that my mom invited him to a Bible study she hosted in her apartment. He became curious about Jesus and Christianity and after talking to a pastor there, eventually placed his faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ and developed a deep love for God’s Word.

As I mentioned earlier, he was always looking for ways to serve his local church, but throughout his Christian life, he and my mom supported many foreign missionaries as well, in a number of different countries, several of whom have become lifelong friends.

After retirement Dad became a Gideon and devoted much of his spare time to distributing Bibles and serving as Treasurer of the local Gideon chapter.

You can see the pattern here… a life well-spent serving others.

But there’s a couple more things I’d like to briefly add.

Music was so very meaningful to our dad. He loved playing trumpet and was a great player. In high school he was often asked to play “Taps” at military funerals, he marched in the Tournament of Roses parade one year and traveled many places with the Montana Centennial Band. In Omaha he joined the Western Electric company band and would play annual holiday concerts, in nursing homes and so on. He also played around on the saxophone and piano. One of my favorite memories as a child is that he and my mom would often play duets on the family piano to serenade us kids as we’d be going to sleep at night. Dad would take the high, melodic parts and my mom would take the lower, rhythmic arrangements. My favorite song in their repertoire was "Jamaica Farewell.”

And even though he let us play with it when we were older, it was clear that his large console stereo system was one of his most valued treasures, and he would love to play his albums or listen to music on the radio for hours on end.

For being a pretty reserved guy, music was the thing that kept his emotions right at the surface. He and my mom’s love for music permeated our home, and the net result is that we kids loved music as well.

My dad was kind of a quiet person and not one who ever looked for or sought attention from other folks. However, he was always quick with a joke or a quip. I’ve noticed in a number of the condolences that people have offered that they remember him as a funny guy. Dad liked to think that his humor was dark and even started writing a memoir a few years back that he titled “Dark Humor”. But truth be told, his brand of humor wasn’t dark at all - rather it was DRY humor or WRY humor even. Kind of like if Bob Newhart was a bit more awkward and a bit more silly - that’s the kind of humorist our Dad was. A lot of times, during a family conversation, everybody would be talking about a topic and Dad would be sitting there not contributing anything, but then POW, out of left field he’d toss out a quip, joke or funny observation. Almost like a non-sequitur, he was there just waiting to pounce with a joke or something that would tickle him.

His humor was the thing that let us know he was paying attention and that there was a world of thought going on inside his head.

Dad’s humor was almost always self-deprecating. In the back on the table, there’s a little life history printout that Dad wrote back in 2004 that would give you a small glimpse into his funny mind.

There is a lot I’ve left out and more I wish I could say to let you know about our dad. But in closing, there is a single word that I think sums up my dad’s life and his legacy quite well. And that word is Fidelity, which means:

Faithfulness to a person, cause or belief AND demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. And also, accuracy in details.

Our Dad - and our mom’s husband - was faithful to us, his family. He was faithful to his friends and faithful to his God. He was loyal and always supportive. I heard him say several times that he wanted to be known as someone who always provided for his family. And by God’s grace, he was able to do just that. Thanks, Dad, for leaving us with a good legacy to aspire to and a story to live into. Your story was a good one and we are grateful for your fidelity in all our lives. We look forward to seeing you again in the resurrection, your body, mind and soul restored and glorified. Until that day, we’ll be missing you being here with us.

And while I’m being thankful, I want to publicly honor and give thanks to our Mom, who sacrificed so much in caring for Dad his whole adult life, but particularly towards the end as his MS became more pronounced and burdensome. Dad endured so much without complaint, and you were there with him, holding his hand every step of the way. I love you, Mom, and I can only imagine the truckload of crowns being readied for you in heaven. Thank you for setting a loving example of faithfulness too.

And finally, to my parents’ friends at Smyrna Baptist Church - thank you for your welcoming kindness to my parents in their relatively short time here. You have given them a place to belong and a church home away from their Montana home. May God bless you for this. To God be the glory.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

July 2017

My grandmother always wore a long-sleeved shirt and a large, round, straw hat whenever she went out to work in the garden. Several years ago, I realized it might be wise if I started providing my face with some shade when I was outside, so went on the hunt for a similar hat. I found one at Target, bought it, and tried to wear it once. But since it was made of some horrible, plastic, fake straw, it was so hot, I never wore it again. Today, I wandered in to our local lumber yard, and encountered a stand of hats. The big round ones were made of the same lousy plastic, but there were other options made form actual straw. So I bought one.
This week is promising to be miserable. High heat and humidity dominates the forecast. I suppose I should be glad that I didn't plant anything other than some tomatoes this year and don't have much obligation to be outdoors, but I am finding if I don't get a good dose of outside every week, my spirit suffers.

I tried to get some sour dough starter going; but either my starter isn't strong enough yet, or I didn't give the dough enough time to rise, so I ended up with a little sour dough brick instead of a loaf. I sliced it, harvested the only tomatoes ripened in the garden, and proceeded to make myself a tiny tomato melt. I cut the 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes in half, nestled them into a generous layer of mayonnaise, topped it with shredded cheddar cheese, and threw it in the toaster oven. Then I ate it very slowly. I might have to steal some tomatoes from my mother's garden and try baking another loaf soon.

In other news, my bees seem to be doing well. I'm too much of a chicken to really dig into the hive at this point, as I have either killed or almost killed the queen more than once. But I took a good look at the top super last week (a third 8-frame), and several of the middle frames had capped brood, and the bees were working on filing the outer frames with honey. That prompted me to get on painting the boxes I bought last month, and so a 4th super has been added to the hive. At some point, I guess I will have to work up a little more courage and inspect the whole hive if I want to do this beekeeping thing right...

We had another critter get into our coop a week or so back, and thanks to the security cameras Chris installed, discovered this time we had a raccoon infiltrator. It killed Fluffy and all of the chicks the two mama hens had hatched. So, thanks to the possum and raccoon, our two favorite hens (Fluffy and Goldie) have both been killed this year. I wouldn't mind so much if a predator came in once in a while and picked off a rooster or two, but it appears these lot of boys have no interest in defending the flock.

Finley is off at band camp, and Joe is at a robotics day camp this week, so things are quieter around the house this week. Then the kids head back to school in just a few short weeks. Summer is flying by.