Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in Maryland

    We had a lovely Christmas with the Romero family in Maryland.  It was very fun to get caught up with grandchildren, especially the younger ones.  Shortly after our arrival, James and Jonathan each gave me the grand tour of their favorite toys. I feel like I finally made in onto three year old Cozette's "A List".  She actually asked me to sit next to her in the car and invited me to play with Monster with her.  It was particularly fun to be there on Christmas morning. I was very impressed with Tony's stamina on Christmas morning.  He very patiently assisted both James and Jonathan in assembling fairly complex new Lego toys. He then spent a fair amount of time in the construction of James' model volcano.

I didn't end up with any group picture of the Romero children in which they were all sitting still.

      The volcano project lasted several days as the plaster, various coats of paint, and the sealant each needed to dry in turn before the volcano construction crew (Tony and James) could proceed to the next stage of construction.  Because of the lengthy construction process the actual eruptions didn't take place until the morning of the day we left to return home.  We all assembled in the dining room and got to watch a series of baking powder and vinegar volcanic eruptions.  Tony built a little safety containment berm using using wrapping paper tubes and a plastic garbage bag. The berm was for the safety of the table and other items on the table, not the spectators.  As it turned out, the eruptions were more like a Hawaiian volcano than an explosive Mt St Helens eruption.  There was a relatively steady flow of lava down the side of the volcano.  Any villages in the path of the flow would have suffered death by baking powder, but there wouldn't have been any significant ash cloud or burning debris raining from the skies.

James was pretty focused. I guess volcanic eruptions are a good way to hold a boy's attention

The eruption is fueled by baking powder, a few drops of red food coloring, and a tablespoon of vinegar

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Training Day

   A few days ago Linda and I accompanied Lia on a home school outing with Jonathan, James, and Cozette. We visited Brookside Gardens, a local park that has a very nice conservatory.  During the summer months, one wing of the conservatory is turned into a butterfly house. As Christmas approaches they convert that wing into a G scale model train exhibit. It really was quite fun. They had a long list of items hidden within the exhibit for the children to discover. That search kept Jonny and James very focused for close to an hour.  By the time we left I think Jonny had a new goal in life. In addition to growing up to become a ninja, he would also like to operate a model train display.

This portion of the train display included a model of the very conservatory which housed the train display. There is an actual moving model train within the model conservatory.

This portion of the display included  a model of a local ice rink.
Jonny carefully studies his list of hidden objects to see what is his next target. He insisted on locating the various hidden objects in order.  Maybe he'll grow up to be an engineer instead of a ninja.

    After the conservatory, we walked through the rest of the park and enjoyed their Japanese garden. The kids climbed a few trees, harassed a few geese, and generally had a great time.  This particular park has a nice light display.  The park is free during the day, but you have to pay in order to see the light display at night.
Cozette and Grandma Linda on the Butterfly Bench in the Conservatory

Just two little monkeys in a tree.
Part of the Japanese Garden

Anthony's Recital

  Linda and I are enjoying our visit with the Romeros in Maryland.   A few days ago I was able to attend my grandson Anthony's high school piano recital. First of all, I was amazed to learn they teach piano at his high school and I was even more impressed to see how much progress the students had made in one short semester. I have no clue how they go about teaching the piano to a whole room full of students at the same time. Also I suspect it may be easier to get younger kids used to playing in front of people than to wait until they are in high school to start that. Some of the kids did seem  very nervous.

   I took a little video of Anthony playing his short little piece. He did very well (from the perspective of a non-piano playing grandpa). I hope that the piano playing Kangs will be kind in their assessment of Anthony's neophyte piano skills. While I didn't ask Anthony's permission to display them on my blog I did have to ask his help in getting that video transferred into the blog considering the fact that I am a bit of a technophobe dealing with a strange computer. If he objected to my use of the video he was to polite to express it.

     After the recital was over they had a refreshments in the form of various dishes brought by the students' families. The food represented the diverse cultural heritage of the class. Ironically, Anthony had volunteered his mother to make enchiladas.  After all, red-haired fair-skinned Anthony Romero is one quarter Hispanic. Included in the varied fare were several Ethiopian dishes. Lia and I actually knew that the plate full of pancakes was part of the Ethiopian food. We visited an Ethiopian restaurant many years ago in Seattle as a daddy daughter date. Lia was still in high school.  The waiter brought out a big pancake on a plate but no silverware. Eventually we figured out that the pancake was the silverware. It just shows that you never know when some little bit of knowledge gained many years ago may come in handy.  


Monday, December 17, 2012

What is a Farm?

    I've always laughed every time my grandchildren refer to our home as a farm. We have six ducks, 10 chickens, 2 pygora goats, three cats, twelve hives of bees, a decent amount of vegetable garden, a strawberry patch, several dozen berry bushes, and little more than a dozen fruit trees.  All of this is crammed into one acre, half of which is covered by big leaf maple trees. So I was a little surprised when I received an official letter from the US Department of Agriculture requesting that I participate in a survey.  As it turned out, the survey pertained to my beehives, stemming from the fact that I had actually sold a portion of the honey they had produced on our "farm".  I looked over the survey and saw that there was an online version so I thought I'd save the government some postage and opted to complete the internet version of the survey.   When I went to the USDA website I discovered that there were two surveys waiting for my attention.  One survey pertained to my beehives and the other survey pertained to my farm.  So maybe the grandkids are right and I really am a farmer after all.

    The first survey was very simple. How many beehives did I operate and in what states. How much honey did said beehives produce?  What categories of honey did I produce and what price did I receive for it.  It was pretty simple and only took a few minutes. Just for the record, all of my honey production qualified for the appellation of "specialty honey" as it was all varietal honey, either Blackberry honey or Japanese Knotweed honey, that could be sold at a premium price.

   Since the first survey was such a piece of cake, I decided to try the second one and see if we really did qualify to be called a farm.  This second survey was quite complex. I answered "no" to lots of questions about various agricultural activities. When all was said and done, I was fairly certain we didn't really qualify to call our home a farm.  While the grandkids may not like that news, I was personally kind of relieved. The USDA survey made farming seem pretty complex which I'm sure it is. I'm not sure I'm cut out for that level of complexity in my life at the present time. I think the bee store, my bee hives, and 21 grand children are sufficient complications for my life. A real farm seemed like a lot more than I want to take on.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Good times with John

John Wesley Tunnell
   Last week I took advantage of my new "semi-retired" status to stay home and babysit my grandson John while Linda went to the nutcracker ballet with Beth and the girls. I suspect we both had a better time hanging out at home than he would have had at the ballet. I also think we helped everyone else enjoy the ballet more by staying home. I have always gotten along well with John even when he was a baby. Now that he is three he is really good company.  He has an incredible sense of humor for one so young and always puts a smile on my face. One of the things John and I have in common is we both like hats.  I was able to adjust this ball cap down to his size and he wore it for hours. He really enjoys being outside regardless of the weather and likes to help out. In the photo below John is enthusiastically herding my ducks back into their pen.

John herds the ducks past the bee hives.

John performs guard duty on the ducks while I change their water

    I only had to change John's diaper once, which I thought was pretty good for a 5 or 6 hour stint of babysitting.   Everything went really well except for my efforts to persuade John to take a nap.  I parked on the couch in front of the TV with Thomas the Tank Engine.  I figured just getting him to lie down and be still for any significant period of time would result in a nap.  As it turns out he has more stamina than I thought.  Several times I thought he had fallen asleep as I didn't see him move for a while.  It was always close but no cigar.
John and Grandpa enjoying a little Thomas the Tank Engine.

Ten minutes of semi-dozing was the closest John got to a nap.
   I cannot relate to grandparents who don't enjoy their grandchildren. Are they too wrapped up in their own lives? Possibly they are terminally self-centered and are too busy to be bothered. Maybe they did a poor job raising their kids, who in turn ended up as lousy parents and produced obnoxious grandchildren. Whatever the cause, I think they are missing out on one of life's sweetest pleasures.  I'm so grateful that all of my children turned out to be very good parents. They really make me proud.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Learning to Play the Ukulele Update II

    I've finally managed to sing and play the Hawaiian War Chant simultaneously. Not that I'm doing a quality job on either task, but its a big accomplishment for me all the same. I'm still working on those tricky bar chords I need in order to play Pearly Shells.  I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with the Romeros so I can spread the ukulele madness to yet another branch of the family. Just for the record,  that is only one of many reasons I am looking forward to Christmas with the Romeros.

   While I'm on the subject of the Romeros I have to express gratitude that Lia is such a good blogger. Since they are currently living so far away on the east coast its hard to be as involved in their lives as we would like.  I love being brought up to date on all of the little things she mentions in her blog and its nice to see all the pictures of the kids and their home.  Three thousand miles of distance makes all of the little things seem much more important. Keep up the good work Lia!

    I went to the bee club Christmas party on Tuesday night.  I can't describe it as merely poorly attended as it didn't rise to that level.  There were only eight hardy souls in attendance.  Fortunately the pot luck still turned out well. We had several main courses, a salad, bread and dessert. We just didn't have any options within most of those categories.  I consider myself a serious die hard when it comes to beekeeping. After all, I have a daughter with the middle name "Bee". Poorly attended or not, I was glad I went and I had a good time. The gift exchange also went well.  The person who drew my hand knitted bee skep hat was quit happy with it and was proud to wear it home. I ended up with a salt and pepper shaker set in the form of a bee skep and a bear. It was very cute and even met with Linda's approval. She doesn't allow me to display a lot of my bee knick knacks at home. Many of them are relegated to the bee store where they don't have to be classy to be on display.  Now I am really disappointed in spell check. It was bad enough yesterday when it failed to recognize sticker as a verb. Now it doesn't like the word skep. It actually tried to change it to skip. I think the people who write those programs must not get out much.
Our new salt and pepper shaker

     In order to foster a proper Christmas spirit I broke down and purchased a couple of Christmas CDs.  The first one is entitled "Oy to the World" by the Klezmonauts. It consists of Christmas carols played by a Jewish Klezmer band.  Linda doesn't care for it, but it always makes me smile.  Linda actually liked my second choice, a CD entitled "Celtic Christmas".  It has lots of fiddle and harp Christmas music. Whats not to like?  One more reason to love the iPhone, portable Christmas music whereever I go.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

   I've been somewhat of a slacker on the blogging lately.  Since the blog is supposed to function as somewhat of a journal I probably should give some mention of Thanksgiving day with family. Rachel and Chet drove up from Oregon and we had the local Tunnells and Veatches, along with Margie and family. We had a total of 21 in attendance, ate way too much food and had a great time.  One of the highlights for me was spending several hours in the kitchen cooking with Rachel and Linda.  I also love the happy sounds of the grandkids playing nicely together (which they usually do).  Of course we would always love to have everybody here but it's tough to do. The logistics of a complete family gathering are pretty daunting these days. Somehow I failed to end up with a group picture for the blog, but I think its already been distributed pretty well on face book.

Lance learning the basics of leverage

Lance putting in one of the screws on the frame for his "car"
    I spent some quality time with Lance a few days after Thanksgiving.  He was in the mood to make something and decided he wanted to make a car.  Since we had no wheels available we did a little bit of a down payment. We started to build a frame for a car out of some treated lumber left over from the demolition of our old deck. The first task was to remove some nails from the boards we wanted to use.  It gave me the opportunity to demonstrate to Lance the proper use of leverage in pulling nails. Lance was really impressed with the little trick of using a scrap piece of board under the hammer or crow bar for leverage. He told me that he was going to teach that to his kid some day.  You have to love a kid that gets so much pleasure from building something.

Sawed, Stacked, and Stickered Big Leaf Maple Wood
     Happiness is a large pile of lumber drying at the bee store. I am the proud owner of half of this large stack of big leaf maple boards.  The wood was free. The trick was getting the rather large and heavy logs to a local friend with a sawmill.  Quentin supplied most of the labor and took advantage of our local missionaries to help him stack it.  Some of those boards are very heavy.  My major contributions were some cash to the sawyer, covering the bee store while Quentin did all of this, and providing a place for a large quantity of maple wood to dry. Stickering refers to the placement of the thin wood strips between all of the boards as they are stacked neatly. This helps ensure good air circulation so the boards can dry evenly.  Otherwise, the ends and uncovered surfaces would dry much faster than the rest of the wood and there would be lots of cracking and warping. If not properly stacked and stickered, much of this pile would end up as firewood.  Spell check keeps trying to tell me that sticker can't be used as a verb. Obviously the people who wrote that program don't know much about wood working.