Sunday, November 13, 2022

Hold My Ladder


Ladder Holders

One spring day, I had some work to do around our old house.  I had to climb up to the second story to do a bit of work on a window.  This window faced the back of the house.  There was a very narrow ledge for me to stand on beneath the window.


I put the ladder against the ledge but did not extend the ladder very far past the ledge.  I climbed the ladder got off onto the ledge and did my repair. 


When I turned around to get down, the ledge suddenly shrunk.  It was much smaller than when I had climbed up.  And the ladder was too short.  I didn’t have room to lean over to grasp the ladder.  It was a lightweight aluminum ladder.  And the ground was uneven.  And the wind had come up, threatening to blow me and the ladder to the ground.


I simply did not think that I could get down the ladder by myself.  I needed someone at the other end to hold the ladder for me.


I looked into the backyard.  Henry was laying under a tree chewing on a stick.  PD was sniffing around the back yard to see what critters had been visiting.


I called for Kathy.  No answer.  I called again, a bit louder.  No response.  I may have called a few more times.  And my voice got louder, with a bit of panic in it.  Kathy was deep in the house and could not hear me.


I thought.  I knew it was crazy.  All those Lassie movies?  No dog really would go running off to find a family member if you fell in the well.  Would they?  Well, nothing else was working.


So, I called out “PD! Henry!”  PD looked over and ran toward the ladder.  Henry continued to be involved with his stick.  PD looked up at me, with his head cocked to one side, and his ears pricked forward. 

“Go get momma!” I said, in desperation.  “Go get mamma!” I repeated.  PD ran over to the back door and ….

and ….


… he barked!  PD started barking and barking.  Kathy could not hear my voice when she was in the house.  But she DID hear PD’s bark.  Kathy came to the back door to see what PD was barking at. 


Finally!  Kathy was at the door and she was close enough to hear me.  I called down to her and asked her to help me get down, which she did. PD, the brilliant dog that he was, managed to get just the help I needed.

With Kathy holding onto the ladder, I felt safe stepping off of the ledge and climbing down.  I had never before realized how important a ladder holder is.

Kathy has helped me go up and down a lot of ladders since then.  She always warns me that she is not strong enough to hold the ladder if it starts to fall.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that she adds that sense of security, that sense of stability, and that sense of safety that I need in order to do whatever job it is that needs to get done.

Your ladder holder may complain that they are too weak or believe that they did very little to help you.  But the truth is, they have the most important job.

Ladder holders are important in this world.  They are the unsung heroes that help people do the scary, dangerous jobs at the top of the ladder.  They are the support that we need to accomplish our goals in life.  We all dream of doing something that is just beyond our reach.  And we all need that one person, no matter how small, no matter how weak, to just hold the ladder while we reach out and achieve what we could not have achieved without them.

There is currently a phrase that foretells someone is about to do something stupid by themselves: “Hold my beer.” 

I think that there should be a new phrase to indicate someone is about to do something brave and that reflects the presence of a loving relationship: “Hold my ladder.”

I just want to say thank you to Kathy, my main ladder holder, and thank you to all of the other people in my life who have held ladders for me.  Everyone of you are special, important people in my life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


Some people have a death date that is befitting their life.  Kathy’s grandmother was one of those lucky people who died on just the right day.  She died on a day that ensured a long legacy.
Kathy has really strong, loving memories of her father’s mother.  She remembers standing at her elbow in the kitchen, watching her make dumplin’s for the family’s famous Chicken N’ Dumplins. 
I think there are only three people alive who know the secret process of building this meal: Kathy and two of her cousins.  Maybe only one cousin.

I call it a process rather than a recipe.  Kathy can’t give out the recipe.  A recipe exists, but the only way to produce this dish to perfection is through apprenticeship.  The feel of how much salt to add is a muscle and sensory feeling, not a precise measurement.  How long to roll the dough is not measured by the clock.  It is measured by the sight, the texture, the heft.  There is even a technique that must be mastered in the way strips of dough are dropped into the boiling chicken stock.

I suspect the amount of love put into the meal is also a part of the process.  And Kathy was fortunate enough to absorb that love, standing side by side, watching, touching, and feeling the process.

Her grandmother was called “Nana” and besides being an incredible cook she also had a boisterous, playful side.  Very few photos of her still exist.  We have a series of three pictures of an epic battle between a 7- or 8-year-old Kathy and Nana.  It is a truly rare moment caught on camera.

Nana and Kathy stand only yards apart.  Each armed and ready to attack the other.  But it is obvious that Kathy is the loser of this battle as she is ducking her curly red head in anticipation of the blow she is about to receive.  Nana’s face is split into a wide grin as she gleefully taunts her granddaughter.  Her arm is cocked back as she is ready to throw her weapon.

You can almost hear the soft thud of the snowball as it hits its mark.  You can hear the giggles coming from the little girl and Nana’s cackle of laughter.

Did I say this was a rare moment?  Indeed, it was rare.  Not because of Nana’s lack of a playful nature.  But, because it only snows about once every 10 to 20 years in Kathy’s hometown.
Nana was always ready to pitch in and take her granddaughters to places they needed to go.  Kathy always found the rides exciting.  I don’t think Nana roared down the two-lane highways at break-neck speed.  And she didn’t burn rubber or weave from side to side. 
She did, however, like to tell the girls that she knew the road so well she could drive it with her eyes closed.  Kathy would watch in horror as Nana's right eye squeezed shut.  I think Kathy convinced herself that Nana kept the other eye open so it just “looked like” her eyes were shut.  But there was always that doubt.  Maybe they really were both closed.  You couldn’t tell with Nana.
Nana wasn’t supposed to die before Gus, her husband.  Gus was the one with heart problems.  It was Gus who had the life-threatening illness.  Nana was the one who was healthy.  But she did die first.  She died on April 1, 1968.

I never got to meet her.  She died a little over a year before Kathy and I discovered each other.  But from what I learned about her; I believe she selected her death day.  In life she was fun loving and mischievous.  I think she liked to keep people guessing.  Just like driving the car; did she really close both eyes, or not?  And so, she passed away on April Fool’s Day.  Is she really dead, or not?

I think not.  I think she still lives through the fond memories of her granddaughters.

And through Chicken N’ Dumplins.

And through her name, Nana, being passed down to Kathy’s mother, and now to Kathy.
From what I can see of our granddaughters, Nana’s boisterous playful spirit exists in our granddaughters.  And maybe one of them will someday be called Nana. And hopefully, so will the process of Chicken N’ Dumplins. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lap Time

I had a long, troublesome day on campus.  The students were fine, it was the technology that was frustrating as was trying to get lessons pulled together in a meaningful way that the students could access.

PD was getting older, and had recently had problems with his back.  He had just come back from the vet's office with a good report.

From my journal on December 1, 2014:
"I sit here with PD on my lap.  This is an old ritual that goes back 10 years.  I think it is probably as comforting to me as it is to him.  Not just the ritual, but the essential reliability of knowing that their is this time together and this (in)activity that we share.  My lap is always here and always available to him.  His silent companionship and gentle warmth on my legs is a constant for me.  Those evenings or times that he chooses my lap over Kathy's is always a joy.  to be worthy of his close companionship is to know that someone sees you as special."

Once again, PD reminded me that physical contact and unconditional love are more important than PowerPoint presentations to students, grading papers, and going to work.

Monday, January 22, 2018


My family moved a lot when I was growing up.  I once counted that from the first grade through high school I had attended 12 different schools.

This many moves creates a sense that all things are temporary.  Wherever we lived, things were different, and yet things were the same.  My family was the same.  People had different faces and different names but were essentially the same as the people in the last place I lived.  Some were nice and friendly.  Some were shy and reserved.  One or two wanted to be my friend.  And one or two liked making fun of the “new kid.”

I didn’t really give a whole lot of thought to the community I lived in.  I tried to be as quiet as possible and blend in.  I wanted to leave a small footprint.  This approach was fine until my Senior Year in college.

I started college working towards a bachelor’s degree in Journalism.  The career seemed to suit me.  I was complimented on my writing skills in High School.  I enjoyed writing.  And I could be the objective observer of the society I lived in; wiring about other people’s lives.  I had a fantasy of writing humorous stories.  I wanted to use dialect and humor like Mark Twain and to make poignant observations about the world around me.

I didn’t understand that before I got to Mark Twain, I first had to write objective, bland Who, What, Where, How and maybe Why stories in upside down pyramid order without embellishment.  No one got a by-line back then unless they were writing editorials.  Or were famous.

By the end of my second year, my grades were telling me that I should give up getting a degree in journalism.  I went, instead, toward a degree in Psychology, where I had strong grades and a strong interest.

By the end of my third year in undergraduate school (technically my fourth, since I waited too long to change majors), I realized that I was going to have to go to graduate school if I wanted to earn a living in the field of Psychology.

I had one of my infrequent conversations with my advisor.  This was maybe my second of two trips to the advisor during my five years getting my B.S.  I wanted to discuss what I could do or where I should go in order to work in the field.  There was an Applied Master’s Degree in Psychology at the University, but they only accepted six students a year, and they had a lot of applicants. 

“What can I do for a back-up plan?” I asked, remembering all the “C’s” I had settled for earlier in school.  I was going to apply, I just realized the chances were getting pretty slim for me to get into the psychology program. 

She suggested I look into getting a master’s degree in Social Work (MSW).

My mom did a good job of raising my sister and I to be fiercely independent.  This can be a good trait a lot of the time.  But sometimes, it is not so good.  For me, being independent means that I try to do everything I can by myself.  If a problem comes my way, I handle it myself.  Usually I’m successful.  Sometimes I’m not.  Either way, I survive it.  This is why I only met with my advisor twice in five years.  It is also why I have trouble asking for help.  And sometimes this means that I have trouble asking all of the right questions.  When I come home from an important meeting or from the doctor’s office, Wife always has a dozen really good questions that I should have asked but didn’t.

My tendency to not ask enough questions led me to take a long hike across campus to meet with the director of the Sociology Department.

To save you, the reader, the same embarrassment I experienced on that day, I’ll explain that Sociology and Social Work are two very different fields.  One studies societies of people.  The other is a mental health practitioner who helps people through therapy and by connecting them with social resources, such as family, organizations, or governmental agencies.

I didn’t hear the Sociology professor laughing as I left the building, so maybe this is a common error.

Another long hike across campus and I found myself in the right building, talking to someone about careers in Social Work.  I applied for the program, thinking it was my fallback plan.  The Psychology program accepted six applicants a year.  The Social Work program accepted 80.  80 versus 6!  Getting into the MSW program was a cinch.  Looked like I was going to have to settle for the title of Social Worker.  Nothing wrong with that. 

But, I could still dream of the Psychology degree.

I got married, graduated with my B.S., and started working in the warehouse at W.W. Grainger to pay the bills.  Wife and I waited to hear from one school or the other to see if I was going to graduate school, or if I should try to make a career out of Grainger.

Early Summer came, and I got my first letter with the University’s letterhead.  The outside of the envelope said, “School of Social Work.”  Hmmm.  I wanted to hear from the Psychology program, first, so I’d know how to respond to the MSW program.  As I opened the envelope, I was wondering if I could accept, and then not go should the Psychology program accept me.

I read the letter in amazement.  I was NOT accepted!  The school offered its regrets but said that I had no history of community service.  I had never advocated for others.

They were right, of course.  I had no sense of “community” outside of my family.  I’d never spent any significant time living in a community, growing roots, connecting with others.  Being a part of the community beyond my family and a couple of friends was foreign to me.

That accusation.  Those words in the letter.  They have stuck with me throughout the rest of my life.  They have motivated me to give up the life of an island and to participate in my world.  I began trying to be a part of a community larger than I was soon after graduating with my M.A. in Psychology in 1977 (fortunately, and against all odds, I was accepted into the Terminal MA Psychology program).  I have belonged to profession-related organizations, church boards, chamber of commerce, and city council.  I have gone beyond membership and become part of the leadership. 

I have learned about the work it takes to be involved in the community.  But the most important thing I have learned is that life is about participation, and not observation.  It takes time and energy to move outside of my small circle of family and friends.  And as much work as it might take, working within the greater community provides me with a sense of permanence, ownership and belonging.  It fills me with the sense that my presence has made a difference.  These are true blessings that fulfill me.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Mountains in our Lives

The crises we face in life are like mountains.  As we stand at the base of the looming mountain, it seems that conquering the mountain is an insurmountable task.  Tall and rugged, the mountain stands looking down on us, daring us to try.

But, once we’ve made the attempt.  Once we’ve moved past the mountain and down into the valley on the other side, the mountain serves as a reference point for our day to day life.  No matter where we go in that valley, we need only look at that mountain and we know where we are.  We know which direction we are headed.

Living on the plains or in the flatlands, it is much easier to get lost.  Every point on the compass is the same.  We can only guide ourselves by the subtleties of light, wind, or differences in terrain.  It is easy for us to become lost and lose our way.

Surviving a crisis can give us that ready point of reference that a mountain provides.  Despite the pain and the hard work of getting over and through the crisis, the lessons we learn about ourselves are invaluable. We understand better who we are, and have been toughened by the challenge.  We can allow the traumas of our past to fade into our memory, and no longer focus on that event.  But we can also use the lessons learned to guide us toward the future.  If we ever get lost along the path, all we need to do is to look back, remember who we are and where we are going, and then move forward again.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bee Important! Bee Special!

I went out to my small apiary for an inspection of my hives.  I wanted to make certain everything was okay. 

The bees had been a little grumpy for about a week.  Every time I went outside, I’d get escorted back to the house by one or two bees.  I was wondering what was going on.  Was it the cloudy weather?  Were we in a dearth?  Was the queen still there?

There is nothing I can do about bad weather.  But, if we were in a dearth, and the nectar had stopped flowing, I could feed my bees some sugar water to get them by.  If the queen was gone?  Well, I could buy them a new queen.  So, I needed to go into the hives and see what was going on.

I lit my smoker and walked over to the hive. I gently puff a bit of smoke in the front entrance, first, to calm the bees.  Then I lift the outer cover and puff a bit of smoke in from the top.  I pull off the outer cover and pop up the inner cover a bit.  I push a little smoke into the top of the hive.  The bees should be calm and relaxed by now, as they busily fill their tummies with honey.

After setting the smoker down, I pull the inner cover all the way off and peer down into the top bars of the medium honey super.  The bees are working hard. And there are lots of them.  I can tell that this must be a healthy hive.

I pull a few frames out of the super and look them over.  There are three frames that have been fully drawn with comb.  Each cell has been packed to capacity with nectar that has been turned into honey and then capped.  I take a moment to admire beautiful white capped comb.  White, yet translucent.  And I can see the amber light glowing through the frame of honey.

A peek at the rest of the frames in the super, and between the frames down into the brood box and I can tell the bees have plenty of stores.  The dearth hasn’t started, yet.  It is time to look for the queen.

I finish my inspection of the honey super and then add a little more smoke.  Then I use my hive tool to help me pry the honey super away from the deep brood box.  The bees have glued the two boxes together with propolis.  I must wedge my hive tool between the boxes and lift one corner slightly.  Then I go to a second corner.  I hear a crack and a pop, and I know the two boxes are unglued.  Now, I can pull the super off the brood box.

I set the honey super aside and begin my search for the queen in earnest.  As I lift out the first frame, a few bees detach themselves and begin to buzz around me, getting in my face.

“Hey buddy!  What in the Hive are you doing here?”

“Yeah,” I hear from a second voice.  “This is private property!”

“Get lost!” a third voice chimes in.

I’m startled!  I’ve heard of other beekeepers telling me that their bees talk to them.  But, I’ve always thought they meant figuratively, not literally.

“Well,” I say, somewhat hesitantly, “I’m looking for the queen.”

“The Queen?” the boldest of the three bees says.  “Why is always the queen that people want to see?”

I tried to explain “She’s the most important bee in the hive.  She keeps everyone working.  She lays the eggs that makes other bees.”

“Ha!” exclaimed Bee One, the bold girl.  “All she does is walk around all day sticking her fat butt into the cells we’ve made.  The cells we keep clean.  She doesn’t even feed herself.  We do that!”

Emboldened by her sister, Bee Two chimes in, “We pamper that girl even before she’s born.  She gets a queen-sized cell to pupate in.  And she gets extra food to eat.  No bee bread for that baby girl!  She gets fed Royal Jelly.  Nothing but the good stuff.”

Bee Three can’t hold her tongue anymore.  “And when she comes out of the cell, do you know what she does?  Nothing!  For two weeks, she does nothing at all.  Just marches around the hive, acting all important.

“Do you know what I did when I first came out of my cell?  I got down on my bee’s knees and scrubbed out the floor of my own cell.  And my sisters’ cells.  Before I even had my first meal, I was cleaning out cells.  And I’ve been working hard every day of my life ever since.”

“But,” I protested, “there is only one queen and there are tens of thousands of you.  The queen really is special.”

“Special?  Can she gather nectar and pollen?” asked Bee One.

“Can she make wax and build comb?” asked Bee Two.

“Can she guard the entrance and fight off intruders?” asked Bee Three.

“Can she turn nectar into honey?” asked Bee One.

“NO!” the three bees sing in unison.

“Look at how beautiful she is,” I begin “with that long golden abdomen and her shiny thorax.  The rest of you all look the same.  Your just normal, everyday worker bees.  If I met you out in the yard, I couldn’t tell one of you from the other.  In fact, I can’t keep track of just three bees as you go buzzing in circles around my face.  How am I supposed to pick out one bee out of 20 or 30 thousand bees?”

“We are more special and more necessary than the queen!” declared Bee One … or was it Bee Three?  I’m not sure.

“Let me give you something to remember me by,” said Bee Two.

“Me too,” said Bee Three.

“Me three,” said Bee One.

And that’s when they stung me.  One on the hand.  Two stung me on the knee.  And Three nailed me on my nose.

Nope.  I’ll never forget those three bees.  They were very special bees.

But I still think the queen is the most Important bee in the hive.

… Wait!  Do you hear a buzzing sound?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Post 66: ow to make a bee hive angry, Part 2

Third Step to turning gentle bees into aggressive ones.

In the last post, I described how I had decided to treat my hives for Varroa Mites on the hottest day of the year.  I'd put a bee gate between the brood box and the bees stores of honey.
Wife and I left for the evening, allowing the poor bees to swelter in the heat of the evening.  When we got home there was a really big Bee Beard hanging around the outside of the entrance to the hive.

I pulled out all of the equipment I thought we’d need, including our ancient battery that I had charged earlier that day.  It was hot, so I just put on our bee jackets over our jeans and tennis shoes.  I lit the smoker, and wife smoked the hive.

I pulled off the supers that we didn’t want vaporized and wife put the telescoping cover over the top of the broodbox.

I donned my respirator, zipped up my hood, checked that the rear of my bee jacket was pulled down, and tugged my bee gloves into place.

There were hundreds of bees on the front porch, and I had to move the vaporizer very gently into the entrance, trying not to rile up the bees or squish any of the girls.  I threw a towel over the entrance, waved Wife back to safety, and attached the clamps to the old car battery. 

I watched.  Wife timed.  The instructions say that the Oxalic Acid should be fully vaporized within 2 ½ minutes.  When I timed it earlier in the week, it took a full seven minutes.  So, I waited for seven minutes, then asked Wife to time for another 15 minutes to let things settle down.  I remembered seven minutes later that I was supposed to unplug the vaporizer!  I unhooked it from the battery, and waited out the remainder of the time.

When wife said time was up, I carefully removed the clamps from the battery and carefully pulled the vaporizer out of the hive.

The acid had not vaporized!  I quickly went into the workshop and backed my lawn tractor around to the hive.  I had to close off those poor bees for another 22 minutes during this sweltering night.  I slowly put the vaporizer back in the hive and covered the entryway.

This time, I connected to the lawn tractor’s battery.

This time, I could tell something was going on inside.  Bees started pouring out of the hive.  The had made a path around the cloth.  There were a lot of bees crawling around the outside of the hive, and they sounded mad.

I remembered to unhook the battery after 7 minutes, this time.  After another 15 minutes, I pulled the towel off the entryway and was met with a lot of upset bees.  I pulled the vaporizer out and set it down.  I walked around to pick up the supers that had been removed, and that’s when I took my first hit.

I had succeeded in turning perfectly calm, peaceful, and gentle bees into angry, aggressive, stinging bees!

I got stung on the shin with that first bee.  There was an immediate rise in volume from the hive after I got stung.

I took my second sting on the left forearm as I was sliding the first super onto the brood chamber.

I got the second super on and the inner and telescoping covers on before I got my third sting.  This time, it was on the neck.

Wait!  My neck?  I had bees inside my bee jacket with me.  For the second trip into the hive, I had been careless.  I hadn’t pulled the bee jacket all the way down, and they were making their way up the jacket to my arm and neck.

I know you are supposed to stay calm in times like these.  But I had now been hit with bee stings three times, and I was new to being stung.  I’m an allergic kind of guy, and I didn’t know how my body would react to multiple stings.

So, I walked very quickly into the workshop, removing my hood to let the bees out.  I got out of the workshop and onto our driveway before I got my respirator and gloves off.  I left my bee jacket in the garage and stepped into the mudroom of the house.

I immediately heard buzzing, and looked around.  Two bees came in with me.  I looked down, and found I had a small swarm of bees on my pant leg.

I stepped back into the garage and knocked the bees off my leg.

I went back into the mud room and dispatched two angry bees with an electric fly swatter.

I went into the bathroom and heard more buzzing.  Three bees had followed me back into the bathroom.  More death was handed out courtesy of the electric flyswatter.

Well, I was successful in showing just how aggressive my bees can be.

Fortunately, they seem to be pretty forgiving girls.  I was able to walk out to the hives the next day peek at the Freeman beetle trays to count mites (17).

I think that now that I know they can get aggressive when they want to, I’ll try not to aggravate them this badly in the future.

I’ll probably want to wear my veil and a long-sleeved shirt the next time I mow and weed-eat, too.

Just in case they are only pretending to have forgiven me.