Bees

After a long art show weekend we finally found the time to check the bees again. We weren’t too far behind our normal two to three-week check up on our pollinating friends.

So far this year the two remaining hives we have, or I should say the one remaining and one new hive, have been seemingly doing well. Hive No. 1 has been growing and hive No. 3 has been the best performer this year.

We recently had an inspection by the county. It’s a voluntary program where by an inspector checks out your hives. They said hive No. 1 had a queen and hive No. 3 was building queen cells and had some mites. Nothing outside the normal for our hives. Nothing we were worried about. We treated for the mites, and we go through 1-2 queens a year it seems.

Today we opened up hive No. 3 and everything looked pretty good. We did not see eggs or a queen, but saw lots of bees being born, capped brood and a few queen cells. So theoretically if there’s no queen, they’re in the process of making one.

There were a ton of bees flying about, not too thrilled that we were checking them.

We did pull off about six frames of honey from the hive. One of the mid-sized supers was full of honey, and all the frames without brood on them are ours now. About 20 lbs. of honey I’d wager. We replaced the frames with some of the frames from the top super, and actually took the top super off. I’ll look to extract honey this week.

We set the honey frames in a food safe bin, and set the bin off to the side while we checked hive No. 1.

The wife and I took the inner cover off of hive No. 1 and you could tell right away its single super was full of honey too. I removed the super and the middle deep sized box, setting them down on nearby hay bales. Upon returning to the hive the air was thick with honey bees. Quickly though there were more bees than I could handle.

The sound was deafening really. I could feel their bodies bouncing off my bee suit. Taking two steps back I could tell there was a problem. Checking hive No. 3 there were a lot of bees, thick in the air for example but this was different.

I turned around and took a few more steps and knew I was in trouble. I briskly walked a dozen yards towards the garden but that made no difference. That’s when I felt the first sting through my bee suit.

“I gotta go!” I yelled out to my wife.

Usually I’m the one who gets bothered by the bees, so quite honestly I thought this was just another little episode.

Soon my calculated walk away from the hive turned into a quicker jog; intermittent running. I could feel bees all over me. Two maybe three stings through my jeans. Like getting hit with a hot pin point for a split second.

My bee suit just covers my torso and arms, long thick leather gloves cover up to my elbows. Regular jeans, shoes and sock round out my defenses. My wife’s suit is a whole body suit.

I reached the driveway covered in bees. The sound of buzzing was as loud as when I was near the hive seemingly. I turned back briefly wondering about my wife. Fortunately she had started towards the drive as well. Unfortunately at that point my defenses all failed. The bees had found the opening of my pant legs and I could feel them inside of my jeans. Inexplicably one was inside my suit, crawling on my neck.

As I got stung quickly in succession by several bees I went from trying to brush them off to actively killing them. Still the air was thick around me with them. And every crevice of my clothing had bees in various states of stinging and dying. Many having stung nothing but folds of my bee suit, jeans or gloves. They wouldn’t get off of me. I would rake one gloved hand over my arm with little effect. Next thing I know my sleeve is pushed up and there’s exposed skin on my arm, covered in a half-dozen bees.

I spun around not knowing what to do. I could feel them in the pockets of my jeans even. My wife came at me, two smoking smudge pellets in her hands, trying to smoke away the bees from me. I frantically swatted at my arms and legs, trying to kill every bee I could see. Twenty more yards down the driveway I sprinted. Only a handful of bees remained. In my mind I had bee stung countless times. I stepped on the bees in the gravel.

At some point my only option was to take all of my clothes off and chance it with the few remaining bees. There were too many INSIDE my suit and only one way to get away from them. I peeled off my bee suit and stepped on it repeatedly with my shoe. I kicked off my shoes and they flew inside of my shoes. I dropped my jeans, bees examining my pockets for loose change.

We spent another five minutes finishing off the remaining bees, knocking them down and stepping on them. The last bee I thought was in my hair, I could hear it like it was in my brain actually. Me begging my wife to find it and kill it. Turns out it was under my chin, and flew off as I stood up.

Eventually we made it inside my studio. Me standing in my underwear, red welts swelling on my arms. My wife took her boots off and three bees flew out. With the help of a ladder and fly swatter I made quick work of them as they buzzed about the north studio window.

After catching our breath, I took the time to put on tougher canvas pants, a sweatshirt and double socks. We had to go back out and re-assemble hive No. 1.

The wife lead the way with her smoker in hand. The bees had settled down a bit. I quickly lifted the middle deep into place, and then the upper mid-size box on top of it, not caring too much if I crushed any honey bees. We did add one completely new, empty mid-sized box to the top of the hive. We then replaced the inner and outer covers to the hive, and returned all of our frames, honey and tools to the driveway area. Technically we could have pulled probably six to ten frames of honey from hive No. 1 if it wasn’t for our bee attack escapade.

Back inside the house we counted about 9-10 definite stings on me, mostly my arms. The wife had a few stings on her legs. Her full suit afforded her better protection. And I think the bees keyed in on my as their primary target, feeding off of their attack and my eventual fear.

Once they got going, there was no stopping them.

I believe my clothing, despite only being a half suit and jeans, minimized the effectiveness of their stings, with many of the stings not fully registering. I easily felt a dozen stings on my legs, but there’s only one really visible. Same goes for my arms. Of the eight or so I can see, there were probably twice as many that I felt during the attack.

The fault is all ours, or mine. Our laziness, cockiness and / or stupidity is why it happened. First off it was a rainy overcast day, so the entire hive was basically at home – probably well over 40,000 bees when we opened it up. Secondly, with us being so busy, we hadn’t had a chance to add another box or clear out the upper mid-size box, so the bees were probably pissed that their hive was so full – no room. Lastly we didn’t smoke them at all. We’ve gotten in the habit of not smoking the bees when we check them because old hive No. 1 was so docile. And even No. 3 was pretty docile. Last year’s No. 2 hive package, and this new No. 1 hive package are extremely aggressive. We need to smoke them, and we need to wait for a sunny day when most of the bees are out foraging.

Long term our problem is just going to be our schedule. We may be too busy for bees. At the very least once these colonies die out, we may not be in such a rush to replace them. Bee keeping is an incredible hobby, but it does require time and consistent checking of the hives. Maybe our lifestyle or life requirements aren’t congruent with those needs. We’ll see. We also talk about making our sphere smaller so to speak. We’ve got too many irons in too many fires, and it’s starting to show.

It was a pretty freaky, scary experience today.

Lesson learned.

(P.S. speaking of making my sphere smaller, you’ll notice I don’t write as much anymore. There are two reasons, one is there’s not much going on. I’m either working or looking for work.  And two by time ten o’clock rolls around I just don’t feel like writing. It’s not like the old days where writing and art were fun creative releases in the evenings. I need to figure out what’s going to stay in my sphere of things that are important to me and my happiness, and what is going to have to go by the wayside. Hopefully writing will manifest itself either in this blog or some other way, but I just have to wait and see and figure it out. Something has to give because I’m basically burnt out mentally. Need to focus on what’s important and adjust my sphere accordingly. Thanks again to everyone who reads my miscellaneous ramblings. Hopefully there will be many more to come. I think my goal is to force myself to write 2 days a week, like Tuesday and Thursday. We’ll see.

-Chris)

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Spring 2015 Honey Bee Update

I haven’t been writing much this spring because I’ve been so busy with work. But I did want to update you on our bee hives. There’s been a lot going on, and not much of it has been good news.

First off, we knew we lost hive No. 1 this winter. The yellow jackets just devastated the hive in the fall and they couldn’t stand the sub-zero temperatures. So this spring we dumped in a new package of honey bees into the hive. Hive No. 1 is now doing great. We just put another deep box on that hive, and there is a lot of brood in the hive.

Hive No. 3 is doing fantastic as well. We’ve seen the queen both time we checked the hive this spring.

Hive No. 2 was the big disappointment this spring. The healthy, aggressive hive was fine all last year, and alive and well at the end of winter. Then devastatingly the hive just collapsed. We have no idea what happened, but the hive was a complete loss.

It’s too late to get a package of bees for No. 2 so we may pick up a swarm or split hive No. 3 this summer. We’ll likely take a class on that very topic later this month.

Meanwhile back at home I spent a few days harvesting and melting bees-wax. Since many of our frames were from dead hives I stripped the frames and melted the wax. The main take away here is that it’s not worth melting down really “dirty” wax; wax that’s been on the frame for years. There’s just too much dirt, and it’s a mess to try to filter it all out.

As for hive No. 2, and some of the frames from No. 1, there was some honey and pollen. I didn’t harvest any of it because it was hard to tell what had been sitting around and if any of it was any good. I guess if you want to really give it to your bees, you should freeze the frames. I harvested the wax, and left the pollen and honey for the bees to clean  up. Some of the deep frames found their way into the reinstated hive No. 1. The shallow frames will all be stripped soon, and then can be rebuilt by the hives later this year.

The loss of two hives is a major setback. It means no honey for us really this year, except maybe from hive No. 3. The loss of hive No. 1 was to be expected. The loss of the second hive was like an unexpected fist to the gut. It’s difficult to not get emotionally involved and then to suffer this big a setback, it hurts. But nothing is easy, at around here it’s not. While I’ll never get used to it, I know how to handle it. Just have to keep checking on the bees (and plants, and house, and god knows whatever else goes amiss around here). Keep doing what we do and hope for the best.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

Spring Happenings

Spring has sprung. Everything is greening up and the temperatures are warmer.

I haven’t been very inspired to write lately. The drudgery of life is all consuming. When I do eek out a moment of free time I’ve been glancing at a few new books. See the pictures for what I got. All three of them are pretty good.

Not much else is going on. Here are a variety of pics for today.

Wren House

Spring is knocking on the door most definitely.  We’ve had a string of temperate days. Most of the snow has melted, even the giant pile that fell off the garage roof a month or two ago. Even the cool 40 degree days feel warm when the sun is out.

I’ve been locked up in the house now for a couple of weeks on end, working 10-12 hour days. Today was I nice respite from the enslavement that is having to work as much as humanly possible. With no projects on the docket I ran errands this morning. One of my stops was, of course, to Lowe’s. I needed a couple of blank signs for a community event this Saturday. Well not surprisingly, with one day left in winter, the store is shaping up to look like spring: grills and mowers out front, seasonal tables, pillows and decor inside. Scattered about were berry bushes and the obligatory seed starting paraphernalia.

I tried as hard as I could. I was good the last couple visits. Not buying anything except that which was on my list. But a long cold winter, and a life now spent chasing nothing but the almighty dollar has taken its toll on my mental well-being. Dark nights longing for a greenhouse; rationalizing it with every electronic page turn on a tablet. Thoughts of sprouting leaves, dancing in my head.

So I threw caution to the wind. My will broken.

It was the organic seed display that was my downfall.

Bee friendly, organic seed display at Lowe's.

Bee friendly, organic seed display at Lowe’s.

As we all (should) know by now, most likely the plants, and seeds, we all purchase at big box stores or local chain nurseries probably contain neonicotinoids. These insecticides are engineered into the plants to make them resistant to insects. As such they are also toxic to honey bees. Even the plants you get from seeds are engineered to basically kill honey bees.

The plan originally was, we were not going to grow anything from seeds this year. But like I said, seasonal depression took its toll, so I walked out of there with a several packets of organic seeds. Here’s what I got:

Wheat grass, sunflowers, and some other flowers - we will grow from seeds and see how it goes. Our bees will be happy. We can actually eat the wheat grass.

Wheatgrass, sunflowers, and some other flowers – we will grow from seeds and see how it goes. Our bees will be happy. We can actually eat the wheatgrass.

Of course if you get seed, you’re gonna need seed starting soil mix and pods to grow them in. So I grabbed some biodegradable Jiffy pots and organic potting mix.

We were in business!

Actually I was in business. The wife didn’t know what I was up to.

As I walked to the register, I glanced at the various seasonal displays. You’d think I’d know better: don’t be sucked into getting anything else you poor, tired, man. Well they had some bird houses and birdseed there.

Hmmm…

I have a thing for bird houses. Actually animal houses of any kind really. I have some deep seeded desire to turn our 6 acre plot into some sort of wildlife kingdom. With little animals running around everywhere, shaking our hands, and helping us harvest vegetables.

Also I was thinking, the birds are all getting their nesting sites ready. For example, we had a mummified baby bird on our porch. It must have been in one of the porch nests last year. The parent birds – bluebirds? sparrows? deposited the unfortunate baby bird when cleaning out a nesting spot.  I love the idea of all these birds growing up in the safety of our yard and home.

With those thoughts in my head I marched back to the bird supply area of the store. I was going to get a bluebird nesting box. But then I’d have to find a post and long story short turn my trip to the store into an afternoon project. Looking around I spotted a diamond-shaped box with a wire hanger.

Ooo…I hanging bird house.

A wren house in fact.

I hung the house from my finger, and with all my other treasures tucked under my arm, I checked out and headed home.

Our new wren house. Was about $18 at Lowe's.

Our new wren house. Was about $18 at Lowe’s.

At home I googled where to hang my wren house (in an open yard or along a brush row basically). As a family we then went outside to hang our house in the front meadow. Somewhere where we can see it, yet away from the hustle and bustle of yard activity. I used a metal shepherds hook, pounded into the ground, to hang the house from (you can hang yours from a tree if you’d like). Now we’ll wait and see if anyone moves in.

A fine place for a wren family to grow up, in our south meadow.

A fine place for a wren family to grow up, in our south meadow.

I can’t wait for spring to get here. We took a walk on some of the nature trails. We could see little buds starting on many of the bushes and trees, including my apple trees. My fingers are crossed that we get blossoms this year, but I’m not holding out too much hope.

As with the bird house, we shall see. Until then, we’ve got little plants to start.

house-in-late-winter

Our little "creek".

Our little “creek”.

Thaw

In a couple short weeks we’ve gone from winter, snow and arctic temperatures to a complete thaw.

I’ve been incredibly busy for several weeks now, which is great. But it means that writing takes a back seat. Tonight is no different. I did want to share with you an update on the bees.

Now that the temps are in the 40’s, the bees are flying. They spend all winter pent up, so at first sign of warm weather they go relieve themselves outside. About a week ago we looked at the hives from the outside. There were bees flying out of hives No. 2 & No. 3 so it looks like those two survived our cold, snowy winter. It does not look like hive No. 1, our original hive survived. We haven’t seen any activity coming or going, and no signs of bee debris outside the hive.

We will have to wait for a day or two in the 60’s before we pry the lid off of any of the hives. When we do so, we’ll start feeding them a pollen substitute and eventually sugar water as spring dawns.

Alright, I’m off to sleep. Every day is extremely busy from dawn to late at night. I’m ready for a vacation.

Hive No. 3 had a ton of bees outside of it when the temperature finally got above freezing. Notice how brown the snow is from the bees relieving themselves.

Hive No. 3 had a ton of bees outside of it when the temperature finally got above freezing. Notice how brown the snow is from the bees relieving themselves.

Hive No. 1 looks to be dead. We haven't seen any action coming or going. We'll check for sure once it's consistently warm outside.

Hive No. 1 looks to be dead. We haven’t seen any action coming or going. We’ll check for sure once it’s consistently warm outside.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Present

Most guys would get their sweetheart roses, a card and maybe some chocolates. I bought my wife one-hundred-eight dollars worth of straw bales for Valentine’s Day.

The winter has been everything the Farmer’s Almanac had predicted, and more so. We’ve been snow-covered since Christmas for intents and purposes. And this week the bottom finally fell out of the thermometer; treating northeast Ohio to windchill lows in the -20 to -30 range. As Valentine’s Day dawned we were greeted with winter storm warnings, and cancelled travel plans.

The nagging worry about our bees, that had been omnipresent in the back of our minds, worked its way forward with the arctic weather looming. We decided to put up the burlap wind break that we had neglected to erect before winter. But we wondered if there was more we could do. I’m not sure who thought of what, but I googled “hay” and “beehives” and sure enough found examples of straw bale wind breaks around beehives.

The last thing I wanted to do was go buy a bunch of straw bales and haul them back to the apiary. But it was Valentine’s Day and suppose that’s what you do when you try to be more good, than bad.

With the suspicion that carrying bales of straw out back would be the end of me, visions of a heart attack leaving me face down in a blanket of snow, I reluctantly put on my long underwear, boots, scarf, coat, hat and gloves. Outside I went. I hooked up the trailer and headed down to our local hardware store / lumber yard. Once there, I bought as many bales as I could haul.

Sure enough, back at the ranch, after carrying two bales back I was ready to welcome the relief of a good life-ending cardiac event. That’s when my Valentine came out and had the great idea of using a sled to haul the straw back there. It worked brilliantly with the two of us, and our trusty sled, moving ten more bales back to our beehives.

I stacked the bales as best I could to get as much coverage around the three hives. We also put up the burlap wind break around the southwest corner, which is the corner most exposed to the prevailing wind. I also pushed some snow under the hives; the intent being that it’ll keep the wind our from under the hive. The top of the hives have a decent three inches of the white stuff to help insulate as well.

We’ll see. I’m not even sure if hive No. 1 is still alive. So maybe we could have allocated resources to the other two hives. There’s no way to tell so we just did the best we could do.

With that, I’m writing off the “straw bale for bees” thing as my Valentine’s Day present to my wife this year. And I didn’t even have a heart attack.

Snow Guard Repair

Elsewhere our friends at First Choice Exteriors came out and fixed the snow guard on the garage. They were out on Monday and fixed things right quick at no cost to us. If you have a need for a metal roof or metal roof accessories, these are the guys to call. They are courteous, and do great work; which they stand behind. They service northern Ohio, and I think they even trek out to Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Highly recommend them.

Basement Update

I finished farming the basement today! Only took me 6 months. I still have 3 metal studs to install but I’m leaving them out until we get EVERYTHING in to the storage room. Next we’ll get the framing and insulation inspected and the have the electrician come out to do his thing.

Today I completed the framing for a little storage cubicle under the staircase. That area, while good for storing Christmas decorations, it also makes for a good “fort” too.

Here are today’s photos. Stay warm peeps.

Ideas For A Healthier World in 2015

Three christmas trees marking the three years we've been in our home. From front to back: 2012, 2014, 2013.

Three christmas trees marking the three years we’ve been in our home. From front to back: 2012, 2014, 2013.

It’s that time of year again, when we create a bunch of lists to recap this year and wax poetic about the coming year. We plan all these great things we’ll do, and how we’ll act a lot better than we did last year. I’ll leave it up to you as to whether you can accomplish these things in 2015, or not. But what I’d like to give you are some ideas of how you can help make the world, planet, a better place in the coming year. I like to think I’m not being to preachy here; rather my intent is to give you ideas of things you can do that don’t affect your lifestyle that much, and collectively make a huge difference if we all did these.

Here are some simple ideas to make 2015 a healthier year for you and your planet.

Plant Pollinator Friendly Gardens

Despite the cold, spring will be upon us in no time. As you plan your garden for the coming year, consider planting plants, trees and flowers that pollinators such as bees and butterflies like. These insects are critical for a healthy environment and a robust food chain. We don’t think about them in our busy lives, but these insects are essential for our survival, and they are dying off at an alarming rate due to our use of chemicals and habit loss.

Regardless of where you live, you most likely will plant some flowers this year, or freshen up your landscape. The easiest thing to do is select native plants and flowers – native animals and insects will love them, and the plants will require virtually no watering once established because they are accustomed to your local precipitation. Click here for a list, of Ohio native nurseries and plants.

Also, recent studies have shown that plants (and seeds) from big box stores and large garden centers may contain neonicotinoids. These toxic chemicals are found in the seeds of the plants, and linger long after the plants have grown up. Make an effort to buy certified organic seeds and ask your nursery if their plants are free of neonicotinoids.

Reduce Your Energy Consumption

High on my list for 2015 is switching more of our light bulbs to energy-efficient LED bulbs. I’ve been monitoring their costs and selection closely at Lowe’s and Home Depot, and you can now get a simple LED light bulb for under $10, that will last for 20 years (I may not even last that long). Remember to keep your receipts because most bulbs will carry a warranty.

Smart thermostats are ubiquitous at home centers now as well. Consider installing one. You’ll feel more comfortable, and it will lower your energy usage, putting money in your pocket along the way.

Lastly, on a cold morning walk around the house and look for drafts. Check exterior door weather stripping, window leaks, and feel around pipes that exit your house. We have a spigot in the basement that I can physically feel and see air coming through that I have to seal up with some spray foam. Use spray foam yourself or hire an insulation company like RTEK insulation to spray add’l insulation in your attic or basement. Additionally maybe it’s time for new windows, or replace old dried out weather stripping.

Energy savings equal more money for you. Well worth the investment.

Eliminate Beef From Your Diet

Ugh, this is the worst idea ever. I love steak. And hamburgers. But livestock emissions (from animals and transportation associated with them) creates more greenhouse gasses than all other transportation combined. Beef is 41% of those emissions.

Here are a few things we’re doing to go zero beef. I believe the ecological footprint for poultry is less than that of cows. Turkey is a great alternative to ground beef. We use it for tacos and sloppy-joes, even burgers as well. I’ve been buying chicken sliders instead of hamburgers as well at the grocery store. In general we eat more chicken than beef, if for no other reason than it’s a lot less expensive.

When we buy red meat, we almost always purchase antibiotic free, natural beef. Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, beef is a major source for antibiotic pollution that is degrading our health and resistance to disease.

Other options for red meat that we haven’t experimented with, but should include buying local beef – like directly from the farmer at a farmers market. That way you know it’s natural and there isn’t as much transportation involved. Also look into bison meat, which may be a good occasional alternative. Lastly, take up hunting or become friends with a hunter. Venison is as good or better than beef and has no ecological footprint if harvested responsibly.

Think, Don’t Take Anything For Granted

This is the most important thing I can encourage you to do in the new year. Think for yourself. Think about where everything you consume comes from.

  • What materials did it require?
  • Where did it come from?
  • How far away? How’d it get here?
  • Who made it? Where are they from? How much income do they make?
  • Where will it go when I’m done with it?
  • Am I paying the real cost for this item?

For example we pay our electric bill, but do you think about where the energy comes from? In Ohio most of our energy comes from coal. Coal is a great material but we’re using too much, too fast and it’s killing our atmosphere. It causes countless deaths due to asthma, air-borne chemical exposure and the harvesting of coal destroys mountains and watersheds. We’re also using up a finite material. Every ton we use is a ton future generations will not have access to. None of those costs or lost value are paid by you, the user, when you pay your bill.

If you are going to be a consumer then be a fair consumer. Understand the ramifications of your actions, and be willing to pay the true costs for those actions.

Think about where your clean water, air and food come from. And take none of them for granted. You can make a difference, you just need to wake up to that realization.

From our family to yours, we wish you all the best for a happy and healthy new year. Please be kind and helpful to each other. Learn to love again and spread that love.

-Chris

 

A note on the blog, and new year: You may have noticed this has been only my second post this month (420th post overall…wow). Fortunately for our family I have been busy the last month with paying work. The end of the day finds me worn out, with little interest in many of the endeavors I took for granted just a couple years ago. Life is constantly changing, and not always by our own hand or plan; but change comes none the less. Recognize and appreciate the freedoms you enjoy. Interests and goals turn into luxuries in a heart beat.

The stresses of being self employed are very unique. Right now my focus is on providing for my family, their health, education and happiness. Anything else is a self-indulgance. I’m essentially a work-aholic right now so to speak. Which goes against my grain in so many ways, but that’s how it goes some times. I’ve grown a lot in the last two years. I’m learning to focus on what adds value to the one life I have, and cast off that which does not. I’ve realized that goals come in so many forms and timelines. And they change.

As such writing, art, random endeavors and home projects have fallen by the wayside. For example, the basement project is on indefinite hold until I get some free time. Though I do have a peachy-keen shelf write up I need to draft and share with you. Hopefully the new year will find greater balance and I will be able to build of off 2014’s successes, and mitigate that year’s failings.

I have “written” my first book, a single copy volume on bees that was a Christmas present for the wife. I really enjoyed the experience. So writing more in the new year is definitely on my wish list, but maybe in a new form. (I would like to translate this blog to book form, as well as a book of poetry with my illustrations for example. Alas, these endeavors are also the pinnacle of self-indulgence so we shall see.)

I can’t say for sure how much I will be writing on the blog though. I’m trying to decide now whether to even retain the nineappletrees.com address for instance; reverting back to the free address would save me a few dollars for example. Maybe it’s time for a change as life changes. I don’t know. But regardless I thank those of you who have made this experience of writing a fun one. If I encouraged one person to do something to make our world a better place than the effort was well worth it. That is the least we can ask of this life.

May you be blessed in the new year.