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Looking down a run at Nakiska

Monday February 20th 2012
Alberta Family Day

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We have an inch or so of new snow today. 

I slept most of the morning.  I haven't done that for a while.  I tend to be in bed late, then up early, but enjoy a good long sleep now and then.  Sometimes I nap for an hour in the afternoon, but usually I don't nap at all.

After lunch, I walked over an looked at the test hives.  The temperature was minus four with a light breeze from the west.  It was hardly an ideal time for an examination, but I lifted lids and took snapshots with the phone anyhow.  The quality of the shots is nothing to write home about, but they do show how the bees look. Click any thumbnail for a closer look.

Hive One is weak, but did have brood the last time I looked. 
The bees themselves look OK, so we'll just have to see.

Hive Two looks good.


Hive Three is not up to the top and, against my better judgment, I lifted the top box for a peek.  They seem fine.  These hives are packed with honey and that constrains them.  Also, there is an entire box of new white comb above, packed with honey and capped.  Bess just don't seem to go up into them the way they do older comb.

Hive Four looks the way I'd like them all to look. 
Don't forget that this is the hive with the greatest continuing varroa drop.
Some say the best hives have the most varroa.  Could be true?

Hive Five looks good, too.

Hive Six is still down a bit.  Otherwise it looks good.

We have two months to wait now until crocus bloom.  That will be followed by dandelion.  We'll have some pollen before then, but nothing reliable.  I don't like to put pollen patties on too early, so the bees are on their own for another month.  I like to add patties about three weeks before the weather settles and the pollen flows are reliable April first is a good time to start feeding heavily since the first boosted generation will hatch around the time that pollen is available and the young bees can build up their bodies with natural food.

Actually many good beekeepers start earlier than that, typically mid-March.  That is partly because in a commercial operation some hives always get management a little early and some a little late due to the number of hives to be managed and the resources at hand, plus weather constraints.  Assuming that bees eat pollen until they are 18 days old and can benefit, that adds another 18 days to the window for optimal feeding of supplement. 

It is generally accepted that feeding pollen supplements or substitutes in the absence of natural pollen can only be beneficial for one generation of bees.  After one generation (21 days) , if natural pollen is not available, the hives tend to dwindle.  This istrue regardless of the artificial diet

I see I should have pulled the Apivar today.  I am now one day short of the maximum recommended time for treatment -- 56 days.  Normal treatment is 42 days.

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Tuesday February 21st 2012
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I'll pull out the Apivar today and get the updated drop charts posted.

*   *   *   *   *

I updated the drop summary page, finally, and am on my way out to remove the Apivar from the two hives.


As previously mentioned, details of the varroa oxalic acid treatments, the subsequent observations and my learning experiences are on the drop summary page and in this diary beginning in mid-October

My advice?  Although the web page provides a good glimpse, if you are at all serious about looking into this project, download the spreadsheet and look at the charts in Excel.

Speaking of Apivar, the label states that two strips are required per brood chamber.  Most beekeepers understand this to mean per 5 frames of bees, since there are normally ten frames in a brood chamber. 

Obviously the idea is to match the treatment to the number of bees, not the amount of wood or wax, so some thinking is required to extract the true intent of the instructions.  Why they did not just say one strip for every 10,000 -15,000 bees or something of the sort, I don't know.

In a "brood chamber", there could be anywhere from 1 to 10 frames covered with bees.  How many bees there appear to be depends on temperature, too. (What is a "frame of bees", though?) (Another opinion).  A 2-lb package covers about three and a half frames as I recall once they settle down, and that is 6,000 to 7,500 bees, I have been told.  In warmer weather, and at mid-day, there are many fewer bees per frame as the bees spread out and some go foraging.

I'm guessing that the writers intended to mean a brood chamber reasonably full of bees, but not crowded.  If that is true, then a cluster occupying half a brood chamber should receive half the treatment suggested for one brood chamber.

Many beekeepers treat nucs and small hives and have to extrapolate that rather ballpark instruction into frames of bees. What if you have 5-1/2 frames of bees?  What if you have 9?   What if you have a 6-frame brood chamber or an 8-frame?  This would seem to be a judgment call.  There is no mention of using partial strips, so the instructions are obviously quite imprecise and in need of interpretation to be useful. 

If one strip is required per five frames of bees, then how many strips would be needed for each of the hives shown farther up this page? IMO, by the appearance, most of them require one strip, not two. 

Moreover, if that one strip is put in early, say at mid-March before the hive builds up, the bee population will be a bit smaller, and some hives may have died -- saving on wasted strips compared to fall treatment -- and there will not be much brood for the varroa to hide in.

As a bonus, any mites that are even stunned by the dope will drop down into the cold bottom boxes and be gone forever whereas in fall or later in spring, the bees will be spread out and the mites can just catch a ride up from the floor. 

Beekeepers who wait until late April or May will need two strips at least and the stunned mites -- the very mites which demonstrate some resistance to Apivar and which we really need to kill -- will be far more likely to find another bee if they fall in warmer weather.

In my opinion, the best time to use the strips is in early spring and for the sake of the bees, I would round the number of strips to the nearest integer, so for me, 6 to 7 frames needs one strip, but 8 or 9 could need two.

Many years ago, we treated with one single strip of Apistan when most were treating with up to four strips per hive in fall and we never had any varroa problems.  Our secret was treating in March when the mites are weak, old, exposed and vulnerable, and the bee populations are small.  The colonies are at the top of hives with cold frames and floors below.

I have not tried this with Apivar, but I'm betting it would work, and also delay the onset of Apivar resistance, especially if combined with formic and oxalic treatments if they are indicated later in the season.

One more thought: the toxicity of a miticide to bees varies with temperature and some miticides are more toxic to bees as the temperature drops. (info courtesy Dee Lusby).  In cooler weather, overdosing by rounding up the number of strips could be harmful.

I pulled the Apivar and looked at the population in Hive Five (right).  I'd say to follow the label, it qualifies for two Apistan strips as it sits right now.  A month from now, maybe not. 

Nonetheless, years back, we would have given it one strip of Apistan in March and would have expected to see only five or so mites a day in natural drop the following fall.

I see that the bees were not shy about crawling on and building on the Apivar.


It should be 1 strip/5 frames of bees. During the translation from French, this statement lost its meaning…  We wanted to change the statement, but it will require reviewing the whole label. This might take longer time. However, we are holding the change till we get the full registration. The new label will be reflect this change.

Frames of bees Strips
5 1
6-10 2
11-15 3
16-20 4

Once again the best results we got in spring treatment when bees start feeding on pollen patties and 2 strips placed one on each side of the centre frame. Efficacy has reached > 95%. In this case bees will not need treatment in fall unless there is a high reinfestation level.

Fall treatment can be good, however, too many summer bees, robbing and beekeepers tend to place the strips in the top box.  Once summer bees die and bees are fed, guess what? -- all the bees in the bottom box and the strips are in the top.  Then, beekeepers complain that strips are not working.  When we ask place strips in the bottom box, no beekeeper would like to do that job. So, what do you think!!!!!!!!

Our research and experience over the past several years under-dosing will not give good control. As it is the strip contains only 3.3%, unlike Apistan. In fact the bees have to be actively walking on strips to get good results.

All of these info has been given to beekeepers during our extension classes.  I hope that this answer satisfies you.


*   *   *   *   *


It does, although the above does not address what constitutes a frame of bees, and that metric can vary quite a bit with season, time of day, ambient temperature and flow or feeding conditions.  Moreover, beekeepers of varying experience will read this differently.  Nonetheless, I get the idea that under-dosing is not a good plan and these are minimums, not maximum doses.

Maybe it is not the number of bees per strip that matters as much as the distance any bee in the hive is from a strip?  It seems that bees don't move through the hive as much as we assume.  (More on this later -- it is a good question for BEE-L) Also, we know that the nurse bees, which carry most of the varroa are located near the centre of a hive.

The picture at right (click to enlarge) is a good illustration of properly installed Apivar, although, perhaps the strips could have been offset from one another a bit from front to back of the hive.

(I reformatted Medhat's response above slightly and created a table using numbers which he presented in sentence format).

Today I updated the charts, pulled the Apivar and got a start on the bookkeeping year end.

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Wednesday February 22nd 2012
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It is dull today.  I'm watching the mountains for snow and continuing work on the books.

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Thursday February 23rd 2012
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Today an old friend will be dropping by for a visit in the afternoon.

I notice also that it is now one week since I last counted mite drops.  I am thinking I will now check every two weeks until there is sufficient drop to justify more frequent checks.  Reworking the charts is a big job each time I do a count.

I'm still working on the books and tidying as well as some website maintenance.

> Hi Allen,

> I like poking through your web site for tidbits of information. I found this the other day and since I never reverse my hive bodies in spring I was pleased to see it. http://www.honeybeeworld.com/spring/splits.htm

"I am no longer recommending reversing in most cases. One thing that keeps queens from going down is the excessive scraping of top and bottom bars. The gap that results discourages the queen from going down and since we have stopped scraping the ladder comb from these wooden parts, we have less burr comb (sideways between frames), and have less need to reverse."

I never had nosema problems that I was able to see, and I did look. I suspect that in many cases nosema is spread by excessive, unnecessary and clumsy manipulation at times when he bees are vulnerable. Manipulations should be designed to assist the bees in doing things they might reasonably be doing anyhow, not a brute force attempt to overcome their nature.

> I have had a big learning curve as far as keeping my bees healthy the > past few years, I have a lot more hives than I ever have had and the > numbers made managing them much harder.

In some ways managing more bees can be easier since you can see easily which hives should be moved to a nurse yard or simply combined and choices become clearer and simpler.

Two or three, or even four duds which are combined by simply stacking them up on one stand (remove any empty boxes) often recover and can be split later. In the meantime the job of dealing with them takes only moments and does not involve frame by frame manipulation or any agonizing decision making.

> This past year things have gone > well. So far I have only lost one hive which happens to be the only one > that did not get a mite treatment.


> I have a question. What kind of frames and foundation are you using/do you like? I have always used wedge wooden frames with J hook wax foundation. I am going to need about a 100 new frames for splits and Mann Lake has Cell Rite foundation installed in wooden frames at a good price. Last fall they sent me 20 frames as a free sample trying to get us to sell in the bee shop, I have not had a chance to use them since they sent them in the fall. I riding the fence on changing from wooden frames and wax J hook foundation.

That is a tough question. All foundation is a compromise and an imposition on the bees. I like wood frames with wax for their traditional feel, but they are fussy, require work and are easily damaged. Disposal is no problem, though. A solar wax melter and burning barrel gets the job done with little fuss.

Nonetheless, wax these days contains undesirable chemicals and plastic has largely displaced it. I use plastic exclusively just for the convenience, indestructibility.

I bought hundreds of the new made up frames you mention at a very attractive price two years ago. I specify black. Believe it or not, The bees like them better.

At the same time I got the same number of one-piece white plastic frames from the same friend. I assumed the latter were Pierco 5.25 mm standard depth frames or an exact knock-off. They weren't. They turned out to be the 5.0mm cell Mann Lake product. I placed them all into hives indiscriminately and notice the larger-celled wood frames seemed to have been drawn with fewer "errors", but the difference were so minor that I will have to look further this season.

The big difference IMO, and especially for cold weather beekeepers is the question of how much brood bees can cover and how much of the cluster is on the top and bottom bars or spaces.

IMO, the plastic one-piece win hands down due to smaller bars and more cells per square inch. We proved that when comparing Pierco to other foundation years back. See "Selected Topics".

Whatever plastic you try, make sure it is coated with wax. Some beekeepers wax their own with a brush or spray, but I have found the factory coating to be satisfactory.

> Your seasons seem similar to ours climate wise, though you are colder in  the winter. This winter is nonexistent, it never happened we have hardly been below freezing.

We've had an easy winter, but did have a few cold snaps. They were brief, however. Our weather from October until last week is shown on the chart at http://www.honeybeeworld.com/diary/images/2012/drop.h5.jpg . The current weather is also posted in the image under each date heading in this diary.

> Thanks for all the time I know you spend keeping up your web site. Bee-L, you and Randy Oliver (microscope use on my bees) have been a huge help to make me a better bee keeper.

Glad to be of assistance. Lots of people helped me, or tried to when I would listen, and I am merely passing it on.

*   *   *   *   *


I do recommend reversing in cases where side-by-splits are to be made and it is found that the top box is extremely heavy and/or the bees and brood are not spread evenly through both boxes.  In such cases, reversing a week or ten days ahead makes it more likely that the splits will be even and successful.  The weather must be settled and mild, however.

There are other reasons to reverse specific hives, but reversing must be done with an eye to weather and flows as well as the condition of the specific hive.

Pete Smith came by for a visit this afternoon.

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Friday February 24th 2012
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It's hard to believe that it is Friday already. 

Weather is mild, for the most part and the days are growing longer. I see we can expect some snow.  If this materializes, it means it is time for a trip to the mountains soon.

From BEE-L

> why would anyone open up all their colonies in February in Pennsylvania? In NY we usually don't recommend poking into them until April. This year, being so warm (9 degrees above normal for Feb) I would probably move that to March, but not Feb

Well, I suppose it is a matter of experience and of opinion -- and probably a question of how the bees are wrapped or packed, or not.

Up here, commercial beekeepers open hives any day of the year that it is above freezing and not breezy if they have the need to, or simply out of curiosity. Some of my test hives have been opened at least 20 time since October and they look OK.

Opened for a quick look, yes. Frames pulled, no. Pulling frames is done on occasion when justified, but very judiciously, and when they is no wind at all. They are replaced within seconds.

Cursory checks have to be done in Jan and Feb to estimate the state of the hives and likely winter loss in order to plan for feeding and to order replacements. Most beekeepers here are feeding protein, where indicated, by mid-March. Many will move side frames around or provide syrup if there is risk of starvation. Disturbing frames with bees on them is a different matter.

Some hives are wrapped in a manner that makes all this difficult, but most these days wrap in a manner that allows quick access.

Unwrapped hives often shouldn't be opened as casually since opening them would break the seal and a 1/16" crack under a lid adds up to a 4 square inch hole in total area (1/16" x 60"), and allows wind to blow right through the brood area afterwards. Some who don't wrap have a lid system that reseals, however, as do I. (I don't wrap. I use EPS boxes and pillows under lids).

Just lifting a lid does not seem to have any effect on winter survival, but prolonged exposure can be harmful. However, we've had lids blow off hives and found them open for a week or more in late fall, before wrapping and found the hives survived just fine.

In winter, almost broodless, clustered colonies are actually less vulnerable to harm from an opened lid than they are later, in spring, when fewer, older bees are trying to cover larger amounts of brood and keep it warm.

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Saturday February 25th 2012
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So far, this morning, we have an inch or so of new snow, but the warning is still in effect. Jean phoned and has though better of making the drive down to see us.  The snow is no problem, but if the wind picks up, visibility goes to zero sometimes.  Also, passing the huge trucks that are on the roads these days, there is a huge cloud of snow that can blind oncoming drivers in other lanes for moments that could prove fatal.

From BEE-L:

>Personally, I have no qualms about taking the lids off hives in winter. I just question the realism of doing this to hundreds of hives in this region (Penn, NY, Mass, etc). Many yards would be inaccessible, and many hives would be tightly wrapped or packed.

Or covered with snow drifts, which happen to be the best (and cheapest) winter packing possible.

Generally, our beekeepers only sample accessible yards to get an idea of what to expect. With large numbers, like thousands, a hundred or so hives opened more or less at random gives a pretty clear picture.

Sometimes a whole yard may be essentially dead, though, even if the outfit actually averages at 15% overall loss, so just sampling one yard will not tell the tale. I've seen that, and Aaron reports something similar.

>Then there is the question of what to do. I don't think it's at all wise to feed hives too early, as it may stimulate them to brood up too early. There is a lot to be said for letting them go at their own pace.

For those of us who are confident that there is enough feed, both honey and pollen, that is the best solution IMO. I have done that and had some of those colonies swarming from wrapped hives at times when other, more intensively managed hives were needing help.

I don't take honey of the hives and I leave my hives in three or four standards, so I am confident that the varroa are well-controlled, so that is my intention for most of my hives, but I will peek since my hives are in EPS boxes and are easily accessible at home.

>Preventing starvation is a different natter, but the weight of the hives can be assessed without opening them up.

True, but if light, only opening them will tell if the cluster is distant from the remaining feed, and when open, the best possible feed for otherwise good colonies is replacement of outer, unoccupied frames with good brood combs full of honey and pollen.

> Ideally, one would have saved frames of honey, or if there are weak or failed hives, one can steal from them.

Agreed 100%. Only caveat is to make sure such frames are not contaminated with faeces or AFB.

What many do not ken is that hives with even a little AFB often are the first to die in winter. At the early stages of AFB breakdown (a progressive process) where only a few scales are seen, the disease will nevertheless kill colonies -- especially hygienic ones -- by forcing them to abort many of the larvae which would have been the winter bees, causing the colony to dwindle in winter to a size that cannot survive the cold.

>Anyway, it's still early to say how bees fared winter up this way, since winter has two more months to go (we can get heavy snows in April)

In recent years much of the loss has been late in the winter or early spring, possibly due to shortened bee lifespan resulting from varroa predation and diseases vectored by both mites. The presence of miticides in comb does not help either in that regard, as apparently some miticide toxicity to bees is enhanced by colder temperatures. (Dee pointed that out).

I was impressed by Aaron's report. In my opinion, much of the harm to our colonies is due to our need or desire to remove honey at our convenience. The process of honey harvesting can either be very damaging or harmless and even beneficial to the colonies, all depending on how and when it is done and how much is left for the bees.

Also, often necessary treatments and manipulations are delayed due to the need to extract (or inability to do so due to a breakdown or day job) and the bees suffer. As a result the same beekeepers need to buy bees over and over again, and are forced to rob the bees even closer in order to pay for the next year's replacements.

These days bees are worth more than honey, so to me it only makes sense to take care of the bees first and take honey only where it is truly surplus to the bees' needs or if the beekeeper has proven methods of ensuring the bees are never short of quality feed, even for a few days.

Being short of feed, even in the short term, changes the entire economy (and some might say psychology) of a colony and alters its behaviour for some time afterwards. This alteration due to scarcity can be stimulative early in the year, but can prove fatal later on, near winter.


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Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds,
while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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Sunday February 26th 2012
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We had a bit more snow overnight and it is dull today again.  The temperature is minus fourteen C.

We're now into the season where weather matters.  Up until now, the wintering bees were young and there was not much brood to keep warm, but now bees are dying off, the cluster is getting smaller, and the brood area is expanding.  Wraps and shelter and good feed begin to matter now, a great deal.

I'm not doing much today, just cleanup and reading.

Zippy and I went for a short stroll in the afternoon and walked by the hives.

In the evening, I watched 28 Days.  I liked it.

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Monday February 27th 2012
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It's a beautiful morning here in Swalwell.  It's minus twenty-one here and in Red Deer they say it is minus twenty-seven.

That is of interest to me today because I'm off to Red Deer to get a shingles shot at Costco.  Zostavax has been in short supply, but is now available at a few locations in Alberta.  Although the vaccine costs about $150 and is not 100% reliable, it is estimated to prevent shingles over 60% of the time. 

Shingles is common in older people and is definitely something to avoid if possible.  It is quite painful and debilitating, and can have permanent effects.  My Mom had it for two weeks last September, and although the rash and most of the pain have faded, the effects still linger.  Bill W's mom had it for more than a year and it affected her eye as well as causing other grief.  I don't want it.

From BEE-L:

> Hi all,

> I am looking for a thermostat to use in liquefying crystalized honey in the wax comb. How careful do I need to be? I was thinking that a thermostat with a 1 degree range might be needed. Do I need one with closer range? Like maybe 1/2 degree?

> Has anyone done this? What temperature does the honey start to liquefy? What temperature does the wax begin to melt or distort? Where can I purchase one that will do the task?

Dee replies: > For a normal hot room supers used to be put in normally 100F - 105F is fine though it will take a few days to do, but comb should be okay.

> You want to go faster,.........DONT ever go above 115F to 120F range. and then when extracting you have to let cool down after going this hot, back to even 100F range or 90F range for day thereabouts for wax to get harder.  But honey will stay liquid for extracting.

> Honey will reset up with lower setting and with the higher it will still set though will take several months.

My comments:

I agree, but let me add this: New comb is much weaker than older comb, so take your time. The combs look OK, look OK, look OK, and then sag after they are not supported by the granulated honey.

Also granulation absorbs a lot of heat when melting. When it is all melted, suddenly the temperature may soar if it is not well controlled.

Dee is thinking large amounts, but you may only be thinking of a few supers. I don't know, but if the scale is at all large, then this:

In addition, the temperature in a hot room may vary as much as ten degrees top to bottom. Air recirculation is important, especially in the up and down direction. A household fan works well, but may run the bearings dry in a hot room after a while. Many use industrial ceiling fans.

Granulated honey is often also dry, so adding some humidity can sometimes help.

If you have only a few supers and don't need the honey, placing the combs in the middle of a box immediately above the brood will empty them in spring. In fall, placing a super of granulation below the brood will get it cleaned out and moved up. We used to just place the odd uncapped frame of granulated honey at random in the centre of first the supers going on and it was always cleaned out

I drove to town and had the shot.  They warn of all sorts of reactions, but, as usual, I noticed nothing.  By the time I left Costco and visited Wal-Mart, though, I had spent enough to pay for a two-week trip to California and a rented car.   It is cheaper to travel than stay home.

The weather moderated by the time I got to town and the day was pleasant enough that I left my jacket in the van when going into stores.  The days are growing longer and spring is not long off now.

At Wal-Mart, I got an email from Jean saying that she thought she might have run out of server disk space while working on one of her websites, itsallkidsplay.ca, so I stopped right here in the pharmacy and worked on the server, using my Galaxy Tab. 

Seeing as we were talking, I invited myself for supper and ran up to Lacombe.  On the way back, I spent a bit more money and was home by ten.

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You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity.
J. K. Rowling

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Tuesday February 28th 2012
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It's another medical day.  First Drum for a scan at 8:45, then Three Hills for a meeting with the GP.  I'm the driver.

We got all that done before lunch and came home it was beautiful day for a drive and we came up through the River valley. 

I notice I have excess bandwidth this month and decided to upgrade my DropBox account to the 50 GB level and put all my pictures and backups there.  It cost me $99/yr.  SugarSync is only $25 for 30 GB/yr until tomorrow, but they don't have LAN sync and I am happy with DropBox.  I'm not sure I understand SugarSync and the demands it might make on my bandwidth. 

Yesterday, I bought a cute little pressure washer at Wal-Mart for $88.  It looked good and I figured if did not like it after I unpacked it, I could just take it back.  At the same time, I picked up a light, but tough-looking fifty foot hose for $8.   I'm tired of rolling out and starting the big Honda-powered pressure washer and unrolling a long hose whenever I want to wash a van.  I was pleasantly surprised at the perfect design of this little thing and it washed my vans just as well as the big one, with less set-up and take-down hassle.

Then I set up some floor and table lamps I bought yesterday as well.  I always get tired of the dark about this time of year.

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opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.
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Wednesday February 29th 2012
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Where did the day go?  I tidied, went for a short walk, did some deskwork, and that was about it.

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