December 5, 2009

Go gentle into that good night, Geoffrey Dylan Thomas

The miracle is this - the more we share, the more we have.
Leonard Nimoy


I can still close my eyes and remember vividly the smell and the wetness of the summer grass as we lay on our backs in the darkness, side by side in Mira Vista Park. So vividly, in fact, that as I recall it now I feel like it's entirely possible to reach over and find your hand to hold.

"See the cluster of bright stars there?" you indicated with your outstretched arm. "Look at the darkness between them and concentrate, concentrate on it and it alone," you told me as you tried to take me image by resplendent image through your near-death experiences. Most people think that in death you move towards brightness, you explained, but in your experience it was not that way.

By this point, you'd died numerous times. Born with a defective heart, you needed immediate and innovative surgery -- the kind that gets written into textbooks. You were famous before you even knew how to say your own name, my friend. I recall with astonishing clarity how it felt to run my fingers along your scars; the zipper running the length of your chest that indicated where you'd been forcibly thrust apart to gain access to your ailing heart; the portal where you'd been outfitted with the device that would suggest (and I use the word with trepidation) the only beat you ever did follow. It was on the operating table that you'd found yourself so terribly alone, and yet so terribly free... a freedom that, ironically, begged to be shared. And so on that summer night as Antioch slumbered you tried to show me your death, artfully crafting the words that painted a picture of your experience. I followed along with my imagination, indeed believing I could see what you described.

Geoffrey Dylan Thomas, I hope your final j
ourney exceeded the magnificent and wonder you described to me that night.

~ ~ ~

Our first "date" found me clinging to you from the back of your motorbike. We meandered along the winding county backroads -- deep wrinkles through the soft skin of the gently rolling California hills. This time of year the grasses were young and tender (as were we) and there was a chill in the air. I thought I'd never stop shivering but I also didn't care. On and on you drove, up the back way to the top of Mt. Diablo where we stopped to eat what we'd brought along. You showed me a cool place to hike, and after around or about "4:20" you told me the story of the world, Geoffrey style.

You owned everything you talked about -- the people and the places. You could form these things into something almost tangible, something that could be held in your hands and distributed to those who cared to listen. As a result everyone could own a bit of it, and thus own a bit of you. Everything about Antioch, San Francisco, Berkeley, Black Diamond Mines, Mt. Diablo, Stinson Beach, Little Manuels(!), the river, the bridge, this house, that park, etc... I learned from you, Geoffrey. You taught me to fish, to play cards, to drive a motorbike, to smoke and drink, and things I can't mention here because it would make my father blush! It was you that drove me to Martinez to get my driver's license, and it was with you that I blew up the engine of my dad's car trying to drive up the hills of San Francisco. You showed me that a good way to spend a day was to take a blanket and some bongos to the middle of a wide-open park and play along with the sounds of the turning earth -- sounds I didn't know how to hear until I met you. When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think of playing in the rain and long drives all over California. I think of the besto pesto at the Waterloo Cafe, mismatched socks, lots and lots of pot smoking, lots and lots of loving, and one really big, hateful, horrible, hurtful, horrendous argument. You were right, by the way, and I should have told you that sooner. I'm sorry.
~ ~ ~

My own heart aches to know that yours eventually failed you. Thanks to the forethought and kindness of an unfortunate stranger, you were given a few more years to truly touch people's lives. I wonder how you felt in those first few moments after you woke up from the surgery. Did you wake and listen for the familiar clicking of the artificial heart valves? I wonder if you mourned their absence. I wonder how you felt to know you now marched to a new beat of someone's indescribably extraordinary gift.
When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think
of the the mysteries of life and death and how you regarded them with equal reverence. When I think of you, Geoffrey Thomas, I think of how you taught me and others to hear the earth's heartbeat through rhythm and song. How beautiful it is then that you led the members of The Heartbeats to tell the miraculous stories of life after heart or lung transplants through the rhythm of drums and bongos.

Geoff, when I think of you I think of a lot of things, but in the end I can sum them all up with one word: life -- for you were so full of it. You embraced it and took command of it because you knew what most of us still can't fathom: it is only borrowed... and for too short a time.

♥ You will be missed by so many people, Geoffrey ♥

~ ~ ~

November 10, 2009

The Arc National Convention 2009, or, Why I braved TSA, butt numbness, a brisk run from concourse C to A and rain-soaked luggage

Last night Charlotte and I took a stroll around the house. "Stand up... come on, stand up," I cheerily urged her on. She stood up on her own, but nervously whined for me with outstretched arms. With me behind her holding on to her little hands, she took slow and deliberate steps, her tiny naked toes pressing down firmly, her tiny feet slightly pronated. Oh, these moments, I thought. Mom helping child. Child feeling safe in mom's steady hands. She could walk on her own, but she either gets scared or she simply just doesn't care to try. If she only knew that she doesn't really need me... she could take off, untethered, unaided, unhindered.

But, I ask, what glory is there in not needing someone? ~Need needn't be a negative!~

Charlotte was born with Down syndrome. Her first few weeks were spent in NICU while she recovered from what would be the first of many procedures. During that time, I pondered what changes this would bring to my life, to our family, and how her life would be different from that of the typical child I had been expecting. I didn't spend more than a few days grieving that theoretical “typical” child because it only took a few days to realize what a truly special person Charlotte already was, and was destined to become.

That was over two years ago, and I can honestly say that this beautiful girl has left nothing but happiness and changed lives in her enormous wake. She doesn't walk, or talk much yet. She doesn't do a lot of the things a typical 2 year old does. She does different things. Not better, not worse... different. And, more importantly, she doesn't let that trouble her. As long as someone can help her.

Now obviously, we don't want Princess Charlotte to be carried around forever. She will have to learn to do some things on her own eventually. But for the rest of her life Charlotte will need a little assistance. Her outstretched arms won't always indicate "help me walk" but it's fairly certain that Charlotte will always need, in some way or another, the assistance and kindness of people.

So, how is that different from the rest of us? We all need interdependence in some way. Why would we want to give up this gift of needing others? Being dependent does not negate one's creativity, competence, or individuality. It certainly doesn't negate worth. In fact, in many ways, being dependent only strengthens all these things. It gives us a model for human civility and it gives us confidence to face our challenges. We all have limitations and it's only when we acknowledge and accept our need for interdependence that we can really know ourselves.

So, it is with pride that I carry out the role of one of Charlotte's helpers and with honor that I pursue ways to help Charlotte achieve whatever she wants. I'll be in Pittsburgh this week for the Arc's National Convention where I will learn how I can guide Charlotte, and others like her, to be as creative, as individual, and as competent as I know she is.

Charlotte's little feet may not be carrying her places yet, but her sweetness gets her wherever she wants to go!

October 28, 2009

No bathroom breaks on this evolutionary journey

Ok, you know it's cool:

These oogly little creatures that we'd rather not have as guests actually have lots of guests of their own. They play host to some waste-product-lovin' microbes and the relationship is so efficient that cockroaches have no need for potty breaks. One needs the other as much as the other needs the one. Ahh, symbiosis.

"To survive in hostile environments, cockroaches rely on their own vermin: Blattabacterium, a microbe that hitched a ride inside roaches 140 million years ago, and hasn’t left since.

Researchers who sequenced the Blattabacterium genome have found that it converts waste into molecules necessary for a roach to survive. Every cockroach is a testimony to the power of recycling — thanks to their microbes, they don’t even need to pee."

Wired Science: Cockroach Superpower No. 42: They Don't Need to Pee

October 22, 2009

Flu, Ew, and Flu

A bit of mish mash.


Swine flu provides foolproof excuse for slackers

Sick students or paranoid professors?
But the biggest temptation for faking swine flu might lurk on college campuses, many of which have been hit hard by the H1N1 virus.... nearly 40,000 cases have been reported since August. ...

“Students can e-mail their professors whenever and say, ‘I’m too sick to come in, and I don’t need a doctor’s note, and there’s nothing you can say about it.’”

At Texas A&M University, the student health center was so overwhelmed by sick students seeking excuses that health workers there composed an all-purpose student excuse form and posted it online, no signature required.

For educators ... it can be frustrating to have to take a student's excuse at face value. “Several students, they’ve gone three or four class periods without coming to class, and they‘ll come back and say, ‘Oh, I had swine flu.’ And I don’t know how to handle that,” Jackson says. “I’m basically being told to believe everybody.” But to really pull off the excuse of swine flu, which tends to linger, students would have to miss a week's worth of classes, which, some students realize, is really more trouble than it's worth."

Just skimming through the article, I first thought it was funny in the way ridiculously stupid minor injustices are funny. I thought, hmm, I've already admitted to being injected with 60 micrograms of antigen (four times the effective dose required to develop immunity) so if I make the above claim then you know whatever's going on that dictates I skip class is too embarrassing to tell the truth.

But when I re-read it this part in particular gave me pause...

“Last week I pulled the swine flu card to get out of a blind date,” says Ellie, a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

The swine flu card? Ugh. I am sure the thousands of people who have had the flu and the families of the 43 children that have died from it so far wouldn't find "pulling the swine flu card" to be funny in the slightest, especially since that card was stacked against them.

Still, an interesting article on human nature.


Name that pink stuff!

Could it be:

a) ice cream
b) that denture glue stuff
c) meat
d) hint: it's c

Yepper depper. Mechanically separated chicken that ends up being hot dogs. Mmm. Now, I tried for about 10 minutes but couldn't confirm the origin of the photo. I saw t his through a FB post that linked to a blog so it's anyone's guess, but I reckon it could be true even if it is being piped into a cardboard box, which seems very odd -- I want to believe that's what it is because otherwise it probably isn't very funny.

Which leads me to...


Many thanks to DC today who warned me about the impending platypus flu pandemic (though apparently this is old news)

Platypus Flu Outbreak Info:
(Crotch Lake, Ontario Canada) In yet another outbreak of the maddening platypus flu, the Center for Disease Control has issued an alert warning health care providers to be on the look out for any new outbreaks of the influenza. Shown here Anita Lay displays some of the characteristic symptoms of the strange disease. While the disease ultimately leads to dementia, loss of memory, and end in apparen t brain death, one the initial symptoms include bugged out “crazy eyes”. In addition, patients will continuously attempt to make their lips look like those of a platypus, which gave the disease it’s cruel name platypus flu.

In the usual quiet town of Crotch Lake many parents are heard warning their children “If you don’t watch it, your face is going to freeze like that forever.” Platypus flu is limited to adolescent and pre-teen children, usual

ly appearing as early as 8 or as late as 17. While patients may already be suffering the later stages of the flu at 18, there have been no new outbreaks in patients older than 18 years. One of the difficulties in early diagnosis of platypus fever, as it is also called, is that the symptoms resemble so closely to children just “horsing around.” Typically the only way accurately rule out just plain old tom foolery is a Magnetic Resonance Image of the cranium, or as parents have always referred to it, “getting you head checked out.”

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: Koramchad


And I just had to add one more, because you people just don't laugh enough! :-D

October 3, 2009

We think we're done with the flu... and other stuff

Charlotte has been quite sickly lately. The poor lass has had 104 fevers, has been coughing, sneezing, shivering, trembling, fussing, crying, and feeling just generally miserable. I'm 99% sure it's the flu, and since about 95% of the flu that's being circulated right now is H1N1, then we're fairly sure that's what she had. It has definitely struck our little town, with numerous kids out of the elementary school (some from A's classroom in fact) and with the middle and high schools having significant numbers absent as well. We've also come into contact with some other people who reported back as having it a few days after we saw them... so... that's what we're figuring.

I won't say 100% though until I see how it spreads amongst our family.

*Ugh, as of Monday she's still sick. Doc says could be a few more days still.

Anyway, here's how Charlotte does sick-time:

I did manage to get a smile out of her for this shot but it was the only time she smiled in about a 48 hour period!

A few days before:______

Daddio/Grandad with the sproutlings. They were making hats for him and forcing him to play the MASH game, while he demonstrated how to use fancy-dress suspenders. Yeah, I don't know.


Madison and Andrew playing in the water... during the rain. I guess it falls under the whole "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Andrew filling up his hat with water.

Now putting water-filled hat on.

Thumbs up for Hat 'O Water.

September 29, 2009

For Dad -- "A Glorius Dawn" (Cosmos tribute)

This video has been making the blog rounds I see and I am dutifully perpetuating it -- though I first heard about it on NPR.

Long ago, (in a far away land) my dad, a very young and intellectually curious kind of guy, introduced a very young me to the poetic wisdom of Carl Sagan.

Carl Sagan then introduced me to the wonders of the realm of space and time that expands out as far as the mind is capable, and then some. It is with profound fondness that I recall watching Cosmos with Dad in the living room of our home in a somewhat still fledgling Trussville, Alabama. Our house was new, part of a neighborhood of only a handful of houses, flanked by woods on nearly all sides. So on cool spring nights, Dad and I could be found stretched out on the back deck atop the aluminum chaise-lounge chairs with the woven vinyl piping stuff, enjoying the quiet, unfettered view of the night theater. It was the first time I recall that heady feeling of my mind "stretching" and it was because of Carl Sagan and these nights of sky watching that I became addicted to curiosity itself.

I distinctly remember these Saganisms like "I believe our future depends on the how well we understand this cosmos, in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky."

How well I remember that first time I pondered the "simplest thought like the concept of the number one..." (and of course, that moment when I realized that not everyone's number one was like mine) and taking that singular one and turning into a googol. I was struck with both wonder and horror when I realized that "World" could in theory, be little more than what fits on that speck of dust floating in the morning sky. Because after all, the brain has its own language, testing the structure and consistency of the world, because the brain does more than just recollect, it generates abstractions... and in my astonishingly young mind, I suddenly found myself my whole world just an abstraction???

There are as many universes as there are grains of sand on all the beaches? That's very heady stuff for a five year old (was I really only five?). And I'd lie if I said all this deep thinkin' didn't produce some fairly frightening nightmares. Recurrent ones, actually. Recurrent dreams of lying in my bed in a room with no roof, vulnerable to the unfathomable darkness and infinity of the universe. To be fair, there was also that pesky one about the volcano in the backyard forcing me to lock all my stuffed animals in the bathroom before speeding away in my aunt's hideous purple Ford Galaxie. Interesting. Was it really a Galaxie?

Anyway, there ya go. It's no wonder I have a fondness for dear Carl. He was one of my first teachers, I guess you could say. And so it follows that I always put Dad and Carl Sagan together in my mind. So, I thought of you, Dad, when I saw this.

And since that show first sparked my curiosity "billions and billions" of tv shows ago, I have learned, and am learning still, that there are indeed as many worlds as grains of sand -- within our own world, each within another world, within that one, and so on. And it reminds me that, as the late great Wonderer said:

"A still more glorius dawn awaits, not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise. A morning filled with 400 billion suns. The rising of the milky way..."

Yeah so I've been very girly about all this and cried through it almost every time I've watched it. I think it's because it takes me back to a time when I was that child filled with wide-eyed wonder, with the whole world spread out before me, full of endless possibilities. I thank my dad for having the foresight to make sure we watched this show, and for taking to time to talk to me about it afterward. Life has finally brought me back to that place of wide-eyed wonder, and I know without question that the world really is full of endless possibilities.

(and it has just occurred to me -- I may have figured out the reason why I totally dig guys who wear turtlenecks and blazers! )

August 18, 2009

The Town Hall Meeting; aka The Giant Straw Man Convention

From the Representative's website:


WASHINGTON – Congressman Spencer Bachus (AL-6) today thanked citizens in the 6th District for their participation in his Town Hall on Health Care.
A crowd estimated at two-thousand people filled the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham during the meeting on Monday.
Congressman Bachus made the following remarks.
"The Town Hall was American democracy at its finest and I hope the spirit of fairness displayed will serve as a model for the nation. People on both sides of the issue spoke with passion, but were treated with respect and civility by a large crowd. I am opposed to a government takeover of health care because it will lead to rationing, reduce quality, and raise costs. But the meeting raised areas where we can find common ground, including making private insurance more affordable and accessible, curbing fraud and waste, and making sure illegal immigrants don’t participate in any taxpayer-funded program. I want to personally thank the two-thousand people we estimate were in the room, as well as hundreds of others who wanted to attend. Your participation is vital and by speaking up you have already made a difference."

Well, okay, there are some things about this press release that are true. There were indeed over 2000 people in attendance. It was an amazing turnout. We arrived 30 minutes before the doors opened to find the line already wrapped around the complex all the way to the back. The seats filled quickly and many, like me, sat cross-legged on the floor between the stage and the front row or between aisles while others stood wherever space could be found. As anyone who is familiar with central Alabama might guess, the crowd was maybe 95% white, comprised of mostly professionals (we saw many attorneys and doctors -- and I was thrilled to see my favorite history professor, now retired). While in line, it was interesting to listen in while groups of men in company polos and khakis conducted frat-boy type posturing, each in turn giving his generalized projection for the future state of affairs. Now and then a sign-bearer would slowly stroll by, saying nothing but hoping someone would read their message. Close behind would follow a card-bearer in flowing skirt and sport sandals or a bearded and braided man donning some t-shirt message about constitutional rights, passing out web addresses for their grassroots organization. It was the most civil demonstration I've ever witnessed.

And sure, the Town Hall Meeting is American democracy at its best. However, I wouldn't say that this town hall was democracy at its best. This was a rally, plain and simple. Still, it was comparatively civil. But, this is Alabama -- people don't get real fired up unless you insult their mama or their Jesus, or try to take away their gun rights. Well, and as we will see, the topic of illegal immigrants.

I do agree the main themes of the night were as he stated, "making private insurance more affordable and accessible, curbing fraud and waste, and making sure illegal immigrants don’t participate in any taxpayer-funded program." In fact, they seemed to be the only themes -- with emphasis on the last. And unfortunately, anyone that wished to introduce anything other than those three topics was quickly boo'ed. The problem with the three themes is that they all had to do with changing the system that's in place now, not about how these ideas would be addressed in the bill.

Now, I am not a Republican, but I can respect this man and was honestly impressed with Rep. Bachus's ability to diffuse anger. But mostly I was impressed by how craftily he developed a straw man in response to questions, particularly those made by proponents of this bill, so large and blatant you could just sense the fire danger. Quite impressive skill there, I must say. And although I know that comes across as sarcasm, I genuinely do admire good debate skills and he certainly does possess them.

And as the night went on, our flammable friend only got bigger. If the question had to do with the problems with the current insurance system, he'd throw up a chart representing how many of the uninsured are actually illegal aliens. In response to a multi-part question regarding how this bill will affect the elderly, the ballroom erupted in raucous applause when he shouted, "If you are here illegally, you don't get health benefits!" When someone asked whether this bill could be repealed in the case it is passed, he responded with more about illegal immigrants.

Ok. Can we burn this straw man down already? We get it: illegals bad. But it would seem Rep. Bachus would have us believe that if only we could change immigration law, we'd have a perfect health system. So, as in the case with other Town Halls across the country, it's clear this one didn't accomplished much of anything, other than to further underscore the divide between the two sides. Still, way to go District 6 for a relatively civil meeting rally.

July 23, 2009

Cellphone + microscope = Cellscope!

I don't always repost on the cool things I come across but this was worth it, even if KC and Harvey are the only ones that will really share my enthusiasm.

The folks at Fletcher Lab in Berkeley have fitted a light microscope to an ordinary cellphone. It can snap a photo of a specimen which can then be zipped off through the ethereal radio waves to a clinician for review. Great application for regions not served by hospitals or clinics.

"The CellScope project focuses on the development of a modular, high-magnification microscope attachment for cell phones. Due to its portability, affordability and functionality, the CellScope will enable health workers in remote areas to take high-resolution images of a patient's blood cells using the mobile phone's camera, and then transmit the photos to experts at medical centers. This device can reduce both the cost and time of performing critical disease diagnoses, as well as provide early warning of outbreaks in poverty-stricken regions in the world.

The CellScope team is developing a range of prototype lenses of varying lengths, giving either low or high magnification, depending on the lens and the application. The team envisions that the final product, after the optics are optimized, will be only a few inches long and weigh less than a pound. Already, they have successfully imaged malaria and tuberculosis (TB) using the CellScope system with image quality comparable to standard diagnostic microscopy. Their current focus is on developing applications to tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and monitoring. Over the next year the team plans to carry out a pilot field study in collaboration with partner and begin the revision of the CellScope based on field test data."

July 8, 2009

Birthday Girl

Charlotte was suffering from unknown malady number three on her birthday:

But she was able to muster up some sunshine.
and even tend to babydoll's needs :)

And of course at the 2 year mark she has accomplished some significant milestones!
And of course, there's this kid, who has figured out how to make really cool photos.

Ok, so with a week gone by and Charlotte on the mend, we resume plans.
But Grandad needs to think a while...
Ok, thinking done and over with. On to better things.
(Righteous dudes.)
(Sorry everyone else, I either didn't get a photo of you or I promise you wouldn't want me posting the one I did get -- or I just got lazy)
Charlotte gets to play in water while we wait.
Madison says it's ready.

Happy Birthdays for Madeline and Charlotte

June 26, 2009

The Most Infectious Agent of All

Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn. ~ John Wesley

One fine day in Microbiology lab the students lined up to get their agar plates dosed with various infectious agents such as Staphylococcus areus, E. coli, etc.

An inoculation station was set up at one side of the room across one long table -- one swabber for each of the four types of bacteria to be cultured. A student would approach, agar plate in hand, and said Swabber would dip into the bacterial-laden broth and rub a bit on the appointed sector. The student would then step over to the next bacteria station and get swabbed with that particular bacteria and so on until all had been visited. This was repeated for six plates for each of about ten groups. So, that's an awful lot of swabbing.

Perhaps not so noticeable during all this swab, swab, swabbing was that another contagion was being spread as well. It didn't come from a culture of dangerous, flesh eating or gut rotting bacteria. It wasn't being sneezed out as a virus or anything like that. This contagion was being spread via a very innocuous manner not likely to alert the hapless host to its super virulent nature. Very simply put, one of the swabbers was making little gram-positive smiley faces on the agars. Now this may seem like a thing of very little significance, but not for those who were being systematically polluted by this act of enthusiasm. Upon receiving his or her plate back, each person showed immediate signs of having been infected as they were soon struck with strange fits of... ack!... smiling. Yes, the simple and effortless application of a smiley says: "hey, this if fun, this is interesting! Microbiology rocks!"

(It was supposed to be a smiley anyway)

The most infectious agent, it turns out, is enthusiasm. It can strike suddenly and with a virulence unmatched by any bacteria or virus. Enthusiasm is what makes teachers extraordinary and students successful.
The Greeks used the term to describe someone intoxicated by the divine inspiration of the gods. (yes, I looked it up!) Art, poetry, philosophy, all these things were the result of this divine possession. Of course, today it just indicates a devotion to or fascination of a particular topic or ideal. But I prefer the former meaning that presumes the enthusiastic person is in possession of some sort of "essence" that can move between individuals, if allowed, and is ever replenishable.

Now, sadly, some people seem to display immunity. Indeed, in any particular population, there will be a certain percentage of people who are immune to the effects of enthusiasm. They can't even be asymptomatic carriers. Not. One. Bit. We all know someone we suspect of having this condition, right? It's really too bad they can't know the happiness within brought about by, say, holding a really large model of a heart.

(Enthusiasm. Get infected today.)

Now, it's true that some people with an abundance of enthusiasm often get mislabelled (to put it kindly). It's the risk one takes when revealing any part of their true self. And it's a risk that, in my opinion, is always worth it in the end. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson knows, "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

June 19, 2009

How to not make friends with Carpenter Bees

I was perfectly set up at my kitchen table: The laptop was hooked to a larger external monitor so I could see my virtual cadavers on the big screen. All my books, notes and paper were spread before me in a semi-circle. I'd been studying well into the morning by now. Leaning back in the chair, stretching and yawning, I looked out the open doors to the back deck and nearly fell over. It was swarming with bees.

Well, on a sunshiny spring day such as this, this seemed a great thing. The plum and apple trees were in full glorious bloom with their limbs now above the level of the deck giving me a distinct feeling of being in the treetops. The honeysuckle growing up the fence was sending it's fragrance over on the morning breeze. It all seemed so... spring-full!

But then I noticed these were no ordinary bumblebees. Nay, these bees, friendly as they may have seemed, were of the carpenter variety. And they were moving in.

Now, you may ask "are you sure it's a carpenter?" Well, it's a good question. They may not, afterall, be carrying their union card. And you may not catch them with a mouthful of sawdust. So let me point out some distinctive features of these fine craftsbugs.
Carpenter bees do look just like bumblebees in size and shape. But carpenters have a smooth, black, glossy abdomen whereas bumblebees have black abdomens covered in yellow hairs.

Below is a Bumblebee. It is soft and cuddly looking, right? Fuzzy, striped.

And here you have its crafty cousin. This bee has a smooth, hairless rear, and, more importantly, it's sawing its way through my deck!!!

Look at this one hanging on -- come on, you know it's cool!

So, the good news is, the males don't have stingers at all. The bad news is, only the females dig these holes, so they're the only ones you'll likely ever have to deal with. But, the other good news is, they rarely use their stinger. In fact, you can handle these if you're careful and so inclined to do so.

However, as much as some of us would like to keep these around as pollinators (and heck, just for company) they have the unfortunate habit of chewing through wood. So I set out to discourage this -- and poison-free as well. I've read that you can simply plug up the hole with some wood putty. But I found this didn't deter them for a second. They just started chewing right back through it, possibly rather annoyed that they came back after lunch break to find their new sugarshack had just been stuffed with crap.

Still not wanting to coat the place with poison, I experimented with different glues (some of which were probably poisonous to something, yeah). Nope. They just regarded it as a minor setback and went back to work excavating. In the end, I went out there with a heated glue gun and filled the holes. I was surprised at how much I had to pump in before it started overflowing. I was also surprised to see this did not stop one very determined bee from getting itself half-stuck in glue.

(R.I.P, pretty Bee)

So I stood there a while, right arm across my waist, left arm bent up and making a fist upon which I could prop my befuddled head. And I thunk it over.

And here, folks, is the result of all that thinkerating:

I started sticking some spare pegs into the holes. They were a perfect fit! Wood screw hole covers would have worked just fine but this is what I had on hand.

So, a bit of glue, in went the peg and voila! They can't get in now! I placed eight of these in this way and watched to see what the little ladies would do about it. Sure enough, they could not get back in. Now, twice they started new holes and those got pegged as well. Finally, I was sure they had given up. Until I saw this:

Now, you've got to admire that tenacity! Not wanting to let all that hard work go to waste, she is attempting to gain entrance to her gallery from the side. She'd have done it, too, if I hadn't run her off. Sorry, sister.

So there you have it. A short visit from some friends that I unfortunately had to turn away. I closed up their properties and posted tiny little "Condemned" signs on them. But I suspect the were very soon happily chewing through someone else's deck.

Check back again soon as I'll be telling all about this beautiful lady and the conversation we had about our children: