Howard McEwen

Novelist — Beekeeper — Cocktails — Book Reviews

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Thoughts on Emma

October 6th, 2016 · No Comments

At least I finished Emma. There were times when I had doubts if I would. As the novel crossed the 100,000 word mark and I still had 50,000 to go, I really had to buckle down.

Emma is a busybody who disrupts people’s lives but rarely her own. After those 150,000 words, the 20-year old finally falls for the 37 year old long time family friend who we all new she’d end up with when the old dude started negging her in the first few chapters.

I know I’m not the intended audience and I should maybe broaden my romantic novel horizons but, man, does this novel go on an on over not very much.

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Thoughts on Mansfield Park

July 21st, 2016 · No Comments

I was excited to read Mansfield Park. What intrigued me was a lower class protagonist. Not upper-middle class like Elizabeth Bennet or the Dashwood sisters. Even if things didn’t turn out well for the women from S&S or P&P, they’d always have a roof and meal.

Fanny didn’t come from those circumstances.

I also thought the fish-out-of-water element would be nice. It was in the beginning but then Fanny did….nothing. She is the protagonist after all. I expected her – who drives the story – to face tough decisions and make difficult choices. I expected her to grow through some kind of adversity.

Maybe that’s just me.

She did nothing. Everything was done to her. The only time she got animated was when scolding people for having a good time.

By the end of the book, she grew tiresome and I couldn’t understand why Edmund would want to marry her.

Plus, there was that whole creepy, incestuous cousin, almost a brother thing between the two of them. Yuck.

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Add a box bee visit

May 12th, 2016 · No Comments

So last night I thought it a good time to add a box to each of the hives. It’s been over 21 days which is the honey bee gestation period so this will give them plenty of space to handle all the newborns that I hope will be emerging soon.

Pollen – McE bees have been bringngin in lots of yellow/orage cheeto colored pollen. McK bees which I’ve not spent much time observing didn’t seem to be bringing in as much and it was a bit paler, almost white. But both hives had pollen coming in.

Characteristics – McE bees seemed to be slightly larger and more yellowish. McK bees smaller and darker. Both of these may change once the queen eggs start hatching.

Boxes – both hives had one box filled up pretty good but not a second. That made me think that I may be adding too much space but I’m not sure there’s a downside to that right now. I’d like to error on giving them too much space than too little.

So the McE hive has a total of four boxes. The top box we left for a feeder, the third box (counting from the bottom) has some good comb build up and the two lower boxes are empty….hopefully not for long.

The McK hive did things differently. Maybe it’s because I left a lot of spare comb on the floor of the hive when I set them up. I’m not sure. They filled up the bottom box, not the top box. In the top box they started a little pyramid of comb built from the floor upward. So now they are set up with the top box is a feeder, the next one down is empty with that pyramid of comb, the second from the bottom is pretty full of comb and the next one down is empty. I have a feeling they’ll keep building on that pyramid making that box a bit of a mess. Maybe I should have removed that pyramid but when in doubt, don’t do anything, is my mantra.

In a month or so during June I may add the fourth box. Once that is done it may be the end of beekeeping for the year except for some fall feeding.

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Bee update – 4/20

April 21st, 2016 · No Comments

Yesterday we looked in on the new hives. Both queens were released. Vickie’s seemed pretty active but I didn’t see any comb. In ours, there was a bit of comb. However, I didn’t look to closely on either.

Both of the feeding jars were empty so we replenished those.

Overall, both hives looked active and healthy. That’s very cool.

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Beekeeping – new beginnings

April 18th, 2016 · No Comments

This Saturday I picked up two 3 lb packages of bees and put them into Warre Hives.

This is a new beginning for me. All of my existing hives had died. I don’t know why – some starved, wax moths got one – but I have a feeling it was beekeeper error.

I found the Top-bar hives a bit of a pain in the neck to deal with. There was just too much ‘management’ involved. I didn’t want to go re-arranging comb. Every time I tried, I felt like I did more harm than good. Plus, I just didn’t want to spend that much time monitoring it.

So the Warre Hives are supposed to be easy. We put the bees in no problem. We just need to check on the queen here in a couple days and then in a month or so see if we need to add a bottom box. That just requires a peak underneath. If so, we lift one up and slide it in. Then we do it again – if needed – later in the year.

Finally, in the spring, we’ll take off a box and empty it then add it to the bottom…and keep doing that over and over again. Year after year. I’ll capture some swarms – which I really enjoy. And find homes for them.

At least, that’s the plan. If I find it doesn’t work or is annoying. I’ll try another method of keeping bees.

New beginnings call for new hive names. I’ll have to think about this.

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Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

April 12th, 2016 · No Comments

I’ll admit to having trouble with this one.

While S&S seems to be about two likable people overcoming their nature to find love. Their nature being common traits of youth or…just common.

P&P’s main characters don’t seem all that likable. It’s the story of a pain in the neck chick and a emotionally detached (is he autistic?) dude. They’re both at ages where these problems should be behind them or else they should just move on.

I’ve not much interest in the story of a barely likable woman finding a boyfriend…who isn’t likable.

In my mind, I have an image of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage in 5 years. I picture it as one of the nastier ones. One’s where Darcy is failing to live up to Elizabeth’s hire standards and Darcy is unable to communicate what he wants in the least so he lashes out in anger and she plots about all day devising ways to twist the knife into him.

Also unlike S&S, the writing seemed a bit more cluttered. For instance, there’s this 82 word sentence:

Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than most first attachments often boast; and so fervently did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to every other man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to the feelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets which must have been injurious to her own health and their tranquility.

An 82 words and 9 comma sentence! Ugh.

Darcy’s servants were at least mentioned in this book – to give testimony to his greatness. Otherwise, they get short shrift in the Bennett household.

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Sense and Sensibility

January 28th, 2016 · No Comments

My politics tend to lean libertarian/anarcho-capitalist but when I watch Downton Abbey I want to get my Bernie Sanders on real bad and hang the Crowley family.

The same goes for the characters in Sense and Sensibility.

That doesn’t bode well for my 2016 reading goal of working my way through all of Miss Austen’s six novels, does it? But it was my reaction about 50% of the way through when I realized that although a soldier is a character, the Napoleonic Wars are not mentioned and although servants in the households are mentioned and moved about like furniture, none are given names or allowed to speak a single line until the near end of the novel when one screws things up.

That and nothing happens. Lots of talk. Lots of not talking. The most exciting course of action any of the characters take is to go for a walk or to hold their tongues.

Also, the money-conscienceness of all the characters – of the society – was simply gauche and depressing.

That being said, I breezed through the novel because strewn about the text where Austen’s incisive and understated character observations. And there were simply entertaining because people don’t really change and I saw my own family, friends and acquaintances in them.

I also liked the novel because it doesn’t do anything. It must have taken huge courage – and a large amount of skill – to NOT pack in some action. In fact, it must have taken a huge amount of sensibility over sense(see what I did there?).

I’m surprised the title of the novel wasn’t Sensibility Over Sense. The message is pounded home very clearly. Act too rashly, too youthfully, follow your heart, have flights of fancy, go for an unchaperoned walk with a man and your life will end up pretty dreadful. Shelley and Lord Byron are fine for the sitting room and in small doses, Austen seems to say, but I’m here to tell you how to be British. Listen up.

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Bow Tie Articles

January 14th, 2016 · No Comments

Since last summer I’ve been posting pieces on Bow Tie Aficionado but not posting them here. So here they all are so far.

Bow Ties at a Funeral

It’s  Bow Tie…Not a Bow Untied

Bow Tie Review: Tie Room Marvin and Pilou

Bow Ties are NOT Cool

Pensee Bow Ties Review

Bow Tie Review: Bow Tie Club Excelsior

Disappointment When I Don’t Wear a Bow Tie

How to Get Your Fella to Wear a Bow Tie

Weight Loss and Bow Tie Courage

Bow Tie Questions

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2015 Reading Goal – The Old Testament

January 14th, 2016 · No Comments

When I was young, my grandfather told me he had read the Bible cover to cover when he was young. I was impressed by that and had a desire to do it myself.

But never did. I mean. It’s the Bible. Who wants to read that for pleasure?

Finally, in 2015, I did. And not for pleasure. Just to do it.

My thoughts:

First off, my perspective of the Bible stories was so off. Things that loom large in my mind – Jonah and the Whale – for instance, is just a few hundred words of narrative. Before reading, I would have given a much larger estimate. In fact, most of the most memorable stories are told almost in passing.

Second, if you wanted to write a book and have a people of the book that had guilt encoded into their DNA, this would be the book. If you want to feel horrible about mankind and it’s place in the world, this is the book. If you want to really feel like you were born with original sin, dive into this.

Third, aside from the laws and the stories what I was most left with is the relationship between God and his people. And that relationship was pretty messed up. As I kept reading again and again about how his people were special and chosen but had disappointed God and he was going to punish them, I felt like I was in a couple’s psycho-drama. I felt like it was the telling of a classic abusive relationship. A masculine God telling his ‘chosen’ people that they were alternative loved and horrible. That they were special and in need of punishment.

I wanted to take his people to a shelter and get them away from this guy messing with their head all the time.

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2015 in Review – A Year of Tolkien. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

January 14th, 2016 · No Comments

My reading goal in 2015 was to really get to know Tolkien. I wanted to read the Hobbit, LOTRs, and the Silmarillion.

I almost did it.

When I read the last page of the Return of the King in early December and started looking at the Silmarillion, I just couldn’t. I debated but I’d had enough of Tolkien. It isn’t naturally my cup of tea and reading what one reviewed wrote of the Silmarillion – a cross between the Bible and the phone book – just put me off.

As noted in my notes on the Hobbit, I’m not a fantasy guy. I don’t lean that way and after reading the LOTRs, I still don’t. I especially didn’t enjoy Tolkien. Yes, this is blasphemy. But it’s not a critic of Tolkien, as I confess, it’s not my thing and I simply don’t have the education or appreciate for all that Tolkien was doing.

I get the hero’s journey and all that. I can see much of the symbolism. But as a story – as just a story – there were two huge faults keeping me from enjoying the story. If you’ve not noticed, it’s all about story for me.

First, there needed to be an editor. I feel like the emperor in Amadeus saying there’s “too many notes” but…there’s too many words. So much of the book is padding that doesn’t add to the story. Maybe it adds to the atmosphere or the world Tolkien was creating but all those extraneous words deflates the story and simply drags it out. It just wouldn’t end.

Second, far too much of the story is told off-page. A beginning writer dictum is to “show don’t tell”. How many times in the LOTRs does a character (often Gandalf) reunite with some of those of the Fellowship and then goes on for page after page TELLING us what he’s been up to. I would have far preferred to go on that journey with him. And with Gandalf after the Balrog.

Overall, I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I put this series of books behind me and brought what has become so much of the culture into my own mind.

But I’m glad I didn’t punish myself with the Silmirillion and I’m glad it’s behind me. If I want to revisit it, I’ll rent one of the films.

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