Christmas summary

Had a very nice Christmas at Tom’s. Simon got me a Mizzou cap which I am learning to wear without worrying what people will think. I just pretend it’s a Gator cap. Only kidding – I’ll wear it with pride – assuming Tommy decides to attend next fall. If he changes his mind, I’m back to my Gander Mountain cap. Joey got me a signed copy of a book in which he is mentioned and in which Indian River Cruises gets some prominent page time. A client of his writes these Fodor type travel books and did one on the Central Florida Coast. Joey helped her with some ideas and photo’s so the book has a nice personal touch for us. I also got the worlds nicest Sudoku book – so nice that I hate to write in it. Nancy got me a bar of soap designed specifically to be used after cleaning fish. No doubt I could use dozens of bars but I wonder what there is about it that focuses on fish cleaning. From the same source she got Simon a bar that is supposed to repel mosquitoes and Tom a camp soap that works in cold water, hard water, and even salt water. Tom got us tickets to the UCF – UCONN basketball game later tonight so we’ll drive down shortly and spend the front end of the weekend there. That should be fun although I’m guessing UCF will not be much of a match for UCONN unless maybe part of the plan is to have UCONN partying and laying out by the pool in our 80 degree weather. That could work. Joey got us a gift certificate to Karlings, one of our favorite restaurants and he also plans to treat the whole family to PF Chang’s in the near future – when we can all synchronize our times and travels to let it happen. That became even more difficult when Tom got Tina a cruise to Cozumel and I got Nancy a trip to NY to visit Chris.

Simon got saxaphone lessons starting right after the first of the year. He already has a sax and has been trying to master it on his own. His goal is to be good enough to make the marching band next year. Glad he’s doing it there and not here! I’d have him practice down on the dock since I have deeply ingrained memories of Chris learning the Clarinet.

One of the more unique gifts was the Key Lime tree that Joey and Mark got for Tom and Tina. That should be the gift that just keeps giving and the new source for key lime pies and Corona toppers.

I think my biggest surprise gift was from Chris. He got me one of the old timey, manual pasta makers. It’s a bit of an inside joke. I loved the one we had in Utah and when he and I spent time together making chicken cacciatore with home made pasta. Well we made a mess usually so Nancy hated the machine and somehow it never made it from Utah to Florida. An automatic pasta maker showed up but it just didn’t come close to matching what we made with the manual machine. I haven’t made the cacciatore since in protest but I guess now I’ll have to resurrect the recipes – that is when Chris visits – and assuming the mess doesn’t doom it from the start.

All in all, there were just way too many gifts to remember – lots of games, clothes, movies, books – and it took us all a couple hours, literally, to open them. Waste management will have to put on a special truck to haul away the wrappings just from their house.

Toyota Mouse

More about the mouse later. Keeping with the highs/lows format and starting with the highs – Attended another Christmas program in Port Orange. This time we were treated to Brenna and the singing Cubs at Sugar Mill Elementary. I’m sure that without her voice, the 40 or so member group just wouldn’t have sounded as good. There was a chime group that played an instrument that looked like a giant tuning fork with a built in clapper. To play it they would slap it so the clapper made contact with the tuning fork. Nice sound. Another high point was a solo by a first grader. Apparently they had done a dress rehearsal earlier in the day and she totally froze so about a half hour before the real performance started and the crowd was about half seated, her father warmed her up and she seemed to do fine. Still you were holding your breath when it came her turn to actually perform. Her dad accompanied her on the guitar and clearly you could see he was a professional musician and probably played in a band. At first she had a little trouble positioning herself for consistent microphone use but once she got past that – which I’m not sure she even knew was problem – she belted out a nice Christmas song – a new one I’d never heard. It was a fairly difficult song with multiple full octave or more jumps but she nailed every jump. Her name is Chloe Moran and I predict that you’ll here more from her in about 10-15 years

More good news – little Tommy (all 6′ of him) got a monster score on his recent ACT test. The test was very important to him because the University of Missouri requires a score of 29 for direct admission into the School of Journalism. He scored 32 which puts him in the 99th percentile. I’m fairly certain that was a higher score than his dad earned oh so many years ago. I think they also use the ACT test to screen for cashiers at Wal-Mart. To get that job they must score less than 10.

I think it’s good news that the lake is super clear these days. It’s clear as in Deleon Springs kind of clear. My guess is that since we’ve had so little rain for so long that particles normally contained in rainwater and runoff from the land are a far less piece of the total mix and the underlying springs are now the main source of water. It makes for tougher fishing but it’s interesting to be able to look down and see the fish, especially when a monster bass swims by.

On the other side, we missed Olivia’s Christmas program where her orchestra performed. Olivia is now mastering the clarinet and we would loved to have seen her in action. Unfortunately we had a scheduling conflict with Brenna’s performance and we had made that commitment earlier. I have a feeling there will be plenty of concerts ahead in the future.

Would a mouse in the trunk of the Camry count as a negative. Nancy had left a bag of clothes in the trunk and a mouse somehow got in and decided that, with some modifications, it would make a great nest. I honestly can’t figure out how he got in but there’s no mistaking a mouse nest made from the felt lining in the trunk. We have a trap baited with peanut butter sitting in the trunk now. First day did not net a taker so chances are he’s already found a better home. update – this is going to blow you away. This morning Nancy and I took off for Costco so I loaded a couple of coolers into the trunk to carry cold stuff. The trunk was completely empty and the mouse trap untouched. So I removed it. We loaded up at Costco and came home. After unloading the coolers, lo and behold there was mouse nest, very large and very visible in the trunk. So in the couple of hours we were gone – 9 AM until 2 PM – the mouse had built a nest probably using cushioning from the seats or something. If that wasn’t enough, there were half a dozen baby mouselets in the nest. No hair, eyes shut. So not only had she created the nest but had hatched a clutch. She reluctantly left the nest and hit somewhere so I removed the nest and waited for her to return so I could throw a towel or something on top to remove her. She came out and was certainly pissed off but I was unable to catch her. A bit later I saw her out on the lawn looking for the nest so clearly she can get in nd out with no trouble. I loaded up a couple of traps and will get some poison to finish the job but she looks like a smart mousey to me.

And the real bad news – seems I’m now sharing the cucumbers with some worms. We’d been harvesting really nice cucumbers for a couple of weeks but several of the ones picked this week were “occupied”. So I guess not only am I share cropping with George, I’m sharecropping with critters.

Highs and lows

Last week had some highs and lows.

We visited the Stetson Mansion which was open to the public for a few weeks. Historically the mansion was built back in the 1880’s by Stetson, the hat guy. Deland was the winter home and they spend about 6 months of the year not too far from here. The mansion is about 8000 SF, 3 stories, and had fallen into a state of disrepair over the years. A couple of guys bought it 2 years ago for $500K and decided to restore and remodel. They elicited the help of the Deland Art Museum and the specialist on interior decorating from the Museum. Key to the project was the idea to solicit suppliers to donate materials and labor in exchange for free advertising. Companies like Hunter fans, Sherwin Williams paints, Anderson Windows, Viking appliances – jumped on to create a showcase which they can use in advertising for a year. The result is mind boggling. The most interesting combination of detailed restoration and totally modern remodeling. To give you an idea of the scope of the project – when it started there was one old timey bathroom; just one in the entire place. The finished product has 11 incredible bathrooms. We were lucky to hear about it before it was closed to the general public. As of today, it’s a personal residence and may be open to the public from time to time as the owners see fit. It sounds like the grounds, a work in process, will be available for special events such as weddings.

Early in the week our great nephew, Sean, called and asked us if we would come to his school’s holiday performance. He plays in a bell group. Not sure if you call that a bell band, bell orchestra or what. We drove over and really enjoyed the concert. Sean is really quite good and was the only bell ringer that played in every piece they did and switched positions from song to song. Melissa told us that the Bell program was so successful they were raising funds to add another octave of bells. I was blown away to learn that was a $7000 investment. She also said that to get a single bell refurbed was $100 so these are no regular Santa Claus bells. Brenna asked us if we’d go to her performance this week so we’re in for another treat this week. Seeing the kids grow up like this is a double edged sword – great to see them developing into such well rounded kids; not so great to realize how much older and bigger they’re getting each year.

So those were the high spots.

The lows were oh so low. I’ve been bragging up my garden and relating how well things are going. Well, unfortunately the zucchini has not been looking all that great for a couple of weeks after a gangbuster start. Turns out we have the feared and dreaded Squash Mosaic Virus. It’s virtually incurable and could also infect other veggie types including the cuc’s, tomatoes, and future crops for years. I called several horticulturists and learned that, more or less, there is nothing I can do once plants are infected. No cure. No chemicals, drugs, no hope. What I learned is that there are some varieties of veggies that are hybrids specially developed with virus resistance and there are sprays which, if you spray prior to the virus hitting, can keep the plants safe. You have to spray as soon as the seeds germinate and the first green sprouts up and then keep up the spraying all the time. The virus is spread by aphids and once an infected aphid, even one, bites into the plant – it’s history. We’ve been picking plenty of cuc’s but all of a sudden the plants are looking piqued and I know they’re doomed. Luckily none of the leafy stuff is impacted and the tomato variety I planted is highly resistant to virus. Twice before I had tried to grow green peppers but within week of planting, they all crashed. All the horticulturists said that green peppers would be most affected and I can verify that.

The other low for the week occurred yesterday. We had a cold front march through about 5 AM which was forecast to bring the threat of tornados. About a year ago I bought a weather radio after some fairly close tornado events. I never used it – in fact never turned it on – and had stored it away. Of course the box with the instructions has been lost in the shuffle so when I retrieved it Saturday night, I found out that there’s more to it than just turning it on. It has to be programmed for a specific region which is a 6 digit coded address. I went ahead and plugged it in and vowed to work on programming it Sunday when I could find the box or otherwise get the instructions for programming. Turns out it has a pre-programmed default which tells it to issue an alarm if a tornado alert is issued anywhere – where I think anywhere means anywhere in Florida. It worked and about 5 AM the major league alarm goes off. We woke up in a flash and couldn’t remember exactly where I had set the radio – in the bathroom where a plug was available. luckily I hadn’t installed batteries so when the power plug was pulled it shut up. We turned on the TV and learned that, sure enough, there was a tornado alert active but it was for somewhere over near Tampa. So the good news was that it worked; the bad news is that I was wide awake at 5 AM on a semi false alarm. Needless to say, I got hold of the area code information and programmed it to only alarm us when Volusia County was in the threat area. I also put in batteries and leaned how to turn off the alarm. I probably won’t remember that part if it goes off 6 months from now and will just yank out the batteries.

garden update

The garden is going gangbusters. We’ve been picking green beans for a couple of weeks so they’re about played out. I won’t plant more green beans until next April. The cucumbers are coming on strong and unless we hit a freak freeze, will be more than both our families can handle without going into cucumber overload. The variety is brand new and totally burpless with no bitterness at all so you eat them without peeling. Can you do anything with cucumbers aside from cutting them up in salads? We picked the first cabbages this week and will have enough to last through this month at least. Could pick a kohlrabi any time now and that crop too will carry us through December. Little heads are forming on the broccoli which means we’ll start cutting that soon after the first of the new year. Probably pick a few heads of lettuce next week and then right on through until late spring. I plant new lettuce on more or less a continuing basis so once they start maturing, there are plenty behind them. I’m actually planting 5 different lettuce varieties so we’re going into the salad season with a nice future ahead. Plenty of little green tomatoes so we could be into those before Christmas but I’m guessing right after the first of the year. Blossoms just starting on the snow peas so that too will be a late Dec – early January start.

Our cousin Martha suggested that a new popular veggie in California is Broccolini which she described as a replacement for broccoli raab. I searched all my catalogs, and no seeds available. I learned on the internet that broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese Kale developed in Japan. So far, no luck locating a source for the seeds. I can get the Chinese Kale and the picture shows it looks like broccoli raab so maybe I’ll try that (or not).

So far it looks like the soil enrichment process is working. Each time I start a new garden section I thoroughly go through and de-rock it down at least 8”. Then top with a 6” layer of yard mulch – chipped up bushes – a 40# bag of composted manure and a 40# bag of peat. There is no doubt that when I plant in the area that received this treatment, it’s far superior to the areas previously planted. So by spring, I will have done this process twice for 100% of the garden. Then plan now is to add another 100-200 SF of garden area in the spring. At that point we should have enough space that we’ll be harvesting year round and it shouldn’t require that much attention to the soil itself. When I pulled out the first bean patch, the soil was rich, black and soft. Prior to all the work on it, that same spot was sand, sand, and more sand.

Now I’m thinking chicken coops. Think eggs, wings, and chicken poop. If I was still tying flies, it would be a no brainer

Blues are bitin’

After a great Thanksgiving with Tom and his family, we took off for a week at Flagler Beach. The weather couldn’t have been nicer – low 80’s daytime; low 60’s at night. I fished my heart out while Nancy quilted and caught up with TV on the big flat screen installed since our last visit. I knew the bluefish should be running this time of year and had prepared for the season while in Jersey this summer. There I was introduced to a special bluefish rig using finger mullet for bait. I caught nothing with the rig in Jersey but it was technically appealing and I knew it would work given the right conditions. When I purchased a bag of finger mullet on Saturday, I looked around Big Al’s Bait and Tackle shop to see if they had any of the rigs. I described it to Big Al and he explained in detail why that rig might work in Jersey but would never work in Florida. I’m thinking that since the same fish that were cruising the surf in Flagler in November were probably in the Jersey surf in September and if they would hit the rig in Jersey, surely they’d like it in Florida. Sure enough on Sunday I started banging the Blues big time. I got 22 in just a few hours – all small but still, lots of fun. For the rest of the week I caught blues every day including a few that went maybe 4lbs. Along the way a few sharks including a couple 3′ sand sharks – just the right size for nipping toes – and a few small whiting. By the end of each day, I was totally worn out from casting my giant surf rig and hauling in fish – mostly casting I guess.

Found another great eating spot while there. We passed this shacky looking place and thought it was a fish market. Turned out that the Flagler Fish Company is indeed a fish market but also a restaurant. The menu ran the gamut from Salmon Oscar to fish tacos and all included some really exotic sides – for example portabello, tomato, asparagus salad. We ate there twice and the second time I tried the cole slaw which without question was the best cole slaw I’ve ever eaten. If you want one of the fish entrees, you pick it out and watch it being cleaned so no question about what kind of fish it is or how fresh.

On Friday we left the beach and headed straight to Joey’s for the annual Christmas boat parade. It was damp and windy – I mean windy – but the invited guests were lots of fun and the catered barbecue excellent so what’s a little wind and a few waves. A great finish to a great week.

When we arrived home, found a nice email from Little Tommy saying he’d been accepted to FSU. We called and learned that of the 4 applications submitted, he’d been accepted by 3 and would hear on the last one on Feb 28. Of course it’s Florida that is keeping the suspense up. Missouri, FSU and UCF all jumped at the opportunity to land him. My first choice is naturally Florida and if Missouri beats Oklahoma tonight and stays #1 in the nation, they would be my next choice. Even though Chris got his Master’s from FSU, I just can’t move them any higher than 4 on my list.