Owl story

For those of you that think owls only eat mice and rodents, think again. We were watching TV Sunday morning and Nancy spotting some big bird sitting in a pine tree next to the house. I found it after a minute or two. It was a fairly big bird and colored like the tree so when motionless, it’s difficult to see. All of a sudden it swooped down from the tree and scooped up a snake in the underbrush and flew off to another tree to enjoy a meal. The snake was a light colored slender snake about 2′ long or so. I would guess a corn or rat snake but it was too far away for a solid ID. It took him about 10 minutes to polish it off, head first. It was kind of interesting to watch because the whole time he was sitting on the pine tree, eating the meal, and then back on another perch in another tree, small birds were harrassing it. I don’t know what kind of birds but they were about sparrow or finch size. Every time the owl put his head down to take a bite, one of these little guys would fly at him and hit his back. With binoculars I could see the feathers on his back lift up every time one hit so I know they were actually making contact. You could tell it bothered him because he would quit eating and swivel his head around to catch the bomber. But the small birds were way too fast. I guess I had my eyes on him for 15 minutes before he finally flew away. For whatever reason we just seem to have more birds this summer than ever before and we’re loving it.
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We’ve got a good thing going on. We’re on Sprint for our cell phone. Reception here is lousy but everybody in the family except Chris is on Sprint so we’re locked in. About 2 months ago we got a flyer in the mail offering us $70 to resign our contract for 2 years. Since our current agreement had expired and we were locked in anyway, we called and got the $70 credit. For us that’s about 2 months of free service. Yesterday we got something in the mail from Sprint offering us $70 if we renew our contract and an additional $15 if we did it pronto. We learned that you can re do the contract any time you want and all it does is negate the old contract and start a new 2 year clock. So for example we renewed on June 1 and then went to get a new phone on June 15. Getting the new phone and using our “phone credit” for a big discount, restarts the contract for two years so the new expiration date is June 15, 2010. According to the guy at the Sprint store, any time you do a transaction, it extends your contract for 2 years. So it seems right to me that I just go ahead and do this new renewal that extends it to Aug 15, 2010 and pick up 2 more free months of service. I’m sure it’s a screw up at Sprint but…………………. I’m hoping this becomes a regular event now every couple of months and we enjoy free cell service. I don’t feel too bad about this because that’s more like what the service is worth anyhow.

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Joey recovered from treatment 2 right on schedule. By the Saturday after the Tuesday treatment he was back to his own self. Two treatments is 25% thru.

And more good news; Chris comes home Sunday. He’ll be here until Thursday which is a long time for a New Yorker to be out of his element. I know he picked August so he could bitch about the heat but we’ll take what we can get!

product service

I have to comment on two experiences I’ve had in the past couple of weeks with product service. In both cases I have products that I’ve really loved but with which I had a need for spare parts. One of my prize possessions is my grill – a Holland Grill. For my kind of grilling, it is hands down the best grill I’ve ever owned. I bought the first one in Utah in 1991 and was gratified to find a friend who would take it when we moved. Nancy tells me it’s still in service there. It was the first thing we bought when we finished the lake house – even before the first stick of furniture. So the current unit is 7 years old and performs flawlessly. But when I was cleaning it the other day I noticed that the drip pan and a heat shield were corroding away. Ever try to get a spare part for a 7 year old product. I called Holland Grill and the person who answer the phone said she could help me and within 3 minutes the parts were on order. No transfers to the service dept, no push #3 kind of phone system – just a competent person answering the main phone. The parts came in two days, fit perfectly, and in 10 minutes I was back in business. I did make a minor engineering mod to their design which will make it easier to clean in the future but the basic grill design is a marvel in ruggedness and simplicity. I am perhaps the world’s worst barbecue grill cook but have never, ever, ever screwed up a meal with the Holland Grill.

The other product is a portable, battery powered sprinkler system. It’s made in Bountiful Utah of all places by Orbit Irrigation Products. We must have lived just a few blocks from Orbit and never knew it. The system includes a programmable control head, a 4 outlet manifold which allows 4 hoses to be attached, and up to 4 solenoid operated valves. I bought two systems at Costco a couple of years back. One controls sprinklers in an area not covered by my main sprinkler system; the other waters the vegetable garden. About a year ago I had a fire up at the pump caused by a bug getting across the main pump relay. The fire spurted out of the box and charred the sprinkler controller box and really toasted one of the control valves. Luckily the control head still worked and I had a replacement valve. I was very impressed with the ruggedness of the design. The other day I noticed that the garden sprinkler was just not working properly and getting hung up rather than moving continuously. It had been doing this on and off for a couple of months. I cleaned it, greased it and did more or less everything I could but no long term success. I have never had too much luck with sprinklers and this time had bought one with a lifetime guarantee. So I took it back to Lowes and exchanged it for another sprinkler. I hooked up the new one and it did the exact same thing. I then did what I should have done the first time – checked the Orbit control valve. I remembered there’s an integral filter and figured it was clogged. Nope, I had removed the filter previously. Long story short – the valve was not opening fully. Changed to my remaining spare valve and it worked like a world champ. I went to Orbit’s web site intent on buying a spare valve but the site didn’t have a spare part list – at least that I could find. I called Orbit, went thru a phone system and a perma hold before I finally got thru to a human. The guy listened to my story and within 2 minutes had 2 new control valves on the way, free of charge. Now that’s what I call customer service. I guarantee you that as my rainbirds crater, they’ll be replaced by Orbits.

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Joey spent most of Thursday and Friday sleeping. He called this morning and it sounded like the nausea thing did not got out of hand but every time he got stationary, he fell asleep. Considering that what’s going on in his body is a major regeneration of blood cells after the chemo kills them off, you would expect all his body’s energy is going to that manufacturing job. You have to think that nothing would be better than sleeping through a day when you probably didn’t feel all that well anyway. If this week mirrors last week, he’ll start coming out of it later today and be feeling fine tomorrow.

A note from Joey

Joey put this in a comment – I thought I’d post it on the blog in case people don’t drill into the comments…

For those of you who keep tabs on me through Dad’s blog…All your positive thoughts and well wishes are appreciated. Dad is spot on in his analyses and I can’t add much more. The cycle seems to be chemo on Tuesday, Neulasta shot on Wednesday, then start down hill with fatigue and nausea til Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon the nausea has eased and my energy level begins to sneak back up a bit. By Sunday evening I am pretty much back in the game and good til the following Tuesday.

As Dad mentioned, The weekly (or every other week, this go around) food for empty container trade has been a Godsend. If it weren’t for the premade food I really think poor Mark would be sunk. I am not the best “sick” person, so having all the leg work done by my Mother has really allowed him to focus on the presentation vs preparation end of it. The fact that the food is good (great) helps with what would otherwise be a poor appetite. When you have a sick stomach you really don’t feel like eating… But when it’s my Mothers’ spaghetti sauce or homemade chicken (greenwise, Thanks Mom) soup, I somehow manage to get it down.

As you all know, my parents don’t seek out hero points and none are ever expected; but to all of you who read this blog, I just wanted to let YOU know what an important piece of my life they are. As I work my way through this I can trust that they will always be there for me. This blog and the amount of time that has been dedicated to me as of late shows what a vital role their children (and grandchildren) play. In our family when someone goes down it’s time to circle the wagons and everything else in life gets put on temporary hold. In the end, there’s only family and close frieds…My family is as good as it gets….

2nd treatment update

Joey had his second treatment yesterday and all seemed to go well. I talked to him just a few minutes ago and he said he was feeling tired but not nauseous at all. He attributed that to the fact that he took the anti – nausea medicine sooner and also that he took a dose of pepsid before the treatment as recommended. He didn’t do that with the first treatment and said he actually is feeling a bit better so far after this go round. He was given all his blood stat’s from recent testing and everything looked good. In some cases his blood numbers are below normal but have improved over the pre-treatment ones. He’s actually gained weight whereas the expectation is that he would lose weight. With Joey, unlike his parents, losing weight is a bad thing.

Without a doubt he’s eating better now that Nancy is in the loop and she adjusts the menu each cooking cycle depending on the reports and comments from Joey. For example we heard that his hemogloblin is slightly low, I think he said 13.7 vs a normal 14. It was 13.3 before the first treatment so this is actually an up tick. When Nancy heard that, pickled beets went on the list for the next food delivery. Joey requested home meade chicken noodle soup – so she plans to use spinach noodles for the extra iron. The routine we’ve established is that we meet Joey on Monday’s for lunch and a movie and trade empty food containers for full ones. Nancy cooks over the weekend such that it’s impossible to put anything more at all in our refrigerator. And any left overs we have – history. So if I don’t move quickly, it’s gone – just like when he lived at home.
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Ever wondered what a guava bush/tree looks like? or ever wonder what a guava loosk like? That’s what’s pictured above. Most people are familiar with guava jelly but not the fruit itself. The red fruit is about 2” across and full of seeds. I eat them right off the bushes and skip the jelly conversion. They’re soft and sweetish but not overwhelming. My neighbor planted them years ago and now they pop up all over the neighborhood. This year’s crop is good and the squirrels haven’t found them yet.

Garden disaster. last month I planted some Bell pepper seeds in a container and kept them nicely protected on the porch. Nothing unusual about that. I nursed the seedlings along with water and fertilizer until they were ready for transplanting into the garden. There were a dozen plants which I timed to be fruiting about mid October and produce until we had a freeze. A dozen plants would provide enough peppers to allow us to freeze for a winter supply. Mistake number one was doing the transplant in the morning. That’s the right thing to do in the spring because it gives the plants a full day in the warmth and sun in anticipation of a cool evening and overnight. I learned that it’s the wrong time to plant them in mid July. They roasted. Out of a dozen plants – 2 sorry looking ones were still alive when I checked on them 12 hours later. And I use the term “alive” in it’s loosest form. I’ll start a new batch and then condition them to the Fla sun in small doses. Lesson learned.

Another tidbit – I noticed that the crop of cherry tomatoes and jalapeno’s has been dropping off. We’ve had ton’s of both so I just assumed the plants were playing out. But on a couple of occasions I’ve hit the garden in the early AM and noted lots of young cardinals hopping around in the bushes of both varieties. I moved in close to the plants, maybe 2′ away, and waited to see if they’d come back. They did and I saw that they were eating the very young fruits and the blossoms. Just before a blossom actually drops off, you can see the baby fruit forming at the center. That’s what they are eating. I do like the cardinals but this is putting me under a bit of stress. We had noticed that there was an exceptional number of young cardinals around and about this season and felt this meant they had a bumper crop of babies. Now I’m wondering if maybe they have gathered around here because the food is so good. This will surprise you but I took one of the sunflower heads that was loaded with seeds – traditional cardinal food – and set that down on a bench in the middle of the garden. They would peck around that for a bit but then head back to the tomato plants. Not only that, George put up a nice bird feeder about 50′ from the garden and keeps it full of commercial bird seed. So there’s plenty of food about but they prefer the tiny tomato and jalapeno’s. Who’d a thunk it.

A note on commenting on the blog- Several people have said they have trouble sending comments. I tried and found it doesn’t work about half the time. Tom is trying to fix the problem but if you try a couple of times, it will probably work. I do appreciate hearing from you and hope this inconvenience is short lived.

Lake Stuff

More organic material in the mulch pile. A coral snake, at least I think it was a coral snake, was crawling across the top of the newest pile. It’s easy to confuse a coral snake with a king snake and there’s a nursery rhyme to keep you from getting them confused but I can never remember the rhyme exactly so……………….. whack. Who said I don’t recycle.

The lake is inching up. We’ve had a good 2 weeks of rain so we’re up about 8-10”” from the lowest level and rising daily. The level rises faster than you might think because when it’s raining the surrounding nurseries are not pumping irrigation water and the natural springs in the lake are more effective. There’s still a long, long way to go before it approaches anything like normal but the trend is right. Another week like this and I’ll actually be able to lower the boat into the water. About a foot a month for the next 3 months would be great and not outside the realm of possibility at all.

The second half summer garden is popping out big time. As it turns out most everything comes to harvest in Sept and October so it will be interesting to see how it survives the storm season. I’m thinking a hurricane – even one that misses by 100 miles – will play hell with the corn. On the other hand, a good storm would go a long way to filling the lake, so I’m hedged on the occurance of a hurricane. What I’ll try to do is have one keep just far enough away to avoid the winds but still give us a good dousing.

Joey is feeling fine. His next treatment is Tuesday so we’re hoping the side affects are no worse than from his first go round. He’s got dinner cruises booked for the next 3 days and he plans to work them himself so that’s a sign he’s feeling good. As best I can tell, the side affects got Nancy more than they got Joey.

Interesting wildlife encounter today. I was sitting in front of the computer checking email about 7 AM and out of the corner of my eye caught a movement of something going behind a bush. I watched as he came out the other side and started heading up towards the house. It was a red fox with a creature of some sort in his mouth. He spotted me looking at him and took off into the jungle so I never really got a good look at the prey. It could have been a small rabbit, a big rat, or a medium sized squirrel; maybe even a cat. I’m hoping rat but betting rabbit or squirrel. I saw a large owl drop out of a tree last week and he too nabbed something but he was just too far away for me to see exactly what he caught. He stayed on the ground and worked on it for quite a while so I know it was something way bigger than a mouse.

mulch pile trivia and updates

It’s all about the mulch. I’ve mentioned the wide variety of vegetables that we’re growing but hands down, the biggest crop by volume and weight is mulch. When most people think of mulch piles, they have in mind a small pile of garden debris and kitchen scraps that eventully converts into an organic garden soil amendment. We’ve ratcheted it up a bit from that. Visualize a mulch pile on steroids. The picture is the current load. The stuff on the right, about 75 cubic feet, is nearly ready for use. The left side is brand new green chippings. That pile will shrink about 75% by the time it’s ready.

Florida doesn’t have soil. We have sand. And the sand has none of the traditional minerals necessary for good vegetable plant growth. Because of the climate it’s a major agricultural state but that’s as a result of constant chemical additives. There’s also no water retention at all in the soil. It can rain 4-6” in an hour and within a few minutes it will have totally disappeared into the sand. So in order to keep from continuously fertilizing and watering, we’ve been adding organic material to the soil – as much as we can produce it. At this point our mulch piles can support as much as 150 cubic feet of mulch in process at any given time. It turns from raw material to useable mulch in maybe 4 months so over the course of a year, we should produce 450 cubic feet. To calibrate the value – I was spending $1.25 for a one cubic foot bag of mulch at Lowes. So it’s not a stretch to say we’re saving $500 a year by creatiing our own mulch. And it’s not the cost so much but think about hauling 450 bags, 40 lbs each, from Lowes. I don’t want to run the math that shows me working for 50 cents an hour but prefer thinking I would have to be paying a fee at the Y or some place to burn off as much energy as I do working the mulch piles. So I look at it as a work-out alternative.

From the initial pile of raw material, we see about a 40:1 shrinkage so you can see we are working with a substantial base of raw material. Most of the shrinkage comes with the initial chipping, at least 10:1 and with some materials, even greater. The largest volume of material comes from cutting undergrowth and vines from the jungle that surrounds both our house and my neighbor’s. It’s not n exaggeration to say that if we didn’t keep more or less a constant trimming, the jungle would take the property back to the original state in a year or two. So we have a ready and easy source of material – where easy means it’s close. For us, a chipper is not a nice touch but an absolute necessity. Our’s is a 10HP beauty as you can see from the picture On the spectrum of chippers, this is between a home garden chipper and a full blown commercial machine. Without the chipper, there would be no mulch operation. We also have a large burn pile where we dispose of the large tree limbs that are trimmed or naturally fall with every wind storm. During the wet, stormy season we probably burn a load once a week; during the dry, no burn season, we reduce that to maybe once a month. So every couple of months we shovel out the ash and toss it into the mulch pile to add minerals to the greenery.

This week we added an interesting load of organic material. George has large Koi ponds around his house. Over the past few years the continuous dropping of oak leaves into the ponds started overwhelming them so Barbara took on the task of cleaning them out. It took 3 days and I would guess 30-40 five gallon bucket loads made it from the pond to the mulch pile. Plenty of large snail shells made it too. The ponds are loaded with large Koi so no doubt they contributed to the organic load. I can’t smell but George says the whole thing now smells fishy.

And as fast as the grass grows, we don’t use grass clippings. Not because they’re bad but in Fla, you use mulching mowers because grass clippings are one of the only sources of nutrients for the lawn itself. If we used lawn clippings, I guarantee the mulch pile would be twice it’s current size.

A quick update on the Gardner’s Spray. Doesn’t stop fire ants.

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Joey had a couple of bad days Wed and Thurs but by Friday afternoon he was coming out of it and planning to work a cruise on Saturday. He and Mark have some good friends who run a beach resort on Cocoa Beach and they invited them to spend a few days there to help make the bad days somewhat better. I’m guessing it did help. They also have friends capable of standing in for Joey on cruises – a huge help – so they should be able to keep the business going just fine. In general they are taking reservations only for the weekends and so far that seems to be working out ok.

chemo update

The first chemo treatment was today and we drove over to join in the festivities. We had planned to get there about 10:30 but on the way over Mark called and said they had just started and the place was jammed full so it would be better if we got there a bit later. As luck would have it Nancy knew of a Quilt shop a few miles away from the hospital so………… We got there about 15 minutes before the treatment ended and found him sitting comfortably in a lounge chair but wrapped in blankets. The office was kind of cool but they had told him the treatment made some people feel cold. Nancy had heard that before and immediately started making a special chemo treatment quilt to be ready for the first treatment. So he quickly exchanged the office blankets for the custom made. How perfect was that!

The doctor’s staged Joey’s Hodgekin’s as stage 3 B. The B means symptomatic. His own Oncologist said he would have staged it at 2 but it’s right on the border between 2 and 3. I don’t know if staging is based on cell count or location but it sounds a bit subjective. The doctor estimated that the cancer first appeared about 6 months ago. He has a mass in the chest area about the size of a lemon which sounds bad but is small enough that no radiation will be required. I talked to my neighbor who had both chemo and radiation 40 years ago and his mass was the size of a grapefruit. I don’t know if the citrus scale is a Florida thing or what. The really good news was that the bone marrow test result came back and was totally clean. No doubt inclusion in the bone marrow would have been an additional complexity. They must have also test his genetic material and pronounced his genes ok. Hell, I could have told him that.

It turns out that we had some bad info regarding the chemical sequencing. All four chemicals are administered at each visit, not 2/2 as we thought. On this first visit they did a test to see how he would react to one of the chemicals – the “B” in ABVD. Apparently some people have a bad reaction to it so they need to deal with that potential complication in advance and adjust accordingly. He had no adverse reaction which makes life easier. As to the process itself,they connect a bag of fluid to the chest port and to that, inject the 4 chemicals in a timed sequence along with 2 injections of an anti-nausea medicine. They started the treatment at 10:30 and it was completed by 1 PM. Basically you just sit there in a nice lounge chair and kill the time watching TV, reading or doing whatever it is you do to kill time.

We left the treatment center and headed for a local restaurant for lunch. Joey order the biggest cheeseburger I’ve seen in quite some time. This beauty was a least 6” thick – a real double hander – and loaded with cheese and grilled onions. If he has a bad case of heart burn later today, I’m not sure it will be as a result of the chemo.

We did learn an interesting set of facts regarding chemo. The well known, notorious side affects are the loss of hair (head only), sores in the mouth, and nausea. It turns out that your body generates new, fast growing cells at the hair follicles, inside your mouth, and in the lining of the stomach. Since the chemo is designed to attack the fastest growing cells, it gets both the cancer and these other fast growing cells. Also, because of the loss of blood cells, both red and white, he has to be very careful to avoid things that would open cuts and invite infection. For example, no shaving with a razor; no flossing; good shoes, not flip flops.

So now we just keep our fingers crossed and hope the side affects are minimal. I think with the special food Nancy is loading him up with and the quilt…………………