birds, gardens and things

Wow, did we have a hot week. The silver lining is that it seems to have put down the mosquitos. It’s noticeably cooler – not so hot – down on the dock where we’ve had a consistent breeze. It feels at least 10 degrees cooler there than at the house, 150′ away. So my routine now is to get all my yard and garden work done between 8 and 11 AM. Then dive in the lake, dry off on the dock listening to XM, fish with a large bait fish so I’m not bothered with too much action, and reading a mystery novel. By about 2 PM it’s even too hot on the dock so I wimp out to the A/C.

Our pair of wood ducks that show up every spring is now a family of 5. I saw something interesting last week when the duck family started off across the lake. It takes them maybe 5 minutes to get across and when they were about halfway, an eagle took off and headed for them. I figured I was going to see a disaster of some sort especially when the eagle did a narrow circle about 50′ over the ducks. He then swooped down and scooped up a fish very close to the ducks and took his catch back to the trees. The thing that amazed me was that the ducks did not seem phased at all so maybe eagles don’t bother wood ducks and they knew it.

Our migratory birds from Mexico are here in big numbers. I know they’re from Mexico because they call out “burrito, burrito”. We also have some feathered visitors from New York. They call out “here, here” but say it with a NY accent – “heah, heah”. I have no idea what kind of birds all of these are – just their place of origin.

The garden got clobbered big time in the last month with all the rain. According to the weather guru’s, we’ve had over 300% of normal in the past month and it fairly well wiped me out. According to others, we did fairly well. A good onion crop, nice cucumbers, and about half the peppers survived. The squash nominally rotted on the vine and the tomatoes have not fared much better. We probably got 30% of the corn to harvest. It was really good, just not enough of it. But all the local family gardens and small farms were wiped out 100%. I have to admit that I have always opposed big farm subsidies but now I’m on their side. You can work your heart out and one good storm or a couple weeks of unusual weather and you’re history.

One crop that made it big time was the Guardian Marigolds. This is a variety I planted specifically for nematode control The instructions on the seed packet said to plant densely and I did. I’ve seen lots of marigolds and grown varieties advertised as “giant”. That has always meant about 2′ tall. Turns out that Guardians grow 4′-5′ tall. Not only that they grow twice as fast as anything else so it’s realistic to say that they have taken over the garden. I have chopped and chopped to allow the other veggies to get a shot at some sunlight but in a few days, the Guardians have taken over again. They do seem to be working in that I haven’t seen any signs of nematodes this season but next season I need to scale way back on the density. I’m taking the greenery to the compost pile as I chop at it and will till the roots in place. My hope is that this will give me protection next time with fewer live plants.

Another accidental success was a faux spinach called Malabar Spinach. I planted it last year and it was a semi success. It grew well all summer long but only George and I really liked it. It grows as a vine with deep green thick leaves, red, red vine stems, and quick, white flowers and seeds. I found, well actually Nancy’s friend Wilma found, that you can eat the leaves, stems, and the flowers. Nancy didn’t really care for the thick leaves or the “slimy” texture inside the leaves. The nematodes ended the crop last year but while it was going it was luxurious. I decided not to plant it again since neither Nancy nor Barbara cared for it but as it turns out, it’s a self seeding variety. Self seeding in a big way. I kept pulling out the renegades but missed a few. Now I’ve got several strong plants climbing up the tomato trellis. I pull a few leaves every day and put them on sandwiches and Nancy asked me to pick a pile so she could see how it worked in spinach dip. The dip was well received and nobody noticed that it wasn’t regular spinach so based on that, I’m going to increase the crop a bit and plan on this variety as a good summer plant in Florida.

Another crop that is looking pretty good – survived the rains and producing are the egg plants. Eggplant are something I really like to grow but don’t eat myself. Seems like everybody else likes it ok and the plants really dress up the garden so I persist trying to find a variety or recipe that I like. I’m going to try one when these mature. The recipe calls for slicing the eggplant in half, coating it with Italian dressing and grilling. The variety is called Lavender Touch and is a very light white/purple color that the seed catalog says is a great variety for grilling.

Why I think maybe my garden didn’t get totally wiped out is that over the past two years I have continually added organic matter. I’ve done that to improve the quality of the soil but in the process, it’s added quite a large mass so that the garden generally is sitting almost 2′ higher than the surrounding ground level. That means the garden has better drainage than it would as a ground level garden and is probably the reason I had some survivors. I’m going to test that theory by implementing a “till and hill” approach to laying out the garden. By that I mean I’ll create elevated rows that are over 2′ high relative to the garden level. I’m thinking that will give me at least another foot of drainage or dry root zone. That involves quite a bit more manual labor but if it works, ………………………. Elevating rows and hilling is common practice in many places but I figured I could get away without the added labor. Proving the old adage that nothing’s ever easy.

Anyway – aside from the failures to date, I’m going to try a few new plantings. Not too much since I suspect the summer heat and humidity here will not be conducive to a good summer crop.

I think I figured out part of my problem with understanding Obama’s positions. In a speech the other day concerning Iran, he said he was “appalled and outraged”. Trouble is that he said it with exactly the same voice tonation and facial expressions he used to be “concerned” or “gravely concerned”. He could have replaced the word outraged with happy and it would have sounded the same. If you are expressing outrage, you have to shout it and bang your fist on the table or something that punctuates the words. He uses exactly the same tone of voice regardless of what he’s discussing or whether he’s positive or negative on a subject. On the other hand when you watch the Iranian leader, for example, you have no idea what he’s saying but you can just look at him and tell when he’s really pissed. Think about it – when your significant other is mad at you, there’s no doubt about it. If she or he was speaking Martian, you would still know that you had screwed up and exactly how badly. You can tell if this is something that will be over and done with in 10 minutes or if you’re in deep dooky for days. You could even turn the sound down – you can’t of course, but just say you could – and by looking into her/his eyes and looking at their face and body language, you understand the depth of the anger. With Obama, without hearing the words, you wouldn’t know if he was talking about his daughter’s birthday or the North Korean’s setting off another A-bomb.

Nailed by ATT

I’ve been engaged in battle with ATT for a week or so after receiving a letter from them saying that I was not supposed to be using my dial-up line to access the internet and they could discontinue my service with no further notice. That’s kind of threatening.

A little background. We hooked up to the landline in 2001 or 2 when we were snow birding from Utah. We had local service only and used calling cards for long distance when necessary. When we moved in full time in 2003 we found that the local area did not allow us toll free access to AOL. The closest access point was Daytona Beach which was outside our call area – same area code, same county but outside the calling range. So we added what was called extended range which got us to Daytona and solved the problem. Fast forward to 2007. ATT called and said that if we wanted to add unlimited long distance calling, it would only add a couple of dollars to what we were paying. It sounded too good to be true so I questioned it aggressively and was assured that this was an ok upgrade. Sure enough the bill went up a couple of $$ but we have had unlimited long distance coverage. Fast forward now to April. We received a vaguely worded letter from ATT saying that we were perhaps not using our telephone service per the contract. I called the toll free number suggested and a customer service rep told me that everything was fine and the letter was sent in error. And, oh by the way, for $1/month I could add voice mail, caller ID and a few other goodies. So i figured the letter was really a back door way to get a sales call in and not violate blocks on telephone soliciting. I did buy the added service. Monday we got another letter from ATT saying that we could not use our phone to access the internet and that they could discontinue our service with no further notice. Definitely sounded more serious so I immediately called the toll free number. I kind of expected they were going to try to sell me something again. Instead the service rep told me that you can’t use a personal voice line to access the internet and never could. It was, supposedly, in the fine print of my contract with ATT -I don’t ever remember seeing a contract. He said he’d put me on some kind of access + and that might work but he didn’t really think so.

My next move was to call the Florida Public Service Commission. The gal there was quite helpful but said that the state had no control over anything internet. I asked about the FCC and she said they were brain dead and would just send me back to the state. She said she could connect me to the Executive Admin offices of ATT which she did. The person there identified herself as Brandy Alexander, and said that something didn’t sound right and that somehow a computer was spitting out the letter when it shouldn’t but she would turn it over to a techy type to look into it further and get back with me. True to her word, I got a call the next day from a Customer Care Representative that seemed to understand what was going on. He asked what my AOL access numbers were and found that, according to his system, the Daytona numbers I was accessing were within my range and should be normal, toll free calls. He asked if I was putting a “1” in front of the number – I do – and that if I just put in the 7 digit phone number, the problem would go away. Nope – when I do that, there’s an intercept that tells me I have to put a “1” or a “0” as a prefix to complete the call. That generated a big hmmmmmmmm from the guy. So he said he was turning this over to the repair department since I should be able to dial Daytona as part of my standard local calling range. If that’s true, I never needed to go the extended range from the get go. He also checked on the other, non-Daytona, exchanges that AOL lists as ok access points for me; that would be Orange City and Debary. Both are in Volusia County, have 386 area codes, and are physically about as far from me as Daytona. But it turns out that those exchanges are not ATT. Upon closer examination, I noted that I was calling those two exchanges more often than Daytona because of heavy traffic into Daytona. I didn’t realize any of this – that those two were not ATT or that they were any different than any other exchange. I also didn’t realize I was using them.

The repair dept called as promised and said that indeed I had to dial the 1 to get to the Daytona exchange and more importantly, that the original letter was generated because I was using Debary and Orange City. I deleted those numbers from my dialing sequence So I think the problem is solved. Not sure how they thought I would know which exchanges are ATT and which are not or that unlimited long distance calling doesn’t really mean unlimited long distance calling.

I’m trying to get my arms around Obama’s words so I can understand him better. For example, not sure which of these two statements is more tougher: “I am deeply concerned and going to try to get the UN to put out a new resolution” or; “I am gravely concerned and going to try to get the UN to put out a new resolution.” I’m fairly sure both mean that we’re not going to do anything but not sure exactly what words he would use to mean something is actually going to happen. All the analysts say he is sending a message. Ok, what’s the message? Hillary said we’re thinking about putting North Korea back on the list of bad guys – that’ll show em we mean business.

The administration has boxed itself in a bit by totally denouncing the Bush foreign policy and essentially saying that the NK’s and the Iranians are not really evil folks and that you just have to approach them with open arms and an open mind. They are both now driving tanks through the open arms. I think the Reagan and Bush approach is fundamentally easier – you are all evil jerks, now prove to me that you’re not. That way if they respond positively, as in the case of Gorbachov, you’re a hero for holding tough; if they stay in character as bad guys, you’re still ok because you had already predicted that and based your policy on them staying the course. Obama comes off looking naive which is exactly the charge against him from the get go. He’s also trapped into not being able to say anything really nasty about them because it was only a few months back that he was talking them up as being really ok guys. So again he looks wimpy. My gut tells me he’s going to have to shoot down an NK missile or something to put that behind him. It’s even worse when France, the wimpiest of the wimps, is sounding tougher than the USA. Clinton tried lobbing a couple of cruise missiles into tents in the desert and wiping out an aspirin factory but could never shake the Blackhawk down image. I’m starting to smell another Jimmy Carter administration.

But on the plus side – nice catch. I was impressed seeing Obama catch the pesky fly during an interview. It cracked me up when PETA or some other animal rights group got on his case for being cruel to animals.. These folks never met fire ants. I got to wondering if that move was made to impress the NK’s with his speed and ferocity – you know an Asian marshal arts move. I was pretty impressed with NBC’s journalism too – home in on the dead fly so we could see it was a real event. I don’t think McCain could have moved that quickly.

Rod flight test

How high is the lake? Right now in mid June it’s about where it was last November after the hurricane season, in particular after Faye, the wettest hurricane on record. It’s about a foot lower than the highest I’ve seen it since 2004 when we had two quick hurricanes – Charlie and Francis. Not sure but I think that was in Sept 2004. For sure this is the earliest I’ve seen it this high. Don’t need a hurricane this year. And the water is warm – pushing 90 – so even the wimpiest swimmer will love it.

Did a flight test on the new surf rod. Tina’s folks are in town and her dad wanted to try his hand at surf fishing again this year. Last year during the blues season, we had a pretty good day and he wanted to try again. So he, Simon and I hit the National Seashore south of New Symrna. I brought 3 spinning (reel) outfits and one bait caster. I rigged Simon up with my lightest outfit so he’d be comfortable using it; John got the other spinning outfit with the new, 12′ rod. John’s not an experienced fisherman and casting in the surf with heavier weights and long rods is not the easiest to learn so I figured I’d just do the casting and let him do the catching. We had some early action with sharks and John decided he wanted to do his own casting. I had guessed he would cast off to the right so had him move about 50′ to the right of us. As predicted his first cast went way to the right – maybe 100′ down the beach and 10′ into the ocean. I gave him some observational input and he tried again. This time it went nearly straight out in a line drive maybe 150′ into the surf. That was a plenty good cast and more than adequate to catch fish. I told him that with a little more arc, it would go farther but that he was just fine as he was. He wanted to try again and on his third try he launched a perfect arc and the bait sailed out a good 100 yds straight and true. I was amazed. From that point on he would cast each time straight as an arrow and 100-120 yds out. Honestly, I know I couldn’t get it out that far. John’s a big guy and has just natural, perfect timing and technique. One thing I know for sure – the rod is a real beauty and I won’t be able to blame the equipment if I can’t launch the long ones. Of course, I caught most of the fish so kept some semblance of dignity! Both Simon and John hooked what were probably large sharks only to have the leaders cut just above the hook. Simon got a small whiting while I managed a small shark and a nice whiting. I think on our next trip I’ll be facing fierce competition.

One week report. I mentioned that I had sprayed some Cutter Backyard to ward off the mosquito outbreak. The stuff was advertised to last 8 weeks and after one week, it still seems to be holding up. I walked down to the dock at 8 AM in a short sleeve shirt and shorts with no repellant on my exposed parts. Not one bite. We had picked up another container to give it a second dose just before the party on Sunday along with another Cutter product – backyard fogger. But after the early morning run, no need.

Good news – I finally read about something Congress is looking into which needs action. We’ve noticed that when watching TV, the commercials are way, way louder than the shows. I thought it had something to do with all that switch over to digital crap. You have to have the remote control constantly in your hand to adjust or mute the sound at each of the increasingly numerous commercials. So I was pleasantly surprised to read that a couple of legislators are putting together a bill to limit the sound level of commercials relevant to the regular programming. Of course the broadcasters are saying that no legislation is needed and they’ll take care of the problem themselves.

Terror by mosquito

Did I mention that the mosquitoes are absolutely ferocious? That doesn’t begin to describe it. We’ve had 23” of rain in the past 3 weeks and the mosquitoes have blossomed. The last time I recall seeing and interacting with this many (in Florida) was back in the 50’s living on the beach. (Note – the all time, hands down winner in the fierce mosquito world is Pelican Lake in Utah. It’s in a class all by itself and not to be confused with regular mosquito problems. At Pelican you have to be careful not to choke on mosquitoes when breathing), I remember back then you could get an attachment for your lawnmower that would turn it into a fogging machine for insect spray – probably DDT. I also remember jeeps that were equipped with fogging equipment that totally enveloped our house – and occupants – in the vapors. And low flying large planes – C-47’s – that flew 50′ over the houses and sprayed an oil over everything in it’s path. Our cars were oil soaked almost all summer long. I’m sure everything that was done back then is illegal now. My Dad and I went fishing most Saturday’s in the early morning. He would turn on a light around the back of the house as soon as we got up and then we’d eat a quick breakfast. The back light attracted an incredible number of mosquitoes including those that normally would have been on patrol around the front side of the house. We would then run the 200′ from the front door to the car having totally outfoxed the blood suckers. Naturally we had screen doors but the mosquitoes were so thick at times that you couldn’t see through the screen. I think we’re left with wimpy solutions like burning citronella candles or those coil things. But I’m going to try something from Cutter – an old name in mosquitoes terror control. This is a product in a plastic container that you attach to a hose and spray the infested area. One $10 bottle supposedly covers 5000 SF. It also says it lasts 8 weeks but I really have my doubts. I did a 1 hour test – sprayed an infested area and then went back in an hour to see if I was attacked. It passed with flying colors. I did a 24 hour test with a short sleeve shirt and no mosquito repellant at the worst, early morning time. Still holding.

For now, instead of wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts and flip-flops, it’s long pants, long sleeve shirts, socks, boots and DEET on all exposed body surfaces. If I had one of those hats with a built in bug screen, I’d be wearing it.

Got my dry spurt and finished staining the dock. What I had left was just about 400 SF. It took 1 gallon of stain and only 1.5 hours to roll. Last time I did it two years ago it took more like 4 hours and a stiff back for a week. So I ended up with 2 coats on the swim deck which is in full sun and 1 coat on the portion under roof.

I got my combination birthday-father’s day present yesterday. A new surf rod. A couple of years back I picked up a cheap 12′ rod which is about 2′ longer than I feel comfortable casting but which is sometimes necessary to really loft a 100 yd cast into a strong sea breeze. But the cheap rod is thick and heavy. So heavy that it totally wears me out holding it, reeling in, and casting. So I’ve had my eyes open for something half the weight or less and spotted one a few weeks back at a small tackle store in Daytona. I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger considering it was way beyond my “rod” budget. I’m ok spending a couple hundred dollars for a reel but start to twitch when a rod price goes over $50. But considering my advanced age, my pending birthday, father’s day and receipt of the Obama gift check – I went for it. I gave it a few casts from the dock and can consistently hit 3/4 of the way across the lake – I’d guess that’s a 100 yds, give or take a few. But I still need to christen it in the surf soon. I’m thinking this week if the rain will cut me a little slack. The rod is designed for casting 4-7 oz which is exactly the range I need – especially when casting a finger mullet for bluefish into a 10-15 knot wind.
Car Talk. I’m wondering how the demographics will break down on future car sales. The lib’s will be split now between “anything not made in the USA – preferably a Prius” and GM; Conservatives will be pretty much tied to Ford. And for sure Ford picks up the Dodge Ram truck crowd. No true truck guy is going to drive a Fiat Ram and I’m having trouble visualizing any American driving – or fitting in – a Fiat. The great move was Penske buying Saturn. How could you not trust a car backed by Roger Penske? A Chinese Hummer? Please, spare me.

Dock Worker

The big rains triggered my biannual fix-up the dock project. The entry way to the dock is a parquet like surface using cutoff 2”x rough cut lumber from the original dock construction. The 16” rainfall did a nice job of undercutting the blocks and left it pretty much in a mess. I’ve had to redo the entry way twice now and it’s a pain in the butt so I decided on something a bit more permanent this time. So I got 80# bags of concrete that are designed to be used as is – just put the bags down and soak. 80# bags are much heavier now than they were a few years ago so rather than do the entire area I did the higher wear areas and the places that washed out several times over the past 5 years. That took 9 bags. Over top the bags I put a layer of sand and then the parquet blocks. It’s finished off with a bag of builder’s sand to fill in the gaps. It took two days to complete since I just took my time and tried to do it without killing myself. I’m happy with the end item – looks ok and much more stable.

And since we had a 3 day dry stretch forecast and I had a gallon and a half of deck stain left over from the last stain job a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to put on another coat or two. First step – power wash. I hadn’t run the water pump or the power washer in quite a while so had fingers crossed that it would all work the first time. It did after resolving a couple of cockpit problems. The last two times I stained the dock I brushed it on. That was really tough on the back so I decided to roll it this time. Much, much easier and it looks every bit as good. Turns out I had enough stain for two coats on the sunny outer dock but I needed another gallon to do the section under roof. That’s when the run of good luck ran out. I use a really good Cabot stain. The first time I found it in a specialty paint store in Longwood. When I decided to do it the second time, that store was closed but we found it now at Lowes – Val Par, the Lowes brand paint, bought out Cabot somewhere along the line. Nancy dropped by Lowes to get another gallon and found out that the stain base from which our color is derived is “heavy” as compared to medium and clear and that Lowes no longer carries the heavy base. Luckily a Lowes store in another city does carry it and we were eventually able to pick up another gallon to finish the job. Alas, by the time the logistics hurdles were cleared, so was the dry weather and part of the deck remains uncoated until we get another few dry days in a row – tricky in Florida during the summer. So I satisfied my urge to paint by putting water sealer on the wooden dock furniture.

Finally I give the path through the woods to the dock a new layer of palmetto mulch. I do that a couple times a year. This go round used 2 large piles of palmetto fronds on the order of 100 CF each. I get that much or more just going along the path and around the driveway cutting out dead or yellowing fronds and ones obstructing the path. That much chopped mulch loads up the 75′ pathway about 6” deep. If I didn’t clear out the palmetto’s along the path, within a year there’d be no visible path. I like the symmetry of using the overgrowth to cushion the pathway.

And the rains brought another problem that I found out after the fact. I haven’t used my main boat in a couple of years but had it well covered with a tarp, the drain plug open, and a bow up attitude so it would drain. The wind and rain apparently ripped the tarp and the boat loaded up so quickly that the support holding up the bow sunk into the sand such that it wouldn’t drain. This boat is a dual hull boat so both the inner and outer hulls filled with water, leaves, branches and problem squirrel droppings. No way I could easily lift it to drain so I had to employ jacks and boards to progressively get it up and draining. And I’m guessing there were 1000 pounds of mosquitoes living there too. The mosquitoes have never been so bad here. Bad enough that I have to drink a gin and tonic every now and then to fight off malaria. Seems to be working. That was just the beginning of it. Anybody who lives in Fla knows that if you let something sit in the same place for more than 6 months, it will start growing. In this case it was turning furry. And the nice woodsy spot where I had it parked had it’s eye on the boat too. It took an hour to cut away the vines and bushes that had wrapped around it. So what looked like a simple tarp replacement turned into a full day of cutting, chipping, and power washing.

I had some trouble making this post because somebody hacked into my blog and screwed it up. Why the hell would somebody want to do that? Anyway, Tom fixed it and moved me up to the latest and greatest release level. If it happens again, I think my blogging career will be short lived.
I don’t get what the big deal is on moving the prisoners out of Gitmo. Seems logical to me that they should go to a prison in Illinois. I think Joliet is a Fed penitentiary already housing some really bad guys.