The big feast

Olivia voted in favor of an Italian Easter this year which meant a lake event. As it turned out we’ll be celebrating both the Christian Easter and the Greek Orthodox Easter with the Italian feast part happening with the Greeks. Tom and Tina hosted the traditional Easter gathering in Lake Mary this year. Nancy and I decided to go for a big event and have ravioli instead of something simpler like baked ziti which we discussed. Every couple of years we get up the courage to do a big ravioli feast which means making it all from scratch – right from the basic flour. We’ve done it often enough now that we have it down to a science and work together like a finely oiled machine. We’re expecting 10-12 for dinner so we targeted 50 ravioli but actually made 67. It’s not an exact science but we ended up with almost an even match between the pasta dough and the filling. Along with meatballs, braciola, and pork ribs, we’ve got the makings for a large antipasto and Tina is bringing Tiramisu for dessert. Tom is picking up ciabatta rolls so we’re dago from start to finish. Nancy made the sauce a week ago to give it plenty of time to blend and the ravioli were done a day in advance. So the only thing remaining is to boil the pasta, heat the sauce, and construct the antipasto. When we were younger and so much less clever, we would do it all on the day of the feast and be totally worn out and frazzled by eating time. This way we have to smooze with the guests and still turn out a fantastic meal.

The other great thing about this year is that Simon is coming up and planning to stay here for a week of heavy duty fishing. Bass fishing, snook fishing, surf fishing, crabbing – you name it and we’ll be casting for it. He’s bringing the VW camper into which we’ll shoehorn two kayaks and our gear. I’m stoked about that.

Living with the critters

Had to get involved in one of my least favored tasks – fixing the sprinkler system. My system has 3 independent circuits and I noticed that on two of the circuits, the longest circuits, the pressure had dropped so that at the end of the string of sprinklers, there was barely enough pressure to lift the sprinkler head. Since it was on two independent circuits, my logic was that it was something at the pump or worse. But on inspection, looked like plenty of pressure at the pump end. I took on the simpler circuit and found that there was no water at all coming from the last 6 heads. Aha, clogged line. Wrong, turned out to be 6 clogged heads, no line problem at all. So I headed over to the second circuit and found no such luck. The last sprinkler on the string was gushing water out the sides of the sprinkler so I guessed the sprinkler was history. Installed a new one – same problem. So I decided to just let it run and see if I could find a spot along the run that was saturated because the only possibility was a line break somewhere in the 200′ length of buried pipe. Sure enough, I found a spot where water was bubbling to the surface. The actual break was about 4′ from the spot where the water surfaced but once found, easily fixed. Easily if you have all the pieces you need to build a splice. I happen to have it all and within a half hour, oila, fixed. The beauty of dealing with sprinkler systems in Florida compared to my experience in Texas and Utah is that it’s infinitely simpler to dig into the Florida sand. In Texas it was rock hard clay and in Utah it was rocks. A job like this would have taken half a day at least in Utah; an hour here at most.

Today’s harvest was a beautiful cabbage, the first cucumber and first zucchini. I think there are two more cabbages and two cauliflowers but beyond that, all summer stuff. At this point the big garden question mark is going to be the corn. I’ve never done well with corn before which really bugs me because it takes so much space. If it’s not a success this year, it gets scratched off the list forever. I think it’s a big farm crop and not something for us back yard guys. We have plenty of roadside stands loaded with really nice corn so……………….. At this point it’s the challenge that keeps me trying. Did have a setback when one tomato plant was attacked by nematodes and crashed overnight. That’s one out of 12 so I have to assume that I was just a little sloppy with that particular plant in terms of ground prep. It’s also a good reminder to me that the little rascals are always there waiting for me to screw up. I had started thinking that perhaps once you overcame them, they were gone for good. Wrong. I haven’t pulled the plant yet to examine the roots and I guess it’s possible something else happened but it sure looks familiar.

Have another thing to put on my “check once a week” list. I lifted the hood on the Toyota, the car we drive almost every day, to check the oil and found the start of a squirrel nest along with a pile of acorns. It was built right on the engine block just as it was on the Mercury last year. Interestingly, when I removed it the bottom of the nest was blackened by the engine heat. I guess it doesn’t get hot enough to burst into flame but it sure has that potential. So let’s see – in the past month I caught a mouse in a trap in the trunk of the Merc and removed a squirrel nest from the Toyota. I guess these guys are smart enough to vacate before the engine starts, at least I hope so. What a mess that would be.

I was thinking Obama was toast when gas topped $3; burnt toast above $4; burnt toast crumbs above $5. He said he wanted higher prices many times so it’s hard now to back away from it. I guess he can appoint a committee to look into it. In his defense, we’re actually pumping more oil than ever – oh wait, that’s based on new production started 5 years ago when the evil Bush was in charge.

From beach to garden

From beach to garden. Got home and found that George had picked all the potatoes. I knew they were about ready so wasn’t too surprised. Good thing too. I had ordered sweet potato slips and they were supposed to be shipped April 25, more or less when I expected to pick the regular potatoes. But they were shipped early so picking the others a few days early turned out to be a good thing. We ended up getting in the neighborhood of 30 pounds of potatoes so I have to rank that as a total success.

Another piece of good news is that when I started tilling the row where the potatoes had grown, I found it loaded with earth worms. That’s a significant sign that the soil is rich and heavily organic. Up until this point, there were zero worms and I was fairly well convinced that I’d have to buy some to prime the pump. I still might do that because the worms I have now are really skinny worms and not the kind you can fish with. I was going to add some big, juicy variety when I was confident the soil would support them – I am now.

At this point the garden is full – no available space for planting. The only “old” crop still producing are the brussels. I give them another 2 weeks at most and that row will quickly be converted to okra. The plants under the insect/frost covers seem to be doing just fine, we’ve started picking squash and the first cucumber hits the salad bowl this week. No doubt about it, the garden is producing at a much higher rate than at this same time last year. Unless something happens, and it always can, we are about to be overwhelmed with squash and tomatoes. The corn is looking good – 2′ tall and growing fast. Ditto the pole beans. I’m guessing we’ll be into both by early June. Green peppers of several varieties by mid May.


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Finally broke the ice. The headless guy in the pic is me, promise. Caught 3 and lost that many so it was a good afternoon. So I broke in the new rod on a high note which bodes well for it's future. It would have forever been a suspicious outfit had the first fish been a catfish but a nice blue………………… Starting to see some mullet in the surf and that usually means the blues will be following in closely.

What I love about the beach is that people move to a different rhythm. I think it's tidal; Or for some it's wave height; or wind direction. But for sure not on the standard 60 minute, 24 hour clock. When are we going to eat? About two hours after high tide. Some people are high tide people and some are low tide. Some only move when the surf is big and booming. We had an early breakfast, 2 hours before high tide to be exact, and sat in the pier restaurant looking out at the surfers riding the boomers. Late yesterday afternoon the wind was blowing strongly from the south, right along the coast and that brought out the sail/parachute surfers. What a show. It's a good thing I grew up before all the surfing stuff arrived on the scene or I'd probably have turned out totally different. I don't see how I ever could have fit in school or work.

Good news,bad news

Good news, bad news

The good news is I’m not using much bait; the bad news is I’m not using much bait. I’m taking solace in the fact that nobody else is catching anything, that I’m getting lots of nice beach walks, that my tackle is working flawlessly, nice tan without burning. I guess I could include a picture of me not catching anything.


Humiliated. I was up early fishing for blues and catching nothing. About two hours into it, an osprey dived about 50′ from me and came up with a bluefish that looked to be about 2 pounds. I’m saying to myself, ok, the fish are moving in, hang onto the rod tighter. Still nothing. About a half hour later, another osprey pulls the exact same move on me. Both times, my bait was within 50′ of where the osprey picked off the blues. I know they’re fishing for a living but still……………….
The pic shows the new deck extension on the upstairs apartment. I’m showing that pic because I don’t have any fish pics. Everything is perfect – the weather, the surf, water temp- all perfect but no fish. No bites, no baits lost. It’s not just me. All the fishermen I talk to say the same thing. Even tried last night after dark. With night fishing you just walk towards the ocean and stop when your feet hit the water then cast out as far as you can. No problem. Getting back up and finding the stairway up the dunes is a bit more challenging. No bugs so it was really nice. Not sure what I would have done if I had caught one and had to deal with it in the pitch black. If I do that again, I’ll bring a flashlight.

We hit our second favorite brunch spot yesterday and Nancy had the Kahlua French toast again. Then she went off to play bridge in Palm Coast and I beached. Her partner from Crescent City came over and they won first place in both the A and B divisions. Sounded like some hustlers coming over and fleecing the locals to me.

Beach house changes

According to the fishing column in the paper the blues are “thick” in the surf. Wouldn’t you take that to mean there were lots of them? So far I would be saying “thin” or “few and far between”. That’s after my first hour and with the wind blowing hard from the south so it may be too soon to reach any conclusions. One of the neighbors here that I’ve come to know walked down to the surf to greet me and said they’ve been banging them hard at high tide in the early evening – but that was before the wind started blowing. He’s convinced me that before it’s over, I’ll have loaded up the cooler. Even so, the first evening was a success. Managed to catch a couple of whiting and test the new outfit. It exceeded every expectation. I can cast it a mile – helped that the wind was at my back – and it didn’t wear me out. Exactly what I was trying to accomplish. I know that it will be cranking in some serious blues this week.

The place itself has changed a bit. The owners have moved to Atlanta and converted the upstairs, where they lived, into another rental. They built a really nice large deck as part of the upstairs renovation and put all new living room furniture down. It’s always been nice and comfortable but now even more so. They changed the password to access the internet but we overcame that rather quickly – and they switched to Bright House so the internet is quite a bit faster. We know all the neighbors by now so it’s like coming home. Even the neighborhood beach dogs come running up and jump on me. One of our favorite restaurants, JT’s, added an early bird-happy hour from 3 to 6PM, so that will be giving Flagler Fish Company some competition for our business. Our local breakfast place added oatmeal-raisin pancakes to the menu so I had to give it a try. Very tasty but one goes a long way!

And the iPod does well on the beach so I can be totally zoned out while fishing or walking the beach. I have this overriding concern that somehow it will end up in the ocean before the week’s over but this is exactly the reason I have it so…………….. The FM radio feature works well. It doesn’t pick-up anything at home but here there’s several local stations – not the XM Coffee House but listenable.

Brand new Great Great Niece. Megan had her first last night and Nancy tells me all is well. The baby’s name is Allie Marie – what a pretty name.

Back to Chem 102

Simon called from Gainesville the other day and invited me up to hear his chem professor give a lecture on Nano Science. Turns out this guy was listed in some prestigious magazine as one of the top 100 chemists in the US and his specialty is nano chemistry. Simon has been praising this guys teaching skills all semester. Tom hit one of the lectures a few weeks back and said he was incredibly good. I happen to think nano technology is perhaps the hottest new technology and will shape much of the future so I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The plan was for Nancy to play bridge as usual on Friday and me to take off for Gainesville. Instead, just before leaving for bridge, the game was canceled so she decided to join me at the lecture. The hookup with Simon went perfectly and we arrived about a half hour early. I had left plenty of time to cover a bad parking situation which didn’t materialize. Turns out the lecture and the prof lived up to or exceeded expectations. From my perspective, I found it interesting, informative and entertaining. I knew 90% of the material covered and, judging by the interaction with the student body, more than most of the students around us. They seemed really inattentive and distracted by other things and it made me wonder if I had the same fidgetitus when I sat in chem lectures 50 years ago. That would explain why I struggled with chemistry – that plus the heavily accented evil Russian prof I had. I wasn’t sure how Nancy would like a one hour chemistry lecture but she loved it and got a good basic introduction to the technology. I could tell by the questions that she asked on the ride home that a good bit of it had sunk in.

In the March 29 post I mentioned that a mouse had constructed a nest in the trunk of our car. I loaded a mouse trap with cheese and set about trying to catch the little culprit. I checked on the trap every day for a week or so and no luck so I guessed it was a one time thing and the mouse had moved on to bigger and better places. We decided to take that car up to Gainesville and needed to put something in the trunk. Got him (or her). I’m going to load up the trap and put it back just in case one of his siblings or buddies decides to take up residence there. I still can’t imagine how they can get in there.

Correction to the post describing Chris’ new job. He will manage the 34th street store. That’s the corporate headquarters and an easy commute. He has a 10 minute walk from his place to the PATH train which drops him off right at 34th across from the store. He sounds very excited about the moves.

New happenings

Next week we head for our “spring break” in Flagler Beach. I’m looking forward to this vacation so I can break in my new surf gear and give the ipod/Bose combo some serious run time. I’ve heard rumblings that the blues are in the surf – wouldn’t that be a kick. I’m 1000% ready for that action. The timing is perfect garden wise. Nothing much going on right now but by the time we get back from the beach, the potatoes and first squash of the season should be ready to harvest and it’s possible, not for sure but possible, that we’ll be picking the first tomatoes and the first cucumbers.
The pic is the new pole bean trellis system using my PVC pipe design. I combined the pipe with bamboo poles so I guess that makes it a hybrid. I’m growing the same variety of green beans that were so successful last fall, Smeraldo, along with a new (to me)yellow variety, Gold Marie. I’m happy so far with the whole PVC concept and, along with the bean trellis, have several tomato cages constructed and cross supports for the insect netting over the squash plants. You can see all that if you look closely at the picture. It’s working out exactly as I had hoped.

Lots of family news. Chris took a new job. He was the NY/NJ District Manager for Origins, a division of Estee Lauder. He rose through the ranks there for the past 8 years, starting as a temp sales clerk to pick up some extra Christmas money. He was recruited by another cosmetic company, Sephora, and finally succumbed to their offers. He will be the manager of either the Times Square store or the Soho (a section of NYC). store.These stores each do about 5 times the business his entire district does now so this is a nice jump in responsibility. It just so happens that he’s also moving to a new apartment in Jersey City – both moves within days of each other. The neighborhood he’s moving to is nicer than where he currently resides and is close to where he lived a few years back. Both times we visited him, we ate at a great neighborhood bar/restaurant just down the street from his new apartment. So basically he’s starting with a clean slate – new job, new digs.

Joey and Mark sold the boat. Joey had gone back to work for the airlines about a year ago and it was too big a drag on Mark to run the business by himself plus it’s looking like Mark will be recalled to American Airlines in the fall. That plus they were tired of living on the boat and wanted to get back to adding real estate to their rental empire in Cocoa. Made the first addition a couple months back and have remodeled it back to dollhouse status – even installed hard wood floors throughout. The folks who bought the boat live in Annapolis, MD and want it delivered to Norfolk VA so there’s one last long cruise ahead for them. Mark has identified the next boat building project, a smaller, 30′ cat. This time a power boat.

Fishing report

One super bene to the ipod/Bose pairing is completely shutting out the yippee dog that lives on the lake and insists on barking continuously when I’m fishing. I did a test this morning and my volume control wins. On top of that, bagged several bass.

Bass fishing in the lake this year is unusual. It’s always been typical to expect either nothing in an hour or so (not biting at all) or 3-4 hits per hour. Inside the 3-4 hit days, the majority would be juveniles, 2 pounds and smaller, and maybe one strike from a larger fish, say 2-5 pounds. In a few hours of this level of fishing, perhaps one monster bass would appear. For whatever reason this year, three out of four hits will be fish in the 4 pound plus class with maybe one juvenile. Doesn’t seem to matter much what part of the lake I’m hitting, same results. And I do just as well at noon as I do at daybreak or sunset – normally the middle of the day you might as well be napping but this year the fishing’s just as good mid day. It’s spawning season and these large fish are females, with a belly full of eggs. No mistaking that when they jump or I’m removing them from the hook. I’m guessing this means lots of small bass for the next couple of seasons. I had worried that the very low lake level was going to screw up the fishing this season but apparently it’s had just the opposite affect. So all this time I’ve been bemoaning the low lake level, I didn’t understand exactly what a boon it was going to be.

Went out to check the garden this morning and found that it had been attacked by a herd of killer armadillos. I had planted 2 new egg plants last night and sure enough both had been dug up. Not sure why they chose to dig there but it often happens that they dig exactly where I make a new planting. They don’t eat the plant so about half the time I’m able to successfully replant but it’s still frustrating. Doubly so in this case, because one of the egg plants is a variety that I’ve had a hard time with. It’s a heritage variety called Louisiana Longs and last year I wasn’t able to bring even one to fruiting. They are incredibly long in the germination process and maybe a third actually make it that far. Even then, they don’t do well on transplant. last year all of them crashed within a month of transplant. I’ve tried to counter that this year by leaving them indoors longer so the plants are quite a bit larger starting out. So I’m taking this armadillo event personally.

Put out some garden beautification plants today. There’s a spectacular variety of Marigolds that I learned about 15 years ago in Utah. I grew them here one year and they did ok but my focus shifted from what I was planting to getting the soil conditioned. That job is on target and the ground is in nominally good shape so I decided to doll it up a bit with a couple dozen Inca Marigolds. When mature they are nearly 2′ tall with full blossoms of 4”. If all goes as expected, the garden will be a showplace – check for pic’s in a couple of months.