The Festivities

Open with some garden news. Picked a couple green peppers. More often than not, they don’t make it this late in December. They’re very sensitive to temp and it’s fairly normal to have a light frost by this time that dooms them. We actually bought a couple last week and they were outrageously priced at $3/pepper. So at this point we’re totally supplied in lettuce, peppers, kale and parsley; oregano and rosemary in the herb department. Made the first green smoothie of the season using White Russian Kale and home grown pineapple as the main ingredients. And made the first “little old lady” lettuce delivery to one of Nancy’s bridge partners in Palm Coast. Started two new seed beds – Spinach and Celery. The spinach will probably do just fine but maybe not so much the celery. That’s based on prior history. Without a doubt the celery seed is the tiniest of anything else I plant. It really looks more like dust than seeds. The closest to that is parsley. Carrot seed is micro but seems quite large compared to either parsley or celery. I can buy pelletized carrot and lettuce seed but haven’t found celery – sorely needed.

Reading a “new book” that deserves mention. Simon and Amy put me onto “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens last month when they visited. I looked for it at the Flagler county library but no luck. This past week Nancy’s friend that usually takes her to crocheting had to cancel and I picked up the duty. It was too early for Persimmon Hollow so I dropped her off and drove a few blocks to the Volusia County library where I found it quickly. I decided to read a few pages to see if it was something I’d like – I’m kind of a CJ Box Joe Pickett guy or a Jack Reacher guy and this definitely sounded softer. After the first page I was hooked. I’m a few chapters deep into it now and have stayed hooked – maybe deeper. To top it off, Chris always gets me a couple books for Christmas. Guess what one of the selections was this time so I quickly returned the book to the library and picked up reading my own brand new one.

We had great house guests for the Christmas events. Chris came home and brought two friends with him, Vic and Vic’s brother Versage. The program was for us to host a Christmas eve dinner with Tom’s local family, Joey and Mark. We did a turkey on the Holland grill and I made fresh cranberry sauce. Then Chris and the guys did all the sides. They’re all great cooks so we were in for some specials including a pumpkin soup. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Pumpkin Soup but Wow! It was incredible as were the carrots and green bean dishes they prepared. Real gourmet cooking. Tina made the most fantastic chocolate cake you’ve ever seen. I’m sure there are plenty of pics of it on her Facebook page. The events moved to Tom’s on Christmas where the turkey was replaced with prime Rib. We had a repeat of the oven problem from Thanksgiving but Tom was prepared to use the smoker and it couldn’t have turned out better. I think the roast was 18 pounds – a serious piece of meat – and it was done to perfection. For me the most interesting dish was something I thought was cole slaw but turned out to be a creation of Tina’s using shredded Brussel Sprouts and turnips. The original recipe called for Jicama but she couldn’t find that so decided to substitute the turnips. I put that right there with the pumpkin soup for outstanding new eats.

Lot’s of great gifts. Nancy got a new robot sweeper that is a “wet mop”. We gave it a test run today, the 29th, and it worked as advertised. So now she can run the original roomba to get the dust and sand off and follow it with a wet mop of the tile area. I got one of those “heavy” blankets. You’re supposed to be able to sleep much better but I really had my doubts. The first night I tried it, I had it draped over the side of the bed and some time after midnight it slid off onto the floor pulling me with it. I tried it again the next night and had a full uninterrupted 8 hours of sound sleep. That’s really unusual for me. I’ve repeated the same for the following two nights so I’m sold on it.
The other “event” was an introduction to a male friend of Olivia’s, aka her boyfriend. Nancy and I both had an opportunity to talk with him and learned that his family lived in the same neighborhood as us in Altamonte back in the 70’s. And Nancy learned that his grandmother plays bridge in Maitland so what more could she ask for. Seemed like a really nice guy.

Christmas letter

Tom thought I should post our Christmas letter on the blog.   So here it is:

The social highlight for the year was Simon and Amy’s wedding in April. It was well planned and executed at the 4 H center in Alabama. Lot’s of family and friends from all over the country; some we knew well, others we met for the first time. Couldn’t have been better.

Our kids are all doing just fine. Joey and Mark are remodeling/rebuilding a house that they’ve owned for 20+ years as a rental and plan to move into in early 2020. In parallel they’re finishing the boat, a 35’ catamaran, which should be launched in the next 6 months. The house is just a short walk from the Marina where the boat will be moored. How convenient is that? The only thing left to do is some finish up painting and electronic installations.

Tom is kept busy bouncing between UCF where he “professes” and Iron Galaxy where he manages a game development studio. Bouncing includes frequent trips to the home office in Chicago and trips to Europe for conferences. Since little Tommy lives in Chicago, they all spend a fair amount of time there throughout the year. Tina is the hostess with the mostest. Events that we used to host at the lake have gradually moved to Tom and Tina’s and much of the work involved now falls under the capable supervision of Tina.

Olivia has been accepted into PA school in Knoxville Tn and starts next fall. It’s a 30 month program. She still works as a medical scribe at Advent Hospital so the transition back to school will be super smooth. I’m sure there are a few trips to Tennessee in our future.

Chris keeps moving up the ladder at Estee Lauder in NYC. His new job expands that to the entire NE. And he’s loving his new apt in Summit New Jersey. He’s jumped back into the whole music/ theater scene that he loved so much from the time he was a kid in Utah so there seems to be no slack time at all. He, Vic, and Vic’s brother will be joining the Christmas/birthday festivities with us in Florida before taking off for a vacation in Hawaii. Tough life.

Nancy is still banging out charity quilts and crocheted blankets. I am a bit in that loop now, cutting binding strips and threading needles. She plays bridge in a club at Palm Coast twice a week and is quite competitive. I think it must cause some anxiety among a few life masters when they get routinely beaten by someone who is legally blind. While Nancy plays bridge, I usually go fishing somewhere nearby – either in the surf or the intracoastal waterway. I do more walking than fishing but I love it. And I still spend a good bit of my time in the vegetable garden. It was tough going this year with an exceptionally hot, dry October. The seedlings I usually put in the ground in October just couldn’t handle the heat. November/December has been perfect so fingers crossed for another great crop. Lot’s of the produce will go to the bridge ladies and the crochet ladies so I can’t allow a failure. Too much social pressure.

Have a great 2020.

Lot’s of Shots

I have gone thru total shock, depression and now mourning. I went online to track down a recipe I remembered from the Holland Grill cook book only to find that the Holland Grill Company closed down in 2018. We’ve never been without one since 1992. Our first one still lives on in Utah where we left it with a close friend when we moved to Florida. We bought one as soon as we set up homestead in Florida. It lasted about 10 years then rusted out – too humid in Florida. The one we have now is stainless steel and used at least once a week, more often 2 to 3 times. So far this week we had a steak, baked potato, broccoli meal and a baby back ribs with Acorn squash meal. The grill is very basic and built like a tank so I’m sure we’ll have it for a goodly time. I sure wish I had disassembled the one that rusted out and saved all the other parts. As it is, I did save the grate.

Hit a garden milestone today. First lettuce makes it on a sandwich at lunch and in a salad for dinner. Nancy made the sandwich and I picked a few leaves, washed them off and popped them directly on the sandwich. It was so fast the lettuce still thought it was in the garden. Fresh lettuce like that is incredibly soft so unless you actually grow it, you really don’t know what the texture is. It toughens up quickly after picked. In case you’re interested, this lettuce is called black seeded Simpson and was selected because it has good heat tolerance. The fact that it came up so nicely, as hot as our October was, is due to that characteristic. The next pick will be a couple of swiss chard leaves for the salad tonight. My looming problem is where to put all the seedlings I have going on the porch. I’ll give a few plants to Nancy’s friends that want them but I will still end up with a dozen each – broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Not 100% fixed on where those 36 plants will go but 8-10 will fill holes where something didn’t make it. And at the same time I must have 30+ new lettuce seedlings that just broke ground in a specially prepared bed in the garden. Within 2 weeks I’ll have to thin them and find a permanent home for those I thin. They don’t all make it but I’m scratching my head now thinking about homes for them. I’ve thinned all the carrots now and can’t begin to tell you how many made it thru the process and are growing beautifully. Literally hundreds. I’ve also ordered some celery seeds. Right now I’m thinking that by the time they germinate on the porch and put on a few leaves, there should be space in the lettuce patch. I’m not too worried about that because I really haven’t had great luck with celery in the past. The only reason I decided to try it again was the write up in the seed catalog touting this new variety, Tango. Sounded like anybody could grow this variety.

Nancy had a tough week – lots of shots. B-12 on Tuesday; 25 pain shots on Wednesday; eye shot on Friday. We wouldn’t have been too surprised if she spouted water after taking a big drink. On the plus side, she came in second at the bridge club on Thursday – 17 table game. There are a lot of life masters in that club and you know it must frost them to be blitzed by an old blind lady!!! It made up for all those shots!!!

The Migration has started

Nature news – I walk up to the mailbox every morning about 7AM. The roadway is under a canopy of trees the whole way but today was a different experience. There were hundreds and hundreds of Robins flitting around from the driveway to the trees and from tree to tree. Robins are migratory and I guess overnight they reached this far south. At 9:30 I walked the driveway again with Nancy to meet her ride to the crocheting club – not the first bird, not the first chirp. So it must have been a giant flock that overnighted here and then continued their southward migration.

Nancy and her friend Esther are still producing charity quilts at a good clip. Things changed when Wilma passed since her job was to hand sew the bindings. Nancy can do the sewing but can’t thread the needles. Surely I could thread the needles. With my fat fingers and old eyes that proved problematic. The eyes on the needle were just too tiny. I went to Walmart and found some needles that had big eyes – problem solved, I could thread them. But it turned out that the needles I got were “embroidery” needles and were too thick or something to pierce the binding material. I tried a mechanical threader aid but the needle eyes were too small for that too. We stopped at another quilt shop and I spotted something called self threading needles. Got home and tried them – they actually worked. Instead of just a hole in the needle, there’s a split along the top and you press the thread through the slot.

Finished the last of the garden paths. The last one was the main path right down the center of the garden – about 30’x4’ wide. The last path was paced by the availability of newspaper for the base layer. The combination of the WSJ, the Volusia Journal, and the Deland Beacon gets me about 3’ of pathway underlining per day. I have an infinite supply of palmetto fronds for the second layer and pine needles/oak leaves for the topping. This job should hold me until next October.

I’ve started my “spot” plant seedlings in the house. Spot plants are the ones I reserve to fill openings in the garden created by critter losses or whatever else does a plant in. They also fill in when I pick a single crop plant. For example cabbage and cauliflower. You get one veggie per plant as opposed to green leafy veggies that I cut as needed. The new spot plants are cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli. Broccoli is actually not a single pick crop. You harvest the main head, but some varieties continue to put out new florets for a continuous supply over the whole season. I have two plastic containers going for the spot plants with seed starting soil.
Right now I have 15 cauliflower seedlings and 12 cabbages ready to move to larger containers.

Here’s an interesting observation – I plant a row of seeds in a plastic container, the kind you get when you buy strawberries at the market. Then set them on the kitchen counter, out of the way but under light. The seeds are tiny so I over-plant and then wait for the germination to thin the weaker ones. You would expect the germination process to be fairly random but interestingly, the seeds of each variety pops up within a few hours of each other. So you check at night before bed where none have germinated only to find 99% of the seeds of a particular variety to have germinated nearly simultaneously the next morning. Then nothing for a few days and then another batch, a different variety, pops up all together. There are usually stragglers that pop up maybe a week later but generally you have 90% of what’s going to germinate doing so together. After a week or so in the seed bed, I’ll transfer them to individual pots then plant them in the garden on a space available basis. For example, pick a cauliflower from the garden and replace it with one of the cabbage plants I have growing in a container on the porch.

Not ready for Winter

OK, you can quit worrying. The pelleted carrot seed finally germinated. Too soon to say what percent will germinate but at least some of the seed is doing good. I was getting concerned since I had planted the seed in exactly the same place I’d planted older carrot seed and experienced zero germination. So I started to think maybe the location was tainted or jinxed.

Thanksgiving was great. Perfect weather, great company and wonderful food – a combination of old favorites and new entries. We decided to stay at a motel close to Tom’s rather than drive all the way home after a day’s worth of festivities. Good thing because Tina found a pomegranate wheat beer that definitely had my name all over it. Tina overcame a technical problem when the oven gave up the ghost so this season’s dinner will be remembered and laughed about for years to come.

We’re having winter now and it may even freeze tonight. I covered the pepper plants but the tomatoes are also endangered. If it does freeze, it’ll be a month early. By and large, most of the plants in the garden are ok with a little cold so we’ll see. But I did have an issue that I assumed was the cold weather. I got up just before 7AM and tried to get a glass of water. Nothing. I knew it was cold – upper 30’s according to the thermometer on the porch – so the lines shouldn’t have frozen. Maybe it was actually colder up by the well and pump? I decided to wait a couple hours for it to warm up or to get a hair blower to locally heat the pump area. Nah, that just doesn’t make sense so I decided to go up and bang around the pump. In the past, problems like this have invariably been critters getting into the contacts so that’s where I started. Sure enough, I popped the cover on the electrical contacts and there was a partially cooked lizard. I removed it and the pump started immediately. I’ve sure had enough of this winter and global cooling.