All Graduated!

This has been the craziest fall, weather wise. Early on it was way hotter than normal but it’s turned unseasonably cold since Thanksgiving. I’ve had to cover the garden twice this month which is normally something that happens in January. I don’t actually think we got any frost although the weather guys swear we did. Nothing seems hit in the garden where the tomato bushes are loaded with little green ones. The tenderest plants are the peppers and eggplants and so far, no signs of frost bite. Theres a low hanging cloud of fog over the lake so I’m confident that provided the protection we needed and the lake will probably cool dramatically over the next couple of days meaning it will provide less protection next month. The other thing I did which I never thought I would was try out the remote starting feature on the new car. Seems kind of wimpy to me but ………… It worked and Nancy was a happy camper to get into a warm car. The other “environment” surprise is that the lake is still quite high – like mid summer high. I think we’ve had almost 10” in the last month which is very unusual.

Wonderful graduation week. Simon/Amy came home to attend at the personal cost of not walking for his own graduation – his master’s from Auburn. I think it was a good decision since our celebration of three graduations was the big family event of the century. There were two academic gatherings for Tom – one for an intimate group of invitees – people who worked with him on his thesis and research and the prof’s who worked with him. It was him and several others who were getting advanced degrees, many of whom shared anecdotes of their own process. This event occurred the day before the big time formal graduation ceremony/“the hooding”. The hooding was a classic graduation lasting several hours but the PhD’s got much more time and attention so it was special for us. They had set up an area right on the arena floor for people with impaired hearing. We asked them if that included people with vision problems and they said sure so we were up close and personal. Nancy and I along with Tina’s parents called it a day at that point whereas all the younger folks headed off for a couple of Christmas parties – a work party, and a party with his students. These were open bar, live music kind of parties and I didn’t think my body could handle one of those. The next day brought us back to the arena for Olivia’s ceremonies. It was almost a duplicate of the day before with a mostly different cast of characters. (we got the same advantaged seeding and several folks from our party joined us. We were so close to the procession that we got to hug Olivia as she headed for the stage. In this one, since Tom is officially faculty, he came into the arena differently than the regular graduating seniors. Example – faculty was ushered in by a couple of kilted guys playing bagpipes. The after graduation event was all family at a pub and we were back at the hotel by 8. The next day, Sunday, was a party at Tom’s with friends and family. Lot’s of food including a large layer cake with one layer in Auburn colors and the other, UCF. We broke away about 4 PM and headed to home to the lake for a good night’s sleep – no hotel beds. The friends/family socializing continues, more or less, for the rest of the year so we’ll be ready for some serious rest and recuperation after the first of the year.

Simon and a buddy are taking off right after Xmas for a 4-5 day kayak adventure on the Withlacoochie river. They’ll put in about 20 miles due west of Orlando and kayak north and west, eventually to the gulf of Mexico. At that point they head south to the Crystal River, ;near Tarpon Springs. I have a cousin that lives on the river so they’ll have an interim destination. He was going to do a similar length trip in the Everglades but I think this one will be much safer.

Graduations

Big graduation week coming up. It starts with Tom’s PhD ceremony and extends to include Olivia’s BS award, both at UCF; wrapping up with Simon’s Master’s degree from Auburn. There’s a few days of parties and celebrations so we’re going to get a hotel near the UCF campus rather than driving back and forth to the lake several times. The next academic event on the horizon will be Olivia graduating from PA school or Med school. I’m very proud of them all.

While I was weeding the garden I was struck by the number of tomato seedlings that I routinely pull out as weeds. The tomato season generally runs from April thru June and then again from Dec thru March or April. Too much heat and humidity in the summer; too many frost events in the winter. When growing and producing fruit, a certain amount will drop off the bushes and fall onto fertile soil. Some tomatoes varieties produce fruit continuously for a few months so the fruit dropping is also more or less a continuous happening. The germination of the seeds from the fallen fruit is spotty and depends on weather conditions, soil conditions etc etc but at almost any time you look, there will be a few baby tomato plants popping up. I pull them as weeds. But today I got to thinking, why not dig some of them up, put them in pots (aka yogurt cups) and let them grow in a more controlled environment. By the end of January we are usually done with frost and these plants will be ready to hit the garden a couple of months earlier than I usually plant and more mature than the seedlings I’m usually dealing with. I’ll still start some indoors from seeds since then I know exactly what variety I’m growing but my picking season should then start in April and continue on into July. The downside is that most of the plants I’m going to preserve from this season will be cherry tomatoes. That’s because a cherry plant produces so much fruit, so quickly and for such a long season, that the wild renegades tend to be cherry. In our case, probably 50% of the tomatoes grown end up as sauce, so whether the sauce comes from giant tomatoes or cherry’s – it all works.

We have/had a ruby red grapefruit tree near the front of the house. It’s been there for about 15 years where It thrived and produced lots of fruit up until a couple of years ago. Florida has had a citrus problem called “greening” for several years and it basically destroys the trees. I suspect that’s what happened to this one but it also could be something else. So I decided to cut it down – but at the last minute changed my mind and just severely trimmed it instead. Citrus puts on new growth in the spring so I gave it a heavy dose of fertilizer and will give it 6 months to recuperate.

Mostly Garden

Planted 2 x 12’ rows of beet seed. That should do it. Between people who eat the greens and us, who eat the root, that will be all the beets we can handle. I also mix a few beet leaves into salads and smoothies so it’s a good crop for us. The problem has been that it’s not what I can call a dependable crop. Some years it’s great, in others, it’s a total loss. We even had mixed years where the greens are beautiful but no root tuber at all. I always have plenty of seeds and space so why not take a shot. The other new addition was a couple of parsley plants and a rosemary plant. I usually start those from seed but forgot about them until too late – when Nancy asked me to go out and cut some rosemary. oops.

The other crop that’s thriving albeit not one I specifically planted is the New Zealand spinach. It grows like crazy once established ( a couple of years ago) and self seeds which makes it a difficult crop to eliminate once it’s established. As I weed an area, I always find a few renegade plants which I then transplant to a designated area. In just a few weeks it transforms from tiny plants into full size spinach. People are split on the eating quality. It is quite mild flavored but has a different texture than regular spinach – almost like a light fur. One of Nancy’s bridge ladies is crazy about it and I find it great for smoothies or mixed with other greens in pasta dishes. I’ve been told that it’s outlawed in California as an invasive species and I can sure see how that would be true. It has a combination of self seeding with seeds that stay dormant for quite some time and a spreading culture that sends out branches that root wherever they touch soil and stems that split into two wherever you cut them off. I’ll try to do a better job of controlling the spread this year but they do make a mean smoothie.

Attacked the sweet potato patch again. It’s been a couple of weeks since the last dig where I found the tubers almost big enough. This time they were good eating size – not too big, not too small. I dug up another 2’ strip which yielded about 5 lbs of potatoes.

The media is unbelievably hypocritical. Listening and watching the adulation being heaped onto George Bush makes me want to throw up when I remember how brutal they were to him when he was President. I liked him because he would often be shown fishing for stripers and/or blues using the same kind of tackle I fished with.

Eatin’ good from the back yard

Thanksgiving was great – good company, good food, what more can you want. Tina picked and prepared a great food selection and it came together like a finely tuned machine. That event was followed on Sunday by a birthday party for Tommy Jr. He made it home from Chicago this year so we got to celebrate his event and Thanksgiving together – been quite a while since that occurred. He’ll be back again about mid December and we have a beach pub crawl planned.

The fall/winter bird migration has started as I’m looking out the window at a large flock of robins and another of the large woodpeckers. That unofficially hooks with the speckled perch season as does the several cold fronts that have moved in over the past couple of weeks. I’ve got to get up the gumption to give it a try. Usually George and I would have been hitting it early in November but I haven’t had the urge or the nudging from George.

I made the first pasta and greens for this season. I used kale and swiss chard, both just starting to put out a few decent size leaves. I probably could have added a collard leaf or two but will save that for next time. We’ll be full overload mode with greens by mid December. Nancy made cheese and green bean omelets for lunch so we’re definitely feeling the garden now. This year we have way more beans than eaters so consequently I’m picking them earlier while they’re small and tender. You can really tell the difference. We made a green bean salad for Thanksgiving which used 3 lbs of beans. Seemed to go over well. Beans are really tender relative to dealing with cold weather so I’m guessing that they’ll crash in the next couple of weeks.

Having our first serious cold tonight, Wed 11/28, with the F word (frost) popping up in the forecasts. I picked the last couple handfuls of green beans, the last zucchini, and a “ready to pick” green bell pepper then covered the pepper plants with a sheet and attempted to do the same with most of the tomatoes. I really suspect we won’t have any frost due to our lakeside location and the fact that the wind is coming off the lake but it’s not that much trouble covering up a few of the more sensitives. The beans are just about picked out so if they go, so be it. I can use the garden real estate.

First Smoothie of the Season

It’s crazy cold. Believe it or not, it’s 48 degrees and not even Thanksgiving yet. It’s nice and sunny but with a 20 mph wind from the north, it’s biting. I start to get nervous and jerky when it falls below 70 – especially during the daylight.

Chris is all moved into his new digs in Jersey. The move went like clockwork. He’s close to where he lived before so it’s all familiar. He got back from a conference in Miami, a few hours late, into the great snow disaster and drove over to see if his apt was ready for the furniture to be delivered first thing in the morning. Good to go and by 10 AM it was all delivered and fully functional. Then he got his car – a Jeep Cherokee for now which turns into a new Chevy Equinox in a month or so.

Milestone – made the first green smoothie of the season. The kale provided the “green”. The plants are now big enough to provide leaves for the rest of the season even if none of the other plants come through. By the end of the month I’ll be able to make the same statement relative to Swiss Chard. And the green beans are coming in goodly quantity so we can have them whenever we want. In addition to the ones we’re eating, I have a 3 pound bagful that is designated for a green bean – cranberry salad at Thanksgiving. I’m guessing there’d be enough for a green bean casserole as well but that would be a bit much. UPDATE – the green bean salad is made and ready for the big event tomorrow. It includes chopped walnuts and dried cranberries and a vinegar/oil based dressing. You can tell, I’m very invested in this salad since I’ve been with these beans from seed to salad. In parallel with making the salad, I’m making the whole berry cranberry sauce. I didn’t grow the cranberries but added a few pieces of back yard tangerine for the home touch – all this while Nancy is playing bridge in Crescent City.

Awhile back I mentioned Fish Bites as my new bait of choice for the surf. This week the surf was so roiled that I decided to take my act across the street to the Intracoastal. My rig has two smallish hooks and I decided to populate them with crab and clam for starts. There are loads of crabs in that particular body of water so I suspected that could work. Turns out that the clams were the ticket. As soon as I cast out into the channel, I’d get bites on the clam but nothing on the crab. I tried shrimp and sand fleas but the preferred bite was unquestionably clams.

Did my first “fixit” job since George passed. The wheel on the wheel barrel crashed and needed replacement. Seems simple enough but getting the old one off was trickier than I thought. Then the replacement tire was not quite the same size so I had to modify the shaft and cut the spacers to fit with my totally inadequate tools – so it looks a little weird but works. George is shaking his head and laughing.

Bird Attacks

I think I mentioned some time back that we had a problem with cardinals attacking the side view mirrors on any car that parked near our house. Nancy solved the problem by making mirror covers. Only the vehicles that were parked near the house were subjected to the bombings- no problem if parked under the carport. Now with only two cars, they are both normally parked in the carport but the problem has recurred although I don’t think it’s necessarily the same culprits. The size of the deposits lead me to believe they are buzzards or bald eagles. The ones last year clearly perched on the mirror so the mess was limited to the mirror surface itself. These guys target the whole side of the car with none attacking the mirror per se. I’m going to try hanging a towel over the drivers side window and see if that solves the problem.

By the end of the month we’ll be getting a goodly crop from the garden. We’ll be able to pick some kale leaves, chard leaves, lettuce, green beans and zucchini. A few green tomatoes and green bell peppers are visible and probably ready to start picking in December. Ditto the Chinese cabbage, collard greens, and spinach. By the end of December we’ll be providing greens to Nancy’s bridge buddies in Crescent City and Palm Coast. All of this assumes no crazy weather events.

But what about the sweet potatoes? A couple weeks back I reported digging up a foot or so of the 15’x3’ row and finding several immature tubers. I pulled enough that we threw them on the grill and they were certainly edible but decided to give the plants another couple of weeks. I decided to extend the digging/picking another foot on the row. In that foot I pulled about 10 potatoes that were still small but more than double the size of those last picked. My original thought was to pick the entire row when they were the right size but I’ve rethought that and decided to harvest them on a weekly basis, about a foot of the row each time. Should be that as I work my way down the row, the tubers will get bigger with each subsequent pull and the harvest will extend for a couple of months. I’m also thinking that I’ll buy a bag of onion sets and plant them in the row as the potatoes are pulled. That way they’ll mature on an extended time basis rather than all at once.

Here in Florida were trying to decide whether the election screw ups are due to incompetence or corruption. Personally I think it’s a bit of both – especially since we’ve seen the same problems before in the same places and with the same cast of characters. Personally I think we should restrict voting to only those who have lived here legally for 5 years minimum. Also keep all the amendments off the general election ballot and deal with them in a separate election. Most of them are nearly unreadable and confuse a large number of voters, especially those with a limited command of the English Language. They also make the ballots larger so the equipment is having to deal with a document size ballot instead of a simple, one page sheet or card. I think that would eliminate lots of machine failures.

Acupuncture

Nancy started a routine of acupuncture to try to soothe her aching back and sciatic. She hit’s it twice a week, Monday’s and Fridays, for a total of 6 treatments. How lucky for us that it is only about half a mile from her bridge games which also just happen to be on Mondays and Fridays. Monday is also now grocery shopping day. We have transitioned smoothly into a routine where I do the grocery shopping from a list on Monday while Nancy plays bridge. Grocery shopping was about our most contentious time with me being of the get it done and over school and Nancy being a browser, shopping for deals. I’m actually getting to where I know where things are in the Palm Coast store and can be in and out in under 20 minutes with no deli purchases or 30 minutes with. So my Monday’s are getting tight – acupuncture, Dunkin’ for lunch, surf fishing, Hooligans for a mid afternoon libation, Public for groceries, the library for posting the blog and returning and/or picking up new books, to the bridge club and then home to the lake. The big time variable is the surf fishing which is hard to predict due to surf conditions and the fish bite.

Sure glad to be back on Standard Time and hope they keep it this way year round. I’m a morning person and like to be out and about by 7AM, especially in the summer when it’s hot, hot, hot. With daylight savings time, it’s too dark to be out much before 8 so I’ve lost my most productive time. I don’t care when it get’s dark because by 6PM we’re pretty much locked into eating and then watching the tube. Who cares if it’s dark out.

I’m about 10 books into a series that was recommended to me on our North Carolina vacation in July. The surprise was that the recommender is Peggy, Mark’s mother – “little old lady, mid 80’s so I thought the books would not be something of interest to me and didn’t pursue it. But I was at the library a few weeks ago just scanning the shelves when I spotted a full row of C. J. Box books and recalled this was the author Peggy had raved about. I read the cover and was surprised to find out that the main character was a game warden in Wyoming and the story was interwoven with Wyoming locales and characters. I was lucky that the first book in the series just happened to be on the shelf so I decided to try it. Very fast read, very interesting action with lots of local lore; great characters, blood and guts and all the things I like. I’ve tried to read them in chronological order which is not always possible with the library as the source. Even using both the Volusia County and Flagler County systems, I have a couple of gaps. The stories do reflect back on previous events and characters so it helps to be in the right sequence. And it fits my Monday schedule detailed above. I know exactly where the Box books are and can be in and out with a new one in under 5 minutes if need be.

Next post will discuss the fla elections.