“Rolling New Year Toast”…..

First, Happy New Year. Today is the last day for the kids to be here and I am hoping for a little more sunshine and less wind for our final pool time. Ah well, hot coffee and cocoa are to be had.

For our annual New Year’s Eve party, we invite a limited number of people because we don’t want anyone to drive far. The one set of friends lives about two miles away with only a few turns in between. The others are even closer. We also started a new tradition last year. We begin the party at 7:00 and at 9:00 we toast New Year’s in Brazil; at 10:00 in Argentina; at 11:00 St Croix, and midnight here, of course. That way if anyone wants to leave early, they have already raised a glass in toast. I wanted to include Iceland or Greenland, just because, but they’re too far ahead of us. It works well and by the same token, if someone wants to come later, we’ll have the festivities going until midnight.

Hubby had to work today and tomorrow, so there wasn’t much sleeping in although he did have a slightly later start. Granddaughter tried to stay awake last night, but did get a bit wired so she finally gave in and got into her nightgown. She did sleep in a bit this morning, too although not very late.

I am slowly recovering the house and one of the rules I have for the party is nice paper plates and high end disposable cutlery which includes no food that requires cutting so you don’t get into the issue of that. Even though there is still quite a bit to clean and rearrange, big garbage bags take care of much of it.

Closing again with Happy New Year and hope it is a good one for all.

Slight Delay…..

With our son continuing to dance Nutcrackers, the last of which is performed the weekend before Christmas, he and his family are exhausted by Christmas Day. That’s why we have them stay at home and bring them to Florida after. I’ll head to the airport soon since they were delayed for about 30 minutes with take-off. It will be Fort Lauderdale because I fly them Jet Blue and that airline doesn’t come into Miami. If you’ve never flown Jet Blue, I recommend them for a number of reasons. The main drawback is limited airports although they have expanded a good bit over the past few years. Initially, they did not fly out of National Airport in DC; only Dulles. Anyway, as I have mentioned in previous posts, Fort Lauderdale is about 20 minutes further north than Miami Airport, so it’s not too bad unless of course there’s an especially snarled traffic issue. The return trip today will be slow, even though better than when schools are in session.

We’ll have dinner at home tonight with one of the neighbors coming over and get everyone settled in. The “toy cabinet” for granddaughter will no doubt soon result in stuff scattered all over the floor. I only added a couple of things since last year because she won’t remember what was there before. We’ll go through it in case she feels like there’s a toy she’s outgrown. I think we can hold her off from wanting to get into the pool since it will be dark not long after we get home. At least the forecast is calling for the temperatures to stay in the low 80s. That makes pool time tolerable. Unfortunately, the vacuum system is broken and Hubby hasn’t had time to get someone out to check it. We’ll make a game of cleaning out the leaves.

Apparently, there is also a desire to see a baby alligator and I imagine we can make that happen without too much trouble.

Something Slightly Different…..

For reasons that aren’t important, we will be taking the turkey as the “second meat” to our friends’ house for Christmas dinner. Although we often fry the turkey, it is a bit of a production and then you do have all that oil to deal with after. That leads us to the option of roasting. We did smoke it one year, but that really does take a long time. Hubby is a big fan of Alton Brown and using a brine for the bird is something he strongly recommends. Once again though, you have a  large quantity of liquid to deal with after the fact. (It does help that the gallons of brine liquid aren’t boiling hot.)

So, when we were in Georgia for Thanksgiving and Hubby’s cousin said she had used a dry brine this time, he was intrigued. The turkey was excellent and we are giving it a try. It’s a two-part process of mixing the kosher salt, sugar, pepper, etc., together to completely cover the bird, but placing it on a wire rack on a baking sheet uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. Part two is to place an apple into the cavity, mix unsalted butter with more herbs and spices and rub that mixture all over the turkey before roasting at 350 degrees.

Tonight we will be making a modified version of “siete potencias”; a seafood stew traditional in Puerto Rico and other places as the Christmas Eve meal. The origin is apparently African although I’ve never really checked into that. There are of course regional variations and we have done the full seven-ingredient version. With only the two of us though that makes for a lot of stew and it doesn’t keep for more than a few days. Since the kids don’t arrive until Dec 28th, it’s just easier to have less leftovers as I’m stocking the refrigerator for what we’ll have with them.

 

Finally (Maybe)….

First, I do not have a photo to back up my claim, but that’s difficult to do. Here’s the thing. Aside from the fact we’ve neglected our back yard as I previously posted, until recently we did have three different blooming climbing vines the butterflies enjoy. What we haven’t had is hummingbirds. A nearby neighborhood has plenty of them and quite some time ago when we expressed our puzzlement, someone told us it has to do with territory. Allegedly, if hummingbirds leave an area, it will be around ten years before they return. The neighborhood we’re in was constructed about twelve years ago and construction actively continued into 2006. That meant noise, dirt, etc., and limited landscaping depending on who was doing what with their yards. The public area foliage is mostly non-flowering shrubs and different palms for the sake of practical upkeep.

On Monday, I was looking out in the back yard and saw a flick of color. I thought at first I’d seen a large butterfly and opened the door for a better view. And yes, there it was – a hummingbird flitted from the flowering plants to the left over to what had been blooms of our climbing vines. He then went on his way. I had mixed feelings of excitement and of, “Okay, if I go get a feeder, will he come back or will we have been found lacking in attraction?” It was worth a try and the spot where he had been searching was perfect for two reasons. First, it’s the center of the yard where we have the fountain and where we will replant. Second, it’s the spot where we have the shortest line of sight when standing inside. I got the feeder set up and Hubby was at work. He wasn’t going to be home until nearly dark and besides, maybe the hummingbird wouldn’t come back. Yet Tuesday morning, there he was even if Hubby had already left. It wasn’t for long, but it counted. On Wed, Hubby got to see him too, and he came back in the afternoon as well as the morning, and I saw him yesterday. Will we finally have our regularly visiting hummingbird? We shall see.

As The Tree Waited…..

There are odd things that happen occasionally and this is one. The lapse of the past few days in me posting isn’t so much odd as it is having way too many overlapping obligations with all the regular stuff and holiday events thrown in. Anyway, Hubby went and got the tree early because he was concerned there might a shortage. It turns out that wasn’t a problem in this area, but we also like to get a certain size tree and they can sometimes run out of the ideal for us. So, we were all set and got the tree stand out of the garage. Everything was fine except we have one of the stands that has the three prongs you extend out to “bite” into the trunk and stabilize the tree. For whatever reason, things just wouldn’t align this time and the poor tree kept listing. Let us just say there were multiple attempts and then it seemed prudent to let it sit for a while. Then there were some unexpected classes to be taught and before you know it, more than a week elapsed as the green tree sat with no decorations. Hubby also remembered we usually swap the position of the one table with all the marine sculptures with where the tree was and if we did that, it might help. That was sort of correct. We finally made the decision it was close enough and it is stable if not entirely upright. He was able to get the lights all strung yesterday and the rest of the decorations will go on probably tomorrow night as we have an event this evening after both having very full days today. In other words, there is likely to be a low energy level by the time we get home.

However, wreaths are up, Poinsettias are outside and the little tabletop Cajun Christmas tree is in place. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we don’t do much in the way of gift-giving from a “put things under the tree” perspective. That’s particularly true this year as Hubby very much needed a new grill and that most assuredly doesn’t fit in the room. I suppose once he assembles it, we could take a photo and nestle that into the branches.

We keep our decorations up until after Three Kings Day, 6 January

A Bit Chilly, But Worth It……

My schedule has not been compatible with my intent to dive once a month, so despite the temperature being less than I cared for yesterday, I did make it out. I think I’ve mentioned before that diving here in the December through February months is relative. The water cools down to around 70 as it starts the Nov decline at about 78 degrees. When you dive, you have a variety of options for wetsuits. Some people do choose to dive without them, but I prefer to have even the thin layer of a “skin” which is my summer choice. As the name implies, it is quite thin, but does provide a bit of protection in the event of a small stinging thing floating about. Next is a 1mm wetsuit, then it goes up to maybe 8mm for colder water. You can also add on a hood, vest, etc.,. There are “drysuits” that I have also mentioned and those are for cold water or extended deep diving. There’s actually a tropical weight drysuit a number of people here (to include Hubby) have because as I have also mentioned before, locals don’t like the water temperature below 75. Divers who come in from places like New England, the Great Lakes or Europe find that amusing as they consider such conditions to be “balmy”.

Anyway, the surface temperature dropped a bit lower yesterday than predicted, the sun wasn’t very strong and the breeze did pick up. All that combined to make it less than comfortable with what I was wearing. I do admit when I made the decision to dive in my 1mm suit, it was questionable. As I said when I came up, “It wasn’t quite a mistake, but the season for 1 mm is over.” Visibility wasn’t great, although again, at 40 feet, this is terrific for people who dive in places where they’re lucky to have 20 feet.

I didn’t see too many of the “big things” we all enjoy even though I did find one large green moray eel and a little yellow ray. There were lots of fish, to include my angels which I always enjoy. There was also a spotted drum. More of an adult than in this photo. As an adult, the coloration remains about the same and the “plume-like” fin decreases in size .

Juvenile Spotted Drum

You Never Quite Know….

In the course of writing for our weekly community paper, I’ve run across some people who’ve done some remarkable things “back in their day”. As time passes, their accomplishments are certainly dimmed, if not forgotten. In a case like this, it was something not locally known. The full article I wrote is here: http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/eedition/page-a/page_95874306-7dde-54f3-841a-d10e560a297f.html

One of the guys on active duty reached out to the newspaper publisher to tell him about Joyce Kutsch, one of two women to be the first to go through U.S. Army Airborne training in 1973. That was during the initial phases of closing out the Women’s Army Corps (as well as the other women’s services) and integrating women into the regular services. Jump school, as it is commonly referred to, has never been easy. Yes, people who sky dive for fun can go out and get a quick lesson, especially if they’re planning a tandem jump of jumping together with a professional. Military jumping is quite different and in Joyce’s case even more so. She was to go to jump school because it was a prerequisite to being a parachute rigger. This was one of the male-only fields (except for necessity during WW II) opened to women in 1973. While the specialty does mean packing parachutes for soldiers, it also involves packing for equipment drops; everything from pallets of supplies to vehicles. Try figuring out how to rig a 5-ton truck for a drop and you get the idea of skill required.
In addition to being a rigger, Joyce was assigned to Fort Bragg in support of the 82d Airborne Division and finding a more testosterone-filled unit would be difficult. Like many “inadvertent pioneers” at the time, Joyce wasn’t looking to make history, but she and the other women weren’t going to let skepticism and derision nor the intense physicality of the training/follow-on duties stop them.
Despite forging the way for other women, Joyce didn’t stay for a career and she wound up here and has been a postal carrier for more than twenty years. Interviewing her was a delight and we’ll be staying in touch.

 

Our Poor Backyard…..

A few years ago when we remodeled the public part of downstairs, we also had two exterior  improvement done. In front, we  received permission to expand the driveway a little to accommodate one extra car. Parking in a gated community is an on-going source of frustration although admittedly, nothing as bad as urban setting. Anyway, one of the first things we did as we waited for the plans on the major pieces was to have a local landscaper come in for the back yard. The guy we use for normal upkeep is good and we’ve been with him for years. Designing and bringing in a team to re-do a yard in one day is not something he can handle. We stuck with the basic concept we had except the landscaper added a wonderful “green island” on one side and cleaned up four trees that were really messy, She also planted two other tall, slender ones that were perfect for our size yard. We even managed to keep up with everything for a while. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the way plants grow around here is amazing and that means good as well as “super weeds” and requiring constant trimming. It simply doesn’t take long for things to get out of control. I’m not talking “jungle”, yet definitely ragged. Despite how much Hubby does, the amount of work we still need to do is a bit daunting and the climbing blossoming vines we’ve had seem to have finally run their course. We did sustain some damage to our fence last year in Hurricane Irma and haven’t had anyone come in yet. The reason is because there was a high demand for fence repair for months and we wanted to let the “rush” get over with.

I’m setting up an appointment with a fence guy and if Hubby agrees, my inclination is to go ahead and tear away the old vines so the fence repair can be done with less interference. After the fence is taken care of I’ll call the landscaper again and acknowledge our neglect. The only good part is the design she did is still good; it basically needs to be refreshed. I also want to talk to her about extra native butterfly attracting plants.

Inflatable Decorations…….

Notwithstanding Hubby’s occasional “Bah humbug” about those who decorate extensively for the holidays, I do tend to be a bit torn about all the inflatables. As I have explained in previous posts, our decision to remain in South Florida meant saying good-bye to the dream house we would have had in either Louisiana or Mississippi had we moved as once intended. Part of the dream house would have been adequate space to store seasonal decorations. I never planned to have like mounds of things, but definitely more than we have now. Anyway, the inflatable items do make sense from a storage space perspective. It’s the sight of the poor things in their deflated state on lawns that always makes me wonder if it’s puzzling to young children. Since granddaughter wasn’t old enough last trip to discuss such things perhaps this year she can express it from her point of view. On the other hand, maybe young children don’t even notice if Santa and the reindeer are flattened out during part of the day.

We did get the Christmas tree a week early this year with the concerns of shortages, but for the first time, we’re having difficulties in getting the clamps in the stand to keep it properly aligned. Hubby will work on that and we’ll do the decorating later. We went with the six-foot size which is what we like and that pretty much causes me to focus mostly on the marine/tropical decorations we gathered or been given over the years. I will try to toss out some of the older items we simply never use anymore. I must admit the Nutcracker wreath didn’t get moved into storage after the holidays so he’s still up on the stairway.

 

The Lack of Lettuce…..

I have to admit a nation-wide (or maybe it’s global at this point) ban on romaine lettuce was not something I anticipated. As much havoc as it is causing in our personal shopping, I feel terrible for restaurants who have moved away from ice berg lettuce in favor of romaine as being more upscale and popular. There are many who do the “classic wedge” though so I guess that works if they can get adequate supply. It appears that field greens and of course spinach are safe, but again, romaine does tend to be a greater percentage of the trade. This brought to mind our time in Desert Shield/Desert Storm when fresh vegetables simply weren’t available. We did get some fresh fruit such as apples, oranges and tangerines, and figs (which I don’t eat). There was also fruit juice. Lettuce was simply too perishable and in the huge quantities of food needed for military rations, the big cans of vegetables are what are used. The Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) as rations have some vegetables in items like Chicken A La King or Beef Stew, but at the time, that was about it. I know they’ve done a number of changes with the menu since then so there may be more options.

Anyway, when we did finally return to Germany, it was mid-May so the growing season was in full swing. That meant no shortage of lettuce and for at least a while it was strawberry season. Their strawberries are always delicious and especially so that summer. I’ve always loved the white radishes although at the time I was not a fan of white asparagus. There were naturally other culinary items we’d missed such as the wonderful pastries and we caught up on those as quickly as we could. Not surprisingly good German beer and wine were in the liquid category.