Monday, June 30, 2008

Midnight Gardening & Cherry Farming

This is my favorite time of the year. It usually means more work for me, but I really enjoy the warm weather. I can even put up with the negative aspects of the season (i.e., bugs, sweat, storms) because the positive aspects (i.e., flora, fauna) far outweigh them. Also, I think that the longer hours of sunlight have a direct impact on my soul. I am far happier this time of the year.

With our busy soccer, basketball, & baseball schedules, our yard was completely neglected this Spring. This was compounded by the fact that our lawn tractor was in the shop for 6 weeks! Luckily, we have the greatest neighbors in the world, who allowed us to borrow their mower. [thanks, Sunderlands!] However, there were times when our yard looked pretty shabby. Anyway, each June-July I have about a 4 week respite from soccer. So, I try to do a little yard work each night after work.

The other night, the weather was nearly perfect. Temps were in the low 70's, with low humidity, and with a mild breeze blowing from the west. It was so nice, I just kept working into the night. Michele and I had agreed that we should move some of the existing bushes and hydrangeas, so without much thought to the plan, I just started digging. The reasons for working so late were many. But mainly, it was just too nice to come inside, and the results of the transplanting were looking really good. Around midnight, as I was putting the finishing touches on the last bush, I heard a loud flapping sound by my left ear. Thinking it was a bat, I turned quickly, only to find a peach colored moth fluttering near the lights I had placed under the trees on the patio. It eventually landed on my shoe...and wouldn't leave! I tried shaking my foot, but the moth stuck like glue. I tried to pull him off, but he had a death grip on my shoe. Finally, I just took my shoe off and finished working in my bare feet.

The next night, I decided to do a little cherry-picking. In 1997, Mom & Dad Keller gave us two dwarf cherry trees as presents for our 10th wedding anniversary. We planted the small trees alongside the path to our back patio. For the past 11 years, the trees have provided us with enough cherries for a few pies from each growing season. Ian and Nathan adopted the trees when they were very little. Therefore, they each have their own tree. Ian's tree is a little taller, but Nathan's tree is just as prolific.... fittingly. As the cherries ripen, we place nets around the trees to protect them from the birds. However, this does NOT protect them from the chipmunks. Needless to say, we have some mighty fat chipmunks scampering around the back yard.

2008 has proven to be the best season ever for our little cherry farm. As I write this, we still have over one-third of the fruit left to pick on the trees. Yet, we have packed over 32 cups of pitted cherries. This is already enough for eight pies!

Ian "volunteered" to help pick & pit the cherries this year.

Doesn't he look happy to help?

When I asked him to look a little more enthusiastic, this is the reaction I got - smart a** teenagers.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

She Sells Sea Shells

It's been two weeks since our return from the beach... and I miss it. We had such a great time. These vacations really do bring our family closer together.

Michele spent a lot of time in the water this trip. She and Ian are the sea shell hunters in the family. For years they have hunted the elusive Junonia shell, but haven't been lucky enough to find one. However, they do always seem to be able to bring home pounds of other really cool shells (tulips, conchs, whelks, kitten's paws, nutmegs, etc.). Nathan usually snorkels to find his treasures. The big finds were sea urchins and starfish, but we couldn't keep them... they were alive.

Since we typically spend the entire day at the beach, we bring a lot of STUFF. The boys were [finally] a big help this year, as we had to carry chairs, umbrellas, beach bags, coolers, fishing gear, bait boxes, skim boards, and rafts to our spot on the beach. However, lugging our stuff didn't seem so bad, because the path to the beach was so beautiful.

A full day at the beach can sometimes cause some uncomfort-able conditions. We know this from experience. Some of these issues include: sand and/or small shells in your butt crack, bug bites, sunscreen slime, and that "fishy" smell. This year, we were lucky to have use of the 'Tween Waters Inn pool and showers. Around midday we would hike across the street, shower, take a cooling dip in the the pool, and have some refreshing "boat drinks"....ahh.

On our last night at the beach, Michele and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. The boys stayed at the condo, and Michele and I were able to go on a "date" - just the two of us. We had dinner at Biddle's, a restaurant near the Sanibel Causeway. We ordered entirely from the appetizer menu. Sashimi tuna, scallops, stuffed shrimp....yummo [yeah, I watch Rachael Ray]. The restaurant was decorated in what Michele described as "Tommy Bahamas". However, I thought it more resembled Rick's Cafe Americain from the movie Casablanca. They had live music...a husband and wife team who played everything from Motown to 1930's swing. They were actually quite good and got most everyone out on the dance floor. Sitting near us was a couple who had to be in their 90's. They got up and boogied often. I hope that Michele and I are still around and able to enjoy nights like that when we are their age. The whole night was romantic...and perfect. Just for the record, this ranks as my favorite anniversary date with my beautiful wife.

This trip started with a very conscious effort on my part to de-stress. As Jimmy Buffet sang, "changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes." For eight wonderful days there was no stress: mission accomplished. Now, I can only rely on memories until the next time we head to a beach. Until then, this is the mental image [from the Sanibel Causeway] I am choosing to use as the desktop background in my brain:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Beaches, Manatees, & Finicky Fish

This month, it was time for a much needed Keller family vacation. It took only a brief discussion for us to all agree that we should again return to the Ft. Myers, Sanibel, Captiva Island, Florida area.

The beautiful water, skies, and wildlife keep us coming back each year. Our family is very much one that prefers to have a relaxing vacation. This means that we typically try to find the most deserted beaches, stake our claim at the water's edge, and just chill for the entire day. To some, this may sound boring, or even anti-social. However, some of my fondest memories are those spent with my little family, on various beaches, looking at skies like this. This year's vacation provided even more fond memories....

My family travels well. For me, this is a great compliment. There is not much in this life that can stress out a human being more than driving for 18 hours. In fact, the kids started the trip by each offering their impersonations of me driving. That was a humbling experience...but very funny nonetheless. I made a strong attempt to make this a stress-free drive. Yet, the kids have it made, regardless of what is happening with the front seat occupants of the car. In the back seat you would find video games, movies, books, magazines, snacks, candy, drinks, pillows, blankets, etc. To make the drive bearable, we split it into two days. This enabled us to spend an evening with the Pieracini's in Griffin, GA. Michelle and Andrew have such a wonderful home and family! We spent hours talking with them, but we wished we'd had more time to spend. We can't wait until we see them again...and the new addition to the family. Michelle Pieracini is expecting another boy in August! We hope that their family enjoys as many fun moments with their boys as we have with ours. Thanks for letting us stay with y'all !!

Once we arrived in Florida, it was time to determine what we should do. There was very little debate. We headed to Captiva Island, which is literally the end of the road when heading west from Ft. Myers. We ended up on the beach in front of the 'Tween Waters Inn. That's near the bottom right of the photo. It was here that we had one of our most memorable experiences: Manatees. The water in the gulf was as calm and clear as I had ever seen it. Due to this, we could see every fish, sea shell, and animal in the water. While I was fishing near the shore, Ian, Nathan and Michele saw a large dark shape moving along the sandbar. Most of the people in the water ran screaming toward the beach, away from the dark object. My family ran into the water toward it. Their reward was seeing a manatee in the wild from about 5 yards away. However, about two hours later, the manatee came back. This time, Ian and Michele were on a mission to get even closer. They had to wade out over 100 yards from shore in order to meet up with the manatee. Ian made it a little further than Michele did. The 800-900 lb. manatee swam right up to him, so Ian reached out and petted it! What makes this story even better is knowing that Michele's mom and her husband had the same experience, on the same beach, back in May. Other wildlife moments on this beach included swimming within 10 feet of a mother dolphin and her baby, seeing a 10 foot manta ray jump clear out of the water, and finding a live sea urchin.

Possibly due to the fact that it was so clear and calm, Ian and Michele spent more time in the water than usual. However, Nathan is a fish and is always in the water. I was able to do quite a bit of fishing each day. I caught some nice fish (ladyfish, pompano, trout, sailcat), but I was really after the 3 foot snook which I could see swimming around me. They were swimming in packs of 10-20, chasing the small mullet and pinfish schools which were hanging around near shore and tickling our toes. I used live shrimp and pinfish for bait. Nathan and Ian even caught some real nice bait fish with their nets. However, the snook just sniffed my bait and swam on. I know this because I could see them in the water. It seemed as though I could have caught them with my bare hands! A fisherman just 75 yards down the beach was snagging the snook with a fly rod...I bet he caught a dozen of them. At that point, I wished Drew Hebdon was there with me. He would have loved it. Michele, Ian and Nathan tried their luck, too. The snook just didn't like our bait....darn it.