Peppers p-p-Planted

I have finally started my pepper seeds. Three years ago I bought one “Lemon Drop” pepper plant and got a great crop from it, more peppers than I had ever grown on one plant before. The next year I bought a plant labeled “Lemon Drop”, but it turned out to be some other variety, mislabeled. Last year I bought seeds and started my own Lemon Drop seedlings, heck, I bought a windowsill heating mat so the peppers would have nice warm soil to start in, and the rabbits ate all of those pepper plants before they produced. I’m trying again. I also have Serrano pepper seeds starting; so, a total of thirty peat pots of seeds planted, 10 Aji Limo (that’s the Lemon Drop) from Scheeper’s seeds, 10 Serrano from Scheepers, and 10 Hidalgo Serrano from Fedco.

I didn’t do much else constructive today except make a lot of progress on the statistics project (we have graphs! but the data needs some more crunching, to get statistics on a percent of population rather than absolute basis), cook supper, and bake another Passover cake mix.

We walked up the hill across the street and around the Andover-Newton Theological School campus. The crocus field behind the president’s house is still there, but the flowers are past their prime.

It’s also important that this evening was the start of my mom’s first yahrtzeit, the anniversary of her death according to the Hebrew calendar. It’s appropriate to go to synagogue and recite a memorial prayer, which we did as a zoom service. There were over thirty people on the zoom, because it was also the first yahrtzeit of Bernie Rubin, the Bernie of Bernie and Phyl’s furniture. A lot of his grandchildren and other family were there for that occasion. We’re not sure what his relationship to the synagogue was — when we reviewed his obit it said he lived a few towns away — but it seemed to be significant.

Horn Pond Trip

We walked around Horn Pond today! It’s the first time we’ve been there in several years, but more importantly, the farthest we’ve been from home since the last time we came back from Casco, which was probably in October.

Horn Pond is in Woburn, three towns away from here, an urban wild area that we’ve been birding in since we lived in Cambridge. There is a lot of wetland there with varied habitat. It’s particularly good for ducks in the fall.

We had already seen a lot of turtles (not the first for the year, but close)

…Coots, a water bird that we haven’t seen in a while, chickadees up close — someone seems to be feeding the birds at Horn Pond and left a handful of sunflower seed on the stump just off the trail on the left below; there were two chickadees going in and out of the hole in the top of the broken tree on the right. Maybe they’re digging out a bigger hole to nest in, maybe there are bugs to eat in there…

…a swan that looked as if it was sitting on a nest

Then someone asked us if we had seen the owl. We hadn’t. He said, “there’s someone photographing it, just past that shack (it was really more of a birdwatching blind) — he’ll point it out to you.” And so it was!

See it? It looks as though the tree broke years ago and a branch became the new leader. Just above the break, in front of the newer part of trunk is the owl. Don’t see it yet? here —

As barred owls go, it wasn’t hard to see; but we wouldn’t have found it by ourselves.

Snow Peas are in

I planted my snow peas today. It was a sunny day with temperature around fifty, but very windy. It took me a while until I decided that it wasn’t going to get nicer and I ought to get on with the planting. I put in four double rows of snow peas (some netting for them to climb on goes between the two rows of each pair), one double row of each of four varieties. That gives me a longer picking season, as some of them produce a bit earlier than the others — or a lot earlier, if I were to believe the seed packets. Starting with the side closest to the house, the varieties are as follows:

Little snow pea from John Scheepers

Avalanche pea pods from John Scheepers

Blizzard snow peas from Fedco

Green Beauty snow peas from Fedco

I think I’ve grown all these varieties before. Any of them fresh from the garden is far better than anything from the supermarket, but except for the Green Beauty these are much smaller pods than supermarket snow peas, so they take more work to prepare (snap off the stems). The “Little” variety is little and significantly earlier than the others, but keeps producing until the others come in. It all depends on the weather. If we get lots of April showers and some cool drizzly days in May I can end up with a snow pea jungle by the time the pea crop comes in.

I cut a fallen pine branch and sharpened the ends to make stakes to stretch a string for marking garden rows, and noticed the tiny drops of pine sap oozing out

I spent a big big fraction of the day working on my program for displaying statistics for COVID vaccinations. The program is “oh so close” to being able to graph the stuff I want. That usually means about a week away, even though it feels as though I should have it done tomorrow.

Zoom second Seder

I stocked up on Passover cake mixes so I would have something to snack on this week, and sure enough, today I made one of the cakes, a Manischewitz extra moist chocolate cake mix. It’s remarkably good. Of course I would never choose a Passover cake mix for any of the rest of the year (unless it’s marked way down after the holiday, which is worth keeping an eye out for) but this would be acceptable when it’s not Passover.

I made mushroom omelets for breakfast, which is so much a part of our Sunday morning routine for the past couple of years, not just the pandemic year, that I will probably not mention it in subsequent posts. In the summer, when we have fresh herbs from our garden, I am apt to substitute “scrambled eggs with garden green stuff”, but we have been ordering baby Bella mushrooms for omelets every week since we started with Imperfect Foodsand some fancier mushrooms, like Shiitake or Oyster mushrooms, to use in stir fries most weeks for the past couple of months.

Ari called me on Face Time this morning. Sometimes when he does that he doesn’t pay any attention to the call and I wonder what the point is, but today he was talking the whole time telling me what he was building with magnetic tiles, what shapes he could make with them, how there was a tunnel for Lego cars to go through in what he was building, and on and on.

We didn’t really do the first half of the Seder tonight, but I at least reviewed the section that describes a bunch of the ancient rabbis trying to outdo each other in describing how many plagues there really were in Egypt before the exodus. Of course the Bible says ten. What about at the Red Sea? One rabbi figured there were fifty plagues there, because the Egyptian magicians told Pharoh that the ten plagues was the finger of God, and later the miracle at the Red Sea is described as the hand of God — so ten plagues in Egypt, fifty at the Red Sea. Then another rabbi says, “don’t forget the verse that says ‘He sent forth against them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation and trouble, a band of evil angels.’ Wrath, indignation, trouble, band of evil angels — each of those fifty was really four, making 200 total.” A third rabbi says, “You counted wrong, you left out ‘the fierceness of his anger’, it should really be 250 total.” After close to 2000 years, it’s impossible to know whether they were serious or the four glasses of wine at the Seder played some part in some friendly one-upsmanship. Anyway, I think that’s a fun section of the Haggadah that’s left out of the modern more meaningful editions.

We did have an extended zoom session after supper with Arlene’s siblings, one of her older cousins-once-removed, and her aunt Lee to sing some of the long songs at the end of the Haggadah and reminisce about family seders of long ago

First Seder of Second Zoom Passover

It was the first evening of Passover and this was the second year when Passover was done by Zoom. It’s a lot easier to clean up, but that doesn’t really make up for not having a big group get together. Charley and Patsy hosted, because Patsy has a zoom account through work that can stay going for longer than hour at a time. Present for various parts of the time were their family in Belmont MA, Anne and Matt in Cambridge MA, David and Rachel from Southboro MA, Patsy’s parents in Palo Alto CA, Arlene’s brother and his wife in NJ, their son’s family in FL, Arlene’s sister & some of her family in NJ, Arlene’s aunt in Grand Island NY, and us in Newton.

I made something like Yemenite Charoset; by now I don’t feel that I need to follow a recipe particularly carefully so long as I get the general idea and can justify the spice mixture. I also made kneidlach, but started late and didn’t have much schmaltz; so I wasn’t at all sure how they would turn out without the normal intermediate refrigeration step. They held together much better than my normal ones and had a good texture; I think having a bigger proportion of egg to everything else made up for the things I expected to be problems.

Meanwhile, on my Shiny project, I found an R function “gather” that did just what I wanted for the data file; however, I’m still doing something wrong because I’m not seeing the numbers I expect.

Yesterday I tried printing a dried plant that was still standing in my garden when I turned it over a day before. It worked well enough to be worth working more on that paper, but I did not get the detail of the dried flowers that I was hoping for. I think a big problem was that the ink I used, the stamp indexing ink that works great for that purpose, is very thick and sticky and I tore up the plant in rolling the ink over it. But that doesn’t explain the lack of detail in the flowers that survived the inking.

Working on statistics

I also watched a few you tube videos about grafting apple trees. Maybe it will work! My vegetable patch is now all turned over; a bit more raking and it will be ready for planting snow peas.

Near the beginning of the pandemic I started working on a web site to look at some of the statistics about it. It’s The “Shiny” part is the hosting service; that’s a framework for building interactive statistics programs, and it kept me busy thinking I could still do programming if I worked hard enough at it. Right now the statistics are pretty much obsolete, but I’d like to add a display of how vaccination rates compare between states. The raw numbers for each day are available from the CDC; it’s a question of crunching the numbers and displaying them. I spent a lot of today working on it, and I’ll post the URL again when I have updated the online app to show anything new.

I recorded all the remaining bits of the euphonium part to Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide for SymBa. What we’re doing this year, since we can’t meet together in person, is everyone recording their own part individually in GarageBand (if they have a Mac or Apple device powerful enough to run GarageBand effectively) or Audacity, editing their recording so it synchronizes with a reference track, and sending the recording to the director. The director then puts the individual tracks all together, makes any necessary adjustments to them, and does the mixing. For this spring session we have been working on twenty or so measures per week. I have a lot of editing left to do on this section.

Spaded garden

I turned over more of my vegetable plot today. It’s about 3/4 ready to plant with snow peas, of which I think I have four varieties. I’ll say more (which varieties are in which rows, for instance) when I plant ’em, which could be as early as tomorrow but probably won’t. The dark area in the picture is not a pit, just soil that’s not covered with dry leaf litter and grass thatch.

View from bathroom window

I don’t think there was much else to report for the day, except for a walk up the hill across the street (the trail starts at the Bowen parking lot driveway), through the Hebrew College parking lot, through the Andover Newton Thological School’s president’s house’s garden, and back down the hill. The president’s backyard is coming up in profusely blooming naturalized crocuses!

Back to Cold Spring

A couple of weeks ago we set out to walk around Cold Spring Park. It’s just two miles from here, and probably less than a mile around, and sometimes has good birds. We gave up on that walk because there was an icy spot at a hilly part of the trail. It’s been warm enough recently that we were pretty confident the trail would be OK. In fact, the start of the trail seemed better than ever — it looked as though a mini-steamroller had been over it to smooth and pack it down. Better yet, there was a kinglet on a tree near the start. We had left binoculars home and didn’t get to see which kind of kinglet it was, but it was a good bird for the season.

tree cut up by park department
This pine tree must have fallen recently
patch of snowdrops
these snowdrops were probably planted before this area was a park
skunk cabbage
a sign of spring!

I patched a chipped ceramic bowl yesterday. There was a shard left over that I couldn’t fit in; I thought I knew where it went, but didn’t figure that out until I had glued another piece into place, and then realized that the leftover piece needed to go on first.

The soil is warm and dry enough to dig — so seeds that are “sow as early as the soil can be worked” can go in. I dug up maybe 20% of my vegetable patch, and will put snow peas in soon.

We defrosted the refrigerator, and found two frozen persimmons in the freezer compartment. We got three persimmons from Imperfect Foods over the summer, and weren’t sure how to tell if they were ripe or what to do with them. Something online suggested freezing them and eating like sorbet, so we froze two. Tonight we let these two defrost partially and tried them. I think I like the sorbet texture better than the plain persimmon texture, but I haven’t become a persimmon lover.

icy persimmon

Lumber Yard trip

I went out to National Lumber today — another BIG DEAL “emerging from the pandemic” thing — and got two 2x4s to support our cellar stairs, a clear pine 1×6 6 feet long — the guy actually said he gave me a 7 footer because that’s what he had, and at clear pine prices that was a great deal — to cut up to mount some stamps from Fred Mullett, a carbon monoxide detector to replace one that had reached end-of-life in our cellar, and a bolt to replace the broken locking bolt on our back door. The (formerly) locking bolt was installed by the previous owner of our house with one-way screws, so replacing it had not been an option until about a week ago when I got to work with a file and filed away enough of the one-way screws that I was able to remove them with a needle-nosed pliers. Granted, the replacement bolt is less secure than the locking bolt had been when it locked, but just as secure as the broken, no-longer-locking one, and will be more convenient to use.

Birthday Party for Anne

We went over to Charley’s backyard for a birthday party for Anne. Everyone missed proper birthday parties during the pandemic year. We did have something for family in that backyard for the grandkids, but since no school friends were there, I’ll stick with saying “not proper parties.” Today Arlene called in an order for sushi at Otake in Highlands (that was the first time we’ve ordered takeout since the start of the pandemic) and I baked dessert. Well, I baked a cake yesterday and baked a blueberry pie and frosted the cake today. It all worked fine! We cut a slice of cake for Anne, put candles in it, and set it in front of her, away from the remaining cake, so she could blow out the candles without blowing on everyone else’s cake.

I thought that was a picture of the cake, but I decided there was too much blank canvas at the top, so I added some more flowers and some vines holding them together

And here’s the slice with candles to be blown out: