How to use a French Press to make coffee

Most of you are probably thinking, what kind of idiot doesn’t know how to use a French Press to make coffee. However, many of us grew up in homes with an electric coffee maker. Some of us even invested in an espresso maker with a milk frother when we were in college. However, I had never even heard of a French Press and had no idea how they worked until I went looking for a way to make coffee on the boat without electricity.

Therefore, we decided to shoot a little video during our regular Sunday morning brewing session to help spread the joy of the French Press to anyone else who may need their daily caffeine fix.

Hanging out at the Texas Renaissance Festival

For the past 41 years, people have been converging in costume in the woods near Plantersville, Texas. This year the Texas Renaissance Festival spans eight weekends, all themed, with only two left. November 21 -22 will be a Highland Fling, sure to attract plenty of kilts, and Thanksgiving weekend will be a Celtic Christmas, which probably means more kilts but with Santa hats.

After many weekends of terrible weather, we finally made it for the Barbarian Invasion. However, everyone in our group already had pirate costumes, so they went as pirates, not barbarians. (It’s totally ok to mix themes. No matter what the weekend you see quite a few ninjas, bronies, wizards and an occasional Doctor.

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This was our second year to camp, which is an experience in itself. The campground opens Fridays at noon, and by Saturday morning there are cars and tents jammed into every bit of open area around, so it helps to get there early and stake your claim. The camping fee is $25 per vehicle.

This year we were lucky that our friends Daniel and Shari made it early to snag us a nice flat spot on high ground, somewhat close, but not too close, to the port-a-potties.

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Mary made her own pirate costume by altering the cut of an old jacket from Goodwill and adding some lace trim and fringe adornments to the shoulders, pockets and cuffs.

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Every morning a cannon blast marks the opening of the fairgrounds, and everyone begins the trek to the park. Tickets are $29 for adults and $14 for children at the gate, but you can buy advance tickets at Walgreens for $24 and $12 respectively. However, kids get in free on Sundays.

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This year our friends Bryan and Lorraine had a new booth for Lorraine’s jewelry called Bits and Bobs.

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They’re easy to find. Just walk down towards the Royal Carousal and then look for Gandalf.

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My friend Leo was also there running the RBN fortune-telling tent in Sherwood Forest.

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Everyday around 11 a.m., there’s big parade. It’s a great chance to see all the performers and vendors from the different areas of the park.

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I have to admit, we didn’t sit through many shows this year. The puppeteers, comedians, jugglers and whip masters don’t really do much to update their material year to year, so if you saw the Ded Bob show in 2010, you’ve probably seen it in 2015. However, we did stop by the stadium to watch the jousting.

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We were in the German section of the crowd, and while our knight did have the best hair, he didn’t win the tournament.

Our friends are huge fans of the Pride of Bedlam, a pirate band, so we did stop into the Sea Devil tavern to try some mead and catch a few tunes. Turns out, mead pretty much tastes like honey. Should have seen that one coming.

The  second floor of the Barbarian Inn is a favorite place to people watch (and they have Karbach on tap). That’s where we met this guy who walks everywhere with a goblet on his head.

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We did notice some new art installations in the enchanted forest, and we discovered this great harp player.

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But I still couldn’t get Mary to do the bungee bounce.

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After a long day of walking, eating huge turkey legs, and maybe a little bit of drinking, we made our way back to the campground, but not before stopping to chat with these llamas for a bit.

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Saturday night we never made it to the bonfire. We just circled around our own fire pit and played music until I couldn’t stay awake to play music anymore.

I’m sure there are all kinds of activities and shows we never even knew to attend, so if you want to know more, visit the official web site at www.texrenfest.com

You can see our entire album of RenFest adventures over on our Facebook page.

SVI Journal: Day 9, the Voyage Home

Sunday morning arrived too soon. We were up early, moored on the west side of Isla Palominos, cleaning and packing. There were just a few local boats left rafted near the beach.IslaPalominos

Batubara was still moored near us, but Chateau du Mer had to move again due to the Jenneau’s proclivity for excessive swinging.

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Breakfast was a menagerie of all the leftover food. Mary’s meal planning method had turned out to be pretty accurate. As we finished up everything from fruit to bacon, she garnered another round of compliments on her cooking from all the teens.

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We had planned to be the first boat back to Puerto Del Rey, but we actually ended up being the last to leave Isla Palominos.

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It could have been that we made a bigger breakfast or we took more time cleaning, but I think we were actually just dragging our feet about casting off because none of our crew really wanted to go home. However, all good things must end, so we let our pirate flag fly one last time as we raised sails and headed for Puerto Rico.

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It was a short trip between Isla Palominos and Puerto del Rey. It seemed like we had only been sailing for a few minutes when it came into view.

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We had to reduce speed and motor very slowly through the marina while we waited for Batubara and Chateu du Mer to finish refueling and pick up their charter representatives.

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Then, it was finally our turn to pull into the fuel dock — the first time Caicu had been docked anywhere in a week.

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The Sail Caribe charter reps filled the tanks with diesel. Our grand total after a week of frivolous motoring and running the generator every night — $148.

One of the charter crew jumped on the boat with us and directed us to a slip. We finished packing our bags and emptied all the trash, but they had us just leave all unfinished food and beverages out for the cleaning crew. (I’m pretty sure free booze is the biggest perk of being on the cleaning crew.) After shore showers and a debriefing, Sail Caribe gave our captain his deposit back, and we all walked up to the restaurant to kill some time until our shuttles arrived to take us to the airport.

The restaurant was pretty empty, but just one round of beers for our table proved to take almost 30 minutes, so ordering food was out of the question. It seemed the staff didn’t move any faster on Sunday mornings than they did on Saturday nights.

By the time we got to the San Juan airport we were quite hungry, so we stopped into the Casa Avila restaurant, which turned out to be very disappointing and much too pricey.

Our flight home connected through Ft. Lauderdale, and it was packed with a bunch of rowdy tourists that had just gotten off a cruise ship. There was a lot of cutting in the boarding line and arguing over seats going on. Within minutes of boarding the woman on our row had some sort of altercation with the flight attendant who threatened to throw her off the plane. I then had to listen to her huff under her breath things like, “I’ll say what I want, she can’t throw me off!” for the next ten minutes.

Then a new situation arose when someone’s carry-on bag wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. The frustrated flight attendants finally called for attention and asked the owner of the bag to come take something out of it. The owner unzipped the bag and removed a large, dirty toaster oven, which the attendants then set into the overhead bin beside his bag. I guess sometimes you really need toast?

We finally left San Juan and made it to Ft. Lauderdale only to find storms on the east coast had delayed our flight back to Houston by more than an hour. Thankfully our flight did finally arrive, and we headed for Houston just as the sun was setting.

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As we made the late night drive home across Houston in the dark, we were already planning our next adventure.

SVI Journal: Day 6, Tortuga Bay, Culebrita and Ensenada Honda, Culebra

One of my goals this trip was to catch the perfect tropical sunrise — except I snored right through it Friday morning in Bahia de Almodovar. However, when I finally got up and made some coffee, the view still wasn’t bad.

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My first task of the morning was to shake out my camera bag to see if I had any other spare SD cards on hand. I lucked out and found an old 4GB card in one of the pockets, so I had both cameras back in use for at least a day.

The next task on my list was to pull up the cabin sole in the starboard ama to find the air-conditioner raw water strainer. After a few minutes of searching I located it under the floor of the front cabin and opened it up. I’d never seen a basket that full of seaweed.

I dumped it all overboard and gave the basket a rinse, then put it back together. The HI PS code cleared, and we had air-conditioning on the starboard side again.

We’d been getting low on fresh water and had considered buying some in Esperanza, but it was decided to just conserve until we stopped in Dewey. That meant no more showers, so Mary set the standard for cleanliness with her patented floating noodle hair washing method.

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I noticed while snorkeling that morning that the starfish, which had been scattered all over the sandy bottom of the bay the night before, had disappeared. No idea where they went. I had no idea starfish moved around that much. Someone suggested that maybe they buried themselves in the sand, but I didn’t know they did that either.

Mid-morning we finally fired up the diesels and made the short motor across to Culebrita. Both catamarans had no trouble negotiating the mouth of Tortuga Bay, but the crew on the Jenneau didn’t like the way the cross current was pushing them around, so they turned back and picked up a mooring ball on the west side of the island.

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Tortuga Bay was beautiful. The turquoise water lapped up against a white sand beach while a mix of charter vessels, cruising sailboats, and local motorboats bobbed around on moorings or at anchor beneath the ancient lighthouse up on the hill.

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It was only a matter of minutes before the first green sea turtle was spotted swimming past Caicu, so we all hopped in the water to say, hello.

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We encountered at least four different green sea turtles (it’s kind of hard to tell them apart) while in Tortuga Bay, as well as two different sting rays shuffling about on the sandy bottom.

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I probably snorkeled with the sting rays a bit too long because when I got back to the boat I saw that everyone had already gone to shore to make the hike up to the lighthouse. At first I thought, no big deal, I was planning to swim in anyway. Then I realized that they had also taken my dry bag to get their shoes ashore for the hike. And yes, I offered the use of my dry bag — but my shoes, my camera, my shirt, and my water bottle that I had been planning to take in the dry bag were all still sitting in my cabin.

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I sucked it up and swam to shore doing the sidestroke with my dive camera dangling from my wrist while holding my shoes up out of the water. That was a much longer swim than I had expected, but I did make it to shore with dry shoes. Plus, I got to guilt trip Mary about taking my bag and leaving me stranded for the rest of the trip, so it was worth it.

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Culebrita has several trails and beaches to explore, but you definitely need shoes to hike them. The brush is prickly and there’s no shortage of cacti.

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Small lizards were running everywhere through the brush and we stumbled across a family of goats on our way to the lighthouse. We also saw what looked like deer droppings, but we never saw any actual deer.

The path up to the Culebrita lighthouse presents a couple nice views of the harbors on the north and west sides of the island. We could see where Chateau du Mer finally picked up a mooring ball as well as our own boats back in Tortuga Bay.

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Construction of the lighthouse began in 1882 and it was first lit in 1886. It was one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the US until it was closed in 1975. Currently, the lighthouse is in need of some serious restoration.

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Many of the walls have collapsed, as have the spiral stairs leading up the tower. The area around the lighthouse is also littered with junk. It was definitely worth the hike up the hill to see it, but don’t get your hopes up for some sort of restored historic building that you can tour. However, the view from the ridge is amazing. (My apologies for looking so haggard, shirtless and squinty. Someone took my dry bag without packing my shirt or sunglasses or sunscreen or water!)

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We heard more goats along the trail while we hiked back down to Tortuga Bay, and some members of our group who had lingered back a bit by themselves actually ran across a free goat sex show. Can’t say I was sorry to have missed that because after the hike, stepping back into the cool water felt amazing.

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Mary and I put both our shoes back in the dry bag and left it with crewmates to come back on the dinghy, then we swam back to Caicu.

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After the snorkeling, the swims, and the hike, we were all starving, so Mary cooked up some tacos for lunch, which were immediately devoured.

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Then we did some more snorkeling around the boat with turtles. I also came across a little trunkfish.

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We’d heard one of the best places to find spiny lobster was the reef just around the corner from Tortuga Bay, so several of us loaded up in a dink to head there while another group decided to go hike a few more trails and to check out The Baths.

The reef on the northwest corner of Culebrita was truly fantastic.

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Up to that point it was the best one I’d ever seen. There was also some old ship wreckage mixed in that had become part of the reef.

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I was very curious as to whether or not there was still wine in that bottle.

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As we were oooohhing and awwwing at all the fish, a huge, gray C-130 flew low over Culebrita and circled three times before heading out into the Atlantic. We later learned that the Puerto Rican Air National Guard maintains an entire fleet of C-130s to patrol the area and rescue sinking ships.

After a bit more snorkeling, I finally stumbled across a spiny lobster.

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It doesn’t really translate in the photo, but this lobster was huge. I would estimate the antennae to be three feet long (each, not combined), and it would have taken both of my hands to go around the lobster’s body.

Not a single one of us had ever actually grabbed a lobster before, so there was a lot of floating and staring at it before someone actually gave it a try. Nobody actually managed to grab it, which was probably good since it was as tall or taller than the bucket we had brought to put it in.

Defeated by the monster lobster and still needing to head back to Culebra before sunset, we decided to call it a day.

Meanwhile, Mary and Jayne were soaking in The Baths, which turned out to be pristine tidal pools on the other side of the island.

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We all rendezvoused at the catamarans and headed out to find a mooring in Ensenada Honda, Culebra — billed as the best hurricane hole in the Caribbean.

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As we neared the town of Dewey and civilization, we found the type of boats changed. We actually came across these two flamboyant houseboats in one mooring field.

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We also saw a homebuilt Piver trimaran, a small Gemini cat, and one 25′ sailboat that didn’t even have a mast moored right along all the hard core cruiser sailboats. It seemed living on the water was the cheap alternative in Culebra.

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The mooring fields were full in Ensenada Honda, so motored inward towards the municipal building.

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I’d like to say we were pros at anchoring by now, but as I was lowering the anchor using the remote control, it stuck. It just kept letting out chain. I vigorously tapped the remote with no result and finally pressed the “up” button, which promptly popped the breaker of the windlass.

Now we were stuck with the anchor half out and possibly dragging. I grabbed a winch handle and started trying to psych myself up for the job of having to crank in all that chain by hand while Andy went searching for the breaker box.

Thankfully Andy was able to reset the breaker, I let out some more chain, and we stopped dragging. Andy tried to dive the anchor to make sure it was ok, but the water was so dark we couldn’t see anything.

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Meanwhile Batubara and Chateau du Mer had arrived and dropped anchor as well. The first wave of crew headed to town to buy more booze and to scout the restaurants. The wind had picked up and our crappy dinghy motor made getting out of the shallows and away from the dinghy dock a real fiasco, so there was quite a delay working that situation out and getting the stupid outboard running again before we could go pick up the rest of the crew. (When chartering, never settle for a crappy outboard.)

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Once we were finally all ashore we took a nice walk through the streets of Dewey. While Esperanza had island dogs wandering the streets, Dewey had friendly cats that followed us for a bit before going back to lounging.

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The outstanding night spot seemed to be the Dinghy Dock Restaurant.

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They had tables dockside with lights under the water, illuminating the huge tarpon circling the area, waiting for someone to throw dinner scraps into the water. There was also a fishing bat that would occasionally swoop through and grab things out of the water. The food was great, and it was a really cool atmosphere.

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By the time we finished dinner, I could barely hold my head up. It had been an incredibly fun, but an incredibly long day. We walked back to the dinghy, climbed aboard Caicu, and went straight to bed.

But here’s one more sea turtle picture from our afternoon at Culebrita just because sea turtles are awesome.

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Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri

Small towns take their 4th of July celebrations very seriously. Keokuk, Iowa actually upgraded the electrical system in their park to be able to run the rides in the traveling carnival that was in town. And while the deathtrap rides and the 2 p.m. Zumba demonstration at the pavilion sounded intriguing, we decided to make the drive to Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for the annual Tom Sawyer Days celebration.

We arrived just in time for the fence-painting contest. Boys dressed in their best Tom Sawyer costumes whitewashed small sections of picket fences as fast as they could while girls in bonnets judged the results. Anyone can participate — there’s even an over 30 class later in the day. Just watch out for the fire hose they use to wash down the whole area between rounds.

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After that we wandered over to the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament where very dedicated athletes sloshed around in knee-deep mud pits competing for the title.

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Of course, as we strolled Main Street Hannibal a handwritten sign that read “Craft  beer tasting, 12 samples for $10,” caught my eye. We each plucked down a Hamilton and got our official tasting cup and tickets.

Two larger breweries, Abita and Sierra Nevada were there, but there were also a dozen other local breweries featuring a menagerie of different types of beers.

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My only critique of the beer tasting was that the booths were run by local volunteers, not anyone from the actual breweries. Aside from a few laminated cards touting each beers flavor notes, there were no answers to critical questions like, “Why does your brewery make four different IPAs and what’s the big difference between them?”

Even with our questions unanswered we had a very nice time chatting with all of the beer tasting volunteers and due to some very generous pours, we weren’t able to get anywhere close to using all of our tickets.

No holiday is complete without some boating, so at 6 p.m. we wandered down to the Mark Twain Riverboat for the dinner cruise.

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Dinner was a bit pricey at $40 per person, and we paid the additional $25 to stay on the boat for fireworks after dinner, but how often do you get the chance to have dinner on a riverboat while taking in the scenery described in both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?

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Dinner was a one-trip buffet with a small desert served at the table. Beer, wine and mixed drinks in souvenir cups were available at a cash bar.

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Paying the extra to stay and watch the fireworks was definitely worth the price of admission. Chairs were set out for us on the top deck, and the captain held position right in front of Lover’s Leap, the lookout point where the fireworks were based.

Fireworks are best captured with a long exposure, which is next to impossible on a moving boat, but I snapped one shot just to prove we were there before settling in to enjoy the show.

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Hannibal was really hopping when we got back to shore with bands playing on several patios and on the roof of the Mark Twain Brewing Company. However, we had a two-hour drive back to Illinois, so we called it a night and headed home.

Incidentally, I had to brake for two different raccoons, a deer, and an owl before we made it back to Warsaw — making our small town 4th of July complete.

Summer Garden update

So now that summer is really in full swing here, I thought I would give you an update on our crop shifting. In the main garden the squash is really taking over everything, and the greens, while large, are coming to an end.  In fact right after this picture was taken we had to pull all the spinach as it was starting to flower.  The kale and collard greens are still going strong for now, and the carrots are not ready to be picked either you can barely see them under the squash on the right side.

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Not much change on the grape vine.  No grapes have ripened yet, and probably wont until fall.  We really could use more trellis, basically everywhere in the yard.  Garden02

On the other side of the yard to make room for more summer veggies I had to build another bed.  I didn’t expect that squash to get so huge and fill the other one.  Really overall everything got bigger than expected.  In the below garden I did 3 different tomato plants.  Then behind that two pepper plants.  Along the fence here I also did a row of sunflower seeds.  They are supposed to grow to 10ft and I’m hoping they keep our neighbors from looking over the fence, as well as providing a little bird seed. Garden03

Pretty much no progress on my little mandarin seeds I planted.  Maybe they will grow more in the summer?Garden04

This is all the spinach we had to harvest.  I ended up making 3 salads, and then freezing the rest.  All in all I’m happy to see it go, as I am super tired of picking it! Garden05

I’m looking forward to some different veggies this summer (tomatoes and peppers), and looking forward to saying goodbye to my greens.  I have really enjoyed having them, but it’s time for a change — one of the best things about gardening!

Out on the town in Port St. Joe

We didn’t spend all of our time in Florida on the beach. Each evening we made it back to the rental house just in time for sunset — and what spectacular sunsets they were.

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While the downside to our rental is that it wasn’t within walking distance of the beach, the upside is that it was just a few blocks from downtown Port St. Joe.

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We walked into town Friday night for dinner at Provisions, which came highly recommended by all the locals. I sampled the paella while Mary tried to seafood pasta. Both were exceptional.

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Afterwards we stopped by The Thirsty Goat, which seemed to be the center of Port St. Joe nightlife, for a cold brew and some live music.

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The Bo Spring Band played Friday night, and they were phenomenal.

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Saturday morning we tried both the Bin4Eleven coffee shop and the No Name Cafe, which are just a few doors down from each other on Reid Avenue. Both had very decent coffee, but the No Name Cafe was a bit more austere and half the price.

Then we took a stroll through all the art, decor, and antique shops. Despite all the interesting paintings, knick-knacks and dead starfish we saw, we only made one purchase all weekend. We bought Dixie Belle a new sailboat collar at Bow Wow Beach. She was quite excited to wear it when we got home.

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Saturday we picked up dinner from Joe Mama’s Wood Fired Pizza. Joe Mama’s is a chain in Florida, but we’d never heard of it. The restaurant was absolutely packed when I went in to pick up the order, but the pizza itself didn’t quite live up to expectations. The flavor wasn’t bad, but the crust was very soggy and floppy.

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Our rental was just across the street from the United Methodist Church, and Sunday morning we could hear the hymns floating over on the breeze. We made another trip into town for coffee and maybe some breakfast, only to find that aside from the gas station and fast food places, there is absolutely nothing open Sunday mornings in Port St. Joe. Since we had to drive back to Tallahassee anyway, we thought maybe we could stop in Apalachicola for breakfast, but we only found one place open there. Sunday morning breakfast was a bust. I guess when it comes to small town Florida, either be prepared to cook on Sunday mornings or head over to church for the free coffee.

A glimpse into my garden

So, Fred has convinced me that I need to share a little gardening blog with y’all.  Even though it is not sailing related, I realize the world of self-sustainability can bring the two together.

At our house I try to only plant useful plants. Three years ago I started with a small garden plot and two trellises which we placed on our fences. I’ll start by explaining that we just have a small suburban lot that is mostly covered in house, so we try to use as much of the available space as possible, while still leaving space for the dogs to play.

The first year of gardening we planted a miniature dwarf lime tree and grape vines on either fence. The lime tree survived almost three years but then was finally killed off by a year of several hard frosts. If I had that to do again I would have planted a more hearty Myer Lemon tree. On the fence trellises we planted concord grapes on one side, and niagra grapes on the other. The niagra died after being mowed off by the lawn crew, not once but twice. Our concord grapes have grown in nicely every year, but we’ve only had one bunch of grapes. This year I trimmed them way back and fertilized well. We’ll see how they do. The first leaves appeared this week.

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For our vegetable garden I like to start some seeds inside while some things I plant outdoors when it’s time. Here in Houston the season starts early, and it will be different everywhere so just go by temperatures. About two or three weeks before the last freeze I like to plant my tomato and pepper plants in little seed pods. You can get about 40 pods for $3. I just put them in little food tubs with no drain holes. I water them every other day or so and always drain the excess water into my house plants.

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I like to reuse any of these seed pods that don’t end up growing plants by planting random seeds from my food in them.  The most recent attempt was several mandarin orange seeds. Some are actually growing! When they get too big for their little seed things, if the weather is still not warm enough for them, I will move them to some small pots like you see above.  The black plastic pots you get when you buy plants are the perfect size for this. To move peppers outside it needs to be consistently warmer than 60 degrees, even at night. Tomatoes need temperatures higher than 50 degrees. However, while you are growing your seeds inside it’s a good time to start growing your greens outside.

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You can grow these when temperatures are above 25 degrees, and they grow fast, so don’t be afraid to start early. Some cold weather plants that I currently have growing are spinach, kale, collard greens, cauliflower, carrots, chives and onions.

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With the greens I stagger planting. I like to do about two rows at a time and plant maybe every week or two weeks depending on how much salad we can eat at a time. There are only two of us. This way you can have fresh salad all spring. The larger greens can also just be picked and left in the ground. Pick from the outside in, and for sure pick leaves that are blocking sun for other smaller plants first.

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When you have a lot of small plants in a clump like above, just randomly pick around trying to thin them out. I chop off the roots and throw all of my greens into a big strainer. That way I can rinse them all off at once when I get into the house.

My recycling routine also ties into my gardening routine. I like to keep all of my vegetable scraps and grow them into new plants.  I cut off the base of onions, set them out to dry, and then plant them in the garden wherever I have an empty spot.  Later on you cut the green shoots off that grow up, and divide the base. Each old onion cutting will give you two new onion plants. Also with celery you can take the base, trim off the outside layers, and put it in a bit of water. New celery shoots will begin to grow, and then you can just plant it in the garden with everything else. Sure, it’s a slow process, but who doesn’t want never-ending celery?

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The last section of my garden is where I keep my squash and cucumbers.  I like to grow these on a sort of table shaped trellis.  I pull the vines up through, and let the fruits grow hanging.  This keeps them from growing all over my garden.  It also helps with keeping the fruit from bruising, and keeping the bugs off of them, which is a huge problem for these vines.

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Well there you guys go — a small window into my gardening routine!

Can you identify this flower?

Mary and I came across this plant with very interesting pink and yellow flowers while taking a walk last weekend. We want to plant some at the house. Can any of our brilliant readers identify it for us?

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Meanwhile, Mary’s vegetable garden, which we planted on February 1 is doing very well. Looks like we’ll have plenty of fresh kale, spinach, peppers, carrots, onions, cucumbers, squash, cauliflower and tomatoes this year.

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We keep discussing how to combine gardening with boating, but there’s not much space on Gimme Shelter for tomato plants.