Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas

Bill, Brenda,
Jonathan, Nicole,
Anna, Charlotte 
and Shorty


Nicole - the lookout
Anna and Bill preparing to snorkel

Nicole and Anna - looking for manatees and dolphins

Princeton, NJ - And again the Pidgeon family invited me to come with them to the Florida Keys. Who would say no to that? Sunshine, good food and total happiness in Paradise for a week- the grand finale of a long summer. But, believe me, with the Pidgeons it’s not all tanning and manicures - expect great adventures! (And be prepared to freak out once or twice while everybody is wondering what you are so panicky about.) So, for example when you jump into the great Ocean from the boat somewhere in the middle of nowhere and you think they are joking when saying, “Beware of the sharks” …well they are not! Everybody who visits Florida every now and then and is more Pidgeony (~laid back) [1] than me is probably still wondering what I was anxious about. But let’s not forget that I come from a place far away (Germany for everybody who doesn’t remember) and sharks are an abstract concept of fear to us.
   Another experience of this type was when we stopped at an old lighthouse to go snorkeling (where Rick thought he had found something like an old cannon which was later attached to our boat and pulled after us…but that’s another story). Everybody was in the water, except for me, because I still have respect (~read: I still fear) for some sea creatures. So after some contemplation and imagining of the dangers, I finally decided to be a true Pidgeon - I jumped into the water and felt grandiose, almost hero like. But, of course, how could it be any different, there was a barracuda swimming about half a meter away from me looking at me. Me looking at him, him looking at me (To be perfectly honest he was probably just as scared as me but for my defense Nicole said that she saw him too and that he was HUGE.) In a split second I started paddling faster than ever before in my life. When I caught up with the others literally stuck to Mom’s back. Under water I realized that my bikini had decorative golden, glittering application. Really nice on the beach, not so much when swimming with barracudas. In wild panic I said to Mom. “MOM my bikini is SHINY!” She just looked at me with that oh-well-too-bad-look and said a sentence I will never forget, “Well, you can either take it off, or just live with it!” I decided to live with it.[2]
Dear Pidgeons: Thank you, again for a wonderful trip to the Florida Keys. It was amazing, but any time spent with you is truly a gift. I enjoy every second and cannot stop thanking that I was so lucky to get to know all of you!
[1] Ok, I like to think of myself as almost 100% Pidgeony.
[2] A good life philosophy

Bill - jumping into the great Ocean
Nicole returning after a jump into the deep, deep Ocean.

Christine snorkeling for something exciting!

 Rick - looking for adventure!


Anna rows for George Mason University in Fairfax, VA
Fairfax, VA - In my Family we go on a lot of road trips. If you’ve talked to my father for at least thirty seconds within the past few years you know that I’m rowing at George Mason University. This means I’m in a car or a van or on a bus a lot and you know what’s obnoxious? Blankets. Blankets suck. That’s why last year I begged for a Snuggie and Nicole blessed me with a deluxe version of one. 
   I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a cramped car on my way to God knows where and as soon as I’ve finally, finally gotten into a comfortable position gravity has reared it’s ugly head. The blanket slips off an inch of your leg but you don’t really mind; you can ignore it. Then another inch. Then another. Soon your whole left leg is exposed and freezing. This doesn’t happen with Snuggies. You arms are in the blanket instead of underneath it and they keep it in place the whole trip. 
   Another scenario. You’re on a bus and have ma  gically found a comfortable position with your blanket somewhat covering you when your phone rings. Or buzzes. Or sings or whatever obnoxious setting you have chosen for it. What do you do? You know you will never find this position again. I’ll tell you what I did before I had a Snuggie, I ignored it and went back to sleep. But maybe you are a little more obsessed with your phone than me and want to answer it. You have to take you arm out from underneath the warm confines of your blanket and reach for the blasted thing. It won’t be within reach of course and so, gasp; you are going to have to actually sit up. You may have been able to come back from the one arm reach but sitting up, rest in peace comfy position. This scenario also never happens with Snuggies because it has pockets. You’re phone buzzes, you slip your hand into your pocket that it was right next to anyway and you see what the phone says. You reply (or in my case, you don’t) you put the phone back in your pocket, and you go back to sleep. You find a comfortable position in the beginning of the trip and then you lay there and you fall asleep and it is wonderful. I recommend the deluxe edition from Costco because it’s extra fluffy.

Anna and Jonny with her barracuda


Virginia Beach, VA - Every Spring my brother Bill watches as groups of newly-hatched ducklings swim with their parents through the Lafayette River and its tributaries, from his house on the shore in Norfolk, Virginia.  This year he was sad to find one of the little ducks dead in his yard.  Rather than leave the poor creature’s body exposed to the elements or shoreline scavengers, he buried the bird in the area that would turn out to be his vegetable garden.  This year his tomatoes grew exceptionally fast and on July 4th he told me he’d found the most unusual tomato he’s seen.  Photos show the tomato shaped like a duck that grew in his garden.  Was his act of kindness recognized and honored by earth spirits?


Norfolk, VA - This year has been filled with adventure. One of my most favorite memories from the year came as a surprise one April afternoon when Dad and I were enjoying a beverage on the fort in the backyard. While Dad was off getting another beer, I heard a soft peeping noise coming from the ground. I looked down and saw a baby duck, not a week old, running towards Shorty’s house. I found myself yelling, “Dad, quick! There’s a chick in the yard!” I was terrified that Shorty would see the poor baby as a nice snack, but I was also afraid to pick it up. That fear passed quickly as “Peep” and I fell in love. 
   I went next door with Peep to show our neighbors, Jack and Duncan. We played with Peep, watched him follow us around the yard, and wondered what would become of him. Even Shorty loved our new friend. He gently picked Peep up in his mouth to show his affection. As dinnertime came near, we decided to let Peep go and try his best to survive on his own. Heartbroken, I put him in the river and sprinted to my house so that he would not be able to follow me. 
   Fifteen minutes later, Mom received a phone call with the number of an animal rescue team who could come pick Peep up. I went back outside to search for my baby. We found him, lost in the mud, about one hundred yards away. I looked at him and sighed, “Come on, Peep.” He immediately began running towards his mama and was in my hands seconds later. Peep slept between my arm and side for the next hour until animal rescue came to get him. 
   It is amazing how life can throw such random and wonderful dilemmas at you. A baby duck thought I was his mother. I will never forget my little Peep.

Nicole graduated from James Madison University in May.
She's currently working on her Masters at JMU.


Key West, FL - I come in between eleven and twelve, the trashcans are pulled from the sidewalks, the gate is closed and cleaned, through the kitchen window I notice several tickets hanging from the board.  Hispanic and non-Hispanic cooks have their heads down and execute the same dishes the same way they have been instructed.  I organize the reach in refrigerator and make sure all the refrigerators are COLD.  Inventory the food in the kitchen and dry storage and check the produce delivery against my order from last night, the strawberries and raspberries are plump and juicy, the bananas free of brown spots and the snow peas, sweet.
  The fish order arrives and the tuna is colored a deep dark red with no bloodline, the scallops smell sweet and Fish Busters (our fish monger) sent us some fresh Wahoo.  I sign for the orders and write the checks, make sure there are clean rags for the kitchen crew and make sure we have everything we need for the nights service.  I help the guys bang out whatever prep we need and start to organize a fun plate of food that will help make service go smoothly for a special that night.
   I take an hour break, grab some wonderful carne asada tacos from Bad Boy Burrito with Megan and go get ready for dinner service. When I return I notice one of the cooks, the hardest worker in the whole place, cleaning the lettuce the hard way, the stupid way, even though there’s a hundred other shortcuts he could take but won’t because it’s not the “right” way.  The special looks and tastes amazing, is ridiculously cheap, and makes my life on sauté a peach. Tickets come in fast enough to keep the kitchen busy but not so fast we loose focus on each dish.
   The kitchen closes. I grab some beers for the guys, check the fish and produce orders and help clean EVERYTHING.  On the bike ride home the wind is at my back and all the lights are green.
Note: that happens about twice a month, kinda like payday.  Merry Christmas All.


Norfolk, VA - I have been doing "Fish Camp" as part of Norfolk Collegiate’s summer program for four or five years. Jonathan and I started the first year with five kids and it has become a big splash. Last year Nicole and I had 13 young anglers. They range from about 9 to 14 years old and we all have a "reel" good time.
  For 5 days we take them to a different fishing pier each day and once we went out on a head boat for the day. The first few hours of the first day are insane. Everyone wants help at the same time, tie on hooks, cut bait, undo snags, cast, unhook fish, I have to go to the bathroom! Once most of the kids start doing things for themselves, it gets better. And thank God for my brother Richard. He volunteered as a helper several times and has been worth his weight in bloodworms.
Nicole, Bill and Richard with the fish camp kids from NCS
   The kids learn the names of all the fish they catch. They learn how to tell male from female sharks, rays, skates and blue crabs. Every fish caught is exciting and sometime blue crabs provide amazing entertainment scurrying around the pier. The largest fish caught so far has been a 35 lb. stingray. The smallest a one ounce sea bass. Stories about the days events dominate the dinner conversation at home for the week.
  The last day is bittersweet and there are always lots of hugs and thank-yous. They all shout a warm "Goodbye Uncle Richard" as we leave the pier for the last time.
  Send your kids to fish camp or better yet take them fishing yourselves. Be patient and have fun, even when someone decides it would be funny to put a minnow down someone else’s back. 


Charlie and Rick going for a sail in March

Bill and Brenda enjoying a day with the kids in August

Brenda with her favorite childhood tree
Norfolk, VA - Merry Christmas! We have spent a lot of time on the road this year.  Anna and I spent New Years in the Keys visiting with Jonathan and friends Rick and Christine. After kayaking and making fresh pasta, we headed to Key West. There’s no place crazier than Key West on New Year’s Eve.  Jonny caught a Hash Harrier and we watched the conch drop on top of Sloppy Joes. It was so much fun, Bill and Nicole are joining us this year to do it again.  March found Bill, Nicole, Charlie and myself back in the Keys - this time we learned how to catch shrimp at night.  You need a net, a flashlight, a bucket and apparently you don’t actually need to get into the water to catch the little suckers.  We didn’t quite realize this at first - Rick and Jonny were out there with wet suits on scooping them up.  Live and learn.  Guess where we were in August.  That’s right - the Keys.  Was it hot?  YES!  So we stayed in the water all day - snorkeling, swimming, fishing, lobstering.  We had Nicole’s graduation dinner at the Blackfin Bistro (Jonathan works there as a sous chef).  After an excellent meal, we took the pictures we used for our Christmas card this year.  I hope Jonny doesn’t get tired of seeing us, because we’re heading his way again soon.
Nicole and Charlie at Blackfin Bistro, Key West, FL
Anna, Charlotte and Jonny at Blackfin Bistro