May 24

Do you know what parados means?

Rainy again, today, and just barely into the 60s. And at least four or five more days of the same. It has been, on balance, a wonderful way to experience … let me just check the calendar here … May.

At this point it’s just funny, really. I’m not even sure, as I type these letters into the word box, what the ideal weather would be, or if it matters. I don’t have to wear a heavy coat or stay under a blanket or shovel anything, and there’s no dangerous storm bearing down on me, so any manner of weather is fine, I suppose.

We’ve got a sign on the front porch, and it says “Hello, Summer!” It is prepared for the somewhat plausible eventuality.

I went for a bike ride this evening. First one in weeks. First there was work, and then there was grading and then I spent all my time visiting with family. So, it was nice to get outside, and nice to have another restart to riding. (This is the way it always works: stops and starts.)

It was cool at first. Almost chilly, even. And then the rain started. I just rode around a few neighborhoods for an hour to wake up my legs and practice clearing the rain droplets from my glasses.

You don’t always appreciate the small skills in life. There’s an art to taking off your glasses, banging them against your person, shaking them at arm’s reach and then trying to put them back on your face. It’s nothing, really, but you must do it every so often because the things you do while riding a bike aren’t always just like riding a bike.

Here’s the thing. It’s the height of style to make sure the arms of your glasses are worn outside the straps of your helmet. This is easy when you have standard, rigid glasses. Place, then slide. But since it was late and gray and raining, I did not wear my usual glasses, but, instead, I was wearing a pair of clear lenses.

They’re actually safety glasses, just about the cheapest pair you can buy at a box store. I probably wouldn’t wear them when real eye safety was a concern, but I picked them up for working under a kitchen counter. If all you must do is keep rust and things from falling into your eyeballs, they were worth the six bucks. But I’d wear something a bit thicker if things were flying with more speed than gravity or had more heft than crumbs of ruined metal. They are terribly, wonderfully lightweight, which, when the repair job was done, made me think I could use them for bike rides. Sometimes you don’t want dark lenses, but you do want to keep bugs or rain out of your eyes. So clear lenses! And these, again, were cheap. And lightweight!

Also, the arms of the glasses are basically the cheapest, most flexible bits of rubber the 20th century ever devised. And they don’t easily go over the outside of the helmet straps. So, for a time, I was riding and breaking one of the important rules. Yes, it’s in the rules.

Rule 37 // The arms of the eyewear shall always be placed over the helmet straps. No exceptions.
This is for various reasons that may or may not matter; it’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. We do it anyway.

Let us, one last time, return to California. This is my last video from our trip in March. If stretching things out two months seems excessive, it is!

I made this video for our friends’ daughter. She loves all the fish in my SCUBA diving videos, and she asked, specifically, if we found Nemo in the Gulf of Mexico when we were diving off Cozumel and Quintana Roo. I did not find Nemo there. I found Nemo, instead, in central California.


I’m hoping this video will make her smile.

I’ll let you know.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 35th installment, and the 63rd and 64th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. I’m grouping them together because there’s not a lot to say about this particular set.

So, we’ll return to our tour of Fort Mott, where we have recently we saw the old gun batteries and then the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond.

In its day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community featuring more than 30 buildings here, including a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more.

Here’s a not-bad map that’ll give you some idea of the layout. The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Just above that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. Let’s look behind them. Note the blue bit in the map.

That’s the moat. The engineers had the idea that while the big weapons were defending against vessels sailing up the river, they needed to protect themselves from anyone sneaking up behind them.

On one side of the fort is the river. Since it sits, essentially, at a point on the shoreline, the river also shields another side. Still a third side looks protected by thick wooded terrain and narrow creeks. That one direction opposite the moat is about the only approach an enemy would have, though it is difficult to imagine how anyone could get there to begin with. So we need a moat, and a parados.

The workers dug, by hand, 200,000 tons of sand, soil, and rock. Apparently $1.25 in 1897 is worth less than 48 bucks in 2024 money.

That doesn’t strike me as a lot for moving 10,000 pounds of earth a day.

The parados (Spanish for rear door) is the earthen hill adjacent to the gun battery. It serve as a shield against gunfire from the rear. Construction of the moat and parados at Fort Mott began in 1897 and took over two years to complete.

The earth used to build the parados came from digging the moat; 44,500 cubic yards of earth, over 200,000 tons, was moved with grapples, wheelbarrows, and shovels. The work was grueling. Each man was expected to move nearly five tons of earth daily for a wage of $1.25.

The moat was constructed by hand using shovels and wheelbarrows. Mules were used to help move soil and shape the parados.

The parados originally reflected the “mirror image” of the moat. This feature provided a substantial obstacle to help thwart the advance of an enemy force attempting to capture the main gate line, as well as protect the gun crews from enemy artillery fire.

Here are some of the still standing and preserved barracks the soldiers lived in, just behind the gun emplacements.

I’m pretty sure this window unit was standard gear at the beginning of the 20th century.

An important part of their creature comforts …

Two latrines were built within the parados for soldiers assigned to the gun batteries. The bathrooms each had several toilets for enlisted men, a private stall for officers and a large cast-iron urinal.

Toilets were similar to our modern flush toilets, except that the plumbing took the waste directly to the moat and not to a septic system. Since the moat was tidal and controlled by a sluice gate, the sewage was flushed out into the Delaware River with each tidal change. In addition to the practical necessity of the latrines, this system also served as part of an overall defense strategy: any enemy who tried to cross the moat first had to get through the sewage.

First … eww.

Second … also ewwww.

Thirdly, what if this one engineering choice prevented any invasion plans anyone was considering in the early 20th century. Suppose some Spaniards or Canadians came down, saw that and realized they couldn’t get their men to sneak through a stinky sewer moat to capture a fort so their ships could sail up the river.

Also, the insects out there are pretty intense, too. Not only would you have to wade through that moat, you’d have all sorts of insect bites.

Finally, the state put these signs in. The state needs to update them.

Made obsolete when nearby Fort Salsbury opened just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

More tomorrow. Another bike ride! And maybe some other things, too!

May 24

First you make it, then bake it, then you eat it, and do it again

I decided to go for a run today. It was, I figured, too gray and chilled and wet to ride my bike for the first time in forever. So I may as well try my first run in forever.

Just at the bottom of the driveway I received a text from my lovely bride. She was trying to figure out dinner, and did I have any ideas. I thought and I thought, standing there by the road feeling quite silly about the whole thing, and then said, “What about a ziti? And then we can have several dinners planned out.”

We run a menu calendar for dinners at home, and that’s my job. Every so often, I take all of our regular meals, there are about 90 of them, put them in a randomized order and then load them to the calendar. I might be behind on it just now. That would mean we have to make up ideas, and that means I get that question a lot, and I don’t always have great answers. But ziti, I figured, gives us leftovers, and that means I won’t get that question tomorrow.

You’re playing checkers, I’m playing Parisses squares.

That answer was agreeable, so I set off on my run. Four-tenths of a mile later, I got another text. Could I check on the supply of ricotta at home, and also the sauce. So I turned around and ran back. No ricotta, no sauce. And then I set off on my run again.

I was sure to run extra fast, so that I could get in the run, such as it was, before any more requests came in.

It was a short run, I still beat her home.

The rose bushes, we have about nine of them, are all flourishing. Well, eight of them. One is potted, and I have given up on that quitter. But just look at these others.

And they smell soft and delightful, like a nice tea bathed in an old perfume. Whatever that means.

It’s funny, all of these just stayed outside, in the ground, all winter and we did nothing at all to them and now they’re in full bloom. The potted one I brought inside, put under a grow light and watered and misted all winter. It’s barely hanging on.

Maybe it’s the soil, or the pot, or me.

Let’s now return to the Re-Listening project. This has become an irregular feature, which explains why I am behind just now. The Re-Listening project, though, takes place in the car. I am playing all of my old CDs, in the order that I acquired them. I am writing about them here, sporadically, to add a little content. Also, we can play some music. And, sometimes, there are some memories. These aren’t reviews, because none of us care about that, but it might otherwise be fun.

And so we go back to 2004, so that we can revisit 2003’s “Some Devil” by Dave Matthews. I think I got this from a library sale, or someone burned it for me. It was a solo release, and the tone is a bit different than DMB’s signature style. I don’t remember this, but Wikipedia tells me fans were skeptical of the solo release, but it nevertheless debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. It took Outkast’s diamond-certified Speakerboxxx/The Love Below to keep it from the top spot.

“Gravedigger” hit 35 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 and on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. It won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Not bad for an almost “Eleanor Rigby” story. The album went platinum. It is, to me, a mostly forgettable record? Which is to say I never really attached any meaning to it.

I like this one.

And here’s the title track, which does indeed sound different from what you’d expect of 1990s DMB.

The incomparable Tim Reynolds and Trey Anastasio, and a host of other talented people are on the album. And the whole thing is just the sort of thing I can put on and ignore. There’s nothing wrong with that. It seems like I’m always on the search for just that sort of thing. But I’m mystified as to why this never made a bigger impression on me — and why it still doesn’t. That probably says more about me than the ones and zeros encoded on the disc.

Also, as of this writing, it is the last Dave Matthews CD I ever picked up. I guess I just had enough of the catalog to serve my needs.

Dave Matthews Band, of course, is touring this summer. I saw them a few times before concerts got outrageously priced. It was them, I am convinced, that started that trend. It looks like you’d pay $200 a pop for balcony seats at one of their shows near us this summer. That’s become my biggest Dave memory, sadly.

Anyway, time for dinner. The first ziti of the week.

(Ha! She made two casserole dishes. We might not have to decide dinner until Saturday!)

May 24

One paragraph of weather, 900+ words on everything else

It was a damp and chilly and otherwise gray and rainy day here today. It also sprinkled. And moisture just simply hung in the air, like we were looking out over a moor. And it was also grey and dreary and it drizzled and it was cold. Furthermore, it was dank and slippery and nothing in the distance, such as it was, looked appealing. The clouds, not content to just pass lazily by, ground to a halt, and then lowered themselves upon all of us. It was the sort of day you might best address with hot tea and a horror story. Ridiculous for the second week of May, but ideal for sitting around and taking it easy. And, anyway, the pest control people were due between noon and 4 p.m.

He arrived at 4:35.

So it was good, then, that it was a day for blankets, because if we’d sat around and did nothing on a beautiful day waiting on that guy to show up and wave his high pressure sprayer around … that would have been a real … buzzkill.

Anyway, he got some spiders and ants and wasps. We will see if I should remain skeptical.

But while we visited away the afternoon, my mother had some serious cuddles with the cats. I realized that I inherited the “an animal is sleeping on me, and thus I can’t move a muscle in fear of disturbing the creature” thing from her.

Poe took a lot of naps.

We watched King Richard. It was OK. Two or three great scenes where you wonder if they were real, dramatized or Disneyfied. Probably a movie about Venus and Serena Williams, specifically, would be more engaging, but Will Smith can’t play those parts yet. AI can’t do everything, you.

We also watched the first episode, of three, of the new documentary on the Boston Marathon bombing.

I was driving to campus one fine, sunny Monday when those bombs exploded at the finish line in Boston. And I remember listening to the Boston et al scanners online in my campus office later in the week, and wishing people would stop trying to “report” from what they heard on scanners.

Scanners are endlessly fascinating. I grew up listening to them. For my entire childhood my grandparents had one sitting in the living room and it was either on, or I’d turn it on. But that’s where the sausage is being made in the first responder’s world, and that doesn’t at all make it valuable information for a regular audience, particularly in the most stressful circumstances, like, say, a vicious gunfight after a week-long manhunt.

That, too, was fascinating to hear, in an intense and morbid way, but that doesn’t always merit continually commentary from everyone else.

Anyway, the documentary is in three parts, and they’ve got a substantial handful of the key law enforcement types as prominent interview subjects. They are all speaking pretty candidly, which is delightful. The documentary will have to at least touch on the online sleuthing for suspects, but they surely won’t spend a lot of time there. I bet they won’t talk about the scanners at all. I bet David Ortiz makes it into the documentary.

They did not talk about the best part of the whole horrible experience, the one detail I’ll always shoehorn into a conversation about that particular story, and the part I hope to never forget.

NBC Sports reported people crossed the finish line and kept on running, running to Massachusetts General Hospital, where they donated blood for victims.

That’s just the most beautiful damn thing.

Then, so many others were moved to donate blood that Mass General and the Red Cross temporarily stopped accepting blood donations.

Regular people, working in the interest of helping other regular people. That’s why the bad guys can’t win. We won’t let them.

Out in the backyard, the black cherry (Prunus serotina) is flowering nicely. And, if you would, I’d just like you to stop for one brief moment here and contemplate the focal plane of this photograph.

This is how it worked. Our sellers left us a list of all of the wonderful growing trees here. It’s terrific, really. And on that list, it simply said “Cherry trees.” They were very helpful in many ways, the sellers, but I think a little map would have been fun. It would have eliminated some mystery.

But the discovery is the fun, you say! And you are right! And we are still discovering things!

Late last summer I figured out which of the two trees were the cherry trees. That sounds ridiculous, it’s not like we have 400 acres here or anything, but these particular trees don’t look like how I remember, or envision, cherry trees. These are big. Then one day late last season I had this great idea: look for trees with fruits growing on them.


So there are the two cherry trees out back. Tall as can be. I thought they were chokecherry trees, but then I began reading about that species and these two guys are much bigger than those. So I’ve now decided they must be black cherry trees. To be fair to me, according to what I’ve just read, the two species are related.

See? Still discovering things. (And I love that part.)

I’ll try to eat more of them this year.

Speaking of eating, for dinner tonight we went to a local Indian restaurant. This is a new-to-us place, but well regarded, and widely so. It sits in an old bank light to look like a new age church and people come from far and wide to try the food. Indeed, when someone who’s been around here a long time asks where we moved, and we tell them, they ask us if we’ve been there yet.

And now, having gone, I’m quite disappointed it took us almost a year to go.

This was so good.

I had the lamb biryani.

The menu describes it as “Fragrant basmati rice are layered with a spicy and delicious Lamb curry made of succulent chunks of lamb leg to make this classic flavorful rice entree.” That’s enough for two meals, easily. And so that’s dinner tomorrow, and I’m sure it will be even better in that way that the best spiced dishes often are.

My lovely bride and my mother each tried different chicken dishes, pronounced them both incredible, and we were all quite pleased. Especially since the guy said “We only do reservations on the weekend, but come right this way.”

Every plate that passed by looked intriguing. Most of the things on the menu was calling out to me. We’ll be back there, and probably quite soon.

Have a great weekend! We’re going to do something this weekend we’ve never done before!

May 24

Those dance steps

Today, the final scores finally tabulated, everything cross-referenced and cross-checked. My spreadsheets agree, and my final grades were finally submitted. It’s a nice feeling.

We celebrated by going to …

Cafe Mezzanotte was our dinner selection, just a few blocks from our ultimate destination in Wilmington. I had the hot dog. Actually the fettuccini alla panna. It was quite tasty. I’d go back there, even if we did lower the average age of the the restaurant by a solid 30 years.

The big fun of the night were two historic Motown acts guaranteed to make you smile.

There’s still a surviving member of the original Four Tops, though Duke Fakir stopped touring in 2022 — at 86 or so. Otis Williams is the last surviving, and still performing, member of The Temptations. He’s a spry 82. They’re essentially legacy acts at this point, and they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Mostly legacy acts, anyway. The Temps put out a new record in 2022, “Temptations 60.” It celebrates the 60th anniversary of the group. I believe that was their 43rd album. Two singles were released came of it, numbers 108 and 109 in their long and storied history. One of them a collaboration with the equally timeless Smokey Robinson. They sang that one tonight, but without Robinson. It’s a good tune. My mother bought the CD. I’ll probably pick it up one day, too.

We only knew about this show because I saw it in the theatre’s program from another event last year. I’m glad we were able to make this work. It was a lovely evening.

May 24

Hold the plantain, and the worms

I saw an unusual thing while I was running around yesterday — I do that on rare occasions, and yesterday I took the garbage to the inconvenience center and then took a long way back home — something that reminded me of an almost 20-year-old joke.

There was a little place a little ways off of a quiet interstate exit. That exit, itself, was headed to nowhere in particular. You don’t get off at that exit unless you wanted to drive through the woods for another half hour or so to get to the small place you were going. You had to drive a mile or two from the freeway just to get to this old rusty, dusty gas station. It looked like an elongated trailer. It was one of those places that tried to be all things to whomever was doing without in the area. The two nearest communities have less than 800 people between them, and that dirty old gas station probably saw them all with great frequency.

What those people saw, when they drove up, was a gas station advertising tanning beds and live bait.

Some guys I worked with, that had that interstate exit on their commute, discovered it. They named it the Bait ‘n’ Tan.

That came to mind yesterday because as I was headed back home, and back to the grading, the endless grading, I chose a route that took me by a new restaurant. Once upon a time, it was a store that sold the local ice cream.

The ice creamer’s creamery plant — presumably The Plant, but I’m still trying to figure out the details — and it’s main store are near our house. The creamery is closed, though the brand still exists, somewhat. There are lately some goings on at the plant, which is showing its years and neglect. Apparently that building has new owners, but no one is clear yet on precisely what the plan is. That’s not terribly important.

Instead, we’re focusing on this other little storefront, about eight miles away as the crow flies. It has been closed since we’ve been here, but most recently it seems to have been operated as a convenience store and small pizza shop. Last fall there was a marquee sign out front. If I remember correctly, the sign promised a Mexican restaurant coming soon. Each time I rode by it on my bicycle — it is on a regular bike route, but not necessarily a direction I need to drive that often — I would take a glimpse to see if it was open. Finally, the last time I pedaled by, I noticed a blinking sign in the window.

I was having a good ride the day I noticed that, and I didn’t see anything else, so I figured I’d stop by another time. Well, friends, because there was grading to work through, and the weather yesterday was so lovely, that was the time.

The old ice cream sign is still out front, but there’s a smaller sign on the building giving the name of the new restaurant. My internet searching suggests the new place is a Caribbean restaurant. Now, it’s a bit out of the way, and almost everything around here is locally owned, and that’s delightful, and I feel the need to support those local efforts. Also, I love Caribbean food.

And, then, I saw it. In the far corner of the small parking lot.

Restaurant. Live Bait.

I sent that as a text to one of those guys. He replied instantly, “Oh my goodness. You might look down the road for another option. Like a sandwich from a gas station.”

I emailed it to the other guy. He wrote back, “It’s funny the things people want to pair live bait with. I think I’d rather get my bait where I tan than where I eat. But that’s me.”

Turns out the convenience store had stayed in one family for 30 years or so, but it went on the market last summer, just as we were unpacking. And now, it’s a specialty restaurant, and bait supplier.

I can’t wait to try it. The food, I mean. And just the food.

Today, after a substantial chunk of grading, the endless grading, I took a walk through the backyard. Look what’s blooming today!

And just around the corner, the grape vines are starting off strong.

This year, maybe we’ll get to the grapes before the birds and bugs.

Inside, more grading, and then more grading. And when I stepped back out this evening to water the vegetable seedlings, I took a moment to admire this part of the path, and the new solar lights my lovey bride installed last week.

We might cover the joint in solar lights before we’re done.

That might also happen before the grading is completed, as well.

After today, I have just one set of assignments and two sets of final exams to mark.

Here’s a nice distraction for whatever your Thursday has offered. These are a few more specimens of the beautiful bloody belly jellies. And, if you missed them the last time they were here, they are all about light, the absence of it, in fact. The combs are providing us with a bit of light diffraction, but there are no spotlights where these creatures live. Red looks black even just below the surface of the water, and in the deep sea, where the bloody-belly comb jelly lives below 1,000 feet in the North Pacific, it is dark.

These beautiful jellies, then, hide in plain sight. The combs are providing us with a bit of light diffraction. Predators and prey never see those incredible colors.


Technically, they are ctenophores, meaning that they are not true jellies, but the name is sticking, even though it is a new one. This species were first collected off San Diego in 1979 and described in just 2001.

These beautiful ctenophores will show up here one more time, next week. Tomorrow, we’ll return to the 1920s. And I’ll also be grading.