Archive for the 'Life Before Iowa' Category

Very slightly delayed gratification

Right as I was leaving work yesterday, I started getting increasingly urgent messages from my friend and former roommate, Susan. She needed my number. She needed to call me. She thought she had my number, but somehow she did not. When she actually sent me a message via Twitter, I knew something serious was going on.

This is about when I noticed that I had a voicemail from Susan, who had apparently found my number. The serious thing, as I found out shortly thereafter, was a question popped, a ring delivered.

It seems that Susan and her fiancé, Don, went out to Roosevelt Island, which is smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River between D.C. and Arlington, Virginia on Friday, and after a picnic, he asked her to marry him.

But Genie, this is a gardening blog, you may be thinking. And even if you have just moved and may be awfully discombobulated, why are you telling us about the social milestones of your friends? Aren’t there plants to talk about?

Why yes, good people of the Interwebs. There are plants to talk about, and if you’d just hold on, I’d get to that part of the story.

As I was saying, the engagement happened Friday. But here’s the thing. It would have happened sooner, before Susan went on an extended set of business trips to Chicago and Ecuador, but for one tiny detail.

The day Don was originally planning to ask Susan to marry him, she beat him to the question punch. She asked him if he’d dig her a garden bed.

“Oh my God,’ I said to Susan on the phone. “A whole bed?”

“Yes,” she said. “Which meant he had to dig up all the grass.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I remember what a huge pain that process was. And how long it took. And I was actually helping. A little. Anyway, by the time Don finished, it was too late, that day, to take Susan to the island, and so he held off until there was time for an unhurried moment of surprise.

But now Susan and Don have a garden AND a wedding to plan. “And every time we eat our vegetables, we’ll think about how this all happened,” she said to me last night.

I can’t think of a better reason to delay something…even something so happy. To Susan and Don, I wish you smooth wedding planning, incredible veggies out of that garden, and as much happiness as you both can stand. Can’t wait for the Key West blowout!

Springtime in Washington

When I ran into Prairie Robin at the Winter Gardening Fair back in February, we had no choice but to discuss the weather, which inevitably led to a discussion of the ever-so-far-away spring. Prairie Robin is another transplant from the D.C. area to Iowa, and so it came as no surprise to me when she sighed, “I really miss all the flowering trees in the spring.”

I knew what she meant, immediately. Iowa has prairie beauty, but D.C. and its dogwoods and cherry trees and magnolias? D.C. in the spring cannot be beaten.

And those of you who knew me when I lived there and, therefore, remember me with my inevitable allergic-reaction-sparked spring cold that generally hobbled me right around the time those trees all bloomed? Hush up. ‘Cause even when I didn’t feel well, there wasn’t anything wrong with my eyes.

About this time last year, I had the opportunity to take a business trip back to D.C. over a Wednesday and Thursday with the CEO of my company. It was just before Easter weekend, and I had thought I would be able to extend the trip and see friends and family in the area before returning to Iowa. It’s a long story as to why, and doesn’t bear repeating, but I had to fly back Thursday night without seeing a single person I knew. Airport, client dinner, hotel, client site, Starbucks, airport.

From the second I got off the plane in D.C., I drove miserably at high speeds past the flowering trees, wanting nothing more than to stop and get a closer look.

Through a quirk of flight scheduling, Thursday afternoon’s schedule had us driving from Annapolis, which is far to the East of D.C. (for those who don’t know the geography) all the way to Dulles Airport (which is far enough West of D.C. as to qualify as practically being in another time zone). I told the CEO I would navigate us through downtown, skirting Capitol Hill and taking us out the George Washington Parkway. My intention was to get us to the airport faster, of course, but I also wanted, even though I would be driving in D.C. traffic, to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Jefferson Memorial.

I came off the Howard Road exit off the Anacostia Freeway and took the turn onto South Capitol Street to cross the Anacostia River toward I-395. And then, past the flowering trees that popped up here and there off the roadway, I saw it. Nationals Park, still under construction. When I left for Iowa, it had just been a concept, and I hadn’t seen it since.

The CEO had fallen asleep in the passenger seat—he was traveling with a bad case of the flu—and so he either missed this next episode, or he did a good job of pretending he was asleep long enough to let me re-compose myself. But suffice it to say I was crying before I even knew what was happening. Springtime in Washington. A new baseball stadium that I had been wishing for for years. Friends just minutes away from the road I was on and no way I could see them. If I could have gotten out of the car right then and sent the CEO on his way back to Iowa, I probably would have.

Iowa has its own spring magic. We just got that annual soaking rain that turns everything from brown to green overnight. And I’m excited about getting out there in the dirt and planting—that’s going to happen sooner rather than later.

But as I listened to the Nats play their opening game at the new stadium, I couldn’t help but wish I was there. And yeah, Prairie Robin. This time of year, every year, I miss those flowering trees.

Growing a Valentine strawberry

Valentine Grow Kit

Although Valentine’s Day has come and gone, it seems appropriate to tell you about a littleDirt disc indoor plant experiment I have going on right now. At Christmas, my former roommate Susan, who has managed to locate the world’s greatest gardening gifts ever since I started this blog, sent me a terrific gift that I will unveil to you patient blog readers when the season for actual gardening comes around.

But in the meantime, there was a smaller, more immediate part of the Christmas gift: A small “Valentine” kit, with a teeny-tiny pot, little strawberry seeds and the growing medium to plant them in.

I haven’t had much luck with strawberry The enlarged pelletplants outdoors, but thought it would be cool to try the kit indoors just to see what will happen. Susan and I coordinated by email: we would both plant our kits on January 21, mine here in Iowa on my chilly windowsill, and hers at her new house.

The growing medium arrives as a flat disc that requires a little water to expand out to a thick cylinder. It’s sort of like sea monkey dirt: you add water and the fun Valentine potbegins.

I planted the seeds and put my pot up on the kitchen sill, and but for a couple of days, have managed to remember to open the shade so the thing has some sunlight. It’s watery, often-snowy sunlight, but it still has to be healthier than the gloom in my kitchen without the shift in shades.

So far, nothing has broken the surface of the dirt, and I’m trying to take a lesson from the aloe and not water it every single day. We’ll see how it goes—even if I don’t end up with a ripe strawberry, it would be nice to see something green rise up from the dirt.

No shortage of apples in Pennsylvania

Hollabaugh visit montageOne of the things that surprised me when I moved to Iowa — and oh, there were plenty of things that surprised me — was how many apple orchards there are around here.

My parents live in Adams County, Pennsylvania, home to apple orchards that dot the landscape as you drive down country roads, and that’s where I have become most accustomed to the apple trees, with their blossoms and heavy fruit. Iowa wasn’t where I expected to find apples.

This year wasn’t so great for Iowa apple farmers. We had weird, warm weather early, which made the buds blossom on the trees, followed by a hard freeze. Parts of the state escaped apple blossom trauma, but around Iowa City, things weren’t great for local farmers.

Pennyslvania escaped Iowa’s anti-apple weather. In Pennsylvania this year, there appeared to be no shortage of apples.

In October, I visited my parents for the weekend, and Mom and I made a trip to Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market, a sprawling barn that features apples, pears, and other locally-grown produce, along with more locally-produced jams, jellies and other goods than you can imagine. On Fall weekends, the place is packed, crawling with area residents (and the occasional, camera-lugging out-of-town guest) who fill bags of varying sizes to the brim with bulk apples, then stagger to their cars, visions of crisps and crumbles and pies dancing in their heads.

This time around, a Japanese man lamented the lack of Asian pears. Adams County might not have lost their apples, but it was, apparently, not a good year for Asian pear production, and they were running at a hefty price while we were there. But there were local persimmons, lined up like little pillows of sweetness, and at least a dozen varieties of apples and pears, including Bosc pears, banana apples, and the trend-eriffic Honeycrisp.

I had plenty of time for photography, since a 10-pound bag of apples does not make for a non-awkward carry-on item, but I have to admit I was a bit wistful not to be filling up my bag with varieties perfect for eating and cooking. Back when I lived in D.C., it didn’t seem like Fall if I didn’t make a pilgrimage up to see my parents and hit Hollabaugh’s, always buying more than I could comfortably eat. This time, I had to leave with just the images. After all, they’re much easier to take on the plane.

And, sometimes, much more amusing.

Mom and I get on the bus

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Kay Hollabaugh for stopping in the middle of her busy day to take this picture of me and my Mom. Kay said, “I don’t know about that bus driver…”

Drop in, decorate, be merry and bright

Drop In & DecorateWhen I was in high school, I started spending one day every holiday season baking cookies. A cacophony of cookies. I baked at least five or six different kinds, then bagged them all up in sandwich bags with holiday-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses and mini candy bars, then tied the baggies with green and red ribbon, filled a huge shopping bag, and passed them out at school, spreading sugar from period to period, gifting my classmates and teachers with a little bit of home-baked love.

Sounds precious, doesn’t it? Sure it does, until I tell you the part where, when I was doing this at somewhere around age 23, when it occurred to me that I hated this little ritual. I inevitably ended the day washing baking sheets somewhere around 1 a.m., after starting the process somewhere before lunch. Although I would have planned something resembling nutritious food during the day, I ended the day sick from eating bites of raw cookie dough, with aching legs, a small burn on my arm from hitting the side of the oven, and a general Grinch-like demeanor.

So, I stopped the tradition. Here’s the thing: I liked the idea of spreading cheer via cookies, but I had lost any sense of fun that went along with it.

But this year, Lydia of The Perfect Pantry, one of my favorite food bloggers, threw out an idea. She is spreading the word about Drop In & Decorate, an effort sponsored by King Arthur Flour. The idea is simple: bake some cookies, invite friends or family or co-workers or neighbors to help decorate them, and deliver them to a local shelter or food pantry, lunch program, senior center, or any other place in your community where folks could use a little holiday cheer. Christmas cookies, Hanukkah cookies, Kwanzaa cookies, Festivus cookies…this one is non-denominational and provides the opportunity to have the cookie experience without the gritted-teeth at the end of the day.

King Arthur is selling special Drop In & Decorate kits, and they’re providing a special offer: Order a Drop In & Decorate baking kit now through November 15, and King Arthur Flour will include a free dough scraper with each order. Add the kit to your shopping cart. On the payment page, enter Promotion Code “Dropin” to the Promotion field and click the Update button. The page will refresh and the dough scraper will be added to your order. Offer valid through November 15 only (but the kit is on sale until December 26, and would make a great holiday gift).

But this doesn’t require much more than a batch or two of cookies and your own creativity. If you’re interested in participating, I encourage you to learn more over at Lydia’s Drop In & Decorate page, where she has plenty of free resources available.

It’s enough to make an Inadvertent Grinch like me send out some invitations to folks in town. This might be the year I resurrect my cookie baking skills!

Getting in touch

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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

Drop in & Decorate

Bake. Decorate. Donate.
Free guide tells you how!