Thursday, November 26, 2009

Places, spaces, and holidays

I've always been fascinated by the idea of place. It's a very complex and meaningful concept to me, and I suppose it has been, in some way, since I was quite young. Place ranks up there with family, friends, love, respect, and cheese in the things most important to me. I've been reading Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams recently. While it is actually about architecture in a major sense, it is also about writing and place, hence the reason I put it on hold and actually followed through with picking it up at the local library. Anyway, Pollan asks, "What is a place after all but a bit of space that people like me have invested with meaning?" I've rolled this question around in my head quite a bit, and whether I agree one hundred percent or not, he's definitely on to something. Where am I going with this? The holidays are definitely one of those times that we invest meaning in our spaces. And this year, in this new space, I'm happy to be continuing traditions and perhaps starting new ones.

As I think I mentioned before, it doesn't take many years for me to call something a tradition. I suppose it just takes the knowledge that I want to and will do something again and on a regular basis. (For those that know me well, this is a huge acknowledgement in itself!) So even though this was only the second year that I pulled out the Soroptomist gift list and tearfully read over requests for lotion, soda, salt and pepper, and Kleenex while watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, I was still happy to continue a tradition. Last year, The Boyfriend and I each picked out an oldster to buy a gift for after I read the entire list and cried because of the simple and basic items these people requested. This year, we thought about going in together for one oldster, since times are a little lean. But after wish list entries that were as simple as Kleenex and warm socks, or diet Pepsi and chocolate, I think we can spring for our own oldsters. And just to give you an idea of how great I think this list is and how much it puts me in the giving spirit, I'm even thinking of signing up for an oldster asking for an Oregon Ducks calendar. The week before the biggest Civil War ever, I think you'll understand the implications of this gesture. (Go Beavs!)

The tradition of alternating Thanksgiving between my mom and aunt's house continues this year, and it's Mom's turn. However, we're joined this year by my aunt and uncle from my dad's side of the family. I'm so excited to have both sides of the family together, especially this year. This Thanksgiving is going to be hard because of the year we've all had, but having more love, and more family, and more thankful faces around the table will make it easier. We'll laugh and we'll drink and we'll eat too much food like every year, and that will feel good. We'll miss those who aren't with us around the table, and that will feel good too because it means they're in our hearts. It means that love is strong and real and that we're present. The Boyfriend had to remind me once this year that being sad is good for that reason--it makes us know that we are here and we are experiencing life and love, both in the hard and wonderful times. I'm thankful for all that this year.

Will Thanksgiving with both sides of the family be a new tradition? Probably not, because I'm guessing my cousins will get their parents back for next Thanksgiving, but I'm hoping Jade's Chopstick on Thanksgiving Eve will be. What says Thanksgiving Eve like Chinese food in a strip mall? Apparently nothing, because the place was packed and I was happy as a clam to have someone else cook for me with spices and ingredients and meats that couldn't be less Thanksgivingish. Yes, Thanksgivingish. I even have leftovers, should I dare having a pre-Thanksgiving lunch. Right now, I'm trying to talk myself into a pre-Thanksgiving run.

Bring on the holidays--bring on the turkey and the beer and the laughter and . . . I was going to say tears, but I'm not trying to rhyme so we'll just leave it at that. I have so much to be thankful for today and always. I think I do a pretty good job of remembering that, but I'm willing to eat some pie and mashed potatoes for good measure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Last weekend I finally got the majority of my bulbs planted. I bought most of them a while back, but after the struggles of planting our perennial bed, I was lacking the motivation to do battle with the cement slabs, beer bottles, and belts of rusty nails that are buried just under the surface of our flower beds. However, The Boyfriend was in the garage fixing a dozen or so flat tires (I'm not exaggerating here either), so I figured I had some time to kill. Plus, if I was going to justify drinking a beer in the garage with him, I thought I should probably do some work to earn it. I don't call it a home-improvement beer because you get to sit on your ass while you drink it!

At first I was paralyzed with the decision of where to plant the bulbs. Where would the colors look best? Where would they not compete with the generously landscaped beds? What would those beds even look like in March? It seemed like a big decision, until I reminded myself I could always dig them up next year if I hated where they ended up. The Boyfriend made some suggestions and I dug in (pun intended). I was pleasantly surprised that the dirt in the front of the house was rocky, but otherwise fairly innocuous.

As most of you won't be surprised to learn, I had some bulbs to plant that were especially meaningful, which might account for some of my hesitation in deciding where to place them. I started with the irises. The irises came from Grandma Zada's yard almost a year and a half ago now. Last spring, I planted them at The Mini on what turned out to be the day that my uncle lost his battle with cancer. Last spring I waited and waited for them to come up, wanting desperately to see something beautiful spring forth from that sad, snowy day. Finally, little green tips pushed up through the soil, slowly at first and then surprisingly quickly. They didn't actually produce flowers last year, as Erik had warned me might happen. But they grew and they were alive and that's all I cared about. When I moved out of The Mini this summer, they were one of the last things to make the move. I dug them up and stashed them in a paper bag in the garage, where they've been waiting for their new ground--ground I hope they will occupy for quite some time. During that time, Grandma passed away, but while I was planting the irises on the west side of the driveway, I couldn't help but smile thinking how thrilled she would be that some of her flowers are here in Boise at our place. My Grandma Garden will be complete in the spring when I get some gladiolas in the ground.

Around the crazy tree in front, The Boyfriend and I both thought some tulips would look nice. I planted the little bed full of dark maroon and white tulips. The ones that didn't fit there went across the path in the hopes of creating a beautifully bordered springtime entryway. I even poured out all the bulbs on the sidewalk and mixed the two colors in an effort to combat my irrepressible urge to plant things in an ordered, symmetrical pattern. We'll see if randomness looks good next spring!

The final planting of last weekend was some daffodils that were in an arrangement I got following my uncle's funeral. You might remember this arrangement as the source of my hydrangea and azalea that we planted in the perennial bed in back. I only had three of these little guys, but I thought they would look perfect in front of a rock at the curve of the driveway. I dug these guys out of the arrangement, clipped the leaves off, and stored them in sawdust last spring, which in my mind leaves lots of room for error. Here's to hoping!

The only thing I have left to plant are some crocus bulbs. I bought these because there is not a more welcome sight in the world after winter than looking down and seeing those thin green harbingers of spring. When I lived in Corvallis, Mom and I would compare when the crocus came up as a sure sign that spring was in fact going to come again (Corvallis always won, for those of you who are curious). Crocus may be my annual Prozac, promising me that spring is around the corner even if many cold days will surely transpire between the first crocus and the breaking out of the flip flops. It's the promise that spring's coming that jolts me out of the doldrums of winter. Nevermind the fact that spring comes every year--I still need some green proof that this year won't break the mold.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Perfect Fall Afternoon (and Kickstands)

Sometimes things just feel perfect. I can remember a handful of moments in my adult life where I felt completely content, happy, and mentally there--when my thoughts didn't wander to other places, or my to-do list, or the six cookies I shouldn't have eaten for breakfast. But yesterday afternoon was one of those moments. The Boyfriend and I decided to take a bike ride--an Erica bike ride, mind you, not a Boyfriend bike ride. So we hopped on the bikes and headed out, I thought to the Optimist football fields down the road. I had secretly stashed a Frisbee in one of my panniers and attached it to my bike, a lopsided effect only possible with something as light as a Frisbee. (I tried it with groceries once, which didn't work out so well.)

Once we were on the road, The Boyfriend took a route I wasn't expecting. We headed out the rolling, two-lane road that I commonly refer to as Old Hill Road but is in fact just Hill Road. The fancy Hill Road Parkway relieved Hill Road proper of its thoroughfare duties a number of years ago, so we had the road to ourselves. We rode in the middle of the street, pedaling up the inclines and coasting the descents. When I was little, I thought if we drove the road fast enough it would feel like a "tummy-tickler" road I was once on in Arizona, almost like an impromptu roller coaster. Today, the rises and falls were just as much fun. In the years since I had been on that portion of Hill Road, the trees had enveloped the road even more, creating a shadowy tunnel. As we were riding west, the trees made the afternoon sun dance behind the fluttering leaves that would surely be gone in another week or two. I wanted to close my eyes and feel the sun flickering across my face, but I can hardly ride a bike with my eyes open, so I opted to just enjoy the view. The road cuts across the base of the foothills just a bit above the valley floor, so we could look down on farms and houses and horses. It was a perfect fall afternoon.

As we rode next to each other on the road, the leaves crunching and crackling under our bikes, The Boyfriend asked if I wanted to go up to the cemetery. I had only one question: was there a big hill to get there? No, he assured me, just a small rise. A small rise to The Boyfriend is a Mount Everest to me, but somehow, every time we're on the bikes, with the wind swooshing through my hair and the sun in my eyes, I seem to forget this. So we climbed up the road to Dry Creek Cemetery. I don't know how it is that I've never been up there, but if I have, I don't remember it at all. It was incredible. The single-lane road wound through the grounds, and colorful leaves punctuated the green lawns, along with flowers, memorials, and stately monuments. We didn't climb all the way to the Veterans' Cemetery, but took the road to the top of Dry Creek Cemetery. The view from the top was incredible, especially as the 4:00 autumn sun approached the horizon. It would have felt chilly if we would have stopped for long, but my muscles were warm from the steady "rise." We coasted all the way back down, only looking down long enough to avoid the occasional pothole.

As we came out of the cemetery and on to Hill Road Parkway, I was surprised to see we were right across from the football fields. We rode into the park, where I made a big show of parking my bike wherever I wanted, since I have a kickstand. After The Boyfriend assured me his next girlfriend would loathe kickstands as much as he does, he leaned his bike against the sign for field 3 (how inconvenient!) and I busted out the Frisbee. After two horrific tosses that sliced quite badly, the feeling came back to me and my throws improved. We tossed the Frisbee for 10 or 20 minutes before jumping on the bikes and heading home. Hill Road Parkway features one of the nicest, if most goathead-riddled bike lanes in town. It also, much to my delight, features a great walking path separated from the bike lane and road beyond by six-inch-high curbing. We waited for some real cyclists to pass by in the bike lane before riding home along the walking path. I thanked The Boyfriend for being kind (and dorky) enough to ride in the walking path with me. If any of those real cyclists did spot him and recognize him, I'm sure once they saw my bell and kickstand, that explained it all and he got a pass.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


A couple weeks ago I went out into the yard to pull some dead flowers out of their pots. I actually don't mind dead flowers all that much and am usually not in a big hurry to pull them out and admit autumn's victory, but I had a few that had turned to mush, and I was sick of looking at their slimy, depressing leaves. So I yanked them out, happy to think about what might go in that nice clean dirt next spring. Little did I know, something was going to be planted in one particular pot way before pansies in March.

A couple days later, I stepped out on the back patio to let the dogs outside to do their morning business. As I looked to the left, something caught my eye. It looked like a squirrel had already started digging in the empty pot and left a couple peanuts. I wasn't surprised; we had a small army of peanut burying squirrels that frequented The Boyfriend's pots at the townhouse. I was surprised, however, that this particular squirrel did not even take the time to bury its stash. The peanuts were just lying at the bottom of a nice deep hole. As I went over to either bury them properly or toss them out (I hadn't decided yet), imagine my surprise and horrific, immature disgust when I realized those peanuts were poop--big, fat cat turds. My already tenuous relationship with the neighborhood cats just took a decisive turn for the worse.

Over the past couple years, I had thought a lot about living in a real house and the responsibilities and freedoms that come with it. I thought a lot about our pets--enjoying their own yard, playing fetch, pooping off a leash (hey, after 4 years of dog walking, this is no small thing!). However, I failed to realize that we would be at the mercy of other people's pets. My first realization of this oversight came with our ventures out into the backyard and the humane society-esque greeting that came with them. Dogs everywhere: one big one and so many little ones I'd rather not take the time to list them individually. Collectively, they would still be drop-kickable. I probably hear two barks a month from the big one. The little ones, however, have become the soundtrack of my life, especially now that I work from home. Not wanting to feel left out, another, I would say medium-sized dog, has joined in from a couple houses down, and it might be the worst offender of all. Some of the dogs have started getting used to their new neighbors; others seem destined for eternal feuding. One dog must have recently acquired a bark collar, because now each of its high-pitched, temple-bursting barks is followed promptly by a beep! It actually is kind of funny, and I've started to admire the little guy's tenacity. In any case, that was Other People's Pets Lesson #1.

The cats, however, have collectively been Lesson #2. I know there are at least three cats who frequent our yard. I have no clue where they live, but from the looks of them, they're clearly from all different walks of cat life. One worked its way into my heart early. It's a petite, short-haired black cat with just a few white markings. It mews incessantly if it happens to join you outside, but is annoying irresistible. The Boyfriend and I have been too nice to this little guy, and perhaps our "peanuts" are what we have to show for it. The other black cat, however, has been best described by The Boyfriend as looking like it was lit on fire then promptly dunked in cold water. It looks like a walking comic strip and I probably wouldn't touch it with one of those Animal Planet catch poles and rubber gloves on. After the recent flower pot surprise and our dogs' particular affinity for finding and ingesting the "peanuts" they find in the flower beds, now when we see the cats in the yard we let the dogs out to chase. Any of you who know Kira will know that the success of this approach is dependent upon Apollo. Kira will give chase, but I think she's chasing Apollo with the hope that Apollo is chasing a tennis ball. Kira has been known to roll over when approached by a cat, so she's surely not tapping into her killer instincts.

If anyone has any cat repellent ideas, we're obviously in need.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jack-o'-Lanterns 2009

Last night, The Boyfriend and I finally got around to carving our pumpkins. As I've mentioned before, we've carved pumpkins for the past two years, which in my world is absolutely long enough to be called a tradition. So this year was our third annual pumpkin carving event. Since our pumpkins were a little bit on the small side, we bought a couple pumpkins at the store a couple weeks ago. Interestingly, The Boyfriend ended up choosing a fairly small one anyway, figuring the smaller the pumpkin, the sooner he would be done with his carving duties. (He really does enjoy it, I swear!) We had good intentions to do our carving the last couple of weeks, but kept putting it off. So last night, we set up shop in the garage and went at it.

This year I was going for redemption. Three years ago I was carving pumpkins with a friend of mine who had never carved a pumpkin before. Thinking I would keep it pretty simple, I decided to carve "BOO" into my pumpkin. As I came around the bottom of the B, however, lining up that bottom curvy cut just perfectly with the left edge of the B, I realized I had made a grave mistake. The whole B just fell right out of the pumpkin. Duh, you all say. But I hadn't thought it through (obviously). My B had no middle, and I'm pretty sure I just followed suit for the subsequent O's. My disappointment was matched only by my embarrassment at making such a rookie mistake.

This year, I set out to redeem myself. The Boyfriend knew my carving plans but would not unveil his. He usually goes for a scary face. (Although last year he did carve BOO in the back of his jack-o'-lantern just to irk me. It worked.) He finished his small pumpkin first and put it on the porch. When I finally finished mine and took it around the corner to join its little buddy, I fell in love with the Jack-o'-Lanterns 2009. Now I'm crossing my fingers for just one trick-or-treater so someone besides us and the two people who read this blog will see our masterpieces.

It's everything I hoped for this past spring when I planted our pumpkins. Sure, we didn't actually carve our pumpkins, but we carved pumpkins, together, in our house. As we sat out in the garage, it was exactly what I had envisioned. Except that in my head, we would have been eating chocolate. I forgot the chocolate. Well, there's always next year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yesterday's significant (and possibly signficant) events

Two, perhaps three, significant events happened yesterday. First, I witnessed the first snow of the season. Well, my first snow of the season. I heard rumors that a few flakes fell earlier this week, but since I didn't see them, they didn't count. Yesterday, flakes came down from 1 p.m. until 4 or 5 p.m. For all the complaining I do about winter (that's a lot, for those of you who are lucky enough not to hear it), I was really excited. The changing of the seasons is always exciting, even if it is from a better season to a crummy season. The snowfall yesterday also served as validation that I am in touch with the universe and its meteorological workings. About an hour before the flakes started, I thought to myself that for the first time this year, it felt like winter. Not like a crisp fall day, but like winter. And then, voila! The Boyfriend and I were both working from home yesterday afternoon, him upstairs in the bonus room and me downstairs in the official office that I am starting to enjoy. We took a midafternoon break for hot chocolate with caramel flavored marshmallows. What good is the first snow of the year if you can't look out the window with a cup of hot chocolate?

The second significant event yesterday was Becky's birthday. As birthdays do, this event comes around every year and always seems to serve as a reality check and life inventory moment for me. Once Becky's birthday is here, I know I will be putting the same number of candles on my cake in less than 6 weeks. This year marks the one year countdown until the big 3-0, an event my mother assured me was her hardest birthday. Thanks, Mom. But I'm not worried about that. I've seen others live through it with no ill consequences (excluding a slight hangover, perhaps) and I'm actually looking forward to what the next decade has in store. But I'm getting ahead of myself. When Becky celebrates her birthday, I always have this moment of incredulity where I realize we're real adults. This is easier for me to see with Becky--she's got a real job, husband, and kids. But sometimes Becky and I will always be second graders at the skating rink in my head. However, this year I'm just thankful that we've come so far but ended up back in the same place. Birthdays, whether yours or others, are a great time to be thankful--both for the past and for what's yet to come.

The third event--which may or may not be significant, the jury is still out--took place when The Boyfriend took the puppies out in the yard last night after the snow stopped. In the first garden bed, hardly visible if you didn't know what you were looking for, he saw a small green shoot coming up from a clove of garlic that I planted over 6 weeks ago. I would post a picture, but it's so small you can hardly see it, and you would just laugh that this tiny thing may actually be a significant event in my life. Don't mock. I had given up on the cloves long ago (and had started lamenting that I had buried a perfectly yummy, edible item in the dirt), but there was no reason to pull them out since I didn't need the bed space. We'll see if anything comes of it. Let's just say I won't be taking garlic off the grocery list just yet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Storms, House, and house

I have historically been allergic to Sundays the way most people are to Mondays. I have always felt like once Monday roles around, the week has started, there is nothing you can do about it, and the weekend is on its way. Throw in a donut day and a happy hour somewhere in there and I'm good to go. That being said, I don't LOVE Mondays. I don't wake up (these days at 5:00 a.m.) yelling, "Yay! Monday!" So when I woke up this Monday morning, I bemoaned the start of yet another bootcamp week (and the beer and football watching that was surely going to make it especially painful) and then promptly remembered that Monday night is House night. Now if you don't watch House, you won't understand (and why aren't you, anyway?) But for those of us who are addicted to Hugh Laurie and his American accent in his role as Dr. House, you know what I'm talking about. I looked forward to the show all day, partly because it's an hour of just sitting and relaxing with The Boyfriend. Sometimes he'll even cuddle with me if I 1) look really cold; 2) look really scared; or 3) offer to get, make, prepare, or otherwise aid in the transfer of dessert from the kitchen to The Boyfriend's belly. In any case, I look forward to our Monday evenings. However, this Monday evening held two surprises: 1) House was not on and 2) a very cool storm rolled in just about the time we were looking to sit on the couch and be entertained.

Although I really dislike the cold weather, especially when I'm just trying to make that transition from warmer to colder seasons, I really love storms. I was spoiled at my parents' house. No, not in the only child type of spoiled, but in the sense that their view over the valley was incredible for watching the weather, the sunsets, and the passing of time in general. However, I'm realizing that our new place has pretty respectable vantage points as well. On this particular Monday, The Boyfriend and I went upstairs in the bonus room to check out the storm.

The big window in the bonus room looks west and offers a great view of the weather heading our way. We opened the window and the 50 mph winds were howling. They were kicking up leaves and swirling them up and down the side of our neighbors' house. As I stood at the window, I realized I was getting rained on through the window. And not just a little bit. The wind was blowing the rain right through the screen. Hmm, that's why The Boyfriend was sitting behind me on the couch as I stood by the window. Anyway, it was cool. Maybe even cooler than House. We sat upstairs for the next hour or so, watching some other TV show but mostly watching the outside fade from stormy dark to just dark. I think sometimes just sitting and being together and being present is all we need. But I'm not going to lie, if House isn't on next week, I'm going to have to write a letter.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our Maple

I feel like October hit and nature decided it was time to get on with fall in a hurry. Last week the small trees started changing colors. It's so subtle at first--maybe one leaf looks brighter than the rest--but then it seems to happen so fast. This week more trees started their seasonal wardrobe change as well. Thank goodness the big trees are looking defiantly green. I couldn't handle the complete undoing of summer quite yet. But I know it's only a matter of time, and I suppose I'll be ready for it when it comes. We've been enjoying the fireplace, football, and cool but sunny evenings in the yard with the dogs. If only winter didn't come after fall I think I would thoroughly enjoy autumn in all its colorful glory.

Since I've been working at home, I've been a bit more observant about the changes in the season as I watch days unfold through our still curtainless windows. Last week I noticed the tiny maple in our yard had started to turn. Surely amusing our neighbors (if any were watching), I went out back and took pictures of my maple tree. I took closeups of the leaves and some from a distance. Why? There is nothing spectacular about this particular maple or the bronzy maroon taking over its leaves, but this maple is mine. I have never had a tree before (and I suppose this one isn't truly mine for 357 more mortgage payments), so I'm especially enthralled by watching my maple turn fall colors. I even saw what appeared to be the first leaf that dropped from my maple. Which reminds me of something. Once it starts dropping more of those beautiful leaves, I'll admit that it's our maple (and by ours I mean The Boyfriend's, of course).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pumpkin Sex

Yesterday morning I went out to the garden to survey the damage after our first frost. October isn't messing around. Everything got it, even the tomatoes I covered with old bed sheets. In any case, as I stared at my limp, lifeless pumpkin vines, I couldn't help but laugh at our learning experience with pumpkins this summer. As I mentioned before, our pumpkin started out in a ridiculously small hand-me-down white plastic pot on my patio at The Mini. Like most plants, I attached way too much sentimental value to this inauspicious green vine. It represented all the hope for the coming summer and fall. I desperately wanted to plant it in a nice big garden where it would grow giant pumpkins that we could carve in the fall. The Boyfriend and I have carved pumpkins for the last two years--both our Halloweens together since I've been back from grad school--so it only seemed fitting that perhaps this year we could carve our pumpkins in our house.

I transplanted the pumpkin during a week of 100-degree weather. It took a week or two to get acclimated to its spacious new home but after that it started growing fast. I would mark its progress each day by noting how much further it had inched across the 8-foot bed towards the cucumber. When it started curling its delicate but defiant tendrils around the defenseless cucumber, I called it a victory for pumpkin and stopped measuring the speed of the attack. The pumpkin also had those beautiful, big, happy flowers that would greet me every morning. (Look to the top of the page--those are the ones I'm referring to!) The pumpkin had been blooming since its days at The Mini, so I felt quite confident that we were indeed making pumpkins.

However, one day I noted my gardening pals had all started mentioning baby pumpkin sitings. The Boyfriend and I scoured the vines but couldn't spot any babies. After another week or two, I told my plant friend Erik about our pumpkin troubles. "Oh, well just head out there in the morning with a Q-tip and swab the flowers!" Excuse me? Did he really think I was going to go out there with a cotton swab and play pollinator? As it turns out, I didn't have to. One bright morning when the flowers caught my eye, I told The Boyfriend we might as well try making some baby pumpkins. Sure enough, he had been out the day before, Q-tip in hand. I guess when the birds and bees are preoccupied, Johnson & Johnson can pick up the slack.

A few days later, I spotted the tiniest baby pumpkin. Turns out that baby pumpkin is actually the female flower's ovary. Crazy! The Boyfriend claims he is not the father, but quite a coincidence otherwise, don't you think? They are obviously a bit too small to carve, but they're still our pumpkins at our house and this year I'm going to call that a win.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Next year it will be perfect"

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to spend the bulk of a warm, bright, late-September afternoon touring a few of Global Gardens' refugee farms. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I was a bit apprehensive about heading out to the 7-hour event on my own. I was convinced yesterday morning that the swine had finally infected me with their flu and I was just feeling blah. As it turned out, a little inspiration and rejuvenation from the incredible Boise community was just what the doctor ordered.

After meeting at the King of Glory Lutheran Church, the participants boarded a bus and headed off to the Somali Bantu farm in Eagle. The land is owned by the Camille Beckman company and sits next to their facility out Highway 44. It's a beautiful setting, situated away from the main road and nestled next to a nice canal flanked by large trees. The director of the Global Gardens program gave a short introduction then let the farmers do the talking. The president of the Somali Bantu community spoke about the farm and its incredible accomplishments in just three years. The community's marketing director then spoke about their experience selling the produce at the Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets. He demonstrated some of the tools they use and also gave us a tour of the farm, row by row, noting what was planted and how it had fared this year. For the crops that didn't turn out as well as anticipated, he noted what they did wrong and promised that "next year it will be perfect."

Next year it will be perfect--what a wonderful phrase. It kept bouncing around in my head, and not just because my cranium was extra empty this particular day. It's enticing and inspiring not because I think next year will be perfect, but because it represents this wonderful recognition that we can learn from a mistake, release it, and try harder to get it right next time. For a person who has always thought you have to get it right the first time--and rarely, if ever, does--this is a mantra to live by, both in my garden and everywhere else.

We continued our tour with stops at the African Community Development farm on Allumbaugh and back at the church to tour their community garden and eat a delicious, local meal. As the last of my white bean, chicken, and tomatillo chili hit my stomach, I was totally content, tired, and completely inspired by the people and places I was introduced to over the course of the afternoon. Totally content as I may have been, the apple pudding with maple whipped cream did seem to be the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall Planting

Last weekend I decided to try some fall planting. Like all aspects of the garden, this endeavor is perhaps more experimenting than gardening, but perhaps that never really changes. I set out looking for onions but couldn't find any so settled for garlic. Settling probably isn't a good word, because The Boyfriend and I both really enjoy garlic. In any case, the nice man at Zamzows pointed me to the garlic and I picked out two handsome looking varieties: Chesnok Red and Early Italian Purple Grape (which is neither grape sized or purple--the Red, however, is purple). I also picked up some carrot seeds since I read somewhere that you can plant carrots in the fall and they'll survive into the snowy season. I even read that a good layer of snow can insulate the soil and create an even sweeter carrot. Perfect.

As I was driving home, feeling quite excited about my bag full of experiments, I realized I had no clue how to plant garlic. I had this moment where I thought I just plopped the whole bulb right in the soil. Then I realized I would have just planted the very end product I'm trying to grow. So some quick Googling confirmed my second hypothesis, that I plant the cloves individually. Yes, these are the things us novice gardeners have to Google. At least I'm fessing up.

Before I could plant, I had to dig up something to make some room. I'm not about to add a new garden bed this time of the year. I think I wanted an excuse to do so, however. I was overwhelmed by the jalapenos. I harvested everything on the four plants and promptly ripped them out. I was relieved and sad at the same time. I'd done so much to nurture those little plants but they paid me back ten-fold. Then I ripped out the beautiful, productive, and disgusting cucumber. But more about that at a later date.

With room to spare, I set about planting the garlic where the cucumber once lived. Both garlic bulbs yielded about eight nice-sized cloves. I planted all the garlic in the first bed, the Italian in a row closest to the house and the Red Chesnok in a row behind. (I mention this so I might have some clue in the spring what I'm digging up. Although, I have a feeling garlic might just be garlic to my unrefined palate.)

In the T-shaped area left by the jalapeno removal operation, I scattered some carrot seeds. Danvers Half Long carrots to be exact. I haven't seen them come up yet and they've been in the ground for nine days, along with the garlic. But that's half the fun--not knowing what to expect.

Like most things in life, I'm ridiculously excited for this planting experiment, and it's not because I absolutely love carrots and can't stand to buy my own garlic. It's mostly because of the idea of it all. Planted now, the garlic will be ready for picking in the spring. It will remain in the garden all winter, the lone guardian of our raised beds during this first winter at the new place. Planting now for the spring makes me feel like it isn't that far away and like I'll be looking through seed catalogs in no time. Winters can get hard and long, but if those little garlic cloves can make it out there in the snow and cold, I can surely persevere in my always 74 degree house.

The carrots, on the other hand, I hope to harvest in the snow. The idea of going out in December and picking something from our garden makes me insanely happy. Ultimately, I'd like to have a three-season garden, which I've been assured can happen around here. The carrots are my first step in that direction.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Sale

This weekend was the one I'd been waiting for since we moved into the new place. My favorite nursery had all perennials half off starting on Friday. Given my recent work situation, I found myself quite free on Friday morning and I was ready to show up at 8 a.m. and fight the old ladies for the hostas. Well, thanks to a late-night, action-packed BSU game, I didn't make it there until 9:15 and I didn't actually have to fight anyone for my hostas. The nursery was packed, however, and everyone looked as delighted as I was to spend a cool Friday morning wandering around the greenhouses. Being underemployed really has its upside!

I went for the herbs and veggies first and bought rosemary for a patio pot. Next I got an everbearing red raspberry, even though I don't have a place to put it yet. I've never grown any berries (obviously, since this is my first garden) and just couldn't resist. Some women can't say no to shoes that are 50% off. I can't say no to plants. I'd like to pretend that's more noble. In any case, I then made my way to the hostas and heucheras. I got a "Frances Williams" and "Gypsy Rose" hosta and two "Coral Bells" heucheras (mostly, I think, because I like to say 'heuchera'). I grabbed a "Clair de lune" clematis, which I swore would be the first plant I bought for the new house. I picked up a ground cover for under the crazy tree in front of the house and a sun flower for The Boyfriend. (Which isn't a perennial, as it turns out. Or at least it wasn't half off. The things I do for him . . . ) Finally, I couldn't say no to a beautiful $1.00 geranium. (Come on! It was $1.00!) I loaded it all in my car with great satisfaction. Later in the weekend we stopped at another store and purchased three more hostas ("Wide Brim") and three Lily of the Valley plants.

There is something so gratifying about planting perennials. I think part of it is the feeling of permanency. I've never lived anywhere long enough to really care about planting something that would come back the next year. I've watched seasons change through trees at apartment complexes and rhododendrons at dorms and sorority houses, but there is something very removed and detached about it all. Having my own house and yard makes me feel like a part of the whole process. I can't wait to watch the plants next year and the year after that, their new roots gradually becoming stronger and deeper and becoming a part of this place.

There is also something ridiculous about buying perennials. When else would you pay good money (even at half off!) for a homely looking plant that has been cut back to nothing but a stub? We bought some plants that barely have a shoot of green sticking out of the soil. Here's crossing our fingers for accurate pictures on the tags! But that's also the fun of it and the benefit for our black thumbs. They can only look better next year, right?

The final perennial acquisitions this weekend were cuttings from my mom's grasses. Although you could hardly tell that we chopped and butchered her enormous grasses, we took quite a few good bunches home to add to the side of the house. With all our plants laid out, we set to planting, which turned out to be the most challenging part, thanks mostly to the various debris and random cement slabs embedded in our yard. However, we got all our plants in the yard (although not exactly where we had planned due to the aforementioned cement slabs) and I'm quite happy with the result.

Among my favorite additions to our space are a hearty and perseverant hydrangea and azalea that have toughed it out with me in various locations and various pots since the spring. I'm pulling for them more than I should and I've attached way too much sentimental value to these two survivors, but that's the kind of year it's been. I think sometimes we find hope in the most unlikely places, but when I saw that azalea putting out new blossoms last week I was reminded again that it really is about the little things.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Garden

As spring sprung this year, I seemed more in tune with the seasons than usual, watching every crocus bloom and paying particular attention to the daffodils and tulips. And I had a stronger urge than ever to put stuff in the ground. I was hoping this year would be the year I purchased a house with a yard and a garden and I proceeded accordingly. I subjected various innocent veggies to plantings in little pots on the patio at my tiny little guest house, affectionately called "The Mini." I planted in the hopes that every plant would have a more permanent home at some point later in the spring. I planted a pumpkin and cucumber in a ridiculously small pot--I was very optimistic!

The Boyfriend helped me build a "square-foot garden" (it was actually four square feet) where I planted tomatoes and peppers. Because I couldn't say no to a nine pack of peppers, I filled up other planter boxes with the rest of the jalapenos with the hopeful anticipation that spring seems to fill us with and fall seems to mock us for. As it turns out, even five or six jalapeno plants is a ridiculous idea for a household of two. But more about that later.

So all my plants were hanging in there on the patio of The Mini when we left for our mid-June vacation to Seattle, the Oregon Coast, and Portland. Sitting on the balcony of our hotel room in Cannon Beach and looking out over the ocean, I called my dad to check in. We were closing on a house on Monday. It was Wednesday. I hadn't started packing. Shoot, I hadn't even given my 30-day notice to the landlord. Yikes!

When we got home, the chaos ensued. Packing up two households, deciding what to do with The Boyfriend's townhouse, switching utilities, getting a fence, and all the other not-so-fun stuff that goes along with homeownership. However, this was my very first home and even without the promise of an $8,000 check from Uncle Sam, I was ridiculously excited. Especially for the yard. My poor little plants were finally going to have a home. They had held on into July (we moved in on July 4th) so I felt like I had to move fast.

I couldn't wait for my garden. The Boyfriend got to work quickly on our raised beds. Two beautiful two-by-eight-by-one foot beds. Then they sat in the garage while I tried to decide where to put them. Where I wanted them and where mother nature would shine her light on them were two very different places. But because mother nature wins every single time--a fact I'm time and time again reminded that society hasn't comprehended yet--I realized we were going to have to pull out the pine tree in our back yard. It wasn't such a bad decision to come to because we wanted to get rid of it anyway.

So one day after work, I went at it. I dug and dug, constantly thwarted by the rocky fill that is responsible for making our yard (almost) level. I had made some progress around the base when The Boyfriend came home and just yanked it out, Paul Bunyan style. I contend he couldn't have done so without my digging. He, not surprisingly, disagrees. In any case, let's say we worked together and the tree was out. We went to the store for burlap and twine in the hopes that someone would give our tree a new home. I'm no tree killer, after all. Sure enough someone came the next day and hauled it away to live happily ever after.

After the tree was gone, I set to digging out an area for the raised beds. In this endeavor, I was quite naive. How many times had I sat on a lawn as a child, idly picking away at the grass or watched my dogs scratch at the yard, proudly proclaiming their pooping success, as the grass flew in all directions. I thought this feeble, weak, and flimsy plant would be quite easy to remove. As it turns out, I was wrong. I suppose it was easy enough, but it was heavy. And the rocks continued to play antagonist in this story of me versus the yard. When I finally removed an area of sod big enough for the raised beds and a border around them, I was quite pleased with myself (and tired). I showed it to The Boyfriend; his response: "Now you're going to level it?" Um, yeah, of course! Ugh, more battles with the rocks. Finally it was level enough (which I think was the criteria for the yard as a whole!), and at last I got to bask in my victory. We set the beds in, filled them up with 14 two-cubic-yard bags of soil, and filled in around them with bark.

It has been so fun to watch the garden grow. It must be one of the simplest, most humbling, and gratifying activities a person can do. The back bed had a Sweet 100, a Big Boy (or something like that), a yellow pear (from an heirloom seed), and a Siletz (also heirloom seed) tomato. Overkill, yes, but lots of fun regardless. The back bed was also home to one red pepper, one green pepper from The Boyfriend's seeds, and four jalapenos (major overkill). The front bed had our pumpkin, another green pepper from seed, and a cucumber. My favorite has undoubtedly been the pumpkin, but more about that at a later date.

A garden, I'm told, is always a work in progress. Next year it will always be better. But I'm thrilled with our first attempt. Here is what the garden looked like the first week of September.

And that has been my first two months as a first-time yard owner!