Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! Or, my new year of happy. :)

This post is, in part, inspired by my friend Kmbris' Facebook question to everybody -- "What do you 'let go of and allow to transform' and what defined your year"

The sun will set tonight on the final day of 2010. And I'm so glad it's going to be done. I can't help thinking about everything that happened in this whirlwind year and how much I've grown. Every year brings growth, but this year seemed to bring more than most.

Flashback exactly one year. I was in a relationship I didn't know was dying, just a couple short months away from hitting the lowest point in my life. I was miserable, stuck in a grad school program I knew wasn't for me, waiting until I could actually pull the trigger and transfer to a teaching program. I was easily fifteen pounds heavier. I felt helpless and out of control, and desperately wanted to regain my sense of direction. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to dig yourself out and try again. I hit rock bottom this year. And I learned that, like the strawberry plant I thought I'd killed a couple summers ago, I'm pretty resilient. It took a bad breakup I didn't see coming and a long period of healing, but I'm ending 2010 on a triumphant note.

Literally, I went from rock bottom to climbing mountains. I switched careers, and am on track to become a middle school teacher. I threw myself into outdoor activities, and became a hike leader for the Mountaineers. I made some amazing friends, and strengthened some existing friendships. I got Felix Hernandez' autograph at Spring Training. I learned that I can do anything -- I just have to put my mind to it. I crossed the Olympics on a 5-day backpacking trip. I summitted all 6988 of Buckhorn Peak. I swam with sea turtles and sting rays in Maui. I also learned (through a different breakup) that breakups don't necessarily have to be horrible, awful affairs filled with crying, pints of ice cream, and hurt feelings. Just because a romantic relationship ends doesn't mean the friendship has to end too. Sometimes, two people can just look at each other and say "maybe we'll make better friends," and it works.

I'm ending 2010 happy and healthy, surrounded by my wonderful friends and family. I get outdoors every chance I get. And while I know that 2011 is going to bring its ups and downs, I'm declaring it my new year of happy. For me, it's really going to be a Happy New Year -- emphasis on the happy part. So, with that, here are my new year's resolutions -- the things I'm going to try to do to stay happy.

1. Keep the butt (otherwise known as stay in shape). All of my outdoor adventures in 2010 brought me a great surprise -- a butt! While I have been blessed with hips and height, I've never had much of a butt. According to my dear, departed, great-aunt Ruth, whose hand slipped one Thanksgiving while she was giving me a goodbye hug, "you don't have much of a butt there, do you kiddo?" I'm not as blessed as JLo -- I have one of those body types where I actually have to work to get one. Now I have one. And I'd like to keep it. This means I need to stay in shape in 2011.

2. Read one fun book a month. I love to read novels and narrative non-fiction, but all the reading I do in graduate school makes reading for fun seem like a chore. I never read novels anymore, and I'd like to. So, I'll read one fun book a month -- on the bus, before sleep, while on planes, etc.

3. Continue to have adventures. My friend Hillary said I had an "Anna-appropriate adventure" with a birthday snowshoe last Monday. I already have a few adventures in the works with my scrambling class, a planned trip to Europe, and an ambitious summer backpacking trip where we will cross the Olympics the long way (south to north). I want to have a few more.

4. Summit something awesome/interesting/challenging. Like a volcano. My eventual goal is to summit Mt. Rainier, but I don't think that's going to happen in 2011. This year, I aim for something a bit more accessible like Mt. Adams or Mt. St. Helens. We'll see which one my climber friends drag me up.

5. Remember that grad school isn't the end-all, be-all of my existence. I will take time for me. I will not feel guilty for going snowshoeing on a gorgeous blue-sky day instead of doing my homework. I will not feel guilty for taking time to hang out with friends. I will not be a hermit -- I won't allow myself to be one.

So, that's it. 2011, you will be my new year of happy. And that's all there is to it.

Love to all of you on this Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On 29

"Eek!" That's my first thought when I think about turning 29 on Monday. My second is -- "quick! I must do everything left on that "before I turn 30, I will do these things" list I made when I was 25!" And then I start thinking about where I am now, and where I thought I'd be at this point.

My friend Ned asked me about this over lunch yesterday, during one of our annual catch-up sessions. One of the lovely things about continuing to live in the same city as my parents is that I don't have to travel anywhere for Christmas. Just a 20 minute drive, and I'm home. I get to catch up once a year with a few friends of mine who only make the long trek to Seattle for the holidays. Anyway, long digression aside, Ned asked me yesterday how I feel about turning 29.

Part of me wonders where all the time went. How did the last few years in particular go by so fast? Time plodded along at this wonderfully lazy pace, and then all of a sudden I was out of college and trying to find my sense of direction. I think I've spent most of my twenties trying to find that direction -- trying to find something to grasp onto to point me down my path. I've taken quite a few wrong turns, but I think I've finally found it. Becoming a middle school teacher feels like coming home, and I think that's how I know I've found my direction.

When I got out of college, my dad insisted that I have a plan and stick to it. My initial plan was to go to grad school in sociology, get my PhD, and become a college professor. Since I wanted to teach at a liberal arts college, I would have likely ended up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I became miserable on the PhD track. I can't explain it -- I just didn't feel like me. I felt myself turning into a heartless narcissistic person. So, long story short, had I stuck with that plan, I would have been a narcissist living in a tiny town somewhere, lonely, sad, and unable to change her situation. While I love my dad dearly and inherited his linear engineer's brain (sometimes I call phone conversations with my dad "speaking engineer"), I couldn't stick to that plan.

Should I have changed my path earlier? The little voice that told me to teach middle school was practically shouting before I finally listened to it. Well, yes, but then I wouldn't have fallen in love with a country that no longer exists. I wouldn't have learned Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. I wouldn't have danced in the rainstorm that broke the European heatwave in 2006. I wouldn't have experienced my first mosh pit at the Beastie Boys concert in Novi Sad. I wouldn't have taken my family to the Balkans. I wouldn't have sat in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and talked about religion with my host sister in the language only she and I understood. And I can't imagine a version of me who hadn't done all these things. I can't imagine a version of me who doesn't recognize (and start speaking in) Serbian when she hears it in the grocery store.

Plans can and do change. Sometimes I wonder what happens to the versions of me that made opposite choices to what I've done. Would I still be on the verge of challenging myself to learn the skills to climb Mt. Rainier? Am I living in a foreign country? Most importantly, am I happy? Right now, at this moment in my life, I am truly happy. I've been spun around like a top, and I followed my heart -- the best compass I have. I've found this quiet joy, this sense of doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And I don't know how many people in this world find that. I'd like to hope that I didn't just get lucky, and that my friends and family will get to experience this feeling at some point in their lives.

29 is approaching rapidly, and I hope the last year of my twenties is a good one. I've got some exciting travel plans, and I'll start student teaching towards the end of it. I'm going to begin learning the skills I'll need to climb Mt. Rainier. I'm surrounded by laughter and the love of my amazing family and friends. That "eek!" about turning 29 is turning into "yay!" I've accomplished over half of the big things I wanted to do between 25 and 30, and I think I can cross a few more off that list. :)

It's nearly Christmas, and tonight I will be at my aunt and uncle's house, enjoying the company of my relatives. May this Christmas also find you and yours happy, healthy, well, and loved. Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Sretan Božić i Cpeтaн Бoжић cви мojих пpиjaтeљa.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cover Crops are Awesome!

Happy Longest Night of the Year Everybody!
Wow that makes me feel a little depressed. Where I live, the sun goes down at 4 PM this time of year and when it is actually up in the sky, people attempt to soak up as many rays as they can. We barely get eight hours of daylight -- not enough to really grow anything substantial. True, our long summer days make up for these dark winter ones, but it's still hard. I have a tough time motivating myself to get moving when my alarm goes off and it's still dark.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Three solutions, actually. I'm not really overwintering any crops unless you count the carrots and onions I forgot to pull up at the end of the summer. I'm kinda curious to see what happens to my onions -- it looks like the old onions are breaking down and giving birth to new onions. We'll see. I did plant a cover crop in the fall. It's so nice to look outside and see little green shoots coming out of my garden. Cover crops are great -- they're good for soil health. And who doesn't like little green shoots?

OK -- so solution #1 is overwintering (which I didn't really do). Solution #2 is a cover crop. And solution #3? My roommate's AeroGarden! He's got it set up on top of the refrigerator. It's timed so the lights are on at night -- making it once again look like we're growing pot in our house. It's not as bad as it was when I started my plants in February -- then my entire living room was glowing. But the backyard glows in the dark because of the direction of the light. It's funny. But nice to have green things in the house, too.

It's almost time to select my seeds for next season. I've got seed catalogs stashed all over the place. Can't wait for it to be planting time again.

As for life? It's good. I survived my first quarter of the UW Bothell teaching program! I passed my classes with flying colors, and was actually surprised by my high grade in one class. Wasn't so sure how I was doing, but I guess it wasn't that bad. (My UW Bothell peeps will know which class this was.) I'm enjoying my stay-cation quite a bit, and have been hanging out at home, working on Xmas presents, watching House, reading fun books, and just relaxing. Next quarter will be busy with outdoorsy classes and my own classes. But it will be fun.

I turn 29 in a week. Yikes! I will write a post about that milestone later, but I should go to bed now. Where did all the time go?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Field Guide to the NW Male Action FIgure

Pemco Insurance recently came out with a series of hilarious TV and radio spots profiling common Northwest stereotypical characters. One of my favorites is that of the Northwest Male Action Figure -- basically the guy who is always ready for an adventure, anytime, anywhere. You can check out the commercial here:

Today, while doing avalanche awareness training with The Mountaineers at Snoqualmie Pass, one of the leaders was trying to figure out how the avalanche beacon I'd borrowed from my mountain climber friend Scott worked.

"Does this thing work for normal people?" he asked.

"Not sure. The friend I borrowed it from is a Northwest Male Action Figure."

Everyone in the class started laughing. They knew exactly what kind of person I was talking about.

As a member of the Mountaineers and an outdoors enthusiast, I have many friends who could be described as NW Male Action Figures. So this afternoon, I give you A Field Guide to the NW Male Action Figure.

1. A NW Male Action Figure is a unique individual who enjoys many outdoor activities. Not only does he enjoy these outdoor activities, but he enjoys them to the extreme. He can't just hike up a trail, no. He must run up it. At least twice in a day. And beat his last "endurance hike" time by a few minutes each time.

2. He rock climbs. He tried scrambling once, but found that it was a gateway drug, and that he wanted more. So he invested in a harness, helmet, rope, and all sorts of other assorted gear for this new hobby of his. He loves to climb, and often talks about his climbs at great length, thinking that clearly, all his friends must love to climb too. Even the ones who have expressed their extreme fear of heights.

3. He skis. This is a requirement of the NW Male Action Figure. He doesn't just ski -- he does so in the backcountry almost exclusively.

4. He owns multiple pairs of skis. And snowshoes. And poles. In fact, he owns so much gear that he could outfit a 12-person party on a multi-day trip.

5. He owns more outdoor gadgets than any other person you know. And when you need to borrow an avalanche beacon for a class, you call him first. Because you know he'll have one. Maybe even two.

6. He buys new outdoor gadgets the day they come out. But he never buys these at REI, because REI is the domain of wannabe NW Male Action Figures. (And it's a little overpriced.) No -- he must go to a local store that sells local organic down bags.

7. Preferably local organic down bags where the down comes from geese who lives long, happy lives and were pampered with daily sponge baths, premium goose food, and plucked with the greatest care and sensitivity.

8. Because he owns so much gear, he drives a car with good clearance and a very large trunk. Most likely, said car is a Suburu.

9. He can fit more shit into a Suburu than anyone else you know.

10. His Suburu is always dirt spattered from his latest adventure. It likely also has a few scratches on it. He can tell you exactly where he got the scratches.

11. He sometimes speaks in a confusing lingo of gear and acronyms. He'll go on at length about the pros and cons of metal edges on touring skis for 5 minutes before realizing that the quizzical look on your face means you have no idea what metal edges or touring skis actually are.

12. He's summitted almost every NW volcano. And when you are thinking about attempting to summit a volcano, he gets a wistful look in his eyes and says "I remember when I was young and summitting my first volcano." Even though you're the same age he is.

13. Because he rock climbs and summits NW volcanoes, he is familiar with the use of a wag bag. Not only is he completely comfortable discussing how to shit in the woods, but he has all sorts of stories about shitting while rock climbing -- basically, how to take a shit when one is hundreds of feet in the air.

14. Of all your friends, he's the one with the craziest stories. This makes him the life of the parties he goes to on weekends when the weather is crappy and he doesn't go out and summit something.

15. In the winter, he literally spends every minute of every weekend skiing. He works to ski.

16. He's a great guy, a wonderful friend, and someone you can always count on to be up for hiking/climbing/snowshoeing/favorite outdoor sport of the moment.

Add any more you can think of. :)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Northwest Comfort Food

It's almost time for me to go into hibernation. Finals start a week from today. This week, I have three papers due (two of which are basically done) and a presentation on Thursday. Next week, I'll have a large paper due as well as a take home final. And did I mention that I somehow have to grade 74 essay-length finals in three days? And start my job training for my admissions job? Yeah. It feels like I'm about to enter Hell.

Which is why it's the perfect time for Northwest comfort food. I grew up on a steady diet of seafood. One of my mom's favorite stories she tells is about the time I discovered fried clam strips. I was 4 years old, and I wasn't tall enough to see over the table. But I could sure reach the table! Dad fed me a clam strip, and I reached my little hand up to pat around and see if I could find some more. I found them. So began a lifelong love affair with mollusks and crustaceans -- crabs, clams, oysters, and mussels. You name it, I'll eat it.

Two of my favorite Northwest comfort foods involve mollusks. In the winter time, we often eat cioppino, an Italian-style seafood stew. It's spicy, tomato-y, and warm. Perfect for chilly Seattle winters. Cioppino can be expensive to make, as all that seafood isn't cheap. Most recipes make quite a bit, so it's possible to have a cioppino party where guests each bring some fish or seafood to go in. The second is clam linguine. It's savory, full of tasty clams, and fills you up.

So imagine my wonder at finding a Mark Bittmann recipe that combines the two. Because the stress of finals makes me crave seafood (usually in the form of sushi, but I'll eat anything), I'd picked up some clams at the farmer's market. I decided to make Penne with Tomato-Seafood Sauce, an intriguing recipe I'd found in How to Cook Everything.

It tasted like cioppino. With pasta. The absolute best of my two favorite comfort foods. I made a nice big batch, and will be eating leftovers during the rest of this stressful week.

And tonight's dinner? Grilled cheese sandwiches and French onion soup. More universal comfort foods there. Less of a Northwest flavor.

Maybe I'll make some peach bread, too.

Here's the recipe:
Penne with Tomato-Seafood Sauce
Makes 4 rather generous servings

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small dried hot red chile or hot red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded (or drained canned -- note, I'll likely add another cup of tomato to the sauce when I make it next time)
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb penne or other cut pasta
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
Any variety of seafood you have on hand (I used clams)

1. Start pasta water. Put oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and garlic and cook when hot, until the garlic turns brown -- about a minute.
2. Remove and discard the chiles and garlic and add the tomatoes. (I couldn't figure out how to remove them, so I just kept them in there. Didn't hurt.) Cook, stirring, until tomatoes begin to liquefy, about 5 minutes; add the rosemary and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat.
3. Add clams and mussels towards the end of cooking. End with the variety that will cook most quickly. Cover skillet until clams and mussels open. As you add more seafood you will be adding more liquid, so you can sauce more pasta and serve more people.

Bon Appetit!

OK. Back to work.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

They're reading this in Russia?

So I happened to look at my blog stats. Apparently they're reading me in Russia. US is first by far, but Russia comes in second. And the most popular posts? The one entitled "The Sirens of Singlehood and the Single Gardener's Manifesto" came in first at 21 hits, and "The House that Griffey Built" came in at 11. Y'all like my manifesto!

I have a feeling my latest post about gifts for gardeners will also generate a lot of traffic.

Fun. I guess y'all are really enjoying reading about the trials and tribulations of a spontaneous gardener!

Good Gifts for Gardeners

Is there a gardener in your life? Or perhaps there's a gardener you're wooing? Instead of working on my paper that's due on Tuesday, I was thinking about some good gifts for gardeners. Here are some suggestions. These are largely oriented towards vegetable gardeners, but with some creativity, could apply to flower gardeners as well.

1. Seeds
Every gardener likes seeds. This time of year, seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming about planting season. Before your favorite gardener gets home, steal the seed catalog and thumb through it. Seed packets tend to be pretty cheap (around $3 for a 1/4 oz, usually), so you could pick up a few. I tend to like organic non-GMO seeds. Both Territorial Seed Company and Seeds of Change have good varieties. Pinetree Garden Seeds is great for cheap seed packets, should your gardener not care so much about organic non-GMO seeds.

If you do buy seed packets, make sure that the seeds you are buying will germinate and grow well in your climate. Most seed catalogs have a map of growing zones in the front or back, and codes next to the seeds that correspond to those zones. You don't want to make the mistake of buying kiwi seeds for a Northwest gardener -- those won't grow here.

2. The Northwesterner's Garden "Bible"
Seattle Tilth publishes The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, an absolute must for a Northwest gardener. This guide tells you what to plant when, and is indispensable. It also suggests some varieties of warm season crops (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes) that do well in our short summers. If you are buying seeds for your favorite Northwest gardener, make sure you flip through this book first. Tomatoes, for example, are rather difficult to grow in our climate. You are going to want to purchase varieties Seattle Tilth suggests, like Stupice or Peacevine Cherry Tomato.

3. Walls o' water or other season extenders
As you probably read if you follow my blog, I was the only gardener on my block who had tomatoes this year. It was a cold summer. Why was I so fortunate? I was smart and encased all my summer crops in a wall o' water. These things are handy to have around -- they act like a jacket for your plants. The temperature inside the wall o' water is usually 5 to 10 degrees warmer than it is outside. sells these in packets of 3.

Other season extenders include garden cloches. Typically, Northwest gardeners build these out of PVC pipe and plastic. There are directions online on how to build one. This may be a large present to wrap, so you could borrow a tip from my parents and wrap up a small picture of a cloche in a box and build it with directions from the gardener. Cloches are really helpful when germinating seeds, and also act like a greenhouse, keeping the temperature warm for your plants.

4. Garden accessories
OK -- who doesn't need dirt? I'd seriously be pretty happy to find a 20-lb bag of potting soil under the Xmas tree. Come February, I'll need dirt to start my seedlings!

Pots are always a good idea. I like to use compostable pots, as they make transplanting seedlings pretty easy. Any hardware store should have these in various shapes and sizes.

Lights are great for starting plants indoors. Some people swear by a heating mat, but I've found that if you heat your house and put your little baby plants by a window, the greenhouse effect will do the job. In the Northwest, though, we don't get enough sunlight to start warm season crops in a window. You can get a fancy-shmancy light setup that's easy to adjust (this is on my Xmas list this year), or you can jury rig stuff out of construction lights with clips. Last year, I had plants all over the living room -- I clipped the construction lights to my bookshelves and used phone books as needed to adjust the height. It worked out okay, but wasn't the optimal setup. Make sure you buy a full spectrum light bulb for your plants. I think you want a CFL bulb, but ask at the garden or hardware store first.

Garden shears, watering cans, those plastic thingys you use to start plants indoors, peat pellets for starting plants -- you name it, we'll probably use it!

5. Cooking or canning supplies
I bet the vegetable gardener in your life is also a fantastic chef. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm a damn good cook. I think it's because I try to use super fresh ingredients -- stuff from my garden when it's growing, and stuff from the farmer's market in the winter.

There are a couple of cookbooks I suggest for gardener-chefs. How to Cook Everything, by New York Times food writer Mark Bittmann, is one of my personal favorites. I forgot to put his new one, The Food Matters Cookbook, on my Xmas list. My mom and possibly my brother are likely reading this on Facebook, so now they know. :) Anyway, How to Cook Everything is a great guide for any cook. Bittmann has some creative ways to use interesting vegetables, and has a plethora of potato and tomato recipes. His recipe for pasta with bacon and romano cheese is a favorite among both my family and friends. However, I find his recipes for veggies like kale and chard to be a bit lacking. If I have greens I want to use, I tend to reach for Simply in Season or From Asparagus to Zucchini. The latter two cookbooks have a ton of recommendations for seasonal eaters, including some creative ways to use the leafy greens that grow so well in the Northwest. Tall Guy and his friends still talk about the Swiss Chard Pie I made from the second cookbook. It was awesome.

Canning season is about a year away, but the gardener in your life could likely use some supplies. Canners can be rather expensive. If you don't want to pickle everything, you'll need a pressure canner. If you don't mind pickling, a water bath canner will suffice. Jars are always welcome, too!

Let's say that the gardener in your life loves flowers, and can't grow a tomato to save her life. But she loves farmers' markets and locally grown food. Think about purchasing a CSA share. Most farms offer summer CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and you can sign up for them now. Walk around your local farmer's market and ask around about different options. With most places, you pay up front, in advance, and receive a 4-6 month share in the summer and fall. Prices in the Northwest range from $250-$500, depending on the size and length of time. My personal favorite is Seattle Market Gardens. For $15/week, you're supporting a low-income immigrant gardener who is growing vegetables in his or her P-Patch. The gardener growing your food uses the proceeds to purchase seeds for the following year and as an income. A friend and I did this last year, supporting Vietnamese and Hmong gardeners in South Seattle.

Another option would be to buy market bucks. In Seattle at least, the farmer's markets sell market bucks for shoppers to use at each stall. Think of it as a gift certificate to the farmer's market. I bet your favorite gardener would LOVE to find this under the tree.

6. An Actual Garden
This may involve some creativity. My parents gave me my garden at my house -- they built it and provided dirt for it. It was an awesome birthday present, and one that keeps on giving! I had to check with my landlord first to make sure digging up the yard was okay. Raised garden beds can add value to rental houses. Make sure you check with your gardener's landlord before planning this present.

If your favorite gardener is an apartment dweller or lacks the space for a garden, you have a couple of options. Urban Garden Share is like a for gardeners -- it matches potential gardeners with people who have space to garden. Sign up for an account and look for a good match for your green thumb. In Seattle, these are organized by date and neighborhood. You could find one that is close by. Typically, those who own gardens and gardeners negotiate things like cost of seeds and supplies and who gets to take home the produce. Make sure this is a good match.

(Incidentally, a dating service for gardeners would be a fabulous idea. Seriously. Something like could really take off...)

Sign up for a P-Patch or a community garden in your area. Be warned, though, sometimes you can wait a while on the waitlist. Most of the gardens in Seattle have a 2-3 year wait! There's been a (wonderful) explosion of interest in home gardening, likely due to the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama and other celebrity gardeners. This translates into long waits with some gardens. (I love it that there's a gardener in the White House right now!)

7. Books and other fun things
I've come across some great reads for gardeners and those interested in food security. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver chronicles one family's journey into local, seasonal eating. It's a loving portrait of the trials and tribulations they faced as a family. It offers some great tips, and is well-written, too.

Other books include Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, about why industrial food is bad for you. Pollan is coming to speak in Seattle in January -- perhaps tickets to go see him would be a good gift for your gardener as well.

Pretty jewelry is another fabulous suggestion. has a number of stores that sell jewelry and homemade art. My friend Caitlin has a store on Etsy. She does some beautiful leatherwork that your gardener would likely love. Check her out at

Happy shopping!

As for a me update -- I'm doing pretty well, all things considered. Had a lovely, relaxing weekend full of friends and family. I have Rock Lobster stuck in my head today -- likely from John and Jacob's hilarious version of it while playing Rock Band last night. All in all, things are good. I'm surrounded by the love of the amazing people in my life. I'm a lucky lady, and really couldn't ask for anything more. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering Dave Niehaus 1935-2010

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when the Mariners said I could interview Dave Niehaus for my bachelor's thesis in 2004. I'd been listening to the Mariners for my whole life, and Dave was my childhood hero. I couldn't (and still can't) listen to baseball without thinking of Dave's voice. I see baseball through Dave's eyes -- when he describes the blue of the sky, and the cut of the grass, I could see and smell the field.

So it was with my heart pounding in my chest that I dialed Dave's home phone number.

"Hello?" his wife picked up.

"Hi, is Dave Niehaus there please?" I asked politely. She went to get him. I had to remind him who I was and why I was calling, but once I did so, he made me feel right at home.

"Oh hi, Anna, how are you?" he asked in his deep baritone. Like I was an old friend. He switched phones because the one he was on was gonna run out of batteries. And then we started talking about Whitman, Walla Walla, and what I was doing. I think he could sense that I was nervous talking to him. But he put me right at ease, chit-chatting about Walla Walla, my hometown of Seattle, and what I was majoring in.

And then the magic began. For 45 minutes, I asked Dave questions, and listened to him reminisce about the bad old years, the exciting years of the '90s, and where the team was going to go next. I scribbled notes and listened with my ear pressed up against the phone.

Dave started to get excited when he talked about the 1995 season. "It was about, you know, August of that particular year when, I think the Mariners were thirteen games behind the Angels, and funny things began to happen. And not only did they catch the Angels, the Angels caught them at the end. If you might recall, we were in Texas, and had clenched a tie for the division championship with two games to go, and then Texas beat us the last two games, and the Angels swept all four games down in Anaheim against Oakland. And tied, and then they came up here and then we beat them.
And then went to New York, and af – ironically, I’ll never forget this, because the first day we were in New York, uh, to play the Yankees in the playoffs, it was the day that the OJ Simpson verdict came down. And, uh, and then lost the first two games and that – certainly the second game, that bitter thirteen, fourteen-inning, fifteen-inning game. I think it was thirteen innings, where Jimmy Leyrich hit a home run into the, into – raindrops into the seats in right field, and we’re coming back down two to nothing, and you knew the season was over. And, well, as you know what happened, it wasn’t over. We won all three games, culminated by Edgar Martinez’ double down the left field line with Joey Cora scoring and then Junior scoring from first base.
And – and I think it was from August of that year that the town became absolutely rabid, fanatical."

I could see Cora scoring. I could see Edgar's double down the left field line. I could see Junior scoring from first base. That's how powerful Niehaus was. Through his voice, you saw the game.

Dave was adamant that the 2001 Mariners had had more wins than the 1906 Cubs, and that their accomplishment was greater than that of the Cubs. ". Ironically, the hundred and sixteen wins were the most in baseball history. Uh, people say that no, the 1906 Chicago Cubs also won a hundred and sixteen games. They, they won a hundred and fifteen. They had one game given to them. It was forfeited to them, when John McGraw would not play, the Cubs wouldn’t put his team, the New York Giants on the field because he didn’t like the umpiring crew, and he said if this particular umpire is gonna umpire behind home plate he wouldn’t put his team on the field. And the umpire says “okay then, see ya later.” And they forfeited that game to the Chicago Cubs. So the Cubs actually on the field only won a hundred and fifteen games, the Mariners won a hundred and sixteen. But of course, you know, there are all kinds of nuances to that, too. The Cubs only played a hundred and fifty-four games, the Mariners played a hundred and sixty-two, so."

Dave Niehaus died yesterday. He had a heart attack on his back porch. He was surrounded by family when he died, as it should be. The Northwest lost a legend. I cried for hours. And, not knowing just what I should do, I drove down to Safeco Field with a candle and a note for his family. I had to tell them what Dave meant to me. I wasn't alone. Four other people were down there with the same thought. We left flowers and candles at the Home Plate entrance. KIRO 710 announced that a "spontaneous candlelight vigil" was going on at the stadium. All throughout the night and into today, fans of Dave Niehaus have been making the pilgrimage to Safeco Field, leaving their remembrances. The entire Northwest is grieving. It feels like we lost our grandfather, the one who told us stories about Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner. The one who could make a summer night come alive with magic and wonder. The one we listened to no matter what the score was. If the Mariners were down by 10 runs, I'd listen to Dave call for more. I learned to love baseball because of Dave Niehaus.

For me, some of the most poignant things Dave told me were about his role as a broadcaster. He knew that he'd become part of people's families and people's lives. And I think it humbled him. He said, "Baseball announcers like myself become ingrained in people’s families, because you come into their homes, if you’re a baseball fan, almost every day. And you become a part of their family."

And that's it. That's why it's so hard to lose him. He became a part of many people's families.

Summer's not going to feel the same without him. He said, "People start to listen, listening to me – or when baseball season comes around, let’s put it this way, it’s a portent of good things to come. Because the winter is over, Spring has started, the trees start to bloom, it’s, you know, it’s a – vacations are around the corner, beaches, hiking, trips, everything."

When I heard Dave's voice on the radio every February, I knew that spring was right around the corner. I knew that soon we'd be having beautiful long summer Seattle days and warm nights. I knew that it was almost hiking season. It's just not going to feel like summer without Dave.

Before I hung up the phone, Dave Niehaus asked if I would send him a copy of my bachelor's thesis when I was done. I couldn't believe it. My childhood hero was asking me to send me what I'd written. "Well Anna, it’s uh – good luck to you. And, uh, if you get a chance, when you write this, let me, let me read it," he said. So I bound a copy and sent it to him at Safeco Field. I don't know if he read it, but I like to think he did. I hope he liked it.

I treasure that phone conversation I had with Hall of Famer Dave Niehaus. It just epitomizes who he was. He was one of the nicest men in sports, a real class act, who would talk to anybody. Even during the down years -- and we Mariners fans have been in the midst of almost a decade of them -- we still listened to Dave.

According to broadcaster Shannon Drayer, Dave believed that Hall of Fame ghosts came out at night and played baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. On her blog, she related this anecdote.

"I thought that after they turned the lights off that they must sneak out of there and head over to Doubleday Field," he said, "almost like a Field of Dreams, only everyone is a Hall of Famer and you have got the ideal pitching matchup against the greatest ball players of all time. The old Negro Leagues stars were there and it is one happy family. Why not bring them all back and play the Oscar Charlestons? Yeah, you're darn right. There are ghosts there."

I like to imagine Dave Niehaus among the ghosts of Cooperstown. He's meeting Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. He's talking with Harry Caray, his own childhood hero. And he gets in the radio booth as Cy Young throws a fastball to Babe Ruth with three men on, and it's

"Babe Ruth points the bat out to left field, and it's swung on and BELTED! Deep to left field! Ted Williams goes to the track, to the wall! This baby is gonna...FLY AWAY! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD AND THE MUSTARD GRANDMA, IT'S GRAND SALAMI TIME!!!"

Rest in peace, Dave Niehaus. It's not going to feel like summer around here without you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Garden Lessons

I decided that today, my homework could wait. It's a beautiful crisp fall day in Seattle, and I knew that our supply of these lovely days is rapidly dwindling. So I pulled on an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, wandered out to my garden, and proceeded to do the final harvest of 2010. Save a few carrots I'll pull up and eat later.

I've been neglecting both garden and garden blog lately. I started my M.Ed program at UW Bothell, and it's been keeping me quite busy. Between that, working as a T.A., and attempting to find time for friends in the midst of a grad student's crazy schedule, I hadn't been as diligent in the garden. I waited too long to plant fall crops, and do not have a fall salad garden this year. On the flip side, my basement is full of the fruits of Canapalooza, my annual weeks-long canning project. I have multiple different kinds of salsa, five different kinds of jelly, basil beans, dilly beans, pickled zucchini, tomato sauce, and good old fashioned dill pickles. I also have 17 pints of peaches. I may make a peach tart or peach pie out of some of them.

While pulling out the tomatoes, I learned that they send out amazingly long roots. Their roots had taken over half the garden! I carefully harvested a few pounds of green tomatoes, putting them in a paper sack in my kitchen to ripen up. When I was done pulling out all the plants, I looked at my empty garden, wondering what I would grow next year.

For starters, I've decided what not to grow. I will not grow broccoli, as it takes up too much space and I'm not the biggest broccoli fan anyway. Gone are the strawberries, for the same reason (although I do love to eat berries). Likely gone too are the brandywines. While I did get some red brandywines (the plant I thought was a yellow brandywine turned out to be red), they ended up kinda mealy. We had a cool summer, and that may have affected their taste.

Here's what I think will be in my garden next spring: lettuce, radishes, kale, spring onions, carrots, chard, and possibly spicy purple mustard greens. For summer, I'll grow cherry tomatoes, Stupice tomatoes, yellow taxi tomatoes, Paul Robeson tomatoes, striped zebra tomatoes, striped German tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, red peppers, and zucchini. I may try to grow cucumbers and winter squash, too. We'll see.

I refuse to give up on zucchini, even though I learned that I still can't grow zucchini to save my life. It was too cold this summer for peppers, but I have hope that next summer's yield will be bigger.

Life started settling down in June. I think my garden kept me grounded. There's nothing like digging into fresh dirt, or eating a salad one grew oneself. As I wrote back in early March, it's hard to be sad when there are little green plants in one's house. Everything moves on, and life settles back into a happy medium.

The garden will stay sleeping until March, when the first spring plants go in. I'm exciting to see what next year's growing season will hold, but I'm in no hurry. I've got a lot of new wonderful things going on to enjoy first.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thoughts on a rainy day

I was not prepared for the rain to come back today. Usually, we have a few more weeks of sunshine and warm temperatures before the fall rains set in. But today, the last day of August, is rainy and chilly. It makes me want to curl up with a warm sweater in front of the fire and read a good book.

After finishing Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I started writing down what I've harvested so far this summer. My tomato yields so far have been pretty low, although there are a ton of little green tomatoes on the vines just waiting to ripen up. I figured out why the brandywines have been blossoming, but not fruiting, and seem to have fixed the problem. Turns out that I was watering too frequently and too shallowly. I switched to a program of watering deeply twice a week, and have been rewarded by the sight of more little brandywines peeking out of their blossoms. I am certainly hoping for a good yield.

I made a bit of a mistake harvesting my broccoli. I didn't know that, if you cut off the heads, the broccoli will just keep creating new ones. So I pulled it up completely. My roommate TJ informed me about the wonderful regenerating powers of broccoli, so I quickly put the plants back in the ground. They seem to be recovering okay.

I'm trying to decide what to grow in my fall garden, and whether or not to overwinter some crops. I'll be missing the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair this year because I'll be summitting Mt. St. Helens that day (so excited!), so I can't pick up any vegetable starts there. I might go check PCC or the nursery for some starts -- we'll see. I've already started swiss chard, lettuce, green onions, and radishes. I wasn't so great at planning out my little raised bed this year, so I won't have a lot of space until the tomatoes come out -- probably not until October.

If I overwinter anything, it will be garlic. I love garlic, and didn't grow any this year, as you have to sow garlic in the fall. I might also overwinter some carrots, snow peas, spinach, and lettuce. I haven't decided yet. Or, I could just sow some fava beans to fix nitrogen to my soil. I'll have to think on this some more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waiting for Brandywines

Seattle's weather has been downright schizophrenic lately. We had a pretty big heat wave over the weekend with temps up in the 90s. That's hot for us. Especially when it's humid. Then it's pretty unbearable. Before all of you East Coasters complain that "we have no idea what real weather is like" out here, remember that we have to deal with clouds and gloom for much of the year. And that in Seattle, when it's humid, it's usually raining. This Northwest gal's body just isn't built for humidity!

Every day, I go out and check the tomatoes. Following a tip from Barbara Kingsolver, I've been keeping track in my journal about which varieties are producing quite a few tomatoes, and which aren't. The tiny yellow taxi plant I damaged with a Wall-O-Water (future tip -- these things aren't really all that self-supporting) has produced three tomatoes for me so far, and there's a nice big one on the vine that will get ripe. The Peacevine cherry tomatoes are finally starting to ripen up. The plant literally has hundreds of tomatoes on it. And they're super tasty! The stupice and rainbow heirloom varieties are all producing tomatoes quite nicely, although nothing is ripe yet. But the big prize are the brandywines.

The brandywine tomato is my favorite tomato. It is big, juicy, and just about the tastiest thing ever. I know growing brandywines can be a challenge given our cool Northwest climate, but I wanted to try. Every day, I go out and check my red and yellow brandywine plants. And most days, nada. The yellow brandywine has two tomatoes on it and appears to be pretty healthy. The red brandywine has only one, and its blossoms are falling off.

Now, being a semi tech-savvy gardener, I googled why tomato blossoms can dry up and fall off. Turns out that extreme variations in temperature could be a culprit. And we've gone from 60 to 90 back to 70 again. A couple sites recommended that I change my watering practices, watering once or twice a week deeply instead of every other day. I will also try this and see what happens.

Hopefully I will have some brandywines soon. If not, I found out at the Wallingford Farmers Market today that I'll soon be able to buy 20 pounds of canning tomatoes for $25. Who wants to help me with Can-a-pa-looza?

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Accident-Prone Gardener

Turns out that I will be able to celebrate "Sneak A Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day" on August 8th after all. I pulled my Achilles playing soccer yesterday, and will not be going on a planned backpacking trip this weekend. I'm kinda bummed. I was really looking forward to getting out in the mountains. If it feels better (and I'm hoping it will if I stay off it today and tomorrow), I may go hike up Mt. Townsend or something. But the way your body moves day hiking is different than the way your body moves backpacking -- not to mention the amount of weight on your back -- so no backpacking. I console myself with the fact that there will be other trips, and that I will have things to harvest this weekend.

I'm a little bit accident-prone. Well, more than a little. I sprained my ankle so many times at Camp Parsons that the guys used to call spraining your ankle "pulling an Anna." If there's a hidden hole, I will probably find it. If there's something to hit one's head on, I'll find it too. It's hard to be aware of all the things that can hurt you when your head is in the clouds, or daydreaming about all the tomatoes in the garden.

Anyway, I'll be around this weekend. I believe that injuries are my body's way of telling me "Anna Elizabeth, you need some rest." So I will listen to my body. I'm trying to be better about doing that. If I listen to my body, I will take care of it. And I'm not going to get another one, you know. So I'd better be happy with and take care of what I've got!

On a completely unrelated note in this rather rambling post that has little to do about my garden, I've been thinking a lot about Whitman lately. Ten years ago this month I was a college freshman. Ten years. Wow. It is so hard to believe it's been that long. It feels like yesterday we were all arriving fresh out of high school, ready to enjoy the time of our lives. I remember meeting Ella in C-section, the long rides I used to take in the wheatfields, and long passionate debates with friends about nothing and everything all over again.

I found the journal I kept during my first couple years of college, and it's really taking me back to that time 10 years ago, when I was 18, fresh-faced, and eager for the rest of my life to begin. It's wonderful, reading these old posts to see what has changed and what has not. There are definitely some times when I want to go back to 18-year-old me and tell her not to be so sensitive -- that it's not the end of the world. There are some things that I am really glad I wrote about -- the candlelight vigil we held on September 11th, the death of one of my favorite professors, the time one of my friends engineered a serenade for me because I felt so lonely on Valentine's Day freshman year. I'm so glad I wrote everything down that I started keeping a journal again. I hadn't written anything in an actual journal for about two years.

And that's what this accident-prone gardener has been thinking about on this Friday. Hope all my readers are doing well.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Yay Zucchini!

Ladies and gentlemen, I have grown my first big zucchini. This isn't a monster zucchini -- just a 6-inch specimen. But oh, it is beautiful. And considering that I thought this plant was diseased (turned out it's the other one that is), quite a special zucchini.

Last summer, I was the only gardener in the world who couldn't grow zucchini. Maybe it was the soil conditions. Maybe it was because I had to transplant the poor plant. I don't know. It caught something (powdery mildew, mayhaps?), and just wouldn't grow. I was stuck eating little puny 3-inch zucchinis in August and September, and didn't have anything big enough to sneak onto my neighbor's porch.

And now I have my first lovely yellow zucchini. I'm going to grill it and eat it. Yum!

June and July are a time of growing -- so there hasn't been a whole lot to report. Today I staked the tomatoes I had remaining to stake, attempted to get a handle on Tomato-zilla (a Peacevine cherry tomato which is growing out of control), picked my zucchini, and planted some veggies for fall. I planted lettuce, chard, radishes and green onions.

This gardener's life has been quite busy. I'm taking a wilderness class which keeps me outdoors most weekends, and just started playing soccer. All the activity is making me lean and mean -- I'll have the muscles of an Amazon by the end of the summer! I'm taking summer quarter classes at the UW, and have been really enjoying them. Who knew that children's literature could be so fun?

The garden is busy with color -- and honeybees! I've discovered that lavender is a GREAT plant for attracting bees in the garden. You bet I'm going to grow some next year. Every time I go outside, there are these fat little bumblebees buzzing around, pollinating tomatoes and looking quite cute doing so! Because of the cool summer, the lettuce I planted in March is just now going to seed. I feel pretty lucky to have had great salads until now. I still have green onions, too. And my walls-o-water were good purchases -- my neighbor's tomatoes are teeny-tiny, while mine are 4 feet tall and flowering! I've already picked two yellow taxi tomatoes off that plant, and there are about 5-6 others ripening on the vine! It'll be a happy day once those Peacevine cherry tomatoes are ripe -- I easily have 30 tomatoes on that plant, and it's flowering like nobody's business!

Life is good. I'm happy, healthy, and busy. Just the way I like to be.

And my strawberries? I didn't need to test their resilience this summer. The alpine variety is growing quite nicely in my garden. And I did not need to learn any lessons of resilience from them either. This gal's feet have been dancing through these pretty July days, and conquering any challenge that comes her way! Quite a 180 from the dark days of February and March. A few weeks ago, I finally started to feel like I was back to my old plucky self again. Thanks to all of you for your love and support. I could not have gotten through those dark days without you. Come visit me during tomato season and I'll cook you up something real nice!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why I Garden

A quick note before I write this post. Cool weather is killing our honeybees. They like temps above 57 F this time of year. Gardeners and lovers of bees, be concerned. (

Unlike last year, this may not be a great year for tomatoes. Good thing I bought Walls-o-water for mine! They are like tomato jackets. It may be 65 F outside, but my tomatoes think it's 75 degrees!

I started reading the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver today. It's about how the author and her family attempt to locally source their diet for an entire year, while living on their Virginia farm. I'm just starting the book, and I know it's going to be a good one. Kingsolver writes a lot about her relationship to the land, and ponders whether or not Americans know where their food comes from anymore. She wants to grow her own food as a way of getting back in touch with a local eating culture -- something that Americans often lack. In places like Italy or France, local cheeses and breads are protected by those who love them. They've become part of the local culture. There used to be a reason why we eat what we eat. But now, Parmesan cheese comes from a green can -- not from Parma, Italy. And kids think that vegetables grown in the dirt make those veggies dirty -- not organic and wonderful.

While putting compost on my tomato plants today and adjusting my walls-o-water, I started thinking about why I garden, and whether or not I know where my food comes from. I would say that I know where about 50% of my food comes from. I grow my own veggies, and am splitting a CSA share with my friend Kim. I try to buy local meat from Skagit Valley Ranch when possible. But my beloved Clif bars are made in a factory, and my Trader Joe's yogurt definitely is not local. I'm doing what I can, but there are some foods that I just don't want to give up. Every now and then, a baked Cheeto tastes really good. But the sweet green peas ripening in my garden always taste better.

I garden because I get so much joy out of seeing a seed that I planted become a pea-producing plant. I garden because I love the feel of good dirt under my fingers. I garden because a tomato I've grown myself always tastes better than those you can find at the grocery store. I garden because I feel a sense of accomplishment when I pick and eat a salad I grew myself. I garden so more of my food literally comes from my backyard, and not from some big box grocery store. I garden because I am in love with the earth, with green growing things, with the rain that feeds them, the bees that pollinate them, and the sun that makes them grow tall and strong.

What I have learned from being a vegetable gardener is that there is so much more that goes into a veggie. Way more than one can understand if one buys all ones veggies at the grocery store. Growing vegetables is, for me, a labor of love. It's how I show love for the Earth. And it's how I show love for my body. I don't think it's a coincidence that I lost 20 pounds this last year. I radically changed my diet by locally sourcing my own vegetables. I'm not putting as much crap into my stomach.

From my little 4x6 raised bed, I have learned that farming is hard work. I have learned that peas become Peazilla with enough rain. I have watched my plants grow and change almost daily, reaching for the sun. I have learned what a healthy plant looks like, and am learning to spot bug damage on my leaves. I have practiced organic methods of gardening, choosing compost and organic fertilizer over chemicals. And I have tasted the sweetness in a home-grown pea.

One of my friends told me once that the adjective "cosmic" describes me quite well. I'm definitely a free spirit, and I've always been fascinated by stars. When I was little, I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. My head is often years ahead of my body. And most of my friends will tell you that I am a consummate planner -- I am always, always making plans. Well, gardening keeps me in the present. It adds some weight to the lightness of being cosmic. Gardening gets my hands in the good earth.

Quite literally, gardening keeps me grounded.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gardening At Night

I was humming the R.E.M. song "Gardening at Night" while working in my garden this evening. One of the lovely things about Seattle in late spring is that it stays light until 9:30-10 PM. It's about 9 right now, and the sun is just finishing its descent behind the Olympics.

I put in the last of the tomatoes and the pepper I grew from seed. Right now, I have six tomato plants and two pepper plants growing. I started four tomatoes and one pepper from seed. Not too shabby!

It's been really wet up here in Seattle lately. Today was nice, but our rainfall patterns have better resembled November than June. This makes for a muddy garden. The soil in the starts I planted tonight had turned to mud. I won't need to water anything for a good long time, but I am worried about my zucchini. I think it may have powdery mildew already -- a disease that zucchini usually doesn't get until late summer. I need to call The Garden Hotline to figure it out.

All of the rain has turned my peas into Peazilla. After last weekend's adventure on the Olympics, I returned to find that my peas had essentially collapsed their trellis and were threatening the pepper I'd just planted. The vines are at least six feet long, and they're all wrapped around each other. They're massive! I tried to take a picture, but the low light ensured it was out of focus. I'm enjoying putting freshly picked peas on my salads. They're so tasty. Anyway, once it gets warm, Peazilla is going to become a pain in the butt to take out. Peas don't grow well in warm temperatures.

Lots of new adventures to report. I started a new blog for my sportswriting, Sportsology. You can find it at And I got into UW Bothell! So my summer and next couple years are set. Yes! I'll be taking classes during UW summer quarter and gardening all summer long. It should be great.

Enjoy your spring salads, fresh peas, and fava beans before it's too late!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anna and Abby's Accidental Adventure

I'm no damsel. I usually keep my head in stressful situations. I may be in distress, but I'm not the kind of woman who needs a knight in shining armor to come to her rescue. I prefer to take care of things myself.

So when the nasty red oil pressure warning light came on while I was on a dirt road in the middle of the Olympics, I did not panic. Calmly, I pulled the car over to the side of the road, turned off the engine, and made a plan. Abby and I had been intending on doing a day hike up the Duckabush River, but clearly, Edgar the Mighty Volvo was not going to make it to the trailhead. When we got out of the car to check the engine, we noticed a large pool of oil on the road leading to my car. I'd bottomed out on a hidden pothole, tearing a hole in my oil pan. Thank goodness I'd pulled over.

I knew exactly what to do. We had to get to Camp Parsons.

I was a Boy Scout camp counselor in college at Camp Parsons, the oldest Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi. It is a place of tradition and history. Once a Parsons counselor, always a Parsons counselor. And even though I had not set foot on camp property for five years, I knew there would be someone there to help. It was an adult work party weekend, and my dad would be around, as well as other current and former staffers who could help get my car out of the Olympics.

Abby and I flagged a passing car down. The woman inside had been walking her dogs on the Duckabush trail, and needed to go back to her house and get a larger truck in order to transport both of us to camp. We started walking down the road, stopping to glare at the offending pothole. Eventually the woman, Cathy, came back with her truck. She told us that she'd once been stuck 30 miles away from the nearest town in the Alaskan interior, and was happy to help a pair of stranded hikers out. Her dog, a beautiful white long-haired dog named Handsome, sniffed us inquisitively, barking as we got in.

"Your dog is lovely. What kind of dog is that?" Abby asked. As the smaller of the two, she got in the back of the truck. I perched up front to give directions if necessary.

"Oh, he's a wolf," Cathy responded. Abby and I looked at each other, incredulous.

"A WHAT?" I yelped.

"He's a Siberian wolf," Cathy said nonchalantly. Abby warily eyed what we thought had been a big white fluffy dog in the seat next to her.

"He's real friendly," Cathy said. And true, he was.

We got to camp, found Dad, and ate lunch. At lunch, Jim, an older volunteer and Brinnon resident, offered to help us get the car. We called Triple A, explained where the car was, and off we went. Two hours later, we brought Edgar the Mighty Volvo into camp, leaving him next to the ranger's house.

We figured that Keith, who was on Camp Parsons staff with my dad in the 1970s, might know how to get a used oil pan. Now working as a long haul trucker, Keith had been a Volvo mechanic for quite a while. I called him up, and serendipitously, he had a Bellingham, WA phone book in his truck.

"Call this guy. Rainbow Larry. He's good, and he'll have what you're looking for," Keith said. Wait a minute. First, I pet a wolf. And now, Keith was telling me to call a guy named Rainbow Larry? I scratched my head and wrote down the number. I called it, and sure enough, got the answering machine for one "Rainbow Larry's Auto Service" in Bellingham. I left a message explaining what I was looking for.

Since he basically knew everyone in Brinnon and Quilcene, Jim decided to take Abby and me to try to find somebody to fix the car. Knowing very little about cars, I figured that all I needed was an oil pan and a person to put it on. Easy, right? We climbed into Jim's car with Spike, his dog, in search of Andy the Hawaiian mechanic. I didn't know much about this Andy character, except that Jim trusted him, that he was good with cars, and that we couldn't call him on his phone.

Jim explained to me how a rural economy works. Instead of using money, people in Brinnon and Quilcene tend to use a trade and barter system. Instead of calling someone on the phone, it was always, always better to drop in and chat first.

We drove up and over Mt. Walker, marveling at the lush green forest and high mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Jim pulled into the first driveway in Quilcene, only to find a closed gate.

"Well," he said, "this is the rural way of saying 'do not disturb." So we pulled into the drive-through coffee shop to ask the girl behind the counter if she knew where Andy the Hawaiian mechanic would be hanging out at 4 PM on a Saturday. She had no idea who we were talking about.

So we drove back to camp. While we were gone, the guys had tried to use jacks to put Edgar up on blocks. But the jacks were too tall. So two of the biggest guys in camp crawled under my Volvo and lifted it up to put it on the blocks. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is. I knew that if I got to camp, and if I got my car to camp, we'd figure something out.

Abby and I spent a wonderful evening hanging out in the common room of the Health Lodge, drinking beer and conversing with current and former Parsons staffers. My Parsons friendships are pretty special. It's the closest I'll ever get to being in a fraternity. No matter where I am and who I am, I will always be a Parsons staffer -- part of a brotherhood that spans generations. We laughed, we swore, and we shared camp stories.

The next day, Abby and I decided to take my dad's van up to the Mt. Townsend trailhead, since he was not planning on leaving camp until the mid-afternoon. We couldn't reach the top of Townsend due to deep snow at 5000 feet, but had a nice hike nevertheless. We passed many creeks and waterfalls on the way, eating lunch in a cool, foggy meadow.

While we were gone, the guys fashioned a patch out of J B Weld (special epoxy glue that is heat resistant) and metal. They put it over the hole in the oil pan, waited for it to dry, and filled my car with oil. Edgar started up right away. I'd done the right thing when I pulled over, and had saved my engine. Phew.

We made it home around 9 PM on Sunday night, tired, exhausted, and feeling like we'd had years of living in the last two days. My friends back home, whom I'd been texting updates to, sent me 'glad you're home safe' text messages.

But see, I knew we'd end up just fine. In what could have been an extremely stressful situation, I kept my head. I knew exactly what to do. I called on the 'grace under pressure' I learned to use when I was a Parsons counselor. I'm no damsel. I knew exactly what to do. I got in a car with a wolf, called a guy named Rainbow Larry, went with Jim in search of Andy the Hawaiian mechanic in Quilcene while two burly dudes lifted my car up on blocks, and drove home with a fancy Boy Scout fix holding my oil pan together.

Oh, and did I mention that I woke up with mouse poop next to my head and did not scream?

The God I believe in has a way of nudging me towards the place where I need to be. Or, in this case, tearing a hole in my oil pan. I think I needed to be at Camp Parsons this weekend. I needed to walk the trails of a place I know so well that its map is written in my bones. I needed to go to the end of the pier, breathe the fresh, salty air, and remember a time when I wore a troop's flag while jumping off the pier to start the canoe race. I was nineteen. One hundred Scouts were chanting my name. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Slipping back into my Camp Parsons self was so easy. I could reassure my friends back home that yes, I would get home safe -- to trust me, I will be fine. I hadn't felt so certain of my own well-being for months. Perhaps for years. But when faced with the adversity of being stuck four miles up a rural mountain road, I knew that Abby and I were going to get out. I knew that we'd get home. And I knew, too, that I'd finish my finals, finish out the rough year, and start my summer with confidence, grace, and the knowledge that I can, in fact, do anything.

All I needed were some Boy Scouts, laughter, beer, and someone to "duct tape" my car with some J B Weld.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How I Spent The Game

"The House That Griffey Built" touched a nerve for a lot of you. Thanks for the comments and responses. It sounds like my crazy idea of interviewing true blue baseball fans about why they love the game and turning those interviews into a book may not be so crazy after all. Right now, I'm thinking of focusing on female fans, largely because that's the niche I fall into. When talking to male baseball fans, sometimes I find that they need to one-up me. While I did get into an interesting conversation with the guy sitting next to me as a result of this project, I didn't appreciate his implication that I'm not a "real" baseball fan because the first Mariners season I remember was 1995. I'm not a fair-weather fan. I went to games before that. But 1995 was the first year I remember actually caring about baseball.

I ended up being offered a free ticket to tonight's game. Instead of being a good grad student and working on my paper, I jumped at the free chance to go to the ballpark. I spent quite a bit of the game walking around the stadium, talking about my book project, trying to convince people I wasn't crazy. First, I tried the Bullpen Market area, thinking that might be a good place to find true blue Mariners fans. Nope. It's just a meat market. While I did get into a fun conversation with a Twins fan who was heckling center fielder Denard Span, the book idea had no takers. Six years ago, when I did a similar project for my bachelor's thesis, I had no problem convincing random strangers to give me their email addresses so I could contact them about my thesis project. Heck, I even got the Mariners to give me Dave Niehaus' phone number so I could interview him! This time, people were a bit more guarded. Really, folks, I just want to interview you about baseball. I'm not connected with any pyramid schemes or Nigerian money emails. Trust me.

Undaunted, I spotted a bright pink sign in the upper deck that read "4 Old Bats." I'd seen this sign at games before, and had sat near the women underneath on one occasion. I walked up and said, "Hi. My name is Anna. You look like baseball fans, and I wanted to ask you a question." They invited me to sit in an empty seat in their row. I explained that I needed help with a project. They said that they like helping with projects, and had played a role in a documentary about women and baseball.

"You should really come to spring training next year," one of them said. Another showed me an email from the Mariners inviting them to have lunch in the clubhouse with Don Wakamatsu. I took down their email addresses, and said I'd be in touch soon. Awesome!

Joan, one of the women I spoke with, said I should come back and say hello next time I am at a ballgame with them. She'd run out of Honorary Old Bat pins, she said, otherwise she would have given me one. My next game is Singles Night, on June 19th. They will also be at that game. I plan on coming up to say hello, and on updating them on my project. I will possibly be in the company of a tall, dark, and handsome baseball fan from Singles Night. We will see. :)

I've decided to tentatively title the book "How We Came to Love The Game." I'm definitely going to need a lot of support and help with this project. Right now, I'm thinking about traveling to the following cities to interview female fans, share stories, and talk baseball -- New York, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, and Kansas City. I need help getting connected with baseball fans in each city, as well as a place to stay. If you yourself are a female baseball fan, and would like to participate in an hour-long interview for this project, please let me know. If you know of a female baseball fan who may want to participate, please pass on my info (my email address is on Facebook) to her. I will likely have to stay in Seattle this summer due to my meager grad student budget, but in the event that the book takes off and I actually get an advance -- or I win the lottery -- I'll schedule some interviews when I come through.

Oh, and if you happen to know of a tall, dark, handsome baseball fan who's looking for a gal who truly loves the game, would you please send him my way? Yankees fans need not apply. :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The House That Griffey Built

#24 decided he was done today. He wrote a statement to be read to the media, and quietly hung up his glove and his cleats. There was no weepy press conference. No fanfare. He simply decided he was done.

Smiley texted me right after the news became public. "Are you sitting down? Griffey retired." I dropped my phone and ran to the computer. I couldn't believe it. See, when other heroes from that '95 team retired, they had a swan song season. Baseball got to say goodbye to Edgar Martinez in fine fashion. He received standing ovations in every ballpark the Mariners traveled to. Griffey was just done. The joy had gone out of the game for him -- easy when you're hitting below .200 and have lost all your at-bats to the hot hitting Mike Sweeney. Good for him for knowing when to stop, and preventing any more awkward situations. Seeing an aging superstar lose his abilities -- it's just so sad.

But The Kid is no longer playing baseball. And I thought we were going to get a chance to say goodbye. He wasn't going to be at the ballpark tonight, but I knew there was something I had to do. It wasn't a choice, really. I had to go that game. I had to sit in The House that Griffey Built and pay my respects in the only way I know how -- by watching Cliff Lee pitch one helluva game ending with Ichiro singling the winning run home in the bottom of the 10th. I texted all the baseball fans I knew -- people who had grown up with Griffey and the Mariners, people who live and breathe this beautiful, beautiful game. Ashley, Brian and I dropped everything. We changed our plans to sit in Griffey's House, Safeco Field, and talk baseball. It was the only way to pay our respects to The Kid.

I don't know if I can really put my finger on why I love baseball. It just kinda snuck into my soul one day, likely during that amazing 1995 season when Seattle went baseball mad. I was thirteen -- tall, gawky, and very awkward. I've always gotten into trouble for saying what I think and well, that didn't make me very popular in middle school. I was socially awkward -- still am, in some respects. But watching baseball changed all that. You really could taste the excitement in the city. Seattle was on fire, and all people could talk about was baseball. I watched and listened to the end of the '95 season and to all those playoff games like a girl possessed. I was hooked on the excitement, the frenzy, and the beauty of it all. And I had a Walkman. So I was the only kid on the bus who could listen to each game. I gave running play-by-plays, and for the first and only time in my life as a student, I was popular.

When times are tough, and I am under stress or incredibly sad, I go to a ballgame. And when I am joyful, dancing, and utterly in love and at peace with the world, I go to a ballgame. Baseball provides me with stability in an oft-unstable world. So many things have caught me off balance this year -- the end of a long-term relationship, the realization that my career path was not fulfilling me, the decision to become a teacher, and the negotiation of all these transitions. In baseball, there are always 27 outs. There are always moments when a player's grace just blows you away. And there are always stories -- the fables true fans tell about players, ballparks, myths, curses, and the like. For Mariners fans, we still have Hall of Famer Dave Niehaus, even though he is now missing home run calls and sometimes thinks the Mariners still play in the Kingdome. Through Niehaus on the radio, I can imagine long fly balls belted deep down the left field line. And I can still hear and see Griffey sliding into home, beating the Yankees in 1995. The Kid is intimately connected with The Double and the ensuing pigpile on home plate. I jumped ten feet in the air, just like Mike Blowers. Griffey saved baseball in Seattle with that slide. Edgar's Double was the Shot Heard Round Seattle. Griffey's slide built Safeco Field.

I'm 28, and it feels like my childhood just died today. For as long as Junior was playing, there was a part of me that was always 13, banging pots and pans together while running up and down my street. There was a part of me stuck at 6, a voracious reader catching bugs in the yard and throwing water balloons with friends. There was a naive 22-year-old writing her bachelor's thesis about Mariners fan culture and community who couldn't wait to get out into the adult world. And, too often, a weary 28-year-old who lately has been feeling like her carefully constructed life has been falling apart, and who has realized that the adult world isn't all it's cracked up to be. Everything she thought she was and would be -- it's all changing around her so quickly, too quickly, whirling and spinning out of her hands. The life I have is not the life I want, and I'm coming to terms with that and changing it so my reality better matches my dreams. Baseball, with its 27 outs and its moments of grace, gives me a much-needed center. As long as The Kid was playing, I could still be a kid too.

In baseball, as in life, there aren't really any do-overs. It's not like football where a play can be whistled dead and the team can play it again. Refs often make bad calls and make huge mistakes. Season after season, year after year, there are 27 outs. There are nine innings. And the teams keep playing until somebody wins. As much as I want a do-over right now -- as much as I want a time machine to go back to when I started graduate school and tell 23-year-old me "don't do it. This is not the right thing to do. You're going to be so unhappy," I can't. With Griffey's retirement comes the realization that I don't have any do-overs. And as much as it seems like the friends around me have it all together (it's so hard when you're one of the only grad students in a group of people who seem to have it all figured out), they don't all the time. The life I thought I would have is not the life I have now, but I have the power and the ability to change that. Just as Griffey changed his mind about baseball, I can also change my mind at any time.

There will always be 27 outs. There will always be heroes and villains. We baseball fans will always have arguments about the designated hitter, and about the merits and demerits of various players. I will always loathe the Yankees. This beautiful game will be always be at the core of who I am. And I look forward to telling my grandchildren about the time Edgar Martinez hit that perfect double down the left field line, and about how Griffey sprinted from first to home. I will sit in The House That Griffey Built tomorrow. I'll be there for his retirement ceremony. I will be there when he is inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame -- I'll camp out to get tickets if I have to. I'll be there with friends who are true blue Mariners fans -- people to whom all I have to say is "I need to go to the game, guys," and they know. They understand. For their own personal reasons, they've come to love the game. And when that game calls each of us, we go.

Good luck to you, Ken Griffey, Jr. Come on up and see us in Seattle sometime. We miss you already. Thanks for helping to construct a place I can go when I need to escape life's peaks and valleys, laugh with friends, and watch 27 outs of the most beautiful game humans ever created.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Sirens of Singlehood and The Single Gardener's Manifesto

So, there have been some interesting things going on in the life of this spontaneous gardener. An old friend of mine and I reconnected, and there were sparks. We followed the sparks, but it just didn't feel right. It was really all a matter of bad timing on both of our parts. In our own separate ways, we are each being seduced by the sirens of singlehood.

This recent experience has got me reflecting. I've never had a period of my life where I've made a commitment to being single. I tend to meet men via online dating services, which can create a sense of false intimacy right off the bat. It's like the relationship is destined to happen before we even meet each other. That beautiful, slow period of organic discovery where you learn about each others' interests and passions -- well, I've never really had that. Not in my adult life, anyway. I have it in my head that I'm really bad at meeting potential dating partners in real life. Considering that I've been on several offline dates in the past few months and gotten several phone numbers has been quite the revelation for me. I'm not bad at this. I'm just learning how to do it. And I think I could use more practice.

The Internet has really changed the way we interact with each other. Via Facebook and Twitter, we build online versions of ourselves. In a sense, I suppose that's also what I'm doing on this blog. I like to think that my online personality is fairly close to the reality of who I am in flesh and blood, but there are definitely differences. I give great hugs, and you can't hug a screen.

What it comes down to is this. I want to fall in love with a person, not a profile. I think that, with online dating, I often fall for the profile before the person. And I don't want to go into a relationship with an idealized notion of how a person is supposed to be, based on what he wrote on an online dating website. No -- I want real life and all of its messiness. I want the butterflies, the confusion, and the period of sharing and learning. It's too easy for me if it's all right there for the taking.

I don't want to come out and completely diss online dating, because I know it has worked for some of my friends, and I know it works for some people. Meeting "the right person" takes time and effort. You may not encounter "the right person" in your everyday interactions -- but he or she could be waiting online. And I know of people who met the right person this way. But I'm a storyteller. And I'd rather my (our) future story begin with phrases like this --

I met him at a concert. I found her joyful, crazy dancing infectious. I kept seeing her at Science Cafe, and she asked fabulous questions. We volunteered together at a garden. We started talking at a baseball game. Friends set us up. He was on a Mountaineers hike with me.

That's the kind of story I want to start telling. And I think that, in order to have that story, I really need to get offline and give real life a chance. I also need to have a summer where I am single in the city. I need to heed the call of the sirens of singlehood in order to be ready for a relationship again. I need to put myself in social situations where I may be a little bit uncomfortable. I need to get out there and meet some strangers, and bring those strangers into the circle of wonderful people I am so blessed to call friends. I need to dance, hike, garden, volunteer, and get to the point where I am comfortable doing things alone -- and especially be comfortable with going places by myself.

So my Single Gardener's Manifesto is this. I am committing myself to a summer of offline dating. I will learn how to meet people by putting myself in slightly uncomfortable social situations -- places that challenge my shyness (I can be shy in large groups of people I don't know) and my limits. I will take care of myself. I will enjoy the company of my friends. I will dance, laugh, love, and explore the city. I will force myself to go singles mixers like the upcoming Singles Night at Safeco Field, because I'm deathly curious and I have no idea what goes on at these things. It's going to be so much fun. And I'm sure I'll have some great stories, too.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about gardening, I should update you on the status of my wonderful plants! My peas are finally coming out of their flowers, and it seems like new peas appear on the vines each day. The tomato starts are all successfully hardened off. I put three more in the garden today, and will put the rest in once the peas and fava beans come out. The fava beans are starting to produce beans, and I will have to figure out what on earth to do with them. The carrots and broccoli are growing quite nicely. The garden is buzzing with light, life, and activity. Summer is almost here. I can taste the tomatoes and peppers already.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Impatient Gardener

I'm still waiting to hear from UW Bothell. I'm still waiting for the flowers on my pea vines to turn into peas. But I did spot a little baby fava bean emerging from a fava flower. So that's something.

I am not the most patient person on the planet. I kinda hate surprises. I come from a family that is religious about making Christmas lists -- so we know what to expect under the Christmas tree. One time, my friends in college tried to throw me a surprise party. They weren't so good at keeping it secret, and I figured it out way beforehand. Which was fine -- I hate surprises.

So much of gardening is an exercise in patience. No matter how often I go out and check for baby peas and baby favas, they'll emerge from the flowers when they're damn well ready to. Telling them "come out, come out, wherever you are" doesn't work.

I'd really like them to emerge so I can show you what I've grown, and so I can take them out and put in my tomatoes! I successfully hardened off the tomato plants, and they've been outside for a few days now, getting used to the weather before I plant them. One of them even has the beginnings of a little baby tomato. We'll see if it tastes any good!

Waiting, waiting, waiting. The worst part is that I know UW Bothell is already made a decision. And if I'm accepted, I know I will be getting an email towards the end of the week letting me know I've been accepted. So I should know within a couple of days. Sigh. I just want to know now.

Maybe gardening can teach me patience. Lord knows I need it. It's funny -- I'm really patient with my kids at the middle school, but I'm not so patient with myself. How is it that we can be patient with others more easily than with ourselves?

Anyway, it's almost finals week. One of the ways you can tell it's almost finals week with me is that I get injured more often. I think I get injured more when I get stressed out. Well, I ran into a door with my face on Monday. I'm not kidding. I was at work in the library, pushing a cart, and I opened a door too quickly, tripped over my cart, and hit the edge of the door with my face. Ouch. It's a little swollen, but not too bad.

Almost summer. It can't come soon enough. And then the rest of my life as a teacher begins.

C'mon Bothell!

Monday, May 24, 2010

No peas without bees!

This should be the gardener's new chant. No peas without bees! The bee crisis is indeed something we all should monitor.

I was listening to KUOW's Greendays program last week, and it was interesting to hear a bee keeper's perspective on the bee crisis. Many of you have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder -- a condition by which a healthy beehive seemingly collapses overnight. Worker bees from a beehive suddenly disappear. Without the workers, the colony cannot survive.

I have heard many theories behind CCD -- cell phone radiation, genetically modified crops, or the use of pesticides could be possible culprits. The beekeeper on the program posited another theory -- monocultures. When we lived on small family farms, we practiced crop rotation, and grew multiple varieties of vegetables. But with the advent of Big Agriculture, many fields are planted with just one variety of one crop. Bees used to be exposed to crop diversity and with it likely developed resistance to many diseases. Monocultures (and pesticides) harm bees.

So, why should you care about CCD? Honey bees are responsible for pollinating about 1/3 of the United States' species -- including pears, apples, cherries, berries, and peaches. Without honey bees, those crops don't get pollinated. Without pollination, we will not have as much fruit. Since Washington state is a key supplier of all of these crops, our state could see a significant economic effect from this.

And besides, honey bees are super cute. I love it when they get themselves drunk on pollen and have to digest some before they fly away. They look like fat black bees all covered in yellow pollen. It's adorable.

I'm a little worried about my peas and beans, if you haven't guessed by the title of this post. They are flowering up a storm -- yet I have not seen a big black bumblebee in my garden yet. Granted, my sample size is pretty small. It's not like I sit outside all day and watch my garden for bees. And I did see a bumblebee in the clover in my yard this afternoon. They're probably around -- my pear tree is forming little baby pears, and that could not have happened without bumblebees.

You may be wondering -- how do I help honey bees? One of the easiest things you can do is plant a garden! Consider planting some things bees like -- blue, purple or yellow flowers, clover, sage, oregano, and English thyme. Host a bee shelter -- set out a bee block for wood-burrowing bees. Don't use pesticides in your garden. And let your leafy veggies go to seed after harvest in the colder months. This allows honey bees to stock up on food for the winter.

As you can see from the pictures, my garden is really growing! The green things are walls-o-water -- little jackets for heat-loving plants. They work quite well -- I find that inside the wall-o-water, the temperature is several degrees warmer than outside. Good, as it's gotten rather chilly again in Seattle.

I did plant a couple more new things. I decided to take a chance and plant some bush beans. We'll see if I like them or not. I also put a new lettuce variety -- red deer tongue -- in the back of my garden. This variety grows well in summer, when the current varieties I have planted go to seed.

So far, I've only lost one tomato plant to the hardening off process. But I figured that plant was going to die anyway. Right now, they're out for about 14 hours. I've been trying to harden them off slowly, increasing their time outside by 2 hour increments. But a girl's gotta sleep sometime. They're doing well outside all day and into the evening. Maybe I will try leaving them out all night tomorrow night. Hopefully I won't lose any more.

Life is good. I'll find out about UW Bothell sometime this week. I think my interview went pretty well, although I was slightly stymied by the last question. Y'all know how much I hate waiting, and it's frustrating that I am forced to wait right now. They've made the decisions already...I'm just waiting for the bureaucratic process to play out and for me to actually get the decision. Sigh.

Had a wonderful weekend with friends. Things are good. And I have some of the best sausage ever in my fridge -- locally raised stuff. Time to go make potatoes with sausage and asparagus for dinner! Yum.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transitioning to Summer

Although you wouldn't believe it from the weather outside -- chilly and rainy -- it's time to start transitioning my garden to summer crops. My peas have joined the fava beans in flowering. Soon they will start producing pea pods, which I look forward to using in stir frys and salads. When they're done producing, I'll pull them up and put in the tomatoes and peppers. My summertime garden will consist of carrots, broccoli, onions, lettuce (warm season varieties), tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. All of that, plus the CSA I am splitting with my friend Kim, will easily allow me to locally source at least 50% of my meals.

Kim and I decided to share the cost of a 22-week CSA. We were both eyeing the huge grocery bags stuffed with produce as they were dropped off at our church last summer. There are too many veggies in there for one person, but we can easily share a bag. Our CSA will be through Seattle Market Gardens (, a neat program by which residents of Southeast Seattle can sell the produce grown in their P-Patches. A half-share worked out to $15/week -- so $7.50/week each. This is far, far cheaper than CSAs provided by King County farms. The majority of the farmers who will be growing my food are low-income immigrants. So, I will be putting yummy veggies into my tummy. Low-income immigrants will be getting an income from selling their veggies. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

I may plant some bush beans, too. I haven't decided yet. I'm trying to only grow things I actually eat, but I'm also trying to push my foodie boundaries. I've never been a big green bean fan...but maybe that's because I didn't grow up with fresh green beans. One time, my friend Peter and I went hiking, and he had fresh green beans with him as a snack. I swear I ate half the bag. It's possible that I don't like green beans because I grew up eating awful canned green beans. And fresh veggies are always, always, better than commercially canned stuff.

The broccoli and carrots are sprouting. My peas and beans are flowering. I'm hardening off my tomato plants. So far, I've only lost one of the tomato plants in the hardening off process -- but I was pretty sure that plant was going to die anyway. One or two more tomato plants may not make it, but I'm doing my darndest to keep them all alive and happy! My walls-o-water arrived today, and I will be setting two of them up around the Brandywine and the Yellow Pear already planted. It's cold, and my tomatoes could use little jackets!

Every day, I am amazed by my garden. I find myself going out every day -- sometimes twice a day -- to observe how different veggies grow. It really does look different each day. Today, I spent some time observing my fava beans, trying to figure out if the beans emerge from the flowers dotting the plants, or if they will emerge from the leaves' bases. From what I remember from biology, I'm pretty sure the beans will emerge from the flowers eventually. I'm trying not to be an impatient gardener -- I want my beans now!

I'm fascinated by how my peas shoot little tendrils out, grabbing onto anything they can in their quest for the sun. Some of the pea vines have attached their tendrils onto other pea vines, supporting each other and pulling those plants back that are growing in odd directions. It looks like a mini pea-vine jungle! I'm not sure how I will get the vines off the trellis when it's time to take them out -- some of the tendrils are wrapped around my ropes pretty tight. They remind me of babies, and the strength they have when they wrap their little fingers around one of your own.

The way my pea vines shoot tendrils out and support each other remind me of what friends do for each other. My friends have definitely supported me as I shot out my own tendrils earlier this spring. And I support them, too, through their ups and downs. As my garden transitions to summer, so am I, emerging triumphantly into long days and warm nights.

There's a lot to make me smile right now. I got into the UW's Special Education program. I passed my teacher exams. I'm being interviewed by UW Bothell on Saturday, and will likely get into their program. My garden looks beautiful. I am surrounded by the love of my amazing friends. I have a number of unexpected blessings surrounding me. I'm really, really enjoying my life right now.

Isn't "unexpected blessing" the definition of "grace?" May my life continue to be full of grace. And laughter. And really good food.

Love y'all.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Much-needed garden maintenance

I took advantage of a beautiful Friday to do some much-needed garden maintenance. Unlike container gardens, raised beds need to be weeded periodically. The soil often contains grass and clover seeds. And I'd rather be growing veggies, not grass.

I took out the chard, spinach, and kale. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but these seedlings remained tiny. It's possible that the cold snap we had a couple of weeks ago just did these plants in. We also had a cold April, so the seeds I'd planted never really got going. The spinach was from a start, but had started going to seed -- again a result of the cold snap. I don't know if I'll grow these plants next year. I don't really eat a whole lot of chard (although I'd like to), and I had more success with kale from starts. Maybe I'll read up about these plants this winter and try again.

So much of gardening is trial and error. And a good bit of luck. An ill-timed cold snap can just wipe out a farmer's crop. One of the guys at the Ballard farmers market was telling me last week that many of the Eastern Washington farmers lost some of their spring and summer crops because of the late cold snap. Hopefully they can recover some of their profits with other crops. Farmers always seem to be one bout of bad weather away from bankruptcy.

I moved some plants around in the container garden surrounding my raised bed. I decided to plant my summer starts, and needed to free up some larger containers in order to do so. I moved the herbs into smaller containers, and put zucchini plants in the large pink buckets. Here's hoping I can actually grow a zucchini this year. I'll be hopefully growing yellow zucchini and yellow crookneck squash -- my favorites!

I put a yellow pear and a brandywine tomato in the back, against the trellis. I buried them up to their first set of leaves, as tomatoes grow roots from the stem. A well-developed root system leads to healthier tomatoes. I ordered walls-of-water (basically tomato jackets) from a garden store, and those should be here next week sometime. I want my tomatoes to be nice and warm this summer! Behind the fava beans, I planted a bell pepper. I put Walla Walla sweets in a back corner of the garden, and basil in a container. If it's too cold for the basil, I'll just buy a basil plant from Trader Joe's -- they've got some big beautiful ones for sale!

An ill-timed cold snap could ruin my crops. I'll be hoping that doesn't happen. It's been pretty warm for the last week or so, and I think the mercury will stay above 60 degrees during the day for a little while longer. So I should be safe. And if I gambled and planted too early, that's my fault. I'll learn from the experience and try again.

I started hardening off my tomato starts today, too. Does anyone else think that sounds dirty, or is it just me? Huh. Anyway, I took them out for an hour this morning, to begin to get them acclimated to sunlight and the outdoors. I'm going to take two weeks to harden them off and get them used to the outdoors, and then I will plant them. Not sure yet how many tomatoes I will plant, but I have nine different varieties started. If I plant one of each variety, that will be nine plants in addition to the two I have out there. I'm going to have a lot of canning to do!