September 1, 2012

Farewell to Iowa

We have moved to Tacoma, WA!  Yes, it's a little out of the blue, but at the same time it makes a lot of sense if you know the whole story.  At the end of July, we moved our daughter to the Seattle area - a caravan of her car and a Budget rental truck.  She accepted a teaching position here, which was really a dream come true for her, as this area was where she longed to live.  We had all agreed that we eventually wanted to live near each other again, and our plan had been to do this in a few years when my hubbie retired from his job with Iowa.  God had a different agenda obviously!  Because of budget issues in the state, my hubbie's job had deteriorated in quality and reliability, and he was prompted to start looking for another opportunity.  After applying in Iowa, Colorado and Washington, the opportunities in WA started cropping up over and over.  The end result is a new job that is a perfect fit for him, working for/with folks who are so appreciative of the skills and ideas he brings with him, and on top of that he has a beautiful view of the water and mountains from his office.  God is sometimes more gracious than our little brains can take in - this is one of those times.  The cherry on top is that we're a mere hour away from our dear girl, whose job is turning out to be a fantastic fit for her too!

Yes, we will certainly miss many things about our little acreage.  Many people exclaimed, "Won't you hate to leave your garden?" The garden will certainly be missed, but what comes to mind as well is our pond. It was often the focal point of our day - rain drops making rings, fish jumping and frogs singing, mystical fog rising up on a summer morning, wind rippling across the surface, or totally still and reflecting the big trees like a mirror, on fire with the sunrise, or frozen and white with snow.  We will miss seeing newborn fawns frolicking in our backyard, but not the nibbled landscape plants!  We will miss an abundance of bird sightings, but not the messy Starling nests on the porch!  We will likely miss the quiet, but not the dust clouds from the gravel roads!

What we will miss the most about Iowa are the people we leave behind.  My dear grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins...  And those outside our family, who have loved and cared for us over the last 6 years, will be sorely missed.  We might even miss the ones who found us to be a great curiosity!

It's amazing to look back at all the things that happened in our Iowa years - a high school graduation, a college graduation, Em's first professional job, a heart attack, 2 totaled cars (one accident and one flash flood), 2 aborted part-time jobs for me :), and many small and large gatherings of family and friends for Thanksgiving, Easter, Reformation Day, and Grandma's 100th birthday.  There were countless pounds of harvested vegetables which were cooked, canned, frozen, and shared.  God always leads us on a rich faith journey as we move around this wonderful country, and we trust that this will happen again.  We have learned in our Iowa years to walk more closely with our Lord and rely more deeply on His daily, complete provision.  "And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  Phil.:4:19

I will still be blogging from this same site, with a future title change of course!  We don't know what kind of home we will land in here, but as always, we have plans and dreams for gardening in this new place.  I started a list of what I wanted to grow before we even moved here.  When we were here for my husband's interview, we drove around and saw an abundance of amazing flowers in nearly every front yard.  There is a somewhat tropical feel to much of it, and this climate offers fantastic conditions for growing - that is if you can find a spot that isn't shaded by huge firs!

I'll end this post with proof that we did indeed garden in Iowa during our last summer there!  We're praying that the next owner will come along and carry on with what was left behind. 

Our blackberry canes produced a lovely fruit this year and we made jam!

One of my favorites - an heirloom watermelon called "Moon and Stars".

Our spring garden was particularly happy - before the horrible drought!

Our herbs did extremely well because we placed a row cover over that square foot plot, and what a difference they make in a salad.

So many fresh goodies to put in the fridge after a mornings harvest. This lettuce mix, "Rocky Top", keeps beautifully for a number of days if it's kept cool.

Our volunteer marigolds lent a nice touch to a Father's Day cake - chocolate butter cream is the bomb!

 Here's a shot of our garden in full force just before we left.  Here are Lowell and Rhoda helping to clear it out and enjoy the goodies.  We invited people to come down and glean what they could in exchange for tidying it up a bit.  Good deal for them and us!

Enjoy the end of this harvest season, and happy growing wherever you are!

May 16, 2012

Before and After

Planning and planting, and planning and planting!  Things are popping up all over.  This old-school map of the garden is my choice for tracking what's up, and what's a bust. Sometimes the weather and circumstances dictate a quick and dirty planting of seeds and plants,  and we have little or no time to be organized about it.  But this year we've had amazingly warm and mild weather, and really perfect planting conditions.

We've used the square foot gardening method for a number of years now.  I used the grid that came with one of our kits to plant a square that has beets, radish, chard and a number of other things.  I wanted to make sure there were clear boundaries.  Can you make out the little holes I poked into the middle square?  It's easy to divide these sections and get the right spacing between plants with this method too.  I made 9 holes for the beet seeds. So nice and tidy!

Here's the after - pretty good germination rate!  Soon I'll have to start thinning to make stronger plants.  I always have a hard time with pulling out perfectly good plants!

We decided to experiment again this year - which we have decided is kind of our style - and we're using black plastic under not only our vine plants, but also with our corn.  You can see a little slit cut in the plastic in the bottom left corner.  My husband pushed in the corn seeds and a little pile of enriched soil into each spot.  A little weird, but we'll see!

Here's the after - very promising!  Go away racoons, we're not kidding around - we are determined to have our corn this year!

We planted our peas the same way as the corn.  The green post you see is one of the three legs of the tepee that will support the vines once they grow up.  We planted De Grace peas, which will be snap peas when young or pod peas if left on the vine a little longer, Alaska Sweet Peas, and Russian Sugar peas, which are a snow pea and a Canadian heirloom brought to Saskatchewan by the Mennonites.  The history of many heirloom seeds is so fascinating.

My last post showed our seed potatoes curing on our dining room table.  Here's the after photo of happy little potato bushes, which are hopefully producing happy little spuds under the dirt.

These shots show our berries after we protected them with bird netting. For the strawberries, my husband made hoops from flexible PVC piping and then we stretched bird netting over the top.  Our blackberries are growing along a wire fence and the bird netting is stretched down both sides with similar hoops to make enough space for the berries to do their thing.  We're hopeful that these measures will decrease the number of berries we feed to the birds.  We do have feeders out for them and that should be enough!

Now for the best before and after!  Remember the prolific climbing rose from the last post, with it's little surprise nest inside the canes? Here's it is in full force with a ridiculous number of blooms, and this is only the top section! And, the little surprise has grown...

Don't you love it's fuzzy little dandelion head?!!  I can't tell exactly how many are in the nest, but this one must surely be close to launch.  I need to prune this rose, so hurry along birdie!

May 3, 2012

May Flowers and Other Nice Things

My favorite rose, Tahitian Sunset,  is blooming!  I can safely say that I have never had roses on May 3rd!  What a strange and amazing spring it has been.

As I've mentioned, we did not cut down existing rose canes this past fall, and instead tied them securely and piled compost and soil around the base. It worked well, but we also had a very mild winter. Our red climber rose has never thrived as it has this spring, and has more blooms than I can even count.  It has something else too...

How sweet are these little babies?!  The climbing rose is so thick and lush that some enterprising bird built a nest on it, supported by the trellis and the side of the house.  It looks like some birdies have hatched and some not just yet.  The mama flies away so suddenly each time we are out there, that we haven't had a chance to figure out what kind of bird it is.  The nesting material is mostly from our ornamental grass plants - so cool!  And by the way, I stuck my camera through the thorns and pointed it down at the nest, rather than disturbing or contaminating anything.  I was surprised that such a chancy method yielded exactly what I wanted to see!

The Iris are in full force too. I was happy that they were not too far along when we had our Spring freeze.  It's clear this year that they need dividing very badly.  NOT a fun task.  It will go on the long list of jobs waiting!

Onions are coming up in the garden. So far, no sign of the critter that was rooting around in this particular box last fall.  We're not convinced just yet though!

Our seed potatoes lived on our dining room table long enough to grow eyes, be cut into sections, and scab over. Now they're planted out back in two of our double depth square foot beds.  We're optimistic about having both French Fingerling and Yellow Finn potatoes later this summer!

 Thank you Lord for this peaceful, spring day, and all the promise that it holds! 

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
     Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"
Psalm 34:8

April 23, 2012

St. Louis Part 2 - The Food

If you've read my blog for a while, you know that when we take a trip we search out the food specialties in that area.  We will often look on Urbanspoon, or Yelp, or TripAdvisor for suggestions and ratings.  We have also followed the advice from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, sometimes with varied success, to be perfectly honest!  Our first stop, literally, was for a couple of plates of soul food.  Definitely not something you can find just anywhere, so we didn't want to miss it!

Luckily for us, this suggestion from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was right on the money!  Sweetie Pies Restaurant has been featured on other shows as well, and there were plenty of people like us who were snapping photos!  The fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and the friendly service were every bit as good as the hype promised.  Our soul food quest was very rewarding!

We ended the first day's food quest with a visit to this well-known candy shop.  Crown Candy Kitchen has been around since 1913 and makes all their own chocolate candy.  Not wanting to miss anything good, we chose 4 kinds to "sample"!  Very good, and the ice cream choices at the nostalgic soda fountain looked terrific too.

There are a number of distinct neighborhoods in St. Louis, and "The Hill" provided our most extensive food adventure.  This area is packed with Italian restaurants, delis, and grocers. There are several places online that give details of a walking tour of this area, but as it was raining that day, we hopped in and out of the car more than we wanted to.

 We stopped first at one of several well-known coffee shops on The Hill.  Shaws roasts their own beans on site, and that proved to be a delicious reason to go. Great coffee, but service and friendliness - not so much.  Can't win 'em all!

This was our next stop, and my favorite of all our stops on The Hill.  Viviano & Sons was a wonderland of Italian specialties!

 Pasta anyone?

Pasta sauce anyone?!

Or, how about a little something from the deli? They had a few choices here!  Notice the sign in the corner that says "no talking on cell phones while ordering"!! There were several of these posted around the store. I love the fact that they will insist on good manners if you want to do business with them!  There is a cheese called Provel on the board, and it's popular in St. Louis delis for sandwiches and pizzas.  It tastes like a cross between Provolone and American Cheese to me. We had never seen it anywhere else and I liked how "melty" it got.

And then the perfect after-dinner accompaniment - gourmet antacid!  Placed right in the middle of the shelves with all the sauces - ha!

This place on The Hill held the promise of some amazing handmade raviolis.  The smell of their sauce was intoxicating when we came in the door.  We had a tip that they sell frozen ravioli ends - imperfects that they won't serve the customers.  These are said to be perfect for soups for example.  We purchased some on impulse, but had a major fail in our efforts to keep them frozen until we got home.  NOT appetizing when thawed!

Three more stops on The Hill - Volpi meats is a well-known supplier of all kinds of salamis, prosciutto and other Italian cured meats. "Salumeria" means Italian delicatessen by the way.  Di Gregorio's was another Italian market and we chose some locally popular Italian wines at this shop.  And finally, our lunch came from Gioia's.  And yes, one of the sandwiches we ordered was another St. Louis favorite - the hot salami!  Not spicy hot, but an ample, baked sandwich with thickly sliced salami - yum!  Oh, and they just happened to have some gelato in the little freezer near the checkout - pistachio for me!

This was a little break from the Italian scene!  Just down the block from the conference center was one of several Irish pubs in St. Louis, The Dubliner.  The place was packed and we were in a hurry, but we still managed to have an absolutely delicious plate of bangers and mash, which is sausages on mashed potatoes with a gravy/sauce on top.  It's classic pub grub!

Rooster was one fabulous place for breakfast!  It took a while to get in, but so worth the wait.  It's one of those unexpected places in the middle of a big city.  They serve local, organic, family farm-raised, and fair trade foods.  They also bake all their own breads.  We chose French toast with caramelized bananas and nuts, and an asparagus crepe - and did what we normally do, which is eat half and swap plates.  I'm sure it's totally bad etiquette, but it works for us!  I know it's an odd thing to photograph, but I was so excited about this huge glass of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice that I couldn't help myself!  I'm used to seeing fresh-squeezed orange juice, but this was a great treat for me!

Some of our deli bounty. The lupini beans in the foreground are native to Italy, popular with the Romans of old, and often served pickled.  Apparently you eat them most often as a snack, by popping the inner bean out of the skin.  I think I may have gotten myself into a more complicated prep than I bargained for!

And finally, here's our selection of Volpi meats, which we have been enjoying with some great cheese we bought in St. Louis as well.  It feels like we extracted every drop out of the food scene while we were there, but I'm sure there is still more to explore.  I can't say this was one of my favorite cities to visit, as it was a little rough around the edges, but we certainly never went hungry, and we obviously enjoyed the rich culinary culture!

April 17, 2012

St. Louis Part 1 - The Sites

Another field trip!  We spent several days in St. Louis last week. We saw a good deal of the city and the Gateway Arch is without a doubt the symbol of the city.  It was a gloomy day, but the park path that leads down to the arch was really beautiful, with the river running along one side, still full of barges and some steam boats.  The arch was impressive as always, symbolizing the gateway to the west which was opened up in part, thanks to Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. You can learn about it in the Museum of Westward Expansion, located under the arch. My hubby took the two artsy shots of the arch on the left above, and I really like them!

I first saw the arch as a kid, but had never gone up to the top.  As we purchased tickets for the ride up, we were asked whether or not we had trouble with steps or claustrophobia - hmmmm??  Well...the little cars that take you up are teeny weeny, and each one holds five people in cozy style. Think of the rides at an amusement park that are little cages going around like a Ferris wheel and you'll get the idea.  It's just that it's all inside this enormous arch.  It's still the original cable car system, and quite an experience! Once at the top, you crawl out of the car and get wonderful views of the river and the city.  Notice that sea of red in the stadium???

That arch view from the top is of course Busch Stadium, another classic symbol of St. Louis.  This past weekend was their opening day at home,  plus two more games, all being the classic Cards vs.Cubs games.  It made for a lot of chaos in the city, but that's not the reason we were there.

We were there to attend the 2012 NRA Convention.  A record 73,740 people attended.  There were a number of reasons we wanted to attend, but the best result of being there for us, was the encouragement that came from being among like-minded, deeply patriotic citizens that say the same prayers for our country that we say.  The conference was very emotional at many times, and no more so than when a number of the military widows from the Black Hawk Down tragedy were on stage for recognition, as well as several military heroes, to whom we owe an amazing debt of gratitude. At the prayer breakfast on Sunday, we had the great privilege of seeing three disabled vets and their wives receive the blessing of new homes.

There were a number of well known presenters offering political inspiration and entertainment.  My personal favorites were Ann Romney - you know the one who's stayed home to raise her children and not work a day in her life, and Larry the Cable Guy, who might be the most "un-PC" comedian around.  A belly laugh and a dose of common sense does wonders for a person!

We enjoyed the architecture on our Kansas City trip so much, and St. Louis had some beautiful buildings as well, but they also had a lot of this...

Other than driving through the city of Detroit, I don't think I've seen another city with so many abandoned, collapsing buildings.  Everything from old schools to homes have been left to cave in on themselves. Quite a sad and disturbing site.

A very pleasing site was the Soulard Farmer's Market.  This is quite an historic market, with it's beginnings in 1779 when farmer's came to this site (a field then) to sell what they grew.  It now spans two city blocks and has two main buildings plus outdoor area for warm weather vendor expansion.  There was an inspiring array of beautiful produce, meats, seafood, eggs, cheese and baked goods.  Of course we indulged at the Soulard Bakery to sample a St. Louis classic - Gooey Butter Cake - oh my!! But now I'm getting ahead of myself because St. Louis Part 2 will be all about the food.  Stay tuned!