Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Grass is Always Greener

For some, the grass will always be greener on the other side of the electric fence.  Even if there's already a pile of new hay right there beside you.

Grass is Aways Greener

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jarrahdale Pumpkin

The Jarrahdale pumpkins that I grew last summer are still with me, but their numbers are slowly dwindling. I'm down to two now after butchering one up last week. I must say that they've been great keepers but their beautiful gray-green skin has gotten wrinkly-rusty over the winter. 

Jarrahdale Pumpkin

That's a quarter on top of the pumpkin for size comparison. These are chubby, lumpy pumpkins. And they're heavy for their size, too. They've got very thick, dense walls with a comparatively small seed cavity.  

Cut Jarrahdale Pumpkin

But they produce lots of seeds. I've been keeping seeds from the pumpkins with the best flavor and setting the surplus out for the birds. These pumpkins have a great flavor...sweet but with a depth reminiscent of butternut or acorn squash. Jarrahdale pumpkins are actually winter squashes, but the whole taxonomic debate of pumpkin vs. squash isn't something I want to get into today. Regardless, Jarrahdales are delicious and great for pies and bread. I especially like them steamed with butter and either salt and pepper or brown sugar.

I've got plenty of seeds now to grow enough Jarrahdale pumpkins for the whole county, so I'm going to try roasting the seeds from the last two pumpkins. And in about two months it'll be time to start the seeds for the next batch in the garden this summer. How's that for coming around full circle?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Arrival of Spring, 2011

It's finally spring. I can say this definitively not because the daffodils and rhubarb are growing, the bluebirds are back, or that the spring peepers are peeping. I know it's spring because Oscar is barking excitedly at the fireplace. In fact, she's spent most of the morning running excitedly from room to room, sniffling and snuffling in the corners, and then barking loudly to get my attention. As if I hadn't heard her the first dozen times. She can make an awful lot of noise for such a small dog.

This is a seasonal activity for Oscar, usually occurring in early fall and early spring. One day she wakes up and apparently decides, "Today's the day I'll drive my owners nuts!" Then she commences with the sniffing and the barking and the running from room to room. Upstairs, downstairs, up to the office over the garage, and then back down to the basement before wanting to go outside. It wouldn't be so bad except dachshunds weren't really built for stairs and sometimes Oscar gets scared and won't go up and down by herself. Then she really starts barking and whining until I help her. I go get her leash and clip it to her collar, which magically grants her the power of going up and down the stairs without any further assistance from me other than going up and down the stairs with her. It's cute and charming the first couple of times, but we've already done this three or four times this morning and I'm about to let her sort out her neurotic fear of the stairs by herself. That is, until I can't take the incessant barking and whining any longer.

Sure, last October it turned out that Oscar was chasing a mouse, but maybe we'll get lucky today and she's really chasing down leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day. I just hope I can get the leprechaun to grant me three wishes before Oscar gets a hold of it or we'll never find that pot of gold.

Is it up there?


Definitely something back there!



Yes, she's treed the leprechaun!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco 2009

Steve and I were in San Francisco in June of 2009. I spent several days exploring the city while Steve was stuck in a conference at the Moscone Center. One of my favorite places to be in San Francisco is at the farmers' market in front of the Ferry Building. The vegetables, fruits, and flowers are just a riot of color and scents. I can easily spend an hour or so just wandering around, tasting samples offered by the vendors and drinking it all in.















I'd like to have a couple of those tomatoes and a handful of flowers right now on this dreary March afternoon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Florida Odds and Ends

I thought I'd list the remaining, random tidbits from our recent Florida trip.

  • I would rather sleep with my dog than my child.  Ally has an annoying tendency to take up the center of the bed, regardless of the size of the bed, and will either 1) sleep perpendicularly to you with her feet on your leg or 2) randomly smear her hand down your face in the middle of the night to check that you're still in bed with her.
  • There's an odd assortment of things for sale on the side of FL-25/US-27 between Orlando and Lake Wales.  We saw rugs and sofas, an old airplane fuselage, the expected produce stands, and goat milk fudge for sale.
  • Goat milk fudge is not nearly as exciting as I thought it might be.
  • Florida is awfully flat. 
  • Orange groves smell heavenly.
  • We weren't planning on taking a tour of Celebration, the town designed by Walt Disney World, but someone woke up from her nap on the drive back from Bok Tower and began a lengthy discussion about how she needed to go poop right now.  Celebration was the first exit we came to that looked promising in terms of bathroom accessibility, so we drove around a bit before ducking into a Stetson University building.  Ally and I got several curious looks from bright young things dressed in business attire, but thankfully no one objected to us tourists using the bathroom.  
  • Celebration appeared to be a surprisingly pleasant community with some interesting architecture.  I've heard they pipe bird song out of the speakers in the downtown section, but hey...what else would you expect from Disney?
  • The substation for Celebration has power lines in a giant Mickey Mouse silhouette.
  • On our way out of Celebration we spied a smallish alligator sunning itself in the draining pool in front of an apartment building.  No, it wasn't an animatronic alligator planted there by Disney to amuse the tourists.  Alligators are far more exotic than the deer and cows we have in our yard in Christiansburg.
  • We also got to see a real, live lowrider in action on Fl-25.  There was a sad, beat up Chevy Impala with torn upholstery and lots of Bondo in front of us at a light, and by golly the whole thing dipped and raised the front and rear ends until it was low to the ground.  I have no idea why anyone would go to the trouble of putting in the hydraulics for that sort of thing in such an ugly car, but it was definitely something you don't see everyday in Christiansburg.
  • Florida is populated by bad drivers.  Really bad drivers.
  • Ally is still talking about how she wants to go back to live in the hotel where we stayed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Florida Trip, Part 2

The day after our visit to the Magic Kingdom, we drove down to Lake Wales to visit Bok Tower Gardens. There were no crowded lines, no cartoon characters or princess, and no rides. It was just a beautiful day and we had a fantastic time.

Ally tried on a beard of spanish moss.


We looked at plants and flowers.



We smelled the orange blossoms.


We enjoyed the overlook.


We saw the Singing Tower.



We laughed at the funny animals on the top of the iron gates.


We fed the swans.


We fed the koi.


We chased each other with palm fronds.


We just enjoyed a peaceful day.




We even found an alligator on our drive back to the hotel.


Then we went swimming in the hotel pool before dinner.  The perfect end to our trip.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Happiest Place On Earth is Sometimes the Hotel Room

We just returned from a long weekend in Orlando, Florida, with our three year old Ally. Yes, we took her to the Magic Kingdom. No, the trip didn't turn out quite the way we had expected or even hoped. Thankfully you can't really tell that from the pictures we took.



We knew that a long day at Walt Disney World with Ally was out of the question. We simply weren't going to be able to do everything, or even take in most of the park. We hoped we'd be able to do part of Fantasyland, maybe tour another section of the park, catch a parade, and I very much wanted Ally to meet one of the princesses in person. I was hoping that Steve and I could maybe catch one of our favorite rides while the other watched Ally. What we actually got was something else entirely.

Ally thought the tram and monorail rides to the front of the park were fun. She lit up at the sight of Cinderella's castle and actually jumped up and down with joy.

The Castle!!! We Made It!!! from Steven Swenson on Vimeo.

We then walked through the castle and into Fantasyland. In retrospect, I should have known that Ally fully expected that real, live Disney Princesses would actually live in the castle. When you're hoping to find Cinderella and Aurora and Snow White sitting inside a castle and you only find a restaurant, you're bound to be a little disappointed.

After the castle we stopped at the carousel for our first ride. Once in line, Ally immediately balked at the ride and said she didn't want to ride it. We rode Dumbo and It's a Small World, both of which Ally enjoyed.


Then it was time for a bathroom break and a snack. Post snack we found Pinocchio and had a picture taken with him.


We tried the carousel again after Ally said she wanted to ride it, but by the end of the ride she was in tears, fearful that she was going to fall off the horse even with Steve standing beside her.


The day sorta dissolved into disappointment from that point. We couldn't find the princess or fairy characters in time to get in the line to meet them before the line was cut off by the character's handler. The PhilharMagic show was too loud and dark and scary with the 3D glasses, and we had to carry a crying Ally out before the show ended. The lines got longer and longer as the crowd swelled. By noon Ally started asking if we could go home, and the occasional light sprinkling of rain didn't help. We rode Peter Pan's Flight, the People Mover in Tomorrowland, and then caught the afternoon parade, which helped buoy her spirits, but the end was near. We had another snack, rode the Magic Carpets in Adventureland, and then headed for the Walt Disney World Railroad station to ride back to the front of the park. The skies open and rain poured down, leaving us wet, cold, and very, very disappointed with the day.





Clearly Ally felt overwhelmed by the experience. I can't blame's hard when you're not very tall and there are all these strange people around you and you don't know if Cinderella's evil stepmother is real or just pretend. Ally probably would have been perfectly happy staying at the hotel where she could ride the elevator, eat waffles at the breakfast bar, and spend the day in the pool.

All of this left me pondering why we thought taking Ally to Walt Disney World at this age was a good idea. Both Steve and I had visited the Magic Kingdom as kids, and we wanted to share all that joy and wonder with Ally before she was too old and too cynical for it. We wanted to give Ally a fun-filled day with some of her favorite characters in one of the most magical places. Unfortunately it's all too easy to build up your child's first trip to Disney in your mind into something wholly unrealistic and unattainable.  

Was the trip an utter failure? Thankfully, no. Ally woke up the next morning with a big smile on her face and told me she had a happy dream about Ariel, the mermaid. Suddenly the trip to the Magic Kingdom didn't feel like such a waste. After all, we did enjoy a few rides together, we shared some ice cream, and Ally got to see many of her favorite characters either from the side of the greeting areas or in the parade even if she didn't get to meet them in person.  We have some fantastic pictures from the day.  I think she has plenty to talk about at her daycare center this week, much to the envy of her classmates.  Obviously we'll have, um, vivid memories about the trip for many years to come.

I think we might try Walt Disney World again in a couple of years, when Ally is at least 6 or 7 years old.  She'll be able to enjoy more of the rides and shows then, and that vague, blurry line between reality and make believe (which Disney does so well) won't be so frightening.  But most importantly, I fully plan to take her back just so I can point out, "Here's where you cried about not wanting to ride the carousel, and over there's where you threw a fit about not getting any popcorn, and oh honey, look, that's the show we had to carry you out of because you were howling about how scary it was."  Then we can all go ride the Pirates of the Caribbean, eat ice cream, get our picture taken with Tiana and Prince Naveen, and stay late enough to see the fireworks.