America, Celebration, Family, Farm, Garden, Health, History, Summer, Uncategorized

Potatoes, Po-tah-toes

My mom wanted me to write another blog post, so here I am.

She was sitting behind me in church yesterday and leaned up and whispered in my ear that it had been too long since I’d written a blog post. Opportune time, mom.

She, apparently, doesn’t think I need some creative burst of inspiration to produce any sort of written materials. I just need her suggestion and that is enough.

I guess it is enough, because again, here I am. Maybe sometimes all we need is for someone to believe in us and tell us what to do. Maybe that’s the secret to life I’ve been missing.

Anyway, back to my mom. She obviously loves to see me practicing my hobbies, but there is one thing that comes around every Spring that she is not a huge fan of.

I love to grow sweet potatoes.

I love growing everything, but sweet potatoes were really my first love of gardening. I think it was just the fact that I’d never grown them before and I researched it and they were successful in the first year. This is really no thanks to me, as sweet potatoes are super easy to grow and do so without much coaxing.

But, in order to grow sweet potatoes, you have to have sweet potato plants. They don’t come up from seed or sprout in the ground like other potatoes do. They’re a different breed altogether.

Now, you can go to your local greenhouse or feed store and find the plants. But, you can also grow them really easily in your own kitchen and then transplant them outside into the garden once they are ready. And, the first year I grew them, I wanted to grow varieties that I couldn’t find pre-grown plants for, so I tried the kitchen method.

It looks like a bad effort at a science experiment at first. Which is what my mom dislikes about it.

You take half of a sweet potato, put toothpicks in it, pick out your favorite mason jars, fill them up with water, and set the potatoes in them.

And, you wait.

And, when you have guests over, you politely explain to them why you have mason jar, water potatoes adorning your windowsill.

It’s a weird process, I’ll admit. But, it’s effective.

About a month or so later, you’ll start seeing plants emerge from the potatoes, both underwater and above water. Eventually when they get a little better established, you cut them off the potato, keep the plant still in the water for a few days while they produce roots, then plant them in the ground outside and let them go all summer long.

I started my sweet potato project a little earlier this year and I’ve had two potatoes sitting in the windowsill for about two months now.

About a month ago, my mom said: I think this one isn’t going to do anything, you probably just want to scrap it. Which I knew was just her way of trying to clear out atleast one of the offenders from the windowsill. Nice try, mom.

What she didn’t know is that one of the sweet potatoes growing in the window is a white sweet potato. If you’ve never tried one, try them! They’re really moist and have a lighter flavor than the typical orange ones. The other potato growing in the window is a regular orange one. The white ones, I have observed, are much more prolific than the orange ones. This one was almost sprouting already when I put started it in the jar. The orange ones take more time.

If you compare only those two, side by side, it looks like the white one is much further ahead and that the orange one is a dud. But, if you study closely, with a sweet potato trained eye, you can see where the orange one is just barely barely barely getting ready to break through with a sprout. I also know this because I have some sweet potatoes growing in the window in my office (what can I say, I’m obsessed) and the white one there is further ahead than the orange one.

I’ve heard all my life that comparison is a killer of joy. If you spend your time looking side by side at other people’s lives, timelines, accomplishments, you’re going to be miserable and not be able to see the great place that you’re at yourself. These two potatoes are the same in almost all regards. But one is designed differently, it blooms faster. Not because it’s necessarily better, but just because it was time for it to bloom. In this age of social media, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the lives of others, to compare, to try to rush, to push to get ahead. But, maybe it’s not quite your time to shine yet. Maybe there are great things in store, just about ready to break ground. Maybe you shouldn’t scrap the plan, thinking it’ll never work. Maybe you should just sit where you’re at, keep growing and changing day by day and wait for your time.

Maybe we’re all just potatoes.

Update: today’s progress with the white vs orange

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America, Celebration, Culture, Family, Travel

Hello from the Other Side 

I’m not old. I’m getting older, but I’m not old. My friend, Jesse, told the kids at church that I was 30. Fortunately, none of them believed him. Unfortunately, they countered with the fact that I couldn’t be 30, I was definitely only 17. I don’t know which I’d prefer.

I like the age I am. My birthday falls after all of my friends so they’ve all experienced turning my age by the time I actually get there. Some of them were mildly distraught about being on “the other side of 25”, but I had no problem making that leap. It’s kinda nice to be out of your teenage, early twenty years. You’re a little more stable.

Emotionally (aka you’ve found out who your people are and you’re keeping them.) 

Physically (aka you’re done with the freshman fifteen and you’re maybe eating healthy every once in awhile). 

Mentally (you’re set in a career and you know what you’re doing with your life on most days) 

Financially (aka you’re a little less “downtown homeless” and a little more “chic hobo”) 

Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s just silver linings. But, I like it here. 

Or maybe it’s because birthday celebrations with this guy make me extra happy

I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned in my 25 trips around the sun and I’m not claiming that they’re profound. Mostly they’re anything but. I find myself learning new lessons all the time, things I hadn’t thought about before, discoveries I hadn’t made about myself before. That’s one of the beautiful things about aging. You continue to grow. So here’s my condensed list of learnings.

1. It is okay to not be okay. Embrace it, live in it, dig into it, figure out why you’re not okay and how to fix it. Life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect. And that’s okay. 

2. Travel. Travel when you can, where you can, near or far. Sometimes going to a birthday party down the road can be as much of a cultural experience as traveling across the world. (Those of you who know what birthday party I’m talking about, that one was for you) You will discover more than you could ever know about yourself any other way when you travel. I promise. It will change who you are and how you view the world. 

3. Mind what you eat. Balance it, not too much or too little of any one thing. And include ice cream every once in awhile. Never completely eliminate the ice cream. 

4. Find people who are different than you and spend time with them. People from different cultures, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, people from different religions and races, people with different views. You can learn a lot by not being around everyone who is exactly like you. 

5. Butterfingers are the best candy bar. Hands down. There is no comparison. (This was more of a personal understanding, but it’s the truth, so I thought maybe someone could glean from it)

6. Pray. Every day. Thank God for everything He’s given you. Turn your cares over to Him. Quit worrying about it. Just spend time talking to your Creator. 

7. Protect your skin. One word: SPF. Well, it’s not really a word. More like an acronym. But you get the point. Sun screen. Use it. Bathe in it. I hate to sound like a public health announcement, but your skin is the largest organ you have. Take care of it. 

8. Water. Drink lots of it. It’s good for you. Don’t question it. 

9. If you see something good in someone, say it. Recognize people for how great they are, how happy you are to have them in your life, or maybe just how cute their shoes are that day. People you know, people you don’t know. Add some sunshine to the dark world. Be appreciative. Be happy. Love others. We need more of that. 

10. It is okay to ask for the things you need. This is the most important lesson I’ve learned this year. There is nothing shameful about admitting that you are lacking in some way. Maybe you need time, maybe you need a hug, maybe you need space, maybe you need someone by your side, maybe you need support. I have always been the type to want people either to anticipate my needs and magically meet them. Or the type to fight to do things on my own, without the help of anyone else. But, people can’t know what we need, they can’t know our struggles, unless we verbalize that. We need to ask and seek out the things we need. We’re humans. We weren’t made to do it all on our own. Lean on someone. Share your burdens. You’ll feel better when you do. 

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Farm, Food, Garden

Sweet Potato Dreamin’

I graduated college exactly two year and two days ago. And, I had no idea where life would take me. Well, so far today I have: tracked down and ordered 865 specialty dyed t-shirts, planted 64 sweet potato slips (17 of which were grown in my kitchen window) and cooked 1 vat of smoked chicken stock. This is an improvement from yesterday, which was spent sewing 125 koozies together to send out to a band in Omaha. Although, yesterday did include baking a chocolate cake made with bananas and applesauce. Pretty sure this is not where I would’ve guessed life would’ve taken me in two years. But, what can I say? My life is weird.

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Did you know that you grow sweet potato slips in water? Last year was my first year to grow sweet potatoes and they were a huge success. Literally. These potatoes came out of the ground and some of them weighed 2 and 3 lbs per potato. They were giant. I purchased the slips from a local feed store. But, this year, I wanted to try growing the slips for myself. So, I read about it online and saw how to grow them, but to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical. I bought my potatoes (organic varieties from a food co-op) and put them in mason jars in the window sill and let nature do it’s thing.

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A month later and here we are. These things are crazy! The leaves sprout out of the potatoes and will grow under water. I am pretty fascinated by them. I did buy 50 sweet potato slips from the same feed store this year. I was reluctant, but my dad claimed that I needed them as “insurance”. I assured him that my window sill experiment would yield us as many slips as we needed. And, it has. So, in short, we should have an abundance of sweet potatoes come Fall.

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My great grandpa farmed sweet potatoes on the same land that I am now growing them on. He grew so many that he was known in the area for growing them and would have people stop by to buy them from him. I’m thinking I might follow in his footsteps if this harvest turns out. I always dreamed of being a sweet potato farmer. Sometimes dreams do come true.

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Farm, Garden, Medicine

Pinky Promise?

How often do I even write anymore? Not often enough. I have the stories to tell, just not the time to get them written. Well, I guess I just haven’t been making the time. In between delivering t-shirts all over the tri-state area (we literally drove around 500 miles just in delivering last week), it’s hard to keep up with much. The garden is coming up nicely, though. I’ve managed to get almost all of the “small” garden planted, which are mostly root vegetables and tomatoes. I have a couple rows left to plant, then it’s time to move on to the big plot. That’ll be for potatoes (mostly sweets) and squash, melons, peppers, and any other random seeds I find in my collection. The last to be planted in the small garden were the carrots. I ordered an abundance of colors (carrots come in red, yellow, orange, purple, I even found a black variety) I like all the different colors because they all offer different phytonutrients. The motto for my major in college was: “Eat a Rainbow”, so all the different  colors are important, people! But, in my effort to get just the right blend of seeds, I missed the staple: a plain old orange carrot. So, who do you call when you need something? Mom.

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Everybody always tells me I look like my mom. Which I do. And sometimes I act a lot like her too. We both share a love for too many details, cantaloupe, and digging in the dirt. Here we are picking green beans together last summer. (By the way, the greens that are on my side of the picture that look like fronds are the tops of the carrots we grew last year, they were pretty huge)

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Anyway, back to the matter at hand (it’s a pun, you’ll see) I called her to see if she’d stop by a little store in town to get some carrot seeds. Harmless, right? Well, apparently, as she was walking out of said store, she was looking at some tomato plants and tripped, catching herself with both hands right before she face-planted into the concrete. I’ve talked about how graceful I am, so this is just a testament to where I get it from. She decided when she got home that her hand was just sore from the fall and it would be better in the morning. Wrong.

Post Fall: Day 1

Post Fall: Day 1

She woke up to it looking like a blown up surgical glove and after some coercing from me, we headed to the emergency room. Where we spent a beautiful Saturday getting seen by doctors and nurses and sitting in waiting rooms.

Peace, Love, & Pinkies

Peace, Love, & Pinkies

The verdict: she broke it. The bone on her pinky finger was smashed together in the fall, so she got a cast on her right arm. And, she got to sign her name with her left hand, which looked like the work of a first grader. (See previous blog post where I had to arrange first grade signatures on notecards for a comparison)

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The good thing about spending the day with your mom in waiting rooms is that it leaves a lot of time for photography. Actually, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a well arranged selfie. The ER seemed like just the right place.

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Her original cast was white and after being seen by the orthopedic surgeon, she got a permanent blue cast (now decorated with flames due to the artistic talent of my cousin), which she will wear for four weeks. No surgery necessary. And no pinky promises. At least for awhile.

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Farm, Food, Garden

Honeyberry Heaven

Let me start off. I’ve never been good with directions. I get turned around, don’t pay attention, for whatever reason, I always get lost. But, I blame this on growing up in Arkansas. We have no sort of grid system, we have curvy little highways that run through the hills and small towns. So, if you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there. I have been wanting Honeyberry bushes since I heard of them. And, it just so happens that the largest grower and supplier of Honeyberry bushes in the US is located a few towns over from us. What luck! Honey berries are similar to blueberries, but bigger and more prolific.

Berry farm

Berry farm

So, my dad called the place and scheduled for us to go pick the plants up. Never having been to this place, he asked the girl on the phone where they were located? During high school, I worked at my uncle’s drug store and when anyone called to ask me for directions, it was a disaster. And, the girl working at the berry place was apparently just like me.

That's her in the orange

That’s her in the orange

Dad told her he knew how to get to the town and what highway we’d be coming in on. We needed directions from there. Here are the exact directions she gave: “Drive past the guy who builds the little buildings and if you look through the trees, you’ll see a barn up on a hill. Turn on the little lane by the barn. If you get to the bridge, you’ll know you’ve gone too far.” See, this is how we give directions in Arkansas. Which bridge? Which barn? You’ll know when you see it. So, we drove and came to what I thought was the right barn. It was on a hill. But there were no trees. Nope, not the right one. We crossed a bridge, but there was never a guy building the little buildings before it, so that couldn’t have been right.

Not the right barn.

Not the right barn.

After driving around for about thirty minutes trying to find this place, we stumbled upon it. And sure enough, there was a little barn through the trees on the hill and a little lane. The owner later informed us, in a heavy Russian accent, that “Barbara runs the phone, so don’t call because Barbara is no good.”

The right barn.

The right barn.

When I was little, people always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I changed my mind all the time. And I’ve changed my mind again. I want to be this lady. She was one of the leading pioneers to bring honey berries to the US and she knows her stuff. She spouted off information about planting and growing and everything in between as fast as I could understand it.

Giving instructions

Giving instructions

I asked her how long she’d been growing berries. {Insert thick Russian accent here} “I grow berries in Russia since I was 9 years old. I’m 54 now.” That’s a lot of years of berry growing. I think I’ve got some catching up to do before I can be like her, but I’m getting a start on it. I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve that accent, but that’s okay, I’ve got an accent of my own and I’m fine with that. The honeyberries are in the ground and the raspberries look like they’ll be putting on blooms any day now. And, I’ve got the email address of the best berry lady in the land, so I think I’m set. Let the berry growing commence.

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Farm, Food, Garden

Cabbage Patch Kid

I’ve had a few people ask me since I’ve been home if I’m going to continue to write. And, I’ve thought about it. And, I think I will. Mostly because yesterday was the first day of Spring and we’re starting a garden. In a wagon.

We'll see if they sprout!

Actually, I’m going to keep writing because I like it. And because I feel like I have stories that I want to tell. Whether those stories are interesting enough to read, I’m not sure yet. But, I guess we’ll see.

First seeds of the season

First seeds of the season

Let’s get back to that wagon though. I love to plant things. And, I love to eat things that are good for you. So, a garden is obvious, right? Last year, I went a little overboard and got 8 blueberry plants, 10 raspberry plants, and 6 fruit trees (2 each of pear, apple and peach). The raspberries went crazy and the blueberries fizzled.

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

Queen Anne yellow and Latham red raspberries

I also wanted to do sweet potatoes for the first time. There’s that wagon again.

Part of our sweet potato harvest

Part of our sweet potato harvest

This year, we (I) decided it is time to expand. So, my dad got the plow and is graciously working the ground so that I can have a field of melon mounds. And a few more rows of sweet potatoes. And some corn. And a cabbage patch.

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Remember those huge cabbages from Korea I showed you? We bought seeds! Just call me the Cabbage Patch Kid.

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