Patio Days and Thunderstorm Nights

For once, Cleveland’s blustery winter hangover went into hiding long enough for a beautiful Indians Opening Day. Of course, the sunshine would be no help in beating the Yankees, but maybe we can blame that on the storm rolling in?

Meanwhile, I was sitting outside of Chipotle enjoying the first patio meal of the spring. And we only had to duck inside once to dodge a few raindrops.

I never thought I liked Chipotle, but I learned the trick to eating there. I just don’t like those soggy, overstuffed giant burritos that deliver more rice than meat in each bite. Now, I know to order a burrito bowl and four small tortillas on the side, so I can craft my own manageably-sized, appropriately-stuffing-proportioned burritos.

Throw in a couple (not-quite-ice-cold) Coronas, a warm wind off the lake, and the buzz of Downtown Lakewood passing by – and I’m glad we had the patio to ourselves.

It was only appropriate, then, that the first patio day of spring would become the first evening thunderstorm of spring. The rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning were a fitting backdrop to the new episode of Bates Motel on A&E.

Baseball games, patio tacos, and lightning storms – Spring is Here!

Flower Garden

 No words to blog today, just pictures of vividly bright flowers from my garden that say it better in color than I can in sentences:

Million Bells
Wave Petunias
Phlox, I think?
Mouse Ear Coreopsis

3 Flowerbeds + 10 Dirty Fingernails Later…

Today launched our post-Memorial summer hours at work, when we’re released at 3:30. And I made the most of my extra hours. First, at a Rocky River garage sale, I found an armload of name-brand clothes for a dollar each and then something I haven’t purchased for at least 15 years: A family of Breyer model horses like the ones I used to collect when I still thought I’d grow up to be a cowgirl. I bought them, ostensibly, because I know old Breyer horses are valuable (these turned out to be almost as old as me, created in 1986) – but if there wasn’t nostalgia behind these plastic figures that consumed my childhood imagination, I wouldn’t have made the special trip to the ATM.

Then, back home with the new clothes in the laundry, I headed back out to the still-70-degree sunshine to get the rest of the flowers I ordered in the ground before they fried. A few flowerbeds and 10 dirty fingernails later, the remainder of my impatiens, dusty millers and salvia are safely in the ground, ready to be watered with tomorrow’s storm.

petunias pink flower garden fresh domestic

Aside from the squash, zucchini and pumpkins – who already have their homes by the patio – I still have to plant what I started from seed, as well as the vegetables and herbs I hope to get from Emerson Farm in Goshen, Ind. But my plans for these seedlings are quickly fading because when I mailed my rent this week, I included a note telling my landlord I’ll be out when my lease is up later this summer. I won’t be around to reap what I’ve sowed (this said to clear my name of blame when vegetables show up missing later, ahem.) I won’t be around next summer to see how much more space the pesky lemon balm commandeers, or how much fuller the chamomile flowers come back. This saddens me briefly, but such is the transient life of a renter.

Now, it’s time to watch my man Daymond on Shark Tank. The highly-polished fashion mogul told me himself that dirty fingernails reveal something about your personal brand. I guess I’ve branded myself a gardener.

Plant Progress: Day 5

The company flowers and African Daisies keep coming up. Joining the green ranks today: Some Simpson’s Curled Lettuce. They don’t look anything like lettuces. I guess it’s logical that it would look like any other sprout – the same thin stalk with a few leaves as a hat – but it just seems like mini heads of lettuce should pop out of the ground.
In other news, on this Friday the 13th, I managed to lock my keys inside my car and receive a parking ticket. Then, for good measure, ended the night with a migraine headache. TGIF, indeed…but I really can’t wait for Saturday the 14th.

Plant Progress: Day 4

Science tells me there’s been a lot going on underground for the past few days, but today, Day Four, was the first unveiling to the naked eye. The first seed to rise to the challenge: the assorted flowers from my company and an African daisy or two. They’ve sprung little bright green leaves above the ground.
seedling plant garden
Meanwhile, most of the outside is a similar neon shade. The Cleveland trees are finally more leafed than not, and a month of solid rain has cast everything in a clean hue.
Trying to recall Science Fair projects about plants. I did one where I watered plants with different beverages. I can never remember which liquid, between Coke and coffee, killed the plant and which fertilized it as well as Miracle-Gro. Another common one was playing music for plants. I wonder how that turned out.
“Spring has sprung
The grass has ris’
I wonder where the flowers is?”

Mother’s Day for Mother Earth

I think my mom would be proud of how I spent Mother’s Day: celebrating with Mother Earth by baring my green thumbs and getting my hands dirty with the planting process.
Maybe it’s late to be starting seeds inside, but I’ve never really been one to follow the books, especially when it comes to something as organic as the earth. I learned my lesson last year when a cold front pushed the range of prime planting days further and further into the spring, and a certain flat of dianthus didn’t quite make it through the last Cleveland frost. Lesson learned: Plant when the sun shines and my schedule allows, and we’ll see what happens. It’s always a risk when you’re up against Mother Nature, whether you take the Farmer’s Almanac at its word or invent your own.

So, whether I’m right or wrong, I’m planting. In addition to the flowers I ordered and the herbs and vegetable starts I hope to get from my brother-in-law’s farm later, I can claim full garden ownership over these:

  • The Seeds of Innovation (a clever marketing scheme to accompany my company’s Innovation in Business event last year – a seed packet containing: zinnia, larkspur, forget-me-not, sulphur cosmos, sweet sultans, calendula, feathered celosia, baby’s breath, Indian blanket, tricolor daisy and others)
  • Marigolds
  • Snapdragons
  • Bachelor Buttons
  • African Daisies
  • Bell Peppers
  • Lavender
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce: Buttercrunch and Simpson’s Curled
  • Rutabaga
  • Winter Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Basil
So maybe I forgo the gloves and spade on purpose, and maybe I take a little longer than necessary to plunge my bare hands into the soil and watch it fall between my fingers. Maybe I love the excuse to keep playing in the dirt, twentysomething years after it’s considered an age-appropriate playtime, because getting dirty is more of an escape when you’re paid to be clean and proper all day.
The gratification of a green thumb is in the daily nurturing – knowing these seeds depend on me for water, sun, and Emoto positivity – more than it is in the final harvest of blooms and fruit. So maybe it is appropriate to be planting on Mother’s Day.

First Day of Spring (A Month Late)

A sunny day seems even sweeter when it comes during a week plagued with rain in the daily forecast. That was today, and even though spring is late-coming to Cleveland this year, this day could have fooled me.

 It was a day for yard work indeed – but early enough in the season that those two words don’t sound like a second job; instead, a chance to enjoy the long-lost sun. And, believe me, in Cleveland, the sun is a stranger, so I make the most of these days when they come.
For the third year in a row, I practiced my strategy of waiting till spring to rake the leaves. Isn’t that just procrastination, you ask? No, it’s a strategy. Of waiting. And hoping some leaves might disintegrate under the snow or something and, by chance, fertilize something else, making my excuse for procrastinating sound really impressive. Whatever the motives, today was the first day I raked leaves to ready my flowerbeds for spring.
The rake awakened plenty of plump earthworms from their leafy layers of slumber, and drove the creepy-crawlies toward the warm comfort of, probably, the inside of my house. Once the dirt was revealed underneath, I discovered my first flowerbed inhabitants of the year: several clusters of lemon balm left over from the invasion that overtook other greenery last year…and I still don’t know what to use it for.
I already placed my order for the flats of flowers that will soon join the lemon balm – there’s impatiens, of course, and wave petunias. Dusty Miller and salvia are familiar flora from my childhood, but firsts for my adult life. And, with Million Bells thrown in, I’m looking at 100 flowers – 100 holes to dig – and about $60 invested in Mother Earth.
Spring, we’re ready for you.

Easter Traditions, Old & New

I thought the request would be a long shot, but I had been craving Grandma’s grilled chicken since grilling season ended last year. More recently, I’d been hoping mom might consider recreating the classic for our Easter dinner. Thanks to my oldest sister craving the same thing and even offering to provide the meat from her farm, our Easter menu was set.
There was plenty to look forward to during the four-hour drive from Cleveland back to Goshen, but that chicken was top-of-mind. My grandma was a legend in the kitchen, a role my mom began duplicating as soon as, I suppose, she had her first kitchen to be legendary in. Today, there are several versions of Mary Alice’s recipe for “BBQ” chicken floating around the family, but they’re not even worth posting here because (well, I need to protect the family secret, but also) the closest remaining recipe lives only in my mom’s head and relies her inherited ability to dump some of this and pour some of that to the keenest proportions.
The real secret of this recipe, though, is not what goes in but how it goes on. You can’t baste the chicken too often with this sauce while it’s on the grill – which helped quell the arguments over which granddaughter would help Grandma, because we could baste all we wanted without endangering the meal.
If there was a single meal to encapsulate my childhood, it would be Grandma’s grilled chicken. With green beans on the side, of course, and homemade bread – both of which joined our Easter spread this year.
Then there are the new traditions, and the experiments that may or may not become them. Like these Peep cupcakes I saw in Sweet Melissa’s in Rocky River and recreated myself. It’s not Easter – or any holiday, these days – without Peeps, and these were too adorable not to try. With green-dyed coconut and mini Cadbury eggs (and princess cupcake liners we found discounted to $.49/50), these became part of our centerpiece and doubled as dessert.
We also brought Grandma’s memory to the table via a purple hyacinth we picked from her gravesite after church. Next to it: an empty plastic Easter egg, which for our family will always represent, like the empty tomb, a promise of new life…


Lilacs & Tulips in Bloom

I had no idea lilacs were such a documented piece of American history. Thomas Jefferson recorded his method of planting lilacs in his garden book in 1767. Then in 1785, George Washington noted that he translated lilacs into his garden.

“Although lilacs are part of New England’s heritage, they, like most of our citizens, are not native here,” according to this article from Harvard’s Arboretum. Most varieties hail from Asia and a couple – like the common lilac (Syringa vulgaria) come from Europe. In fact, the word “lilac” comes from a Persian word meaning “bluish.” And it sounds much more soothing and pastoral than Syringa vulgaria – such a harsh name for such a pretty lavender flower.

I guess the lilacs took to the New England climate back in the 1700s because “they need a period of cold-initiated dormancy to trigger flowering.” Well, then, these guys must love Cleveland, because now that the winter has warmed into May, their flowers are peaking out of dormancy to spread their fragrant scent and springy color.

Thanks, forefathers, for introducing lilacs to America.

Blooming Tree Pt. 2

Soon after the pink blossoms came and went from the rest of the trees along my street, this tree on the southwest corner of my house went white. The flowers look oriental, and make me feel like I’m someplace more exotic than Cleveland.

I wish I had hundreds of dollars to spend on landscaping. I want tall exotic grasses and funky bushes with bright-colored blooms to totally tropically transplant my surroundings.

Wouldn’t it be nice?