Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stick a Fork in It

The calendar says April.

We celebrate Easter whether spring decides to join us or not. Farm machinery of all configurations waits inside field gates, like Thoroughbreds champing at the bit before the call to post at Churchill Downs.
The radar gets checked incessantly: some wishing for rain, some wishing it would go away.
At Hurst Greenery, we worry our phone apps like the puppies work over a shoe; is it warm enough to load the truck? Will the tomatoes, or impatiens, or vinca be huddled and shrunken when they reach their destination? Or...worse yet...might they be frozen carcasses like one misbegotten delivery last year which began at 70 degrees in Westboro before plunging below freezing in a paroxysm of sleet and wind on I-80 in central Nebraska....
Not this year. This past Friday night channel 3 had some kind of sticky gooey frosted dessert on the set; meteorologist Jim Flowers ceremonially sliced and diced that cake, sticking his fork in it and declaring, as he has for lo these many years, that winter in Omaha was a goner.
How done is winter? Let me count the ways.

1) Put a fork in winter is done because Lee picked her first asparagus.

2) Abbie lost a flipflop at church this evening.

3) We turned off the alarm system at Hurst Greenery

4) Jeff Umbarger says he hopes he's made his last Saturday propane delivery (We hope so too, Jeff....come see us when you're ready to plant tomatoes!)

5) Spring is sprung because I changed out the winter garden banner on the pergola..there have been years I didn't accomplish that task until Memorial Day!

6) It might be spring if the Schlueter family takes a family bike ride...except for Grizzy, who runs along....over to Spruce...and no one tells Josh he can't get in the sandbox.

7) Winter is over when Lizzie and Abbie pick a generous handful of jolly daffodils.

8) It is surely spring when Ben sends us a picture of his first scorecard for the young baseball season.

9) On a similar note, Mike Shannon and Cardinal baseball provide the background music for Hurst Greenery office time on Sunday afternoons.

10) Put a fork in winter when it is time for Millie and Blake plant flat after flat of cucumber, melon, zucchini and pumpkin seed.

11) The moms admit defeat and let the kids create mud concoctions and play in the buckets of dog water on Saturday afternoons. (Playing in the water is still off limits for after school...).

12) The Dairy Diner beckons! So does Culver's, Dairy Queen, Sheridan's, get the picture.
Whether your fancy turns to gardening...or baseball....or ice cream...turn over that seasonal leaf and rejoice! Ding, dong, the wicked old winter is dead!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

C'Mon Over....We' re Open!

What's the weather gonna be like this coming Saturday?

Based on almost three decades of experience, I'm going to tell you...not because I'm a great prognosticator or because I've paid off the weatherman or because I've studied the Farmers'Almanac.  Nope, I've got a better weather vane than any scientific source: this Saturday is our Annual Spring Open House at Hurst Greenery and that event gives me the benefit of history and removes the mystery from weather forecasting.....

You can put a fork in it: whatever the weatherman predicts for this Saturday, it will start off still, sunny, and just a bit chilly, then, as noon approaches, the wind will pick up (I'm not privy to the particular direction) and by two or three o'clock, doors will be slamming, the baskets in the greenhouses will be swaying like they're in the mid Atlantic, and customers will have to hold on to their small children to prevent them becoming airborne.

Thus has it ever been. The weather outside may be frightful...but the flowers inside will be a Persian carpet, a kaleidoscope, a veritable cornucopia of color, scent, humidity...and temptation.  The greenhouses are full and it is early enough in the season that they will be relatively orderly, not look like the tossed salad they will resemble after a busy week in late April.  Not everything will be in bloom, but the season is still young; Open House is our invitation to you to visit, to browse, to ask questions, to dream of  the view from your porch, your kitchen window, your deck as you drink a morning cup of coffee.

At least, that's what I do as I stand, hose in hand.  What dare I plant in the baskets on the garage? Will Sunpatiens bloom on my hot shady porch?  Will there be any of those Supertunia "Black Cherry" left for my back porch pots?
   I loved the sweet potato "Bewitched"  in our pots last summer....will it play nicely with a colocasia?
What tomato will I try? (depending upon what's leftover!)  I am captivated by the new cherry tomatoes with names like "Indigo Rose" and the hybrid/heirloom varieties like "Big Brandy".

 I cannot wait to plant more grasses in the garden...a big bluestem...a little bluestem...feeding my inner prairie.
I hope the weather is nice so the kids can put together their lemonade stand...and folks will enjoy the refreshment of a cool drink, rather than wishing for a hot cup of coffee.  I know Aaron will be a big help, and that reminds me of the year the Westboro kindergarten came out to visit the greenhouse and Ben showed them around...all two of them plus Miss Walter.
One year the weather was so cold, only the loyal folks at the Avalanche showed up to take pictures and pretend it was spring.  Somewhere I have the clipping from the paper with Blake holding a flat of flowers and a young Ben grinning from the loft of our newly acquired livestock/plant trailer.  He wouldn't have been so happy if he'd realized how many times he'd be called upon to climb up there to load and unload flowers....a job that continues to go to the shortest and most spry of  plant pullers.  Beware, Gabe, Abbie, and Lizzie!
Back in 1989, April brought the Midwestern equivalent of a sirocco, blasting the top of our hill with 90 degree heat and blistering dust from our desiccated fields.  My aunt and uncle were making their first visit to our farm that weekend...and they departed with the reasonable assumption that the Dirty Thirties was alive and well in Atchison county.  In 1998 a near miss from a tornado peeled the covering and roll up sides from a 200' long greenhouse and flung it into the apple trees, leaving the plants inside untouched.  With the wind screaming and temperatures dropping to freezing, we detached the damaged plastic and pulled it back over the greenhouse frame to preserve most of the contents for Mother's Day.

Please don't let a couple of scary wind stories deter you from satisfying your inner longings for Spring.  C'mon over Saturday and stroll through the flowers; make a wish list for your pots; dream about fresh tomatoes.  Tell the kids how much they've grown and say hi to Gibbs, Streak, Popeye...and Griswold if he comes out to play.

And.. pull your hat down around your ears...don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mr. Harms Goes to Washington..

...along with Miss Harms and Miss Schlueter.
Relaxed travelers that they are, Lizzie and Gabe pass the time before takeoff playing GoFish. Across the aisle, Abbie and Blake are already deep into their portable electronic devices.  All three kids are chomping gum, having learned from experience..or at least the advice of older siblings...that airplane trips are hard on the ears.  Lizzie and Abbie have tiny square notepads on which to record their upcoming adventures. I hear Lizzie say, "All the dots for the 'i's' are hearts and all the o's have smiley faces." Her chronicle will obviously include emojis.

The geography of the Mall is the stage of our week : the scaffolding of the Capitol on one side and the compass needle of Washington's Monument  on the other. Three kids means three different ideas of what to see, but these guys are used to sharing and a satisfactory plan of attack is created over pasta.

What does a seven year old see in Washington, D.C.?

A thousand miles of wide stone borders to run along like a balance beam.  A dozen reflecting pools and fountains to lean over, lean into, and befriend the ducks paddling in.  Hundreds of  marble steps in and outside of majestic buildings to count, up and down, and then report triumphantly on the accomplishment of climbing.
They are unexcited by the prospects of policy and politicians, but they are patient while the adults speechify and listen, either reading, scribbling, or taking a power nap.  During one meeting Lizzie leans over and whispers to me, "When they talk about Democrats, do they mean the bug?"

As befits children of a greenhouse, the kids concentrate intently on the Plant Hunter's Journal they collect at the desk of the National Botanical Garden, filling out most of the blanks and picking their favorite plants from each of the greenhouse biomes.
 We spend a pleasant hour in the National Gallery among the French painters where Gabe exhibits a keen eye, finding the duck in the reeds a hunter is stalking and the monuments in the background of a Parisian street scene.  All three are fascinated by the notion that Van Gogh painted himself....

Lizzie finds her moccasins just inches from the front door of the Museum of the American Indian.
 The kid's exhibit gives them a chance to stamp their passports by balancing a kayak, weaving a basket, listening to bird calls, and visiting a tepee.  Abbie looks askance at her bison chili, but Liz and Blake chow down an entire plate of buffalo short ribs and fry bread.

We really never see the White House, but the afternoon we visit Mt. Vernon is gloriously sunny and warm.  Transported to the 18th century, this kind of living history is perfect for the imaginations of  youngsters and oldsters alike.

 We talk about all the visitors an isolated farm like Mt. Vernon would have and all the bedrooms it took to house them.  Gabe wants to know how old  Gen. Washington was when he died and is worried about how he got so sick from being outside in the rain. We walk to the edge of the lawn and look out over the same view of broad river and densely forested hills that George Washington saw from his front porch.  As they climb up the brick wall and sit dangling their legs over the side (any wall is fair game if you're seven) both Abbie and Gabe declare they will move here when they are grown and build houses across the river so they can have the same view.  If they do, I say, I'll certainly come visit....

Lizzie does cartwheels on George Washington's lawn.

Along with all the walking, all the gift shops, several lost and found souvenirs and a half dozen smashed pennies, there are serious and lovely moments that I will always remember.  After a long day of travel, I follow the kids up the marble steps in the dark to the somber interior of the Lincoln Memorial.  Abbie finds Mr. Lincoln rather frightening, saying his eyes seem to be following her around.  All three of them gravitate to the Gettysburg Address and stand; Abbie reads aloud and the sound of her young voice navigating the solemn text brings tears to my eyes. Each child wants a picture taken in front of the carved document. Gabe asks if we can go read the other wall and we stand before the Second Inaugural until all three children have finished and we hurtle down the stairs in the dark back to the bus.

Of such things are memories made.

Monday, March 23, 2015

History Lessons

Lee, Ann, and Ben on the Mall, fighting to keep their lunch from the seagulls
This week will mark a grand adventure, for Blake and I are journeying to our nation's capital and Lizzie, Gabe, and Abbie are going with us.
Four years ago, Aaron accompanied us to Washington, D.C., taking his first trip on a jet and allowing his grandma and grandpa to experience the wonders of the city was a great trip for all of us, though not without the kinds of anecdotes that make travel endlessly fascinating and eventually become family lore.

But Washington, D.C. has lots of room for history.

My folks chose the summer of 1964 to take our family pilgrimage to DC. We rode the train east, taking the B&O Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington. Instead of the Pullman sleeper, I believe we slept in a roomette where the seats facing each other folded down into beds. What I remember most about the train trip are the green green valleys of the eastern mountains and the gritty backyards of the steel mills in Pittsburgh, all part of the same state. We were so anxious to get to DC that industrial Baltimore seemed to go on forever....

Washington in the summer was a combination of the white heat of sidewalks and the cool interiors of museums.
We ate in cafeterias with Granny and Grandpa, walked the length of the Mall from the Tidal Basin to the Supreme Court,
went to the top of the Washington Monument,
saw Mt. Vernon from an excursion boat, and watched the sun set over Arlington from the steps of Lincoln Memorial as the Marine Band played for us on the banks of the Potomac.
We ate ice cream to cool off.

Fast forward thirty plus years. Millie and Charlie knew someone who knew someone who got us inside the White House one evening for a tour of the West Wing. (This was before Millie got so close to Vice-President Biden).

From 1801 to 1932, anyone could go to the White House during the New Year's reception. But it 's been a long time since it was easy to visit the White House; back in the sixties,sunrise in Washington would see lines of tourists stretching for blocks awaiting their turn to enter. When we strolled through the halls of the White House after dark and took turns peering around the corner of the Oval office, it was a surreal and unforgettable experience, not at all something some Tarkio farmers should be doing. But Ann provided us a pungent dose of reality when she declared within the hearing of the White House press secretary that the White House bathrooms we walked by "smelled bad!

Blake just got back from a Learning Tour of Cuba, hearing from Cuban officials and touring some Cuban farms. But years ago, our entire Farm Bureau entourage was invited to supper by the Cuban Interest section stationed in another nation's embassy. We filled our plates with shredded pork and beans and rice under the watchful (and hungry) eyes of some of our hosts for the evening. After our group had listened to the speeches and made our goodbyes, everyone, including the kids, received a souvenir of the evening....a long Cuban cigar! As we left the premises and boarded the bus, we saw the guards making short work of the leftover beans and rice from our supper.
Who knows what adventures, what famous people, what glorious sights, will find their way into family history from this week's trip to Washington, D.C.? Lizzie already has a long list compiled; we will do our best to complete her every wish! You can bet there will be pictures aplenty and souvenirs galore.....and I'll let you know all about time....