29 December 2009

A Period is More Than Just a Dot

Shamefully, I have not finished the story of our anniversary trip to Ireland. The trip was most amazing, but it was a trip that did more than just add a stamp to our passports. It was while on this journey across the pond that Michael and I decided we would start trying for a baby. We marked June 2009 on our calendar as the last official month on birth control.

Now here it is, just days away from 2010, and still no baby. In fact, coming off hormone therapy in order to try to get pregnant has proved to be an alarming reality.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis back in 2005 based on pervasive symptoms from my late teens on through my early college years. My symptoms included incredibly painful abdominal cramps during menstruation (we're talking about pain that double doses of ibuprofen wouldn't ease), excessively heavy bleeding, and irregularity of hormonal cycles. I never could gauge when my next period would be. Sometimes, it would surprise me after only 2 weeks from the previous cycle. Other times, it would keep me in suspense for 6 weeks. It was torture.

A doctor I had visited back in 2002 had put me on birth control because of my symptoms, even though she wasn't the one to make the diagnosis. As if like magic, my menstrual pain went from a 10 to a 2, I no longer bled like a stuck pig, and I was finally like clockwork. I never foresaw my period as an anxiety-free event, but that is precisely what it has been for the last several years. The doctor who did officially write the word "endometriosis" on my chart in 2005 said hormone therapy had been working so well for me and saw no need to change the regimen. And every year, I re-upped my year's supply of progesterone.

But the symptoms I endured before the relief that came with birth control were no match for the one that still keeps me awake at night--infertility.

In the back of my mind since my diagnosis, I knew it would be something I might have to face when trying to start a family. I just figured that I would worry about it when the time actually came. Well, the time IS actually here and the worrying has begun. In fact, the words from my gynecologist earlier this summer is what started the worry within me: "A woman of your age typically needs at least 9 months to get pregnant just coming off of birth control."

Excuse me, but a woman of my what? My age? Since when did I enter the "woman of my age" category? And what's the cut-off for that anyway? I mean, women are having babies well into their 40s and even 50s these days. I'm 3 months shy of 28. I may be no spring chicken, but I thought if I started trying before 30, I would be golden.

And yes, I do realize that it's only been 6 months since leaving the Yaz in my past, but here is the reason why I'm 3.2 seconds away from starting my childhood nail-biting habit again: I haven't ovulated since mid-September.

I went back to my gynecologist yesterday for some tests and advice. He explained to me that there were many possible reasons that I may not be ovulating, such as stress (which I have more than I can handle at times), weight loss (I'm afraid to admit this one, but 5 good pounds are gone), or abnormal hormone production. The only way to know if the cause is biological is to have blood taken and tested. This morning, I had blood drawn. They will be checking my FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, levels (which regulates reproductive processes), my thyroid-stimulating hormone levels (which controls the endocrine function of the thyroid), and prolactin levels (which, even though is what controls lactation, can suppress ovulation and therefore inhibit FSH if levels are too high).

I find out the results next week. If my hormone levels are out of whack, my doctor wants to start me on a hormone that would cause me to ovulate. If it's because of my stress and weight loss, his answer is to take the metaphorical "chill pill" and increase my daily caloric intake. I'm hoping the root cause is stress. If so, I'll just pass off some of my chores onto Michael and have regularly-scheduled Ladies' Nights with my girlfriends, all in the name of ovulating and getting pregnant.

As for the weight, I think I should have my own reality show. "Biggest Gainer" doesn't sound as catchy as "Biggest Loser," but maybe it will help me earn my birthing hips.

04 July 2009

Journey Across the Pond: Day Two

11 June 2009—“Yeah, We’re American…”













We finally arrived in Dublin around 9:00am, Irish time. It felt great to get out of our cramped, poor-man’s-first-class seats and stretch our limbs. The flight attendants routed passengers in two different directions off the aircraft, as there was no jet way and we would have to deplane by way of a rolling staircase. Because of where our seats were located, we were to exit from the front of the plane. This naturally required us to move forward, but our carry-on suitcase was in an overhead bin a couple of rows behind us. Michael had to squeeze past a couple of people to get it down, holding up others who were ready to walk down the aisle. I’m sure the fact that we disrupted the exiting algorithm ticked off passengers waiting their turn to retrieve their conveniently-placed belongings and move toward the exit sign, but I didn't notice.

Descending the stairs from the 767 put my imagination into a full sprint, and suddenly, I was the First Lady in pearls and a pillbox hat. I wanted to throw my arms up in a double-wave to the grounds crew below and greet them with handshakes and sign autographs. I figured a lifetime of seeing pictures and videos of world leaders traveling by air showing them regally exiting their planes by staircase must have something to do with this. They usually acknowledged the press with a wave or show of the peace sign. Why couldn’t I? But looking down at my $5 Old Navy T-shirt and giant camera bag, I snapped back into reality and heard, “…like a president or politician.” That would be the end of a sentence from my husband. It is unreal how often we share exactly the same thought.

The air was crisp and the temperature pleasant. It must have been 30 degrees cooler than back in the South. Michael, the hot-natured being that he is, was soaking it up. I was grateful to be in a jacket and jeans.

We followed signs towards customs and immigration to have our passports stamped. There were two separate lines, one for EU passports and another for non-EU passports. A young woman in uniform directed the non-EU passport holders to the end of the line…which wound its way around a corner, down a corridor, and into another dimension. There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re traveling than the hold-ups at the very beginning of your vacation. Fortunately, the line moved quickly and it was on to the baggage claim carousel to collect our one checked suitcase.

Michael watched for our suitcase while I freshened my contact lenses and reapplied mascara in the airport bathroom. What I really wanted was a shower, and unfortunately, airports don't have those. I met Michael at the carousel, where I decided to trade in my sandals for socks and hiking shoes. He was still waiting for our suitcase, looking aggravated from yet another hold-up. It took us about 20 minutes to figure out it wasn’t on the carousel. Someone had removed it and placed it next to the luggage carts opposite to where we were standing. It upset me that some stranger had touched our things and put it just out of sight, but at least it wasn’t lost in transit.
While moving toward the car rental counter, I withdrew my red travel folder from my shoulder bag. This contained print-outs of reservations and a tentative itinerary for the week. My obsessive-compulsive personality doesn’t allow me to travel without such organization. I flipped to the print-out for our rental car so we could show proof of our reservation once we reached the counter. An American, who was being helped at the counter, was obviously not quite as prepared as myself. You see, the reservation print-out explained everything from payment due to insurance rates to roadside assistance. The American in front of us must have asked every question that could have been answered by this print-out. And on top of that, he wanted the rental agent to give him suggestions on which towns to visit and directions to those different towns. Doesn’t he know how to ask for a map and read it? I thought to myself. The line grew quite long behind us, and the American held every one of us up for more time than we were willing to give for his unpreparedness. Even a 10-year-old from Colorado behind us exclaimed, “Geez, this guy is taking forever!” His mother hushed him, even though she completely agreed with what he was saying. I hear ya, too, kid. I also heard my stomach telling me it was time for my next meal.

We finally got our turn with the rental agent. He was a patient young man named Daniel. He applauded me for having a copy of our reservation and told us this process would go very quickly because of it. I gloated. Looking at Michael’s driver’s license, he laughed. “So yer from Dooblin, are ya?” he asked, since Michael hasn’t updated his license from his hometown address. I was already smitten with the accent, and we weren’t even out of the airport. I couldn't wait to speak to other locals during our journey. But what Daniel asked next had my attention more than the accent: “So Georgia, eh? Isn’t dere a city called Savannah dere?” I exchanged looks with my husband.
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “It’s on the coast.”

“Ah, yes. It’s beautiful dere. It’s where ‘Midnight in de Garden of Good and Evil’ takes, place, no?” he continued. I was floored.

“Yes! It’s one of my favorite books. John Berendt came to our university a few years back for a book talk and signed a copy for me.”

“No jokin’?” Daniel’s eyes lit up. “Great book.” Then he went right back into business mode. He informed us we would have to pay a flat fee of €25 to enter into Northern Ireland, with it being a different country. We would also have to be preapproved for €1700 since we were from a “non-left-side driving country.” I assumed non-left-side drivers cost these rental companies quite a bit in damage. There's nothing easy about seeing €1700 show up on your credit card statement, even when you know you'll most likely get it back at the end of the trip. Michael was going to have to make it an entire week driving a manual-transmission Corolla with the driver’s side on the right and the correct lane on the left without a single scratch.

Daniel was right. The entire process took less than 20 minutes and we were on our way…to the shuttle. It was driven by an Indian gentleman with an Irish accent. Still smitten with the accent, I loved it even more because of the fact that he was Indian. I wanted to ask the obvious question, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be that kind of tourist. He took us to the local Clarion, where they kept the rentals in a gated lot behind the main building. He drove the car out of the lot and walked us around our Corolla, taking note of prior damage and making sure we knew how to get out of the parking lot (harder to do than you might think…). I have to say, it was very strange getting into the passenger side of the car on the left side.
We drove up M1 toward Belfast, me constantly grabbing my seatbelt and gasping at each new experience while being driven on the wrong side of the highway. Even the fast lane was opposite of what it is back home. A guy in a BMW let us know where we should be driving by gesturing while passing us. Our one moment of comic relief came when we passed a sign for a town just north of Dublin—Swords.

“I’ll take ‘Swords’ for 200, Alex,” I said in my best fake Connery.

Michael didn’t miss a beat. “Uh, that’s ‘S’-words’, Sean.”
Hunger couldn’t keep me in the car much longer, so we exited the M1 into the town of Drogheda. There was a mall with an ATM and sandwich shop called “Mi Casa.” So we withdrew a few Euros, had a toasted sandwich and another Coke (measured in milliliters this time instead of in ounces), strolled around the town, and moved on to the next leg of the trip. We were ready to be in Belfast.
One would think that driving from one country—the Republic of Ireland—to another one—Northern Ireland—would be a worthy event with welcome signs and passport checks. Not so. We didn’t even know we had crossed into Northern Ireland until we noticed that the speed limit signs changed from kmph to mph. You did know, however, when you had reached Belfast because it was a huge city that had access from multiple exit ramps. As prepared as I was with print-outs of our reservations, I did not have directions to our first hotel. Thus, frustration ensued. All we knew was the address of the hotel, which was somewhere on Victoria Street. But street names changed from block to block in every Irish city. We were lost.
We must have spent nearly an hour driving all over Belfast, searching for Victoria Street. There were suggestions of stopping for directions or finding a payphone to call the hotel, but I hate asking directions and we didn’t know if payphones still existed in the digital age. When we were moments away from having the argument of the century, the hotel “magically” appeared atop a hill. There might as well have been a heavenly light cast upon the hotel along with 23 giant arrows pointing at it, the sight of it was surely meant for our sore eyes.

The receptionist greeted us warmly. “Welcome to Park Avenue. Have ya been stayin’ with us before?”
“No, ma’am,” we replied. “This is actually our first night in Ireland.”

“Oh, roight. Let me tell ya about yer stay with us,” she continued, explaining to us how to get to our room, what restaurants were inside the hotel, and when breakfast would be served. She checked us in and handed over our room key.

Three minutes later, we were in our room and strangely, scratching our heads.

“The power doesn’t seem to work,” I told my husband, flipping every switch in the room. Nothing came on, not even the side table lamps. Michael followed me around the room, trying to use his super husband powers on the switches since my wife powers obviously had no effect.

Still nothing.

“Well, I’m not waiting for lights to come on. I’ll just have to pee in the dark,” I informed Michael. He sighed, knowing he would have to call reception to ask how to get power to our room while I was in the bathroom. I heard him through the door.
“Uh, yes, this is Michael Wynne up in room 203. This may sound like a ridiculous question, but we were wondering how you make the lights work in the room.” There was a pause. “Yes, I see it on the wall. You just put your room key in it? Ok, thanks for your help.” He hung up, and I came back into the room.

“This device on the wall receives our room key…” Michael explained as he inserted the key, making the lights come on, “…and ta-da.”

“Didn’t the receptionist ask us if we had been here before?” I asked him. “You would think telling her it was our first time here that she would have said something.”
“My guess is that she had a bet with another receptionist on how long it would take the Americans to call down to ask how to work the power,” he replied. Seeing my please-explain-yourself look, he said, “She definitely started laughing with someone when I asked the question.”
Yep, we were American, and we didn’t understand the Irish way of conserving energy.

With lights finally working, we took a shower and crawled into the bed for a late-afternoon nap. It was the first real sleep we had in a day and a half, and I didn’t wake up until after 7:00pm. Michael easily could have slept until the next morning, but I had to shake and poke him until he woke up. It was time for him to feed me my next meal.
We went downstairs to ask the receptionist who had laughed at us earlier for restaurant and pub recommendations. She whipped out a map and began to show us the hot spots in Belfast.
“The City Hall is where ya shood start. It’s in the middle of everythin’ at the city centre.” She started drawing lines and circles on the map of streets where we could find places to eat. “The Europa is a great hotel for eatin’, so it is. There’s also The Apartments. Or you could get some poob groob at the Crown.”
Actually, the Crown Liquor Saloon was on my itinerary. It was a pub with gilded ceilings and old-fashioned snugs, which were private drinking rooms inside the pub. You called your server by ringing a doorbell from inside the snug.

“You’ll see the old Opera House, if ya go this way,” she continued with her doodling. “It’s beautiful to see, so it is. Dere’s de Wheel near City Hall and other places to see. And woonce yer dere, it’s easy to get around, so it is.” She seemed to say that a lot in our conversation. “Let me call ya a taxi to take ya to the city centre.”
Our taxi dropped us right in front of City Hall around nine in the evening. It happened to be on Great Victoria Street. I thoroughly enjoyed that everything in the UK was named for Queen Victoria. Not a bad name, in my opinion. It was still very bright outside, so we clicked a few pictures as we admired the town. We even stepped inside the Crown for a moment, stunned by how detailed and intricate its interior was. It would almost be a shame to get shnockered in this pub because you’d miss out on its stained glass paneling or painted tile. But our stomachs were too empty to start with a Guinness, and pub grub wasn’t what we were feeling for dinner. We vowed to come back to the Crown after dinner at the Europa. Except, two hours later when we were leaving the Europa ready to scope out a snug back at the Crown, we found it gated and padlocked. Apparently, most bars close at 11:00 in Ireland. We were disappointed, but tired enough to look for a ride back to the hotel.
Arriving back at the hotel, we were in for another shock: the hotel doors were locked. The lobby lights were turned out and our “so it is” receptionist wasn’t sitting at the desk. We needed a receptionist to be our source of cash to pay the cabbie.

“Poosh the call bootten dere,” our cabbie told us, nodding at a glowing green button to the right of the door. Sure enough, pushing the button brought out a man in uniform. He unlocked the door and asked, “Are ye residents here?”

“Yes, sir. We’re in room 203, and we need cash to pay the cabbie. He said we could use our ATM card here at the desk.”

“Oh, we’re not loicensed to do cash exchange,” he explained. “Have the cabbie take ya to the ATM joost aroond the corner dere.” While Michael went on with the taxi driver, I stayed in the lobby with the man in uniform. His nametag read “Ian.”

“So where are ya froom?” Ian asked me.

“From the States,” I replied.

“Yes, but where in the States?”

“We live in Georgia, not too far from Atlanta.”

His eyes grew twice their size. “I’ve been near dere, in Tennessee. Ya see, I loove me some roockabilly music, Elvis Presley and sooch. Seen Nashville and de Gran’ Ol’ Opry. Dere’s even a Belfast in Tennessee, ya know.”

“I didn’t know that! Isn’t Nashville a great town? My husband’s sister used to live there,” I said. “And I happen to be an Elvis fan myself.”

“Aye, yes. The music is grand. Even got me a couple of rebel flag tattoos on me arms.” He paused. “Would ya care to see ‘em?”

I had been conversing with this Irishman for 2 minutes, and he wanted to show me his Confederate ink. I was so eager to see the piece of Southern culture on his arms, I practically rolled his sleeves up for him.

“Dis one’s joost the flag,” Ian explained, showing his left bicep. There, in the dimness of the lobby, I saw the Stars and Bars, waving in an imaginary breeze, on an Irishman’s arm.
“Woah,” was all I could say.

“And on the odder side, I’ve got the Tasmanian devil holdin’ the flag.” He rolled down the left sleeve and rolled up the right one. He wasn’t lying. Looney Tunes’ version of the Tasmanian devil snarled with the Battle Flag in his hand. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’m in awe,” I told Ian. “I never thought I’d see this in Ireland!”

“Aye. But it shoos my loove for yer American rockabilly and blue grass. It’s good stoof, and it’s all dere in Tennessee.”

Michael appeared at the hotel door, looking to be let in again. Ian unlocked the door, and I roped Michael into our conversation. “Ian here has been to the States to visit music country up in Nashville. And he has rebel flag tattoos.”

Michael gave me a look that said, ‘Just how long was I gone?’ But Michael knows no stranger and eased right into the topic with Ian. The three of us talked for another twenty minutes about music and culture as other residents of the hotel came in and out of the lobby. Ian had to man the door for each one of them, but he didn’t once stray from conversation with us. We didn’t want to keep him from his duties too long, so we thanked him for the pleasant conversation and bid him good night. We took the stairs up to our quaint little room. This time, though, we knew how to get the lights to come on.

29 June 2009

Journey Across the Pond: Day One

Our satellite is busted, my iPod is plugged in my head, and John Denver is wooing me with "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Do I need another reason to sit down at my laptop to begin the chronicles of our trip to Ireland? Here goes nothing...


10 June 2009 --"The Waiting Game"











Michael waiting at the gate in Chicago for the flight to Dublin.


The few times I have flown in my life, I have not once left a vehicle at the Atlanta airport. It's an added expense, and I always fear coming back to a broken windshield or siphoned gas tank. To avoid the stress, Michael and I asked our friend Jeremy to drive us to the airport. He and his wife, Sara (a fellow pharmacy grad and study buddy of Michael's), live about 5 minutes from our house. Jeremy did have an engagement in Athens to get to after dropping us off, but that didn't keep him from doing us the favor. We asked my mom to pick us up once we landed back in the states. She agreed.

Jeremy picked us up right on time--11:30am. Our flight to Chicago was after 2:00, and we wanted to make sure we got to Atlanta with time to spare. Even though the drive wasn't nearly as long as we anticipated, the time spent conversing with a close friend before departing the country was just what we needed. Michael and I both had travel anxiety butterflies all morning and were looking to any distraction to calm the flutter. Jeremy's stories about his chemistry lab and a new student named Jenna Jameson worked for us.

When we arrived curbside, hugs were exchanged and luggage was removed from the trunk. I inhaled the Georgia air, knowing I wouldn't miss how heavy it felt. We dragged our things behind us, checked in electronically, checked our suitcase, weaved through security, and reached our terminal...with almost 2 hours before our boarding time. We were THAT early.

We scoped out the restaurants on our end of the airport, Concourse T. There weren't any that appealed to our tastes. A backlit map of the concourses showed where all good eats were located, giving us hope. There was an Atlanta Bread Company venue in Concourse A. So we followed signs and rode escalators toward our destination.

The only problem was, not a sign along the way told us that once we rode the final escalator into Concourse A that we would be beyond the security checkpoint.

Crap.

Two security guards sitting at their post in the entrance to the concourse saw the expressions on our faces, knowing exactly what we were wondering: "How did we end up here?" They shook their heads. It was obvious they had seen this happen to travelers before.

"There's no way back down," the male security guard said to us. "If you want to get back to your terminal, you'll have to go back through security checks."

Crappity crap.

At least time was on our side, and the Atlanta Bread Company was in sight. We ordered a couple of paninis with Cokes and enjoyed a relaxing lunch, despite the mass of humanity swarming around us. We even had enough time left after lunch to go up to the 2nd floor of the main lobby where the USO offices are located. A few dozen men and women in uniform were scattered about, resting on army bags or chatting with their families on their cell phones. Michael and I propped ourselves on a railing and hooked ourselves up to our iPods. We made fun of each other's music choices when they were laughable and gave a thumb's up when they were commendable. Finally, it was time to put ourselves in line for the security check--for the second time.

Since we had killed so much time, we didn't have to wait long to board the connector flight to Chicago. It wasn't until we got on the plane that the real wait time began.

Our aircraft stayed at the terminal because it began pouring. So we sat for about a half hour. I know full well that planes fly in rain, or even storms, all the time. But I was relieved when we had to wait for the rain to let up.

And it did. So we taxied toward the runway, already late to our next destination. We hadn't even made it halfway to the strip when it began raining again. This time, though, it came down in sheets. You couldn't see across the runway.

And again, we sat. The rain didn't last as long this time, but we still had to wait for clearance and take a number for the runway. We were 10th.

Thankfully, the flight was only an hour and a half with minimal turbulence. Chicago air traffic controllers weren't expecting our arrival to be as late as it was. We were supposed to arrive at 4:40, and we got there at 6:00. Our boarding time for our flight to Dublin was to begin around 7:00. There wasn't an open terminal for us, so we had to sit--and wait--again. It was another half hour, watching as about a dozen airplanes rolled in past us to their terminals, dumping out happy passengers while our patience wore thin and our butts grew numb.

The flight attendants, all the while, asked passengers whose final destination was Chicago to stay on the plane until those with connectors could deplane. We were informed gate numbers for all connecting flights, though those connecting to Bombay and Boston had missed out. They were to report to the desk to get an apology from the airlines and a hopefully, another flight.

I was glad we hadn't missed our flight, but I still felt like knocking passengers out of my way and running toward gate K4. A couple who sat behind us actually did run, which I got a good chuckle watching them book it with all of their carry-on items in tow.

After powerwalking to the gate, we were stunned to see that the flight to Dublin was, in fact, late. They were still refueling and stocking the two meals (times 200 mouths) and weren't ready to receive passengers. As much as I hate being late--to anything--I felt much better. Waiting one more time wasn't going to kill us. We had a seven and a half hour red-eye to Ireland ahead of us. All I needed at that point was a meal to look forward to and a Coke to hold me over until I got it.

Our seats aboard the 767 weren't comfortable, but they were in the emergency exit row, giving us lots of leg room. The first bonus all day! If only the seats reclined just a little further and had a place to prop your feet.

The movie shown, "Last Chance Harvey" with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, was disappointing. Dinner, on the other hand, was surprisingly tasty. A reheated dinner of chicken breast chunks in BBQ sauce may not sound appetizing, but I'm always hungry and ate everything that came with it: side salad, dinner roll, and green beans. Well, I take that back. I didn't eat my dessert. It was an individually-wrapped oatmeal raisin cookie. I will eat oatmeal cookies, and I will eat raisins, but I absolutely refuse to eat the two together. Don't ask. My reasons are complicated.

We flew away from the setting sun across Canada, toward the northern Atlantic. I got up for a bathroom/face-washing break before "turning in." I peeked out the flight attendants' window beside the lavatory while waiting my turn to see what I could. You could tell we were over a large body of water, most likely Lake Huron or even Georgian Bay. The water was midnight blue and the sky a dark, velvety purple. Just between where the sky met the earth beyond the body of water was a perfect streak of pink where the sun cast its final bit of light. It looked as if someone had drawn that pink line to define the edges of Earth and space because the lack thereof would leave them lost. Simply amazing.

I didn't feel tired after returning to my seat (probably because of all of the Coke I had been drinking all day), but I knew it was necessary to get some Z's. Once we landed in Dublin the next morning, we would be picking up a rental car and driving straight to Belfast. Sleep never has come easy for me, so I brought Tylenol PM and a neck pillow to help speed up the process. Michael is just the opposite. He thinks about sleep and is out in less than 60 seconds. When we were first dating, if wasn't with me or working at the farm in Athens, he was most likely sleeping. Sure enough, Michael conked out in no time next to me on the plane. Even after a dose of the sleep aid and constantly repositioning myself looking for comfort, I had trouble even dozing. Out of the seven and a half hours on the plane, I probably slept a total of 2 hours. And they weren't consecutive.

Surprisingly, Michael did have to shake me off his shoulder to let me know breakfast was being served. A croissant with grapes, yogurt, and a cup of hot tea hit the spot. We were about to land in Ireland, and I needed all the energy I could pack into my five-foot-four frame. Our plan was to keep moving until the sun set that night in the country of 40 shades of green, and that wouldn't be until 11:00pm that night. It looked like I would need another Coke.

Funny thing is, I have a one-Coke-per week rule. I was definitely in violation of my own rule the entire vacation.

22 June 2009

Wynne Garden: Stage Two

"Corn Tassels at Sunset"
Maybe that's a silly name for this pic, but I'm quite proud of the corn stalks we've grown. When a corn stalk grows its tassels, you know you're getting close to harvesting multiple ears of sweet, tender goodness. This variety of corn, silver queen, is my favorite of all types of corn. All of the pics in this entry were taken June 9, the night before we left for Ireland. Even though the garden looks great in these shots, you wouldn't believe how much it changed in the week we were away. For instance, there are several ears currently that are ready for harvest that weren't before we left the country.























These flowers aren't in my garden, but they are at my mailbox. They are poppies. Flashbacks to "The Wizard of Oz" anyone? This is my first time growing them, and they put out an incredible number of brightly-colored blossoms. The only trouble is that our hose doesn't reach to our mailbox, so they aren't watered as often as they need it. Their stalks are browning and feel like paper. I'll most likely have to pull them up and replace them with something more drought-tolerant.
























Tiny pepper! I'm a huge fan of bell peppers. In fact, I buy them every week at the grocery store to put in sauces or on a salad. This variety is called carnival bell, which means they will turn one of five colors: red, orange, yellow, white, or purple. Yes, purple! After a bell plant makes a white blossom, it falls off, revealing the immature fruit, just like you see here. It can be picked before it turns one of the aforementioned colors, but know this...All bell peppers start green, so when you eat a green bell, you are consuming an immature bell. If you let them stay on the plant long enough, they will turn another color.


















The corn has grown so tall, it's now taller than me. As you can see, the stalks on the right side of the bed are much shorter than the rest. They haven't gotten enough sun. We're planning on digging out all of the potatoes in the bed to the left and planting corn there for a late-summer harvest. Hopefully, that bed of corn will get plenty of sun and produce stalks that are the same height.





















Close-up of an ear. Look at how beautiful the silks are! Once they turn brown, they will be ready for harvesting. Then we'll have ourselves a corn cook-out. Corn on the grill is heavenly.














My cukes seem to be doing pretty well. They should be producing dozens off each plant, but I'm fine with just a handful. They don't grow much larger than this, as they are hybrid cukes meant for pickling. That's next on my list of things that I must learn how to do.






















Remember the shot of this bed from the last blog? Here it is again. Pear tomatoes, purplehull peas, and big beef tomatoes. The veggies in this bed have grown more out of control than any other. We've actually had to cut branches off the pear tomatoes because they're growing over the aisles now.

























My roma tomatoes, which is something else I usually pick up at the grocery store. They have a firm, meaty texture and are perfect for slicing up as a pizza topping. Michael picked 3 of them this morning, as they had ripened right on the vine.





















Grape tomatoes growing in bunches...it doesn't matter how many times I look at his plant, I'm still taken aback by the amount of fruit growing together! I just wish they would all ripen at the same time. The branches of tomato plants are very strong and sturdy, but they get weighed down and need extra support while bearing fruit.















My herbs are looking pretty good. I'm ready to have enough fresh basil so I can make pesto. I still don't know what I'll do with the chamomile Michael bought for me. Chives are great for baked or mashed potatoes. Mint is really great in sweet tea. The possibilities with herbs are endless.














My Meyer lemon tree. These lemons will be sweeter than a normal lemon, but alas, there are no blossoms on the tree. The best part about these trees is that they are evergreen and will continue to grow and produce through the winter months, so long as they are brought indoors. Eventually, it will need a larger pot, as the size of the pot limits the size of the tree. At their best, they should produce several dozen fruit in one season. We'll see...

02 June 2009

Here's Why I'm Meant to be a Southerner

Victory in the Garden!
I took some pictures of our garden a few weeks ago (early May 2009) to show how our vegetables and flowers are coming in. They have grown so much more since I took these pics, but I'm glad to have the documentation of their development. Most of the garden is covered in this blog. There are some flowers and other plants in the yard I didn't photograph. Those will appear some other time, I'm sure.



















A view of the raised beds that contain our crops. The view is what you would see if you were walking away from our house towards the neighbor's (the house in the background).
















Our beloved potato plants! They have grown vigorously. Probably more so than any other plant in the garden. They are tall, yet bushy. When they develop blossoms, you harvest new potatoes. When the plant dies, large baking potatoes are what you harvest.



























Corn--couldn't have a garden without it! This variety is called silver queen. It is white in color with a taste so sweet and delicious, you won't want to ruin it with butter. Did you know that each silk on an ear of corn is directly connected to a single kernal inside the husk? When the silks are pollenated, the kernal develops.


























I've never grown cabbage before, but these plants were free and I felt I should at least try growing them. They are more of a cool-weather plant, so I fear the mid-summer heat might affect their taste or even their growth. Behind the cabbages, you can see the rows of lettuce. Lettuce is also a cool-weather plant. *fingers crossed*


























Here's a shot of one of the beds. From front to back, you have: yellow pear tomatoes (which I grew from seed, I might add), jalapeno peppers (they're very small, so give it a little squint), purplehull peas (which are very similar to black-eyed peas), and big beef tomatoes. The flowers near the purplehulls are marigolds. They were planted to naturally keep away certain pests, like aphids and rabbits, but the aphids have covered our peas and tomatoes a couple of times. We're sticking to organic gardening, so squishing the miniscule bugs is really the best way to get rid of them instantly besides pesticides.



























This is our biggest big beef tomato. It has grown significantly larger since this pic was taken. Tomato plants must be staked in order for any success. They would collapse under their own weight otherwise. As you can see, this guy is resting on a bamboo stake. It is this variety of tomato that you would slice up to put on your hamburger.
















Grape tomatoes, of course, are very small, but they have a higher yield than larger varieties. They are also much sweeter, grow in clusters, and ripen more quickly. This tomato type is great for salads.


















Here is a shot of our garlic. They look very similar to an onion plant, which makes sense because they're both bulb vegetables. When garlic is ready to harvest, a long stalk in the middle of the plant produces a puffy, purple flower. We're a long way off from harvesting garlic, but it's certainly a staple in my kitchen.

















My herbs may look dinky in this shot, yet they take a lot of time and pruning to live up to their potential. This is the bed that the slugs like the most...especially my basil. Copper snail bait keeps them away by sending an electric shock through their little systems.
















So these tiny white flowers are not in my garden, but they are in a bed in front of our house. These are known as phlox, a perennial. They grow in bunches and smell fantastic. When they die, though, they leave ugly brown petals everywhere. They are difficult to deadhead and even more difficult to keep looking nice.


Also in the bed in front of the house are coreopsis, another type of perennial. I love the fringed edges of their petals and the ease of their maintenance. I'm seeding several other flowers to join the phlox and coreopsis in this bed, such as coneflower and black-eyed susan. Flowers are an obsession of mine. I want as many blossoms in my yard as I can get.
Here's where I end it for the day. Once I take another round of photos, I'll post them to show how far some of these plants have come.

27 April 2009

A Classroom Poem

I don't usually write 2 days in a row on this blog, but my students wrote a classroom poem today that I had to share. Before you read it, you should know they have been learning about poetry for only a week, and today was the first day back from our spring break. The topic: where you can find inspiration for poetry. Let me know what you think of my young writers.

Where Our Poetry Hides
Some poetry hides in jazzy songs
Other poetry hides in our classroom's colorful books
Lots of poetry is hidden in an energetic sport at recess
It can be found in our plastic container full of glossy magazines
You can find it in friendly conversations or in the working computers
It may even hide deep inside your heart, your head, or under your fingernails
You can discover poetry when you can't think of anything at all
Our favorite place to find hidden poetry is in every science experiment



I'm one very proud teacher! They came up with the ideas, and I helped them find the adjectives they wanted to use to make their poem more interesting. We refer to descriptive language as "chocolaty" or "chocolate words," and lackluster language is called "Brussels sprouty." Wouldn't you rather "eat up" chocolate as opposed to Brussels sprouts?

26 April 2009

Our First Garden...Sort Of...

Michael and I were both raised in families where growing a vegetable garden was an annual event. It was the same in both households: Dad ran the tiller to refresh the dirt in the garden plot, Mom chose what veggies she wanted to grow and harvest, and the kids dropped the seeds into neat little rows and covered them carefully with dirt. The only differences between our family gardens were the size (he had a larger yard, and therefore a larger garden) and what vegetables were grown in them.

Having grown up with such gardening experiences, Michael and I couldn't wait to own a home with a decent amount of land so that we could carry on the tradition. When we bought our house back in the fall, we decided that our garden would go in the front yard where it would be guaranteed to get full sun. The back yard is well shaded, and it slopes quite a bit. Not a quality spot for veggie-growing.

We then thought to try a new type of gardening that we had only seen in magazines and on the Walter Reeves Show: raised bed gardening. Raised beds are similar to flower boxes, except the box is much larger, is open on the bottom, and is put into the ground rather than on your porch or under a window. Once in the ground, you fill it with topsoil, compost, manure, etc., before planting. This helps the gardener avoid having to till up the ground every year (a giant plus in my book). The beds also help with watering. If an in-ground garden is watered or is rained upon, then the soil dries slower because it has difficulty draining and can lead to root rot if it stays wet too long. In a raised bed, the soil is naturally better at draining because it sits higher off the ground. The only drawback is that the beds can dry out too fast on those extremely hot, dry days. To help slow this process, a gardener must mulch around the base of each plant. Another plus in raised bed gardening is that you can grow your crops much closer together than in an in-ground garden.

Our childhood gardens were ones that were literally carved out of the earth. In order to get raised beds, we knew we would either have had to buy premade ones (which are MUCH too expensive) or make our own (cheaper, but labor-intensive). So it was off to Home Depot we went to buy wood and deck screws to build our contraptions. Michael began constructing the beds during the winter so that we would be ready for planting as soon as spring arrived. And since the beds are made of wood, and we all know how much termites and other critters like to feast upon this cellulose-laden material, we stained each board of wood with linseed oil. Supposedly, it's a termite deterrent. It's also a "green" product, so we felt safe using it.

Now you're probably wondering what it is that we're growing in our raised beds, since I've most likely bored you with all those facts about them and why they're so gosh darn great. Here's a quick list:
-4 types of tomato (big beef, roma, grape, yellow pear)
-2 types of pepper (Carnival bell, jalapeno)
-purplehull peas (http://www.purplehull.com/growingpeas.htm)
-3 types of onions (green onion, leeks, sweet onion)
-garlic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYfcb3LAoX4)
-corn
-carrots
-herbs (oregano, dill, sweet basil, lemon balm, mint, flat-leaf parsley, chives)
-pumpkins
-cucumbers
-blueberries (which won't produce until next year)
-4 types of "lettuce" (cabbage, mixed greens, Swiss chard, arugula)
-potatoes (something Michael always grew; this is my first time)

Everything in our garden is growing, some faster than others. The potatoes are the most impressive with their bushy greens atop the dark soil. I've already used herbs to cook with and can't wait to harvest the garlic. Like an Italian chef, I use it in almost all of my cooking. It feels amazing to know that what we have put into the ground is growing successfully. Just like when we were kids...

Growing this garden isn't just about tradition, though. Here are some perks of having your own garden:
-homegrown just tastes better
-you know what chemicals are or aren't being put into your produce
-you can share surplus with friends, family, and neighbors
-it's a learning experience (you know..."more wrinkles in the brain"...)
-it saves energy (gas/exhaust from produce trucks, refrigeration during transport/while in-store)
-plants are good for the air you breathe (in with the CO2 and out with the O2)
-it saves money (duh)

We can't wait to share our garden with everyone. Sorry I don't have photos of it to post yet, but I should soon. Stop by and see it in person!

"Cultivators of our earth are the most valuable citizens." --Thomas Jefferson

02 January 2009

It's the Final Countdown--of 2008

Here are a few of my favorite moments from 2008.



1. Marrying my best friend, Michael, on 31 May in Athens, GA. It's hard to believe we dated over 6 years before tying the knot. We love the married life.











2. Moving into our new home in late fall.


3. The birth of our niece, Mariella, in October. We are also proud of our nephews, Jay and Matthew.



4. The birth of Robert and Sandra's baby girl, Maelee, 2 weeks before our wedding.














5. Kajal and Malay's engagement ceremony in North Carolina during the summer. Ahhh, the Patels!


6. Macy and Paddy's fall wedding, complete with a live band and a dance floor.



7. Getting the phone call from Kennedy Elementary, telling me I was going to be part of the 3rd grade team.


8. My brother, Erik, graduating from UGA with a degree in Landscape Architecture.



9. The birth of Llewelyn and Brad's baby boy right before Christmas, Bryce. What a special Christmas present!













10. Celebrating holidays, birthdays, and special occasions as a married couple with our families and friends.

11. Going on a camping trip for my bachelorette party with my girlfriends! I loved taking the non-traditional route for such an occasion. Some of the gals had never been camping before, some got to see Cumberland Island for the first time. It was a fantastic trip.











12. My and Michael's honeymoon to the British Virgin Islands. It was our first time going out of the country. We enjoyed our time in the Caribbean.











13. Petting a manatee!!! This was the most memorable encounter with nature I have ever experienced.



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2008 also brought sad memories or moments we'd like to forget...



1. Several of our loved ones lost their jobs.


2. Janaki moved away.


3. Michael's grandmother fell and broke her hip.


4. The cost and shortage of gas, for a while, created a fear in everybody.


5. THE DROUGHT...and it contintues...




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There were far more positive than negative memories in 2008. I'm so grateful for all of our blessings and the happiness in our lives! Maybe 2009 will bring better things for those of us who have seen hard times or bad experiences. I can't wait to find out.

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