2016 – Waiting for the Great Pumpkin, or, Nothing but Sincerity as Far as the Eye Can See

Steve loves pumpkins. Pumpkin-spiced this, pumpkin-flavored that; it doesn’t matter what. When fall rolls around, and the Trader Joe’s flyer turns to all things pumpkin, our shopping cart is quickly filled with indulgences. In early October this year, several new pumpkin recipes showed up on the kitchen counter one weekend; seeing them, my only response could be, “oh god, it’s pumpkin season again.”

On the one hand, I don’t really have much room to disparage this proclivity. After all, before this letter is even in your hands, dear reader, it will be eggnog season and, to commandeer a catchphrase, I put that s*?! on everything. On the other hand, I have never once tried to nog an egg.

Steve has been trying for years to successfully grow his own pumpkins, starting seeds at various times in the summer to perfect the growing schedule, dowsing the plants with sulfur to try and knock back the fungus that always appears on the leaves, and going out with a Q-tip to, ummm, help the romance along. But, no matter how hard he tries, the crop is seldom very productive. One year we did get a number of pumpkin blossoms that we fried up with dinner one night. Those were delicious! Every so often, a little pumpkin bulb will appear, and one time a pumpkin even grew to about 5 inches in diameter before the season came to an end. But those blossoms were about the only thing we’ve ever actually harvested.

Aware of his ongoing quest, when they were here in October a couple of years ago, my parents decided to play a little prank on Steve. They selected a medium-sized pumpkin, still a little green on one side, at the local grocery store and, with a wicked giggle, they snuck it into the pumpkin patch, placing it so it was a bit hidden under the then-copious vines extending across our yard.

They knew Steve wouldn’t see it until after they left town the next day, but hands were being rubbed in anticipation and I was instructed to tell them all about what happened when Steve found the pumpkin. They knew it wouldn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t home-grown, but they were hoping for a moment of hope and delight before the soul-crushing reality took hold. It’s a bit sad really that Steve said he knew it wasn’t his from the moment he laid eyes on it.

The thing is, I’ve already seen how things would play out if he were to successfully grow a pumpkin, because it’s almost certainly the same as what happens when he acquires a pumpkin from the store – it would sit in our house for months, adding to the “décor”, until it started to collapse in on itself.

This process takes months, with the pumpkin usually starting to go soft well after Easter; once the first sign of squishiness appears, it’s only moments away from full structural collapse. This is the point when Steve usually takes the remains out to the compost bin, but this year he had a new idea. Instead of tossing the pumpkin, he placed it in a bucket with the intent of harvesting the seeds and planting them.

I didn’t realize quite what was happening until several weeks later when I stumbled across the bucket in the mud room. By now, all traces of orange had disappeared under a glaze of black fuzz. Confronting Steve, this was when I heard his plan, which had now, by necessity, turned into just planting the whole pumpkin rather than trying to dig out any seeds. I encouraged him to make it so, and promptly, but another week passed and the glaze became layered.

I told him he had to plant it or at least take it outside. The latter was unappealing because he knew that Eva, our landlady, would find it while cleaning up the yard and throw it away. I noted there would be a similar outcome if he left it inside. Steve lamented, “You and Eva, always trying to throw away my pumpkin.” To which I replied, “Steve, it’s a pile of mold. No one in their right mind would blame me.”

Steve was working in the yard early in the evening that Sunday, when I finally delivered the bucket to him with instructions to bury the seeping mass in his planter box before dinner. The whole thing, which took weeks to inspire action, took about 5 minutes to accomplish. Within two weeks, there was a mass of new pumpkin plants standing at least two inches tall.

Steve doesn’t have it in him to thin the plants in a crop, rather insisting that all of the sprouts be given a chance. This would be just fine if he re-planted them to give them room, but those 2-inch seedlings kept growing and we soon had a carpet of dozens of pumpkin plants massed together.

pumpkin plants They did pretty well through the summer, but came upon hard times when we went on vacation in September. Our cat sitter had been turning on the water drippers as instructed, but I hadn’t thought to ask her to give extra to the water-guzzling pumpkin plants. Even so, several plants survived the ordeal, only to find their leaves covered in that pesky fungus a few weeks later.

In most years, even if the pumpkins never reach full maturity, we can usually count on at least 2 to 3 pumpkin nodules where the blossoms once perched. But this year, there was never any sign of a proto pumpkin developing. After all that, we were victims of the modern agribusiness practice of store-bought produce with sterile seeds!

sweet potato In spite of this disappointment, I imagine next year will start with Steve planting an entire packet of pumpkin seeds in his ongoing quest. In the meantime, we unearthed a sweet potato from our pantry that has a promising look to it. . .

As for the rest of it. . .

Jonas & Fergus Jonas and Fergus continue to be absolutely the best of friends, chasing each other around the house and up the cat tree, and, at times, and much to our dismay, team-hunting HB by cornering her from either side of the bed she’s been chased under. While Fergus has managed to maintain a healthy weight on his large frame, Jonas is affectionately called Poodgy-Pudgie. As embarrassed as we are by his muffin-top, we need to keep the kibble flowing for HB, who eats nothing but the crunchies. She has always had a delicate build, but is now being treated for weight loss related to hyper-thyroid and we need to keep food accessible to her.

Although the boys are prone to giving chase, HB is a nasty woman at heart, and pushes Jonas back from her hidey hole, whapping at him like a little old lady with her purse, using all of her 6-and-a-half pound self to chase 16-plus pounds of Jonas across the room.

In May, I went to a conference in Vancouver, WA; Steve and I maximized the travel budget by flying up a few days early to spend a long weekend in Portland, OR. We had a nice time wandering around the area, and, as an added bonus, were able to visit with Steve’s nephew for an evening.

Steve in kilt My parents visited at the beginning of August, and we drove down to Monterey to attend the Scottish Games in the area. The highlight was, of course, the promise kept when Steve donned his kilt for the event.

Our big vacation for the year was two weeks on Kaua’i at the end of August. This was the first trip to Hawai’i in which we didn’t hop between two islands; I think spending the whole trip on one island allowed for a bit more downtime since we weren’t trying to squeeze all of the hiking and snorkeling on the island into a shorter window, and we didn’t give up a day in the middle for travel.

Finally, in October, I flew back to Illinois to attend my 20th college reunion. It was a solo trip this time; Steve had come with me for the 10-year reunion what feels like two years ago, and it had been a bit of a bust, so I was hesitant to subject him to it again. There were definitely more of my friends back on campus this time around, helped out largely by the staged reading reunion of a script written by a professor and performed by a large number of my theatre major friends way back in 1996.

I’ve been at Genentech for just over a year now, working in the Legal Department where I continue to focus primarily on patent and prior art searching. It’s been a year of learning new resources and, effectively, a new language, and I’m finally starting to feel like I have my feet under me again. The long commute is now by way of a company bus, and I have been reading about four books a month, catching up on reading that’s been put off for years. I’ve also been volunteering with the on-campus GenenCats group, feeding at a feral cat station two mornings a week. I’ve been slowly gaining the trust of the cats and have gone from having them run away when I glanced in their direction, to several of them allowing me to give them chin scritches on a fairly regular basis.

Steve is still at Microsoft, working on PowerPoint for the Apple platforms. This year he was promoted to Principal Software Engineer – a pretty big deal. As a result of my job change, Steve’s commute went from one where we shared the drive and he could nap on the way home, to a solo trek. It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but he started listening to audio books, and sometimes I catch him sitting in the driveway finishing a chapter before coming in. A year in and he’s just coming to the end of the fifth book in the Game of Thrones series.

We continue to volunteer in the Clinic at WildCare and provide foster care at our home for orphaned baby raccoons.

If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, Steve and I can be found on Facebook. I’ve also maintained my commitment to blogging at www.midwesterngirl.com, posting about our travels, wildlife rehabilitation, and reviews of the books I’ve been reading.

Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and, after a volatile 2016, more than ever, peace in the New Year.