There are football coaches and pitching coaches and Lamaze coaches and life coaches and coaches for just about everything under the sun. This year, I got myself a pumpkin coach.
Lest you immediately get a mental image of a squat little Disney fairy godmother waving her wand to produce a carriage suitable enough to haul Cinderella off to the ball and happily ever after, rest assured that Bainbridge resident Jim Domo is not a bibbity-bobbity-boo sort of guy. However, he annually wields his magic to produce pumpkins that, while not able to cart off Cinderella and her poofy ballgown, might make a nice home for a whole castle full of singing mice. And nice guy that he is (nobody who grows pumpkins can be nasty), he agreed to take on the challenge of helping me achieve my life long dream of growing my own pumpkins.
We started off with some basic truths about pumpkin growing. You need lots of room. Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble, at least for growing giant pumpkins. Jim’s garden is about the size of my living room. Mine is 8’ x 4’. So I extracted a promise from my husband that he would not mow anywhere there were vines. This helped enormously since my plants escaped like toddlers from their playpens as soon as they had a couple of leaves.
Then, there’s the issue of seeds. I had saved some from a particularly nice pie pumpkin I’d purchased last year. Jim added to my stash by providing me with a handful from his 2008 specimens, weighing around 750 – 800 pounds, cautioning me that I would probably only use one or two plants and as a first-timer, might only get some in the 50 lb. vicinity. Hmm, I thought. Maybe we ought to declare a moratorium on any mowing!
I started my pie pumpkin seeds fairly early in April in the house. I actually waited too long to plant the giant ones. I was out of town and wanted to make sure they were watered, etc. Big mistake. They never really did get going with any degree of energy. My pie pumpkins, however, took off like crazy as soon as I transplanted them in my garden.
Then came the tricky part. You have to know the difference between a male and female pumpkin flower. This had always puzzled me. They sure looked the same to me. But, Jim told me, the female flower is very different, when you got up close and personal, and only by going out every day and checking, can you be sure when one shows up. When I finally took the time to look, it was pretty evident, even to me. But since the female flower only blossoms for one day, the chances of fertilization is an iffy thing. I resorted to taking a Q-tip with me and “playing bee.”
“I actually pick the males and bring them in the house,” Jim told me later. “In the morning, I take a paintbrush and a glass of wine and transfer the male pollen onto the female flower.” A twinkle in his eye says he might be joking about the glass of wine, but maybe not. It sounds like a good idea to me.
Only a few days after the bee thing, I discovered green bulges on the bottom of two of the female flowers. Heady with excitement, I relayed the information to Jim. “Houston, we have pumpkins!” I chortled. Jim agreed.
A sudden fear struck me. What about the numerous deer who traipsed through our property. Would they be in the mind for a bit of pumpkin appetizer? I grabbed some netting that I often used to keep birds off the raspberries and other things, and draped it over my babies. I also shoved a piece of Styrofoam underneath to keep out critters who came up through the ground. I have to admit I didn’t have the energy around my project that Jim has. I didn’t fertilize or debug--pretty much left well enough alone. But soon, without the fertilizer and extra water or interference from Bambi, they progressed from marble size to golf balls, to tennis balls, and onward.
Meanwhile, Jim was reporting progress in his own garden. His two “babies” were already topping 30 pounds! At one point, he covered them with fabric to keep off the sun, which might dry them out and cause them to crack. And they grew, and grew, and grew.
Giant pumpkins are an obsessive sort of thing. Just Google the phrase and see what comes up. Or ask Jim’s wife, Mary Kay.
To make a long story short, we both recently harvested our pumpkins. I was surprised to discover how hard it is to cut through a pumpkin stem. Plus, both stems had sent out roots into the ground which required a bit of tugging. Jim actually uses this phenomenon, covering his vines so they’ll grow roots for additional nourishment. Right now, mine are sitting on our front step, waiting for their next starring role, which will be in a pie shell with real whipped cream on top. Maybe some pumpkin muffins, too. That’s about as far as they’ll stretch.
In front of the Domo house sit his five pumpkins, three of which he only discovered after pulling up the vines. He had to construct an elaborate tripod and pulley system to get them out of the patch behind his house and into the front yard. The largest weighed in at 925 lbs and captured tenth place at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Dublin, OH. But half the fun of growing pumpkins is turning them into glowing jack-o-lanterns, and this is where Jim’s pumpkins are headed. Trick or Treaters trekking up Jim’s driveway each year are probably a bit startled, and perhaps a Cinderella or two will begin dreaming of rolling off in it to find Prince Charming.
Next year. “You’ve caught the fever,” Jim tells me. I think he’s right.



Here's a couple of pictures that will give you some idea of what happened in that very long period of time between posts. The posts that I didn't delete, that is.

That's me, hanging around in Hocking Hills, Ohio! What fun!

And Baby Kate having her first up close and personal encounter with the ocean. (P.S. She loved it!) Hilton Head, SC


Okay, so I've been a slacker. I never was too good at keeping a lot of balls in the air, and this one fell in the midst of a whole bunch of issues, vacations, and just plain LIFE. I've made a date with myself to post to my blog every Monday morning, first thing. I'm even putting it on my calendar so I remember. Meanwhile, I'm sending along this essay that I did for a local newspaper. That committment has at least kept me writing something. Enjoy!


Fall comes with a slight tilt to the sun that brings thoughts of fuzzy socks and wool sweaters and a sudden longing for a bowl of soup and a chunk of hearty bread.
Like Richard Nixon, I am not a cook. Something like that. What I mean is that in over four decades of being the primary source of meals in our family, never once did anyone ever complain about e-coli or salmonella. You may, to this day, hear them cast aspersions about my Creamed Tuna on Toast or Peanut Butter Meatballs, but they had the good sense to wait until they were out of the house.
There is one area, however, where I shine. Or at least throw off a few glints. Baking.
Some might argue that there’s no difference between baking and cooking, but I disagree. The difference is simple: ingredients.
With cooking, you’re always faced with buying stuff like jicama and tahini and bean threads and orzo and a thousand other ingredients that you might use once and then spend the next several years worrying about their expiration dates.
Baking is a lot less complicated: flour, butter, eggs, yeast, salt, maybe some honey and seeds and oatmeal, things like that. It just depends on how you put them together. I recently made some rye bread and used caraway seeds that I guessed were at least 25 years and three or four moves old. (Not to worry. Nobody in this viewing area had occasion to ingest them and those that did, didn’t die. To my knowledge.)
Another thing about baking. With cooking, there’s always what I call the Euwww factor, as in “Euwww. I don’t like turnips (or venison or Brussels spouts or garbanzo beans or fill in the blank).” That’s why the entrée offerings on a menu are always more plentiful than the dessert list. Rarely do you see anyone turn a nose up at a chocolate brownie, for example, or a thick slab of Italian bread, or a doughnut.
Baking is also a lot more fun than cooking. With cooking, you have hoards of family or company hovering like vultures, often drooling, right there in the kitchen, waiting for you to put something on the table. You have to placate them with offerings of wine and little crackers on which they spread all kinds of weird stuff like artichokes or sauerkraut or goat cheese or jalapenos or crab meat. You might get a few minutes of rest while you’re eating, but then it’s time to clean up the dishes.
When I bake, it’s very often a quiet day, on the cool side, and with nobody else around. I put on my apron (or not—jeans often suffice) and soon I’m happily covered with flour and stirring and mixing and kneading my frustrations out with a vengeance. By the end of the preparation process, I throw the whole thing in the oven or in a bowl to rise and spend the next half hour or so reading a good book. When I feel like it, I leisurely wash up the measuring cups and spoons and add the bowls to the dishwasher.
Later, when whoever shows up for dinner, they enter the house and immediately exclaim, “Oooohhh! What smells so good!” This is the power of yeast and/or chocolate—the Oooohhh factor that is the complete opposite of the Euwww factor. I smile, pull boxes of frozen chicken and frozen broccoli out of the freezer, grab a potato or two and toss everything in the oven, serving it by the time you can boot up a computer and check e-mails, complete with a slab of warm bread and butter. Fresh bread that has the power to overcome any culinary deficit.
Bon appétit!