crookneck squash

What’s Wrong With My Pumpkins?

I grew up in the desert, where all that grows is cacti and tumbleweeds. OK, lots of stuff grows, but not gardens. Nothing like Washington!

Last spring, being a brand new transplant, I was so excited to start my first garden. Charlie and I spent hours in different nurseries, carefully selecting what we wanted – and what we thought would grow. We didn’t read articles, or books, or even the internet. We didn’t know if different things should or shouldn’t be planted together. Had never heard of blight, or whatever mysterious garden funk kills off plants. We didn’t care. We were planting a garden! If we could buy a plant, or seeds, and put them in the ground, they would grow. Right?

pumpkin tab

What we bought

We got patty pan squash because I liked the name and thought they were cute. They’re still my favorite. We also purchased cucumber, tomato, cantaloupe and pumpkin plants. We hoed, tilled, and fenced off a little area. I stuck those little plants in the ground and waited.

Before long everything flowered. Soon, we had loads of patty pans. We had little green tomatoes, the beginning of cucumbers, a couple of cantaloupe, and a good start on pumpkins. Then, everything died except the patty pans and pumpkins. We’ve since learned that we had chosen some pretty temperamental plants.

The patty pans grew and grew and grew, but the pumpkins were being weird. They started out round, but then got longer. I had no idea that was how they grew. I  checked them every day. They kept getting longer, but wouldn’t “inflate.” They turned orange and started growing bumps. That’s when I realized we must have gotten “ugly pumpkins.” I figure they were mislabeled at the nursery, and went back to waiting for them to inflate.

I waited and watched. I asked people why my pumpkins wouldn’t inflate. I told them I had never known pumpkins grew that way. I always thought they started round and just got bigger. Nobody  could tell me why my pumpkins were being so weird. They were stumped!

Then the fair came to town! We visited all the animal and agricultural displays. We learned so much and got so many ideas for new projects. One of the booths had master gardeners. This was my chance to talk to the experts and finally learn what was going on with my pumpkins. While telling them what was happening, I remembered I had taken a picture on my phone just that morning. They took one look at my picture and started laughing. Turns out my pumpkins that refused to inflate were actually crookneck squash! Oh

crookneck squash

What we got



Brave Little Man

Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. ~ Dan Rather

Raymond LOVES the alpacas. When he comes to Gabba’s, the first thing he wants to do is visit the “pacas”. He and his sister pick Asian pears – they call them Paca Pops – and get the biggest kick out of the alpacas eating them right from their hands. We’ve only had the alpacas about 2 months, but for 3-year-old Raymond, it was love at first sight.

On the flip side, Raymond is terrified of the chickens. It started with an overzealous rooster that would never stop crowing, and soon he was afraid of the whole flock. Ray could be clear on the other side of the yard, and if he heard the chickens squawking in the distance, he would run, screaming, into the house. We all tried to help him get over his fear. Even 2-year-old Reta Jean would tell him, ” It’s OK, brother. Say hi to the chickens.” He was NOT going near those birds. No way, no how, NO!

Do you see where this is going? Yep. The alpacas live with the chickens. This is where you see, up close, how courage and facing your fears really works.

From the first time Raymond saw the alpacas, he wanted to be closer. Initially, he inched his way up to the fence, screaming and running away when he saw the chickens. His mom and Reta sister went into the yard with me, and Raymond watched us feed the alpacas grain, while his sister tried to give them “huggies.”

Raymond couldn’t stand it! He joined us IN THE YARD. He stood behind Mom, clinging to her legs, screaming because he was in the chicken yard, but he wasn’t leaving. You could almost see the little gears turning in his mind. He was going to make this work. A deep breath, one step away from Mom, one fast step back, screaming because the chickens are still there.

The next few visits, he was determined to make friends with the alpacas. He’d march right up to the gate, then run off screaming when he saw the chickens. But he kept coming back! Reta Jean would encourage him from inside the fence. “Come on, brother. It’s OK. You’re safe.” We threw chicken feed to a far corner to get them away. If they started to get too close, we showed Raymond how to kick out his foot and say, “Shoo, chicken! Go away!” (We’re careful to show him not to kick the chickens, just shoo them away.) We held his hand and assured him he was safe.

He was, and still is, afraid, but that little boy faces his fear every visit. And he taught us that facing your fears is easier with a little help.

Today’s visit went something like this:
Raymond: Come on, Gabba! Let’s go see the pacas!
Reta Jean: Yeah, brother! Get paca pops for Spike and Tajo.
Raymond (After gathering pears and screaming because the chickens were there): OK, Gabba! I’m going in!


What if we did something different?

Life was unraveling. In March 2010, following a complicated illness, my mother died. December of that year, I experienced a brain injury. Over time it was determined that I would not be able to return to my teaching job.

By 2012, our family business was failing, and my husband was scrambling to make ends meet. Two of our children were married, with babies of their own, one was in college, and the “baby” would be graduating from high school that June.

I had lived in my hometown of Palm Springs, California for nearly 40 years. We had been in the same house 16 years. The three youngest children attended the same schools I had, and the school where I taught was my old high school campus. My parents lived 5 minutes away and were a big part of our lives.

Life has been good and comfortable and familiar. Now, we were struggling and dealing with major changes in our lives. For me, many of the things that had been familiar, were now just confusing.

We could have stayed where we were, and continued to try to find a way to make things work, but what if we tried something different…Driveway