Author Archives: The Inadvertent Gardener

About The Inadvertent Gardener

My name is Genie. I was born in Washington D.C., where, in fact, people garden. I was not one of those people. In September 2005, I moved to Iowa. In April 2006, I decided to plant some herbs in a couple of pots. Next thing I knew, I had a garden.

Retreating from the world without traveling far from it

This past weekend, I escaped to Prairiewoods, a local gem that offers peaceful respite just minutes from I-380 and downtown Cedar Rapids. The Franciscan retreat center offers a variety of non-denominational spiritual retreats, as Pairiewoods Sunrisewell as holistic services and overnight accommodations for those looking to step out of their regular life and into a place of peace and contemplation.

I attended a yoga retreat organized by Karen Wachsmuth of Yoga for Your Life, a local teacher who works primarily in the Iyengar yoga tradition, but several of the other women who attended the retreat had also stayed at Prairiewoods other times. They raved about the staff, particularly those who lead other retreats at the property, and said how much they enjoyed it.

Prairiewoods’ event schedule through March is up on its web site, and includes ongoing fitness classes, spiritual spa renewal days, and even business-oriented development classes. The facilities are also available to those who want to go on a private retreat, directed retreat, or even a sabbatical.

For those who stay overnight, the guesthouse accommodations are straightforward and comfortable. Each room has twin beds, a sink, a nook with a clothes bar, a desk and a chair. Adjoining rooms share a bathroom with a toilet and a shower. Each floor of the guesthouse also has minimal kitchen facilities, although meals are served in the Center.

The Center features a lovely gift shop, with books and handmade jewelry and other products that either foster or demonstrate a creative spirit. There is also a lovely meditation room with soaring windows that look out onto the woods, a conference room, and plenty of common space for reading, visiting or playing games.

The weekend I was there, Cedar Rapids was enjoying –20 to –30 degree F wind chills. While I’m not going to claim deep and abiding fondness for any weather that causes your fingers to fall off within a matter of minutes, it was beautiful to sit inside the Center, which is the main building on the property, and stare out at the windswept snow with a mug of sage tea made from herbs grown there in warmer months.

I hope to return in those warmer months, not just to check out the sage being grown for the following winter’s tea, but also to take advantage of the trails and quiet spots on Prairiewoods’ 70 acres.


Genie Gratto also blogs at The Inadvertent Gardener.

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Filed under Celebrating the four seasons, Daytrips and Getaways, Natural Beauty

Not just corn and pigs: Local magazine serves as guide to great food

In 2004, when I was contemplating moving to Iowa from the Washington D.C. area, one of the things I worried most about was losing access to interesting dining and cooking experiences.

“Is there Vietnamese food?” I asked the person who I planned to follow out to the Midwest. “Because if there’s no Vietnamese food, I’m not coming.”

He dutifully sent me a few web links to the names and addresses of Vietnamese restaurants within 50 miles of Iowa City. I grudgingly agreed to move, but made sure to get a solid dose of Bun Cha Gio, Ga xa and Pho before getting on the plane.

Sweet cornI’ve now lived in Iowa City for more than two years, and, for all my pre-Iowa yapping, haven’t even made it to a Vietnamese restaurant out here. Instead, I’ve feasted on American prosciutto from Norwalk, Iowa; amazing salsa from Wellman, Iowa; and single source honey from Watertown, Minnesota.

Sure, I gnaw on sweet corn like nobody’s business in the summer, but I’ve also discovered Iowa farmers grow Muscatine melons, which might be the sweetest melons I’ve ever tasted.

I find a wealth of the local food products through Edible Iowa River Valley, a quarterly magazine that examines just what makes eating in Iowa so interesting. (Full disclosure: I’m a Edible Fall 2007contributor to the magazine, but was already a subscriber before I started writing for them!)

The latest issue just hit the streets in Eastern Iowa, and it’s a great resource for local food products and places to find them throughout the region. This is the magazine’s fifth issue, and Publisher Wendy Wasserman and Editor Kurt Michael Friese have managed to weave together an impressive tapestry of stories about the region. The Des Moines Register even profiled Wendy today and talked a little further about the magazine and its goals.

In this issue, you’ll find stories about Fort Madison’s Lost Duck Brewery, a cover story about Iowa’s expanding taste for goats, and, my contribution this time around, a story about locally-grown chestnuts, just in time for all that roasting-over-an-open-fire business.

The magazine is available free at approximately 150 locations throughout the region, and is also available by subscription.


Genie Gratto also blogs at The Inadvertent Gardener.

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Filed under Good Eats