Happy New Year!

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s been quite a start to the year for me, much as it was quite an ending to last year. I started a new job in early December as the marketing manager at TRACE International. I worked there previously — from 2014 to 2016 — and in an entirely different role. I enjoyed my time there and was sad to leave, but we moved from Maryland to Ohio. Working remotely wasn’t an option.

I never quite found the career fulfillment I enjoyed at TRACE, once we were in Ohio. One silver lining of COVID, I suppose, is that so many companies had to shift to remote work. That included TRACE. And that’s what allowed me to come back. It’s different, of course. I miss the office parties and potlucks. I miss the camaraderie I had with my co-workers. It’s not quite the same over GoToMeeting. But I’m still so happy to be back, and I’m learning so much. I felt so stagnant before because I wasn’t being challenged or learning anything new. But now I’m expanding my skill set at a rapid pace, and I am not afraid to jump in with both feet when I’m tasked with something I have no idea how to do. I’m very lucky to have a boss who trusts I will figure things out.

So, there’s the new job. And at the same time, we closed on our new house and moved.

I can’t recommend experiencing two major life changes at once. However, I am on the other side of it now and I survived. A bit bruised and beaten up, but otherwise intact.

This is how I ended 2021 and started 2022. With each passing day, I get more settled into my new role and my new home.

The view from our kitchen window

We’re still not completely settled in yet (and I still have a gaping hole in my kitchen cabinets where a dishwasher ought to be by now — we’ve hit a few snags with Home Depot), but I feel so much more at peace than I did living in the suburbs. I relish the slower pace of life. And we still live 10 minutes away from grocery stores and good pizza. (And a hospital, which is also helpful.) What more do you need?

It’s so much quieter here. And I can’t get enough of walking around our five acres, even if it does get really squishy when it rains (and it’s been raining A LOT … I have definitely been making good use of my new rain boots). Blitz loves it, too. Every time we go out for a stroll around the yard, he becomes ten years younger. Especially the other day when it snowed.

Blitz, playing in the snow

Here is what I know about what we now call Five Acre Fruit Farm:

  • At least one snapping turtle lives in our pond. We also have fish.
  • We have a walking path that cuts through a grove of trees at the very back of the property.
  • Wildlife sightings/signs spotted on the property include a great horned owl, a fox, deer, rabbits, and raccoons.
  • We have a huge barn filled with old, rusty garden implements; broken garden carts that need mending; an old riding mower; dozens of clay pots; tons of firewood; bricks; paving stones; rocks; and sundry other items that may or may not be useful.
  • I am now the proud owner of too many mason jars to count.

Of course, there is also the reason we call it Five Acre Fruit Farm. The yard features:

  • 8 apple trees
  • 1 pear tree
  • 1 cherry tree
  • 1 peach tree
  • 1 mulberry tree

In addition to black raspberries, Concord grapes, strawberries, and who knows what else?

I felt like I could barely deal with my small suburban yard and the veggie patch. Now I have FIVE+ ACRES and quite a lot of fruit production — not to mention whatever comes back in all those raised beds you see in the above photo. I need to learn to be OK with weeds. I’m also suddenly enthusiastic about bat boxes and thinking about where to install some (near our pond, I suppose).

Sometimes, I think we were insane to buy this house. And sometimes I am excited to think about the new discoveries I will no doubt make on a regular basis.

So, my resolution for 2022 (if you want to call it that) is to enjoy the process of discovering this property. And to write about it here. I never had a specific theme for this blog before. I would just write whatever I felt like writing. But now I feel this blog must be about life here at Five Acre Fruit Farm.

In 2013, a decision was made

In November 2013, I made the decision to enroll in a paralegal program so I would have job training in another area besides writing and editing. My freelance writing and editing business wasn’t a consistent source of income at the time, and we were planning ahead for our life after the military. I needed a backup plan if I couldn’t find full-time work as a writer or editor somewhere.

I enrolled in James Madison University’s online paralegal program, which started in February 2014. The program was six months long. As I got closer to the end of the program, I started applying for jobs in the legal field near our home in Maryland. (My husband was stationed at Andrews AFB at the time.)

That’s when a due diligence/corporate compliance company caught my eye. I saw a job listing for a due diligence associate, which is not at all the same as a paralegal. But legal knowledge is important for that type of work, since it involves analyzing a lot of business documents. I applied and hoped for the best.

Long story short, I got the job. (I also got an offer at the same time to work at a law firm, but the pay was horrible and the benefits were non-existent.)

I spent nearly two years there, diving deep into the world of due diligence. I found it to be pretty interesting a lot of the time. I worked on a lot of different accounts, so no two days were the same. I loved the culture there, the people I worked with, and the opportunities to advance in my career. And I did advance. I was promoted to a senior due diligence associate role in February 2016, and I was put in charge of the company’s most popular product line.

My promotion was only a couple weeks before my husband retired from the Air Force. Post-retirement, he spent a few months trying to figure out what his future would look like. I had a good job that was fulfilling and rewarding. We could stay in Maryland, couldn’t we?

Well, we could have, but the cost of living was so high. And staying there wasn’t really compatible with our desire to be homeowners. (We moved three times during our four years in Maryland because our landlords either decided to sell their house or move back in. We didn’t want to deal with that anymore.) Our price range for a house severely limited our choices, so we knew we couldn’t make living in Maryland work.

Ultimately, my husband got a job with the State of Ohio after sending out applications to organizations in several different states. It was the first interview he got, and the job offer came soon after.

So, back to Ohio. My home state. Never thought I’d be moving back there after living in so many other places as a military spouse.

It meant, of course, that I had to leave this company where I was building a career. I was so disappointed, but I hoped that I would find equally fulfilling and rewarding work in Ohio.

Even now — 5.5 years later — it is still the best company I ever worked for. No job I’ve had since has even come close.

Oddly enough, I do work full-time right now in a position that requires my writing and editing skills. My paralegal certificate has been collecting dust. But here’s where things come full circle.

COVID forced many companies to pivot to fully remote work. My former employer included. And many of the employees are staying remote even after the office re-opened. (I know, because I have stayed in touch with several of my former co-workers.)

And now I have a master’s in marketing and communications, and some actual in-house experience …

Last month, a marketing manager position opened up at that company. I thought I’d apply to see what would happen.

I’m now the new marketing manager. I start two weeks from today. And this would not have happened if I hadn’t decided to get that paralegal certificate eight years ago.

It’s funny how life works sometimes. I’m absolutely thrilled to be going back, even if it is in a remote capacity. And in marketing now … not due diligence.

A new chapter

The last time I posted, I was finishing up the gardening season. I had converted the vegetable patch into a pollinator garden, and I was proud of how well it was thriving in a short amount of time.

It’s time to say goodbye to that garden now. And to this suburban house in a typical middle-class subdivision. And it’s entirely possible that the new owners — whoever they are (we haven’t listed this house yet) — will pull up all those plants and return that patch to a vegetable garden. There is little I can do about it.

My husband and I are now under contract on a house in the country (still close enough to the city where commuting is not an issue). A sweet, immaculate little ranch on just over five acres of land.

We crave a slower pace of life … some peace and quiet. And we want room to park our travel-trailer on the property instead of parking it at a storage facility.

I fell in love with the house almost instantly. It’s clearly been well maintained and nicely upgraded. The kitchen is a dream — other than the lack of a dishwasher. That’s one issue we plan to rectify as quickly as possible. The back patio/screened-in porch is the kind of outdoor space I fantasize about. I’ll spend many days looking out over the expansive yard with mature trees. We’ll have a wood-burning fireplace, solar panels on the roof, and a barn for storage. (We’ll add an additional barn to shelter the trailer and our tow vehicle.)

I’m a bit intimidated by the amount of land. I work a full-time job, so I don’t have all the time I would wish to maintain a big garden. There’s already a fair bit of landscaping to maintain (but most of the plants are mature, at least) and a dozen or so raised beds — most of those will have to be dismantled because I do not have the time or need to grow that many vegetables.

We also have at least one apple tree on the property, though I have no idea what variety or if it even produces. Next spring and summer will hold many surprises.

I only plan to bring two plants from my garden at this current house: the lilies originally planted by my grandma many years ago that have been passed around the family. I want one coral and one yellow to plant at the new house. I’ll dig them up this weekend and overwinter them in pots. The rest can stay here.

I am both exhilarated and terrified by this new chapter. And that’s a good thing. I can’t wait to share my experiences here.

I Found a Quilted Heart

I went for a hike today and found this hanging at the trailhead.

I’ve been having a rough time lately. I’m going to physical therapy for severe TMJ that has impeded my ability to eat comfortably and even talk normally at times.

Also stressed out for other reasons I won’t get into here.

This made me smile, which is why it was there. I now have it hanging on the door knob in my home office.

I left my story at https://www.ifoundaquiltedheart.com. If you need cheering up, read the stories there about how people found their quilted hearts.

Pomp and Circumstance, Part 2

Taking my cap, tassel, and hood out of storage this morning.

Twenty years ago, I was experiencing my first semester as a grad student at Miami University. From the very beginning of my program — maybe even when I first decided to attend grad school — I pictured myself walking across the stage to get my diploma. Eyes always on the prize. 

It wasn’t meant to be. Then, anyway. 

I finally completed my master’s at the end of last year. But thanks to the pandemic, walking across the stage to get my diploma wasn’t meant to be. I had to be content with having the diploma mailed to me and playing dress-up around the house in my regalia. Instead, a brief, virtual graduation ceremony streamed on the university’s website. And prior to that, I had my graduation “party” on Google Meet with friends and family.  

Tomorrow, my 20-year vision finally becomes reality. I’ll be walking across the stage, albeit not in the way I imagined. There is still a pandemic. We are required to wear masks, except for when we walk across the stage. I already have my diploma, so I won’t be handed one. I won’t even be hooded. I already have my hood, and I’ll be wearing it during the ceremony. (Correctly, I hope. I still have no idea how to wear it properly.) 

I have to admit, it feels weird. Completing my degree is now old news. This is delayed gratification. But I earned this, and I deserve it.

Tomorrow morning, my mom, husband, and I will have brunch at Hofbräuhaus Columbus. Then we’ll go to the Columbus Convention Center for the ceremony. I will, at some point, walk across the stage, pose for a photograph with the university president (not shaking hands), and then return to my seat. 

It’s something. And something is better than nothing.  

Doing its job

My pollinator garden is just beginning, and already it’s doing its job.

Monarch caterpillar on my butterfly weed

This was my discovery when I was in the garden this morning. I am hoping birds don’t pick it off, of course. Fingers crossed I will soon have a monarch pupa!

When life gives you tomatoes, make freezer tomato soup

The first of what will likely be several batches before tomato season is over

It’s that joyous time of summer when the tomatoes are ripening. Even with one plant, I have more tomatoes than I can possibly eat on my own. And since we’re still working from home, I can’t take them to the office.

I decided to use up some of the tomatoes by making tomato soup. Don’t even speak to me of canning. I spent a day five years ago with my stepdad while he canned tomatoes, and it was tedious. I prefer to freeze my harvest.

I didn’t really follow a recipe for this. One of my special skills is throwing things together randomly and coming up with something delicious. Why I’m not a recipe developer, I will never know. That would have been a really fun career.

Anyway, I grabbed my Instant Pot and got to work. First, I set it on the sauté function. Once it was ready, I added a little olive oil and some minced garlic — two cloves — and sauteed. Once that was done, I added 1 cup of veggie stock. Then I added in 7 rough chopped tomatoes and their juices (I had 6 medium to large and 1 small). I splashed in some Worcestershire, then added some cracked sea salt and pepper. (You see a pattern here, right? I literally never measure anything unless I’m following a recipe.)

I sealed the lid and set the Instant Pot on manual high pressure for 6 minutes.

Once the 6 minutes was done, I did a quick release.

Then I got out my immersion blender. Once I took off the Instant Pot lid, I sprinkled in 2 tablespoons of sugar. Then I got to blending until it was mostly smooth. (The immersion blender can’t get all the seeds and skin — for that, a regular blender is needed — but I do the best I can with the tools I have, and I don’t mind the odd seed or sliver of skin.)

I finished with a generous sprinkling of Flavorgod Italian Zest seasoning.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. I am freezing 4 cups, and I saved the remaining (which was maybe 1.5 cups?) for lunch tomorrow.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collapse. I spent the better part of three hours today cleaning, peeling, slicing and blanching all the carrots I picked, which are now in the freezer. Between that, making the soup, and all the cleaning I had to do because of these activities, I’m wiped out.

SO. MANY. CARROTS. And this wasn’t even all of them.

Garden Update

A crab spider peeks out from an African marigold in my garden

I mentioned in a recent post that I was converting my vegetable garden into a pollinator garden. It was my intention to do the bulk of that work next year.

Well, I’m ahead of schedule. I realized rather quickly that it was a huge mistake to grow crookneck squash. I had THREE plants (because I’m ridiculous), and even one was insanely prolific. I pulled two of the plants out, chopped them up, and composted them. I thought I would just stick with one, but even that was producing more than I could handle. I got sick of eating squash, and I don’t have time to chop, blanch, and freeze every single time I picked it. I was leaving bags full of squash in the park behind our house for people to take.

It was more trouble than it was worth.

So I pulled up the remaining squash. Kroger is selling late summer perennials for a great deal: 5 for $10. So I bought coneflowers and coreopsis to plant where the squash was growing. I was at Kroger again a couple days ago and got more coneflowers and some Shasta daisies. (Not native, of course, but I love them.)

I already have sweet alyssum growing (from a 25 cent seed packet I bought at Dollar Tree), which is an annual but often reseeds. Same with the giant African marigolds I planted from seed next to my tomatoes. I hope those come back next year.

I am leaving room for these plants to spread out, as they will inevitably do. Since we’re going to have a mild weekend, I can do some serious weeding and mulching out there.

I am still growing vegetables, by the way. My Better Boy tomatoes (I know, a fruit) are prolific and starting to ripen. I just ate the first one yesterday and I have another ripe one on my kitchen counter. The bell peppers have been coming in. All the onions have been harvested. And the carrots are progressing.

I will miss tomatoes. I can do container tomatoes going forward, I suppose, though I like the bigger, slicing tomatoes. But otherwise, I am happy to do my part to help out our pollinator friends, and it means significantly less work for me once the plants are established.

And so it begins …

The weeds have defeated me

I mentioned in my last post that I decided to convert my vegetable garden to a pollinator garden. You can see why. I’ve been fighting the weeds for 5 years — even going so far last summer as to put a plastic tarp over the entire garden to kill them. Two weeks after I removed the tarp, they were back.

I have spent countless, pointless hours fighting this losing battle. Which is why the pollinator garden idea appeals to me so much right now. Not just because I actually want to help pollinators — they need all the help they can get — but once the garden is established, it will be low maintenance. The native perennials will control the weeds, and I won’t need to water nearly as much.

I had some open spots in the garden. So even though I plan to do the bulk of this project next year, I thought I’d get a head start.

yarrow, black-eyed Susan, beebalm, butterfly weed

We have a local garden center around the corner. I went there this evening and picked up some native perennials to get started.

I will document this project as I go along. I’m excited to get started!