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!

Garden Transformation

A honeybee on a wild sunflower
Late summer 2020 at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

I decided to convert my vegetable patch into a pollinator garden next year. I wish I had thought to do it sooner.

In a household of two, I’m the only one who eats fresh vegetables. So everything I grow, I either have to eat or give away (especially if I plant something prolific, which the crookneck squash looks to be this year).

Additionally, the weeds are a massive problem despite all my attempts to control them. Planting native perennials will help control the weeds, and they’re low maintenance.

I have a few spots already where I can start planting ahead of next year. The lettuce and spinach are done for the season. I have an entire section where bush beans have refused to grow. I could start with Bee Balm and Black-Eyed Susan. Milkweed is definitely on the list for next year.

I’m actually pretty excited for this project. I already have a lot of plants in my flower gardens that attract pollinators — though they are not all natives. And I get a lot of pleasure watching the bumblebees and honeybees at work.

Emergence

The Brood X cicadas emerged in our area on Saturday. My husband and I were camping at the time. We arrived at our campsite on Friday night, and there were no cicadas. Saturday morning, they were everywhere. One of the trees on our site was absolutely covered in cicadas and their exoskeletons, and birds came by all day to feast at this buffet. (I spent a good amount of time on Saturday just sitting at our campsite with binoculars, watching the birds come by to grab several of them at once and fly off.)   

For those who haven’t experienced this phenomenon, Brood X is one of many periodical cicada broods that emerge every 17 years (a few broods are on a 13-year cycle). 

You can read more about them here

This is only the third time in my life these Brood X cicadas have emerged. Though the last time they emerged, I was living in Germany and missed it entirely. I’m kind of creeped out by them, so I wasn’t upset about it. Due to our moving around during my husband’s military career, I have experienced the emergence of other broods. 

To be honest, I find the exoskeletons to be much creepier than the insects themselves. The cicada nymphs burst out of their shells and leave them behind. And they are EVERYWHERE. It’s always seemed to me like something out of a science fiction movie — a tiny alien invasion. I guess I find it creepy and fascinating in equal measure. 

When I was a kid, my brothers (I’m the middle child — I have an older brother and a younger brother) collected several cicada exoskeletons and loaded them up in my bicycle basket. Of course, I started to get on my bike, saw them, and ran away screaming. This memory has been much on my mind lately. My younger brother and I were actually just talking about it yesterday. 

We decided that incident couldn’t have been during a periodical cicada emergence, given the time frame. We have standard garden variety cicadas that are out every year — they just don’t appear in hordes like the periodicals do. So it makes me wonder how my brothers found so many exoskeletons. I very rarely encounter them. 

The cicada emergence will only last a couple weeks or so. I expect it will be over before our next camping trip in just under three weeks. They aren’t especially bothersome — they will occasionally land on you — but they can get pretty loud at times depending on where you are. 

It’s been a minute

I’ve been neglectful of this blog. With the weather turning warmer, I’ve been busy doing yard work. And we’ve traveled some, too. A week in Minnesota last month. And a quick weekend trip to Georgia and back.

This is the reason for our trip to Georgia.

Hello, Bigfoot (AKA “Squirrel” because the tow vehicle is called “Moose”)

We upgraded from a 17-foot Casita to a 25-foot Bigfoot. We sold the Casita in January. We had some fun camping trips in that little camper, but I wasn’t sorry to see it go. I felt claustrophobic in it, and my husband especially did. (He also constantly bumped his head in it.)

The Bigfoot has two twin XL beds in the back (no more climbing over my husband to get out of bed!), and the bedroom can actually be partitioned off for privacy. We have a dry bath (!!!!). The kitchen has actual counter space, an oven, 3-burner stove, and a microwave. There is a roomy dinette which folds down into an additional bed. And we have an insane amount of storage. So much, I don’t know how I can possibly use it all.

I love, love, LOVE this camper. We’ll be taking it out on our first official camping trip this coming weekend. We only slept one night in it so far, and that was on the way back from picking it up in Georgia. We stopped at a KOA outside Knoxville, Tennessee, for the night.

Adventures coming soon.