January 15, 2021

Red sky at morning, January 15, 2021

A few weeks ago I commented on a lovely sunrise. This morning's puts that one to shame. I happened to glance out a north-facing window and noted how red the clouds looked, then grabbed my phone and stepped out on the office porch, which is on the south side of the house. It was spectacular! I even managed to shoot a very short video of it. 

Questioning Himself provided a bit more information. He tuned in to the Weather Channel, and sure enough, we have precipitation headed our way. It could be rain or it could be snow. It's the middle of January so it could go either way in our local climate. 

The lovely sky faded to shades of gray, and it's been windy all day, so much so the dog is not going to get much of a walk. Even he doesn't need to be outside in the wind. 

And so I sip coffee laced with my homemade coffee liquor and write and wait to see what may come. It's a good way to spend the afternoon. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 14, 2021

A photo worthy dinner

Himself is a good cook when he applies himself to the task. He'd rather I did everything, but that won't fly, not with me. One of his "specialties" is chicken parmesan. He does a great job with chicken parm. 

Pictures do not lie. This chicken parm was as good as it looks. 

I must confess that while I enjoy some of the YouTube channels, a lot of them are lacking. I'm fond of Living Traditions Homestead, This Farm Wife, The Purposeful Pantry, Sutton's Daze, and a few others. The spousal unit's taste runs to cooking and baking channels. He delights in showing me something new and saying, and I quote, "WE should make that."

We. Right. WE all know what WE means.

Suffice it to say, the lady of the house didn't fall for that old ploy. He fixed the chicken parm based on a YouTube video by "Chef John" and it was delicious. 

I'll get chicken out of the freezer any time he says he'll fix this dish. Better yet, I'll see if I can convince him to make enough for three dinners and freeze two. 

Good plan.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor 

January 11, 2021

A last kiss of sun

When I first moved to Holly Tree Manor, my father was alive. I worked side-by-side with him and my grandfather to clear enough trees to build a house. One evening, as Dad and I were still on the property tending to a burn, he said we should cut down a swath just wide enough so that I could enjoy the sunsets. 

I didn't like that idea at the time and have since regretted it. My view of the sunset is through the trees and not a wide-open vista. But I see enough to appreciate the beautiful colors especially as it becomes dark enough to see stars above the bands of color. 

But there is beauty before the actual sunset. I get to observe my world as the sun dips below the tree line and then the mountain. I see the precursor of what is to come. 

Dad, we were both right. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 10, 2021

So I'm obsessing over it


I'm obsessing a bit over how healthy the celery and green onions are in the greenhouse. We've had night after night after night of temps down to 20F, and even one night that dipped into the teens. We've had three frost-covered mornings in a row, and yet the celery and onions are doing fine. 

The celery actually needs to be harvested at this point. That may be the end of it, but I plan to cut it and dehydrate it. I've found The Purposeful Pantry on YouTube and the content creator has a lot, and I mean A LOT, of dehydrating tips.  I need to dehydrate the green onions, too, and I'm very sure that will end them and I'll have to start over. That's all part of gardening, though. It will give me the opportunity to restore the soil in that grow bag so it's not a bad thing. 

We made a quick trip to Lowe's earlier today so I could get potting soil, vermiculite, and cow manure. I already have a scoop of screened garden soil that was purchased last summer. The weatherman says tomorrow will be about 50F and if it happens, I'm going to mix up enough of the elements to get a few of the grow bags filled. I might even sow some radish seeds in one

The season is coming. I can feel it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 9, 2021

Christmas cards, a lovely tradition

In early December, I bemoaned the lack of Christmas card greetings. Himself, ever sanguine about life, opined that 2020 was perhaps not a good year for so many people. I certainly understand that, but 2020 showed us exactly why the sending and receiving of Christmas cards is more than an empty tradition. 

I frequently refer to my family by generation. My grandparents were Gen1, and my parents part of Gen2. I and my cousins are Gen3. By the end of 2020, we've reached into Gen6. I've got to keep track of them somehow! 

Beyond family are scattered friends. We stay in touch via email and text, but a Christmas card from them touches me in a deeper way. It confirms I'm not alone in remembering tradition, and people. 

The year 2020 was difficult on relationships. Yes, some deepened due to the sheer determination of those involved, but other relationships suffered. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder. With that in mind, I sent out cards to the far reaches to tell people I remembered them, that I think of them even if an email doesn't get sent. It also made me aware of how remiss I've been in calling some of them. 

Today is January 9th, and the Christmas cards are still arriving. I consider each one a blessing from someone I treasure. Long live the Christmas card tradition. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

January 2, 2021

The bathroom closet

Everyone has that one closet they’d like to throw a grenade into. Well, maybe not a grenade, but you get the idea. It’s that one space in the house you can’t seem to control. In our little house, it’s the bathroom closet.

I think it was intended to be a linen closet, but our little house is a little house. Storage is at a premium so it doesn’t matter what some architect designed it to be. It is what it is and that’s the bathroom closet. Over the course of the last years, it has accumulated all matter of non-essential *stuff*. For whatever reason, I took a fit and started to organize the plastic bin that holds my razors, facial wipes, Q-tips, and other small, loose things. That led to pulling everything off the shelf to wipe it down, which in turn led to re-stacking the sheets, towels, and kitchen cloths.

No, I don’t have room for kitchen cloths in my kitchen. I have too many because I like to have a full washer load of things when I run the washer. When I wash the kitchen towels, that’s all that goes in the washer with hot water and a bit of bleach. But I digress…

Himself came to see what the commotion in the bathroom was all about and we ended up sorting out our first aid shelf. All-in-all we went from having so little room on the shelves that things fell off to having empty space.

We’re taking bets on how long it will last.

We agreed we need to get busy on a couple of other closets, and not so we can buy new things and fill up the empty space again. We’ve reached the edge where we know life needs to be simpler. It’s one of the things living debt-free has taught us. We have come to understand the difference between an actual need and a mere want. It’s an important distinction.

 Here at Holly Tree Manor, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of many things. As we discarded expired cough meds, pain relievers, and various lotions and potions, our discussion centered around our need to be more intentional in our purchases and the recognition we sometimes fall short. Sometimes we forget to ask ourselves what do we truly need before we open our wallets.

What do we truly need? That’s a question that needs to be asked and answered every day.

  The Lady of Holly Tree Manor


December 31, 2020

New Year's Eve 2020

 What can one say about 2020 that has not been said? 

The year of the pandemic. The year of citizens accepting "house arrest."

The year parents died alone. The year women gave birth alone. 

The year we led lives quietly desperate for family. 

The year political corruption took advantage of the American citizen and set the stage for what are surely horrible things to come. 

The year we lost so much. 

Here at Holly Tree Manor life went on unchanged in many regards. Externally, all our adjustments came when we had to deal with the outside world. Internally, inside our property boundaries, life was much the same as always. I was home more, of course, but nothing else was different. 

We had grass to mow, trees to prune, brush to burn, mulch to spread, stone to level, painting to be done, equipment to service, and wildlife to enjoy. We were more blessed than most. We did not suffer.

Looking into 2021 the view is murky. Will the vaccine for Covid-19 be safe? Will it work? What will this mean for me personally? If the vaccine works, should I retire? 

Is it possible to resurrect my writing career? Do I even want to do that? I need TIME to do that, time that has to come from somewhere. I made the decision to check back into my life and that meant the writing suffered. To go back to writing means my personal life will be short-changed. Do I want to go back to being that lonely, because writing is surely a lonely profession. 

Maybe in the new year, I'll find some answers, although I doubt it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 28, 2020

Strawberries 101


And so, she decided to grow strawberries...

My grandfather had an excellent traditional strawberry patch. Long rows, evenly spaced, stretched across the hillside. If memory serves, he had five rows and practiced a rotation to keep his plants young and healthy. For example, row one would be an empty row. When the other four rows sent out runners, he'd snip the best set and plant them in row one. Then at the end of the producing season, he'd dig out row two. The next year, he'd replant row two with new sets. It worked wonderfully. For decades, we all had an abundance of fresh strawberries every year. 

Fast forward to 2020 and my own aspirations to grow strawberries. It won't be on such a grand scale, that's for sure. Pop put in a lot of work to keep his berry patch going. I don't need to supply strawberries to five households plus sell to the neighborhood. I want enough to make a batch or two of jelly and perhaps freeze a few quarts to make ice cream throughout the next year. Make a batch of strawberry cordial. Small things. 

For us, right now, container gardening is our best option. I've purchased grow bags, and yes, they have one made for strawberries. Check.

Where to place the bag? In a location that gets six to eight hours of sun daily. Check.

Soil requirements. Strawberries need loose, well-draining soil. The plan is to add some vermiculite to a bag of garden soil, and they'll be in a grow bag that drains well. Check.

Feed the plants something with potassium in it. I use Miracle-Gro. Check.

Should I treat the container-grown plants as annuals or perennials? I'd like to see if they'll winter over in the bags so they'll need to go to the greenhouse in the fall. 

What variety did I choose? AC Wendy from Burpees. We'll see how these do. The plan is to plant in this first set of grow bags with the purchased bare-root plants. If they live and do well, I'll get a second set of bags to plant the sets. 

Will I be the gardener my grandfather was? Nope. It'll never happen. But I do hope to enjoy fresh strawberries free of pesticides again. Trust me - homegrown berries are a lot sweeter. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 27, 2020

Terrace wall repair

There's never a lack of projects to do here at the manor.  One we've put off, for one reason or another, is repairing the west terrace wall. 

This wall has a bit of a sad story. It was constructed near the end of 2004 after Himself was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. The prognosis was pretty grim. It was colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver and the doctor at Johns Hopkins deemed it to be "inoperable," and therefore terminal. 

Doctors CAN be wrong. 

It was under this dark cloud that he took on the project, firmly believing it would be the last thing he ever did to improve the manor. 

The wall lasted over a decade, but time and water will always win. The last section built has collapsed. Last summer it was only a small collapse and close inspection showed a larger one was imminent. We determined it would be better to allow the hostas to bloom another year, wait for the collapse, and then effect a more substantial repair. 

And so here we are. When the weather improves and the ground dries and firms up, we have a job to do. It's not as difficult as it may appear. The remnants of the old wall will get scooped up in the bucket of the John Deere and dropped on the lower stone fence. Using the backhoe, we'll dig out some soil and prepare level ground for the foundation. After that is finished, it will be time to select some substantial stones from the upper stone fence and rebuild the wall. 

With any luck, it will only take us a weekend. Like everything here at the manor, the weather is the key factor. No matter how many Saturday afternoons it may take, we'll both be glad to have it done. 

That wall is like a metaphor for his life. If a section crumbles, it's time to pick yourself up, fix it, and keep going. And that's how we do it at Holly Tree Manor.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor