October 19, 2021

Lemon Balm salve

Lemon balm is a member of the mint plant family. It was one of the first things I planted back in 1981 when I first moved onto this piece of property. It takes a lot to kill it off once it's established but continually mowing it off will do it. My first husband didn't like where I planted it so he mowed over it every week. "Ex" is for many reasons. But I digress... I have a nice new patch planted this year. It will eventually be the centerpiece of an herb garden.

Lemon balm is also a medicinal herb. For my purposes, I steeped leaves in avocado oil to make a skin ointment for this winter. Basically, I made my own knock-off of Burt's Bees cuticle conditioner.  

To do this I dried lemon balm leaves and stuffed as many as possible into a four-ounce Ball jar and covered them with oil. I let it steep for four weeks. Then I strained the oil and discarded the leaves, getting about half a cup of essential oil. Because this is a topical product, I added a bit of purchased lemon oil until I had the fragrance I wanted, and then added one-eighth cup of pure beeswax. Then I set a bowl inside a bowl using hot water to passively melt the beeswax. While this was working, I cleaned out the little mason jar.

When the wax was completely melted, I used a coffee stir stick to stir the mix and carefully poured it back into the jar, sealed it, and let it cool. The result is something that immediately made the dry skin on my hands feel softer. I think the oil is absorbed and the beeswax stays on top to seal it in. It puts a little bit of gloss on natural nails, too. It smells both lemony and "green." I can't wait to use it on my elbows and heels. 

A darker, amber jar might be a better choice to store the product in, but I didn't have any. Nor did I have a tin available. But since I'll store this in a drawer, away from sunlight, my light blue Ball jar should be fine. 

Most recipes for an herbal ointment like this call for olive oil, but I didn't want that scent alongside the lemon. I don't know why grape seed oil won't work with this, either. Any mild oil without much of a scent should work, but you should test it out to make sure you don't have a reaction to it. Same for any herb leaves you use - test them first. The less beeswax you add, the softer the end product, but I wanted a firmer end product, similar to the cuticle conditioner I've used for many years. 

So that's my latest experiment here at the manor. Next up, I'm doing a similar project with calendula. Stay tuned. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

October 17, 2021

Cheesecake and meatballs!

 Yesterday, I fed my addiction: I canned meatballs! And not only did I put seven dinners worth of meatballs into jars, but I also made a cheesecake in the Instant Pot while the pressure canner was busy cch-cch-cching away. And then there are the four meals worth of diced potatoes blanched, bagged, and into the freezer. 

It was a busy morning! 

At first, I thought I'd can the potatoes but after a brief discussion with the man of the manor, I decided to go the diced route. The potatoes were just on the cusp of beginning to go soft so this was a good way to save them. They will make great home fries or even potatoes and eggs. 

The cheesecake was done on a whim and is the dessert for Sunday dinner, which will be something with meatballs. I had one jar that didn't seal because I think I tightened the ring down too far. I could freeze that batch, but meh. Let's eat them! As for the jarred meatballs going into the pantry, as the price of ground beef rises, I'll have six dinners at yesterday's beef prices. I have another five-pound pack of ground beef (88/12) to brown off and then decide if I want to freeze it or can it in pints. 

It was a labor-intensive morning, but it was for a good cause - my pantry. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

October 16, 2021

It's not on my sleeve, but in my heart

With full retirement imminent, I've been pondering the nature of the friendships I've made at my place of employment. It's a fact that people come into and float out of your life. Sometimes that's okay, but other times it's a sad happening. Sometimes we understand the loss, as when a friend or family member dies. It's those times when they drift away for no apparent reason that weighs on the heart.  

I'm no more or less spiritual than anyone else, and I don't wear my beliefs on my sleeve (or t-shirt). The main reason for that is I refuse to be sucked into a debate by individuals who want to "explain" to me how wrong I am. 

I don't debate. I know what I know from experience and critical thinking. I may not know everything but I do know that nowhere in the religious texts I've read does it say, "Thou shalt be and act stupid." 

There is another thing I do know: God removes people from your life for a reason and he only removes people who are holding you back, not people you need. 

Knowing this doesn't mean I don't have questions. My best friend for many, many years moved five states away. Was it me who no longer needed her, or she who no longer needed me? The last time I had any contact with her was in May of this year. The last words out of her mouth were, "I'll call you." I'm still waiting on that call. 

Yes, I could call her but there seems to be a perverse streak in my nature that wants to see if this time, she'll follow through on her words. It's not the first time she told me she'd call me and didn't. I'm hurt enough by it I worry I'll unleash bitter words on her if I call her. 

As for my on-the-job friends, it's my decision to retire fully so I guess I'm walking away from them. It's up to me to develop ways to stay in touch with them and for them to accept the changes and reciprocate. If they don't, I need to let go. 

What I fear - well, fear isn't the exact word. What would sadden me is to reach out to someone I've known for years and get only a cursory response instead of the lively conversation of years past. That's probably inevitable when the glue that held the friendships together is dissolved. 

Retirement is my choice so I guess I'm being removed from their lives, at least on a daily basis. Perhaps it is my time to step aside. 

I'm impatient to have retirement happen. I feel poised on the edge of new adventures in my writing, life at Holly Tree Manor, and in friendships. My writing has been frozen since my writing partner died. I've tried to remain friends with a group of writers but it's not the same as that one friend who wrote so similarly to me it's difficult to tell who wrote what in those books we co-wrote. We truly clicked and I doubt I'll ever have that again. I'm eager to get to where I have the time to write without having to check my work email every twenty minutes, lose focus, and not be able to pick up the story again. 

Sage words we've all heard are, "when one door closes, another opens." It's hard to hold internal panic at bay when you see the door closing but you can't see the opening on the other side. You know where you want the door to lead, but what if it doesn't? 

And I suppose if God tells me stepping into my future means removing people from my life, I'll have to go with it and not run after them. It's not my master plan, after all. 

The Lady at The Hideaway

October 8, 2021

I think I'm having withdrawal

It's been an interesting summer. I had a bountiful garden for what select veggies I planted, and I took up home canning again at what must be the worst time in history to do so. I enjoyed all of it! And now I'm having withdrawal...I think. 

I want to preserve something and for the life of me I don't know what. I have fall carrots, beets, and radishes still growing but not ready to harvest. Most fruits are over for the year. 

But I have jars left to fill! 

Trust me, those jars were hard-won. I had to hit the stores, namely Walmart, when the doors opened in the morning to get quart jars. And lids? If you live around here, you're fucked. I ordered several batches of Tattler lids, so screw you Newell Brands. Today and in the future. Tattlers work great and they're reusable and most importantly AVAILABLE. 

I've been researching soups. I've already processed chili, vegetable, and chicken corn soups. We just popped the seal on the second to last jar of chili a few evenings ago. It's really nice to pour a jar into the saucepan and heat it up - no waiting for it to thaw. I'll definitely make a larger batch next time. 

So what can I preserve this weekend? Surely there is something I can work on.  I'm infusing avocado oil with lemon balm to make a balm or salve, but it's not steeped long enough. I have some calendula blossoms drying but they're not ready to do anything with. Of course! Banana bread! I do have a couple of really ripe bananas, enough for two loaves, and one and a half loaves can go in the freezer. That might get me over the hump for this weekend. I'll get it figured out and add something to the pantry. 

And speaking of the pantry, the prevailing wisdom is not to let people see what's in your pantry. There's concern that when times get really hard, people will try to steal from you. I see the validity to that fear, but please remember this if nothing else. 

We also spent the summer upping our level of security.  

The Lady of The Hideaway

October 3, 2021

Hosting a Cousin's Lunch

This past Saturday, we hosted a Cousin's Lunch. It's not as grand as it may (or may not) sound, but these small get-togethers are a high point for me. Several years ago, pre-pandemic, me and my two surviving first cousins decided we didn't sit down at the table together enough, the way we did when we were younger, and we wanted to remedy that. We decided to meet for lunch every quarter. The Covid-19 pandemic derailed us, but we hope that's a thing of the past. 

I decided to invite them to an afternoon on our patio so we could enjoy each other's company and the glorious autumn weather. The patio is screened so insects are not a problem. Our new countertop provided the perfect staging area for the food and left us plenty of room at the table. The lunch fare was pure picnic with hamburgers, potato and macaroni salads, Cole slaw, baked beans, apple cider, apple cake, and some chips and dips. We are blessed with abundance and we all ate too much. 

Maybe it's a sign of being older, but I didn't stress about hosting my cousins. We did a cursory "house cleaning" and let it go at that. The house is always clean enough to be safe and dirty enough to keep our immune systems paying attention. Deuce was a perfect gentleman pup, and I do mean PERFECT.  The one cousin-in-law has been less than enthusiastic about dogs (I think she's a bit afraid of them) and even she had not one snark over his presence. Lunch lasted late into the afternoon as we were all reluctant to part company again.  Next fall, I hope we can do it again. 

And maybe next fall, if we're able to gather, I'll reach out to a girl who is a second cousin to me and D, but not R. They know each other, that's not the 'issue.' We started the cousin's lunch for the first cousins, but now that we're getting older, maybe it's time to include L. I'd certainly like that. She and I were very close growing up. 

It's bittersweet to reflect back with memories of our youth. We've all lost parents, and R has lost his brother, too. My mother has Alzheimer's Disease and is lost to me and the world. Time was our Christmas happened on Christmas Eve at D's house when his mother hosted all of us for dinner and gift exchange. We became teenagers in the 1970's and we hung out together. Life got busy for us but now I'm the last one still working, something that I'm trying to remedy. 

Our memories are a big part of who we are, and I'm so grateful to be making new ones with my cousins. Time has become precious, and spending more time with the people who have been most important to me for all of my life is a high priority. 

I'm reminded of some very special words from artist Neil Young: 
We've been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather

Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun long may you run.
Long may you run. 

Long may we run. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

September 30, 2021

Another September passed

This September has been a busy month for me. I'm technically still employed although I work from home quite a bit. But September is budget-setting time so I've been in my town office more than I like these past few weeks. It didn't make me jump for joy but it was necessary. My employer has bent over backward for me so I can bend a bit, too. 

There are still good places to work out there. My best advice to you is to find one and prove yourself worthy of loyalty. Anyway...

September. I cleaned up my garden corral and planted another packet of radishes, which are doing quite well. The strawberries finally look good. Apple canning went splendidly. I said to hell with worrying about the pandemic and went back to the bowling league. I pondered my place in the universe far too many evenings, I read a lot of smutty books, and I didn't write or blog nearly enough. And come Saturday, I'm hosting a Cousin's Lunch. 

I'm suddenly the "middle child" between my two surviving first cousins, both guys. The older one called me a bit ago to tell me his wife was bringing an apple cake. I'd planned to make an apple cobbler or crisp, and I still may. He's also bringing his baked beans made with apples and root beer. Oh, yeah...

I'd report in on the younger cousin but they went RVing so who knows what mischief they got into, right? 

We also spent some time at our little shooting range this month. It's fun as long as we stop after a few magazines and/or cylinders. Too much is just too much and ammo isn't cheap these days. Deuce doesn't like being left inside when we're outside, either. He howls. 

It feels like the month sped past me with barely a break. I hope October will have a slower pace as the leaves begin to turn in earnest. Our showiest maple already has a few bright orange leaves and I hope it puts on a show this year. There's always the chance I won't live to see it show its colors another season, so I want to savor it, and October, the best month of the year. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

September 27, 2021

Dehydrating frozen strawberries

Cheesecake! Yum! Yum! 

We're hosting the Cousin's Lunch this coming Saturday, and I thought I might make a cheesecake. It's that or an apple crisp. Maybe both. The future is unwritten and who knows where the spirit may lead?  Or maybe dessert will be a good, old-fashioned apple cobbler and I'll keep the cheesecake for us. 

Last winter we ordered two dozen strawberry plants from Burpees, a very well-known company. The plants arrived a little late for planting in my area (strike one), and because of that, only nine of the plants lived. That's not a good margin of success. I doubt I'll order roots from Burpees again. A local nursery seems a much better option if I go for blackberries. 

Several of the stronger plants did produce a berry or two which was enough to pick and eat on the spot but nothing more. Those stronger plants have also sent out runners and the sets seem to be taking hold. The plan is to move them into the greenhouse this winter since they are in containers and not yet the ground. I hope to get a harvest in 2022. 

With cheesecake on my mind, I pulled a bag of sliced strawberries out of the freezer and spread them out on the dehydrator trays. Once they've dried to a light crisp, I'll put them in the coffee grinder and turn them into a powder to add to the cheesecake batter. It will only take a tablespoon or three of powder to intensify the strawberry flavor. Powders are a great way to take the flavor to the next level. Beyond that, green powders can add nutrition to soups and other dishes. Himself hates spinach but doesn't balk at a tablespoon of spinach powder added to some dishes. The trick is to only add to the point where it may become detectable and stop. 

Another perk of dehydrating strawberries is that the house will smell of delicious strawberries for several days. The man of the manor is correct in one thing. Spinach doesn't add a thing to the air. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

September 14, 2021

Did you grow?

Being introspective by nature, every so often I become aware I'm in a period of self-examination. I question why I'm doing what I'm doing and what I hope to gain or achieve with it. For example, I've been doing a lot of food preservation this summer. Why? Do I really think it's going to be a difficult winter or is it just a fad to fill the hours emptied of people by the Covid-19 pandemic? Am I doing the work because I want to or because someone influenced me to do it?  Or is it a bit of both with a dash of "I enjoy it" tossed into the mix? 

Lately, my thoughts have also been dwelling on the nature of friendship. I know a lot of people. Social media has extended everyone's circle but those closest to me are still those I've had a flesh, blood, and bone relationship with since my youth. There is time and distance between some of us now, but we can pick up the conversation like that space never exists. My writer friend in Alabama is a prime example of that. Just thinking about her makes me want to charge up the phone and call her. We haven't chatted for far too long, and sometimes an email isn't enough. I want to hear her laughter. 

What troubles me these days is the nature of the social media relationship with mental health and the effect it has on friendships. I see social media in its many forms as a valuable tool. As a writer, it helps me promote my books and gives me insight into what people with vastly different perspectives think. (Yes, that gets scary.) The Internet has brought a group of friends to me, people I never would have gotten to know otherwise. I value my modern-day pen pals. 

But being in a time of introspection, I wonder if a few of them have become toxic. My life seems to have diverged from theirs. I like to think of myself as mature, but sometimes those ill-advised jabs tossed at me hurt and the sting doesn't lessen. I'm suddenly callused about what I now view as their insignificant concerns. To be truthful, I'm not one to forget a slur even after being tendered an apology. I can forgive because I understand the imperfections of human nature, jealousy being a prime candidate to toss nasty barbs at someone you call "friend."

Have I grown through having these Internet friendships? Perhaps. Would I have grown in the same manner without them? Perhaps. I still mourn the loss of my friend author Chris Grover, with whom I had daily email conversations. Would I have made different decisions and followed different paths without my Internet friends? I think that's unlikely. My feet are firmly planted on a path I laid out for myself decades ago and one I've never wavered from wanting. 

So why am I frequently troubled by the nature of some of these long-standing "friendships?" Perhaps it's because some of those barbs show a surprising lack of tolerance with my choice to delve deeper into the heritage of my country lifestyle. 

And perhaps it's all me. Maybe I have grown and they feel left behind, outstripped. That, too, is simply life. There is no going back, at least not for me.  

The Lady of The Hideaway

September 11, 2021

Famous #men words

How many times have I heard these words: "Yeah, set it there and I'll fix it." ????

It's almost a joke here on the manor. Yes, Himself is very handy to have around because there is very little he can't repair once he puts his mind to it. I like that in a man, I really do. But sometimes the time, and the inclination, get away from him and those "promised" repairs do not happen nor will they ever happen. 

After almost thirty years, I'm well aware of what will and what won't get fixed. 

Today we were in the shed preparing some spray to *murder death kill* any bug living near the patio, and we were discussing the need to tidy-up the implements hanging on the pegboard. The next thing I knew, I had a truckload of junk to take to the dumpster. 

I'm not sure how it happened, who said what or what started the de-cluttering, but I'm really glad it happened. 

Maybe next weekend it will happen again. #hopeful

The Lady of The Hideaway 


I could have blogged about the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States of America, but I truly have little to add that has not already been said. If you can't see that tragedy has been compounded by more tragedy, you don't want to know my opinion. If you do see the tragedy of the last eighteen months, then you know and I don't need to tell you what you already know. 

September 10, 2021

Back to living

I'm getting back to living. Tonight is bowling night and I will be there. 

I sat out the 2020 season because of the Covid=19 pandemic. Since then, lies have compounded lies and I'm tired of listening to them. I'm tired of being a cow in the herd. I have more reasons than ever to mistrust the government. 

I'm a lifelong bowler. I enjoy the sport and the camaraderie of my local bowling alley, my "house." I've known many of my fellow bowlers for decades. Those of us who have bowled together for so long have become akin to family. 

Yes, this is my first step back to the land of the living. 

I'm going to shake off being afraid and I'm going to do something that I enjoy - bowling.

I'm not utterly stupid, though. I'm not about to hug people or even give a "high five" for a strike. I won't be alone in that. We bowlers are a bit smarter than that. 

Some people will wear masks and I may be among them. If a member of the league tests positive for Covid-19, it would be prudent. 

That's my statement for today. 

The Lady of the Hideaway