January 15, 2022

Another "resolution" falls

Okay, so it wasn't really a 2022 New Year's resolution. It's something I did really well with for a couple of years until Covid-19 hit and I started to work a lot from home. 

I like my desk to be free of clutter when I'm writing. I don't want a lot of visual distractions because it's difficult enough pulling pure thoughts out of the air and turning them into a cohesive story. 

Since about Thanksgiving, all my good office habits seem to have flown out the back door. Not only is my desk cluttered, but it's mildly dusty. This simply won't do. 

My rings and watch don't belong on my desk when not being worn. They should be in the jewelry box. The battery for my heated vest was just fully charged and needs to be back in the vest. The remote controls go in a drawer, out of sight. 

I do hope this is not a sign of times to come. Retirement should not become a reason to allow my little sunroom office to develop a clutter problem. 

Maybe I should make keeping everything in its place a New Year's resolution. It certainly wouldn't hurt.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

January 9, 2022

Seven jars, seven seals, seven meals

I'm calling it a success - seven jars, seven seals, seven meals. The first canning project of 2022 is complete. 

Last January, I canned vegetable soup and we opened the last jar back in mid-December. In 2021, I followed the Ball Book closely, but this year I went just a tad rogue. I had several small baggies of leftover veggies in the freezer and those, along with a small baggie of frozen diced potatoes, were added to the mix. That's really not much of a transgression. Because I add small bits of beef to my vegetable soup, the quarts have to process for ninety minutes. Beef and potatoes both require the ninety-minute process time so it's all good. 

We're in the waiting phase now. Tomorrow morning I'll wash the jars, test the seals, and put the jars on the shelf. It may seem strange, but if a jar would happen to not seal, or come unsealed, you have twenty-four hours before you need to throw the food out. So in the morning if a jar has unsealed, guess what we're having for dinner? Just put the jar in the fridge and reheat it when we're ready. But I don't think there will be any problems. Each jar was bubbling when I pulled them out of the canner and each jar sealed almost as I set it on the counter. There was no siphoning, either. 

Canning is both time-consuming and labor-intensive. I don't try to rush through any of it, so from start to finish, this project took five hours. This was the first time I used the weighted gauge "jiggler," which did seem easier than relying on the pressure gauge. The pressure gauge still worked so I was able to determine that the jiggler kept the internal pressure level at ten psi without any intervention from me. I brought the water to almost boiling, put the lid on the canner, and set my stove to where experience has taught me is the "sweet spot" for pressure canning. I allowed the canner to vent a steady stream of steam for the required ten minutes and set the jiggler in place. I watched for the jiggler to start jiggling, which coincided with the pressure gauge reading ten psi. I then set the timer for ninety minutes, and simply monitored all was proceeding as it should. 

My only concern was the amount of steam the jiggler allows to escape to regulate the pressure. My canner calls for three quarts of water to be used to process under pressure. I paid a fair amount for the canner, a Presto 23 QT, and I did not want to run it dry. I didn't need to worry. Several inches of water remained when the batch finished. 

I doubt I'll ever stop learning about home food preservation. Methods are improved and new products make the process easier. It may not appeal to everyone, but for me, it's a simple country pleasure that reminds me of my roots. And I like that. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

January 8, 2022

Harvest Right Freeze Dryer - up and running

Good idea? Bad idea? 

Money well spent? Waste of money? 

For better or for foolishness, our Harvest Right freeze dryer has arrived and is set up in my basement laundry room. This is not where it's going to live on a permanent basis. It's going on a sturdy cart fitted with an extra piece of countertop from the outdoor kitchen project. I need my counter space for folding clean clothes. 

We got the medium-sized unit and as the photo attests, it's still rather large and takes up a fair amount of space. It was simple to set up and get running - a real relief since I was on my own to do it. Cousin Dave helped get it into the house, but I needed to read the manual before I hooked it up. The manual is clearly written, and it helped to watch the YouTube video produced by Harvest Right. 

Our system has the Premiere pump, and it does run quietly. We can't hear it run and the master bedroom is directly above the laundry room. Not a problem.

So far I've only done small batches of fruit, but I'm pretty comfortable with the machine and feel ready to move on to bigger projects. Nothing I'm doing to learn the operation of the unit will be a financial loss if I mess it up. I'm excited to move on to meal projects, concentrating on those things that can't be pressure canned such as pasta and rice meals. 

Will the machine actually ever pay for itself? I'm not sure. We'll have to do a lot of freeze-drying to recoup $3,000. Is recouping the money the goal? Not really. I think the real benefit of the freeze dryer will be in the convenience of having different foods safely stored and at my fingertips. 

We've all experienced issues caused by the breakdown of our supply chain. Twice now our local grocery has not had milk. I have powdered milk in the pantry, but along with the store not having milk, there was no cream or half-and-half for our coffee. If I can freeze dry half-and-half so that all we need do is drop a pellet into our cup, that would be good. 

There are more than supply chain issues to consider. At this point in time, we have enough income to keep up with inflation. That could change at any moment. Having food stores on hand could make the difference between eating and not eating. It's something we worry about as we get older. What if we can't get to a store? Getting older is all about new worries and taking steps to avoid issues. 

Some of the fruits I've processed are strawberries, mango, raspberries, and dark cherries. That freed up freezer space for two half-gallons of milk. Tomorrow's project is freeze-drying bananas and apples and possibly trying a small amount of half-and-half. I have silicone molds that look to be a good size for creamer pellets. It should be interesting. I'll keep you posted.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

January 7, 2022

Right on time in 2022

Living rural as we do, my family is comprised of weather watchers. We watch for trends and cycles, and we know that the first week of January is typically when we get our first measurable snow. Right on time, Mother Nature brought us a bit over six inches. 

The official forecast was for one to three inches, but this weather front was tracking in from the southwest, turning north along the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The spousal unit and I figured it would be more than three, but we didn't think it would be almost seven inches.

Everywhere I look the world is white and beautiful. Before long, when the sun rises above the mountain, it's going to be dazzling. That may not be such a pleasing thing when I go out and hop on the John Deere 1023 to clear the lane. The wind is picking up, too, and this snow is very powdery. It's blowing off the trees in whirls of mini-blizzards.

I hear people bitch about snow, how they hate it. They fail to see it as a simple country pleasure. A woman I've known since I was eight years old moved to Florida ostensibly to get away from winter weather and snow. It's a lame excuse. You can run from geography but not yourself. I have a different take on the "barrenness" of winter.

Looking out the windows of my sunroom office, I see the green of many holly trees and the neighbor's pines. The trees stand straight and tall, not slumbering, but preparing. The blanket of snow hides what is happening with the daffodil bulbs and its chill tells the bulbs to get ready. It has brought needed nitrogen which will melt into the soil to feed green growing things. The air has been cleansed of dust and allergens and smells clean. High up in the trees, the squirrel nests are full of little furry bodies that will emerge with the sunshine and race about on those branches cleared by the wind. The snow on the roof will melt and fill my cistern which will in turn water my summer garden. I could mention all the birds, but we have a red-tailed hawk in residence and the little birds, wisely, have mostly abandoned us - for now.

No, I don't mind winter or the snow.  Snow is the first harbinger of the coming spring, an early emissary we fail to acknowledge as such. I see its promise all around me, a promise it keeps every year. I can't imagine not being here on the manor to accept that promise and reap its rewards. And so I am grateful for the snow. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

January 2, 2022

What's next? Do I have a plan for 2022?

stock photo

This time of the year just about everywhere one goes on the web you can find a recap of the year just past and "resolutions" for the year so recently begun. 

I typed that sentence and sighed. Surely that means something. 

I'm not in a good place about the year just past. I turned in my letter of resignation and then allowed myself to be talked into staying on with several concessions. It's my own fault. Now I'm dealing with an unhealthy attitude about what has been a rather good job, one with an excellent pension plan and health plan. Nevertheless, my official contract expired on December 31, 2021, and hell will freeze over before I sign a new partial year contract. In fact, with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 wreaking havoc in my community, I may be exercising a few of those concessions starting Tuesday. 

Now is the time to consider the plan for 2022. 

IS there a plan?

There is a plan. I will be eligible for Medicare and that is the only remaining hurdle to jump to retire. The cost of health insurance was the determining factor for continuing to work. Retirement will happen.

I have seeds purchased and have the calendar posted as to when I need to plant them according to variety. The garden corral worked great last summer and I learned a great deal. 

The spousal unit is researching small vans to serve the dual purposes of transportation for him and the ability for us to do some overnight trips, stealth camping if necessary. I hope to record some videos of our "adventures" and post them on YouTube. 

My three-tiered pantry is up and running. The last item to cross off the list was the purchase of a HarvestRight freeze-dryer. Once retired, I'll have the time to do some serious meal preservation. We'll eat well on our sojourns in the van.  

I've been a published author for twenty years and I will continue to write. At what level I'm not sure. My focus has been on prepping for retirement and the future. Once I'm settled in, I hope the joy of writing returns. The hot summer afternoons will be the best time to hole up in my office and compose prose. 

And then there are those individuals I want to reconnect with. Working for a living pulled us in different directions. I take some of the responsibility for not calling them, but the phone works both ways. I plan to reach out and see what happens. 

Those are my plans not only for 2022, but for a few years to come. I realize I have a big life change ahead and I'll give myself a little wiggle room on how fast I hop on the phone or on my computer. I think the first thing I need to do is RELAX. I'll have to learn how to do that because I'm not sure it's a skill I possess. 

So there it is in black and white. I've written it out for the world to see. There's no going back on it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

December 30, 2021

Who really wants to walk the length of the Nile?

Several years ago I got a Fitbit Flex to track my steps. Having an office job, I sit in front of a computer all day. On top of that, being a writer puts me in front of the computer a lot as well. I've always made it a point to get up and stretch, but how well was I really doing? I thought a Fitbit would help and it has. 

I bought into the whole ten thousand steps a day thing. That was my goal and I did pretty good meeting it three or four times a week. I figured out a loop around my office building that was over six hundred steps and I did it once an hour while there. Walking the dog and just going about my day did the rest. It wasn't until one night about eleven o'clock that I put the kibosh on getting 10K a day. 

No way did I really need to go outside in the dark and walk out to the end of the lane and back just to see the little rocket ship on the Fitbit Charge2 blast off. That's when I knew I was placing far too much importance on a number. Now I consider anything over seven thousand steps, or approximately three miles, a day a bonus. 


Maybe I'm not doing as well with letting go of the numbers as I thought. This week, I got an email from Fitbit awarding me the Nile badge. 

I've graduated to a Fitbit Versa2. My first thought upon viewing the email was I would have gotten this a lot sooner if my old Charge2 had not repeatedly unpaired itself and not reported my steps. 

No, I'm not far enough along on my journey to let go of the numbers. My whipping out the calculator to figure out how fast I can get to 5K miles was proof of that. I'll report back sometime in August or September. Or not. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

PS. I've also blogged about this over at Deuce's Day. Deuce has walked a good portion of the way with me and deserved a badge of his own. 

December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve 2021

Author note: I posted this at Between the Keys and thought I would also share it here. - KC

Christmas Eve was magical when I was a girl. Aunts, uncles, cousins - we all gathered at Aunt Jane's house for dinner, which was her gift to us. In time that ended, and so it seemed so did my love of Christmas. It's never been the same for me without that gathering. 

The bells pictured are a handmade gift from my Aunt Jane, given to me for my first Christmas in the house I built in 1983. I still live in that house and Aunt Jane's bells are a truly treasured keepsake. 

One of my favorite passages about Christmas Eve comes from Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It seems fitting to share it this year as, yes, the time draws near. 


Christmas Bells

The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish’d no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

December 23, 2021

Funny money

I work for a non-profit, and we accept monetary gifts that we then distribute to people in need. While logging a donation, we got faked out by a fake.  

Seriously. Counterfeit. We had a laugh, took pictures, and the CEO turned it in at the bank. I'm sure it wouldn't have been as amusing had it been a hundred-dollar bill. It was mixed in with other bills so we're sure that the person who dropped off the donation had no clue it was in there. And they received it from another source, as well. Non-profits are a money-maze, giving to each other as needs arise. 

If it feels fake it probably is. Be careful out there.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

December 12, 2021

One hundred seventy days

I have a countdown app on my phone, and this morning I checked it to see how many days until my official retirement. It still looks a bit depressing, but there's good news there once one digs deeper. One hundred seventy days is less than it looks. It's only 122 weekdays. The key to unlocking it is in the week and weekday counts: 24 weeks.

I don't work on Mondays, so subtract those twenty-four Mondays off the top and we're left with ninety-eight days. 

Take another four days off for scheduled 2021 vacation time and we're down to ninety-four days. 

I don't yet know what my 2022 vacation package looks like, but doing the simple math, I should get nine days vacation to use next year. That puts us at eighty-five working days. 

That's actually a bit scary. 

I've been counting down the days for several years, and the knowledge of having only having eighty-five workdays left brings a mixed ball of emotions. It's a big change in both mindset and lifestyle. My biggest worry is that after twenty-seven years together, the man of the manor and me won't be able to co-exist peacefully within the new paradigm. It's going to get interesting. 

There's the exhilaration that my goal of being the Lady of the Manor full time is within reach.

There's fear something unthinkable will happen and I'll die two days shy of the mark. 

There is the question, the big question, of what new "adventures" do I want to have? I've been grappling with this one. 

Yes, I plan to pursue my DAR, not just for myself but for those in the next two generations. I know my five times great-grandfather signed the Oath in what was to become the State of Maryland to support the colony's bid for independence. That's not in question. I need to formally present the documents that show he is indeed my 5x great-grandfather. 

Yes, there are friends I want to reconnect with, at least once. It's on me to make the initial contact but after that, it has to be a two-way street. I'm prepared to be disappointed by some of them. 

Yes, there are so many things I want to do to make the Manor even more of my own personal paradise. To suddenly have time for that, to think that I'll have time, is almost overwhelming. Being occasionally compulsive about some projects, I know I must pace myself carefully to accomplish anything and not burn out. Or even flame-out, which could happen. 

And perhaps the biggest question of all, the one that is looming over me every time I sit at my desk in my lovely sunroom office - will the joy of writing return after I retire?

It's a lot to ponder on a Sunday morning before the sun has risen over the mountain and my coffee gets cold. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Christmas Eve update - 79 working days

January 14 update - 68 working days

December 3, 2021

Classic cars: The Pontiac Chieftain

The Pontiac Chieftain isn't what comes to mind when one mentions classic cars, but my Daddy had a 1955 Chieftain so it's on my list. In 1955, the Chieftain came equipped with a 316 cubic inch engine that made over 200 horsepower, and I know because he told me so, my Dad thought it was hot shit. I do wonder what he'd think about the over 700 horsepower Challenger Hellcat. By today's standards, the Chieftain isn't an attractive, sexy car but in 1955? It must have been.

Earlier today, I opened up a browser to check the headlines and found a Lifestyle article about a Chieftain someone bought and then repainted. (The horror of it!) Someone painted their car purple? Someone didn't like that old patina? I would have painted it back to the original color because what's left of that green is original. Dad's was a robin's egg blue, sort of turquoise-ish. I still have the vanity mirror from the old Chieftain, safe and secure in my box of treasures.

The article was basically a bit of fluff, but it made me smile and remember a different time. Back in the day, it wasn't unusual for a little kid to sit on their father's lap and "drive" the car. In that manner, the first car I ever drove was the Chieftain. Looking back with older eyes, all I see is my Dad's indulgence of his little girl. I wonder how many fathers today find empty rural roads and lift their kid over onto their lap so they can drive? Very few.

I think it was more difficult for my father to watch me learn to drive without his hands being there to keep me out of the ditches than it was to help me "steer." I think the only thing that tempered his anxiety was he raised a good driver and he saw that. 

There are precious few photos of the old Chieftain, and most of those are in black and white. It was my Dad's first brand-new car, but not the last. His last, and we couldn't know it would be his last when he bought it, was a 1973 Chevy Cheyenne, the forerunner of the Silverado, which debuted in 1975. Oh, he did grouse about not waiting! 

That's the thing about car lovers that a lot of folks miss. An article about an old car brings back so many lovely memories. And memories about my Dad, who died when I was twenty-six, are so very, very precious. In my life, there are only four people left who knew my father - one uncle and three cousins. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer's, doesn't remember him, which is heart-wrenching. 

So, yeah. Pontiac Chieftain. Love ya, Daddy. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)