April 18, 2021

'Tis spring!

Spring is a busy season at Holly Tree Manor. The outside work ramps up and the inside of the house suffers from a lack of attention. Thankfully, we're both old enough to know a couple of dog fur dust bunnies won't harm us but tall grass harbors critters that may. This past week I talked with the cousin as he was removing a little, relatively harmless, hognose snake he found "sleeping" under his pickup. The theory is the little guy was drawn there by the residual heat off the engine. It's definitely time to watch where I put my feet when Deuce and I are in the woods. 

Last weekend, I got the mulching done around the patio and along the front porch. There is a bit more to do after I replace a rose bush that died over the winter. That will happen sometime later today. 

The plan for the new patio grilling/canning/storage area has been finalized, at least in my mind. With lumber prices being what they are, we're purchasing pre-made cabinets and countertops for a fraction of the cost of building them. It's unreal. 

Yesterday, I made a sweep around the yard and picked up those sticks large enough to damage the John Deers 370 and tossed them on the brush pile. I got the front yard mowed and decided the back could wait a day. I wanted to get soil into the food-safe five-gallon buckets in preparation for getting the pepper plants outside. After filling the buckets, we made a fast trip to the garden center for another bag of Black Kow, some peat moss, and vermiculite. Burpee's sent me an email saying my strawberries should ship soon and I need to have soil ready for them. 

One of my biggest concerns this year is digging a drainage swale in the backyard. Our property is about one-third the way up the side of a mountain and we get a lot of water flowing through during hard rains. The earth isn't static and something above has changed enough that we have a developing problem. There's no way to prevent the water from draining through so we can only attempt to manage it. Thank heavens for the John Deere 1023. 

The list of things to do goes on, seemingly into infinity. Crossing one thing off the list adds two more. It's good to stay busy but it's also good to stop and enjoy what has been accomplished. I'm sure that will happen in a few weeks when the air warms to the point that I don't need to be active to keep warm. 

Until then, spring has sprung and I'll enjoy ticking items off my to-do list and marveling at the many shades of green. 

And adding things to the list. I just noticed it's time to tie the peonies. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

April 11, 2021

Pepper dreams

We're a big fan of peppers. We love peppers in all sorts of food dishes, stuffed peppers, Cowboy Candy, pepper jelly, and even savory bread. Last year, 2020, amid the COVID-19 crisis, I grew two pepper plants in grow bags and had more success than I'd ever had planting them in the ground. Hmmm. 

I purchased several sets of grow bags, some seed starter trays, good Burpee seed, and as of this morning I have thirty-three pepper plants happily growing in transplant cups in my sunroom office. I can't safely get out the door at the moment, but I don't care. I don't want to risk kicking a delicate transplant over and breaking it. I'll walk through the house to get outside for the next few weeks. Having happy peppers is more important. 

It does occur to me that peppers are hardly a crop to sustain us through a true food crisis. Well, I planted two fifteen-gallon grow bags with potatoes and those plants look hale and healthy. Again, not enough to sustain us for long. Living on the side of a mountain has a few drawbacks and flat land to have a proper garden is one, and the neighborhood deer is number two. That I'm still working is another consideration. My "drop dead" retirement date is May 31, 2022, so next growing season will likely look different. This year, I experiment and learn. 

The recipe I use for Cowboy Candy was pulled from the Living Traditions Homestead YouTube channel. Cowboy Candy isn't candy, but it's good. I drain the peppers, finely chop them, and mix them with a block of cream cheese for a dip to have with raw veggies or crackers. The Living Traditions Homestead channel contains a wealth of information about small to medium homesteads. We like to catch up with them on Saturday mornings while we enjoy our coffee. 

Today I must replant tomatoes. Unlike the peppers, none of the tomato seeds I planted germinated. It's hard to say why, but I purchased the seeds at a home center and not a specialty seller like Burpee's or Baker Creek. It's also possible the soil in the starter trays didn't get warm enough being that the peppers held the best spot. We shall see. 

Now I must get on with my day and stop writing about doing and actually go do. 

Maybe just one more cup of coffee and a few more searches for recipes that highlight peppers first. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

April 4, 2021

Walking season 2021

It seems like I've been waiting forever for the weather to turn spring-like, and today it happened. It seems appropriate as today is Easter 2021. It was 55F by about 9:30 AM so I loaded Deuce's carry bag with treats, my phone, the new video camera, and his leash, and off we went. Our destination was the pond loop. 

It's been several months since we last made that particular trek, December 13, 2020, to be precise. Unlike the last time, the creeks were running full and fast, and while I had to search for dryer crossings, Deuce was in Labrador Retriever heaven. Lots and lots of water in the creek hits his hot buttons and he jumps right in. His joy is my joy and it's wonderful to watch. Stare into Deuce's eyes and you know someone special is in there. 

Walking season 2021 will, I hope, see my journey to better health continued. Walking invigorates me, ergo, I tend to accomplish more of the things I like to do - like walking. It feeds my soul to get out in the woods away from the noise of the television, cars, and renter neighbors I wish would find another place to live. Easter Sunday is hardly a good day to terrorize the tax-paying homeowners with dirt bikes and ATVs. My family lives up here in solitude for a reason and it's called peace and quiet. But I digress...

Walking is good for me and for Deuce. The vet said he needs to lose two pounds and I'd like to lose at least ten this summer. So, off we will go. Shorter walks on workdays and longer walks on the weekends, weather permitting. The pond loop is almost three miles, and according to my Fitbit, has a lot of stairs. 

We have a new inexpensive video camera and I took it along on its maiden journey. The footage isn't very good but I learned a few things which was the point of the exercise. I'll be able to pull some still shots out and that will have to suffice. If I upload it to YouTube, it will be just to show the man of the manor, and I'll take it down after he's viewed it. It's that jumpy and jerky. Lesson one - turn on the control that helps stop the shaking. 

There were some things I didn't appreciate finding on my walk. The old trails have existed for over a hundred years and many have been commandeered by the Park Service for hiking trails. In and of itself this is not a problem, but people have no respect. The clean, unlittered trails of my girlhood are no longer unlittered. An empty Monster Energy can, a facemask, a plastic Mountian Dew bottle - you can't blame those on homesteaders forced by the State of Maryland to abandon their homes. 

This time of year it's easy to spot the old homesteads. The daffodils are blooming and it seems every old place had them. They live on, untended, and beautifully wild. They inspired me to separate a few clumps of my own daffs and replant the bulbs one-by-one in my own woods in the hope that in future years, they will remain, bright yellow and white on an Easter morning. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 27, 2021

A peep in the night

 What do you hear when you step outside after dark? Just yesterday I was thinking about the tiny peeper frogs that herald the arrival of spring and, lo and behold, last night I heard them singing for the first time in 2021. I think they are perhaps two or so weeks early, but I'm sure they know they're really right on time.

In the country, the sounds change with the seasons. Summer brings the sounds of noisy insects like cicadas and katydids, and the eerie bark of foxes. Autumn is the time when the little screech owls make their presence known as their calls join the rustling leaves. Winter’s sound is that of the cold wind whipping through the trees.  
And spring brings the chirping song of the tiny peeper frog.

It’s amazing such a tiny creature can create such a riotous cacophony of sound. They begin to sing as soon as whatever signal brings them out of their winter hibernation. One night, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear one or two crystal voices. Pause to enjoy it because the next time you hear the peepers, the sound will fill the night with such a din that identifying an individual voice is impossible.

In all my years I’ve not seen one of the nocturnal peepers. I don’t guess I ever will since I don’t plan to go out into the woods at night to locate their colony. (I'll leave that to the folks who took the picture.) But every year I step outside and listen because when the peepers sing, I know it is truly spring.

I dread the day I fear is coming when the peepers are no more. Our amphibians are threatened by the damage to and the shrinking of their habitat. We may be fortunate and become one of the few remaining enclaves for the peepers, salamanders, frogs, toads, and even the local reptile, the turtle. 

The night sounds are truly one of my favorite simple country pleasures. Nighttime in the country reveals, even as it conceals, a hidden kingdom. Long may it reign. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 26, 2021

Cat and dog, dog and cat

A lot of my memories are tied to what dog I had at a particular time. There was Rebel, the dog of my childhood. Reba graced my teen years. Then there's a bit of a gap when I married for the first time and was absorbed in growing up. Then came the Callahan years - my companion after that first marriage ended and I lived without a human companion for many years. After Callahan, there's another short gap while I grieved the loss of a true and faithful friend. Life doesn't give you many of those, so treasure them. Then came the Jett years, and now we live in the time of Deuce. 

Ah, Deuce. Is it because he's with me now or because he IS so very special. He's far and away the most intelligent dog I've ever known. The philosophical may have to wait. 

Spring is finally here on the manor. It was above sixty degrees Fahrenheit when I arose at six o'clock this morning and that's a very good sign. I'll have to go outside after dark this evening and listen for the peeper frogs - the real harbingers of spring. 

Regardless of the season, mornings with Deuce don't vary. I get up and let him out and back in, then shower and dress. Once dressed, he and I head out for a short morning stroll during which he completes his outside activities for the morning. Being a warm morning, Loki accompanied us today. 

Loki is a fine little feline who believes he's a lion or at least a big cat. He's not. At only ten pounds, he's the smallest cat I've ever owned. But he is the most ferocious. 

We stopped long enough for me to snap a couple of pictures of the daffodils and snowglories, and Deuce and Loki put on a little show for me. I would have filmed it had I know they were about to perform, but they gave me no warning. Who knew Loki would leap from his perch and the dog would run? For about ten paces, and then the game got switched and Loki ended up in a maple tree. It may not amuse a city dweller, but my boys having fun gave me a good laugh to start the day. 

Thank you, dog and cat. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 24, 2021

A lighting upgrade

I think I'm fortunate in that even after almost forty years, I still like my little house in the woods. It's not a mansion by any stretch of the imagination, but it's MY manor house. I wonder what my grandparents would say if they knew I was still here, so many years after their passing. 

Like anyone who lives in a beloved house for a long time, after a while, some things start to wear on the eyes. In my case, it was a pair of light/fan fixtures in the dining room and kitchen. They were installed in the early nineties when ceiling fans were entering a revival and gold trim was everywhere. I've wanted to get an updated look for many years, but true to the Yankee side of the family, I thought it was foolish to spend the money to replace perfectly operational equipment. 

I had a "snapping" moment when I spotted a pendant light that was just what I wanted but didn't know that until I saw it.

One of the few renovations we've done was to remove the L-shaped bar between the kitchen and dining room and replace it with an island. I've always wanted a light above the island but didn't want to give up the custom pot rack we built for over it. A pendant light was always the solution but I never saw one I really liked enough to cut a hole in the drywall for - until now. And the bonus was finding a fan/light combo that matches.

The new fans and pendant light are in and I love the look. The darker finishes work perfectly with the granite counters. Taking down the pot rack so the brother-in-law could do the electrical work gave us a much-needed push to rearrange the pans and lids and run the crystal stemware through the dishwasher. Everything is back in place and shiny clean. 

Installing new lights doesn't sound like it would be a big change but it was just what we needed this spring. The COVID-19 pandemic has had me working from home and it's helped me settle on a few changes for my nest. There is a silver lining to everything. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 20, 2021

A reliable, hardworking tool - the log splitter

We've had our log splitter for a good number of years, well over twenty, and we've split cord after cord after cord of firewood with it. These days, it's looking a little worn. 

With my retirement just around the corner, it's time for us to decide if we have the mobile repair guy come and give it a bit of a re-build or should we spend the money on a new one? 

There are a lot of options out there we didn't have twenty years ago. Now we can look into one that runs off the PTO on the John Deere, not that I really want that hassle. What I would like to have is one where you can roll the rounds onto a tray that the machine lifts up to the splitting rail. 

So I think that's my answer right there. It's time to retire the old splitter and get a new one that won't be so hard on my back. Maybe the mobile machine guy will want the old one for parts. It's worth asking, isn't it?

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 18, 2021

This is going into the menu rotation: Hamburger Hash

 Being fair, I have to admit the spousal's love of the food channels on YouTube is beginning to pay dividends. The latest find is from Chef John's Food Wishes channel. This is the same Chef John that brought us Chicken Parmesan a few months ago. 

Hamburger Hash. This is pretty much what the name of the dish implies with very simple with pantry-shelf and freezer items. 

I got some very lean ground beef for this. Chef John gives amounts of everything, but we're more of a "that looks about right" pair of cooks. So I got the pack of burger that looked about right for a meal for two. 

Step one - brown the burger in some olive oil and butter. Remember the burger is very lean so there's not much fat. Once the burger is browned, add a diced potato, or in our case, what was left in a bag of frozen hash browns. We try to be frugal.

Once the taters are have reached the beginning to get soft stage, add in onions and bell peppers in the amount that looks right for your taste buds and let everything continue to brown.

Chef John recommends salting between each ingredient addition, which we did. To finish the seasoning we added cayenne pepper and rosemary to taste. Chef John topped his hamburger hash with a poached egg while we went over easy. 

Oh, my, was it delicious! 

We've added this to our meal calendar to pop up once every five months. We think that will be a good spacing for this dish. 

The Lady of the Manor

March 16, 2021

I hit the X!

There really is no excuse for what a law-abiding citizen in the State of Maryland has to go through to purchase a handgun. 

I've been fingerprinted and my prints sent to the state police and the FBI. They found nothing. OF COURSE they found nothing. I'm a law-abiding citizen. 

I had to take a four-hour safety course on how to handle a gun. Did I get to handle a gun? Nope. I watched the instructor handle a gun. I don't have a gun so I had no hands-on instruction. 

I got to test fire a handgun a sum total of eight times. Not my gun. Not the gun I have to learn to handle. Not the gun I need to know how to break down and clean, put back together so it doesn't blow up in my face, and load and unload. Nope. 

Why didn't I get to learn how to handle my gun? Because I can't purchase it until the paperwork comes through. How fucking stupid is that? 

I got to pick up the instructor's gun and fire at a target. 

Yeah, baby. I hit the X in the center. 

Then the spousal unit fired the gun eight times. He let me win, I'm sure, because he didn't hit the X. 

Laws really are only for honest people, and they punish honest people in the stupidest ways. Honest, law-abiding citizens do not buy a handgun to shoot another person. They purchase it to shoot venomous snakes and rabid raccoons. Or go to the brother's backyard and plink at targets stuck on a bale of straw. Or fire a few shots in the ground to scare off a flock of blackbirds. 

I'm more of a threat to others when I get behind the wheel of my very fast, zero to sixty in a few seconds, corner on a rail, four-thousand-pound car that can flatten your ass into the pavement. Not that logic rules in this world. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 12, 2021

I don't often see this - stunted daffodils

The first daffodils of 2021 are up and in bud. They're a bit stunted from coming up under snow, but still a welcome spring sight. 

I confess I've never before seen such short little beauties. The only explanation for it is the snow cover we had for such a long time, which is not usual in our micro-climate. I'm eager to see if they shoot up in height before they open or if they'll open as they are.

There are other daffodils up, but none had buds on yet. Did the snow insulate these? Is it just a nice warm and sunny spot? Mother Nature loves to do things like this and I'm happy to have spotted them and to enjoy yet another simple country pleasure. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor