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

December 26, 2020

Elder and Crone

Of Christmas snow, I would wish
for it to kiss the ground
Pristine and white falling down, 
to the earth forever bound

Silent night gives way to day, 
quiet stirrings under brightest rays
The fire warms, the cat sleeps on, 
wrapped in quiet, steeped in peace

The elder and the crone, as we have now become
Sip coffee and smile, hidden behind our walls
Tasks fulfilled, our legacy fading (as it should)
Indulgent to our past, memories notwithstanding

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve 2020


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 new decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92)

December 23, 2020

Celery in the little greenhouse

Having purchased a small, inexpensive greenhouse back in September, we've been watching our regrown celery in the little greenhouse with interest. To my surprise, the celery plants are green and healthy after our nighttime temperatures are well below freezing. 

My surprise is due to the fact this isn't the world's best greenhouse. It's my test case. I expected it would be great in the spring for starting seeds. I never expected it would protect against a snowstorm like we just had a week ago. 

It has me wondering just how early I can start some of my seeds. Radishes are a cold-weather crop. We just passed the winter solstice and the daylight hours are increasing. Could I get some radishes going in the greenhouse? I'm not out much to prepare a grow bag and drop a few seeds in to see what happens. 

I'm getting excited about the upcoming growing season. It's time to check out some fencing to keep the deer out. I also need to find either a water tank or some sort of larger containers for water. I'd prefer not to drag a hose out every day. I'll get it figured out.

We also need to build three more ...what? I'm not sure what to call them. Trellises isn't the right term. Racks? Supports? Whatever. I need three more. And I need to get a few bags of potting soil, compost, and vermiculite to fill all the grow bags. If the celery shows no sign of freezing, I'll need to get the strawberry bags planted, perhaps as early as March. 

It's an exciting time! I just hope my enthusiasm holds when the hard work begins. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 22, 2020

The First Year

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Holly Tree Manor blog. I began the blog as an alternative, or perhaps a compliment, to my writing blog Between the Keys. Sometimes personal topics don't mix well with bookish ones. 

This past year has been the most unusual year of my lifetime. The Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone off-guard. It served as a wake-up call to many, and for us, it was clear the time had come to implement a few things we'd talked, and yes joked, about. It was time to get intentional. 

We began to take up gardening again, this time with a workable plan to thwart the deer. My retirement plans were put on hold. This was not the year to give up my very good employer-paid health insurance. It helped that I was able to work from home in March, April, May, and part of June. November and December found me once again working at least part-time from home. This was certainly my silver lining for making it through the year. 

The downside of my year was a lack of focus in my writing. Or maybe it was the desire to check back into my life. This was the year I wanted to be intentional about spending more time with family. Enter Covid-19 and that was shot to hell. But I couldn't seem to shift gears from what I wanted to what I had, which was time to write. Will I ever get the focus to write back? I don't know. It's on shaky ground at the moment. 

I also lost two dear friends late in the year. Two members of my bowling team passed. Due to the pandemic, I'd opted out of the first half of the season and didn't get to spend time with them. I'll likely regret that for awhile. 

So where does the blog go from here? Do I continue? Yes, I do. It's long been proven that journaling is good for some people. This blog is my journal as much as Between the Keys. This one happens to be a lot more personal. 

As of this date, I've not opened the blog to the public. I'm sure I will do that at some future date. I've started to read blogs only to discover the blogger quit after a handful of entries. My thought is to have a substantial amount of content before going public so readers don't suffer that disappointment. 

Christmas is just days away and there are things to do, namely, get the turkey out of the freezer and discuss with Himself exactly what he wants on the menu for Christmas dinner. We'll spend the day alone together and not mind it one whit. We know the world is out there, doing as it wishes. But for us, being home at the manor is more than enough. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 21, 2020

2020 The winter solstice and the great conjunction

I slept through it. The first day of winter 2020 happened this morning at 5:02 AM, EST. I'm always happy to mark the winter solstice, the beginning of the astronomical winter, even though it's the shortest day of the year. From here on until June, the hours of daylight increase. 

I used to think of the solstices and equinoxes as a day-long event but somewhere along the line, I learned differently. Each occurs at a specific time and lasts but a moment. In the case of the winter solstice, it happens when, in my case, the northern hemisphere is tilted as far away from the sun as it gets. The sun's path appears as low in our sky as it gets. 

What sets this year apart, at least astronomically, is that on the night of December 21, 2020, there will also be a Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The solstice and the Great Conjunction haven't happened at the same time in 800 years. What has people excited is that this will have the appearance of being "the Christmas star." Petty cool, actually. 

And it's not that Jupiter and Saturn don't have regular conjunctions - they do about every twenty years. The last one was in May of 2000. It's just the timing of this one, on the winter solstice, that has people paying attention. After this, the next Great Conjunction will happen on March 15, 2080. We won't live to see it although perhaps since nothing ever truly "dies" on the Internet, this blog entry may be found and laughed at for its lack of depth. 

If I want to see the Great Conjunction, and I think I do, I'll have to drive down the mountain and get away from the trees. Even then, with our topography, I may have to hunt for a spot. I'll have to make it quick, though. It won't be visible in the southwestern sky for very long. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 17, 2020

Snow days!

On December 16, 2020, we had a rare December snowfall. The weather folks predicted it with dire warnings - up to fifteen inches in our area. Himself and I took it with a grain of salt. Our particular micro-climate might get a snow flurry or two in December, but almost never anything like fifteen inches. Still, we prepared. 

The John Deere 1023 was fueled and ready to go. Ditto for the generator. I did the vehicle shuffle to bring the Silverado closest to the house. I'm already doing a good portion of my day job work at home but I made sure my data backup on the memory stick was as current as possible. I spent most of the day Tuesday in my day job office and came home prepared to be home until at least Thursday. It turned out to be Friday. 

Working from home is not a hardship at all. But I've learned one thing - it takes the joy out of having a "snow day." Other than the beauty of the snow, these two days haven't been very special. Thank you, Covid-19 for ruining yet one more aspect of life. 

The forecast overreached. We got four inches of powder followed by an inch of ice that was capped off with another three inches of powder. Instead of a two-day event, it was a sixteen-hour event. It began around 9 AM on Wednesday and ended around 2 AM Thursday. Thursday morning dawned with a pink, gold, and blue sky, and the sunshine lasted all day. I ran the snowblower for no good reason except to play in the snow and I captured some video and still shots. And I did do some work for the day job. 

I look forward to the days when I don't need to clean off vehicles and run the snowblower. I might have spent my day in my cozy sunroom office just enjoying the view if I were retired. When that happens, I think snow days will take on a deeper level of joy. Sometimes it's good to enjoy life as if a child. A snow day is a perfect day to do that. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 16, 2020

A Sunday afternoon walk, December 13, 2020

the old pond 12/13/2020
This past Sunday was a beautiful December day, and I decided to see if my dog wanted to go for a walk. Deuce is a wonderful companion and he's always ready to go. I've been keeping a blog for him, from his point of view, so I can always remember these few years I'll have with him. He may be the last dog to share my life and I never want to forget him. His blog is called Deuce's Day

It's been a while since I've been back in the woods beyond the short trail past the reservoir. With good walking days in short supply until spring, Deuce and I set about making a large loop. We walked along an old homestead lane, crossed over to the old pond, and back down the hill past what is left of the homestead, which isn't much. A few shrubs gone wild, the remnants of an old meadow, the depressions where the house and barn stood, and old grapevines as thick as my arm are all that remains. 

And yet I bet if I walk that trail in the spring, there will be daffodils and daylilies in abundance. The forsythia row will bloom with a splendor it lacked in bygone days when it was kept pruned.
dry creekbed where I used to play
I was pleasantly surprised to find water in the old pond. Not much water, but enough to draw Deuce's attention. I'm sure all he saw was MUD PUDDLE! YES!  Ever obedient, he stopped in his tracks and came back when I called him else it would have been time for a bucket bath when we returned home. 

While I was pleased to see water in the pond, I was not so pleased to find a familiar old creek bed dry. When I was a girl, about thirteen or fourteen, myself and two girlfriends would ride our bicycles back the lane to that section of the creek and while away the hours. We built a rather substantial dam, which is still detectable, and ended up with water that was hip deep. Not a bad feat for three country kids. This creek was entirely spring-fed so I do wonder what happened. Did the earthquake of August 23, 2011, close the spring? It's possible. It's been that long since I was back there. 

Our walk was a good metaphor for life. You traverse a path both old and new and find things changed. Some changes are for good and some for not so good. Deuce and I had a great time just being outside in the woods on a sunny afternoon. 

It's a good thing we took advantage of the day. This afternoon, there are three inches of snow on the ground and it's still coming down.  It's a good day to advance old projects and dream a few new. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 12, 2020

Blackberry cordial

In nine days we will reach the winter solstice. Here at the manor, we're already looking forward to the earth's shift toward daylight. The weeknight evenings are dark, long, and boring. We chat endlessly about the things we want to do when magical spring, and warmer days, arrive. Daylight hours on the weekends are precious. The moments warm enough to be outside are at a premium in December. 

It's not a big leap of logic to discover the long evening chats often revolve around food. "What's for dinner" is a dangerous question to ask this time of year. Quite often one gets a snarl for a reply. It's nothing personal. We're simply tired of being cooped up, tired of television, and yes, tired of eating. 

It's winter. We eat to survive, not enjoy a meal together. I'm back to spending time on Pinterest, looking for new and interesting recipes. I stumbled across a pin of blackberry cordial, something a former colleague used to make and decided to give it a try. This is what winter boredom can cause - food experimentation. 

Making a cordial is pretty straightforward. It's fruit, sugar, and booze. Methods vary, but my old buddy followed a simplistic recipe. Put the berries in a quart mason jar, add one cup of sugar, and muddle. Then cover with vodka and allow to steep for six months. Strain to remove the pulp and drink. He started his during berry season so it was ready for Christmas. If this works for me, I'll do the same next year. A little cordial is a good prescription for a long, dark winter evening.  

My friend has been gone for over a decade now but I often think of him. My cordial will lack one crucial ingredient, the taste of his friendship, but maybe it will have the flavor of his memory. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 4, 2020

That little something in the mailbox

I heard a bird sing in the dark of December,
A magical thing and sweet to remember.
- Oliver Hereford 

As the years go flying by, we get fewer and fewer Christmas cards each Advent season. I'm not sure why that is. Is it the cost of buying cards and stamps? Is it the time it takes to address and mail the cards? I don't know for sure. What I do know is I love to receive a Christmas card from a friend or family member. 

The year 2020 has not been kind to many people. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on more than physical health and finances. I think we'll be dealing with the mental and emotional issues for many years to come. I say that but so far, we've been very fortunate here at the manor. 

I know people who have not left their homes in months. My last surviving uncle is among them. At eighty-eight, he's healthy enough but homebound due to the pandemic. His sons bring him whatever he wants when he wants it. We're only a phone call and a short mile away should he need help when the sons are unavailable. 

It's my belief folks like my uncle will benefit by receiving Christmas cards. It's a small thing but it lets them know they are not forgotten. 

I'll send cards to everyone on my list this year and hope they know the card is more than paper. And with any luck, my mailbox will hold greetings from them. It will be nice to know they remember me, too. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

December 3, 2020

Morning sky, December 3, 2020

In Matthew 16:2b–3, Jesus says, talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "when it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather; for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening'.”

In more modern times, we hear, "Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning."

In time past, my mother and I were sky watchers. This came about during the years we got up early every day and together walked three miles. I remember those walks with gratitude for the time spent with her. We talked about everything. Now she has Alzheimer's Disease and we don't talk at all. 

I still watch the morning and evening sky to see how the "prophecy" is working. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. Not that it was Bible prophecy. Jesus was talking to a specific group of people who demanded information on signs. 

Even in these modern times, life at Holly Tree Manor is governed by the weather. There is always some project to be done. Mowing, chopping leaves, brush clean up, brush burning, woodcutting, lane maintenance, weeding, watering, gardening, equipment maintenance - all this is contingent upon the weather. Too dry and you can't burn. Too wet and you can't do anything. Too cold and I'm too wimpy to go outside and do anything. Same for too hot. Yes, life here revolves around the weather. 

But is the old adage correct? Surprisingly, yes. More often than not, a red sky in the morning is a portent of rain. Today's morning sky, all pink and blue, indicates a mostly clear day today, but heavier clouds tomorrow. 

The Lord of Holly Tree Manor puts his faith in a weather app on his phone. I prefer to look at the sky and feed my soul. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 30, 2020

Hooter the Owl - A Christmas Tale

The fictional Waltons have nothing on my family. 

Approaching Christmas brings to mind years of family tales. My family is good for a lot of laughs - please don't tell them I said that. One of my favorite stories is about Hooter the Owl. 

We live in a rural community. When I was young, it was a VERY rural community. I'm serious when I say I'm only a generation removed from a moonshiner. 

My grandfather was a unique individual. Yes, he made Apple Jack. He was a beekeeper, a truck farmer, a hunter, a skilled woodworker, and a lover of all the wild things that came into his yard. It was Pop who planted the first two holly trees that seeded my property and a portion of the mountain hillside. 

One autumn day Pop put on his boots and went out to do a walk-about. I swear he knew every tree and rock on his property. He came home with an injured owl. 

My grandmother was not pleased, but she had a soft heart for the wild ones, too. They both knew for Hooter to have a chance to survive, he needed a little help. Pop made a rough frame and wrapped it in chicken wire and Hooter had temporary digs. His wing would heal and they'd set him free, or..... let's not go there.

Pop had a way with critters. It wasn't long before Hooter knew the human was the source of chicken livers. Now what self-respecting owl would refuse that meal? Hooter made friends with Pop. The days passed and the Christmas season rolled around.

Back in those days, the late 1960's, everyone had a cut tree for Christmas. Pop got a tree and put it up. My grandmother called me to come help decorate it. All was well until Pop let Hooter out of his cage. 

Hooter couldn't yet fly again, but he sure could hop and run. He made a beeline for the tree and up he went! Not even chicken livers could coax him out of the tree. So my grandparents let him alone. They turned the lights on in the evenings and it was Christmas business as usual except for the owl in the tree. 

Hooter eventually came down and out - and in spectacular fashion. He hopped out of the tree into the middle of the Christmas day dinner table, right in front of my Dad's plate. It was fucking funny. Every Christmas dinner at my grandparent's house thereafter, my father made a big show of searching the Christmas tree for surprises. And Dad and Pop would laugh the way men do when they have an inside joke with each other. 

Those were the days. The Waltons have nothing on my family. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 29, 2020

The Great Potato Experiment

 We've become fans of YouTube and we follow the real-life adventures of several modern-day "homesteaders" who are trying to live a simpler life. We laugh, sometimes, as they talk about living "off the grid" in a video obviously produced using modern means. Mostly, though, the videos are about how to do various things and we either emulate or improve upon the ideas we like. Growing potatoes in five-gallon buckets is one idea I found fascinating. 

The year 2020 was not a good year to begin gathering gardening supplies. I searched for food-grade five-gallon buckets everywhere and ended up purchasing grow bags online. I figure I'll be able to once again find the buckets about the time the grow bags wear out but spending the money twice is annoying. I did discover the grow bags work fine.

Having obtained the potato grow bags late in the season, I none-the-less planted a potato that had sprouted just to see if it would grow. It did, and what a fine looking plant it became. As the nights cooled, I moved the grow bag into the greenhouse. Yesterday, we decided to dump the bag and see how things had progressed in there. 

We didn't know what to expect other than if the plant had produced potatoes, they wouldn't be of any size. Planting a potato in October guaranteed that. What was a surprise was the number of tiny potatoes with the potential to develop into something edible. We called the experiment a success. There were seventeen little spuds in the bag, and of course, I dropped several before I took a snapshot. 

Next spring I'll plant five of the grow bags with potatoes and see what happens. With any luck, I'll get enough to fill a pantry shelf with quart jars full of processed russets. That would be a good thing.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 28, 2020

Thanksgiving food dollars and sense

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup
Thanksgiving seems to be divided into two camps - one that says it's all about giving thanks and another that says it's all about the food. I guess I'm in the third and quiet camp that knows it's both. 

I was chatting with a girlfriend earlier today and she was bemoaning "the expense" of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, filling, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, biscuits, cranberry sauce, several veggies, and several desserts. It got me to thinking - and figuring. Here's the breakdown of my traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Keep in mind I buy items on sale, in bulk, and had pressure canned my own potatoes. 

Turkey $18
Filling $2.36
White potatoes ($4.97x2/24x2) $.83
Sweet potatoes $1.99
Biscuits (homemade) $1
Cranberry sauce $1.59
Pumpkin pie 2.77
Corn $.59
Green beans $.49

Total = $29.62

canned turkey broth

I would agree that $30 for one meal, and that's without figuring in time spent shopping and cooking, would be a lot. But is it really? Here are a few more numbers.

Turkey pot pies in the freezer - 4 (used dark meat turkey and leftover veggies plus 1 quart canned potatoes

Wild Rice & Turkey Soup - 4 meals in the freezer using white meat turkey

Leftover plate dinners - 2 meals

Pumpkin pie - dessert two additional evenings

Turkey sandwiches - 1 lunch

Turkey Tetrazzini - 2 dinners using white meat and pantry ingredients

In my situation, our $30 dinner has stretched for a total of 14 meals. That shakes down to less than $3 a meal, and that's a meal for two people. 

This doesn't even count the 6 quarts of turkey broth I canned to use in recipes throughout the coming year. 

I think fixing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is something to be thankful for. There are 10 times in the future I won't have to prepare a dinner unless you want to say getting the meal out of the freezer and heating it up is the same as cooking the meal. It's really not, at least to me. 

I don't need to be this frugal, but I'm thankful that it's not a hardship for me to practice frugality. Food is a necessity and a resource. I'm grateful for the women in my life who taught me how to manage my resources. It seems I don't have to look too far to discover that not all of us were fortunate enough to receive such lessons. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 27, 2020

Canning russet potatoes

quarts - potatoes

Until recently, I never gave canning potatoes a thought. My grandparents always stored potatoes in the cellar, tucked safely in insulating straw. Modern life being what it is, if I needed potatoes I stopped by the grocery and got a bag. 

Fast forward to 2020 and Covid 19, and suddenly canning potatoes becomes a really good idea. 

The process is simple, identical, in fact, to canning sweet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut into approximately one-inch squares, parboil, hot pack, process for ninety minutes. Even if it never reaches the point where I can’t purchase potatoes at the grocery, I will continue to jar potatoes.

How much easier is it going to be to open a quart of pre-cooked potatoes, heat them, mash them, and serve? For at least the next seven times, the peeling is already done. I’m sure the spousal unit will appreciate that. 

It’s also a way to avoid wasting food. I shudder to think how many hundreds of pounds of potatoes I’ve tossed into the woods for the critters because they sprouted, got soft, or actually rotted. 

pints - potatoes

Even in a land of plenty, waste is not a good thing. 

My world is changing, becoming more and more linked to the past. I thank God every day for the life and times of my grandparents and the things they taught me. I do believe those lessons will save my life. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 25, 2020

Standing Guard

I'm not sure when, or why, I decided to apply my writing skills to the occasional poem, but I'm glad I did. 

Thanksgiving 2017 was the first holiday I spent without my mother. I knew then that my days of big family celebrations had come to an end. It felt rather strange but I knew I'd been set free in an unexpected way. Some of the shackles I lived with fell away upon the realization that as you get older even the family you love isn't always good for you in every situation. 

It wasn’t until it was gone that I realized the amount of stress I suffered at these family gatherings where, without my grandfather to buffer other individuals, my every imperfection was on vivid display. With the passage of time, the sharp edges of memory are blunted and I can once again recall those times with childlike fondness.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Standing Guard
(Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017)

Long ago I tread a path
A misty woodland way
I had no company along the trek
So the trees could have their say

They spoke to me in silence
With movement seen not heard
And I replied in quiet kind
Walking without a word

The day ahead held demands
Devoid of mist and air
I could not whine or complain
Or do what trees don't dare

Beneath the ground unseen by all
Their roots do intertwine
Reminding me the path ahead
Leads home to all that's mine

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 23, 2020

The hardest part of gardening is just ahead

We've not done extensive vegetable gardening here on the Manor. We have a huge problem with white-tailed deer and therefore, in the past, we had an even bigger problem with working hard just to provide them with a nice salad bowl. But the times, they are a-changing, or so they say. This past summer we were successful on a very small scale. For 2021, we're upping our game. 

I'm already in possession a collection of seeds from Burpee. My grandfather and my mother both bought seeds from Burpee so I'm continuing the tradition, at least for this year. I can't say as it got off to a good start since I received someone else's order, but apparently, the lady who got some of my seeds got to the company before I even knew it happened. I had an email telling me my replacement order was on the way before I got the wrong seeds. That I get to keep. I'll be growing sugar snap peas, spinach, and different varieties of radish and lettuce along with what I ordered. It's all good. There are enough seeds in each envelope to plant for two or three seasons. Just because they're packaged for 2021 doesn't mean they will magically go "poof" on December 31st. 

Now I need to figure out when to start the different seeds. That means research into each variety and careful notes on a gardening calendar. After the seeds spouts, the fun begins as the plants grow, then flower, then produce. I'm kind of excited about it! 

I already know some of the seeds can be started early in seed trays inside my little greenhouse. Others will need to go directly into the growbag for the season. Some, like the lettuce and spinach, I'm undecided about how I want to grow them. I have an old wagon and I'm tempted to plant them in that and move them around to thwart the critters. 

Yes, the time to do serious planning for 2021 is here. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor  (The Hideaway)

November 21, 2020

Getting ready for snow at Holly Tree Manor

According to the Farmer's Almanac, a publication my grandfather set a lot of store in, we're going to get walloped by a big snow in February. This isn't as dire a prediction as one may think. It was the second week of February 1983 when I had my first taste of being snowed in at the Manor. Thirty-six inches of snow fell in two days. Luckily, I obeyed my grandfather when he told me to park my car in his driveway, closer to the road. It was two weeks until enough snow melted that I was able to get it back my lane, but I was able to walk in and out to the car and back home. 

Cars quickly passed and SUVs became my vehicle of choice. With four-wheel drive, I'm able to break open tracks in the lane and get in and out without much problem. 

Then one fateful day, the spousal unit and I decided to purchase a sub-contract tractor with several attachments, including a bucket, a backhoe, and a snowblower. Here on the Manor we're not afraid to sing "Let it Snow!" Heck, I even traded my trusty Blazer in on a Charger, which, if you know cars, does not go well in the snow. (I drive the partner's pickup when it snows.)

The caveat to having this handy piece of snow moving equipment is that every year the loader and bucket need to come off the John Deere 1023 and the snowblower needs to go on. I'm sure it was a MAN who designed how the snowblower mounts up. 

Today was the day we decided to make the switch. It's always easier to do this before it gets bitterly cold but after we no longer need the loader and bucket for outside work. November is the time, generally over Thanksgiving weekend. But today was a balmy 60F and the ten-day forecast across next weekend is for cold and rain. So today it was. 

My partner can no longer get on the ground. More precisely, if he gets on the ground getting off the ground may not happen without someone calling for a lot of help. I'm the one who crawls under the John Deere 1023 and shoves the shaft over the sprocket and seeds the coupler. I don't like that job but it's not too difficult.

It normally takes about an hour to do this task. Today took longer. I'd not yet blown the leaves out from under the carport where we park the tractor, so I had to do that once the 1023 had been moved out. The old Craftsman mower had been parked where we rest the loader and bucket over the winter and when I tried to start it, it refused to fire and needed to be pushed out of the way. The 1023 needed to be fueled. The Colorado needed to be moved as I'd parked it too close to the shed to swing the tractor through the doors. Yes, we were an unorganized mess. 

In the end, tempers held, experience worked, and the job was accomplished. The 1023 and the John Deere 370 mower are both fueled. The pin is in the backhoe, and the loader and bucket sitting on level ground. We even called for carry-out for dinner so no one had to cook. And you know what?

Let. It. Snow. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 18, 2020


It seems that here at Holly Tree Manor, we're all about food these days. When we're not watching our carbs, we're talking about all the good holiday food in our future. Covid 19 be damned, we're having turkey! And stuffing! And pumpkin pie! And bourbon sweet potato pie! And fruitcake!

Yes, I said fruitcake. We like fruitcake, and the more bourbon it has in it, the better we like. 

We grew up in a different time. Our maternal grandmothers had a profound influence on us. Their grandmothers made fruitcakes when finding the candied fruits meant making your own. Those influences are still part of us. We like to carry on the old traditions even if we don't have anyone to pass them down to now. It's just the way it is. 

Until this year, I'd never made a fruitcake from scratch. It was simpler to purchase one and take it home and soak it in real bourbon. But last year we were disappointed with the offering we found, even after giving it a good, long whiskey bath. So this year I located the candied fruits, which provided a recipe, and I got to work. The end result is good but still doesn't take like my grandmother's fruitcake. 

I blame the store-bought candied fruit. For my next attempt, I'm going to get dried fruits, chop them, and let them soak in the booze for several days. Then I'm going to make the fruitcake in the Instant Pot. That should make it really moist. We'll see. 

And maybe we'll actually do something exciting that is not food-related before the end of the week. But I doubt it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 13, 2020

Sweet potato processing - Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie

Growing up, sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I'm so glad we're now able to enjoy them throughout the entire year! I like them baked, mashed, and yes, "candied." I generally purchase enough cans from the grocery to last for a year. Around here, you won't have much luck finding them on the shelves other than at the holidays. 

This year I noticed a local grocery was selling sweet potatoes for $.67 a pound. I purchased twenty pounds, or enough for seven quarts and ten pints. I processed the quarts this morning and plan to do the pints tomorrow. 

A few days ago, the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, laid out a grim picture of where the State is headed in the fight against Covid-19. I'll be working from home again for at least the next three weeks, an eventuality I saw coming and prepared for. 

That's what the return to home canning is all about - preparing for the unknown. The term "prepper" has some social condescension attached to it, but there is a difference between a "prepper" and a "doomsday prepper." Being prepared to weather a pandemic is prepping in the purest form. We prepare. We plan. And we don't have as many things to worry about, like, will I be able to have Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie as part of our Thanksgiving feast?  Yes, I will. 

Home canning sweet potatoes is a bit of work. Peeling a sweet potato is annoying. They like to hold on to their skins. A good trick is to parboil them first, and then peel. As for canning instructions, get the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving AND read the guide to your particular canner so you do it correctly. However, I will share my Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie recipe, which is based on an old recipe by The Frugal Gourmet. 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie

Preheat oven to 425F.

Prepare a single pie crust. 

2 cups mashed sweet potato
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup bourbon
optional: a pinch of ground ginger

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and the half & half, and mix. Add everything else and mix really well, then pour into prepared pie crust. 

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350F and bake until set, about 40 minutes (you know your oven so adjust time accordingly). It's done when a knife comes out clean. 

Serve hot or cold but don't forget the whipped cream!
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So that's it. Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie. It's not just for those of us below the Mason-Dixon Line to enjoy, and it's not just for Thanksgiving. Not any longer! 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 8, 2020

The old tractor path - phase one

This past year we've been plagued with high winds. I don't remember another time in my life when the winds have been so strong and persistent. It's our own fault. We keep clearing the land for more and more houses. Mankind is its own worst enemy. 

During one recent wind storm, we had a maple tree beside the lower stone fence fall and take down a couple of scrubby trees with it. That tangled mess has plucked my nerves all summer. I can say it bugged the hell out of me and mean it was the BUGS that kept us from cleaning it up until now. Mosquitoes, flies, ticks, ants, bees. You name the bug and we gave them the space for the summer. But no more. Now is the time of reckoning. 

Yesterday was a gorgeous autumn day, so much so that I started to work on the old tractor path while my partner mowed leaves. I started on the ends of the limbs and worked back, building a brush pile and then cutting lengths for firewood. I took my time and got all the smaller stuff sorted. Now it's time for a bigger gun - the Stihl 192.  

We've learned how to use the backhoe on the John Deere 1023 like a hook. My partner can lift and securely hold the larger pieces of the trees so I can cut them to length for firewood without having to bend over and tire my back. Using the pallet forks, he can lift the brush and haul it to where we burn. The 1023 makes life on the manor a lot easier. I wish we'd have gotten a tractor twenty years ago instead of six. 

I wanted to walk the old tractor path and take photos, but yesterday made me realize it's in worse shape than I thought. I'll need to clear the way in, every step of the way.  It's a bigger job than anticipated, but I feel it will be worth it. I haven't had access to that part of the property in a while, and I think it's important that I be able to walk the perimeter on a regular basis. It's all part of better managing the Manor and its resources. Who knows what I may decide to do with the sunny west bank once I can get to it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

November 6, 2020

A long time coming - berries on the largest holly tree

For years I've wondered if any of the holly trees would ever get berries. I knew that berries only form on old growth, so pruning is not recommended if you want to get berries. I also knew that hollies have both male and female plants, and the berries form on the female trees. This is the first year any of the hollies have produced berries, and it's only on the largest tree.

I didn't plant any of the fourteen holly trees on the manor. A lifetime ago, my grandfather purchased a male and a female holly and planted it in the lower corner of his yard. A walk through the nearby woods will show a person just how prolific those parent trees were. I'm sure my hollies are their progeny. 

When he purchased the home place, my cousin felled the holly trees. Holly trees can live well over 100 years and these two were probably about seventy and beginning to show their age. Even a light snow caused branches to break. We didn't want to wake up one morning and find our shared lane blocked by a fallen tree, and so I reluctantly agreed they had to come down at a time of our choosing. By then, I already had young, established trees. 

Will we have a little holly "baby boom" on the manor? It wouldn't be a bad thing. It would give me the chance to transplant a few young trees along the western stone fence to grow as a barrier to a neighbor who thinks target shooting into my hillside is okay. It's not. 

All we can do now is wait and see. Mother Nature can't be rushed.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

November 2, 2020

Of concern: The 2020 Election

Tomorrow is election day 2020. The candidates are incumbent President Donald Trump and Democrat hopeful Joe Biden. Trump is not a politician and Biden is nothing except a politician. 

The United States has been in turmoil for the last twelve years. My way of life, that of a peaceful rural existence where folks get along with each other, work hard, and still believe in God, has been under steady attack from people who believe we don't deserve what we worked hard to achieve. There are unrest and riots in the cities across this land. 

We rural dwellers are perhaps too complacent about this. We sit on our porches, the ones the rioters would take from us for whatever reasons they can create, and discuss the stupidity of burning your own community. It's not something we do. We value community far too much, and we value the individualism that makes our communities peaceful, safe places to live. 

Our individualism is under attack. It is suggested to us we have somehow wronged the millions of people we have supported through our tax dollars. You see, we rural dwellers don't have much of a problem paying our fair share, which under current tax laws is more than our fair share. We don't scream about it too much, but we do have a certain level of resentment about paying tax dollars that are used to help the less fortunate and then having those people throw it back in our faces that we're not doing enough. 

How is going to work every day not enough? How is giving to various charities not enough? How is being small business owners and offering jobs not enough? How is our churches offering programs for all children not enough? 

Never in my life have I witnessed such unrest. So many minds have been poisoned and for what? 

The late President John F. Kennedy's famous quote no longer resonates. "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country."  

We seem to no longer understand the meaning of those words. Of a vision of a country united. When we simply go about our daily lives, working to support each other, we are all elevated. I work and pay my taxes, giving a portion to support programs to help others. Should I not also be allowed to keep a portion for myself? Is it wrong that my parents and grandparents set aside a portion for me? Is it wrong that I in turn have set aside a portion for the younger members of my family? And that portion comes AFTER the tax portion paid for the good of all. According to some, my way of thinking is very wrong. 

The 2020 election is tomorrow. 

The 2020 election is tomorrow, and choices are severely limited. Due to the Covid 19 situation, I dropped my ballot at a collection location. The State of Maryland sent an email telling me my vote has been counted. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 29, 2020

Potato soup base

Having embraced the idea of being intentional about building a prepper pantry, it's become obvious how much money it's going to save us in the long run. It's not that we're destitute - far from it. We live debt-free. Being intentional is a freeing way to live. 

I am determined to make good use of the recently purchased pressure canner. I discovered that a bag of potatoes in the cellar were beginning to sprout, and my first thought when that happens is always potato soup. I consulted the Ball canning book for the instructions on how to can potatoes, and then took to YouTube to see how all the canners do it. 

The information was consistent for canning potatoes and soup. I'd be able to process the potatoes with a splash of chicken broth, onion, celery, and salt. The milk, or half and half, plus a dollop of butter will need to be added when the jars are opened and the soup made. I had enough potatoes for four quarts with a cup of de-fatted homemade broth in each. I topped off the liquid with boiling water, added the lids and rings, and processed the jars according to my canner's instructions. 

One of the jars siphoned on me. That is to say some of the liquid siphoned out before the lid sealed. There is still a lot of liquid in the jar, and the seal is good, but I put that jar in the refrigerator and we'll have potato soup in the next day or so. All we need is for Himself to bake up some nice, soft dinner rolls and we'll have a meal. 

In time's past, we may have used some of the potatoes before they sprouted too far to be used. With the canner, none got tossed into the woods for the wild ones. Plus, I have four dinners, or lunches, ready to go with minimal effort. I call that a win. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

**5/9/21 update: We decided we prefer to process only the potatoes in jars and add everything else for soup when it's time to make soup. 

October 27, 2020

A bit of autumn bloom

Earlier this year I accomplished something I long wanted - a knee wall at a problematic bank. Many, many years ago, the bank was created when we leveled the ground to form a parking area. Over time, rocks got tossed there and it became a problem area. There was no way to mow so the area needed to be weed-whacked. It wasn't a fun chore.

I asked my first husband to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.

I asked the next live-in to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.

I asked the current spousal unit to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.
And so I finally built it myself. 

I've always been capable of doing it, but that's not the point. The point is, and what I'll never forget or forgive, is how much easier it would have been if one of those men had deigned to use their male strength to lift and stack the stones. 

What I'll never forget or forgive is how none of those men would give me something I asked for and wanted badly enough to actually ask them to do it for me. I'll never understand why they never said they wouldn't do it, they just never did. Lazy, perhaps? Controlling me? I think so. 

That resentment is something I need to let go of. I did it myself. Maybe it was the universe driving home the point I can't depend on any man. 

But the universe has rewarded me with some autumn flowers. After the wall was built, I hopped on the John Deere 1023 and backfilled with some good composted soil, and scattered the contents of a few cheap seed packets on the fresh dirt. The results were slow to develop, but here at the end of 2020, I have zinnias and cosmos blooming. It's a pleasing sight to come home to. 

Next spring, I'll scatter seeds again and see what happens. And woe to the man who makes any comment, even to say I was right and the flowers on top of the wall are nice to see. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 25, 2020

Bittersweet along the creek

Almost at the top of the mountain above the manor is a spring known locally as Joshua Spring. Twenty years ago, I could go to the spring and bring home a gallon of pure water. Then some idiot who likely still doesn't realize just how stupid they are dumped trash at the entrance to the spring. The State barricaded the lane to the spring and that was that for most folks who went there for pure water. 

We're luckier than some. Joshua Spring puts out enough water to form a creek that comes down the mountain to join with the creek running through the family property. I've occasionally stepped down into the Joshua Spring creek for a drink of that special water. I've also entertained ideas of creating a splashing spot for Deuce but that hasn't happened yet. Maybe soon. 

Bittersweet bushes and vines grow in abundance on the far side of the little creek. I don't know much about the plant except that the lovely red and orange berries are poisonous if eaten. Lots of autumn flower arrangements and wreaths contain bittersweet, but handling the dried berries is pretty harmless. 

On a recent walk, we noted the abundance of bittersweet berries this year. Our weather this summer was reminiscent of the summers when we were younger and we are aware of the sensitivity of plants to the weather. We think it's because the airplanes weren't flying as much due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I'm sure the experts would argue that, but there it is. I believe it, but then again, I dislike airplanes, especially the ones that fly over my corner of the world and drop pollution on my trees. 

It's been many years since a bittersweet wreath has graced my front door. My mother made the wreath I had, but time and sun damage eventually claimed it. Perhaps after the leaves have dropped I'll be brave and cross the creek, climb the rocky bank, and harvest just enough berries to make a new wreath. It will last for many, many years, and be a connection to my mother who got her berries from the banks of Joshua Creek. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor