September 29, 2020

Tiny houses

I've always wanted a greenhouse. My grandfather used cold frames, but I prefer not to kneel, bend over, or sit on the wet ground to tend seedlings. Pop did it but he was a tough old guy. I'm a wimp. I'd rather stand.

There are so many things I've wanted to do over the years, but working full time, and then my partner's health, precluded them. Until I can simply hop in my car and go, travel is out. To travel with a person who has mobility issues is a lot of work - let me repeat that: A LOT OF WORK. They travel. You're a pack mule. 

Having a greenhouse is a lot of work, too, to fully utilize its potential so I've gone small. I've purchased a tiny house, about five feet by five feet square and about six feet high in the center. It has four shelves for seedling trays and should be all I really need for the scale of gardening I'm about to undertake.

Like what Pop did with the cold frames, I'll be able to start seeds about six to eight weeks before our "official" last chance of frost date, which is May 10 to May 15 depending on who is doing the talking. I always picked the weekend between the two to plant, the weekend being when I was home. If you're in tune with the season, you know if the chance of frost is past. It's in the air. 

This past Sunday, we unboxed and erected my tiny greenhouse. The instructions were cryptic, but we laid everything out to study the parts and it suddenly made sense. The frame went together with no missing parts, but getting the covering on? That was a bit of work. I had to go inside the greenhouse to line the cover up with the frame and it was hot in there! 

Yep. It will make little seedlings very happy. I used to have a good number of large pots around the patio that I planted with annuals. It's been a few years since I've set them out due to the price of annuals. I'm not paying fifty-cents per plant. Now, for around a dollar, I can start my own from seeds and fill the pots again. Red salvia, zinnias, impatiens, coleus, dianthus, portulaca, marigolds, lobelia, ageratum, alyssum, dusty miller, lantana, and a lot more have all graced my patio. By next spring I'll have to decide on perhaps four and set the color scheme of the year. 

In with the flowers will also be some veggies. I discovered something called Cowboy Candy this year and high on my list are jalapeno peppers, along with tomato and a smattering of other things, all container grown. Starting the veggies from seed will be a boon. A pack of 30 seeds costs less than one single plant at the nurseries around here. The tiny greenhouse will pay for itself in one season. 

Another good thing about the tiny greenhouse is that it is mobile. If I find it needs to be in a better location, I can literally pull up stakes and move it. It can be disassembled and stored each winter. And what if I decide I want a permanent structure? I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 28, 2020

The old pond

It's good to have a few years under my belt. I remember things the youngsters around me don't. They never had the chance. The other side of that coin is they'll learn things I never will as their lives progress and I'm gone. 

That seems sad to me. We are our experiences, knowledge, and skills, and we take all of that with us when we leave this earthly realm. All our uniqueness is gone. Perhaps that's why I started this blog - to chronicle a lifestyle I see fading. Fewer and fewer people seem able to embrace life in a rural setting.  

One of the things my younger cousins don't know about is the old pond. Back in the winter of 1990, it still had water in it. Since then, it developed a leak and the water drains away. It's spring-fed and by no means dry, it just won't hold water now. Being the curious sort, I've learned the basin is very soft mud. 

At one time, the old pond was home to the usual denizens you'd find in a pond. It even had nesting ducks in the summer. The pond was a favorite destination when I fancied a long walk in the woods. Even in winter, or especially in winter, it was easy to spot a wide variety of animal footprints around the pond. 

And so it's gone now, but the memory of that magical spot remains. At least for me. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor


September 25, 2020

The Strawberry Jar

It's nothing extraordinary to admit we like strawberries. Unlike a lot of people in the country, I have to admit I can't grow them. Or rather, I've not been able to grow them up to this point in my life. I'm not done with trying. There's always next year, and the year after, and the year after...

At some point in my life, my grandmother gave me her strawberry jar. My grandfather gave me seven strawberry sets of an "ever-bearing" variety, and I planted them in the jar. Nothing. The plants died just to spite me.

In subsequent years we tried again. We tried strawberries in a raised bed, which worked but did nothing to discourage the birds from eating the harvest. We tried making a tiered planter and covering it with a thin cloth. It stopped the birds but not the bugs. 

The bottom line is we've not given up. We acknowledged that strawberries are something that needed to wait until we were both home all day, i.e., retired. That time is just around the corner. I think our decision is to try the tiered bed again. If it still doesn't work, the tiers will look good planted in annuals. 

But what did I do with my grandmother's strawberry jar? 

My grandmother's favorite color was red. She was the first person to tell me to always wear red. (I've since learned my coloring is "winter," meaning reds, pure white, blackest blacks, and cool tones rather than pastels look best on me.) Mam loved red flowers, in particular red begonias (wax plants). And that has been my solution for many years.

Every year, the strawberry jar is planted with six red begonias with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in the top. I do this as a remembrance of a woman who loved me well and taught me so much. The strawberry jar sits beside the walk, and so at least twice a day I'm reminded of her. 

I think it's a good thing. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 23, 2020

"A treasured memory is the gift of time"


I saw a quote on Twitter that immediately took me back to a halcyon summer day when I was around ten or twelve. Isn't it strange that the phrase, "treasured memory" took me to that singular day? No, it's not. That's what treasured memories are - singular moments in time. 

I remember the day so well. My cousin Linda was staying at my house for a few days (we traded back and forth between our homes all summer long). My mother had taken a few vacation days and we three "girls" needed an adventure. We decided to take a drive to Cunningham Falls State Park and walk back to the falls.

The falls at Cunningham Falls State Park isn't anything spectacular, but they are very picturesque. Catoctin Creek meanders its way through the park, a shallow stream beloved by fishermen. Like many creeks, it's rarely deep but it is rocky and wide. It feeds the falls with its clear icy water. 

Once we were at the falls, one of us and I think it was me, thought it would be fun to climb to the top of the falls. Now, this is only about twenty feet and it's a shallow climb on the right side. So up we went and we sat in the sun for a while. Then one of us and I know it was not me, suggested we mosey upstream, rock-hopping. So we did. 

We played in the woods for a couple of hours and then took the paved road back down to the car. That one day stands out in my memory. A perfect day spent with the two people who were most important in my life at that time. 

My cousin Linda and I still talk about that day. Our lazy days are long behind us. We have spouses and responsibilities, but we also have treasured memories. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 22, 2020

Autumnal equinox

The word equinox comes from two Latin words  - "aequus" which is "equal," and "nox" which is "night." Obviously, equal hours of night and day, light and dark, occur at the autumnal equinox. But it's more than that. 

The autumnal equinox is not an all day event. It occurs at the specific time the sun crosses the celestial equator. In the year 2020, that occurred at 9:31 AM, Eastern Daylight Time. The fall equinox brings the promise of the new season at the end of summer, the loss of humidity (thank heavens!), and cool evenings spent on the porch watching the leaves fall. 

Being it is the year 2020, I've heard plenty of quips that this fall is actually the fall of civilization, but no. It's autumn - the best time of the year. 

Did you know the actual date of the fall equinox can vary? It's usually on September 22, but due to the earth's orbit and the Gregorian calendar, it can change. It actually takes the earth 365.25 days to orbit, so the equinox is generally six hours later than the prior year. Then leap year happens and sets it back a day. A September 21 equinox hasn't occurred for several millennia, but it will happen in the year 2092. I think a lot of us will miss that one. A September 24 equinox hasn't happened since 1931, and won't happen again until 2303. So we're stuck with bouncing back and forth from September 22 and 23. 

This year on the manor, the maple leaves are turning right on time. Yesterday, I was walking out the lane and looked up to find the top leaves in one of the big maples had turned yellow and orange. Small beginnings herald what will become a storm of leaves. 

Already the evenings are too short. I got busy and did a last minute task, that being painting the ramp to the front porch. The sun had dipped when I started and it was actually chilly working without it. Thankfully, it was a quick job and I'm glad it's finished. I never run out of things to paint.

Even chilly, it was good to be outside in the fresh autumn air. It allowed me to bend over and dip the brush in the paint without sweating into the open paint can. Some things are simple pleasures even as they're annoying chores. 

It's a downward slide to winter from here, but it's a journey we'll savor. Autumn truly is a blessed season. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 18, 2020

Apple snitz

dried apple rings

My great-grandparents had very little material wealth. They were well into their seventies when I was born so I have no memory or knowledge of what Grandpap did for a living as a younger man if indeed he did anything. My mother and grandmother did not hold him in much esteem, I do know that. 


Grandma was a worker. She had a large garden, raised chickens and rabbits, and she made quilts that were very much in demand. I can't remember how many of the older women in our community would see me out walking the dog and come to the road to chat, and part of that talk was to say they had a quilt Mary made for them. Come Saturday morning, my grandparents would be up early to take Grandma to the City Market where she had a booth. If my mother's help was needed, I had to go along. I confess I still do not like to rise at five in the morning. In the fall, one of the items Grandma sold was apple snitz.

Grandma had an old Heatrola heater in her house. She'd lay a couple of clean feed sacks on the top of the Heatrola and turn it on to its lowest setting.
vintage Heatrola
Then she'd spread apple slices on the feed sacks to dry them. She was rather stingy with them when I asked for one. They were a product for sale, you see. I remember my mother shaming her by buying a bag of them for me at the market. Giving a six-year-old two snits would hardly have affected the bottom line and Mom told her that. Come to think of it, Mom didn't let me spend as much time at Grandma's house after that, and she lived next door. I was soon staying with a neighbor who had kids around my age while Mom was at work. 

These days, food dehydrators have replaced the Heatrola - and that's a good thing. It's a wonder Grandma didn't burn the house down. It's apple harvest time so my thoughts returned to apple snitz and so I made my own. I didn't slice the apples into thins; I cored them and used a mandolin to slice them into rounds. I put them in the dehydrator for forty-eight hours and stored them in a clean Mason jar. They'll last quite a long time stored this way. 

A quick little snack, a taste of childhood, on a chilly autumn evening. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 17, 2020

Gratitude in a September walk

Last Sunday I went for a walk in the woods across the road from my house. I'm grateful it's parkland and no houses can be built there. The manor is in a conservation district which means there isn't room for any houses on my side of the road, either. I'm grateful for that, too. 

I walk in those woods frequently, but every walk brings something different. On this walk I saw a little wildflower growing out of a stump, bright orange toadstool/mushroom fungus growing at the base of a tree, and an old tree limb with white mold or whatever growing on it. None of it is new to me, but I was grateful I got to see and photograph all of it. 

I also spotted a few red leaves on the tips of a maple tree branch. Autumn is coming and I'm ready to embrace cooler days. With my life-long dream of spending my days on the manor about to come 
true, autumn is the very best time for new beginnings. 

Now it's time to work on the dream of turning an unused bedroom in my house into a butler's pantry. I can't wait to see all my stockpots, baking dishes, and small appliances on a shelf we can both easily access as we get older. No more climbing onto a step stool or going up and down the basement stairs. 

Life at Holly Tree Manor has always been good, and now it will be better. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

A short video of our babbling brook:

September 15, 2020

The many colors of 2020

Many of us will remember the year 2020 not for our many blessings but for the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It became known as COVID-19 after being identified in China in December of 2019. 

In our current political climate, specifically, the leftist push to erase centuries of the United States' history and replace it with rhetoric more favorable to their views, I wonder how long it will take for the truth about COVID-19 to be bastardized. 

The media pushes the idea that this virus is more deadly to anyone who is not Caucasian. They insist white people are somehow to blame for ALL the misfortunes of others. That may have been true in the 1400 to 1600 hundreds, but is it still true today? It fits their agenda to say so.

How will we look back and remember 2020? How will we remember 2021? COVID-19 isn't going away at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2020. 

Here at Holly Tree Manor, we recognize how very fortunate we are to live in a very rural location. We are buffered from casual contact with others by our woods. The Liberals would probably accuse us of using our "white privilege" to stay safe. What bullshit. 

We used our "white privilege" to work hard for fifty years, pay our debts, put money aside for retirement, and pay our taxes so those less fortunate could receive tax money for food and other necessities. Ceasar taking our money to pass to the poor. Is that not a manner of tithe? 

That was our privilege, that we worked to keep our American society strong. That those our money was supposed to help squandered the opportunities provided is not our doing. 

It's not a surprise that those who cry they are still in slavery feel that way. Debt is the modern-day slavery. If you've created debt, you've put yourself there. Being debt-free is being free. The color of my skin did not teach me that. Working hard did. 

These days I peer at the world from behind a facemask. Never would I have expected to do so. To be safe in the United States, I must hide from others. This is not a future ever envisioned. 

Nor was a future where all my years of hard work has been thrown back in my face, and I have, in fact, been criticized for that hard work which gave money (opportunity) to those less fortunate. 

The year 2020 has not unfolded well. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 14, 2020

The Peeping Tom

The manor is host to many forest dwellers, including insects. Moving with deadly quiet among them is the secretive praying mantis. 

As a child, I was frightened of them. With their prehistoric appearance, I suppose I feared being bitten after my grandfather warned me a mantis will bite. I still won't handle one, much preferring to get a broom to move them when necessary. The females don't seem to fly well and the males don't want to budge, so a ride on a broom to a safer location is sometimes necessary. We don't kill them as they are very beneficial to have in and around any sort of garden.

This fellow, or lady, has been hanging around, literally, on the patio screens all summer. Smart little bug that it is, it must know the screens provide easy meals. Flying insects hit the screens and get stuck. All he needs to do is amble over and grab his snack. 

This morning I was treated to the praying mantis doing his peeping tom impression on the kitchen window screen. It was a helluva sight to behold before my morning coffee.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 13, 2020

A Blue Ribbon result

Here on the manor, we have what we refer to as breakfast adventures. We love to try new recipes that sometimes even work! We've watched cooking shows for years on networks, and now we watch a lot of cooking channels on YouTube. 

We like YouTube better. Fewer, shorter ads, and you can back up to rewatch if necessary.

Back in the day, we used to watch Paula Deen, and then her sons, Jamie and Bobby. Both had their own shows, but we feel Paula was always better. But Jamie had a couple of recipes we tried and kept, one being a sausage breakfast casserole. 

The casserole is a basic sausage, milk, onion, pepper, cheese, and egg liquid concoction poured over bread, and baked. We changed a few things, such as we don't use an entire onion (it would send both of us running for an antacid) and instead of using whole slices of bread, I use bread cubes.

Here's the thing. We hate to waste anything. You know how you get down to the last two slices of bread in the loaf and no one will eat them? Here's what you do. 

Save the loaf wrapper. Cut the bread into cubes, drop back into the wrapper, and freeze. Keep adding to the wrapper every time you get down to those last slices and pretty soon you will have a loaf of bread cubes. When that happens, it's time to make breakfast casserole or a French toast bread pudding. When we do that, it means three breakfasts go to into the freezer for the future. Cook once, eat four times. What's not to love about that? 

This morning's casserole came out perfect! I was both surprised and pleased with how well it baked and even more pleased with how it tasted. Will it turn out that way the next time? Probably not, but that's okay. Life on the manor isn't measured by achieving perfection. It's measured by the appreciation of both success and failure. 

That's why country living is the only way for me to live. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 12, 2020

A fun new tool for on the Manor

The year 2020 being what it is, I've had to wait, wait, wait to receive items I've ordered. Time was, if I wanted a Stihl product, it would be on the shelf for immediate purchase. Not this year. It took four months to get this little gizmo - a Stihl GTA26. 

I think they call this thing a pruner. We call it a baby chain saw. It's lightweight and battery-powered. A very cool addition to our arsenal.  

I probably shouldn't rant about the local Stihl dealer, which is also our John Deere dealer, but I think I will. 

What a pack of misogynists! When a woman walks in the door, they all stop and glare. I'm not militant but damn. I get pissed off every time. But the spousal unit insisted we go there instead of taking a day trek to a dealership about an hour away (which would have been a pleasant afternoon drive). 

But - pandemic. COVID-19. Gotta stay close to home. 

When I told the guys at the John Deere/Stihl dealership what I wanted they said 'no problem, we'll get it ordered'. Sure they did. They ordered a big, very expensive full-sized chainsaw. Yes, I'd like to have one of those someday, but not that day. I not-so-politely told them no, and don't try to work an up-sell on me again. I want a GTA26 and if you won't get it for me, the people in W---r or F---k will. 

I've got my baby chainsaw and I like it. 

The (not-so-ladylike) Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 11, 2020

August lilies in September

We've always had August lilies. I don't know much about them but I think they're part of the hosta or plantain family. I love them, but so do the deer. It can be a problem.

Years ago, my grandmother gave me the first plant. From there, I divided the plant every other year until, no matter how much I loved them, I was overrun with August lilies. That's when the deer took notice. Over the course of a few years, they managed to kill a lot of the plants. Not to be beaten by a bunch of tick-hosting miscreants, I started over. 

These days the August lilies are thriving up close to the house. They shine best when planted in a row, but the strategic spots behind the house work as well, although I do miss looking across the yard on nights when the moon is full and seeing their white trumpets gleam.

Sometimes we need to settle for our memories as we nurture bits of the past in the present.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

Regrown celery

Some time ago, I learned it's possible to regrow celery from a purchased stalk. When I first saw the pictures on Pinterest, I was intrigued - and a little skeptical. I went to the fridge, whacked off the celery root, and stuck it in a cup of water. Within a day or two, it was sending up new growth. In due time I planted it in a pot and watched it grow. My first impression was that even if it didn't grow celery I could eat, it was a lovely green plant. I've been playing with celery ever since. That all changed this summer. 

Earlier in the year, I invested in some grow-bags to serious about growing some of my own vegetables. I've been growing celery in flower pots but the grow-bags are a much better home for any veggie.

This past Tuesday, I harvested three celery plants. The ribs were diced, blanched, and frozen for in soups and stews. The leaves were dehydrated for the same purpose. 

What amazed me was on Wednesday morning I discovered the oldest plant had responded to being harvested by quickly growing another four inches. With any luck, I'll get another harvest before cold weather descends. 

Here on the manor, we enjoy trying different things. Some things work and some things don't work, but we always manage to smile and get on with our day.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 9, 2020

Tractor Time - the 200 hour service

Being able to afford a compact John Deere 1023E has been a godsend here on the manor. It's a sturdy little machine and perfect for the size of our property and our needs. It may not have all the whistles and bells of larger tractors, but our needs are basic: a bucket, a backhoe, a snowblower, and a set of recently added pallet forks. From cutting firewood, to digging out stumps, to clearing our long lane of snow, the John Deere 1023 has worked for us.

This weekend past, we finished the two-hundred-hour service on the tractor. It's taken us six years to put two-hundred hours of use on the tractor but we can't measure the amount of back-breaking labor it has saved us from. 

 A couple of weekends ago, we changed the coolant and the oil. Getting off the ground is difficult for him, so I crawled under the tractor and did it. This time, for the hydraulic fluid, he decided he needed to be the one under the tractor. 

I lowered the outriggers to raise the rear of the tractor, shoved blocks under the rear tires, and set John down. Setting it on blocks was safer on relying on the outriggers to hold. Once the job was finished, we had to get him off the ground and back into his power chair. That was the worst part of the job. Every move needed to be carefully orchestrated and executed or else we would have needed to call for help. He made it and we went on with our day. Even Deuce was happy to have the job done.

We try to always be self-sufficient, and frugal, here on the Manor. His many years of experience as an auto mechanic has served us well. His mobility is limited but not his brain. I know enough about engines and equipment to take direction well. It works for us. Will it continue to do so? One can only hope. 

It may be another six years before we need to perform the four-hundred-hour service on the tractor. As the year 2020 has taught us, a lot can change in a short time. I hope I'm still living on the manor when that time comes. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 7, 2020

Rule of trees

Here on the Manor, one thing we never need to buy is firewood. The Manor is three acres in size, two of which are wooded. Before I built my house, my father, grandfather, and I worked long days and evenings to clear a large enough space for a house, well, and septic system. In the years since the cleared area has grown some making the house and yard an oasis in the woods. 

The woods are precious to me. Who doesn't like the shelter of trees, the brilliant fall colors, and free firewood? There are enough large limbs dropped every year to keep the woodstove burning. Sitting beside the woodstove, watching the fire, is a simple country pleasure.

We lose one or two mature trees a year be it from age or storm damage to keep the woodpile at a healthy level.  Sometimes what falls to the ground isn't large in diameter, but even the smaller limbs are put to use as kindling to start a fire or to renew it in the morning. 

Of course, it is inconvenient when a branch falls across the driveway. When that happens, I need to cut it up and stack it, and toss what really can't be of use on the brush pile, whether or not I'm in the mood to work firewood. When you live in the woods, the trees rule. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 6, 2020

Pepper's last bud

last bloom on the bell pepper
The ability to grow peppers has eluded me all my life- until this year. My family has a long tradition of gardening but I got short-changed on the gene. I've tried and tried to grow decent green bell peppers but it's been to no avail. But this year, I did it. 

I planted two different varieties of peppers side-by-side in grow bags. Was that the trick?  Who knows? But I did get a small pepper harvest, enough to freeze several ziploc bags for use in cooking. I couldn't do it today, but I hope to make up several batches of Potatoes O'Brien for in the freezer. It's nice to know I have the peppers ready to go. 

The peppers didn't grow to a large size, but size was not my measure of success. The fact the plants produced at all was a victory. Maybe the young doe eating the top out of the one was a factor in the pepper size, too. I've got a few ideas on how to improve the pepper harvest for next summer. I've even gone as far as to save some seeds to see if I can get them to sprout in the spring. 

Peppers were not a crop my grandfather grew. Oh, he had a plant or two so my grandmother could add fresh pepper to her rather famous potato salad, but that was about it. I'd be willing to bet my mother never cooked with a pepper her entire life. I certainly do not remember them being in the house when I lived with my parents. Where my love of peppers came from is a mystery. 

I thought the peppers were finished but then today I noticed one more bloom. Does it have time to form a pepper? I doubt it, but I'll let the plant work and see what happens. 

So we shall see if the summer of 2021 will be a good year for green peppers. Maybe I can build on the success of this year and raise a pepper worthy of stuffing. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 4, 2020

Not sure what this is

weird white growth on cut maple logs
Even though I've lived on this mountain all of my life, I still, occasionally, come across something odd. Case in point, there is something weird growing on one of the woodpiles. I really don't know what it is, and I've never seen it before. I'm wondering if we should burn the woodpile right where it is and not in the woodstove. That may be the prudent thing to do. 

We've had a lot of rain in the last two weeks, so my best guess is it's powdery mildew, something that is annoying but not dangerous. In fact, it's one of the most common plant "ailments" out there. It doesn't actually hurt live trees, and in the sealed woodstove, won't hurt us, either. 

But it is a bizarre sight, like snow on the logs in September. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

September 3, 2020

A spot of trouble in the compound

repair truck
Rural living is the only way for me to live, but it occasionally hits a snag. Case in point - we recently lost electricity for no apparent reason. I called the power company and they came to investigate. They found that our thirty-eight-year-old cable had somehow developed a pinhole and water got in and grounded it out. The result - no electricity. 

I'm grateful the power company personal responded so quickly. I have a fully loaded freezer and I need to keep those food stores safe. Plus, if we get a hard rain, I need for the sump pump to be able to cycle. Our solution to a no-power situation is to start the generator. 

If necessary, we can live on generator power for quite a long time, at least until we use up all the gasoline in the cans. We won't need to do that, this time, but it's a reminder that we need to stay prepared. There's never a good reason to let our guard down. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor