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