March 27, 2021

A peep in the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 26, 2021

Cat and dog, dog and cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, dog and cat. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 24, 2021

A lighting upgrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 20, 2021

A reliable, hardworking tool - the log splitter

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

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

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

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

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 18, 2021

This is going into the menu rotation: Hamburger Hash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, my, was it delicious! 

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

The Lady of the Manor

March 16, 2021

I hit the X!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 12, 2021

I don't often see this - stunted daffodils

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

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

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

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 11, 2021

Volunteer crocus are always welcome

The first crocus of 2021 are open! I didn't plant them where they are but that hardly matters. I was delighted to spot them on my afternoon walk. 

I used to have a lot more crocus scattered about the manor, and I think I'll purchase a bag or two of bulbs the next time I see them. Driving up to the house and seeing the crocus blooming in a wave across the woods gave me a happy feeling. I'm sure now that I'm home more, seeing crocus happily blooming everywhere will make me even happier! 

Seeing the crocus tells me it's time to start paying attention to what's coming up. The little blue snow glories should make an appearance any day now. They've multiplied over the years to where they make quite a showing. I've thought, many times, I need to dig a few of those tiny bulbs and plant them at the top of the lot. They will self-seed and like all plants, the seeds tend to do better heading down a hill. 

It really is the simple country pleasures that make life enjoyable, at least at Holly Tree Manor. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 10, 2021

Legal gun ownership in Maryland

Both the spousal unit and I grew up around guns. We were both taught proper respect and handling at an early age. The men in my family were predominately military and hunters, the men in his family military with only a few hunters. We recognize guns, or any weapon, are tools to be used properly.

We've been hearing for years - most of our lives if the truth be told - that it needs to be more difficult to buy a legal firearm. For whom exactly? What fucking idiot believes a criminal will try to legally purchase a firearm? 

Second amendment rights? YOU BET. The second amendment is about the right to overthrow the government if it seizes too much power away from the people. The part that says the people have the right to bear arms to use to do this is the problem politicians have with it. Think long and hard about that. 

Disarm the populace and politicians don't need to fear the populace. Think long and hard about that. 

But this isn't about skanky politicians beyond the fact that they're desperately trying to make it more difficult for a law-abiding citizen to have a gun.

I'm getting a license to purchase a handgun. 

I plan to purchase more than one and stockpile some ammo.

I would prefer the spousal unit to get the license, but he's disabled. Getting him to be digitally fingerprinted, to a safety class, to the firing range, etc., isn't possible. Handicapped accessibility my ass. Where would that be? And so it falls on me.

We live in the woods. Last summer a raccoon strolled onto the patio in broad daylight. Himself was trapped, unable to flee the beast or to defend himself. I was at work and called the Sherriff's department to help him. What a fucking joke. No help came. I got home as quickly as I could and got him to safety.


Raccoons out in the daylight are generally rabid. This can't happen again. He will have a handgun in his saddlebag for his own protection. 

I have to assume all you folks who want handguns melted down would rather see him die a horrible, agonizing death from rabies than protect himself. I don't think much of you and your ilk. 

Getting a license to purchase a handgun in Maryland isn't all that easy, nor is it cheap. You need to get digitally fingerprinted- $50 and up. You need to take a safety class - $100 and up. You need to fill out an application - $10 and up. Cost of the firearm - $300 and up. 

I'm not a criminal. I don't have a criminal record. A criminal has to do nothing but pay someone for a gun. 

As a law-abiding citizen, I must endure a protracted and expensive process to obtain a weapon for my family's protection. 

The reason for that? The money it generates for the government. 

Follow the money - always. Think about that. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 9, 2021

Our littlest holly tree is doing okay

The winter of 2020 is mere days away from being officially over. We have twelve days to go until the spring equinox and I must say I'm definitely ready for it. 

The littlest holly on the manor (that I'm aware of, anyway) survived the winter in fine style. I'm happy to note it has grown a good bit since I first discovered it. I'm guessing it doubled in size since last April.

If I were brave I give it a shot of fertilizer but I need to go do some reading about hollies first. Even a little might be too much, or it may encourage too much growth too fast. It's always better to admit what you don't know and remedy your lack of knowledge. 

Over the coming days, Deuce and I will once again fight our way along the old tractor path to the southwest corner of the manor. When we get there, I'll be on the lookout to see if any other hollies are growing and mark them with reflectors so that as we clear the old path, we don't remove any youngsters by mistake. What would Holly Tree Manor be without holly trees?

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 7, 2021

The first seeds of 2021 are planted


Yesterday was a busy day here on the manor. Saturdays are frequently filled with bits and pieces, drips and drabs of chores, and other small items that need attention. Most Saturdays it's a shared half-hour over a cup of coffee and we set off in our own directions for a few hours. I had one thing on my "must do" list and that was plant pepper seeds. 

There was a more pressing item, however, and I did see to that as soon as I had on shoes. We had to replace the sump pump this past week and the discharge hose needed to be secured, something I didn't do the other night. Because it was night. Like after ten o'clock. Why do these things always wait until after dark to go bad? We had a replacement pump on hand, but could it not have waited until the weekend to die? Nooooo. Anyway, I securely zip-tied the discharge hose and moved on to playing in the dirt. 

It's been a good many years since I tried to have more than a pot or two of tomatoes. Last year I had some small success with tomatoes, peppers, and a cucumber vine, enough so that I'm expanding this year. I have seeds for peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, pumpkin, and watermelon, as well as a few herbs which I plant every year. Basil is a wonderful plant to have on the patio. 

I found some small seed starter trays that have a dial in the lid to help humidity escape. They seem like a good idea for me since I've had issues with damping-off in previous years. Each planter has twelve sections. I planted bell pepper seeds dried from last year, Ring Leader jalapeno, Biker Billy hot peppers, and Great Stuff sweet peppers. I hope the mix of Ring Leader and Biker Billy will make some awesome cowboy candy. If, of course, the usual curse of being able to grow peppers was truly broken last summer. We shall see.

I also have a new celery re-grow started. In just a day it's sending up a bit of new growth. It will join the other three re-grown stalks in the greenhouse in about two weeks. 

The plan for today is to plant the basil and dill seeds in cherry red pots that I'll keep in the sunroom for the next several weeks. Once the sprouts are of a size to have good leaves, I'll transfer them to the greenhouse for a few more weeks, and then it will be time to set them on the patio to enjoy and harvest.

Also on the agenda is to put together three more racks/trellises to support growing veggie plants this summer. I'd also like to get the snowblower off the John Deere 1023, and my grow bags filled with a soil mix. Things go so much smoother when you stay ahead of what needs done. 

Spring is an exciting time on the manor. We know we won't accomplish everything in one weekend, but sometimes we try. Stay tuned. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 6, 2021

Canning "homemade" chili

Observing my grandmother as she home-canned food was one thing. Doing it myself is something altogether different. Mam made it look so easy - and it is, up to a point. I never appreciated the time that goes in to stocking the pantry with a variety of homemade foods, but I know it's worth every minute spent.

Mam used to pressure can venison. That's not something I'm likely to do unless the world keeps going the way it is and we can't purchase beef. At that point, the small herd of deer that passes through the manor every day on their way to the creek might be at risk, but that's another story. Today's story is about canning homemade chili, or chili con carne if you insist. 

Our chili is homemade only in that we open the store-bought cans at home. We start by browning two pounds of lean ground beef and then draining and rinsing it before dumping it in the pot. Then we add beans - kidney beans, black beans, and white beans (cannellini or great northern). After that, in goes diced tomatoes, one can of cream of tomato soup, and lately, a can of chili starter. Seasonings to taste follows as the chili warms.  As you can tell from the picture, I'm not brand specific. I look for bonus buys and advantageous bulk buys on canned goods. 

Into the stockpot it all goes until everything is heated through. Since this batch was to be processed, I didn't allow it to simmer for hours. Once in the jars, it needs to be pressure canned for ninety minutes and I think precludes the need for simmering. 

I ended up with enough chili to fill six one-quart jars, so I added a jar of water to fill up the canner. This becomes a jar of sterilized water which is handy to have for first aid or water-quality failures. Think about that one. You'll note I used a Tattler lid on the jar of water. 

Canning a batch of chili was a labor-intensive process, but well worth it. I'll do it again once this batch has been consumed. I won't tell you how to do it. I recommend you go to the food preservation website and read the information on canning meat found there.

What I will tell you is that I continue to be in awe of my maternal grandmother. She taught me so much without me ever realizing I was getting a lesson. Sometimes I'm sad I have no one to whom I can pass on her knowledge, but that's the way it is. I have no connection to the future, only the past. Which makes my life a rosy place to dwell.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

March 5, 2021

Have we made it?

 Have we made it through to spring 2021? I'd like to think so. In fact, we're counting on it. 

Getting a snowfall in March is not uncommon where we live. Getting one that drops more than an inch or three is a bit rare. Just a couple of inches is an annoyance, not an inconvenience that restricts my travel. 

The time has come. The snowblower is coming off the John Deere 1023 and the loader and bucket are going back on. 

I'm willing to roll the dice this year. 

We'll just have to wait and see how it works out. Maybe I'll get a video of the removal procedure. Something else we'll have to wait and see about. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

**Update - the video didn't happen this year. The man spewing out curses in the middle of things isn't something I want recorded for sharing. Maybe next time.**

March 1, 2021

And sometimes we get an "oops"

The spousal unit frequently cooks for us, and when he sets himself to the task, he can do rather well. Over the last several years he's started to bake bread and has branched out to English muffins, biscuits, hamburger rolls, dinner rolls, and now pita pockets. It's sort of amazing to me that he decided to start baking just as I decided to cut back on carbs, especially breads. Maybe that's another blog entry for some distant day. 

Some of his inspiration comes from YouTube channels. If he sees it being done it makes sense to him. A printed recipe is not a "how to" as far as he's concerned. I agree.

So it was pita pockets the other day and it turned into an expensive endeavor for him. 

The enamel over cast iron skillets do not come cheap. 

Never use a rubber spatula in a hot skillet. If you melt it, the rubber won't come off and it's not something we should ignore and subsequently ingest. 

The new skillet is on the way. He's paying for it. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor