July 30, 2021

Drop back two and punt?

Life at the manor has taken a few twists and turns over the years. Sometimes we've been reacting more than proacting. When a loved one has health issues, you're often at the mercy of disease progression or disease treatment and that's simply the way it is. Other times, you can lay out a good plan and see it through to fruition. Sometimes your plans are thwarted by forces beyond your control. 

And sometimes, and this is the hard one, you come to realize that what you planned, what was your dream, is no longer feasible. You realize there isn't time to invest into working the plan or you come to the crossroads of where you've been versus the fact you've gone as far as you think you can with it. So it is with me and my writing career. 

Becoming a writer was a fluke. I was bored one day and I sat down in front of an old HP desktop that had a whopping big 256MB hard drive and a One Note program, and I started to tell a story. The damn thing snowballed on me and here I am, decades later, with a publishing history, blogs, social media, and book sales. Unreal. 

It became my plan to retire so I could write full-time. I lived for the moment! Now that I'm in the transition into total retirement, I'm wondering if that's what I really want to do. With so much that I love to do - walking, gardening, canning, quilting - do I want to sit at the computer for several hours a day? 

The publishing industry is one of constant change. Established writers get pushed back by new voices fueling different markets. Amazon only rewards megastars. Many, many, many good, solid writers get lost in the algorithms because that's the way Amazon makes more money. My own work is buried by the algorithms at Amazon. My sales are predominately at iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and a few other subscription services overseas.  

Even Facebook has begun to punish promotion. I belong to a lot of Facebook groups, and as I started to promo the release of July Heat, my posts went "into review" because I included buy links. 

Should I spend the time, months in fact, creating a good story only to have nothing become of it? Or should I spend my time, daily, enjoying Holly Tree Manor? As I transition into retirement, would my time be better spent rebuilding old friendships now that we all have more time to spend together without the constraints of jobs? 

I can't see my way to striking a workable balance. Maybe it will be clearer when I'm not "employed" even on a part-time, work-from-home basis. And maybe I'll have to drop back two and punt my way into something I've yet to imagine. 

Some days I'm just along for the ride, not steering the boat. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 28, 2021

That went surprisingly well

Himself wanted to create a dedicated shooting range. We're working on it but in typical male fashion, he needed (yes NEEDED) to test out his target backboard. To that end, we went to plink a few rounds.

Guess who "won?" 

Seriously, I whipped his ass. I suppose now he'll stop nattering at me to go plink with him. 


The Lady of Holly Tree Manor


PS. Note to any copperhead living nearby - I will find you. There is nowhere you can slither to escape me and Walther. 

July 26, 2021

Tractor work at the shooting range

We decided to create a designated shooting range. We've been killing bales of straw for a while now and making sure the occasional dead tree was really dead, but we felt it was time for something in a more protected location. The "west forty" has the perfect hillside for safety. 

We went back and forth a bit but eventually concluded that a stack of dead tree trunks strategically placed at the base of the hill would stop any bullet that went wide of the target. So will the hillside but we had the option of stacking the deadwood or burning it, and we chose to stack the solid lengths. Some were too far gone and those went to the burn pile. And some of those dead tree trunks are there temporarily and will end up as firewood in the stove some cold winter day. 

It may seem strange to some that we want a designated place to practice, but practice makes sure you can hit what you're aiming at - like the friendly raccoons and the not-so-friendly copperheads. Believe me when I say I'm more of a threat to society when I get behind the wheel of my car than when I'm target shooting. 

Putting in a range is a lot of hard, physical work. There's no way we could do it without having the John Deere 1023 with a Brush Crusher grapple. While Himself was running the tractor, I was lounging on the John Deere x370 shooting a few videos. I managed to piece them together and get them up on the YouTube channel. 

One thing I'm rather sure of is that I'll never make a good videographer.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 25, 2021

The deer munched the raspberries!


We have a small red raspberry patch growing behind our shed. I think it's remnants of my grandfather's berry patch that have gone wild. Last year I picked enough to make some lovely raspberry crepes one Sunday morning, and I planned to do the same this year. 

I checked on the berries every few days, delighted to discover there would be enough for the crepes and to put in the freezer for crepes in about six months. 

It was not to be. 

I checked them on a Saturday morning and told the Lord of the Manor that tomorrow was the day. I got up on Sunday and took a bowl to the patch and.....no berries. None. But there were fresh deer droppings everywhere. 

This fall I'm taking preventative measures. Those sneaky ladies will not rob me of one of my summertime treats again, no sir-ree. Not only will I fence the bushes, but I'm also going to start a few sets from the runners and fence those as well. There are only six bushes, but that's all I need. 

All you deer go find someone else's berries. These are mine!

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 24, 2021

Pantry prepping - canning ground beef

Yesterday, a trip to Walmart gave me a sticker shock. I was going to purchase a pack of 85/15 ground beef. I did not. Instead, I stopped at our local grocery and got it two dollars cheaper per pound. When a local store can undercut Walmart, I begin to think we may be in trouble. 

I bought thirteen pounds of 85/15 for $56.00. The same amount at Walmart would cost $71.00. 

What did I do with all that ground chuck? I pressure canned it. My Presto canner will hold sixteen wide-mouth pint jars. That's almost a pound a jar of shelf-stable meat in my pantry. I probably could have forced more into fewer jars, but I stuck to the amount of beef we typically use for spaghetti sauce. That's a good measure for us. Yours may be different. 

The National Center for Home Food Preservation gives instructions on how to safely can meats. If you want to can ANYTHING, that should be one of your "go-to" resources, along with the Ball book I've mentioned several times. Read and learn about the process so you do it correctly.

I even broke out the Ball lids for this project. I like the Tattler lids, but this was meat and I didn't want to risk operator error. 

I must confess I never thought I'd can any sort of meat, but times have changed. Inflation is running wild and all any of us can do is purchase wisely and practice whatever measures we feel necessary to save what we can. 

Will I go get more ground beef to can another batch? Not this weekend. Now I'll be on the watch for sales and then can another batch. 

Eat tomorrow at today's prices. Yep. That sounds like a good plan.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 23, 2021

Sunflowers - bright and sunny spot

 Thank you to whomever it is who plants the small plot of sunflowers along the highway. It's a lovely, cheery spot in an otherwise gray drive. 

This is the third or fourth year this patch has been planted but it's the first year I stopped to get a picture. And I no sooner got the picture than the plot was harvested. 

It makes me wish for a summer row of sunflowers but I know it's pointless to plant them. There are too many squirrels and birds around to even hope for any sort of harvest. 

I'll just have to settle for enjoying this patch for a few weeks as I whiz by on my way to some busy-ness. They do make me smile!

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 21, 2021

First time preserving blueberry pie filling

One of the local groceries had pints of blueberries, 4/$5.00. In our area, that's a really, really, really good deal. So I jumped on it. I like blueberries although Himself doesn't care much for them unless it's blueberry pie or cobbler. Not a problem. I got enough to make pie filling and to bag up in small portions for me. It's a win/win. 

It would have been a bigger win if the blueberries would have been locally grown, but it is what it is. I went for the deal.

Blueberry pie filling is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I used the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for my first attempt at this. Maybe next time I'll try a different recipe, depending on what I may find in the other canning books I have.

One thing I've noticed about the Ball book is that even if you measure exactly, you might not get the yield they say. Always have an extra jar ready. 

I have about half a jar of the pie filling left over. That's not enough to put in a jar and can, but it is enough to put over vanilla ice cream. Yep. This home canning has a lot of benefits. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 20, 2021

The high cost of love

My mother has Alzheimer's Disease. I have issues with God over it, being that my mother was a faithful prayer warrior. 

When you hear the talk about the high cost of nursing home care, don't shrug it off. It's not a lie. My mother's care is just under $12,000.00 a month. Believe me when I tell you she doesn't receive $12,000.00 worth of care a month. She may not even receive $12,000.00 worth of care in the entire year. 

I had a choice. I could care for my mother or care for my husband. Some days I think I made the wrong choice, but the reality is my mother needs specialized care I'm not equipped to give her. 

My mother refuses to walk. There's no physical reason for this, she just won't do it. She won't get out of bed on her own. They use a lift to put her in a wheelchair. Consequently, she spends a lot of time lying in bed. 

She's in a facility that, thankfully, won't discharge her when her money runs out, which won't be much longer. Once her money is gone, the taxpayers will foot the bill. 

Alzheimer's Disease is a horrible malady. 

July 17, 2021

It gets green in the woods

Brush piles happen. 

We are never without dead brush that needs to be burned. Air pollution, you cry! So are airplanes, I say! If you can pollute on your way to exotic vacations, I can burn brush. Didn't think of that, did you? 

My house and yard are an oasis surrounded by woods, which are part of my property. For many years the southwestern corner was designated as our "wilderness" area or sort of a bird sanctuary. Unfortunately, the local critters have become too comfortable being too close to the house. We've been waging a war with the local raccoon and we decided his cover has to go. We are cleaning up the wilderness area. 

This job wouldn't be possible if we hadn't gotten the Brush Crusher. The grapple is able to lift and carry large pieces of downed trees and drop them directly on the burn pile. It's amazing.  How different the manor would look if we'd had the tractor and grapple twenty-five years ago before cancer first entered our lives and his health began to decline. 

Google Earth view
But there is little to be gained wishing the past to be different. We are here today and we do what we can today. I look out the windows of my sunroom office and am amazed at the transformation taking shape after only two days. I'm very happy with it. We still need to do a little weed-whacking and move some large rocks to the stone fence, but it will get done. One of us will take the old Husquvarna mower in for a finer chopping of small sticks. This fall, I'll sow a lot of deep shade variety grass seed and see what we get in the spring. We'll finish our shooting range, but that's for another blog entry. 

The manor has long had a park-like feel to it, and this will add to our enjoyment of the property. Well, it won't make Rocket the Raccoon very happy to get the eviction notice, but I don't care. 

Take that! you little varmint!  

Or should we thank him for giving us the motivation to clear that section of the manor so WE can enjoy it? 


The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 14, 2021

Cowboy Candy - I've waited a year to make this!

I can put the blame on YouTube for my addiction to Cowboy Candy. It wasn't until I watched an episode of Living Traditions Homestead that I even heard about Cowboy Candy. I made a batch and it was down the rabbit hole from there. I processed several batches and enjoyed it over the long, cold winter. 

Cowboy Candy is great when mixed with cream cheese. I drain off the syrup, chop up the peppers, and mix. Crackers or raw veggies, the resulting spread packs just the right amount of punch to satisfy a snack craving. 

Earlier this year I started jalapeno peppers from seed and the result is that I have thirty-three plants all producing peppers. I anticipate being able to process multiple batches from my own garden. I'd like to make salsa, but we'll have to see how that goes. 

If you'd like to know a little more about Cowboy Candy and how I do it, check out my page here.  I do it about ninety percent by the Ball book, and about ten percent "rebel." 

Here's where I tell you to never go "rebel." The instructions to process food are in place for a reason, like so you don't die of botulism. My "rebel" is simply cooking the peppers a tad longer than required. 

Having home-canned food in the pantry is about more than just being prepared. It's about making some really tasty foods to enjoy. It's about preservative-free food and opening a jar of soup and having dinner ready in five minutes. It's worth a little bit of planning and a couple of hours here and there for a more varied menu. 

It definitely works for us. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 11, 2021


 Last summer, I built a wall

The small knee wall was something I always envisioned for a problematic area between the house and shed. It happens to be where I park the car and for decades it was an eyesore and a sore subject with me. I asked several men (ex-husband, a live-in boyfriend, the current spousal unit) and none of them was willing to do that much hard work. Ultimately, I did it myself.

Ultimately, the Lord of the Manor will never, I repeat NEVER, be absolved for not doing it. I ask for little, being quite self-sufficient, but I did ask for that. And he refused. It'll bite him in the ass one day, I assure you.

Last year I sprinkled the contents of a few cheap seed packets and got a bit of late summer bloom. This year, I bought a good quality pack of wildflower seeds and the wall is now exactly what I envisioned for so long. It's in full bloom and is gorgeous! I think next year I'll add a few herbs to the mix and see what happens. And next year I'll keep the seed envelope so I know what all the little flowers are because there are quite a few I don't recognize. 

It was worth an afternoon of very hard work and a lot of sweat to dry stack the rocks. Really, it was. I'm very pleased with the end result. But I can't help but think how much more it would mean if just one of those men had been willing to give me the gift of their time and strength. 

Apparently, not all of us are worth an afternoon.

No matter how pleased I am with the wall, it will always be tainted with my disappointment. It has made me examine other projects and figure in a factor for the same disappointment. I plan on doing things myself. 

So at what point does the man become nothing more than a millstone around the woman's neck? 

We are sometimes who we are forced to become, not the person we hoped to be. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 8, 2021

Kohler's Pig by Michael Sowa

Have you ever had an image reach into your being and tell you secrets about yourself?

Many years ago - many, many, many years ago - my best friend and I were doing a bit of "shopping" to while away the hours of a Friday night. Being the frugal sort, I rarely bought anything I didn't truly need, but those evenings were about spending time together more than our purchasing power. One night we walked into a home decorating outlet and saw Kohler's Pig by Michael Sowa. We were both immediately drawn to it. She purchased the print right away. I needed to think about it before I parted with that much cash. Ultimately, I went back the next morning and got a copy. 

I have no idea why it's entitled, "Kohler's Pig." It's never mattered to me. What mattered is the little pig. 

Quite a few of us have heard the expression, “when pigs fly!” (Well, if you live below the Mason-Dixon Line you know it.) This familiar southern expression is the essence of impossibilities. "When pigs fly" is the no way, no how, no when, ain't ever gonna come to pass and why would you think otherwise of a mundane life. 

My parents didn't use the expression, not in so many words, but I grew up believing they expected little of me. Consequently, I expected little of myself until I turned thirty and had the first of many epiphanies. 

Thank God for my grandparents, and for this anonymous little pig. 

So think about the pig leaping off that peer. 

After being told all her life she can’t fly, she proves them wrong. Let the naysayers keep telling her it’s not possible. She knows. 

It doesn’t matter she’s alone and no one sees her do it. She knows in her heart she can fly because for a few glorious moments, she did it. If even for a singular glorious moment, she did it! 

So many of my victories are like the little pig flying. They've happened in quiet secret moments experienced alone. Does that make them less valid? I think it makes them more so. 

I don't need false accolades and praise any more than I need to prove myself to others. Neither does the little pig. 

She hangs in front of me as I sit at my desk, a constant reminder that I know how to soar. No romantic spirit animal for me. No wolf, no bear, no bison, no fox, no coyote. Mine is the little pig who still speaks to me even after thirty years, reminding me we fly together. 

She knows. Fly on! 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

July 7, 2021

That did not go well, not at all

And so it came to pass that on June 26, 2021, after twenty-one years, I tindered my letter of resignation.

It did not go well. 

If you ever have the feeling that people do not listen to you, that they do not take your words seriously, let me tell you to not doubt that feeling. I've been talking about retiring since June of 2017. I must have been spitting in the wind. 

The upper echelons were, in a word, gobsmacked. They came as a group to see me so we could "talk it over." And so we did. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has forever changed our world. The change is maybe not what the creators of the virus hoped, at least not yet, but what they released on the people will have long-reaching effects. 

I, for one, will no longer be tied to working in a dingy little office in a downtown area that is rife with undesirables and crime. 

My employer counter-offered, and I agreed. 

During the 2020 lockdown, I proved I can do my job my way. Most of my job is now information gathering, disseminating, and sharing which can be done via email, and we all do email from wherever we are. 

Between now and May 31, 2022, I will be working mostly from home. I will be able to come and go at the in-town office as I choose. I know when I have to be there and when I don't, and they have acknowledged I know. 

I did not see this coming at me. I never imagined they would hand me continued employment on a silver platter, but they did. I will continue to work with full pay and benefits. They will search for my "replacement." I will stay on long enough to get her (or him) settled. 

I was willing to pay the ungodly cost of health insurance out of pocket to retire now, so whenever they find someone new will be fine. I'll have a bit of a reprieve from paying over a thousand dollars a month to continue my current health insurance. What a lie we were fed with the Affordable Care Act. 

It's been a lot to process. On the surface, it seems like an agreeable option but I confess to being disappointed in myself. This is not what I truly wanted. I'm acquiescing to the needs of others and not my own. It doesn't truly do me any harm to continue this way for a few months but I wish I would have "stuck to my guns."

No longer will I be forced to sit in the office with nothing to do, waiting on someone else to do their job so I can do mine. I can simply pack it up for the day and come home. If I have something going on at home, as I did today, I can either stay home all day or work a couple of hours in town. My choice. 

Maybe what bugs me is that during the lockdown of the pandemic, they didn't know if I was working from home or in town. I felt free of being under their thumb. Now I do not and therein lies the rub. 

We shall see how this new arrangement unfolds. 

No, it did not go as planned. Not. At. All.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor