October 19, 2021

Lemon Balm salve

Lemon balm is a member of the mint plant family. It was one of the first things I planted back in 1981 when I first moved onto this piece of property. It takes a lot to kill it off once it's established but continually mowing it off will do it. My first husband didn't like where I planted it so he mowed over it every week. "Ex" is for many reasons. But I digress... I have a nice new patch planted this year. It will eventually be the centerpiece of an herb garden.

Lemon balm is also a medicinal herb. For my purposes, I steeped leaves in avocado oil to make a skin ointment for this winter. Basically, I made my own knock-off of Burt's Bees cuticle conditioner.  

To do this I dried lemon balm leaves and stuffed as many as possible into a four-ounce Ball jar and covered them with oil. I let it steep for four weeks. Then I strained the oil and discarded the leaves, getting about half a cup of essential oil. Because this is a topical product, I added a bit of purchased lemon oil until I had the fragrance I wanted, and then added one-eighth cup of pure beeswax. Then I set a bowl inside a bowl using hot water to passively melt the beeswax. While this was working, I cleaned out the little mason jar.

When the wax was completely melted, I used a coffee stir stick to stir the mix and carefully poured it back into the jar, sealed it, and let it cool. The result is something that immediately made the dry skin on my hands feel softer. I think the oil is absorbed and the beeswax stays on top to seal it in. It puts a little bit of gloss on natural nails, too. It smells both lemony and "green." I can't wait to use it on my elbows and heels. 

A darker, amber jar might be a better choice to store the product in, but I didn't have any. Nor did I have a tin available. But since I'll store this in a drawer, away from sunlight, my light blue Ball jar should be fine. 

Most recipes for an herbal ointment like this call for olive oil, but I didn't want that scent alongside the lemon. I don't know why grape seed oil won't work with this, either. Any mild oil without much of a scent should work, but you should test it out to make sure you don't have a reaction to it. Same for any herb leaves you use - test them first. The less beeswax you add, the softer the end product, but I wanted a firmer end product, similar to the cuticle conditioner I've used for many years. 

So that's my latest experiment here at the manor. Next up, I'm doing a similar project with calendula. Stay tuned. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

October 17, 2021

Cheesecake and meatballs!

 Yesterday, I fed my addiction: I canned meatballs! And not only did I put seven dinners worth of meatballs into jars, but I also made a cheesecake in the Instant Pot while the pressure canner was busy cch-cch-cching away. And then there are the four meals worth of diced potatoes blanched, bagged, and into the freezer. 

It was a busy morning! 

At first, I thought I'd can the potatoes but after a brief discussion with the man of the manor, I decided to go the diced route. The potatoes were just on the cusp of beginning to go soft so this was a good way to save them. They will make great home fries or even potatoes and eggs. 

The cheesecake was done on a whim and is the dessert for Sunday dinner, which will be something with meatballs. I had one jar that didn't seal because I think I tightened the ring down too far. I could freeze that batch, but meh. Let's eat them! As for the jarred meatballs going into the pantry, as the price of ground beef rises, I'll have six dinners at yesterday's beef prices. I have another five-pound pack of ground beef (88/12) to brown off and then decide if I want to freeze it or can it in pints. 

It was a labor-intensive morning, but it was for a good cause - my pantry. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

October 16, 2021

It's not on my sleeve, but in my heart

With full retirement imminent, I've been pondering the nature of the friendships I've made at my place of employment. It's a fact that people come into and float out of your life. Sometimes that's okay, but other times it's a sad happening. Sometimes we understand the loss, as when a friend or family member dies. It's those times when they drift away for no apparent reason that weighs on the heart.  

I'm no more or less spiritual than anyone else, and I don't wear my beliefs on my sleeve (or t-shirt). The main reason for that is I refuse to be sucked into a debate by individuals who want to "explain" to me how wrong I am. 

I don't debate. I know what I know from experience and critical thinking. I may not know everything but I do know that nowhere in the religious texts I've read does it say, "Thou shalt be and act stupid." 

There is another thing I do know: God removes people from your life for a reason and he only removes people who are holding you back, not people you need. 

Knowing this doesn't mean I don't have questions. My best friend for many, many years moved five states away. Was it me who no longer needed her, or she who no longer needed me? The last time I had any contact with her was in May of this year. The last words out of her mouth were, "I'll call you." I'm still waiting on that call. 

Yes, I could call her but there seems to be a perverse streak in my nature that wants to see if this time, she'll follow through on her words. It's not the first time she told me she'd call me and didn't. I'm hurt enough by it I worry I'll unleash bitter words on her if I call her. 

As for my on-the-job friends, it's my decision to retire fully so I guess I'm walking away from them. It's up to me to develop ways to stay in touch with them and for them to accept the changes and reciprocate. If they don't, I need to let go. 

What I fear - well, fear isn't the exact word. What would sadden me is to reach out to someone I've known for years and get only a cursory response instead of the lively conversation of years past. That's probably inevitable when the glue that held the friendships together is dissolved. 

Retirement is my choice so I guess I'm being removed from their lives, at least on a daily basis. Perhaps it is my time to step aside. 

I'm impatient to have retirement happen. I feel poised on the edge of new adventures in my writing, life at Holly Tree Manor, and in friendships. My writing has been frozen since my writing partner died. I've tried to remain friends with a group of writers but it's not the same as that one friend who wrote so similarly to me it's difficult to tell who wrote what in those books we co-wrote. We truly clicked and I doubt I'll ever have that again. I'm eager to get to where I have the time to write without having to check my work email every twenty minutes, lose focus, and not be able to pick up the story again. 

Sage words we've all heard are, "when one door closes, another opens." It's hard to hold internal panic at bay when you see the door closing but you can't see the opening on the other side. You know where you want the door to lead, but what if it doesn't? 

And I suppose if God tells me stepping into my future means removing people from my life, I'll have to go with it and not run after them. It's not my master plan, after all. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

October 8, 2021

I think I'm having withdrawal

It's been an interesting summer. I had a bountiful garden for what select veggies I planted, and I took up home canning again at what must be the worst time in history to do so. I enjoyed all of it! And now I'm having withdrawal...I think. 

I want to preserve something and for the life of me I don't know what. I have fall carrots, beets, and radishes still growing but not ready to harvest. Most fruits are over for the year. 

But I have jars left to fill! 

Trust me, those jars were hard-won. I had to hit the stores, namely Walmart, when the doors opened in the morning to get quart jars. And lids? If you live around here, you're fucked. I ordered several batches of Tattler lids, so screw you Newell Brands. Today and in the future. Tattlers work great and they're reusable and most importantly AVAILABLE. 

I've been researching soups. I've already processed chili, vegetable, and chicken corn soups. We just popped the seal on the second to last jar of chili a few evenings ago. It's really nice to pour a jar into the saucepan and heat it up - no waiting for it to thaw. I'll definitely make a larger batch next time. 

So what can I preserve this weekend? Surely there is something I can work on.  I'm infusing avocado oil with lemon balm to make a balm or salve, but it's not steeped long enough. I have some calendula blossoms drying but they're not ready to do anything with. Of course! Banana bread! I do have a couple of really ripe bananas, enough for two loaves, and one and a half loaves can go in the freezer. That might get me over the hump for this weekend. I'll get it figured out and add something to the pantry. 

And speaking of the pantry, the prevailing wisdom is not to let people see what's in your pantry. There's concern that when times get really hard, people will try to steal from you. I see the validity to that fear, but please remember this if nothing else. 

We also spent the summer upping our level of security.  

The Lady of Holly Tee Manor (The Hideaway)

October 3, 2021

Hosting a Cousin's Lunch

This past Saturday, we hosted a Cousin's Lunch. It's not as grand as it may (or may not) sound, but these small get-togethers are a high point for me. Several years ago, pre-pandemic, me and my two surviving first cousins decided we didn't sit down at the table together enough, the way we did when we were younger, and we wanted to remedy that. We decided to meet for lunch every quarter. The Covid-19 pandemic derailed us, but we hope that's a thing of the past. 

I decided to invite them to an afternoon on our patio so we could enjoy each other's company and the glorious autumn weather. The patio is screened so insects are not a problem. Our new countertop provided the perfect staging area for the food and left us plenty of room at the table. The lunch fare was pure picnic with hamburgers, potato and macaroni salads, Cole slaw, baked beans, apple cider, apple cake, and some chips and dips. We are blessed with abundance and we all ate too much. 

Maybe it's a sign of being older, but I didn't stress about hosting my cousins. We did a cursory "house cleaning" and let it go at that. The house is always clean enough to be safe and dirty enough to keep our immune systems paying attention. Deuce was a perfect gentleman pup, and I do mean PERFECT.  The one cousin-in-law has been less than enthusiastic about dogs (I think she's a bit afraid of them) and even she had not one snark over his presence. Lunch lasted late into the afternoon as we were all reluctant to part company again.  Next fall, I hope we can do it again. 

And maybe next fall, if we're able to gather, I'll reach out to a girl who is a second cousin to me and D, but not R. They know each other, that's not the 'issue.' We started the cousin's lunch for the first cousins, but now that we're getting older, maybe it's time to include L. I'd certainly like that. She and I were very close growing up. 

It's bittersweet to reflect back with memories of our youth. We've all lost parents, and R has lost his brother, too. My mother has Alzheimer's Disease and is lost to me and the world. Time was our Christmas happened on Christmas Eve at D's house when his mother hosted all of us for dinner and gift exchange. We became teenagers in the 1970's and we hung out together. Life got busy for us but now I'm the last one still working, something that I'm trying to remedy. 

Our memories are a big part of who we are, and I'm so grateful to be making new ones with my cousins. Time has become precious, and spending more time with the people who have been most important to me for all of my life is a high priority. 

I'm reminded of some very special words from artist Neil Young: 
We've been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather

Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining
In the sun long may you run.
Long may you run. 

Long may we run. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)