December 31, 2022

New Year's Eve 2022

New Year's Eve. Again. 

The Lord and Lady of the Manor hope to be able to stay awake to see the Times Square ball drop. Do we want to watch it on network TV? Noooooooooooo. We do not. We detest all the chatter and the fake "joy." The hope is we can find a live stream without commentary. We do know how to talk with each other and be entertained for an evening. We may even make a list of the really big things we'd like to do in 2023. 

Some of those big things require outside contractors. We need a new well, a fact we've known for a while. Pandemic, anyone? Yeah, that put the brakes on a lot of things, but we're getting back to them. But a new well is at the top of my list. 

We hope to do more day trips in 2023. It was part of the plan when I retired, but we were enjoying being home together and doing not a whole lot that we didn't go on many. We'd like to get our little pool set up again this year. It's only shoulder deep when we sit, but that's what we wanted. We don't want to swim. We want to float and relax. Putting the pool up won't cancel out the day trips. It'll be great to arrive home, jump in, and chill out after a day behind the wheel. 

A list will also help us get a jump on some of the things we'd like to do. Not everything requires sunshine and temps in the 70s. Spring will come and it will get to the point where we look at the weather outside and determine if anything is possible, then go from there. 

Taking stock, doing a bit of planning, and some wishful thinking is a fine way to spend a quiet evening at home. A steak dinner, a glass or two of wine, and conversation. For us, it's the perfect way to usher in a new year. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, New Year's Eve, future planning, wine, conversation, rural lifestyle, country living, a writer's life 

December 30, 2022

My Grandmother's lamp

Before I was born, my mother gifted my grandmother with a lamp. My grandmother loved it! It was one of her treasures and it sat in a place of honor in her living room. I don't remember a time when it wasn't there - until it wasn't. It vanished one day when the daughters of my closest first cousin were small, back in the 80s.  My mother and I were afraid to ask, and my grandmother never divulged what happened. 

Mom and I feared the worst. Mom was angry. I was sad. Had the girls managed to break it? The answer turned out to be that they had not. 

My grandmother passed in 1997, and Mom had the task of helping my grandfather take some necessary steps at his house. The lamp was discovered, safe and sound, in a spare bedroom. My mother immediately brought it to me. Mom had purchased the lamp, and to her way of thinking, it now should be returned to her, and she wanted me to have it. 

My grandmother's lamp is one of the many treasures of hers that I've kept over the years. The lamp has been a fixture in my writing cave (office) since I made the dedicated space. Yesterday, I got a set of new lamps and switched them out in preparation for passing my grandmother's lamp to her eldest great-granddaughter, one of the very girls my mother had been convinced had broken it. 

My lovely second cousin will in a few weeks celebrate her fortieth birthday, and it seemed the appropriate time to pass the lamp to her. She does remember it from her childhood and so I'm happy she has the memory of it. She knows it's on the way to her and I know she will keep it safe, hopefully to pass it along to her eldest daughter. 

Will I miss having it? Will I miss that connection to my grandmother every time I step into my office? Yes, I will. Had I known how much I may have held off another year or five. No matter. It's a done deal and I've done exactly what my grandmother would have wanted. I've passed on a treasure to the next generation so that they can enjoy it. 

Thanks, Mam. I took care of it for you. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, family, cousins, lamp, heirloom, pass it on, rural lifestyle, country living, a writer's life, grandmothers, do the right thing

December 24, 2022

Christmas Eve 2022

Merry Christmas to you and yours from The Hideaway!

Always expect the unexpected they say. This year, I spent Christmas Eve processing vegetable soup. Yep. That's not a typo. I now have fourteen jars of veggie soup in the pantry. 

It's not what I planned to do today, but the mercury struggled to hit 14F today. We've had cold snaps before, but generally not over Christmas. 

With the work done, I think we're going to settle down in our respective chairs and find a movie to watch. Going to Christmas Eve church service is out. No way should the Lord of the Manor be out in this cold. Period.  

It was a good day's work. Fourteen meals in the jar. Can't beat that for an early Christmas present. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, vegetable soup, Christmas Eve, home food preservation, winter weather

December 23, 2022

Staying warm with a negative wind chill

It's cold outside! The Weather Channel, or what the hell ever entity, has dubbed this massive storm/cold front/artic blast Winter Storm Elliott. The snow and the cold don't bother me too much. We live in the country and we prepare for such things. Wind gusts are another matter. We don't much like the wind even though it delivers firewood to the ground. 

Now is the time all the hard work my cousin and I did scant months ago will pay dividends. Cutting and splitting firewood was a job that seemed to go on forever. Just yesterday, I burned off the brush pile from this year's work, but I can't say the job is finished. It never really is. 

Having a woodstove and firewood stockpiled is a blessing, especially during these cold snaps. We watch the weather forecast and know from experience whether or not to get a fire burning. Our winters are a mixed bag, and typically we burn from mid-December to mid-March. When the temps are in the forties and above, the heat pump works fine. We just need to remain aware of what's happening outside. 

That type of awareness may seem like a lot of hassle to some people, but it's not. I grew up with it, and the Lord of the Manor developed it once he moved here twenty-eight years ago. He was of another mindset at first, but the winter of 1995-96 brought him around to my way of doing things. 

The country way. Long may it thrive!

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, firewood, country living, rural lifestyle, woodstove, preparedness, winter weather, wind chill, a writer's life, cold fronts


December 22, 2022

Working in a wintry mix - in comfort!

Happy anniversary to Holly Tree Manor! The blog is three years old and has two hundred eighty-eight posts, and nineteen pages now. I like to look back and see what I was doing a year ago, and apparently, I was amused by finding a counterfeit bill someone had donated to where I worked. 

We woke to a wintry mix this morning. Snow, sleet, and rain all fell at the same time. I gave it an hour or so to cover the ground and headed to the west forty to burn a rather substantial brush pile. 

I say "brush" but it was a lot more than that. Taking down three large trees made quite a mess. A lot of the brush from those days was disposed of promptly, but as we got into the actual cutting and splitting of firewood, we created more. This pile had some large chunks in the middle and I knew from experience this pile would burn for hours and hours. I needed snow to be on the safe side, and this morning I got it. 

Experience has taught me a few other things, too. I drove the Colorado over and parked it at a safe distance. Once I lit the fire, I hopped back in the pickup and watched the fire in relative comfort. I had a heated seat, a good stereo, hot coffee in my fave travel cup, and my dog in the backseat. That was at nine o'clock this morning. 

It's after six and after dark, and a lot of hot coals are still blazing in the rain. And it's raining pretty hard. I'm not worried about any sparks given how wet it is outside. The rain will create a cold crust over the top of the ashes and the coals beneath will continue to smolder until they've gone to ash. What's left, the potash, can be used judiciously in the garden. 

I can check the brush pile off my To Do list, at least for now. It never takes long for a new one to get started. Some rainy summer day, I'll burn again. Burning in the rain is a safety measure. And yes, we'll sit in the pickup with the AC on and watch the fire. Work smart, not hard. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Chevy Colorado, Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, work smart not hard, rural lifestyle, country living, brush, coffee, splitting firewood, wintry mix

December 19, 2022

Parting with treasures

My family's Christmas gathering happened this past Saturday night, hosted by my young cousin who lives on the other side of the road. She's part of what I generally refer to as Gen 4.

Gen 1 was my grandparents, Gen 2 my parents, I and my first cousins Gen 3, the children of my first cousins comprise Gen 4, their children are Gen 5, and now we have reached Gen 6. It amazes me to see how once again my family has grown. 

I say "my family" but I am the outlier. The one with no offspring of my own. Was this by choice, design, or fate? It's a difficult question to answer. At the appropriate time in my life, I did nothing to prevent the possibility, and yet here I am. 

It's time to part with some of my grandmother's treasures. Forty years ago she gave me the set pictured. I remember the three-tiered dish laden with cookies and sitting just inside her front door every Christmas season. Everyone, even my father, walked through the door and snatched a cookie before even taking off their coat. The candy dish made an appearance around Easter, filled with jelly beans. I'm not sure I realized the two pieces were a set until she gave them to me. I don't remember seeing them side-by-side until then. 

My young cousin enjoys hosting get-togethers and was therefore the logical choice for the party pieces. I signed up to take cheesecake to the party so I purchased little individually wrapped cheesecake bites and arranged them on the tiers. I made sure to arrive a wee bit early so I could more privately tell her  the set was now hers. I got a big hug from her, too. 

Parting with this treasure from my hoard was easier than I imagined it would be. I suppose that means it's the timing was correct. Back in the days when we hosted parties, I used my grandmother's set and I got a lot of enjoyment from doing so. 

I'll continue to enjoy my grandmother's set, only now it will be on her great-granddaughter's table, not mine. I think that's the way it was always meant to be. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Christmas, family, heirlooms, simple country pleasures, rural living, country lifestyle, generations, party pieces, a writer's life

December 14, 2022

"The weak winter sun"

The readers among us recognize the phrase, "The weak winter sun...."  It's a descriptive phrase often used because we all have an image of a winter day without a lot of sunshine. We all can relate to it. 

There's a winter storm approaching our area. Tonight, possibly around two to three hours after midnight, the forecasters say we'll get the wintery mix. This will be the first time since I retired I'll be able to avoid icy roads without any guilt. 

The weak winter sun isn't something I complain about. In winter, the earth needs to rest. The trees rest, as do the pines even though they are green. Bushes and shrubs, rest. The holly trees have set berries and the small birds carry those seeds far and wide to sprout in the spring in new places. 

The grass isn't resting yet, preferring the colder temps to rebuild its root system without competition from clover, dandelions, and the like. I know that below the ground, the daffodils and the crocus are preparing. 

I spent some time outside today, reveling in the cold and observing how the air slowly filled with moisture from the approaching storm. By late afternoon the clouds arrived to form a screen between me and the sun. I watched the changes from my perch on my sunroom porch until finally chilled I stepped back inside. I'd hoped to see deer in the meadow, but they were absent. 

Being home, and being able to be a living breathing participant with all the nature around me is a blessing. The weak winter sun is a blessing to the earth, and to me. Spring will come soon enough, but I'm joyful that I was able to see the world just as it is today, and marvel. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, winter sun, nature, winter storms, four seasons, deer, a writer's life, simple country pleasures, rural living, country lifestyle, clouds, road conditions

December 5, 2022

The 2023 seed order arrived!

Opening the mailbox and finding the 2023 seed packet from Burpees was a little Christmas present, a from me to me if you will. I know it's only the first week of December, but I believe in thinking ahead and preparing when and where you can. When it's time to plant seeds next spring, I'll be ready to have fun, not spend hours getting ready. Doing a little here, and a little there, keeps the "work" aspect of gardening to a minimum. 

What did I get for next year? 

Lemongrass - never grown before
Parisian Cucumber (hopefully to make gherkins)
Sunray Sunflowers
Parsley (plain)
Contender bush green beans
Beefsteak tomatoes
Chives (garlic geisha)
Sweetie cherry tomatoes
Cucumber, Supremo
Giant Pink Belgium tomato
Microgreens - they should be fun
Bunching onions (green onions, no bulbs)

This is by no means everything. I have seeds left from 2022 and while the germination rate may slip just a fraction, those seeds are still viable. I have witnessed the amazing longevity of seeds for myself when my grandmother's first garden came back to life

Will I plant every 2023 seed next spring? Probably not. I don't have that much space devoted to gardening, and I learned a few valuable lessons this season past. I over-planted in 2022 which actually hurt my harvest. I did things like plant cabbage all at once. No, no, no. I need to stagger plantings when for things like cabbage that I want to use fresh for Cole slaw and not ferment into sauerkraut. A week to ten days apart will do the trick, or so I hope. It seems logical. 

Today the Lord of the Manor has decided we need to go to town.  One of our stops will be the home improvement center to get a plywood base for the Greenstalk. I want to decide where I want to place the Greenstalk before next spring. I may even get a bag of potting soil and fill the bottom section so I can move it around to help me visualize how it will fit into the garden space. 

Winter is almost here. It might be cold outside, but that doesn't stop gardeners. Winter is valuable time for us - planning time. Half the battle is won before the first seed touches dirt. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, seeds, rural lifestyle, country living, a writer's life, Greenstalk, preparation, planning

December 3, 2022

Christmas on the patio 2022

It's true that some of the best things in life are simple things. Last year we did a little upgrade on the patio, which we have enjoyed immensely. Having extra storage, a large work surface, and an attractive corner added a lot to our "patio time."

We spend a good deal of time on our screened-in patio during the warmer months. We have morning coffee and cocktail hour out there. Some evenings it helps that there is an old television to stream some background music from YouTube. And not having to do battle with mosquitoes is priceless. 

I've been decorating with the seasons along the back of the countertop. I like having that seasonal greeting when folks come to visit. (Only people we don't know go to our front door - we're country!)

Yesterday, I set out the winter greenery. It's not overtly Christmas, so it will be out there until spring. It doesn't matter to me if I'm the only person who really enjoys it because I've learned it's important to please myself with such things. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Christmas décor, simple country pleasures, rural living, patio

November 29, 2022

Christmas cookies - ginger snaps

Having a close friend is a blessing in life, at least until they abandon you and move five states and a thousand miles away. Then baking Christmas cookies together becomes problematic. 

We used to get together every year, either during Thanksgiving weekend or the next to bake. We each had five baggies of cookie dough ready to go and spent a Sunday afternoon slaving by a hot oven. Wine helped us get through. Then we split everything down the middle. I had cookies in the freezer for months. 

One of the cookies C- always brought was Ginger Snaps. It's a good recipe but it's finicky. It's one of those things that can't be doubled, and we never did figure out why. I would occasionally make a batch just for me and Himself, but I hadn't done so for many years until this week. 

These are a good change of pace, but I confess that chocolate chip cookies trump everything else for us. Oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and cranberries come in a close second. 

We'll enjoy the ginger snaps for the next week or so, and then there is the possibility I never make them again. Some things are best left in the past. 


Ginger Snaps

¾ cup melted Crisco (do not substitute!)
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup Brier Rabbit or dark molasses
1 egg
2 tsp Baking soda
2 cups flour
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp clove
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Liquefy shortening and cool. 
Add sugar, syrup and egg. Beat well.
Add remainder and chill dough over night. 
Form into small balls.
Roll in sugar and place on cookie sheet, then flatten with fork.
Bake on greased sheet at 350 for 8 minutes. 

For best results, do not double this recipe. Make individual batches. 

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Ginger Snap, Christmas Cookies, rural living, simple country pleasures

November 19, 2022

Orange Marmalade

Making orange marmalade was more than I bargained for. I'm pretty sure this batch will be a one-off. I scorched the first batch when I stepped away from the stove for mere seconds to open the door for Loki. The second batch turned out great, but it's very labor-intensive.  

To make it, you have to peel the zest layer of the oranges and lemons without getting any of the pith. I then used a food chopper to cut that up instead of cutting it into the traditional thin strips. Then you have to get the fruit removed from the pith and the membranes. Nope. After this is gone, I'll purchase orange marmalade. 

Yeah, I say that now, but by the time I've used twelve little jars of this marmalade, I may feel differently. Himself doesn't touch the stuff. He's a grape jelly kinda guy. So it may be three or four years until this batch is gone. By then I may have (probably will have) forgotten what a pain in the ass this was to make and do it again. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, orange marmalade, home food preservation, rural lifestyle

November 17, 2022

Whole berry cranberry sauce in little jars

Thanksgiving is next week! Seven days from now! 

Yes, I am a bit excited about roasting a turkey and sitting down to a traditional dinner. The two of us will be on our own again, and you know what? We really rather prefer it that way. We've had the big dinners with the clan gatherings, which are stressful. There is no stress when it's us in our cozy little house in the woods.

We aim to eat close to one o'clock. No one shows up at noon to try to "help." The turkey is done when it gets done. I always liked to make some sort of baked veggie casserole to make my mother happy and forget that. I'll open a can or a jar (or two) of veggies and nuke 'em. The Lord of the Manor makes the candied sweet potatoes the day before - just heat and serve. He'll also make biscuits. He does have a few culinary talents so I make use of them on Thanksgiving. But I digress...

Cranberry sauce is a traditional part of our dinner. While at the grocery, I noticed they had fresh cranberries on sale. There's a recipe for cranberry sauce in the Ball book, so I got a bag and preserved eight half-pint jars of whole-berry cranberry sauce. There's also half a jar in the fridge and it is good! 

There are two upsides to this. This sauce contains cranberries, orange zest, and sugar. That's it. No additives with strange names. Get over the fact it has sugar in it. We believe the chemicals are worse.  The other thing is that these portions work better for two people. We won't be discarding the last third of the can because it sat in the fridge and went to water. 

Maybe the third thing is cost. On the surface, four dollars worth of cranberries made enough for at least eight meals. An industry can cost at least a dollar and a half for one. Even figuring in the cost of the sugar and one orange, it's cheaper to make at home. 

My next trip to the grocery, I'm going to get another bag of cranberries and put them in the freezer. It's not that I don't trust our supply chain...Oh, yes. It's definitely that. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, cranberry sauce, home food preservation, Thanksgiving, rural lifestyle, country living, family stress, simple country pleasures, supply chain

November 15, 2022

Gaining on it? Aye. Right.

We are still splitting wood, but maybe, just maybe, we're gaining on it. 

For some reason, we just can't get finished. We were doing pretty good, almost finished, and then one of the neighbors took down a large, dead cherry tree. She contacted my cousin and said if he'd do the cleanup, he could have the wood. He called us to lend him a hand for half the wood.

Then another neighbor at the other end of our adjoining properties had a large oak tree fall over the stone fence onto my cousin's property. My cousin and his son-in-law brought me some of the oak. 


We need a few more tarps and bungee cords to get everything under cover for the winter. I need to finish splitting a small amount of older wood that can be burned this season. 

I am thankful for the abundance of firewood and for my cousin's steadfast help. I'm thankful to have cleaned up some older downed trees before the wood rotted. I'm thankful for the ability to be out in the woodyard working on laying in firewood. Honest work never hurt anyone. 

It's been a lot of work, and the Lord of the Manor is pretty tired. It's not good for him to overdo it, but he's hung in there with us as best he can. He's now researching log splitter options. Our splitter has a pull rope start, and it's hard to pull. There are splitters that work off the hydraulic system of a tractor and that sounds like the way to go for us. We'll see what the finances are at the first of the year.  

Rural America is, as proved by this past election, ignored. But we are alive and thriving and we will continue to do so as long as we don't embrace the ways of the townies and turn our backs on honest work. I'm proud to be living RURAL.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, rural America, country living, a writer's life, firewood, thankfulness, hard work, log splitter, woodyard


November 10, 2022

Four short months

In just four short months, I can start some seeds for the 2023 garden. That may sound crazy - it sounds crazy to me - but according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, you can start brassicas seeds in early March.  

Short lesson: brassicas include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, turnips, and a few other things I've forgotten and am too lazy to look up at the moment. 

My brassicas of choice are cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. I've never had kohlrabi, but I've been told it's bitter even when properly prepared. That's the sort of thing that I could probably grow tons of - something I wouldn't like. 

In the 2022 growing season, I had good results with cabbage. Not so much with the broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I'll take a pass on them since it was the first year I tried to grow them and it's all part of learning. I was happy with the cabbage as we love fresh cole slaw. The downside to cabbage is it can't be home-canned. I ran a batch through the freeze drier but as of this date, I don't know for certain how well it's storing. It may be bitter as hell when rehydrated for all I know. I'll test it before I start the cabbage seeds to judge how many cabbages I want to grow.

With cold weather fast approaching, I got my butt in gear to move the garden corral and greenhouse to their new home. I purchased some woven ground cloth from Grower's Solutions and got that put down before moving the frames and greenhouse. Getting that done now is, I hope, a win-win. I won't have to do it in the spring when the ground is damp, and it helps me visualize how I want to plant next year.  

Another big plus is that with the corral moved, it frees up the pad for its original intent - our small pool. It's been a few years since we put the pool up, but we both wished we'd had it this past summer, so we're going to give it a go in 2023. 

Planning ahead helps keep things moving along. Next spring I can concentrate on the fun stuff (planting) and not worry about moving everything. The pool can go up in May and begin to warm. And I'm sure that next summer, there will be new projects to plan and execute. That's just the way it goes here at Holly Tree Manor. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country living, rural lifestyle, gardening, greenhouse, swimming pool, planning ahead, a writer's life, growing vegetables, success, failure

November 8, 2022

Almost forty years ago

November 8, 1983. 

That's the day my father died of lung cancer. 

I think I was too young to fully understand the loss. Yes, I felt overwhelming grief and everything else you would expect. But almost forty years on I know the true depth of the loss of the man who was my father. 

I was twenty-six when Dad died. We'd just really begun to have an adult relationship. I was always going to be his daughter, but we were discovering how to be grownups together. We could sit and talk about grownup topics openly, and ask opinions of each other. And we could sit at the picnic table that he built and I still have in my backyard, sip iced tea, and not talk at all. 

My father was very well respected in the family. A quiet man, I remember times of family gatherings when the "discussion" turned spirited and someone would say, "what do you think, Gene?" My father would speak, and that was the end of the discussion of that topic. It's just the way it was.

My grandfather stood at Dad's coffin and cried. Dad had become another son to Pop. Pop understood the loss of someone dying at the age of fifty-four better than I did at that time. 

I can't believe Dad has been gone for almost forty years. It seems the blink of an eye. I feel cheated, twice over, that I only had him so few years. You see, my mother was widowed for ten years and then she remarried. After that, she told me point blank we couldn't discuss Dad any longer because she didn't want to hurt the new husband's feelings. 

What? I didn't have any feelings? I most certainly did at that point and none of them were kind. 

Life has marched on, but I still miss my father every day. The years stretch behind me, a gulf I can't breach, and it hurts. It always hurts.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, death of a parent, remembrance, dying, country living, rural lifestyle, respect, family

November 4, 2022

Help needed

I hate to admit it, but I think I need to find a willing young man to help out a few hours a week. The real dilemma is which of the young men in the family wants to actually work for some cash? And I do mean work. I'm not handing out money for nothing. 

Keeping the manor going isn't all that difficult, but there are times I really do miss having Himself able to help me. It bothers him, too. We used to work as a team, and we still do to the best of his abilities, but the fact is that he is physically limited. And while I'm a strong woman, I lack a man's physical strength. These are simply facts. 

There is a saying, "if it is to be it is up to me." That's another fact here at the manor. It is up to me now and I need to adjust my way of thinking, doing, and accomplishing. How do I do this while including the Lord of the Manor? The most expedient way would be to put him in charge of "the hired help," but I know in my heart that won't always work. 

It hurts my heart to admit I need help. I can afford it - that isn't the problem. The problem is trust. I won't allow just anyone to have access to my home. It also hurts my heart that some of my need is predicated on the fact there have been some less-than-positive changes in the way Himself processes information. Things that are important to me are no longer important to him. This is a reflection of his physical health and not of our affection for each other. 

My grandmother used to tell me, "don't get old." Well, time marches on, doesn't it? 

I want to enjoy my retirement, not make myself sick over those things left undone at the end of the day. 

I need help and having admitted that I must now find it.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, needing help, handyman, aging, giving up,

October 29, 2022


Sometimes you've got to treat yourself. For example, if you've hoarded your rewards points you should use them for something you really, really, really want but would never pay full price for. Like a Greenstalk. 

No way would I pay just under $160 for one of these planters. I simply would not. But getting it for a mere $55?? Oh, yeah. I clicked on the button to place my order. So what if I burned all my points? I'll accumulate more as I go along. Somehow.

The Greenstalk has thirty planting pockets and an internal watering system. The plan is to use it for herbs with a few red begonias scattered around for a bit of color. I'm not one hundred percent sure where I want to place it, but I'll figure that out this fall and not put soil in it until next spring. 

Planning ahead is one of the fun aspects of gardening. I remember my grandfather anxiously awaiting the arrival of the yearly seed catalogs from Burpees, Gurneys, and a few other companies. I have it easy. I just go to the Internet. I wonder what Pop would make of the Greenstalk? 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Greenstalk, country living, gardening, herbs, rural lifestyle, a writer's life, homesteading, home food preservation

October 25, 2022

Autumn colors 2022

The Lord of the Manor and I have been out and about our county in the last two weeks. He's a Civil War buff and we live a short drive away from the Gettysburg, Antietam, South Mountain, and Monocacy battlefields. There is also a very long list of skirmishes in our area. It seems like fall is the time we make our yearly treks to these hallowed grounds. 

Going in the fall is a twofer. He gets to review and keep his knowledge fresh and I get to see the fall colors. 

It could be the longest drive to Gettysburg is in jeopardy. 

Who needs to drive anywhere to enjoy the autumn colors when your backyard looks like this? 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, fall colors, Civil War battlefields, country living, rural lifestyle, Antietam, Gettysburg,

October 19, 2022

I swear the elves have snuck in more!

 More wood splitting and stacking today.

We are not yet done. 

The pile of rounds seems to be the same size as before we started. 

There are now four pallets you can see in the picture, and two pallets on the other side you can't see.

We've started another stack between two more trees. 

It's been years since we had a stockpile this big! 

We knew the poplar we took down was massive, but we've gotten enough wood off that one tree for 2023 and 2024. We also took down two maples that were large enough to damage the house if they fell on their own. I must not have blogged about that here, but I did over at Deuce's Day.  We still have the big logs from those two trees to cut and split. 

We're still short on firewood for 2022, but you know what? We'll make it through. We purposefully left a few trees lay untouched that fell in 2021. Those are difficult to get to during the summer months, but now that the underbrush has died back for the year, we can take the John Deere and drag them out to be worked on. It's all good. 

It's all a lot of hard work, too, but the payoff is not having to worry if the power company can't keep up this winter. We'll stay warm. 

But it seems like the more we cut the more there is left to be cut. I think we've been targeted by elves and they're pranking us. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country living, rural lifestyle, firewood, supplemental heat, log splitter, a writer's life, poplar tree, maple tree, John Deere subcompact tractor, yardwork, family

October 16, 2022

It used to be easier!

Let's take a little stroll in the Way Back Machine. 

Back in 1980, yes THAT 1980, my grandmother called me to her house for a "chat." It seemed she and Pop had rounded up my mother and uncle for a chat, and now it was my turn. The upshot of my conversation with my grandparents was that they wanted to gift me and my cousin three acres of land each. Being the older one, I got to pick which plot I wanted. It was an incredible gift. 

Later that fall, we began to clear an opening in the woods for a house. We cut trees, burned brush, pulled stumps, and stacked a lot of firewood. I can tell you right now, it was a helluva lot easier back in 1980! 

My cousin and I have lived side-by-side ever since. Now that we're both retired, we have time to enjoy working together and talking about the good old days. We've been cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood, and he agrees. It used to be easier! 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, firewood, homesteading, country lifestyle, rural living, a writer's life, woodstoves, family

October 15, 2022

Simple things

As I begin this blog entry, it's about five-thirty in the morning. Deuce and I have been outside so he could sneak off into the dark woods and do whatever he needed to do.  I could hear the leaves crunching under his paws as he searched for his spot. It was that quiet. Orion hung above me to the south, an early morning companion to warn me of the approaching winter. In the coming months, he'll be with me overhead late at night, telling me that spring is coming. He has always attracted my attention. 

Deuce doesn't linger in the early morning. He likes his creature comforts in much the same way his puppy parents do. He rejoined the lord of the manor in the bedroom while I brewed a cup of coffee and landed at my computer. 

I think there are many things that can be said of these still moments before daybreak. I appreciate my place in creation as I look into the moonlit woods. I am the tender of this place in this time. What it will become after I'm dust, I don't know. I ponder such things just before daybreak. 

Standing at the window in my office, I watched as the driveway lights popped on, one after another in sequence as something approached, finally coming near enough for me to see the young buck. He's headed for the other side of the hill, into the thickets, to rest for a while. We know he and his harem hide out there and so we have no plans to go into that section of the manor and clean out the underbrush. He may rest there undisturbed for as long as he's with us in this life. 

Daybreak is slow, and yet it happens almost in the blink of an eye. One moment the trees are a blackness against the stars, and the next the stars are gone and the trees have individual silhouettes. Shades of gray give way to silver, which in turn gives way to blue hues and eventually, for today, rays of sunshine. 

Watching the woods wake is one of the many simple country pleasures in my life. I wouldn't trade it for love or money.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, simple country pleasures, daybreak, country living, rural lifestyle, Orion, changing seasons, quiet, black Labrador Retriever

October 13, 2022

Rainy autumn days

I should be writing or making split pea soup. I should be in the laundry room pairing up socks so I can toss them in the appropriate drawers (his and hers). I should be doing any number of things that need doing, but instead, I've been wasting time. 

It's a rainy, dreary, windy autumn day. The wind is showing me just how far along the trees are in changing color, so I guess it's not all bad. 

The view outside my window is different. With the poplar tree gone, a woodpile has taken its place. Loki has already discovered the squirrels that have taken to sitting on top of the woodpile. He's stalking them, but not having any success, I'm happy to report. 

Yesterday was the complete opposite of today. The sun was bright and the sky was clear and blue. The last blooms of the season, those the deer didn't find, are showing their colors. The deer are more interested in the acorn crop than blooms right now. 

Dreary days like today will become more frequent as the season turns toward winter. I must learn to change with them. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, autumn, winter, changing seasons, woodpile, squirrels, country lifestyle, rural living, simple country pleasures, a writer's life, rain, fall color

October 6, 2022

Firewood warms you three times, so they say

There's an old saying my grandfather used to repeat every year. Did I mention he said this every year? Like we hadn't heard it the first time. He always said firewood warmed a person three times: once when you cut down the tree, once when you split and stacked the wood, and lastly when you burned it. I suppose he was right. 

It's firewood season on the manor. It used to be a lot easier to split and stack firewood, but we were younger.

It has been several years since we had firewood in bulk. Having hundreds of trees, we rarely have needed to cut one down just for wood. Enough branches and the occasional entire tree fell that we simply cleaned up the debris and had enough to burn. Having the tree trimmer here this year means we have a lot of firewood to season for several following years and not much for this winter. 

As a general rule, firewood needs to dry out, or season, for a year. When a branch hits the ground on its own, it's generally been hanging dead on the tree for a while and can be used immediately. 

My cousin and I spent most of yesterday afternoon splitting poplar rounds. It's harder on him than on me. He has to move those big rounds to the splitter. I have to stack the pieces. He seems to be in more of a hurry to get it all done than I am. I know it will get done eventually, and with our weather, we have through November for outside work. He's probably coming back this morning to do more.

I'm grateful for his help. Without it, we would have had to pay a commercial company to take down the trees and remove the large trunks. It would probably cost $2000 a tree instead of $300 a tree. And we would not have ended up with a firewood surplus that will help both households over the next few winters. 

My cousin and I talk about our grandparents while we work. We were both given acreage to build our homes on, and I ended up with the woods. I know they would expect me to share the firewood with my cousin, and I'm happy to do that. 

Here on the manor, handling firewood is about more than keeping warm. It's about family.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country lifestyle, rural living, firewood, log splitter, a writer's life, tree management, family, tree trimming. 

October 1, 2022

Another "I" storm: Hurricane Ian

The remnants of Hurricane Ian reached us last night at about seven o'clock. We've had a slow, soaking rain for over twelve hours, and now there is a bit of sunshine peeking through. I don't expect it to last long. What we're experiencing is a very different Ian from what hit the southern states. My prayer is for those who lost everything, or so much, that they will be able to either rebuild or relocate as they desire. 

We have family and friends in the south and we worried for them. A close friend is in Port St. Lucie, Florida. My stepson and his family are near Savannah. My one brother-in-law recently moved from Port New Ritchie, FL, to Charleston, SC. Oops. The other brother-in-law is outside of Norfolk, VA. Another friend is near Danville, VA. It seems all is well with them so we are thankful. 

The "I" named storms are the ones that seem to impact my area and so I'm quite relieved Ian fizzled when it hit the Smokey Mountains. Those peaks, and those of the Blue Ridge, protect us most of the time. 

Cousin D- and I had a laugh that the weather service has retired the name "Ida" as this was our grandmother's name. She, too, was a force of nature without the destruction. D- has a sister-in-law in Florida and I wonder how she and her family fared. 

And so today we watch it rain. It's a good time to catch up on some indoor chores and be grateful to be safe and secure when so many are not. 

People (especially the media folk) will scream the hurricane happened due to climate change, but there have always been hurricanes. We may measure them differently now, but we have not caused them. We may cause them in the future if we persist in erecting more and more wind turbines, so think about that for a moment. "Ponder on it a spell" as those of us living on the fringes of Appalachia often advise. 

The day awaits, as does the laundry, but first I'll finish my coffee and watch the leaves fall. That is one of autumn's simple country pleasures. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Ida, country living, rural lifestyle, autumn, falling leaves, cutting firewood, wind turbines, Smokey Mountains, a writer's life

September 27, 2022

It really was a close run thing

Yesterday, after what seemed like a long delay, the tree trimmer returned to take down the massive poplar tree that grew outside my office windows. It may seem strange for us to cut down a seemingly healthy tree, but those of us who live in the country know trees have a lifespan. We began to suspect the tree was at the end of its health and we were correct.  The sudden problem with branches dying was a sign of a worse problem. Once the tree was down, it was clearly evident the heartwood was dying. I feel like we cut it down in the nick of time.

The poplar was about eighty feet tall and big. Like really, really big. Coming home and driving up the lane, anyone could see it rose above the maples. For over forty years I've watched that tree drop a single yellow                                        
leaf on August 1 every year. I found that amazing. 

What was not amazing was the tree taking an odd twist on the way to the ground! The picture does not do it justice. The tree trimmer went up the tree like a squirrel and cut off branches along the way. Then he cut the trunk, section by section until about thirty feet remained. It was then things took a turn. It only missed the house by about six feet. 

Himself was in the house at that moment and he said it sounded like a bomb went off when the trunk hit the ground. Cousin Dave and I were parked along the upper stone fence, perched on our respective tractors to watch. Dave's tractor is orange, not green, but we don't hold that against him. 

But I digress...


When the tree hit the ground, I must have made a noise. Dave kept asking if I was okay. Okay? Noooo. Not much, at least at that moment. 

I'm pretty sure it rattled the tree trimmers, too. They had a guideline on the tree with a lot of tension else I wouldn't be sitting here in my cozy sunroom office telling the story. I'd be looking for a place to live. 

While I appreciate the tree trimmer and his abilities, it may be a while before he gets to come back.  

Today, Himself and I set ourselves to the task of cleaning up the brush from the tree. I started around eight o'clock, and he joined me around nine. I really wonder how in the world we managed clean-up before we had a tractor. What took one day with the John Deere took several days without. As I type this, the fire is still smoldering, but I can keep an eye on it from the office. 


My skyline looks different. The poplar dominated it for many years. While we worked today, we both commented on how much more sunshine reaches into the woods. With the tree gone, I wonder if the spot would be good for my greenhouse. I think I'd really like to have it just outside my office window. 

Before we started the clean-up this morning, the young buck meandered through the yard and stood staring at the mess as if perplexed. He and I get along tolerably well so I stepped out onto the porch to speak to him. He stopped, flicked his ears and tail, and then went on his way, carefully stepping through the leaves. I suppose tree branches and leaves on the ground are not an everyday occurrence in his world. 

Thankfully, it's not in my world, either. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tree trimming, poplar trees, deer, country living, rural lifestyle, close calls, 

September 24, 2022

Deconstruction: tearing down to build back up

This is not going as planned. 

Back in the fall of 2004, or thereabout, the Lord of the Manor constructed the west terrace. Our small terraces help control the runoff after heavy rain. We live on the side of a mountain and it's necessary to control water.

Fast forward almost twenty years and the freezing and thawing cycles have taken a toll on that terrace.   

I mentioned the need for this repair several years ago before the pandemic hit. Our focus shifted to pantry prep and avoiding unnecessary trips to the home improvement center. Himself had had major surgery at the end of 2018 and my stepfather died in May 2019 and I had to settle his estate. We had the perfect storm to put the terrace wall project on the back burner. 

Well, no longer. Today was the day we got started on it. It's going to be a bigger job than anticipated. WE botched the repair on one section and now need to do more extensive work to reconstruct about six feet that we didn't expect to do. That's just the way it goes. We'll do it better now. 

I think the job will take in the neighborhood of two to three weeks to finish. Himself can't work for hours and hours without becoming exhausted. I need to do the bulk of the heavy work and as you may suspect, I have a lot of regular chores to do every day. 

I'll be glad to cross this repair off my to-do list and move on to something more fun.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country living, rural lifestyle, stonework, terraces, rainwater control, mountain living, building stone walls, a writer's life 

September 22, 2022

Debt is slavery

If you listen to the news media, the "information" being presented is alarming. The United States seems to be headed into a recession and our political "leaders" can't seem to do anything about it. I don't find that surprising. Country folk have always known you can't depend on the government. 

The Covid-19 pandemic that began in 2020 is a very good example of what can go wrong. So much of what happened was a man-created crisis. Logic and common sense went out the window. The news media focused on what was happening in major cities. It was very, very different in rural America. It's probably not good to admit, but we cruised through the worst of it with hardly a hitch. We did wear masks when we needed to shop, but that was our major concession to the madness. What we're facing now is also a man-made crisis brought about by an inept government. 

September is National Preparedness Month. Seriously. Our government even has a website dedicated to it: They present a lot of ideas, but none of them are new to me, and I don't see mention of what I think is one vital thing we all must do.

We must get out of debt. 

Debt is slavery. If you have debt, you are not free. If you have debt, you're working for the credit card company, the bank, big box stores, the auto industry, the colleges, and the list goes on. 

We must get out of debt.

If you carry a lot of debt, inflation is killing you. You can't absorb higher food and energy prices. If you have NO debt, you have the additional funds needed to weather the storm. You won't like it - I certainly don't like it - but it's doable. 

Get out of debt. Is it easy? No, but you dug the hole a little at a time and you have to climb out the same way. You think the government should bail you out? Don't be stupid. That will raise taxes for the rest of your yet-unborn grandchildren's lives. Everyone suffers when taxes go up, but those of us with no debt suffer a lot less. 

Think about what your debt is doing to you, and think about how you got to where you are. Think about what you want to teach your children. 

Debt is the modern-day slavery and it is colorblind. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

September 21, 2022

Tomato surprise!

I love living on the mountain and having nature all around me. I learn something every day, even more so now that I'm retired and home more.  

This past August, we had a bit of a heat wave. Our temps got up into the 90sF every day for about two weeks. It's not unusual for us to have 90F days, so don't go all climate change on me. But it is rare for us to have a long stretch like that. The last time it happened was back around 1992/93. 

But I digress...

Due to the heat, my tomatoes stopped putting out new flowers which meant no new tomatoes. I allowed what fruit was on the vines to mature, and then I cut off the plant and moved the grow bucket to the winter storage area. I had a good crop so it was fine with me. When you garden, you have to take a lot of things as they come. You can't fight it.

Yesterday, I noticed that several of the tomato plants had sent up new stalks. That was unexpected! There's not time enough for them to set new flowers and produce fruit, but it's a fascinating development. I'm going to move one bucket into the greenhouse just to see what happens. It's an experiment, a test, of both plant and greenhouse. It should be interesting - and a lot of fun! 

Here's the link to a short video: 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tomato plants, nature, country living, gardening, greenhouse, rural lifestyle, green peppers, container garden, grow buckets

September 14, 2022

Finished - clean and tidy, ready for next season

Yesterday was the day I'd been waiting for! I picked the very last three tomatoes and four peppers of the year! Then I set about tidying the garden coral for next year. 

It was a beautiful morning, too, with temps around the 65F mark. I was outside early so I could work in mostly shade. I put the bucket on the John Deere 1023 and moved the remaining five-gallon grow buckets and grow bags to their storage area. Then I scrubbed the little table, swept the tarp, and then dumped a bucket of hot soapy water on it, and swished the broom around before rinsing.  

You may wonder why I'd want to give the area the hot water and soap treatment, but it's important to keep a garden area clean so as to cut down on pests, mold, and mildew. Besides, it looks a lot better if it's clean and tidy. 

Looking forward to the 2023 growing season, the plan is to do a few things differently. I'm not going to transplant every little seed that sprouts. I had too many tomatoes crammed into too small a space. I was able to make sauces, etc., which I wanted to do, but we have a lot of top-notch local growers in my area. It may be more time effective to purchase a bushel of tomatoes from one of them to do the canning next year. A high tunnel would also allow me to use the garden coral area for what it was installed for - a small pool. 

I also want to grow a few different things that I didn't have room for. I have acreage, but I also have a large deer population. The deer would decimate any unprotected area so I'm keeping my garden small. My ultimate goal is to get a high tunnel that should thwart the deer. It's that or obtain a hunting license, sit on the front porch, and wait for them - not my first choice.

Growing in the garden is not quite complete for 2022. I have red beets growing nicely in a raised bed under a screened frame. That's another first. I had one or two beets grow in a bucket last year, but I may actually get enough to freeze-dry a batch this year. 

It's time for me to go through my seeds and see what I have left to use next year and what I want to order. It's never really too early to stay organized. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, seeds, deer, rural lifestyle, country living, organization, a writer's life, simple country pleasures, home food preservation, hunting, tomatoes, peppers

September 9, 2022

The end of an era - Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

There was little doubt that Queen Elizabeth II's reign would end during my lifetime. I may not be of British ancestry, but I admired her and I'm saddened by her passing. Like countless others, she's the only Queen I've "known" in my life. Unlike those who live in the United Kingdom, the passing of the monarchy to King Charles III isn't something that will affect my life. That's one of the perks of observing from afar.

I admired Queen Elizabeth greatly. She was above all else a lady who knew how to hold her head up through thick and thin. She had the highest title a woman can hold, but I would hate to live in the fishbowl as she did. People have asked me if I aspire to have my writing career achieve a level equal to Nora Roberts and the answer is no. I do not want strangers watching my every move when I walk down the street in our shared hometown. Her Majesty lived her entire life under the watchful, and sometimes critical, gaze of strangers. I would also hate to have my every day planned out for me. I suppose my sense of duty is not that developed. 

Yes, I'm saddened that Queen Elizabeth II is gone. She was a great lady. We truly have reached the end of an era, the kind of which we won't see again. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)


September 3, 2022

Apple Pie Filling for the WIN!

I need to face the fact that I will never get done canning homegrown and homemade foods for the pantry. I think it's some kind of addiction.  I had apples left over from making applesauce, but not enough to fill the canner with another complete batch of applesauce, so I made apple pie filling. 

No, I didn't end up with a complete batch of seven quarts of apple pie filling, either. I have a Presto 23-quart canner so a "batch" equals seven quarts, or nine pints if using the water bath method, or up to eighteen pints if pressure canning, or twelve half-pints in a water bath. Half-pints are usually jams and jellies or a specialty item like chutney. 

So...five quarts of apple pie filling. I'm happy with that and with the fact I have enough of the filling "sauce" left to open a jar of sliced apples from last year and bake a pie for Sunday dinner. Win-win. 

The apple pie filling was by far the most difficult processing I've done this year. You have to peel and slice the apples, blanch the apples, and drain the apples BUT KEEP THEM WARM! Yeah? Well, the best way to do that is to get them in the jars, get the sauce over them, and get them in the canner. And...the sauce. It's an easy recipe and it's delicious, but it goes from liquid to thick in three seconds flat. It needs stirring while the apples need warming. Holy crap! I brought out the old two-burner hotplate because I needed to spread out for this operation!

It worked and I guess that's all that matters. I had quite a sticky mess to clean up while the jars processed for twenty-five minutes. I'm five for five on the seals, and we'll have a few apple pies to keep our bellies happy this winter. 

I'm very pleased with my summer food preservation efforts. I don't know what next summer will bring, but I plan to spend the cold months reading canning books, making soups, and getting ideas for next summer. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, home food preservation, canning, Presto, apple pie filling, gardening, soup, books, planning, simple country pleasures, rural lifestyle, a writer's life, applesauce, pantry prepping

August 27, 2022

Head first into the metaphorical wall

It's not been the best of weeks. I accomplished a few things, sure, but I definitely feel a bit melancholy as the end of summer approaches.  I'm sure part of the problem is those feelings of guilt when I leave the spousal unit home alone to go play in the woods with the dog. If you think our State parks are handicap friendly you'd be wrong. We live beside a state park and access to the trail system is blocked to power chairs and scooters by very large boulders and locked gates. But I digress....for now...

This morning I processed another ten pints of tomato sauce. I did go purchase enough tomatoes to add to my own to fill the canner with nine jars and have one left over to use in the next few days. I've enjoyed canning this summer and get giddy when I view my shelves in the basement. I've got a good variety and plan to add soups to it as the fall weather brings cooler evenings. 

Another thing weighing on my mind is something that seems to be an annual event in my greater community. Three young men, all in high school, were killed in an automobile accident a few days ago. The car driven by one of the young men attempted to merge onto the Interstate and struck a tractor-trailer. The local police determined the car was moving at a high rate of speed. What they don't say is lack of experience was certainly a factor. My heart goes out to the families, families that will never be the same. There were losses in my day as well and even though I am not family, I don't forget. 

I hope that when tomorrow dawns I wake with renewed energy. I don't like feeling "mopey" and having no ambition. The spousal unit, a very smart man, suggests that I've needed a bit of a break. He may be correct although I'll refrain from saying that to him. I think my funk has put him in a funk. He's hovering. 

So tomorrow, in the mood or not, I must rise early and go for a long walk. It will do me, and Deuce, a world of good. A break is a fine thing, but I have much to do as the days shorten. I'll have plenty of time for "breaks" when the mercury dips below 32F. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

**I learned after posting this that one of the young men killed last week is the nephew of an old school friend.**

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country living, rural lifestyle, home food preservation, motivations, community mourns, walking the dog, state parks, canning, a writer's life, car accidents, seasons, autumn, end of summer