June 7, 2023

Wildfires are raging in Canada

I can think of little that is more frightening than being at the mercy of the elements. Floods, blizzards, wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes are beyond our control. We have to ride out the havoc and devastation they leave in their wake. For the first time in my memory, Canada is beset with wildfires. As I write this, there are over four hundred different fires burning, and only about half are "under control." 

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd think a group of activists had been busy. Maybe they really don't like Justin Trudeau.  

Looking out my office window, a grey haze covers the land. Never in my life have I experienced a time when smoke from Canada has blanketed western Maryland. Early this morning I thought I needed to get busy and wash the windows, but that is not the problem. It's much worse.  

To say that I'm concerned is an understatement. Is this a harbinger of things to come? 

I pray it is not. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, a writer's life, wildfires, Canada, smoke, elemental dangers, air quality, threats to life

June 6, 2023

The tomatoes have blossoms

A few short days ago I was in my little garden patch talking to my tomato plants. I wanted to give them some encouragement so their buds would turn into flowers on the journey to become fruit. It has happened! 

All eighteen plants now have blossoms. I have two varieties planted, Beefsteak and Giant Pink Belgium, and I think this is the last year I'll plant two. If I stick to one heirloom variety, I can save the seeds, and in time, have a strong tomato well acclimated to my microclimate. I'd like to try it, anyway. 

Unless I get an incredibly huge amount of tomatoes, I'll have to supplement my harvest with half a bushel or so from the local fruit stand and/or farmer's markets. I processed a good number of jars in 2022 and I think it will see us through. And if it doesn't, I'm not going to get hung up about buying commercially canned tomatoes. I think we do what we can when we can.  

One thing I would like to home process is ketchup, so we'll have to wait and see how that works out. But for now, the tomatoes are blooming and I'll be happy with that. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tomatoes, home canning, gardening, rural living, country lifestyle, growing in containers 

June 5, 2023

An update on the 2023 Greenstalk

Earlier this year I purchased a Greenstalk. The Greenstalk has been hyped on a lot of gardening and homesteading YouTube channels, and I thought it did look kinda cool.  I have three acres of ground, but not much of it is actually arable. I'm averse to cutting down trees on a whim when I can work out options. My option for having a garden is to grow in containers. 

Back to the Greenstalk. I had to set it in the old washtub so I could level it. Level ground is also at a premium here. I live on the side of a mountain. We make do. 

I planted seeds in about half the pockets, added a few begonia cuttings for color, and transplanted a few herbs. It's finally looking like I did not waste my money. 

The Greenstalk will be in another location next year. I need to get a large concrete paver and the special base before next season. As with all things, we tend to take cautious steps. This year we observe how things grow in it. Next year we take it as far as we choose.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Greenstalk, gardening, rural living, country lifestyle, level ground, using caution, seeds, wax plants, begonias, container gardening

June 3, 2023

How old is that log splitter?

We have an old, and I do mean old, MTD log splitter. It's been a workhorse. I think we got it around 1995 and it hasn't missed a beat - except for one thing. We got to the point in life where neither of us can give the pull starter rope a good rip to get it started. We're lucky we can call next door and my cousin will come and give it a yank, but we like to be more self-sufficient. To that end, Himself has swapped out the motor with the pull starter to one with a battery and a key. 

This should have been done years ago!  

It wasn't an easy job for him to do. He worked on it a little bit at a time over the course of many days. He had to purchase a few new tools to remove the old motor. He had to purchase new tools to mount the new one. We ordered new hydraulic hoses, too. You might wonder why we didn't simply go buy a whole new splitter with the electric start, but damn. Prices are astronomical! The old auto mechanic put his rusty skills to good use and at a fraction of the cost. 

Living among the trees as we do, the log splitter is a necessity. Keeping the trees trimmed so that they stay healthy, plus what Mother Nature drops to the ground, keeps us in firewood. Last year was an anomaly in that we deliberately cut down three trees, but those threatened the house. I can't let that wood go to waste. That wood will warm three houses in cold weather. 

I'm happy to have saved the old MTD splitter. Just like a lot of people in this world, it may be old, but it's completely functional. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, MTD log splitter, rural living, country lifestyle, firewood, equipment, electric starter, function

May 31, 2023

Almost time! Flowers forming on toms!

One of the most pleasurable things about gardening is walking through to check the plants and discovering the changes. Seeds sprout, plants grow, they start to vine, new leaves pop out, and flower buds form. Yea!

Several of the tomato plants, both the Beefsteak and the Giant Pink Belgium, have flower buds ready to open. I'm not at all sure where this fits in the 2022 schedule. I know that by mid-June last year there were green Roma tomatoes on the vines. This year the weather seems cooler, so it may take longer. 

But no matter. All happens in a garden in its own time. You can only hurry the season so much without a heated greenhouse. Oh, yes, I'd love to have one but as with all expenses, we'll have to wait and see.

It's enough for now to see the buds in the tomatoes. One lesson that is quickly taught to novice gardeners is that you must be patient. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tomatoes, gardening, flower buds, rural living, country lifestyle, container gardening, greenhouse, Beefsteak, Roma, Giant Pink Belgium

May 30, 2023

The wildflower garden is getting there

For many years, I wanted a knee wall built at our parking area. My first husband refused, my one serious "boyfriend" refused, and the Lord of the Manor refused. I didn't ask because I wanted to see them work hard. I asked because they were physically stronger than me. Even Himself could have done it the first time I asked him almost thirty years ago.  

Back in 2020, I did it myself. It was very difficult to do. Rocks are heavy. I'm still angry that none of them cared enough to do it for me. 

Fast forward three years and the wildflower garden behind the knee wall is showing promise. I can visualize what it will be in a few years. I have an old-fashioned iris from my great-grandmother's garden, a row of Stella d-Oro daylilies, Siberian iris, a red peony, and two seed packs of wildflowers that the seeds have sprouted and are growing. The row of blue wildflowers along the back are lovely. I just wish I knew what they were!

I'm hopeful that next year even more seeds will sprout on their own. I want it to be wild and free to grow in whatever direction it takes. This will certainly annoy the Lord of the Manor, but he had his chance to issue input and now he doesn't get a say. 

Is that petty of me? I don't care. Building that wall myself was an attitude adjustment I'm sure he's sorry he forced upon me. I have my wall. I have a jumble of wildflowers. 

Empowerment comes when we least expect it, and in ways we can't foresee. Be open to it.

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, wildflowers, knee wall, empowerment, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, gardening, stacked stone wall, 

May 29, 2023

Remembering on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who entered military service on our behalf. Military service is a big deal in my family. My five-times great-grandfather whose last name I was born with took the Oath to the new United States back in 1781. My father served in Germany during the Korean Conflict. 

Dad never saw any "action." He was tasked with driving some General around. He made it sound like he and the General got along rather well during their time together. 

Some people may snicker that this was the task assigned to him, that he didn't do much. Driving a General around - how hard can it be? 

So driving around one of the command staff and protecting him, having to make the decision to step in front of a bullet if necessary isn't really serving your country? It is. 

I thank all our veterans for performing the tasks put to them and the families of those who never made it home for such a sacrifice. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Memorial Day, veterans, Korean Conflict, Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, a writer's life, rural living, family

May 27, 2023

A very busy month, lots to do

I can't believe it's been weeks since I blogged here at The Hideaway. To say we've been busy would be a bit of an understatement. Spring is a time of preparation in the country.

My little garden is planted and thriving. The tomatoes are ready to bloom! The inner leaves of the cabbages are starting to curl. The sugar snap peas are vining and climbing their guide ropes. After a tentative start, the cucumbers are gaining traction. The butternut squash seeds have sprouted as have the cantaloupe and watermelon. The Contender green beans are looking good and I wish I'd planted more of them. Five of the six green pepper plants are thriving. 

If there is anything I can call a disappointment, it's the Greenstalk. Hopefully, it will improve as the summer progresses.  

Other activities include mowing, weeding, mulching, some tractor work, helping a neighbor with the removal of a downed tree, and the usual household chores. I even uploaded a short video. I wanted to have the pool set up by now, but that hasn't happened. 

It feels good to have the work done. For the next little stretch of time, I'll need to water the garden (possibly daily) and mow once a week or so. During this "break in the action," my one cousin and I may drop a large cherry tree that is leaning out over the yard. Cherry makes great firewood and we'll each take half the wood for the winter of 2024-25. 

One thing is for sure - there is never a day with nothing to do.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country lifestyle, rural living, gardening, Greenstalk, cutting wood, mowing grass, John Deere 1023, helping neighbors, hard work, loving life

May 11, 2023

Lopsided roses

The roses began to bloom a couple of days ago. It's May, so it's time, so that's really not news. The news is they are only blooming on one side. 

What's up with that, you ask. Answer: the deer nibbled off the front side of all three rose bushes. 

The roses are planted along the front porch so the deer can only reach one side. You would think they wouldn't bother roses because of the thorns, but they do. 

Nurturing roses and then having the deer destroy half the bushes is frustrating. We're about to take drastic measures. 

We don't hunt. We have no intention of shooting a deer. We will, however, put a slug in the ground near their feet to scare them away. We hope that if we do that often enough, they'll get the message and stay in the woods. 

Will it work? We'll see. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, roses, whitetail deer, country lifestyle, rural living, a writer's life, deer damage, deer control, gardening, simple country pleasures

May 1, 2023

Press the pause button, albeit unwillingly

Happy May Day! The Celts called this day Beltane and it was, I believe, their most important day of the year. It might be a pagan holiday, but these days, we need to remember that regardless of the different places we come from and the different things we believe that we're on the journey together. 

So. That wasn't on topic for today. Today I'm commiserating about the weather. It's the first of May and it's cold and damp outside. I had to press the pause button on all my outside activities, which didn't please me or Deuce. He's one bored pup at the moment. No long walks or car rides. No playing in the cold creeks. No squirrels running about the backyard. No work in the garden beyond a visual check which resulted in dispatching one green worm today. eewwww.  

Is our rainy, cloudy weather the result of the eruption of Shiveluch, a Russian volcano, on April 11? I haven't heard The Weather Channel mention it. Is it just our normal May weather? May and June are my area's historically wettest months with rainfall. It may be wet, but the temperatures are holding up, staying in the fifty+ Fahrenheit range, so my tomatoes and begonias are fine. 

Around three o'clock this afternoon, a bit of sunshine broke through, and Deuce and I went out for a brief stroll around the yard. It's a mixed bag out there. The daffodils are over, the one really early daylily is trying to bloom, the purple lilac has a couple of blooms, and the old-fashioned brown/yellow iris from my great-grandmother's garden has popped up a few buds. Along the front deck runway, the peonies are showing some promise, too. 

This brief pause won't last long. The clouds, be they regular or volcanic, will soon blow away. The sunshine will return in full force and the outside work will resume. Whether we like it or not, that's the way of weather. We simply need to be patient. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, peonies, gardening, weather, rural living, country lifestyle, Labrador Retrievers, a writer's life, iris, daffodils

April 26, 2023

It was a great idea: shade cloth

My office is in our sunroom. The Lord of the Manor built the addition for the sunroom back in 1995 or 1996 when he was still young(er) and mobile. It's my favorite room in the house and not just because he built it for me. It's got windows on three sides and is the next best thing to working in the woods. It's a front-row seat to observe the deer, squirrels, foxes, chipmunks, and the occasional raccoon, possum, skunk, groundhog, turkey, and even snake. One day it was even the neighbor's cows! 

The windows are wonderful and the space wouldn't be the same without them. The biggest drawback is that in the summer, even with central air, the room heats up between ten and four o'clock. In past summers, I had an umbrella on the porch that I opened and moved a little bit every hour to create shade. The problem with the umbrella was that even with a heavy base, it liked to fly away like it was looking for Mary Poppins! 

I put up a good set of black-out curtains last year and they helped, but I didn't like closing off one side of the room during the day. I like to look out over my domain. I decided to try shade cloth this summer, and I got it put up. I can already tell it's going to make a huge difference. And when it gets really hot, I will close the curtains to help with utility costs.

It's not a fancy setup. We got some 2x2 exterior grade lumber from Lowe's and made simple frames that we affixed to the porch railing with zip ties (cable straps to some). The 70% shade cloth was purchased from Amazon. I used simple hooks to attach one side of the shade cloth to the house (it has grommets), draped it over the frame, and used more zip ties to fasten it to the frame and the railing. 

The shade cloth creates enough shade to make sitting on the porch in the afternoons bearable. I can already tell it will help keep the sunroom a lot cooler. If it works for the entire season, I'll take some time over the winter and figure out if it needs improvements for next summer. The shade cloth will come down for the winter and be stored in the shed. 

Is it perfect? Not really, but it's functional. That's all that matters to me. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, country lifestyle, shade cloth, keeping cool, cutting utility costs, home & garden, sunrooms, critical thinking solutions, home office, a writer's life, writing, romance novels, gardening

April 23, 2023

Cucumbers 2023

I will freely admit I am not a master gardener, but a novice at best. My grandfather was a Master. Oh, he never went to school or took classes for it, but he knew it. He lived it. His parents and grandparents' survival depended on the crops they raised and "put by" for the next year. He worked the garden right beside them. From my front porch, I can still see the area where they planted and it is about three acres in size. 

I wish I'd been able to learn more from him, but I needed to work a full-time job. After work, there was my first marriage to tend to, not that my efforts there were successful. Now I have time to garden and I'm learning almost from scratch. 

Pop grew cucumbers from time to time, but they weren't a staple in his garden. I recall that my grandmother would tell him she needed to make a batch of pickles (bread and butter) every few years, and he'd plant some cukes. Once the pickles were in the jars, the family got salad cucumbers because my grandparents didn't eat very many of them raw. 

This is the first year I started cucumber seeds inside. Nine seeds sprouted that have been transplanted into buckets in the garden patch. Cucumber is a fruit and is about ninety-five percent water. The seedlings are very tender and can't tolerate colder temperatures the way a tomato plant can. 

I knew I took a big chance getting the cukes outside this early. We're still ahead of our last frost date but my instinct tells me that while the temps are dipping into the mid to high thirties, we won't have frost. Nonetheless, I decided to hedge my gamble and move the cukes and tomatoes into the greenhouse for the next two nights. We had a good rain yesterday and the air is damp. I expect the greenhouse will add a layer of protection from the dampness settling on the leaves overnight. 

Planting early wasn't something my grandfather did, but we have new and improved varieties these days. If my cucumbers wilt due to the cold night, I still have time to direct sow more seed. If that happens, I'll consider it a lesson learned and stick to direct sowing from here on out. 

Live and learn.

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, rural living, country lifestyle, cucumbers, tomatoes, greenhouse, freeze warning, a writer's life, simple country pleasures

April 20, 2023

Did I stick to the plan?


original plan
So I made a plan. I even made a nifty little diagram using MS PUB, a program I happen to like a lot. The question is, am I sticking to the plan? 

What a silly question. 

No, I'm not sticking to the plan, at least not closely. And the bottom line is, it doesn't much matter. 

The cucumbers and green beans switch places. The Brussels sprouts are going around the edge of the garden and sharing a grow bag with a marigold. Frankly, I don't have much hope for the Brussels starts. They didn't do well for me last year but I decided to try again. If they fail this year, I have seeds for one more try - the make-or-break try. 

April 20, 2023 plan

And I tried to overwater the poor little cukes. They snapped back as soon as they got to spend time in the sun yesterday. Today they seem rather happy in their respective buckets. 

All-in-all, it's going very well. We've reached the more traditional date for starting seeds outside, so I'll be planting in the Greenstalk over the next few days. 

Now I just have to keep a close watch on the weather forecast. If necessary, I can move all the buckets and bags into the greenhouse, but I hope that does not become necessary. It would be a lot of lifting but I could do it. 

I've drawn out the task of planting so I could really enjoy being in my little garden patch, but I'm ready to be finished. Then the tasks will be keeping everything watered and fertilized, and keeping an eye on pests. I'm looking forward to sitting in the middle of growing things and relaxing. I already have a chair in place! 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, green peppers, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, cucumbers, bunching onions, garden plans, growing things

April 15, 2023

We need this rainy day

A rainy day view

It's a wonderfully rainy day here at Holly Tree Manor. It's been very dry, so dry in fact that the county government issued a burning ban. Twenty or so miles west of us, several wildfires have occurred in the last few days so this rain is a blessing to the firefighters. I'm always worried about wildfires living as we do. All it takes is one fucking idiot discarding a lit cigarette on the mountain trails to change the mountain forever. 

We've been busy with several projects. The Lord of the Manor is working on modifying an aluminum ramp to more easily load his power chair into the van, and changing out the engine on the log splitter to one that has an electric starter. We've reached the point where a pull-string starter no longer works for us. 

I've been busy with my little garden setup, getting seedlings to the greenhouse, and planting brassicas. Having an abundance of tomato seedlings, I even planted a few tomatoes into their buckets. My instincts say we're unlikely to see a hard frost this year, but if it looks like one will happen, those buckets can be moved inside the greenhouse. It's not a problem. 

Everything here has turned green. I "threw the mower" at the yard to chop the tops off the high spots, but after this rain, I'll need to actually mow. I took a morning and cleaned up around the edges of the yard, picking up and raking downed sticks and general tree debris. Anything large enough to damage the mower blades went on the brush pile. 

We built a rough frame for the sunroom porch and I draped 40% shade cloth over it to see if that would help keep my office cooler. It appears to work so I've ordered a denser shade cloth to make a more permanent installation. The shade umbrella I've used for several years has an unfortunate propensity to fly away in the wind. I'm not buying another one. 

This rainy day gives me the chance to catch up on a few things I've let slide. I want to get my planting diagram into the computer, all neat and tidy, so I have it for next year. I may even get some laundry done! The weather may have convinced me to take it slower today, but that's fine. A little break never hurt anyone.

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, greenhouse, rural living, country lifestyle, rainy days, a writer's life, shade cloth, wildfires, woodlands, log splitter

April 2, 2023

Feeling stymied

Stymied: To be an obstacle to; prevent the advancement or success of; thwart or stump: weather that stymied attempts to locate the missing hikers; a math problem that stymied half the class. 

I feel stymied by our wonderful weather. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the grass is greening-up, the breeze is blowing, and it's a mere 45F outside. It rained yesterday and the ground is damp. 

I can't mow, I can't dig in the too-wet dirt, I can't set the begonias out on the porch for another round of hardening-off. 

But there is hope! Tomorrow, if all goes as predicted, I'll be able to cross off a lot of items on my To Do List. I'll be able to mow (or maybe convince the Lord of the Manor to do it), get the begonias to the greenhouse, plant sugar snap pea seeds outside in a few grow bags, sow a row of spring onions in the raised bed, and plant a few seeds in starter packs once the begonias are out of the way. I may even make a quick trip to the landfill if Himself is willing to do a few things for me this afternoon. 

I'm definitely feeling frustrated this spring. There are so many things to do, that I want to do, and I need to wait out the weather, at least until tomorrow.

Tomorrow's 10-day forecast is a beacon of hope. After tonight, there is only one night that the temperature dips into the thirties (Fahrenheit). Since my little greenhouse isn't heated, I plan to cover the begonias at night with an old sheet for the next little while anyway, so it'll still work for me. 

There are, of course, things I could do today if I had more of a domestic bent. Housekeeping and laundry have never excited me the way being outside does. I'd probably die if forced to live in the "concrete jungle." I do enjoy home food preservation, but I don't have any canning projects lined up. 

I'll figure today out soon. I'm never stymied for very long. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, home food preservation, rural living, weather, greenhouse, country lifestyle, a writer's life, Greenstalk, seeds, sugar snap peas, seed trays, 

March 27, 2023

Gardening 2023 - more progress

This week should bring more progress with the garden prep. Today is the day, once the sun comes up, that I will begin to "harden off" the begonias. I have four mother plants and two trays of young cuttings, and they will all spend a couple of hours on the sunroom porch this afternoon. The plan is to set them out each day this week and then move them to the greenhouse next weekend. I will keep a close eye on the weather forecast for our nighttime lows to make sure that can happen. The greenhouse isn't heated so I'll drape an extra sheet over them at night if necessary.

Getting the begonias moved out is really a necessity. I need the shelf space to get a few more seeds started. Yesterday, I transplanted the Beefsteak tomato seedlings into cups, keeping only the larger seedlings with true tomato leaves showing, which means I only kept half of what sprouted. It was painful to discard twelve little plants and keep only twelve. I'd love to grow them all, but this is not a big tomato year for me. If I change my mind and want to can more sauce, I'll go to the local farm markets and purchase tomatoes.   

One project that kept me garden prepping over these last few rainy days was finalizing the planting chart for the Greenstalk. I used the trusty old MS Publisher program to keep it neat and tidy. With the begonias moved to the greenhouse, I can start the seeds for a few things that will go in the Greenstalk such as the calendula. 

Getting the Greenstalk situated for the year was interesting. My garden spot is on a slight slope. Hell, everything here is on a slope! The Greenstalk needed to be level and none of the available bases for it would accomplish that, so I needed to get creative. An old galvanized washtub provided the solution. I put a couple shovelfuls of the clean crush run we keep on hand for the lane in the washtub and worked the bottom row of the Greenstalk until it set level in the gravel. I used a level to check it, too. I think that was a great way to use what I already had on hand to get the job done. 

Dawn is finally happening, and it's time to take Deuce for his second trip outside. I may go wander around my garden spot and build visions of how it may look in a few short weeks while he does what he needs to do. It's a fine warm dawning, so yeah. That's my plan.

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, begonias, black Labrador Retriever, rural living, country lifestyle, MS Publisher, garden diagrams, Greenstalk, repurposing, a writer's life, contemporary romance author

March 25, 2023

Rainy day views

daffodils in the rain

One would think that having reached this stage of my life, a truly rainy day wouldn't bother me. Usually, it doesn't, but this year I'm anxious to be outside working on gardening chores. There is still much to do. At least I can do a few things today, inside in the dry.

The Beefsteak tomato seedlings are ready to transplant from the sprouting tray to larger containers. I'm not fancy with this. I use plastic cups that are rinsed out each year and reused. Four-inch black plastic pots were more expensive, so NO. I didn't go that route. 

Our rain today is the kind that has settled in, complete with fog and distant thunder. From my desk, I can gaze out at the daffodils and marvel at how bright and cheery they are in the rain. I'll enjoy them today because this rain will beat the blooms and by tomorrow they will have faded. 

rainy day office view
Looking out the office door, I can watch the raindrops bounce on the deck boards and see them splatter on the window. The earth needs a good soaking rain and yet I wish it would come in showers that I could work between. We humans are never satisfied, and I should be. Where I live, this could easily have been a snow event, winter's last hurrah as it were. 

But there is hope! The weather radar map shows the actual rain passing in a few hours. I still won't be able to work outside because the ground will be too wet and squishy. I tell myself to stop fretting about it, that I'm retired now and am not constrained to getting everything done on the weekend, but a lifetime of habits and that worker-bee mindset are not always easy to set aside. 

I should console myself with working on the current manuscript, but my heart is outside, in my garden space, and writing prose when my heart isn't in it has never worked for me. It would be better if I take my cup of tea to my comfortable reading chair and just enjoy the sound of the rain on the roof. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, country lifestyle, rain, snow, weather, a writer's life, radar map, gardening, tomatoes, transplanting seedlings 

March 20, 2023

It was cookie day

The Lord of Manor is quite good at guilting me into doing a few, but not all, things. I've been busy working on a story so he's not been getting proper attention, and so he whines. 

About cookies. 

Cookies are in fact one of the major food groups, at least according to him. I keep store-bought cookies on hand because he whines louder if there are no cookies at all in the house. But he knows how to work me and he finally stopped whining and said that magic word - PLEASE. 

So yesterday I baked two batches of cookies for him. One batch is regular sugar cookies, which are very plain and go great with coffee. The other is your standard oatmeal cookie with a twist. Instead of raisins, I add white chocolate chips and cranberries. This combo really has become our favorite cookie and you won't find it in any store. 

I don't mind making cookies, but the freezer is pretty full. I had to juggle some things around to fit multiple bags of cookies inside. I'll still bring home store-bought cookies but now I have my own on hand for emergencies. 

It will certainly keep the whining at a minimum.

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, home-baked, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, preparedness

March 18, 2023

Canning project: BBQ Pulled Pork

Yesterday I had an appointment for a haircut, and being in town decided to run a few errands. I discovered my local grocery had pork butt on sale along the way and my first thought was to make another batch of pulled pork. 

I think it was around last May when I made the test batch of a recipe I found in one of the canning books. It was really good and we used all six or seven pints. This time, I went for more and ended up with thirteen pints. Thirteen jars and thirteen seals!

I was a bit cautious with this recipe the first time because the sauce has brown sugar, molasses, and honey in it. Sugar doesn't always process well and can taste burnt, but that's not a problem with this recipe. A bit of smokiness is a plus for pulled pork. 

The best part of this is I have thirteen easy suppers for on the patio this year. We do enjoy eating outside when the weather is good. A covered and screened patio with a television makes relaxing after supper quite enjoyable. 

And the haircut? I think I finally convinced my younger cousin that layers are a good thing. I'm retired. The less I have to fuss with my hair on a daily basis, the better. This cut will definitely be a wash and go this summer. I like it. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

home food preservation, Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, pulled pork, haircuts, rural living, country lifestyle, canning, pork butt, a writer's life, grocery shopping, Presto canner, pint jars

March 16, 2023

Flying Geese

One of my earliest memories is of my great-grandmother working at her quilting frame. When I was very young, about four or so, my mother went back to work and Grandma Mary Ellen kept me during the day. It was certainly convenient as we lived next door to her. My family has lived on this plot of land for one hundred thirteen years now. 

Grandma was a worker and I "helped" her with her chores. With supervision, I learned how to feed the chickens and the rabbits, how to water the garden, how to make jelly and other things, and I learned how to quilt. 

I remember "hiding" under the quilt frame as Grandma worked. I had a doll or something to play with, but what she was doing was a lot more interesting. She started me off by having me thread her needles and learning to knot the thread. I learned really fast not to stick myself, too. My first projects were small, worthless squares, but Grandma was patient and I learned. 

Fast forward twenty-odd years and I took up quilting as a wintertime hobby. I eventually got pretty good at it and have made around thirty quilts. Friends and co-workers asked for them, and as long as they purchased all the material I was agreeable. 

It's been many years since I made a quilt although my love for them has not diminished. Circumstances change and a housemate that is too careless in his use of a quilt sent my best ones to the cedar chest. Now that I'm retired, it may be time to see if I still have the patience required to quilt. 

This time of the year, when it's too cold and miserable to be outside, is going to be hard on me. I've been writing, of course, but I can't make that my singular wintertime occupation. I'm too restless. I need to plan for something in addition to writing for next winter and I think making a quilt may be just the thing. 

I've always wanted to make a quilt using the Flying Geese pattern. There are myriad variations on this triangular theme but I think I'll stick to something close to the traditional. If I plan it out now, I have all summer to choose and purchase fabrics. 

I have Grandma's quilting frames, but I really don't have room to set them up. I'll use a hoop instead. A hoop is portable enough that it can be moved from room to room to take advantage of natural light. 

So I suppose that's the plan for next winter. I think I'll make a quilt. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, quilting, Flying Geese quilt pattern, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, gardening, preparedness, heritage quilting

March 11, 2023

Little green sprouts 2023

The cabbage and Brussels spouts forced my hand. Yesterday, I transplanted some very tender and very leggy seedlings.  They seemed to shoot up overnight and then, of course, they began to fall over. I transplanted eight of each which is all I'm doing of them for this year. 

After that, I planted marigold seeds for the third time. I sure hope the old saying is correct and this time is "the charm." The two previous plantings both damped-off on me. I'm using a different approach this last time. If this batch of seeds doesn't produce, I'll just have to purchase marigolds from the nursery. 

Then I moved on to tomatoes. Last year I planted a lot of Roma tomatoes and they did really good. I canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and pizza sauce. Between what I canned and what was already in the pantry that is commercially produced, I doubt I'll need to can many tomatoes this year. I planted Beefsteak and Pink Belgium seeds and hope to get some nice slicing tomatoes to eat fresh from the garden. 

There is a lot more to come. I have herb seeds to plant in the Greenstalk, and some Kennebec seed potatoes to plant in the raised beds. I just need to be patient and wait on the weather. 

I hope that in three weeks, I can move the cabbage, Brussels, and begonias to the greenhouse and free up space on my shelves. We'll have to see how that goes. It all depends on the weather. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, tomatoes, herbs, Greenstalk, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, pizza, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Burpee seeds, Roma tomatoes

March 8, 2023

Now I have to clean it up

We have over two hundred trees at Holly Tree Manor, which means Mother Nature throws a lot of firewood at us. Our decision late last year to harvest three trees was not the norm. Those trees posed a somewhat immediate threat to the house (the big poplar was very much a threat) which was why we made the decision to cut them down. If a tree dies naturally we harvest those and we don't lack for firewood. 

Last summer I gathered up bits and pieces of downed wood and such and piled it out by the little woodpile. That woodpile is one of Loki's favorite perches but it's really sort of community property for everyone's campfires and fire pits. Well....

Now I have to clean up those sticks. I'd hoped they'd get burned but it didn't happen. It's not a difficult task with the John Deere tractor but it's something I need to take the time to do when I'd rather be planting tomato seeds. 

Lesson learned. I won't stack anything in front of the woodpile again. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, woodpile, firewood, rural living, country lifestyle, John Deere 1023, a writer's life, gardening, homestead prepper

March 4, 2023

The things that shape us

Today marks one of those anniversaries it doesn't do well to revisit some years. I generally realize the date and then move on, but this year I have a few things that are well and truly bugging the hell out of me. 

March 4, 1975, fell on a Tuesday. I was seventeen years old at the time. I left school, driving my 1969 Camaro to a local department store in search of Elton John's upcoming release, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.  When I pulled into a parking space, a man opened my car door and put a gun to my head. 

Obviously, I'm here today. I came through the event better than my poor Camaro, which the man wrecked. 

I'm not that girl anymore. I grew up. 

What is bugging me is the segment of people who blame the gun for what happened to me. And to those who do, I say you're so far beyond stupid I don't have a word for it.  

The gun did nothing. It took no action on its own. But the MAN did. I WAS THERE and I tell you it was all on the criminal, not the gun. 

There is a segment of our government hell-bent on controlling guns when it is not the guns that hop up, sprout legs, and take action. It is criminals, like the man who yanked open my car door, who are at fault. 

I am a legal gun owner in the State of Maryland, but I can't carry a gun to protect myself even though the Constitution of the United States gives me that right. To carry my gun, I'd have to cough up several hundred dollars first. What does that say? It's about the money and not the rights of the people. 

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Shall NOT be infringed, but I'm being infringed, and I am part of the militia. We all are. 

As a victim of a violent crime involving a handgun, I assure you all those brainless parrots in the legislature have it completely wrong. All these people screaming we should ban guns are brainless parrots. Who is using you? 

I've been there. I've seen the truth up close and personal. The gun didn't open my car door. The gun didn't tie me up. The gun didn't abandon me along the side of the road. The gun didn't steal my car. A criminal did those things. 

If anyone really and truly believes a piece of paper upon which is typed a few words declaring it illegal to own a gun is going to stop a criminal then I feel sorry for your stupidity. Do you really believe a criminal is going to surrender his gun? It ain't gonna happen. 

As a law-abiding citizen of the United States, even though I don't want to carry my gun with me on a regular basis, I feel it is my right to do so, a right that the Founding Fathers set down in our Constitution and politicians today use as fodder to avoid actually doing their job. 

Let's not focus on solving the very real problem of homelessness, illegal aliens, illegal drugs, substandard education, corrupt officials, misappropriated funding, women's rights, inflation, food shortages, unemployment, unworkable energy "solutions," poisons in our food and water, and the criminals themselves. Let's not do any of that. Let's just shout about "gun control."

My gun is under my control, thank you. And as a law-abiding citizen, it will remain so. The only thing "gun control" will do is hurt me and millions of other Americans just like me. 

It's time to deal with the criminal, not the tools they use. A gun does not pull its own trigger.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gun control is a farce, rural living, country lifestyle, Second Amendment, 

February 28, 2023

Shade cloth

Last year was the first time I used shade cloth. The small greenhouse I purchased really heated up inside and it was pretty obvious if I didn't moderate the temperature, plants would burn up on really hot days. The answer was shade cloth.  What surprised me about the shade cloth over the greenhouse was that it also kept the inside a bit warmer a bit longer in the evenings. I hadn't expected that. 

I also learned last year that "full sun" can kill a tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket. I had a devil of a time keeping the soil in the tomato buckets from going bone dry. It's one of the many reasons I've moved my garden to its current location. It will get dappled shade early in the morning and full sun from about ten-thirty to five-ish. So will that still be too much full sun? 

Good old Sol is doing a few things that are not conducive to great gardening. We've had the Grand Solar Minimum, we've had coronal flares, and pretty soon it looks like a solar maximum may be in the works. What's a gardener to do? 

I'm going with shade cloth. I recently purchased a small shade cloth for over the frame of the first tiny greenhouse I got several years ago. The plastic shredded (I knew it would eventually) but the frame is fine. The plan is to cover the frame with the shade cloth and go from there. I also got a larger shade cloth to drape over the wooden frames. I can screw one side down and pull it over the rails as necessary. I think it should work, but as with all things, I'll make adjustments as I go along. 

And for those who wonder how well the greenhouse withstands high winds, I zip-tied 10-pound barbell weights to each corner for a little extra insurance. The greenhouse hasn't moved yet. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, greenhouse, shade cloth, rural living, country lifestyle, blogging, a writer's life, sun activity

February 26, 2023

It's sneeze season - for me

Sneeze season has arrived as it does every year. I'm not plagued with a lot of infirmities - I actually have just one. I'm cursed by the budding maple tree. 

As I look out any window, I'm confronted by little red buds hanging happily on the tips of the maple tree. And what do those little red buds mean? POLLEN. Tree pollen. It's about to get ugly. 

I've checked my tissue supply and it's adequate to see me until the next trip to Sam's Club. In the spring, I buy tissues in bulk. The fact that the trees are budding early does not bode well for me. My nose will become a faucet at any given moment, an inconvenience that will continue to plague me until green leaves appear. Once the leaves pop, I'm in the clear until the next year.

Sneezing aside, the trees are lovely against a perfect blue sky. Spring is a time of paying attention to what Mother Nature is doing. You have to watch closely or you'll miss some of her marvels. 

I don't want to miss a thing in case I'm not here next year. I try to appreciate each season in case it's my last. It helps me to be grateful for little things. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, maple tree buds, pollen, country lifestyle, rural living, a writer's life, simple country pleasures, nature, be attentive, allergies, blue sky

February 25, 2023

Forty years ago today

On February 25, 1983, my mobile home burned to the ground. I lost everything except my two cars and a load of clothing that was in my mother's washing machine. I wasn't home. I'd gone to town with my parents that evening, and luckily, my dog was at my parent's house visiting with their dog. My two cats were not as fortunate. 

When someone chastises me for allowing my cat to have outdoor access, I like to tell them how I had to pull those two little corpses out of the wreckage and bury them. yeah. Go ahead and judge me. 

I've come a long way in forty years. I built a house in the same location so I wouldn't need a new septic system and well, not to mention put in a new driveway, and subsequently paid off that mortgage. I traded a faithless husband for a caring life partner. I've been a published author for over the last twenty years. I retired from a lucrative position that provided me with a good income and now a good pension. 

 The low point of the last forty years was burying my father in November 1983. He didn't live to see my new house. My mother is now in care with Alzheimer's Disease. My partner, a good man, is now in a wheelchair from a degenerative condition. 

My life is a good one. Forty years ago I wasn't sure how I'd survive, but I made it through. I don't normally mark this day, but for whatever reason, when my calendar opened this morning, the fire is what immediately came to mind. 

I guess forty years is a milestone. It certainly isn't a millstone. I don't own one of those. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, millstone, milestone, fire, retirement, country lifestyle, rural living, adversity, a writer's life

February 21, 2023

Now we wait a bit

The next batch of seeds are started. This morning, I replanted the marigolds, which damped off. Damp-off is the bane of many a gardener, and I fell prey to it. Along with the marigolds are one tray each of cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. 

The almanac gives the beginning week of March the date to plant these seeds, but I didn't think a few days would matter too much. I think cold-liking crops are going to have a bad year so an early start is a good thing. 

Lemongrass is next on my list. I've never grown it before. No one I know has, but I like it. We'll see what happens. 

This is a hopeful time of the year for me and others. We hope for seeds to sprout. We wait and watch. 

Yes, hope is the eternal partner of the gardener. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, seed starting, rural living, greenhouse, Lemongrass, country lifestyle

February 17, 2023

Getting the Greenstalk ready

I read somewhere that progress is made the way fish eat - a nibble at a time. A lot of times, that's true. I have my spring list and I'm working on it a nibble at a time. 

On a recent trip to town, I got potting mix for the Greenstalk, and filled the sections. I figured the dirt needed to settle a bit so I went ahead and filled the sections.  

I still need to paint the plyboard "base" I want to sit it on, and get a small shade cloth for the older small greenhouse frame. Right now the plan is to set the Greenstalk under the protection of that old frame. We'll see how it works out. 

It's almost time to start a few more seeds (brassicas), and I must decide what herbs are going in the Greenstalk. I've been dithering because I have had the time to dither. Not good. It's never good when I have time to dither.

In my defense, we did just purchase a new washer and dryer combo. That took a detour through my week. I also just finished a new manuscript which now needs to go for edits. 

Things. There are always things to do here on the manor. 

And now, instead of just writing about doing it, I think I will peruse my herb seeds. Purslane, anyone? 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, purslane, Greenstalk, gardening, shade cloth, greenhouses, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, Whirlpool

February 15, 2023

Where do these fit in?

We have a big deer problem in my area. It got to the point where I dug a start of my favorite daylilies and put them in big pots to keep the critters from eating them! The other day, I stopped to see if there were green spouts, and there are. 

So do I risk my few daylilies by setting the pots in my garden area? I'm putting a fence around the garden, so maybe I do. It'll be easier to keep the pots watered if they're with the veggies. 

Maybe the middle of February is too soon to have everything all figured out, but I have this bucolic picture in my head of what my garden could look like this summer. 

And in my vision, the pots do not look like this!

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, country lifestyle, gardening, flower pots, daylilies, planning, a writer's life


February 10, 2023

Skinny dipping

Along with everything else "on tap" for the summer of 2023, we once again plan to set up our small pool. It's one of those with the air ring around the top which does, rather miraculously, work to hold water. 

We inflate the ring and then let the pool material warm in the sun until it's pliable. It takes some pulling and tugging to get the base in place with a lot of small adjustments as water is added. But once the bottom is in place, filling it is easy. We call a water truck and split the load between the pool and a holding tank for the garden. There's no point to risk burning up the pump when we have options.   

Flat ground is at a premium here. We had to build a level pad for the pool, and it had to be located where it would be easy for the Lord of the Manor to get in and out. 

In is easy. He holds his nose and falls over the side. Out is more problematic, and we employ several options. Two of the more expedient ways of getting him safely out is backing the truck up so he can perch on the tailgate or using the John Deere so he can perch on the edge of the bucket and be set down at his power chair. Where there's a will there's a way.

I personally like the pickup option. Strategically parking the truck creates a screen between me and anyone coming in the lane. This is especially handy for those evenings I go skinny dipping. 

We country girls don't care if we're being recorded by twelve different spy satellites, but the Amazon driver doesn't need to take in the show! 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, skinny dipping, pools, rural living, country lifestyle, John Deere 1023, problem solving

February 8, 2023

It may be time to panic

Gardening season is fast approaching. I've jumped ahead and have begonia cuttings growing and Marigold seeds sprouting. They make me happy but they're only the beginning. Now is the time to organize. 

The shelving unit with wheels I got last year for seed trays is in the basement housing empty canning jars. I need to tidy up my stock room and get the unit up to my sunroom office.  

I need six bags of potting soil for the Greenstalk, and I need to paint the base I'm sitting it on. My first little greenhouse needs a makeover. The plastic has disintegrated but the frame is still good so I'm going to set it behind the newer greenhouse and cover it with a shade cloth so I can use it for something that likes a bit less sun.

I need to order a load of mulch for around the edges of the woven weed cloth that I purchased from Grower's Solutions. I need to get twenty T-posts to install deer prevention measures (fencing). I need to check growing times and mark down when I should start which seeds. 

As with just about everything, once the job is broken down into pieces, it doesn't seem so insurmountable. I did have a moment of panic the other day when I realized it was February - like February doesn't come around every year or something. 

Breaking it down, it will take maybe half an hour to straighten my stock room and bring the shelves up. Painting the base will take place over the course of a few days but only because the paint needs time to dry between coats. One trip to town will acquire potting soil and T-posts. One quick phone call will get mulch on order although I will have to make sure the ground is firm before I hop on the John Deere to spread it where I want it. Researching planting times will be a fun project for one evening. Planting the seeds in the trays is a couple of minutes on each appropriate day. 

Installing the T-posts will take the most time. I may need to enlist the help of a cousin for that as it may require more muscle than I possess. Even then, it won't take long. 

So it's not time to panic. It's time to stop and think it all through. It all will be done. I may even do the work in my stockroom this evening to get the shelving unit ready. 

I keep thinking I'm retired and I should be relaxing.....

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, gardening, greenhouses, panty, stockroom, deer prevention, planning, organizing, retirement

February 6, 2023

Already!? Marigold seeds sprouted!

Four days ago I planted a starter tray of Cracker Jack marigold seeds. This morning we have sprouts! I didn't expect this to happen for at least a week. Here's hoping they thrive!

This makes me very enthusiastic about starting another tray, maybe of the Calendula. 

No, I'm going to force myself to wait. I am. Honest! 

The Lady of the Hideaway

February 5, 2023

New day, amended plans

ISTJ = Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging.  

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth II was an ISTJ? So they say! I'm in extremely good company! 

Many years ago a new CEO came in where I worked and the first thing he did was give everyone on staff the Myers Briggs personality test. My results were so far into the ISTJ range it made my head hurt. Fred, on the other hand, was ecstatic. He voiced the opinion I was perfect for functioning as an administrative assistant. 

Really? And how well do you know me, Fred?

Of course, it turns out Fred, and the test, were pretty much spot on. I am an organizer. I do follow logical steps to reach a decision and achieve a goal. I can be very persistent when I'm chasing a goal. I'm definitely introverted. Too many people around suck the life right out of me. 

I am a planner. I've been working on my plan for spring since the first hard frost hit last November. But I think the time has come to figure out the best time to implement my plans. 

When should we set the pool up? I'm going to get an argument from the Lord of the Manor, but I think the week of May 1 would be good. I expect it to be hot again this year. 

When should I have a load of mulch delivered? It will be the first week of April, whatever day they can schedule the delivery. 

That's the sort of thing I need to get on the calendar, not just to see it done, but to include items in the upcoming budget. Does it help to do this? It helps me and that's what is important since I'm the one who has to handle all of it. 

Knowing that the pool will go up the first week of May, and it's on the calendar, means I won't schedule any other big job for that week. Now if the pool is successfully filled on Tuesday, I'll look ahead on the calendar and possibly move up a small project for Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Or if the weather is good, we may hop in the Charger and take a day trip. But first things first, and that will be the pool. 

Making plans, for me, is freeing. It doesn't make me feel restricted at all. If I have the big items mapped out, I'm free to juggle little items around to my mood of the moment. With the big items in place, there's a lot less drama on the manor, and that's the way we like it. So I'll plot and plan and plod along to keep it that way.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, future plans, rural living, country lifestyle, swimming pool, gardening, calendar, gardening, ISTJ personality

February 2, 2023

The weight of belongings

In my younger days, I collected reindeer, stags to be exact. It's peculiar because I did not know when I started that the stag holds a prominent place in my paternal family's coat of arms. That coat of arms was granted to the family by one of the Popes back in the 1500s. Only those born with the proper last name may use and display the coat of arms, per the terms that pope set forth. Sorry to all my male first cousins - you're out! 

Everyone was under the rule of some pope in those days but it's 2023. If my cousins want to claim and use the coat of arms, I sure don't care. Their mothers could have used it. 

My stag collection is pretty extensive. Family and friends found out I was collecting and the herd grew every Christmas season until I actually had to put a stop to it. I loved getting new pieces, but I ran out of room for them. 

Storing them became a multi-level problem. Some of them were fragile and antlers and legs started to fall off. Some had shiny, sparkly silver finishes that wore off giving them the appearance of mange. The herd aged poorly. 

This year, as with previous years, I got the storage bin down from the attic, made the necessary repairs, and set them about the great room. The Christmasy things have long been packed up for the year, but being that the herd is seasonal and not just for Christmas, it remained out. Today was the day to put them back in the attic. But today was different. 

Today I grew a spine and culled the herd. Those with missing parts have been discarded. The ones with damage to the finish that can no longer be disguised were also discarded. I thought I would be sad but I find I don't feel glad or sad, or much of anything else. 

What I suppose was my sentimentality is slowly falling to the wayside. Things seem to matter less and less unless they have a practical function. I don't have the time or energy for useless things, and that includes anything I have to dust on a regular basis. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not dancing naked in the backyard and shouting, "I'm free! I'm free!" Material possessions have a place. But after cleaning out my mother's house when she had to go into a care facility, I realized her belongings did not define her. It was an awakening of sorts that neither do my possessions define me. 

Most of my belongings will one day fall victim to time. Either I will discard them, pass the heirlooms on, disburse them through my will, or they will end up in the landfill. 

It's strange that this truth doesn't weigh me down. But then the truth rarely does. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, aging, truth, material possessions, time passages, generations, rural living, country lifestyle, heirlooms. stags, belongings