Thursday, February 4, 2016

Painting the Back Bedroom

Last weekend Rob and I painted the trim in the back bedroom. The trim in there had always bothered me because half of it was painted and the other half was bare wood. Plus, the bare wood part wasn't even stained or varnished and wasn't even completely bare; bits of old white paint were stuck around all the nails. Obviously somebody, years before, had tried to strip the wood, but they hadn't quite succeeded. I wanted all the trim to match, so Rob and I gave everything a few good coats of a nice neutral color called Mannequin Cream.

We had fun painting, and the cats got into the spirit too. The house was in complete disarray, and Buntin, June, and Frankie were making the most of it. All the bedroom furniture and decorations were piled up in the hallway, and they were climbing precarious towers of books and leaping from one wobbly end table to another. As we painted we kept hearing crashing sounds.

We took a break for lunch on Saturday at the Laredo Grill, one of Quincy's few restaurants. It's a cheerful place near the Piggly Wiggly and a great asset to our little town. The waiter at the Laredo Grill likes to tease me about my vegan-ness. I always order the Double A Combination Platter with "no cheese and no sour cream," and whenever he presents me with my plate, he says, "Here you are, seƱorita. Extra cheese!" He says it in the most deadpan manner; he never cracks a smile.

On Sunday Rob and I touched up the trim with our artist brushes. Then, after the last coat had dried, we cleaned the cat fur off each piece of furniture and moved it back into place. We cleaned cat fur off the walls, too, with a dust mop.

The room was transformed; it looked so much better.

"I don't know what made more of a difference," Rob said, "the painting or the de-cat-ifying."

Carl supervising the painting process

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Camellia Show

Last Saturday my sister Bunny, Dad, and I went to the Tallahassee Camellia Society’s annual show. It was held in Eyster Auditorium at the Doyle Conner Agricultural Complex. The auditorium was full of tables covered with row after row of red, pink, and white blooms in all different shapes and sizes. The flowers sat in little clear bud vases, fresh from yards all over the Tallahassee area.

Taylor's Perfection. My pictures from the camellia show never turn out (because the auditorium's too dark), so I'm just including some shots from my yard and neighborhood. I'm sorry!

The best part of the show was the camellia sale held out front on the sidewalk leading up to the Conner Building. There were dozens of plants available, all kinds of interesting varieties from Loch Laurel Nursery up in Valdosta, which specializes in camellias. Before we even went in to see the show, Bunny and I engaged in a camellia-shopping frenzy. I bought five camellias in about two minutes: Mr. Sam, Dancing Blaze, Harriet Bisbee, John Rumbach, and Miss Charleston Variegated. Bunny only bought two because her yard is full.

“I can’t believe you only bought two!” I said.

“I wasn’t supposed to buy any!” Bunny said. “I’ve still got one from last year that I can’t find a place for!” (It's true. I've seen it, still sitting in its pot.)

Bunny has over a hundred camellias on a city lot. Many were planted long ago, not by Bunny but by a former owner, and have grown to tree size. Her backyard is a camellia forest, a maze, with a little turquoise table-and-chair set in the middle, hidden. Bunny used to throw amazing Halloween parties, and at her last one a life-size plastic skeleton was sitting at the table, having tea by candlelight and moonlight, the table arranged with a real silver teapot.

Stephens Garden

The blooms at the show, except for the ones at the winners table, were displayed alphabetically by cultivar name.

“Now, we have to go in order!” Bunny said.

So we made our way along the tables, starting with the A's, taking pictures and jotting down names of coveted plants: Brother Rose, Bryan, First Blush. . . . Dad was wearing overalls, and he had his bright yellow camera around his neck. His bountiful silver-white hair always reminds me of his favorite camellia, Silver Waves.

“I wanted to enter the show this year,” Bunny sighed, “but of course I didn’t get it together.”

“It’s my dream to enter,” I said. “But I think my plants might need to get a little bit bigger first. Each one only has, like, two flowers.”

“Let’s make a New Year’s resolution that we’re all going to enter next year!” Dad said with his characteristic Dad-ish enthusiasm. “We’ll do it together.”

“I guess we’ll be in the Novice category since it will be our first show,” Bunny noted.

Dad nodded, smiling: “And we may just sweep it, if all of us enter.” Dad has 50 camellias in his yard, and I have 95. Mom's got to have a good 75.

I don't know this one's name, but it sure is pretty.

One of the camellia society members was going around the room with a gigantic bloom in a plastic bucket. The flower was about a foot across and bright, luscious pink.

“It’s Anne Hightower,” he said, offering us a peek in the bucket. “It’s been in my refrigerator for 11 days.”

“Well, why on earth didn’t you enter it?” a lady asked.

“Because it’s been in my refrigerator for 11 days!” he replied. “It’s in no condition.”

None of us knew what he was talking about; the enormous flower looked absolutely perfect.

We had such a great time at the show. We admired each bloom in a leisurely fashion and talked about nearly every one.

I was making all kinds of dorky comments: “I love all the fluff and ruffles on this one. . . . Oh, this one reminds me of a valentine. . . . And this one reminds me of a strawberry cupcake!”


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Refinished Floors

Last week we got our sunroom and kitchen floors refinished. Both really needed it. The sunroom floor had water damage and most of the old finish had peeled off, and the kitchen floor was painted dark green. Both floors are wood (pine), and we had them sanded and varnished.

Rob happened to be out of town while the work was being done, but I was at home. I camped out in the "Little House” with all 12 cats until the varnish was dry and the fumes had cleared.

The Little House is a small building in our backyard that looks like a child’s playhouse. We use it as an office now, but in the old days it served as a kitchen.

The cats were really well behaved in the Little House, though it had to be hard on them to be confined to such a small space for five solid days. There was no growling or hissing or discontented meowing—not even any scratching at the door. I was amazed.

“The cats were so good!” I reported to Rob when he got home. “I don’t understand it.”

“It’s because you pulled the hide-a-bed out,” Rob said. “And the hide-a-bed is really, really great. It brought everybody together.”

“But why do they think it’s great?” I asked. “I guess it's just because they don't see it very often, and cats love novelty. But anyway, you’re right. They couldn’t resist the hide-a-bed, so they were too busy snuggling to cause any trouble.”

“Cats on a hide-a-bed are sort of like an old man in a hammock,” Rob said. “They’re not just sleeping. They’re actively enjoying themselves.”

Every night after work during my confinement in the Little House, I’d sit on the hide-a-bed too, surrounded by cats. I was making felt Christmas ornaments and calling cute, rotund Leroy "Mr. Roundandham," which is Rob's new name for him. Seated on the hide-a-bed, I stitched up four little felt trees decorated with seed beads, bugle beads, sequins, fancy buttons, and gold rickrack. My progress was somewhat delayed because I kept losing my sewing supplies under the covers or under a cat.

The new floors look awesome by the way. When Rob saw the kitchen, he said, "This one looks like a beautiful rollerskating rink or basketball court. It's just so smooth and perfect."

The sunroom floor is just as nice. Thank you, McIver Floor Sanding and Installation!



Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Orleans

Mansion in the Garden District

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my mom, sisters, niece, nephew, and I went on a little trip to New Orleans. We had so much fun. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street, toured the Garden District, shopped on Royal Street, and ate tons of beignets and pralines and other New Orleans specialties.

We saw so many neat things. At night in Jackson Square, fortune tellers read tarot cards by candlelight. There was a girl dressed up in faded 19th-century clothes, including high-button shoes and a hoop skirt. Holding a tattered parasol, she posed by the iron gates of Jackson Square Park, her face painted like a skull. A white horse pulled a carriage past her, but when we looked closer we saw that it was no ordinary horse; it had glittering hoofs, a single white horn, and white feathered wings.

Urn in Jackson Square Park

Cocoally is a really cute shop in the French Quarter.

I'm tempted to write about everything we saw and everything we did, but I know that would be boring. Instead, I'll just tell you about two funny little incidents involving Sophie and Jake, my niece and nephew:

On Thanksgiving Day we ate at Chartres House. It took a while to get seated. As we waited around on the sunny, warm sidewalk, Jake kept dancing next to Sophie and playing an invisible saxophone. He seemed to be playing some smooth jazz. Sophie was so embarrassed. She kept coming up to Kris and saying (she was just teasing), “Mommy, if you don’t take control of your child, I’m going to throw him in the street!”

Sophie, Kris, and Jake at Cafe Du Monde

One of our favorite shops in New Orleans was a little place called Adorn that sold surreal (but cute) cat portraits by the artist Cary Chun Lee. There was a whole wall of these bold, bright, funny, cool cat paintings. We were mesmerized. Some cats held voodoo dolls. Others held cigarettes or flowers or pizza.

“I like the little guy eating a piece of toast,” I said, pointing.

“It’s a beignet,” Sophie said, teasing again, rolling her eyes at me. “You’re uncultured, Leslie."


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas Decorating 2015

Last Saturday Rob and I put up our Christmas tree. As we "labored" (as Rob likes to say) we drank hot apple cider out of some festive Spode mugs. The mugs were my favorite part of the day; they have handles that look like candy canes.

Our tree is a rather low-quality artificial one that we bought back in the ‘90s. Every year it loses tons of needles, so at this point we have to work hard to make it look it good. To cover up all the bare spots, we load it up with yards of silver garland and boxes and boxes of dorky ornaments. The tree’s pretty short and small, but it takes all day to decorate.

Of course the cats got involved in the decorating, as they do every year. June, who thinks everything’s her business, dug in a box of tissue-paper-wrapped ornaments. Then she settled down and made a bed in it. Buntin thought this was a brilliant idea so when June got distracted and started chasing the garland I was hanging, she stole her spot in the box. I kept accusing Buntin of crushing ornaments. Buntin is “solid,” as Rob so kindly puts it.

Every time we unwrapped an ornament, we’d set the tissue paper in a pile on Rob’s chair. Eventually Softee curled up and went to sleep on the pile, so we just put our tissue paper on top of her. By the end of the night, she was covered in tissue paper and only her little head was poking out of her messy, cozy tissue-paper nest.

We hung ornaments for hours, though we did take a few breaks to eat hot apple pie and Christmas candy. We finally finished decorating about 10 o’clock, and in the end our tree looked just like it does every year—kind of good but kind of funny. Buntin and June were asleep underneath it, worn out from all their “helping.” They were cooing and softly sighing and shedding all over the tree skirt.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

By the Breezeway

The new and improved breezeway bed

I spent Veterans Day gardening, revamping the bed in front of the breezeway. The bed isn’t very big, but it’s in a pretty prominent spot, right near the main entrance to our house—so I’d like it to make a good impression.

The first thing I did was add some fun features—a bird-nest-shaped birdbath and a big blue-glazed planter full of red cyclamens and Bright Lights Swiss chard. Both these items used to sit unnoticed in the backyard, so I moved them up into the spotlight.

Then I started doing some serious cleaning. Before I tackled it, the breezeway bed was a shaggy, messy place, with purple coneflowers, goldenrods, and wild petunias crowding around the big satsuma tree that serves as the bed’s centerpiece. Since I wanted a little tidier look, I dug all the wildflowers out and moved them to my meadow. Then I mulched the bed with leaves and planted eight coonties in the wildflowers’ place.

Coonties are neat little cycads—Florida natives. They form dense evergreen mounds about three feet tall. I chose them because they’re drought tolerant and easy to grow, because they’re a dapper shiny green, and because you never have to prune them.

I know it probably sounds like all I do these days is dig up my wildflowers, but I do appreciate them and I’ll be encouraging them just about everywhere in my yard except for a couple key places—the vegetable garden and this breezeway bed, areas I’d like to keep just a tad less wild and crazy.

I promise I'll never give up on wildflowers, not just because they're pretty but because they make such great habitat. My little meadow is the busiest place, full of native insects and lizards. I see box turtles and black racers there too. Hummingbirds visit in spring and summer, searching for nectar, and songbirds come in winter, searching for seeds.



More satsumas. They taste so good this year—extra sweet.

Shi Shi Gashira sasanqua

Mom gave me this birdbath many years ago. Before I moved it to the breezeway bed, it sat under our Chinese chestnut tree.

The breezeway at dusk

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumpkin Carving and Other Stuff

This weekend Rob and I spent all day Saturday cleaning up our vegetable garden. The outer beds, where our pomegranates and clown peppers grow, had become jam-packed with wild petunias (Ruellia caroliniensis), so we dug those out. I felt bad removing them because wild petunia is a beautiful native wildflower, a great nectar source for butterflies, and (at least in some areas, I read) a larval host plant for the common buckeye. Wild petunia has gone crazy in my yard, but I'm only removing it from the vegetable area. It's welcome to stay in other spots, because it truly is a terrific plant. It blooms for months and tolerates drought. There's really nothing not to like. It's just a little overly enthusiastic sometimes.

The vegetable garden, all tidied up

A few months back, Mom gave me this adorable fall wreath. She made it herself. I love it. Mom is always up to something, and I want to be just like her when I retire. She's constantly sewing and crafting. In the evenings she knits scarves and shawls and even stuffed animals as she watches Father Brown. She's a member of a circle group at church and bakes breads for the church bake sale every Sunday. (She volunteers for everything.) Her yard is the lushest place, and she's always got something she wants to show me in it. The other day it was her clementine tree; it was loaded with bright orange fruit, and nearby her Mr. Otto sasanqua was blooming, full of pink flowers as delicate as butterflies.

On Friday Mom had her annual pumpkin-carving party. We ate chili and hot apple crisp and carved our pumpkins on Mom's kitchen floor. My brother-in-law Matt's pumpkin was particularly awesome. It was nose-less, and it was throwing up pumpkin guts.

“That’s great,” I said to Matt. “I like how he doesn’t have a nose.”

“Oh, but he did,” Matt said. “You see the scar, right?”

And, yes, right in the middle of the pumpkin’s face were a big silver scar and a dent, as if his nose had been cut right off.

Jake, my 12-year-old nephew, went a different route and carved a scene rather than a face on his pumpkin. He carved a ghost with a flaming grin rising from the grave. I kept hearing Jake in whispered negotiations with Mom. He wanted her to judge the pumpkins and award him first prize.

Photo by Kris Kimel

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Halloween Tree Skirt and More

I just spent two weekends and the week in between working on a skirt for my Halloween tree. I finished it up on Sunday morning, and I've got to say I'm pretty happy with it just because I think it's so funny. It's decorated with wacky Halloween cat faces and a sparkly border of stars, half moons, and really dumb pom-pom-topped wizard hats.

It's odd that I thought of making a tree skirt, because I totally suck at sewing. I'm not a very good crafter. (I tend to get my fingers stuck together with glue and that sort of thing.) But one day I was at work in my office and I had a vision, so I ran out and bought the fabric. I was scared to take the first stitch, but once I got started I really had fun. I spent my lunch hours buying fancy trimmings and sequins, and I couldn’t wait to get home each night so I could start sewing. I’d rush through my chores and go and sit in the living room with my bag of felt and tangled-up embroidery thread and stitch as I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

All the cats got involved in my sewing project. Carl would burrow into my sewing bag (a plastic Winn-Dixie bag) and softly snore and coo among the packets of seed beads. Buntin liked to bat the thread hanging from my needle, and June would routinely hide the scissors from me by curling up on top of them.

I liked everything about sewing. I liked sitting on the couch in my pajamas and drinking a Coke while I worked. I liked Carl climbing into my sewing bag. So I didn't really want to be done with my tree skirt, and now I'm thinking I might go in and add some more stuff just to stretch the project out. The kooky cat faces might look good with necks and purple sequined collars.

My Halloween tree skirt

Now on to other news: My niece Sophie is 14, a freshman in high school, and October 9 was her school's homecoming dance. Before the dance, Kris and I took pictures of her at Oven Park. Her dress was so cute. The bodice was studded with opalescent sequins, and the little skirt was midnight blue. Mom described Sophie's shoes as "Dancing with the Stars" shoes.

I've got a new recipe to share. On Sunday afternoon Rob and I made Vegan Reubens to go with a big pot of peanut chili we had simmering on the stove. The reubens were awesome, grilled in the frying pan to hot, buttery, toasty, golden brown perfection. We stuffed them with vegan sausage patties, a little melted vegan cheese, and fresh purple cabbage slaw. But the key was the grilling. The result was a sandwich that was warm, crispy, comforting, and just a tiny, wonderful bit greasy.

You really ought to try this recipe. Even non-vegans will love it!

Vegan Reuben Sandwiches


Purple Cabbage Slaw
1 tube Lightlife Gimme Lean Veggie Protein, Ground Sausage Style
Vegetable oil
4 slices rye bread
Daiya vegan cheese shreds
Earth Balance nondairy butter


Make a batch of Purple Cabbage Slaw and set aside. Cut the veggie sausage into thin slices and pan fry in vegetable oil until well browned. Set aside. Next, take two slices of rye bread and sprinkle one with vegan cheese. Heat a frying pan and add some butter. Place the bread (cheese side up) in the pan and grill until nicely browned. Top the cheese-topped bread slice with a layer of sausage patties and a big scoop of cabbage slaw. Top with the other slice of grilled bread. Repeat the sandwich-making process with the next two slices of bread.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Stuff

I’ve been especially pressed for time this month because my cat Josie has started a special kidney care diet and she’s decided she won’t eat her special food unless she’s sitting on my lap. Josie eats so slowly. She takes a few licks, then stops to consider, it seems, life's mysteries. Then she has a few more licks. Each meal takes about half an hour, and she eats four meals a day.

Josie being cute

So, yes, mostly this month I’ve been feeding Josie. But when she wasn’t eating, I did manage to do a few little house and garden projects and spot some neat things in the yard. Here are some pictures of what’s been going on:

I spied this little fellow (he was small enough to fit in my palm) approaching Bernie’s cat-food bowl last Saturday morning. Rob and I have lots of box turtles in our yard, and we often see them creeping around after a rain shower. I've watched them eating wild strawberries in our meadow, and fallen tomatoes and low-hanging cucumbers in our vegetable garden. I read that wild box turtles live an average of 50 years but that they might live as long as a century. I wonder how old this little cat-food fancier is.

On September 6 we harvested 30 pounds of sweet potatoes. Last year our sweet potato crop was pretty much devastated by voles (the cutest pests I’ve ever seen), but this year we didn’t have any damage (except for a few insect holes). We were really proud. We spread the sweet potatoes out to dry for a day on our picnic table and then, for long-term storage, we put them in the potato box Rob built a few years back. The potato box is really just a stack of drawers with screens at the bottoms. It helps preserve our sweet potatoes by keeping them cool, protecting them from light, and allowing for plenty of air circulation (thanks to the screens).

A couple Saturdays ago we took down the gutter around the front porch, and the house looks so much better without it. The gutter wasn’t doing any good because it was constantly clogged with leaves. It was just looking tacky and breeding mosquitoes.

Last Sunday we cleaned the breezeway from top to bottom. It’s our cats’ favorite room, so it tends to be messy. The focal point of the place is an old pie safe whose shelves are generally filled not with pies (sadly) but with lounging cats. The cats leave their fur all over the shelves and push the decorations around when they stretch, so the pie safe always needs a good dusting and rearranging. We did that on Sunday, and then we washed the walls and the floor with bleach.

It's surprise lily season here in Quincy. Right now you can see these red, leafless beauties all over our small town. Today I noticed two by the door of the pure white little church at the end of my street. Then I spotted another near a tire swing hanging from a big tree. (A surprise lily looks great near a tire swing.) Surprise lilies, members of the amaryllis family, are native to China but have become naturalized in many parts of the South. We have a bunch in our yard, most of them planted by former owners.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Vegan Jam-Filled Oat Bran Muffins

My mom recently took a trip to the Smoky Mountains, and she brought me a jar of Amish Wedding peach-pecan jam as a souvenir. I wanted to do something special with the jam, so on Saturday I used it to make Vegan Jam-Filled Oat Bran Muffins from a recipe I found in my all-time favorite cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking.

The muffins turned out perfect, and the jam was delicious—it made me wish I could take a trip to the Smokies. I'll tell you a little about my mom's visit.

She went up to the mountains with my sister Kris and Kris's kids, Sophie and Jake, and they stayed in a cabin near Gatlinburg. They had fun every day for a week. They went gem-mining and hiked to a waterfall. They waded in cold mountain streams and got to see elk. They fooled around in the little town of Gatlinburg, which is like a permanent carnival, eating caramel corn for breakfast and giant snow cones for lunch. They visited all the Ripley's attractions in Gatlinburg, including the Odditorium, the 5D Moving Theater, the haunted house, and the aquarium. Sophie and Jake spent their life savings on souvenirs (Jake got a giant stuffed narwhal).

On the way home they stopped in Dillard, Georgia, so Sophie could feed the goats at a wacky tourist trap called Goats on the Roof, and that's where Mom got me my jam. She gave it to me last week at Jake's birthday party, handing it to me as I sat with my cupcake at her big dining room table.

"Now I know you're not much of a jam eater," she said in her very Mom-ish way, "but I got you some anyway!"

Vegan Jam-Filled Oat Bran Muffins


2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
2 cups oat bran
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
11/4 cups almond milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup jam


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and add papers to your muffin tins.

In a food processor or blender, mix the flaxseed and water until thick and creamy. This is your "egg."

In a large bowl, combine the oat bran, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed mixture, almond milk, and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.

Fill the muffin cups about half full with batter. Place a dab of jam in the center of each cup. Add more batter to fill the cups about three-fourths full, covering the jam.

Bake the muffins for 20 minutes.