Monday, November 14, 2016

Pope Store Museum





My sister Bunny dreams of buying an old house in the country, so Mom and I often accompany her on house-hunting expeditions. On Veterans Day, the three of us spent the morning visiting a very special house near Cairo, Georgia, the former home of folk artist Laura Pope Forrester. The property has been on the market for a while now and includes a two-story wooden house (built around 1890) and six acres with woods, a creek, a pecan orchard, and some of Mrs. Pope's whimsical, one-of-a-kind sculptures.

Mrs. Pope was a self-taught sculptor and painter active from around the turn of the century until her death in 1953. She was extremely prolific, turning her rural home and garden into a wonderland peopled by hundreds of life-size figures that she fashioned from concrete and painted with natural dyes made from flowers and berries. Mrs. Pope's statues depicted figures from history and literature, including Martha Berry, founder of Berry College, and Scarlett O'Hara.

For a while, Mrs. Pope ran her house as a museum, I think, charging folks admission to come in and see her work. The inside of the house was apparently as magical as the outside, the rooms filled with statues and the walls decorated with hand-painted murals.

After Mrs. Pope died, her son held onto the house for about 20 years. But in the 1970s, he sold the property to a local man and the artist's work met a tragic fate. One night the new owner, drunk and convinced the house was haunted, went around with a hammer and smashed almost every single statue. Just about all that's left now are the dozen or so figures Mrs. Pope built into her home's elaborate front gate.

When Bun and Mom and I arrived at the Pope House, the morning sun was dazzling. The house sat at the end of a country road, surrounded by golden woods and white cotton fields. With its wild and fabulous gate, it really stuck out, and I felt a little shocked to see it even though we'd been looking for it—because here was this flight of fancy in the middle of the mundane world.

The gateway was fascinating. The figures built into it were sweet-faced and expressive. A lot of folk art is kind of clumsy and primitive, but Mrs. Pope's work is elegant. Refined. Pretty. The figures had the most graceful hands, and they were so realistic, so human-looking. Each had a distinct personality, though they all seemed kindly; pretty much all of them were smiling. Mrs. Pope must have had a very gentle spirit, because her statues sure seemed to.

Bunny and I had been reading and talking about the Pope House for months, but Mom had never heard of the place until that very day. Well, as soon as Mom saw the gate, she became an instant fan of Mrs. Pope. She got out her own little camera and was right there with Bunny and me, standing in the road, blocking traffic, taking pictures and exclaiming.

“Well, this is just perfect!” she said several times.

She was charmed by each character in the wall. “Oh, isn't she pretty?” she said, pointing to a lady in what looked like a wedding veil.

“And look at her, with the crown,” Bunny said.

“Does that little lady have bird wings," I asked, gesturing to another figure, "or are those just fancy sleeves?"







I was happily surprised at how much Mom liked the house. She seemed completely enchanted by it. I might have thought maybe Mom would think the house was “crazy” with its homemade sculptures. But she didn't. She loved it.

She kept saying she thought it was the perfect house for Bunny and that Bunny would be the perfect caretaker for Mrs. Pope's remaining treasures.

We let ourselves in the gate and went up the front walk, and while we waited for the realtor to arrive we explored the big yard. It was sheltered by grand old pecan trees whose intricate bare branches seemed to be painted on the blue sky. Two tree-sized sasanquas bloomed on one side of the house, the flowers pale pink and apple blossom-like. The old plants were loaded with flowers, and bees were visiting.

Ancient cedars lined the road and made the front yard very shady. Cast-iron plants grew in dark clumps beneath the cedars, and boxwoods surrounded the downstairs porch.

The best part: There was a tire swing in one of the cedars, one that grew farther back from the road. I just love a country yard with a tire swing!

The yard was so inviting and comfortable, spacious and sprawling, the kind of yard where you could play games and raise chickens and grow a vegetable garden.

“Gosh, this is so neat," I said. "I can picture us having all kinds of great family celebrations here. We could have Thanksgiving here! You could get a picnic table, Bunny, and we could have Thanksgiving dinner outside under the pecan trees!”

“And instead of going to the beach house at Christmas, we could go to Bun's house!” Mom added.






Peach trees stood in the very back of the back yard, and clumps of surprise lilies grew here and there, and Bun and I, as we were exploring, kept coming upon unexpected sculptures. There was a sweet nurse . . . and an urn . . . and a grotto . . . and a homemade birdbath encrusted with seashells. When I encountered the nurse, standing by herself near a Spanish bayonet, I called, “Oh, my gosh, Bunny, come look what I found!” I felt like an archaeologist making amazing discoveries.

The house was white with dark green trim, with some special touches added by Mrs. Pope. All around the upper and lower porches, she had created a sort of latticework using old sewing machine parts painted white. The effect was surprisingly lovely, both porches seeming veiled in lace.



The realtor arrived and let us inside. The interior of the house was very interesting. It was all higgledy-piggledy. All the rooms were on slightly different levels, it seemed, and the floors were slanted, and the arrangement of rooms made absolutely no sense. There were dead ends and so many doors. Lots of additions had been made over the years.

In some rooms you could still see remnants of Mrs. Pope's old murals. One featured a mysterious woman dressed all in white. I guess I could see why that crazy, destructive drunk who broke up all the statues might have thought the house was haunted. But my guess is the house would be haunted by friendly ghosts—because all of Mrs. Pope's statues and portraits had such kind faces.

I hope Bunny buys the Pope House, but if she doesn't, I hope somebody similar does, somebody who has fallen in love with Mrs. Pope's creations and wants to protect them.











Monday, November 7, 2016

Mule Day

On Saturday, Mom, my sisters (Bunny and Kris), and I went to Mule Day in Calvary, Georgia. It’s a big old-fashioned country celebration with a sunrise breakfast, a mule parade, cane grinding, meal grinding, syrup making, plowing contests, arts and crafts, a petting zoo, live music, and tons and tons of food. A huge golden field is filled with 500 booths of arts, crafts, food, and antiques. Plus, there are mules everywhere, and old-fashioned buggies and wagons. The parade starts at 11 and is a real spectacle, with high school marching bands, mules, horses, donkeys, and antique tractors.

The fun is for a good cause. Mule Day is put on by the Calvary Lions Club and raises money for Lions Club sight programs (which work to prevent blindness and improve eye health) and local charities.

Havana, Florida, is a little town we pass through on the way to Mule Day every year. Havana is right up the road from Quincy. 

A little more country scenery

We parked in an old pecan orchard and walked to the festival grounds. There are so many booths at Mule Day, just acres and acres of them. Some of the booths are selling antique tools and dishes and quilts and furniture. Others have craft items—handmade birdhouses, Christmas wreaths, scarves, soaps, candles, pottery, fancy aprons, and more. There are people selling their own homemade cakes, pies, cookies, and Christmas candy—peanut brittle, divinity, sugared pecans, and fudge. Then there are the food trucks—dozens and dozens. You can get barbecue, roasted corn, turkey legs, greens, cornbread, cotton candy, sweet potato fries, hush puppies, boiled peanuts, fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, hotdogs, hamburgers—just about anything you can dream of.

One of the first booths we came to had a beautiful display of stained-glass wind chimes glowing in the sunlight. Fragments of purple and ruby and orange stained glass dangled on beaded strings from hunks of driftwood. The chimes looked just glorious in the dazzling early-morning light.

“Oh, they're so pretty!” I said.

“I can make them sing,” the owner of the booth said. And she started gently shaking the poles of her tent so the chimes began to tinkle.

She kept shaking the tent and smiling proudly. She looked around at all the beautiful, glowing, tinkling, trembling wind chimes and said, “They sing! They dance! They do everything but do the dishes!”

A little later we came to a booth selling a bounty of fresh produce straight from the farm: sugar cane, huge bundles of turnips and turnip greens, scuppernongs, boiled peanuts, pecans, white acre peas, satsumas, and sweet potatoes. A lady had just purchased a bunch of turnip greens and she stood holding them like an enormous bouquet, like she had just won the Miss America pageant. A man working the booth suggested she freeze some of the greens for Thanksgiving.

"Oh, I plan to!" she said. She was really excited about her turnip greens.

Live entertainment is abundant at Mule Day. There's lots of music and dancing. This year, a group of cloggers was performing in costumes emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes. We stood around and watched and cheered. Kris would like to learn to clog, and I kept encouraging her to really do it.

“I'll come and see all your performances!” I promised.

People were walking around in official Mule Day hats—straw hats with fake mule ears sticking straight up, taller than the hat's crown. Everybody was having a great time. They were eating cotton candy and turkey legs and buying stuff left and right—homemade layer cakes and pound cakes, bright yellow-blooming cassias, mayhaw jelly, barbecue sauce, bags of kumquats, big wooden cutouts of Santa and the Grinch. . . .

The mule parade was the highlight of the day. It was so neat to see everybody rolling by in their carts and buggies pulled by mules or donkeys (or even miniature donkeys!). Some of the carts were decorated with chrysanthemums and other fall flowers, and some of the donkeys were wearing bonnets.

The roasted corn is so delicious. 

Cool stuff for sale

Cuties at the petting zoo

More tempting merchandise. The prices are always great at Mule Day. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Vegan Pumpkin Cupcakes



Last night, Halloween night, I whipped up some vegan pumpkin cupcakes as I waited for trick-or-treaters. I thought I might get quite a few visitors. See, I'd gone to our Quincy CVS earlier in the evening for some Hershey's cookies 'n creme candy skulls, and while I was there I overheard a man talking about how he'd already handed out over 100 pieces of candy; he was at CVS to replenish his supply. His neighborhood was flooded with trick-or-treaters, he said. His neighborhood had also had a scarecrow contest, I learned, and he had won first place. He was chatting with a lady dressed up as a mermaid.

Well, I didn't end up getting any trick-or-treaters, but that's okay. I'll bring the candy to the office with me tomorrow and share it with my coworkers.

I had fun making my cupcakes (and listening for the doorbell). Buntin, my high-maintenance tortie, was "helping," of course. She was opening the kitchen cabinets and exploring them. She sat in a large stew pot for a while, which was really cute. Then she burrowed in among the cardboard in the recycling bin and made herself a little nest.

The cupcakes turned out great, though they looked a bit plain until I topped them with adorable (non-vegan) mellowcreme pumpkins. You really ought to try this recipe—because it's easy and totally delicious. I found it on this lovely blog and tweaked it just the tiniest bit.

Vegan Pumpkin Cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

1/3 cup vegan butter
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Icing:

1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
1/2 cup vegan butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. With an electric beater, cream the butter and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the pumpkin puree, almond milk, and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, flour, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just blended. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into a lined cupcake pan, filling about two-thirds full. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Test with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.

Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let them cool completely on a wire rack before icing. To make the icing, whip the vegan cream cheese, vegan butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice together until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sibleys and More

Last Sunday I cleaned up the Vine House, our little tin-roofed shelter on the north side of the yard. I washed all the furniture (periwinkle-colored chairs and a matching table) with bleach, and I dusted the decorations—wind chimes and sun catchers and a collection of Christine Sibley sculptures that I bought years ago when I lived in Atlanta.

Christine Sibley was an Atlanta artist whose work I first fell in love with in the '90s at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where she had created the beautiful ceramic facade that adorns the Ferst Fountain. My favorite part of the fountain was the trio of naiads, in bas relief, peering out from behind a waterfall.

A picture I took of the Ferst Fountain in 1995

Soon after my trip to the botanical garden, I discovered that Christine Sibley had a studio/gallery in town, very close to my house. It was the neatest place, called Urban Nirvana, surrounded by funky gardens full of crazy, colorful sculptures and murals, banana trees, and sunflowers. There were even ducks and chickens! While it was open, Urban Nirvana was my favorite place to shop, and I gave everybody in my family Christine Sibley plaques and vases and planters for their birthdays and Christmas.

Anyway, on Sunday after I dusted my Sibley sculptures, I rearranged them and spent some time just admiring them. Then I tried to get Rob to admire them with me. He was in the house sweeping up cat fur and singing this rather un-catchy song:

People say cats are clean, but they're not.
Their reputation is unearned!

“So, did you notice the Vine House?” I said. (He'd walked past it several times while I was working.) “Did you notice the Sibleys?”

“Um . . .” he said sheepishly.

We went outside and stood in front of the Vine House, but I could tell he was still baffled. I started laughing as he tried to guess what he ought to be complimenting me about.

“They're in completely different order!” I said. “The whole display looks completely different!”

One of my Sibleys


And another

Purple furniture

A little later, Buntin, our spoiled but adorable tortie, sneaked outside, and I decided to take advantage of the situation and turn her outdoor adventure into a photo shoot. I took a bunch of pictures, and then we sat in the shady grass for a while, near the front steps, and I petted her. We had the nicest time together. We were both watching butterflies as they floated from ironweed to ironweed. We forgot all of our cares and just watched the butterflies.

The gorgeous Buntin

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Late Summer Fun

Here are some little fun things that have been happening around Spruce Pine Cottage recently.

About a week before school started, Sophie (my niece) got her braces off. I couldn't wait to see her new teeth, so I arranged a visit with her as soon as she was free (Sophie has a very busy schedule). Her teeth looked perfect!

As I talked to Sophie about her experience with braces, I couldn't help but reminisce about the time I myself spent in braces. As Sophie will tell you, I always do this.

"Orthodontics was a much more barbaric practice back in the '80s," I declared. "I had to wear headgear at night, and I also had to share a bed with my sister. Sometimes Kris would turn over in her sleep and elbow me in the headgear. I can't describe how bad it hurts to get elbowed in the headgear. You kids don't know how easy you've got it these days!"

Sophie, sans braces

At the beginning of the month, I ordered a pearl necklace for Buntin from a delightful Etsy shop called Jeweled Horizons. It's a beautiful, well-crafted necklace, specially designed for a cat, made with large, softly glowing Swarovski pearls and a magnetic clasp for safety. (If Buntin ever gets her necklace caught on anything, it will come right off; there's no possibility of choking.)

Buntin loves her pearls (she looks very proud when she wears them). She debuted them at a little birthday party I threw for my dad on August 13. Buntin got lots of extra attention from our guests because she dressed up for the party. But leave it to Rob to criticize rather than compliment her on her new look. "Is it just me," he said with a smile as we all sat on the breezeway, "or does Buntin look a little bit matronly in her pearls?"

"She does not look matronly!" I said.

Buntin in her pearls, with Foxy in the background

Buntin and Rob

Last Sunday Rob and I made our first successful yeast bread—a rosemary focaccia. It was really fun making bread, and it seemed like such a magical process, the way the dough doubled in size and the yeast transformed little more than flour and water into something good to eat.

While the bread was in the oven, Rob went out to the vegetable garden to pick some clown peppers. When he came back in, he said, "It smells delicious in here! You should go outside for a minute then come back in so you can really appreciate it."

So I did. I went outside on the breezeway, squeezed Elroy, then came back in. Rob was right. The bread smelled heavenly.

Rosemary focaccia

And now for a few more pictures of this and that:

Neat reflections in the china cabinet



Becky in a sunbeam

Busy June taking a well-earned break

Decorations in the hallway

Friday, August 5, 2016

Carl's New Collar and Tie and More

About a week ago, I ordered Carl a cat-sized collar and tie from a lovely Etsy shop called ChariotsAFire. The combo arrived in the mail on Tuesday. The tie is olive green with tiny gold dots, and Carl looks great in it (it really complements his eyes). When he tried it on for the first time, Rob said, "He looks like a little businessman. You should get him a little matching briefcase."

"He is not a little businessman!" I said. "He's a little boy. He's four, and this is his Sunday school outfit."

It was hard to get a good picture of Carl in his collar and tie, though he seemed moderately comfortable in this getup. He really needed to be sitting up nice and straight in order for me to capture the full effect, but he kept wanting to lie down in his tie, which wasn't a very photogenic position. I'll keep trying to get some better shots. Since he didn't really mind wearing his tie, I should have ample opportunities for photos.



Last Saturday Rob and I went antiquing in Destin, a booming beach town about two hours southwest of us. Destin is full of fancy shops for all the rich people who vacation there. At Smith's Antiques, we lucked out and found a not-too-expensive carving from Indonesia that was perfect for decorating the empty wall in the sunroom. The carving is of a dragon boat full of passengers, and it's over 6 feet long, painted metallic gold, pink, green, white, and yellow. I love the dragon's sassy, crazy expression and his magnificent tail.



I wanted to show you a picture of the arch we bought a couple weeks ago, the one that helps support the fruit-laden branches of our satsuma trees. The arch looks to me like the ghost of a pagoda, and it forms a rather grand entrance to our lowly utility room. Next time I'll have to take a picture of the whole arch, not just the top. The arch spans a pebble path lined with bricks. Coonties and pink pentas grow on one side of the path, and purple coneflowers, prairie coneflowers, and mountainmint grow on the other.



I'll close with a picture of a cute strawberry cupcake that I posed the other day on the little cast-iron table by the vegetable garden. There's nothing I like better than photographing cute desserts. When I was a child, I would do the same thing, but with mud pies and cakes. My sister Kris and I would fashion whole spreads out of mud and other "ingredients" from our yard. Our cakes were large mushroom tops covered in creamy chocolate mud icing and rose petal garnishes, and we'd make candy apples by wrapping crabapples in red clay, with twigs serving as the popsicle sticks. We'd raid Mom's marigold and zinnia beds so we could have centerpieces for our table. When everything was ready and our dolls were all dressed and in their places, we always took a picture with our little camera. It's just funny the way people never really change.



Monday, July 18, 2016

Precious Rain



The yard is emerald green and wonderfully jungle-y this summer because it’s actually been raining. For the first time in years, it seems, we’ve been getting daily afternoon thundershowers in the proper summer pattern. Rob and I spent Saturday taming our backyard jungle (just a bit) and rejoicing.

Caladiums looking healthy and refreshed

Early in the morning, Rob mowed the lush, overgrown lawn with our little quiet battery-operated push mower while I did the edging. Edging involves about 10 minutes of running the edger and then about three hours of crawling around, hand-pulling the weeds that have encroached into the beds. While I was crawling, I saw a box turtle taking big bites out of an overripe sand pear Rob had tossed behind the vegetable garden. I came across a snake skin too (rat snake), and the cutest mushroom (it was as red as a strawberry).

We picked the last of our tomatoes from the old, worn-out plants, so tattered and faded (they remind me of scarecrows). We filled a basket with Romas, Arkansas Travelers, Cherokee Purples, Amish Pastes, Debaros, and Tasty Lees.

Homegrown tomatoes

About 11, we went to Tallahassee Nurseries and bought a decorative arch to support the heavy, fruit-laden branches of the satsumas that grow on either side of the steps to the utility room. Since Rob doesn’t like the branches to droop down and block the path to the steps, we thought we’d put up an arch and let the branches rest on top of it. Tallahassee Nurseries was a madhouse because a snowball truck was parked among the birdbaths and free snowballs were being given away with every purchase. We chose a large pagoda-style arch with a pointed top and lots of metal curlicues—oh, and we got a couple of pink champagne snowballs for the road.

The arch was kind of hard to put up. It kept wanting to lean to one side. While we were working, Rob was “swearing” in his dorky Rob way. He kept saying “Crappersnaps!” whenever the arch went crooked. But he wasn’t mad; he was smiling.

I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the new arch. But here's something that's next to the arch: my favorite birdbath. 

Buntin, our spoiled tortie, ran outside a million times to celebrate it being Saturday. (She’s not supposed to go outside.) Around three, she booked it down the path through the meadow, chasing butterflies as I ran after her and called, “Bunters, come back here! You’re getting your little toepads dirty!” I thought this might slow her down because Buntin has a superiority complex and would never want to be a “common” cat with dirty toepads.


Elegant Becky passing judgment on the troublesome Buntin, who had just run by on her way outside 

A little Saturday morning snack

I bought this giant rabbit at Mule Day (a festival in nearby Calvary, Georgia) last fall. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

June Time



Yesterday was a typical summer Saturday for Rob and me. We played with our cats, mowed and edged the yard, and cooked up some marinara sauce from our homegrown tomatoes.

On Saturdays I like to do things slowly and daydream a lot instead of working efficiently. (I watch birds while hanging out the laundry, for example.) I don't like to talk about anything serious. As soon as Rob woke up yesterday morning, I announced, “If Carl had been a girl I would have named him Daisy Dumpling.”

We started the day playing with Buntin, our high-maintenance tortie, in the front bedroom, a room normally closed to cats because it contains our best furniture. Buntin loves to sneak in there and get special attention from us away from the other cats, and we don't really discourage her. Yesterday we sat on the floor and petted her and complimented her, as we usually do, and we even cajoled her into taking her asthma medicine, which was dissolved in a little blue bowl of kitten milk.

We held our breath while Buntin licked daintily and agonizingly slowly at her bowl of milk and asthma medicine. (It's a real struggle to get her to take her medicine because she's such a diva.) When she finally finished, we congratulated her and complimented her even more, and she started running around the room, showing off, opening all the cabinets and rolling on the rug.

“She can tell how happy we are that she finished her medicine,” Rob said. “Look how proud she is. She's full of beans.”

Then it was time to mow and edge and do all our other yard maintenance. The day was burning hot and brilliantly sunny, and we kept stopping each other to say, “Hey, look how sweaty I am.” It really was amazing.

In the evening, we made our marinara sauce. I was in charge of picking the herbs. I filled a basket with oregano and Greek Columnar basil, and when I brought it inside it filled the whole kitchen with fragrance. I thought the basil smelled especially delightful and unusual—cinnamon-y and perfumey, almost like incense.

We used 10 pounds of heirloom tomatoes and seven chubby cloves of homegrown garlic in our sauce. It simmered through two episodes of Grimm and several old Law and Order reruns. Rob kept the oven timer next to his bowl of snack mix in the living room and got up every 15 minutes to stir the pot.

Mountainmint and prairie coneflower by the Vine House
A clay teapot in the jelly cupboard on the breezeway. I got this long ago in Taiwan when I taught English there for a year.
More clay teapots
A fairy table (in the house rather than outside). The dishes are old Barbie dishes.


My new "Pebbledash" birdbath from Tallahassee Nurseries. I'll get some better pictures when I finish gardening around it. I want to plant some ferns around the base.


Plumbago on the landing in front of the utility room


I love caladiums.


Sophie looking cute at home by her pool