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 chased 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 judgement on the troublesome Buntin, who had just run by on her way outside

A little Saturday morning snack

I bought this gigantic 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

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Summery Day

Though it’s still technically spring, Saturday felt like high summer. The air was sultry, the cicadas were roaring, and the yard was jungle-y green. Rob and I spent the day weeding and mowing and planting, but it was so hot we had to keep taking breaks. We’d sit on the breezeway and eat fresh pineapple and popsicles under the ceiling fan.

In the morning I planted 15 Southern lady ferns in the big bed under the giant water oak in the backyard. Lady ferns are my favorite fern because they’re just so . . . “ladylike"—delicate and graceful and pretty. As I worked, I kept thinking about all the other ferns I'd like to add to the bed—Christmas and royal and netted chain. There's nothing like the softness and lushness of ferns (in my opinion), and they provide good shelter for toads, lizards, turtles, and other small animals.

Saturday was an especially fun day because I worked in the yard, but I also got to enjoy it. I had time to observe little things. In our Ambersweet orange tree, a pair of cardinals has built a nest. Well, we checked the nest on Saturday and the babies have hatched! There are three of them, so fuzzy and sleepy. When we peeked in, they were sprawled about the little pine-needle nest, their eyes closed. We could see them breathing. Their beaks were bright yellow and their down was gray.

In the late afternoon we weeded the vegetable garden and picked some cilantro and catnip. During one of our breaks on the breezeway, we decided to see how the cats would like the fresh "nip" (they've only had the dried stuff before). At first only Carl had a leaf. But then something happened. I was writing in my journal when Rob reported: “Maggie stole Carl’s leaf! She came up and bit him on the foot and he got scared and ran away, and she took over his leaf! I thought she wanted to play, but she just wanted his leaf! I thought she was being nice, but she was being a jerk!”

This was surprising because Maggie is usually very kind and polite to the other cats and is well known for her purring and peacemaking.

“Maggie,” Rob laughed, “I didn’t know you had it in you!”

It was evening by then, and we could hear a concert on the courthouse square, which is about a mile away. The music was drifting through the trees.

Rob passed out more catnip, and soon each cat had a leaf.

The cats reacted to the fresh catnip in a funny, restrained sort of way. They seemed not to know quite what to do with it. Each was possessive of his or her leaf. "But they seem to just want to be near it," Rob said, "or they just want to lie down on top of it."

Carl on top of the jelly cupboard

June sitting on the rocker in her special June style

A frog by our little goldfish pond

Our potato harvest. We got 27 pounds, with very little insect damage. We were proud!

The north side of the yard. This view is the result of the big re-sodding project we did in April.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

On Saturday morning I made Vegan Thumbprint Cookies. They turned out just perfect—sweet and salty and cute, with a spot of pink icing in the middle and lots of cheery sprinkles everywhere else.

Buntin, our temperamental tortie, assisted me in the kitchen as she usually does. I let her lick a butter wrapper, but when she tried to lick the dough, I had to discourage her—and she got so mad she went and hid in a cabinet among some canned goods.

Rob shut the door behind her, smiling. “It’s the only place she can be herself, she says.”

She was in the cabinet about a minute. Then I got the cookies in the oven and she and I went and sat on the floor in the sunroom in an inviting little sunbeam. We were soon joined by several other cats, because cats find sunbeams irresistible.

Maggie was rolling around in the warm, yellow light, reveling, looking chubby and cute.

“Oh, Maggie Rollarounder,” Rob said when he came by, “a sunbeam sure is great, isn’t it?”

She responded with another roll. He was right. The sunbeam was so great I decided to have my breakfast in it. While the cats enjoyed some heart-shaped treats that looked like valentine candy but smelled like sardines, I served myself a nice little plate of Vegan Thumbprint Cookies.

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies



1 cup vegan butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt


2 tablespoons almond milk
2 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/4 cups powdered sugar


Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until incorporated. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball, then roll the ball in sprinkles and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly firm. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven. Using your thumb, press into the center of each cookie again. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 13 to 15 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Using a spoon, fill the center of each cookie with icing.

Note: I started with this lovely recipe and veganized it.

I took this picture of Sophie after her ballet recital on Saturday night. She did an awesome job with her dancing!

Here's a bit of a little display I made in one of my bookcases recently. I love arranging (and rearranging) my silly collections.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies

Yesterday morning I got up early and made a batch of Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies before dawn. It was very cozy. As I worked, Buntin sat nearby on the counter, tenderly licking the butter wrapper.

The dough was so pretty, rose-petal pink.

“Buntin, can you believe this pretty dough?” I said. “The cherry juice sure makes great food coloring.”

It was hard for me not to eat up all the cherries while I was chopping them—because maraschino cherries are my absolute favorite thing. As I worked with the cherries, I thought of something, a kind-of-funny little memory from high school:

When I was fifteen I got to go to a make-your-own-sundae party, and I topped my sundae with a big cloud of whipped cream, then studded that with a whole bunch of maraschino cherries—probably a dozen. Of course, some of the other girls made a little fun of my babyish creation, so I felt a tad embarrassed about it even though it was delicious.

It was such a fabulous party, with a big, long table covered in flavor after flavor of ice cream and every kind of topping you could imagine. There were even beautiful sundae bowls, made of pink glass. I was shy and didn’t really have anybody to talk to at the party, but I had fun eating ice cream and admiring everything.

I remember I was also really proud of the present I had brought (it was a birthday party), a baby-tear plant with the tiniest, most delicate leaves. Around the pot was a sheer purple ribbon tied in a fancy bow.

“What is it?” Anne, the birthday girl, asked me when it came time for me to give her my gift.

“A baby tear,” I said, but I always talked so softly back then that no one could hear me.

“What? An elephant ear?” Anne said.

“A baby tear!” I said, but she still couldn’t hear me and she went around telling everybody it was an elephant ear. I never could clear up the confusion.

Oh, well, it was still a great party, and if I ever have the chance to make my own sundae again, I think I will make it the exact same way I did then (except vegan).

Anyhow, here’s my cherry cookie recipe. I started with this awesome recipe and veganized it, and the cookies turned out just perfect—cute and sweet and so pink.

Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies



3/4 cup Earth Balance, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice
2 cups flour
16 maraschino cherries, drained and chopped


3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Using a hand-held mixer, beat the Earth Balance on high speed until creamy, about a minute. Keep beating and add the sugar, vanilla, and almond extracts. Drizzle in the cherry juice and beat for another minute on high.

Add the flour and mix on low until a very soft dough is formed. Add the cherries and mix on low until the cherries are well distributed.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours. (I chilled mine overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape the dough into balls using 1 tablespoon of dough per ball. Line up the balls on the parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges begin to brown slightly. Be careful not to overbake—these should be soft cookies.

Cool on a wire rack.

To make the glaze, mix the powdered sugar, almond milk, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Stir until smooth.

When the cookies have completely cooled, drizzle them with the glaze.

Becky, June, and Leroy chilling on the breezeway

Good ole June

The Vine House framed by a satsuma branch

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Sod and More

Saturday was the most beautiful and glorious day of all the year so far. It was dazzling. Everything was so green and seemed to shimmer with life, to tremble with it. Spring had truly arrived. Finally!

Rob and I began the day with a trip to Lowe’s, which is how we begin most Saturdays. The garden center was gorgeous in the spring light, full of brilliant, eye-popping colors. We chose Boston ferns, pentas, and petunias for the pots in and around our Vine House, and while Rob was picking out some coconests I started texting pictures of the rose displays to Bunny (my sister).

Lowe’s had the most beautiful roses that day; they were called Parfuma roses (‘First Crush’ . . . ‘Summer Romance’), and I had never seen the like. Oh, the flowers were so fluffy and perfume-y, with extravagant stacks of petals in luscious shades of pink. I kept taking pictures at different angles and texting them to Bunny, and Bunny texted back, “You should get one!”

“You should!” I replied, because Bunny is a genius with roses, and I hatched a plan to get her one for her birthday.

Rob and I bought so many plants at Lowe’s that we had to drop them off at home before we could continue with the rest of our errands.

Pink pentas

Our next stop was Tallahassee Nurseries, where we bought 40 strips of sod. Then we went on to Native Nurseries, where we bought 30 stepping stones embossed with dragonfly, bee, and butterfly designs.

The sod and stepping stones were for a big project we’ve been dreaming about for over a year now. See, there’s a grass path leading from our driveway to the pebble path that takes you to the breezeway, and for the last five years this path has been a total wreck. The grass died in the horrible drought of 2011, and unruly weeds of all kinds promptly took its place. We wanted to re-sod this area, then make a path of stepping stones through it to protect the precious new turf from being trampled. The stepping stones would curve from the driveway to the pebble path, about 60 feet.

When we finally got home with all our purchases, we got right to work on the sodding project. We started digging out the crab grass and other weeds in our target area. Poor old Bernie, my stray-cat friend, came out of the garage, where he’s residing now, and sat nearby in the sun.

“He looks like a drowned rat,” Rob observed cheerfully.

“No, he doesn’t!” I said.

We dug out all the weeds, worked up the soil, and laid our sod and stepping stones, play-fighting all the while about who was doing better work. (I was. Clearly.)

When we finished, we ran the sprinkler on the new grass and stood there admiring it for a while, the sun and the water droplets making sparkles and rainbows. Then Bernie gave the stepping stones a trial run. He trotted over all 30 as he hurried back to the garage to enjoy the Savory Salmon Feast I was serving up on Rob’s weight bench.

I tidied up the garage, then got Bernie settled down for bed. By the time he had curled up on his cozy couch by the worktable, night was gathering. As I headed back to the house (I got to use the new stepping stones again), the frogs were singing in our little goldfish pond and the satsuma blossoms were glowing in the dark.

Purple coneflower blooming by the Vine House. I can't show any pictures of the new sod because it doesn't look good yet. I'll have to wait until it starts really growing.

Mrs. B.R. Cant rose

Daisy Bunnykins in a patch of powder puff plants

Plumbago and coreopsis