Monday, November 23, 2015

Moving Plants Around

On Saturday morning I was so excited to get out in the yard that I didn't even bother getting dressed. I just put on my jogging shoes and started gardening in my pajamas. (Don't worry—we live in the country, so there was nobody around.) At the first hint of light, I was hard at work, moving a bunch of Shi Shi Gashira sasanquas. I dug them from the border along the southern edge of the vegetable garden (where they just weren't cutting it) and relocated them to the big bed under the giant water oak behind the vegetables. (I need to come up with some snappier names for my beds.)

I'd decided the big bed needed more evergreens so it would look good year-round. I'm using Shi Shis, coonties, needle palms, and bluestem palmettos as my evergreens. Then I've got deciduous plants like Oconee azaleas, hearts-a-bustin', lady ferns, and turks' caps for seasonal interest and wildlife value. I moved nine Shi Shis, planted nine new coonties, and mulched the big bed with a bunch of leaves I'd raked.

Shi Shis are the perfect landscape plant. They have shiny, dark green leaves, and hot-pink flowers in fall. Even better, they're slow-growing and easy to prune, so you can keep them to a manageable size. My Shis Shis are all about two to three feet tall.

Saturday was so much fun. As I dug up the Shis Shis I was apologizing to them for the disturbance and trying to be as gentle and careful as I could with their roots. Carl was sitting on the breezeway staring at me and "yelling" at me to come back inside—so I'd take little breaks now and then to visit him. I'd sit on the settee on the breezeway with Carl on my lap and June perched on my shoulder like a trained parrot.

I should have taken pictures of my work, but of course I didn't. So here are some random shots that don't have anything to do with what I've just written.

Cyclamens by the breezeway

Stephens Garden camellia

The breezeway at dusk


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.

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. 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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Vegan Orange Cranberry Muffins

On Saturday morning I made my first batch of muffins in our new kitchen. I cooked up some Vegan Orange Cranberry Muffins with a nutty, crumbly brown sugar topping. I used this recipe, which was easy to veganize with ground flaxseed (to replace the egg) and almond milk.

I had a bunch of small, furry helpers with me, of course, as I baked. All the cats seem to be enjoying the new kitchen, especially Maggie, our beautiful, plump silver tabby. She likes relaxing on the counter on this huge butcher-block cutting board we have.

"Did you see her last night?" I asked Rob as I added pecans and Craisins to the muffin batter. "She was on the cutting board, lying flat on her side with her feet straight out behind her like tail fins. She looked like a big fish—a big grouper—just waiting to be prepared for supper. Lucky for her we're vegetarians."

"A grouper?" Rob said. "Don't you mean a catfish?"

"Close enough." I did a little mixing, but not too much. "You know, I've got a good feeling about these muffins. I think I'm not actually messing them up."

And I was right. The muffins turned out pretty tasty, and they looked really cute arranged on my cupcake stand on the counter (I should've gotten a picture). It's fun getting our new kitchen stocked with good things to eat. We've brought in lots of stuff from our garden. Braids of garlic and garlands of hot peppers hang around the window frames, and the freezer is packed with our summer tomato harvest.

Vegan Orange Cranberry Muffins



2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped Craisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon orange extract


1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the Craisins and pecans and stir to coat.

In a blender or food processor, mix the flaxseed and water until thick and creamy.

Get out a second bowl (a medium-sized one) and whisk together the flaxseed mixture, oil, almond milk, orange juice, and orange extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix.

Pour the batter into 12 muffin cups lined with muffin papers, filling them three-fourths full.

Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle about a tablespoon over the top of each muffin.

Bake the muffins at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Peachy Dining Room

Last weekend we spent four days (Friday through Monday) painting the dining room, a project associated with our big kitchen redo. See, there used to be a pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room (it was essentially a big hole in the wall), and we had that filled in. The whole wall had to be rebuilt, and since we needed to paint the new, bare wall on both the kitchen side and the dining room side, we decided to paint the whole kitchen and the whole dining room while we were at it. (We finished painting the kitchen on August 8.)

We had to paint four coats on the dining room walls to get the proper coverage. Then we touched up the trim. We took the room from a dark orange, like the flesh of a winter squash, to a light peachy shade called Gerbera Daisy.

It was a big job, and as we stood on our ladders day after day we kept talking about how we couldn't wait to stop painting. We also sang songs that were stuck in our heads, so on day two certain songs were declared "illegal."

On day three we stopped singing and started criticizing one another's painting skills. On day four I cried a little.

Painting is great, but being done painting is even better.

Friday, August 14, 2015

More Kitchen Pics

Rob and I spent last Sunday organizing our new kitchen cabinets. I had fun arranging my Fiestaware into bright, shiny stacks and asking Rob questions like, "So, what's your favorite color of Fiestaware?" (I don't think he answered.)

If ever we were not in the kitchen, if we happened to stray into another room or find ourselves at Winn-Dixie, Rob would say, "Hey, what are we doing? Let's go play in our new kitchen!"

And we'd go and organize or reorganize a cabinet.

"So," I said at one point, "do you think we should put our different vinegars in alphabetical order?"

Rob said he thought arranging the bottles by height was good enough.

"So," I said as I lined up the balsamic and the red wine, "what's your favorite kind of vinegar?"

Sunday, August 9, 2015

New Kitchen

Well, we finally got our kitchen remodeled. It was a bit of an ordeal. For about a month we had to wash our dishes in the bathroom. Oh, and, of course, we didn't have a stove. I lived mostly on birthday-cake-flavored Oreos.

In July and early August, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians came and went. Our cats hid under the bed or behind the water heater while the "bad mans" were here, but as soon as the men were gone they came out and frolicked around the construction site. Most of the cats seemed to revel in the chaos, and during the weeks when the house was torn up Rob often remarked on the "spirit of lawlessness" that prevailed among them. As they climbed the workmen's ladders, peed on their tools, and burrowed into holes in the drywall, Rob added new verses to a little song he'd written some years back called "Cats Are Terrible Animals."

A lot of dumb things happened during the remodeling process. Dangerous things too. Sometimes the things were dumb and dangerous. For example, when Rob and I were attempting to move our old refrigerator out of the house, we lost control of it and it tipped backwards and fell down the front steps (12 feet of steps!) and landed in the yard. (I say it did somersaults; Rob says it didn't.) "Well," I said to Rob as we looked down at the gouged-up wood steps and the wrecked refrigerator, "that was half-assed."

Rob claimed every day that he was going insane. I eventually developed acne from my diet of Oreos. But all the "pain" was worth it in the end. Now the kitchen is done, and I can't wait to show it to you.

I guess I need to start with some "before" pictures. I don't usually like to post ugly pictures on my blog, but I can't really see a way around it this time.

First up is a nice shot of our yellow plastic countertops.

Here's an even better one.

We never used this rusty dishwasher, which was a perfect match for our rusty refrigerator. "It doesn't work," Rob liked to say, "but at least it looks great."

Here are a couple shots Rob took with his phone while the work was going on.

The old kitchen sat in the driveway for about a week.

June and Frankie hiding from the carpenters--I mean, cat murderers:

On August 6, the cabinets were finally finished and in place, and Rob and I started painting the walls. We chose a creamy color called Ylang Ylang.

The cabinets were built by Stanley Tolar. He's a cabinet-making genius.

The cabinets are painted Georgian Green.

We took special care choosing the pulls.

About 10 years ago, my brother-in-law Matt made me this beautiful piece of stained glass. It's kind of the centerpiece of the kitchen and was an inspiration for the new color scheme.

I'll post some more pictures soon.