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

Ingredients:

Cookies

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

Icing

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

Directions:

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

Ingredients:

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

Glaze

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


Directions:

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring Weekend


Satsumas in bloom around the breezeway

On Friday night it rained over 4 inches. It was a spectacular storm that started in the late afternoon and continued until just before dawn. Rob and I popped popcorn and watched Justified as the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, and I was so glad that Bernie, the old stray tomcat I take care of, had recently decided to take up residence in our garage. (It’s like he decided to go into assisted living.) I knew he was safe and dry, and that gave me peace of mind. I could picture him relaxing on the old couch near Rob’s worktable as the rain made a racket on the tin roof.

I think Bernie is the cutest thing, though Rob disagrees. Bernie’s got a big head, a tiny body, and one eye—and he’s filthy dirty. Though I’ve been taking care of him for years, he has remained steadfastly feral all this time. He still hisses at me every time I present him with his Fancy Feast.

By Saturday morning the rain was done and the birds were singing. I sat at the kitchen table and worked on a craft until it got light outside. I was drinking a Coke and stitching up a little felt Halloween ornament, a friendly bat with pearl beads for eyes and a little smile showing vampire teeth. Softee was sitting next to me on one of the benches at the table, and as I petted her she got so overstimulated that she stood up on her hind legs and started playfully biting my head as she hugged me around the shoulders with her front legs. She kept biting and wrestling me and getting her claws stuck in my pajamas, and I was laughing and laughing and saying, “Softee, you’re making my stitches come out all crooked!”

About 10, Rob and I went to Tallahassee to run some errands. We got a new battery-powered push mower at Lowe’s, and we also bought a beautiful painting at Memory Lane Antiques, near Lake Ella. It’s a swamp scene by Florida artist Donald Gibbs, full of intricate detail—Spanish moss and reeds and a feathery egret. The owner of the store told us that Gibbs painted the delicate strands of moss using a pin instead of a brush.

We spent Saturday afternoon mowing and edging the lawn for the first time this year. I did hours of weeding too, which was the most fun I’ve had in ages. With the rain, the yard had turned bright green—spring had finally come. When we took a break to have some limeade on the breezeway, Rob reported that he'd seen a hummingbird, and I told him I'd seen a chickadee with an inchworm in its beak. "I saw a little box turtle, too," I said, "under a Shi Shi Gashira sasanqua."

It was such a beautiful day that when Buntin, our temperamental tortie, sneaked out of the house (all our cats, except Bernie, are indoor cats), I didn’t bring her inside right away. Instead, I carried her around in the sun for a while and let her smell things, which is what cats like to do, mainly, when they're outside. Rob was walking with us and making suggestions about where to stop. “Let her smell the lemon blossoms,” he said. “And don’t forget the glorious roses.”


The north side of the yard after mowing


Winged pig on the breezeway


Birdhouse and plum branches


Lemon blossoms


Rob admiring the lemon tree


Rob and Buntin


Leroy rejoicing for spring

Monday, February 29, 2016

February Projects

February was another busy month for home-improvement projects around here. Rob and I were hard at work every weekend. We started fixing up the bathroom in the main house, planted lots of plants, and even did a little Easter decorating.

We spent the beginning of the month on our bathroom project. We started by touching up the paint, a nice clean white called Icicle. We also added some trim in the corners of the room. Before we added the trim, the corners were rather messy and unprofessional-looking because a former owner of the house had "paneled" the walls himself with some old floor boards. Well, we covered up the messy, uneven corners with trim and plenty of caulk and painted everything with several coats of Icicle. When we were done, the room looked more finished and way less crazy. Still, there's more I'd like to do. In my dreams the bathroom has a stained-glass window and is lighted by a little vintage chandelier.





I'm trying to finish all my planting before it gets too hot. Over the course of the month, I planted 24 holly ferns (in the border along the southern edge of the vegetable garden), 18 autumn ferns (around the breezeway and in the bed around the barn), six coonties (around the barn), two Iwai Nishiki flowering quinces (at the edge of the meadow), and a Palace Princess camellia (on the south side of the backyard). Rob and I also started putting in our spring-summer vegetable garden. So far, we've planted Red Pontiac potatoes, Nantes carrots, Watermelon radishes, cilantro, and catnip.


Coonties, tea olive, and Shi Shi Gashira sasanquas by the breezeway


Trilliums (and sad bunny) by the pond

On February 27, I put up my Easter tree. When I was growing up, my mom always had an egg tree, even when we barely had any furniture. It was made from a branch painted white and planted in a terracotta pot full of plaster. All the decorations were homemade, from real egg shells that we hollowed out ourselves. Hollowing out eggs was fun. We'd make a tiny hole at the top of the egg, then one at the bottom, and then we'd blow into the top hole and force the yolk and the white out into a bowl.

We'd wrap the delicate shells in ribbons and lace, or we'd paint them with fingernail polish. And sometimes we'd cut a hole in the front of the shell and create a little scene inside the egg, with pebble-sized china bunnies and chicks posed on velvet grass among dainty silk leaves and flowers.

My sister Kris and I loved making Easter eggs, and over the years we even developed some special decorating techniques that were all our own. One technique involved sitting in a certain clover patch in the front yard (sitting in the clover patch was key). Once positioned, we’d sprinkle drops of food coloring on our eggs and roll the eggs in the clovers so the colors got smeared and made beautiful, unplanned patterns. We’d work until the eggs were entirely covered in swirling colors and not a bit of white showed. Then we’d varnish the eggs with Mom’s pearly nail polish and add little loops of ribbon so we could hang them on the egg tree, which always stood in the same spot under the living room window, year after year.

These days I buy most of my Easter ornaments, but I do have a few that I made myself. Just last week, in fact, I whipped up a trio of felt chickens. They're really dumb, with enormous heads and legs of uneven lengths. I love them. I didn't actually intend them to be funny, but they make me laugh every time I see them.















I'm very fond of my Peter Rabbit ornament. I have a Jemima Puddle-Duck ornament too. I'm a big Beatrix Potter fan.