Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lush

Two antique teddy bears having a picnic

In my opinion, gardens should be lush, with places for fairies to hide. Yards with nothing but grass make me feel bored and hopeless. I prefer shadowy yards full of secrets, full of surprises. Full of possibilities.

I grew up in the lushest backyard, created by my mom and dad. It fed my imagination and provided my sister Kris and me with endless "ingredients" for our games. Wearing eye shadow concocted from daylily pollen, we strolled about under elephant-ear parasols and fanned ourselves with canna leaves.

My parents never had much money and our house definitely lacked for pretty things, but the yard was different, another world. It was flowery and fancy, lacy with ferns, curtained with Spanish moss, a realm of beauty and abundance.

There were so many "rooms" in the yard (separated by trees or overgrown hedges), including a riotous vegetable garden with peanuts, corn, tomatoes, and okra, and a secret garden containing my dad's prized hybrid teas. In a woodsy spot, Kris and I built a little cemetery where we buried the poor moles that our cats hunted. The cemetery was landscaped with haircap moss and protected by a delicate fence of toothpicks.

As kids we were never bored, because the yard was an inexhaustible source of entertainment, with climbing trees, a swing set, and a trampoline. There was always something to do in the yard, something to discover. You could find treasures—ripe blackberries, maybe, or wild violets or maybe a peach or a plum. The yard was like a magician's hat, seemingly bottomless; you could always pull some new delight out of it. Yes, it had rabbits. And it had box turtles and owls and even a Mississippi kite!

As an adult I've tried to re-create the yard I grew up in. In other words, I've spent a foolish amount of money on plants. For 14 years now, I've been cramming my yard here in Quincy with wild azaleas, needle palms, bluestem palmettos, and dozens and dozens of trees, and the place is finally becoming just how I want it to be—green, jungly, tangled, and wildlife-friendly.

I've created shade and secluded spots. I've set the stage for mystery. Sometimes in the morning, I'll come outside and find deer or raccoon tracks, or I'll spy a new nest or an egg, and I'll get very excited knowing that in my absence there have been secret doings, sacred rituals, that I've made a safe place for such things. My arm hair will stand on end. I'll feel as if I just missed God by a minute.

An antique teddy bear wearing a dress and sitting on a cement toadstool

Safrano rose
Safrano rose

Perle d'Or rose
Perle d'Or rose

Florida azalea
Florida azalea

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Alice

antique teddy bear and Penelope rose

Alice and I had tons of fun in the yard on Saturday morning. It was so nice to feel the warm sun on our heads and to be surrounded by blooming roses and Indian pinks—and butterflies and peaceful bees. In a breeze, petals fell and dotted Alice's dress. These snaps are of Alice and my Penelope rose, whose creamy petals remind me of antique lace.

antique teddy bear and Penelope rose

antique teddy bear and Penelope rose

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Toys

Fenna!

I'm a grown lady, but I’m still crazy about stuffed animals. I love their soft, ineffectual bodies and their sweet, humble expressions. I love how patient they seem, how forbearing. Part of me knows they’re just pieces of cloth, bits of stuffing, but another part of me is a magical thinker. Part of me, probably 99.99 percent of me, believes they’re alive and "real."

When I was little, I had trouble accepting that people are a mixture of good and bad, that nobody is purely nice or sweet. I was mortified that I wasn’t all good, and I was always deeply hurt if somebody I thought was nice revealed himself or herself to be a little bit unfair or mean—I’d be crushed. (I was an intense—and annoying!—child.)

To me, toys were better than people because they were always lovable, always innocent. I could imbue them with all that was good in my own heart, with all that was good in the world, by using the power of my imagination.

But it didn’t seem like I was imagining. It seemed like I was just telling the truth about my dear stuffed-animal friends, bearing witness to their innate gentleness of spirit.

My sister Kris and I had lots of special animals when we were kids, but we had one who was the most special: Fenna. Fenna is a teddy bear who came to us by way of our neighbors the Folkses. Ann and Marie Folks were about 10 years older than Kris and me, and one day, when I was maybe six, Mrs. Folks brought over a bunch of Ann and Marie's old toys and gave them to us!

They were fabulous, expensive toys, from the 1950s and early ‘60s, in perfect condition. There was an elaborate dollhouse, and a Patti Playpal doll in her original dress and black patent Mary Janes—and there was Fenna, a plucky-looking teddy bear with a certain sparkle in her eyes.

Isn’t her name great? Fenna. Kris made it up. It’s short for Bearifeen. Her full name was/is Bearifeen Marie Mayfield. In our games, she was such a hilarious, slightly ridiculous, yet vulnerable character—thoroughly lovable. She was like Miss Piggy in that she hid her pain, and like Charlie Brown in that she never gave up. Fenna wanted to pretend to be rich and classy, but she was constantly being undermined by her own toys, a pig doll named McSnout, who was country, and a china doll named Chablis, who was just kind of a butthead.

Kris and I played with Fenna every day for years and years, and she had all kinds of adventures. Once, she was involved in a fire in our backyard fort (our “cottage” as we called it) when she was cooking some raisins over a candle and the roof, which was made of dried juniper branches, suddenly went up in flames. (The details of the fire are fuzzy, but I know that rubbing alcohol was involved somehow; we were the stupidest kids.)

Poor Fenna. She deserved better parents than us.

Kris and I played with Fenna until we were old enough that we had to hide to do it, for fear the other kids in the neighborhood would make fun of us. In the lush, secret shadows of the backyard, we’d sew her clothes and bead bracelets and necklaces for her. We even made her a little pair of wire spectacles. Her shoes, which we also made, had cardboard soles and wine corks for heels.

Sometimes at night now, just before I fall asleep, I like to wonder what heaven might be like, and I often speculate that it might be different for each person, tailor-made to each individual's taste. For my dad, for instance, I think it would be full of daffodils, his favorite flower. And for my mom, every shop would be an ice cream shop. My own heaven would look a lot like my childhood backyard, with azaleas and a trampoline—and Fenna would be there.





Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Easter Tree

bunny in a basket ornament

I put up my Easter tree yesterday. It’s one of my favorite rites of spring! I love having a tree in my living room, even if it's fake.

The tree itself is kind of weird. It’s made of white-painted rusty metal and really doesn’t look a bit like a tree. But I load it up with silk flowers and glittery glass ladybugs and birds—and when I’m all done, the effect is quite charming, I think.

Making Easter ornaments is how I get through the gray, dreary days of January and February. I like to sit at the dining room table, up to my elbows in pastel felt, ribbon, and seed pearls, and create very poorly sewn bunnies, chicks, lambs, and other baby farm animals. The fact that they all tend to have some sort of deformity—uneven eyes, maybe, or one small leg and one big one—only makes them more endearing to me.

When I’m sewing, I like to listen to audiobooks and run my trusty little space heater as the chandelier makes rainbows on the walls. It’s so cozy listening to somebody read me a story. Buntin, our passionate tortie, likes to nap on the table, on a tuffet of felt scraps, as I work and the tale unfolds around us. She's very devoted. Sometimes Rob will come by and praise her purity of heart: "Oh, look at sweet little Buntie," he might say. "All the other cats want treats, but Buntin just wants to be friends."

felt bunny and beehive ornaments

felt chick and other Easter ornaments

felt chick ornament

blue felt bird and other Easter ornaments

Monday, February 5, 2018

Teddy Bear Tea Party



On Saturday, Fenna and Claudia Rose had a tea party in the yard, even though spring is still a far-off wish, a dream. They held bouquets of pink camellias, the stems tied with satin ribbons, to add a little cheer to the brown and wintry setting. I had so much fun taking pictures and sampling the party treats. The Hostess cake balls were heavenly—filled with cream and topped with pink sugar that sparkled softly in the morning sun.











Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Shutters!

For thirteen years, I've dreamed about adding exterior shutters to the house, and now finally my dream has come true. I’m so excited to show you my new improvements!

Our house must have had shutters in its earlier days. You can still see the indentations on the window frames where the old hinges used to be. Nearly all the houses in Quincy’s historic district have dark green (“Quincy green”) shutters.

Our new shutters are 78 inches tall and 16 inches wide and made of cedar, to resist rot. I just love the way they play up our beautiful old windows, which are original to the house (I've been told). They’re like tasteful eyeliner around lovely eyes.

I know this post is supposed to be about shutters, but I want to take just a minute to rhapsodize about the beauty of old windows—because they’re becoming more and more rare as people rush to replace them.

Our windows are six-over-six, meaning there are six window panes in each sash. Narrow strips of wood, called muntins, divide the individual panes of glass and hold them in place. Because each pane is a separate piece of glass, each reflects light in its own unique way. This special play of light is part of the appeal of old windows. Aesthetically, the muntins are just as important as the panes because they’re slightly raised, not flat—so they add depth to the windows and cast delicate shadows on the glass to add even more visual interest.

Now back to the shutters. They went up yesterday while I was at the office. I was so excited I couldn't concentrate on my work, and when I got home I ran around with my camera in the fading light, frantically snapping pictures, Rob following me and recommending different angles.

“You should get one here with the lemon tree,” he said. “It just looks so Florida.”

Unfortunately, my lemon-tree shot didn’t turn out (which is the case with about 99 percent of my pictures), but here’s one with the persimmon and the silver saw palmetto:



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Citrus



Rob and I are up to our ears these days in homegrown citrus. We've got 19 trees, and just about every one is covered in glowing, golden, sunny fruit. We've got a Cara Cara orange, a Roble orange, a Hamlin orange, two Ambersweet oranges, two Kimbrough satsumas, two Owari satsumas, a Rangpur lime, two Meyer lemons, a Changsha tangerine, two Ponkan tangerines, a King Mandarin, a Nippon orangequat, a Nagami kumquat, and a Meiwa kumquat. We can't believe the bounty! We've got citrus fruit piling up on our counters, sitting on the breezeway in baskets, weighing down the trees, and riding around in my car.

Our trees seem to produce like magic. They don't require much maintenance at all. Rob sprays them with neem oil (for whiteflies) sometimes, and I fertilize them three times a year, in March, May, and July, with copious amounts of Holly-tone or Citrus-tone (24 cups for trees over 9 feet tall). But other than that, we just let them be.

We don't even have our trees planted in really choice spots. No, we've got them crammed into weird places around the house, mixed in with our camellias and wax myrtles and such—in shade and clay. I honestly don't know how they're doing so well.

Right now, we've got so much ripe citrus rolling in that we can't possibly eat it all. As a result, Rob spends most of his waking hours scheming about how to give it away. See, he's a very conscientious person, and he would never want any of our delicious citrus to go to waste. Plus, he's very friendly and kind and enjoys giving bags of homegrown citrus to people he barely knows.

"Next year we should buy some nice brown paper bags with handles so we can hand out our citrus in cute little gift bags," he said the other day. "When you give your citrus away in old plastic grocery bags, it just seems like trash. But if it comes in a nice gift bag, it seems more like a thing. We can even have a stamp made up so we can personalize the bags."

"What should the stamp say?" I asked.

"Spruce Pine Cottage Citrus," Rob suggested.

"How about Spruce Pine Cottage Citrus and Sundries?" I said.

"Hmm," Rob said. "I'm skeptical about the sundries. What are the sundries?"

I could tell he was worried I might be tempted to quit my full-time job with benefits and start my own small sundries business, so I decided to tease him a little. Rob is always concerned that I'm about to launch an ill-conceived business venture.

"Oh, I don't know," I smiled. "Waxed camellias . . . artisan bread . . ." (Rob has recently gotten into bread making, and I would love to learn how to wax camellias.)

"I don't think I want to get into sundries," Rob said.

"Citrus and Sundries does have a nice ring to it though, you've got to admit," I said, still teasing. "Maybe we could just tell people the sundries are sold out. . . ."

"Or we could just use plain bags," Rob said. "Yeah, on second thought, plain bags seems like the safest bet."

Baskets of ripe Rangpur limes


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. Mrs. Pope is a folk artist, but her work is very detailed and quite elegant. 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 had been reading about Mrs. Pope for weeks prior to our visit, doing feverish internet research. She knew all about the artist, about her boundless energy and creativity, and as we stood in front of the gate snapping pictures, she kept telling me little anecdotes about her—for example, that she once said her favorite present was a bag of cement, that she’d rather have that than a new dress.  








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. On one side of the house, two tree-sized sasanquas bloomed, 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.







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 (Florence Nightingale, I think) . . . and an urn . . . and a grotto . . . and a homemade birdbath encrusted with seashells. 

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.