Thursday, July 12, 2012

From My Garden to Your Home

The FedEx man came bearing gifts this morning!  New samples arrived from Legacy Publishing.  They include my 2013 Gentle Blessings Calendar and related products such as journals and boxed note cards.

Look closely at the cover image for these samples.  Look familiar?  It should!  If you are a regular visitor to my little blog, you will recognize The Potting Shed - an important part of my garden and one of the structures frequently featured in my blog posts.
 Every summer, I plant the little window boxes with pink and white impatiens and enjoy watching them spill and grow.  
So - next time you enjoy a beautiful note card or calendar, stop and have a second look.  Chances are, you are enjoying an everyday piece of someone's little corner of the world.

I'm off to Atlanta for the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market this week - one of my favorite times of year!  Stay tuned for a sneak peek of new trends for the coming year.

For information on where to purchase the beautiful products from my friends at Legacy Publishing, access the link, below.  And tell them Beth sent you!

Legacy Publishing

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mayberry Mourns

You must understand.  There are classic television shows that will live forever, and deservedly so.  They have names such as I Love Lucy and Star Trek.  They all inspire fan clubs and conventions.  They are all wonderful.  Then, on a level just above them, there is The Andy Griffith Show.  This blog post is long overdue, but, sadly, I'm posting it now because Andy Griffith died this morning at the age of 86.  He was a native North Carolinian and still lived here.

Seldom does a group of writers, directors, actors and producers manage to capture the essence of a time and place as did the group who brought us this television show.  If you have ever wondered what the small-town South is really like, watch a couple of episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  Linger long enough and you will begin to understand. 

Mayberry, North Carolina doesn't live on a map by that name, but it is as real as they come.  I grew up in that town.  We had fillin' stations and Main Streets presided over by Floyd the Barber.  Gomer really was that goofy, and he really did have a singing voice to make an angel cry.  Our Sunday afternoons were actually spent on the porch with a glass of iced tea, unless we were out for one of the famous Sunday drives that lives forever in the episode about Barney's new car.  "Tell your Aunt Bea Gomer says hey" was basic courtesy.  Even the ill-mannered among us knew to send warm regards to Aunt Bea.  Drifters and shysters frequently passed through but never stayed for very long.  We could spot one a mile away.  If they were nice enough, we sent them on their way with a clean shirt and a sack of fried chicken - but they always knew not to come back and try again.
We walked to church, to school, to the grocery store and the movie theater.  Our pastors were all called "preacher" and we all knew that Clara Edwards was a nosy gossip, but we loved her anyway.  The Darling Family really did live just outside town and they really were just a tad strange.  We were not afraid to laugh at ourselves, but in spite of our human frailty, we possessed a full measure of kindness, decency and laid-back common sense that generally always won the day - having learned every bit of it at the feet of our elders.  

Save for this show, the world's only frame of reference for the small Southern town might simply be one of cruelty, inequity, ignorance, bigotry and buffoonery.  Thankfully, that group of lucky geniuses in the 1960's caught lightning in a bottle, told another version of the truth and preserved it for the ages - lest anyone wonder.
I once had the great good fortune to meet the actor/director, Howard Morris - long years after his iconic role as Ernest T Bass on the show.  Many people don't realize that Morris directed many of those famous episodes.  During our conversation, I asked him a question that had nagged at me for years.  "How did a bunch of guys from New York and Hollywood manage to get it right when no one else had been able to do that before?"  His face lit up with a big smile and he said "Oh - easy!  I can answer that in two words - Andy Griffith.  We never wrote or directed anything that we didn't run by him first.  If he said "guys, it's funny, but we wouldn't say it like that back home - or - we wouldn't do that where I came from", then we always had the good sense to listen to him. And that's how we got it right."
 The actor Billy Bob Thornton, who grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, says he still remembers the day as a kid when he first heard that Barney Fife would not be returning to the show the following season.  Director Ron Howard has said many times that Andy's respect for him as a child was the genesis of his life's calling as a director.

  My son is the one who called me with the news this morning, almost as if we had lost a family member.  Not that far from the truth, actually. He grew up on a daily dose of Andy reruns, and is a better man for having done so.

If you have never seen this show (maybe you have been living on Saturn, for instance), then do yourself a favor and get to know it now.  Try these 12 favorites - you can even watch them online:
Episode 52 - Barney and The Choir
Episode 66 - Mr. McBeevee
Episode 70 - The Cow Thief
Episode 74 - Convicts at Large
Episode 77 - Man in a Hurry
Episode 87 - Aunt Bea's Medicine Man
Episode 090 - Barney's First Car
Episode 94 - The Mountain Wedding
Episode 101 - Opie the Birdman
Episode 102 - A Black Day for Mayberry (my personal favorite)
Episode 120 - Bargain Day
Episode 123 - The Fun Girls

Rest in peace, Andy Griffith.  And thank you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Walk in the Garden

May and June have been filled with road trips, marathon sessions in the studio, weddings and family gatherings, leaving no time to stop and smell the roses.  The best I could manage was to snap quick pictures here and there, hoping that one day soon I would be able to post them to the blog.  Now, two months later - here is a walk through my garden, beginning with the row of hydrangeas, above, which are just outside the studio.
 Pink hydrangeas in the courtyard...
A basket of white oakleaf hydrangea, ready for the retail shop...
 Impatiens in the potting shed window box...
Zinnias in the vegetable garden...
 A wild clump of tiger lily...
A new variety of sunflowers in the pumpkin patch...
Another new variety of sunflower...
A pumpkin blossom...
One of the pink zinnias (who insisted on her own cameo shot)...
And finally, a pot of traveling geraniums - purchased in May in Pennsylvania, taken to New York City for the Surtex show, and now, happily blooming in North Carolina.

July and August promise to be as busy as May and June were - but I'll keep the camera handy.  Just as in art and life, a garden never stands still.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Small Town Magic

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe called.
  She wants her house back.

You aren't looking at some Photoshopped wonder.  This is a real place.  Not only is it real, it happens to be in my hometown.  Lucky me.
  I remember Sunday afternoons as a little girl, going to visit the family who lived here and being allowed to scamper all over this little jewel.  It is a real playhouse with doors and windows and I love it to this day.  
The Shoe House, as we have always called it, sits on the grounds of historic Woodside Plantation - a beautiful old 1798 brick residence.  Woodside was the birthplace of James Pinckney Henderson, who left here and moved to Texas and got himself elected the first Governor of that great state.
Around 100 years ago, it came into the hands of some of my distant relatives, who have loved and enjoyed it ever since.  A very talented uncle is said to have built the Shoe House.  I never knew him, but my guess is he was a man with a perpetual twinkle in his eye.  I do know he created a wondrous little masterpiece.

 His attention to form and scale were impeccable.  The placement of every detail from the little hobbit doors and windows to the eyelets and shoelaces was masterful.  And I know one little girl who absorbed the magic he created without even realizing it.  She grew up and became an artist, attempting to create a little everyday magic of her own.  Wonder why?
If you're ever in these parts, head out of town on West Main Street and follow your nose up Highway 182 for a mile or so.  Or, stop anyone on the street and say "Do you know the way to The Shoe House?".
We're a small town, after all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Every Town Has One

I grew up pre-Martha Stewart in a small town.  Our home cooks had a wonderful lady named Betty Feezor who hosted a daily cooking show on the local TV station in Charlotte.  Other than that, they relied on word of mouth - recipes and methods that had been time and taste-tested by their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters-in-law and next-door-neighbors.

And we knew good food - still do.  And every small town had several ladies who took care of our special occasions with remarkable talent and ease.

You all know who I mean.  We all knew the cake lady in our towns.  No matter where you lived - she made the best wedding cakes in the world.  They were usually heavy, moist pound cakes delicately flavored with lemon or almond, and they were frosted with either homemade butter cream or an amazing seven-minute frosting that still takes me back to my childhood when I encounter it today.
 (photo courtesy of
Before the days of grocery-store deli counters, the cake lady was our only resource.  These days we seem to have two options on extreme ends of the spectrum - either go to the grocery store and risk buying something with icing that tastes a little like shaving cream or engage the services of one of those fondant artists for a beautiful cake that costs as much as a decent used car. That being the case, I'm still a fan of the cake lady - when you can find one.  Thankfully, in many small towns,you can still attend wedding receptions and watch the women exchange approving glances and nods as the cake is cut and passed around.  Those nods say "Ummm.  Mary Nell made this one...", or "Knew it!  Joan's lemon pound..."

(photo courtesy of
But we don't stop there.  Every (Southern) small town also has a cheese straw lady.  This girl has perfected the art of the classic cheese straw or cheese ring (depending on the way it emerges from the pastry bag).  She is known for her ability to make a PROPER cheese straw - one which bears no trace of the flour that you know is in there, but instead presents itself as a delicious bite of buttery sharp cheese with the perfect kick of cayenne pepper that is miraculously and mysteriously crisp. They might just float away if you aren't watching.  In recent years, dozens of commercially prepared cheese straws have hit store shelves, some of them very good.  But I have yet to find one that truly compares to the local version. The cheese straw lady's talent is as much in demand as the cake lady's. 

By way of illustration, one of my favorite cheese straw stories happened at my parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  One of the guests, a woman who had been gone from our town for close to 30 years, came up to me at the event and said, "Honey, would you mind giving me the name of your cheese straw lady?  These are just delicious.  We don't have anyone in my town who can make them like this.  I have been making do ever since I moved away from here!

And then there is the butter mint lady. 
 (photo courtesy of Winston-Salem Journal)
Today's crowd and, sadly, even some of today's caterers, consider a butter mint to be one of two things - either a rock-hard piece of commercial candy overdosed with peppermint oil - or - something made with powdered sugar and food coloring and more peppermint oil that resembles a bit of stale cake icing pressed into a little candy mold.  Neither of these is an acceptable substitute for the real thing.  A homemade butter mint is made the old-fashioned way by pouring the boiling hot candy onto a marble slab and, at just the right instant, pulling it (with bare hands!) into the tender pieces of candy that melt in your mouth like no other.  The butter mint ladies are dying out (maybe from exhaustion and/or third-degree burns?) but growing up in my town, we had at least half a dozen of them.  Butter mints fell from the sky like rain on every special occasion in those days.  I'm told there is a man not far from here whose mother had the foresight to teach all of her children the craft of butter-mint-making before she died.  God bless her.

Now - did I mention chicken salad?  It should contain nothing but white meat and is never to be made with Miracle Whip. In a small town, there are only one or two highly trusted chicken salad ladies.  We're funny about the chicken salad.

  And we can't forget the lemon blossom practitioners. 
 (photo courtesy of food network)
 These little lemon cakes, baked in mini muffin tins and saturated with sugary lemon goodness aren't as easy to accomplish as one might think - at least not to our lofty small town standards. And just so you know, they predate Paula Deen by several decades.  She just had the good sense to inform the rest of the world about what we already knew.

Speaking of small towns, this may be the first of many posts about them by way of looking at mine. 
 (photo courtesy of
 They are in themselves American treasures, too often looked down upon and seldom celebrated.  That is a shame, too, because small towns have nurtured and produced some of America's greatest talents, not the least of which are the cake ladies and their cheese straw-butter mint-chicken salad-lemon blossom sisters.

So stay tuned for future posts from Main Street.  In the meantime, if you run across a good butter mint, get the girl's name and give me a call.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Summer Camp

Little girls love their playhouses.  Turns out, big girls do, too.  Welcome to my morning commute.  And before you go hating me, at least listen to the story.

We built this little summerhouse (and at this point, Joe, who REALLY built it, looks at me and says "what's this WE business?") around a group of old windows we found lying on the side of the road - which was the subject of an earlier post.

Well, truthfully, it sat filled with junk for six years.  Every summer I would look at it with longing as I would pass by on my way to the garden to pick tomatoes.  Then, several weeks ago, I found myself faced with an important artwork deadline and no choice but to finish that deadline three states away from my studio here in our house.  I was not optimistic that anything good could come of that.  I have a hard enough time being productive when I'm actually IN the studio - much less three states away.  But as it turned out - I tripled my productivity during that week.  My wheels began turning.  I realized that being away from my cable TV, my internet, and my land-line telephone were actually BLESSINGS.  Who knew?

So I came straight home and did something radical.  I moved my studio into the summerhouse - away from my cable TV, my internet and my land-line phone.
With a view like this out my new "studio" window, why didn't I think of this years ago?
My new digs aren't anything fancy.  The old screen door came from the salvage yard for the whopping price of $5, and the window boxes aren't filled with pink and white impatiens - yet.
Just inside the screen door, you can see the storage wall that we built into the house all those years ago - long before I ever had the idea to use the place as a studio.  I had the MOST fun with cans of spray paint when we first built, and decided that the colors still suit my needs - so I left it alone.  The mirror is an old church window - also from the salvage yard.  We added the mirrored pieces ourselves.  The "countertop" is actually made of two long boards from the lumber yard.  We rounded the edges and put multiple coats of polyurethane on them to stain and seal.
My artboard is protected from the hot morning and afternoon sun by rattan window shades.  All of the windows are operational, so I can get cross breezes.  This being the South, however, cross breezes cease to be of any value between the end of April and Halloween - so I can see a portable air conditioning unit in my future.  And the mess "is what it is".
I didn't exactly clean the place up for your visit.

Little Jackie, the studio cat, doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.  The summerhouse was his corporate headquarters when we had it filled with junk.  He had his own secret side door for a quick entry during winter snows and summer thunderstorms.  Now that I have moved in, he has taken up residence on one of the top shelves beside the mirror, spending big chunks of his day sleeping and gazing out across the garden.  Every now and then he will voice an opinion on whatever I'm working on.
And speaking of studio cats, Little Jackie's mentor, my beautiful Tylenol (who left us last year) is buried - not by accident, it turns out - right at the edge of the path that leads up to my new studio.  He greets me in spirit every time I pass by, and I see his sweet face everywhere I turn.
And I do work.  This is the view directly in front of me.  The sunsets are especially sweet.
Peeping around the corner of the potting shed, you can see how close I am to the garden - my favorite source of inspiration and a place I can never get enough of.  Because of our great seasonal weather, I fully expect to be in residence up here from at least late February through Thanksgiving.  And depending on what kind of heating solution I can come up with, you may just find me here in winter, too.  (Can you hear Joe laughing in the background?)

Whatever the case, I'm now happily painting away in my own grown-up version of summer camp.  S'mores, anyone? 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nectar of the Gods

In some quarters, it is known as The Nectar of North Carolina.  My sister, however, promoted it to Nectar of the Gods when she moved to Georgia back in the 1970's and found out you couldn't buy Cheerwine down there.  Now, some things are Southern.  Others are SO Southern that you can't buy them in Georgia.  That's pretty bad.

And what is Cheerwine, exactly?  Well it isn't wine.  It is a soft drink, born in Salisbury, NC in 1917 and still being produced there today.  What does it taste like?  Think Cherry Coke with way more cherry and no Coke but a nice mystery kick with a Southern accent.  That at least gets you in the neighborhood.

Maybe times have changed since the 1970's.  Maybe you can buy Cheerwine in Georgia these days.  I just know that every time she came home for years, my sister would load her car up with several cases of Cheerwine for hauling back down to Atlanta.  Just for the record, there were other Carolina delicacies not available in Georgia back then, either - things such as Duke's Mayonnaise (don't talk to us about Hellman's), and Neese's Country Livermush (I don't have time to explain what that is.  Just keep reading...).
Lots of things have changed around here since the 1970's.  The smart people at Krispy Kreme (while you aren't talking to us about Hellman's, don't bother talking to us about Dunkin' Doughnuts, either) have teamed up with those Cheerwine folks and have come out with a Cheerwine Krispy Kreme.  By the way, Krispy Kreme is another North Carolina native.  I've told you in previous blog posts that we love our sugar in these parts.  I don't joke about such things.
And while we're talking about marrying Cheerwine off to Krispy Kreme, we should mention the other Southern match-made-in-heaven, RC Cola and Moon Pie.
But that's really another post, too.  And besides, all this sugar is making me light-headed.  

I wouldn't know where to tell you to look for Cheerwine, except to say that I have heard you can buy it in Norway - hardly a bastion of all things Southern, so go figure - and of course on every street corner in the South and probably even Georgia by now.  

Looks like they are headed for The Big Time.  According to the New York Times, Cheerwine has recently exploded with a cult following that includes more than 63,000 Facebook fans. I'll bet one of them is my sister.