Deep Freeze

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“We hurry about in inadequate clothing…We bring out our newspapers and old quilts and sheets and drape them over our favorite shrubs,” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote in her 1942 book, Cross Creek.

Nothing has really changed.

As I write this, it is 51 degrees at my central Florida home; we have the heater on and we are freezing.

Our Old House, built out of brick in 1926, was designed to handle every Florida weather phenomenon from 95 degree heat waves to whipping hurricane winds, but not the cold damp air that’s currently seeping through the walls.

Admittedly, we might not be dressed appropriately or fully prepared for anything colder than 60. But there is no time to root around for jackets in a rarely used closet; there are plants to bring inside.

This little snap should not result in a “hard” freeze, a phrase that launches the local strawberry growers into action: they turn on sprinklers to create an ice barrier that protects mature plants. Instead, this chill will surprisingly do us a favor and make the fruit just a little bit sweeter. I have always believed that the best oranges and strawberries are the ones with a bit of chill to them.

So as the thermometer drops this afternoon a bizarre abstract of old linens will appear strewn on lawns across town in an effort to protect delicate plants. Some plants, like my camellias which are heavy with buds and preparing for their annual Christmas show, will be fine. I’m still debating whether to cover others, including my ever expanding peace lily garden, or just give them some extra water tomorrow morning in an effort to keep them from dehydrating after a cold night.

I subscribe to the theory that our blood has “thinned” since our time living in real winters. Once, I thought it a joke when an old Floridian friend told me that water at his house freezes at 50 degrees.

Today, I agree.

Another One!!!

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When I wrote two blog posts a few weeks ago about an eagle family moving into our small town backyard, I thought we had one eagle and one baby/adolescent eagle. But Florida wildlife never fails to produce daily revelations that prove me amateurishly wrong.

As of today, our number of eagles has increased with the arrival of another young eagle. No more schedules or theorizing from me. Just blessed acceptance of the great fortune we have to be in their company.

From August 6:

Maybe I should name him Romeo, the way he sits outside my bedroom window.

Or maybe go cutesy and call him Don or Glenn or Joe after some members of the band.

But the name that keeps coming back to me is Larry Brown. Yes, I have a friend who is an eagle and I’m naming him Larry Brown.
You see, Larry is both nosy and persistent: two qualities that harken back to the original, late great writer Larry Brown.

Larry has been around our neighborhood for a while but only recently have I begun clawing myself awake and out of bed at 6 a.m. to find him looking right back at me.

The first time we saw him perched on the dead branch atop the oak tree in our backyard, my husband and I grabbed the camera and crept outside, hoping to not disturb him. And on that perch he stayed as we giggled about what a great and unusual sight this was until exactly 6:30 and he launched off toward the southwest.

Now we know that’s just Larry’s schedule. I’m not sure what time he arrives but when night starts to fade, he’s there on his branch until his internal alarm clock tells him breakfast is ready somewhere else.

I’ve begun talking to him as I let the dogs into the backyard for their morning routine (no worries, our boys are much too large to be carted off by Larry). I pepper him with questions he has yet to answer: Where is his nest? Does he still have a mate or is he looking for love? Does he call her Sheila Baby as his namesake would? Most importantly what has he learned about us from up there on his perch?

I don’t know where he goes; only that he comes back to us. Every morning at 6 a.m.

From August 21:

“And tracking the feathered friend that visited her backyard was not only a source of great delight for her, it was also a form of meditation—an exercise in noticing.” From the obituary of Florence Kirven Foy Strang, age 106.

Just a few weeks ago I was theorizing about the private life of the eagle I had become so attached to and named Larry Brown. Well, now we know. Our eagle has a baby.

I’m naming him Billy Ray (or Billie Ray if you prefer).
He is about the same size as Larry but is covered with white down feathers that must itch the way he pulls at them and shakes, leaving them tumbling out into the breeze. Apparently baby eagles grow into their adult size at a rapid pace, begin to fly at 12-13 weeks, and then go through four different plumage stages before growing into their beautiful adult feathers at about age five.

After Larry leaves his perch on the dead tree branch at exactly 6:30 every morning, Billy Ray flies in with a screech and sometimes a thud. Apparently, an eagle learning to fly is similar to a 15-year-old and a freshly laminated learner’s permit. Both involve a lot of screaming.

Why the sudden emergence of this eagle family? It may have something to do with the explosion of backyard chickens in the neighborhood. It seems that eagles love chickens.

It also may be that I have just noticed.

Sale Day

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S.G. bought a bear suit this morning. Cecelia found a concrete head and a copper stock pot. And I came home with a 1927 T.E.Lawrence first edition and monogrammed damask napkins.

It was just another Friday morning here in the South, where there is nothing better than a good ole eccentric estate sale. You get to see some old friends—or in S.G.’s case, the woman she tangled with over a painting a few months back. (Note: never leave me guarding fine art in a crowded sale.)

If you are prone to being nosy, a sale provides a rare glimpse into how people in your area really live; and that peek is never dull. Who knew that one of our neighbors owned a very expensive pale pink Italian breakfast set? Or why the gentleman in south Tampa had a signed Walker Percy first edition mixed amongst his cookbooks.

I acknowledge that it may be distasteful to some to go through a house full of the once cherished belongings of a person; a couple; a family. But things are not what are important in the end. That is the most valuable lesson learned by anyone who goes to estate sales or sits through antique auctions.

My husband has declared that our children will one day host the greatest eccentric estate sale of all time. But you will need to go to S.G.’s house for that bear suit.

Repurposing

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I just knew I was the first person to ever think of this!

Due to the thousands of productive hours I have spent flipping through Instagram, Pinterest and Southern home and garden decorating magazines, I believe that I have a pretty good grasp on what can accomplished in a dining room.

But I had never seen an orchid in a cut glass punch bowl.

And since I have an abundance of punch bowls already in my dining room, I thought I had finally latched on to a signature style—as opposed to my current style of crazy-punch-bowl-hoarder-lady.

So off I went to see my friend who conveniently owns a terrific garden shop specializing in orchids. Well, you can probably see how this went:

Me: “I have this amazing idea.”
Him: “Oh, I do that for people all of the time.”

So there you go. Not an original idea but still a really good one.

Basically take orchid moss (found at any garden shop) and line the bottom of your punch bowl. Then place as many orchids or bromeliads as comfortably fit inside the bowl. I leave them in the plastic containers. Best (and easiest) dining room table centerpiece ever.

Just remember, you heard it here first!

Humidity

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It’s what my son misses about Florida while stationed in the desert too far away.

And it’s the first thing that welcomes me back after the plane lands, the door is opened and that slightly stinky thick air comes whooshing in.

Humidity.

Humidity is home. Humidity is pedaling a 10-speed alongside your best friend after a lazy childhood afternoon at the Plant City Swim Club. Humidity is a June wedding in full regalia 30 years ago. Humidity is deciding to clean out the garage with your teenagers in late August because it just cannot wait any longer. Humidity is the Bartow Halloween Parade.

And it’s a September evening spent enjoying a glass of sweating Chardonnay with friends in the backyard… while you complain about the humidity.

A cousin of my husband recently visited Orlando from her home in Wisconsin and was completely flummoxed when her glasses fogged as she exited a vehicle and stepped into the humid air. “How can anybody stand to live like this?” she pleaded.

How can you not?

My Girl

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“It would be a great ladies clubhouse—couldn’t we put together a consortium?”

A ladies clubhouse? Yes!

Our monthly book club could gather in the front parlor. Weekly brunches featuring inventive recipes could be held on the patio. There could be a card room for those who indulge.

With the pool in the back, we wouldn’t need to drive to the YMCA ever again. The back enclosed patio would be perfect for outdoor hot yoga. No more running into the girls we knew in college with their Barbie-doll legs sticking out of shorts while your sweatpants cling to you in unflattering ways.

We could drink gin and tonics on the veranda, toasting and taunting the start of hurricane season. Garden and Gun would use the staircase for photo-shoots.

This glorious fantasy started yesterday when Cecelia and I were out on our morning walk. Exactly one mile in, we came to the most famous house in town. No matter how many times we’ve passed it, the house always calls for another close examination and talk of all the possibilities.

It was in 1991 that the house gained worldwide attention when it served as the exterior set of the funeral home of the movie My Girl. Although it was based in 1970s Pennsylvania, the film was shot here.

Built in 1906, the three-story house has been a bed and breakfast, a private home and a tea room just in the years since we have lived here.

And now it is for sale!

All we need are a few good friends who share a similar dream …and cash.

The Professional: Chicken Farm

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One is named Turkey. And another named Hawk. And I can’t forget Pig, Ginger and Wench.

Our five hens: an Ameraucana, two buff Orpingtons, a Rhode Island Red, and a Barred Rock. Each has their own personality which led to their odd names.

And on quiet Sunday mornings when typically I’m awake before my wife and waiting for the coffee to brew, I sit on the back porch enjoying the few minutes of cool during Florida summer and wait for the familiar clucking to begin.

As soon as the chickens see me they demand attention.

We’ve had them since they were day old chicks and they are now quite tame, even letting us pick them up and pet them. Friends love to bring their children for a field trip over to play with the hens and collect eggs.

Our backyard chicken experience began on a whim. My wife and I both expressed a desire for farm-like living in town and chickens fit the bill perfectly.

Then came the coop! The ultimate exercise in overkill. A buddy made a solid oak door out of some returned items in his shop. Lap siding, an electric fan, heat lamp, and a myriad of other little touches made this a coop for the ages. It’s even painted to match the house.

We’ve had the girls for a year and a half now, all the while enjoying fresh eggs. The delightful burden is that often we have too many eggs at one time, and must bestow them on gleeful friends and family.

Feed costs are minimal as well as upkeep. Food, water, mealworms, and a little attention are all that they need. In return we get delicious organic eggs that we incorporate into as many meals that we can.

And I get some early morning company.

Bacon & Cheese Deviled Eggs

• 6 hard-boiled eggs

• 2 tablespoons mayo/Greek yogurt

• 1 1/1 teaspoons spicy mustard

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon relish

• 1/2 teaspoon paprika

• 2 strips of Bacon

• Chives to taste

• ¼- ½ cup Cheddar cheese

While eggs are boiling, cook and crumble bacon.

Mash egg yolks, mayo, mustard, lemon juice, relish, cheese, some bacon, and paprika.

Fill egg whites with the yolk mixture.

Top with crumbled bacon and chopped chives. I like to add a pickled jalapeno slice.

Feel free to add more bacon or cheese…we do.

Tristan is a professional craftsman, furniture maker and amateur beer brewer who is currently restoring his mid-century house.