Saturday, November 28, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Yard, Part III

We are all extra busy this week--at least those of us in the US. I very much appreciate all the readers and visitors who are still stopping in to the blog. I hope that your Thanksgiving celebration was joy-filled and truly thankful.
Today, I won't write much, but want to show you more of the beauty in our yard. As I look around, I realize that we have come to a real change of season here in North Florida. After a warmer than usual October and early November, we finally are getting chilly nights in the 50s and some 40s and cooler days, in the 60s and 70s. So, some fall colors are showing up in the leaves of deciduous trees, and the winter flowers are coming into their own.
Some of the flowers in these October photos are now gone or at least faded and on their way out for the season. Our side and front yard have more varied colors than the back yard I showed you in previous posts, with lots of reds and red-orange, some yellows, whites, and purples. The red-orange and red flowering plants above are pagoda plant and fire spike. Mark doesn't remember the name of the yellow--the flower looks like a black-eyed susan, but this susie has bright green eyes.
Question of the day: What is interesting outside your window this time of the year?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Back Yard, Part II--Flowers and Rain

I continue to marvel lately at the degree to which I am a happy homebody even though I love to explore, both in our own area and to lands far away. You have seen this love of local and travel exploration in previous posts. Today, I offer another homebody post, exploring right in our back yard, now made into a delightful refuge by my husband Mark's hard work. As I mentioned before, we have a cozy fenced-in area and a wilder tree and fern-filled space beyond that with a small creek at the back of our property.
The flowers inside the fence are mostly in pink and purple tones, set against plants with a range of green and variegated leaves. I took these plant and flower photos (and many more!) for painting reference, planning to do a series of small pieces picturing Florida natives both from our yard and growing wild. You see a purple flowering passion vine, bright pink penta, and caladium foliage. The penta blooms at the foot of the brilliant mandevilla vine climbing a wrought iron obelisk, which you saw in my last post.
One particularly pretty rainy day in October, I took a few photos in the yard. It was one of those rains that made everything look clear and sharp. If you click to enlarge the photos, you will see raindrops pattering onto the patio and streaming down against the house. Perhaps I'll get brave enough to try to paint these scenes. Painting a rainy scene realistically is difficult, but I know I would learn from the effort no matter what the results.
Now that I am semi-retired, I have extended my reflection and meditation times and feel a better, calmer person for it. In addition to starting my day reading and meditating in an easy chair with a view out to this lovely back yard--feeling thankful as the day slowly brightens, I also take more moments throughout the day to step outside and breathe deeply. Whatever I have been busy with or stressed about melds into the whole in its proper proportion, achy old joints seem a bit less problematic, and I give thanks.
Question of the day: Are you primarily a "no place like home" person, a happy wanderer, or someone who savors both home and wider exploration?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Back Yard

I have posted before about exploring in our area and discovering all the delights of coastal Northeast Florida. Today, our exploration is even simpler--stepping out our back door. These photos were taken in late October, when we were beginning to experience nights going down into the 50s Fahrenheit and even an occasional dip into the 40s. Our daytime highs have stayed mostly in the 70s with fewer cooler days than we normally experience this time of the year.
Our little Shih-tzu was thrilled to find a turtle in our back yard one day and happily sniffed and nudged it, totally spooking the poor thing into its shell. So I wasn't able to see it clearly or get good photos until later on, without Maggie's interference. I have checked our field guide to Florida, hoping to identify this new friend, but did not see one exactly like it. The highly domed carapace resembles the shells of a couple of turtles from the mud and musk turtle family, but those listed in the field guide were quite a bit smaller than this one, which had a shell about 8" or 9" long. The similar turtle shells shown in the guide were also plainer than this one, without the interesting markings. This turtle's under shell (or plastron) was hinged so that the turtle could raise the front portion to completely close off the openings for the head and front legs after they were pulled in. I plan to do more research on-line when I have some time, but perhaps some of you readers will recognize this lovely beast.
The other photos show our mandevilla vine a few weeks ago at the end of its flowering for the season. It is one of my favorites, with clear, bright pink blossoms. This year, rather than simply clambering on our fence, the vine has a new wrought iron piece to climb. We purchased it from Scott Hornbaker, a talented artisan from St. Mary's, GA who brings his works to our weekly outdoor Riverside Arts Market. My husband admired this piece so much, I decided it was a perfect Father's Day gift (he thought so, too). You can see Scott's artistry at his web site.
I am fortunate that my husband, Mark, loves to work in the yard and has become a Master Gardener since we came to Florida. Guided by his mantra, "right plant; right spot" and his research into using Florida natives in our yard, he has beautified our home on every side. If I feel stressed and need a refreshing break, all I need to do is to step out the door, breathe deeply, and stroll around. Beyond the little fenced-in back yard area, we also have an overgrown, wilder area full of ferns and shaded by evergreen Laurel Oaks (a relative of the better known southern Live Oaks) with a small creek at the very back. You can glimpse that area in the back yard photo in my last post from earlier this week. The creek is probably the home of our turtle friend, who has not ventured up close to the house again since our small dog gave it an over-enthusiastic welcome.
Question of the day: What outdoor delights have you found at home or nearby in recent weeks?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Savoring--Friends Who Made Our Open Studio Reception Wonderful

Several good friends enhanced our Open Studio Reception last Sunday, and we are deeply grateful for the contribution they made to the event. Before I mention two friends in particular, I must say that I could not imagine even having done this without my husband, Mark, along with our younger son and his fiancee, Pete and Ashley. They have encouraged my painting in ways that gave me the courage and vision to stage an art showing in our home. I cannot find words adequate for my gratitude to them for this, and for all the love they show. They also helped host, serve, guide guests to the paintings, and handled all the details so that I could mingle and play at being the artiste.
Since our reception theme was seasonal, Harvest Delights, I had invited our friends, Brian and Kristin Lapinski, to participate. They grow fantastic produce using sustainable, organic methods on their "Down to Earth Farm". I envisioned a spread of their colorful, delicious winter vegetables and flowers available for our guests to purchase. Brian responded that my date was a couple of weeks too early for many of their winter crops, but that he would bring what he could. Then, he had the brilliant, creative idea of planting mixed salad greens in low 12" bowls, raising them from seed in his greenhouse and bringing them, still in soil in the pots, to sell. The salad bowls are amazing, and our guests loved them. Whenever we need greens from ours, we cut the amount we want, and the rest continues to grow. For a single, reasonable price, we will have multiple cuttings of super-fresh baby greens (and reds, for that matter--there is a variety of salads in the bowl). In the photo, you see the bowls displayed on the table--more bowls are available in the yard behind the flower pot on the right.
Meanwhile, in the living room, our friend, Greg Spiess, an accomplished professional musician, provided lovely piano music. His gift of music put everyone at ease and enjoying themselves, even if they did not know other people there. The easy mix of light classics, show tunes, and popular "classics" from recent decades gave the reception a very classy feel. We are delighted with the invaluable addition to our party Greg generously provided. He is a prince!
Question of the day: How do family and friends support your dreams and projects? I feel a wonderful sense of community in my life and feel that I seldom, if ever, do anything strictly on my own--I stand on the shoulders of others and reach higher because of the encouragement of others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Growing--Our Art Studio Reception Was Great!

The Open Studio Reception in our home on Sunday afternoon was all that we had hoped for--and more. I am humbled by and grateful for all the friends and neighbors who came and supported the event. Over 50 people came and, so far, 7 paintings are sold, with at least one other person considering a purchase. She actually took notes on her favorite pieces so that she could
spend a few days making a decision. Common wisdom among artists is that the primary purpose of this kind of event is to introduce one's work to people and that we should not expect any (or very many) sales. So, I feel particularly fortunate for the solid interest shown by our guests. UPDATE: I have now added an index to all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

If i had had more small pieces, like the 5" x 7" marsh studies and Plitvice National Park study (from our journey to Croatia), I could have sold more--they sold quickly. I also sold two of the three 9" x 12" paintings available, Magnolia on Purple and Cypress Swamp. Several times at the reception, someone told me that they would have liked to buy one of the pieces that had already sold. How affirming is that? I'll remember them and their preferences when I create something new with a similar feeling to the paintings they would have purchased so that I can let them know more work is available.
Also, amazingly, one 12" x 16" piece and one 18" x 24" piece sold. You have seen those as well--the former shows deep reddish wildflowers against a white fence at Jacksonville Beach, and the latter captures a blue heron at Hanna Lake Park. The couple who called the next day to say that they had decided to buy the Hanna Park Heron were attracted to the painting for itself and for two other reasons: they have a beloved blue heron like the one in the painting who frequents a wetlands area on their property, and they have happy memories of many camping outings in Hanna Park. How delightful is that? Regular readers have seen these in previous posts. If you want to view some of my paintings, simply enter the word "painting" in the search box above left, and posts that show or discuss paintings will appear.
More photos and stories from the reception will appear in the next post. For now, I want to post this much and then need to go give blood shortly. By the way, I am in the back yard photo in an aqua jacket and print skirt. The paintings for sale were displayed in various rooms of the house, as you can see above the chair in the living room.
Once again, let me thank you, blogging friends, for your helpful support and encouragement as I planned this (for me) scary new undertaking. You all bring me joy as well as new insights and ideas--thank you.
Question of the day: What joys and gifts have blogging friends given you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Growing--Art Studio Reception Preparations Continue

We are very excited as we prepare for our Open Studio Reception this coming Sunday afternoon. If you can make it, we would be thrilled to see you. This painting will be one of those on exhibit. The specifics once more:
North Florida Landscape Paintings
by Mary Lemmenes
Sunday, November 8
2:00 - 5:00 PM
7364 Secret Woods Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32216
Fresh organically grown produce from Down To Earth Farm
Live Piano by Greg Spiess
Food & Drink--Casual Dress
For information: or
904-945-0458 UPDATE: I have now added an index of all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

Although a number of tasks are complete, there are still plenty of details to attend to in the next few days. Mounting a show in our home poses interesting challenges. Besides labeling and displaying the paintings, setting up the business end of things, preparing everything from guest book to drinks and food (the latter will be relatively simple for this event), the most challenging aspect of preparation is that after sending out a number of invitations, we have no idea how many people to expect. I think it will be somewhere between 10 and 150. An interesting adventure, no?
The painting pictured above on my studio easel, Look to the Hills, II, recalls a deeply renewing visit to Warwick Conference Center near Warwick, NY a few Octobers ago. Our long-time friends, Ken and Arlene Tenckinck, manage the center and direct all its programs. As I type this, I find myself smiling and breathing deeply with pleasure--they are remarkable people, Our too-infrequent times together are always rich, meaningful, and full of laughter.
I am hoping that family and friends will take some pictures of Sunday's event so that I'll be able to share them with you next week. In the fun and stress of the countdown, I am encouraged and buoyed up by the support of all of you, dear readers and fellow bloggers. Thank you, thank you.
Question of the day: What recent avenue for sharing your creative projects or thoughts has been especially meaningful for you?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Savoring--Homey, Heritage Comfort Food--Applesauce Spice Cake Recipe

It has been awhile since I have posted a recipe, so today will share my great-grandmother's applesauce spice cake recipe. In its original form, it called for "butter the size of an egg" and, interestingly, 1, 2, or 3 eggs. Apparently, our frugal ancestors used three eggs for a "company" meal, but fewer when baking for the family. Since their eggs were smaller than today's standard large eggs, we have settled on two eggs as the perfect number.
I apologize for the lack of a weekend post. We had a full weekend planned already, when we were saddened by the sudden death of my dear friend's father on Thursday. So, we set aside tasks that could be postponed to be there for our friends.
This homey cake, a favorite comfort food in my family, is one of the dishes I brought to the reception at my friend's house after Sunday's funeral. I will include the recipe for the cream cheese frosting, as pictured. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped nuts; we like it better without them.
Heritage Applesauce Spice Cake
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce (a 15 ounce jar works)
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup raisins
Cream butter & sugar together. Add eggs and mix well, stirring vigorously until fluffy. Sift dry ingredients into a small bowl (I actually don't bother sifting). Add raisins to flour mixture and sir in to coat with flour (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom).
Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce to the butter mixture in two or three batches, mixing thoroughly each time.
Turn into a greased 9 x 13 x 2 pan and bake 35 - 40 minutes at 325 degrees F until a toothpick comes out clean (or nearly clean--do not overbake). This recipe also makes nice cupcakes; bake them only about 25-30 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 ounces cream cheese, softened (I use low fat neufchatel).
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash salt
2 1/2 cups (or as much of this amount as needed for good frosting consistency) sifted confectioner's sugar (I whisk it in a bowl instead of sifting).
Cream butter and cream cheese together well. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, blending well. If mixture becomes too thick, you can add a few drops of milk.
Question of the day: What recipes or foods connect you to your ancestors and to good family memories?