Today is, as everyone knows, National Cat Day. My cats Winchester and Persnickety are featured on Jama Rattigan’s cat-fabulous blog post. But Winchester has trouble sharing the limelight and feels he should have his own holiday. So today is also National Winchester Day!
Winchester has always loved dressing up for Halloween. People wonder how I get him to pose. One word: food. For the shot at the beginning of the post, I Scotch-taped a few cat treats to the wall at nose-level. In the above picture, you can see the Scotch-tape pocket above his rump. Winchester was suitably mortified because he had to wear a dog costume. Cat costumes (yes, they make them!) are too small.
When I first moved into my newly redecorated office last spring, it was a mutual admiration society. I loved my new office. My new office loved me. But it would be months before I put the new space to the real test. Actually writing a book and dealing with the dailyness of being a fulltime writer. The last three months I’ve done a lot of work in here: speeches, manuscript critiques, and, yes, I began and finished the Iva Honeysuckle sequel.
That was the true test. Could I settle down and write a new book in this space? Could I find things? I scratch around a little to locate files and clippings, but it’s nothing like the complete demolition that occurred back when the office was a t-total mess.
Since my photo shoot last April, new things have been acquired. My office has welcomed some of those things. Other things, it was like, "Are you sure I have room for that?" Or, "Put it there." "No, over there." "No, back where it was." Newly decorated offices can be very picky.
The biggest acquisition is a table with a Singer sewing machine base. I found one for $50 (generally run $100 to $150). The top was painted a bilious green. My husband soon took care of that. While he was painting it in the driveway, several people stopped by wanting to buy it. I thought my office would love this highly-prized item, but it balked at first. It said the table looked weird on the end of the row of bookcases that back up against my desk. It does, a little. But I always need surface area for research books. And the treadle comes in handy for jack o’lanterns!
The step stool was in my aunt’s house (that I helped clean out in June), in her kitchen as far back as I can remember. Everyone perched on the stool the minute they came in the kitchen. My sister bought it and gave it to me for my birthday. It means the world and all to me.
Another of my famous hand-covered notebooks on the seat. The steps hold books sometimes.
These are fake plants. Winchester eats real plants and they’re bad news for cats. The vintage chipped enamel basin and the aqua-painted houseplant trellis creates a dish garden I don’t have to water.
The binoculars are old, but not as old as the crow-foot candlestick that my husband’s father found in a hundred-year-old house he was remodeling back in the 1940s. I collect vintage typewriter ribbon tins.
My stepfather’s graduation certificate from Centreville Graded School (the same one I attended many years later), dated May 1932. I wasn’t going to hang anything on that one blank wall but couldn’t resist. The framed cards are sheet music replicas. Virginia was the subject of many songs back in the Tin Pan Alley days.
That little cheese box used to be empty. Now it holds two sweet birds’ nests from my aunt’s summer house, an old ink bottle, and a box of old paper clips that came from my uncle’s office. The Fisher-Price duck was a find in Roanoke this summer. The almanac on the child’s chair is from the year I was born, 1952. Research!
My friend Connie gave me the Fisher-Price tractor for my birthday. It’s kind of hard to see because I put it in the spice rack my stepfather (the original Tractor Days daddy) made fme. The old " moo-cow" noisemaker seems a perfect companion.
New things slip into this big room, but I’m careful not to overfill the space (it takes me two hours to dust as it is!). And new, hopeful projects will go out of this room. Yeah. My office and me, we get along just fine.
Where have I been? Busy with my novel that’s due next month. This book is the sequel to Iva Honeysuckle, which will be out early 2012. The thing about these Iva books is that there are a lot of characters: 6 kids, 4 parents, a cat, a dog, a hermit crab, a professional yard saler and a Sunday school teacher. Once these characters are turned loose on the page they will not behave. So all of my writing energies are spent trying to get these people to the last page in one piece.
But we did celebrate my husband’s birthday at our favorite tea shop, Pinkadilly. If I told you how old my husband is, you would fall over in disbelief! (Me, I look and feel every second of my 58 years.) He is the only one in our house not on pills. We had never been to Pinkadilly in the fall. I am ready to go back for the desserts!
With full tea you get your choice of quiche and soup. We had spinach feta quiche and tomato bisque soup. Here is the obligatory shot of Frank eating soup. I think he should get a job eating soup. Or I should put together an album of Frank-eating-soup pictures.
Here we go! Vanilla and cranberry-orange scones on the bottom tier with lemon curd and Devonshire cream (we don’t fight over this any more), we get one of each flavor scones. Savories fill the middle tier, including Black Forest ham on sweet potato biscuits, their delish chicken salad, and a roasted red pepper spread on rye.
But the top! Oh my! Homemade truffles, a pumpkin gingersnap trifle served in a shot glass (more than enough), crunchy pecan tarts, and my favorite, Candy Corn Cake. The thin bottom layer is vanilla sponge, the thick middle layer is orange sponge, and the icing is vanilla. When was the last time you had homemade sponge cake?
After we ate, we strolled around Old Town. Supposedly there is a new gourmet cupcake shop and another new shop with Parisian chocolates, teas, and coffees. We walked up and down the streets, but couldn’t find them. If I hadn’t been so stuffed, I would have made more of an effort. But we did stop in an antique shop and I found this sweet little homemade recipe book.
It’s very small (that’s a toy cookie cutter and rolling pin), a record book of some sort that a lady in the early nineteen hundreds used to record dessert recipes. Gold Cake. Silver Cake. Doughnuts made with lard and "boiled in lard." You know they have to be good, even if you can hear your arteries clanging shut one by one. My favorite recipe is the "Improved Berwich Custard Cake" with its run-together ingredients–"2 cups cream of tartar 2 teaspoonfuls soda . . ."
If I can pry the recipe of the Candy Corn Cake from Pinkadilly’s owner, I’ll share it. Meanwhile, I’ll savor the memory and get back to wrestling Iva and Company to the ground. Wish me luck!
After two days of drenching rain, we got up on Friday to bright blue-washed skies and cooler temperatures. I put on a long denim skirt, real shoes, and a sweater, then my husband and I rode off in his pickup (he also had clothes on). We headed west from Fredericksburg, deep into piedmont Virginia. We each had our cameras and I was armed with my ever-present notebook. We went in search of vanishing Virginia.
We drove up and down and around winding two-lane roads, through hamlets I’d never heard of. We spotted deserted farmhouses hidden behind bowers of overgrown cedar trees. A stone silo draped in kudzu. Abandoned factories, old mills with broken windows.
We stopped for lunch at a cafe in the town of Orange. The cafe sits next to the railroad, in an old building with a high pressed tin ceiling. It’s like walking into your mother’s kitchen on a Friday night. The ladies who run the cafe make up specials based on what they pull from the refrigerator. That day the special was pork barbeque with stewed squash and lima beans! No, they don’t go together, but my husband ordered the special and ate every crumb. Dessert comes with your meal. No desserts are listed on the menu–you get what’s on hand. The pound cake was tasty! Even better than the food is the feeling that any second one of the ladies would come out in her apron and sit down at your table, like your grandmother would after she’d finished cooking.
Nearby was a house, still occupied, judging from the curtains and furniture on the porch. The Mill House dates back to 1774. I’m guessing the house was the home of the miller, who ran an earlier version of the mill on the river.
I found a few cemetery stones in the grass. This was such an odd little place–two churches (one pictured at the beginning of the post), one house, the old boxcar, and a freight depot dated 1854. And that was it.
Our rambles led us into the town of Culpeper. We ate again, this time at a diner. Note one of the breakfast specials–"Fried bologna with two eggs, grits or home fries, and toast or biscuit." We were too late for breakfast but are definitely going back! Does anybody else miss some of the junky meat we used to eat? Potted meat on Ritz crackers? Vienna sausages from the can? A fried Spam sandwich? Fried bologna (it makes a little cup when you fry it) on white bread with yellow mustard and Miracle Whip?