Monday, April 30, 2012

Paulette Vitrier (Crabtree Schindler) Blair - We Will Miss You

I admired Paulette Blair long before I ever personally knew her.  Back in the winter of 1981-82, when I was living in Michigan and just getting ready to graduate from college, I opened up my copy of W, which at the time was in a large newspaper format, unlike the magazine it is now.  They used to occasionally run articles about different cities and the society there.  Lo and behold, just as we were considering a move to this area, there was an article, complete with photos, on Sarasota.  Paulette and her first husband, Granville Crabtree, were photographed all dressed up and sitting by their pool.  Of course, when I knew we were moving here, I memorized all the people and information in the article.  That's how I recognized Paulette when she came into Jacobson's and I waited on her.

We moved down here when I was offered a position with Jacobson's in Southbay.  Shortly after I started, I was the manager of the Intimate Apparel department and Paulette came in.  That was the period when a lot of sleepwear looked like white vintage dresses.  Paulette was looking for a Victorian-looking gown because she was hosting a croquet party on the lawn of her home and that was to be her costume, complete with a big hat and parasol.  (I know you can totally see it now!)  I was so excited to help her because I thought she was glamorous beyond words.  When she then turned out to be so nice, too, well, that was just frosting on the cake!  That's when I decided she would be my role model. 

Following her through local society photos, I remember one photo in particular of her as she was exiting her car to attend the New College Library Association's (NCLA) Mistletoe Ball.  Again, she looked so sparkling and pretty.  She was everything I wanted to be.

Joining the Junior League a few years after moving here, I got the opportunity to really get to know Paulette.  When I became president, I depended on the advice of many of the past presidents, and Paulette was one of them (She also chaired the League's first Holiday Tour of Homes).  I can't tell you how many notes I received from her, telling me how proud she was of me.  They meant the world to me.  Last year when I knew her time was limited, I wrote her a letter telling her how much she had meant to me and how much she had influenced my life.  I received the most beautiful letter in return from her.  I treasure it still today.

After your year as president of the Junior League, you are asked to become involved in many charitable organizations.  I selected several that had a lot of Junior League people involved and one was NCLA.  Paulette was very involved at the time, having chaired Mistletoe Ball and she served as board president.  During the time she was president, she created the Pique-nique sur la Baie luncheon, which is still one of the stars of the social season, as the "hat" luncheon.  She inspired me to also be Mistletoe Ball chair, Pique-nique chair, and board president of NCLA.  During that time, she was always there when I needed her.  I chaired the 20th Pique-nique and she hosted the Past Chair Luncheon for me at her lovely home.  She was always doing that sort of thing for others.  I remember she also hosted the Junior League Past Presidents' Luncheon, just weeks after she found out she had cancer and that it was terminal.

My last visit with her was at her home in February.  I had asked if I could interview her about what society was like in Sarasota in the 60s.  I had seen a photo of her at the Field Club during that time in the SCENE Magazine archives and I wanted to get her take on it all.  When I arrived at her home at the appointed time, she had her bulging scrapbooks all laid out on the coffee table.  I hadn't realized at the time I asked to interview her, that most of the 1960s she was spending a lot of time in Tallahassee.  So, out the window went my original interview plans and I just let her tell me all about her life in the 60s in Tallahassee.

During the 60s and 70s Granville was in the Florida House of Representatives and Paulette was so much more than just "the wife of".  Paulette being Paulette, she was a also active in politics.  She showed me all her scrapbooks of her extensive work as a Republican committee woman and as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.  President Nixon appointed her chairman of the White House Conference of Children and Youth for Sarasota County.  She also showed me a cookbook she had created with other wives of Florida Representatives.  All of this came quite naturally to her, as she had graduated from George Washington University majoring in International Economics and Foreign Affairs and did graduate work at Harvard.  She also taught for 10 years at St. Martha's and Incarnation schools.

Paulette was very proudly a life-long Sarasotan and was born here on April 8, 1937.  She was crowned Miss Sarasota and Miss Legs of the South - a perfect combination of brains and beauty!  She was always dressed beautifully with a flair.  She was co-owner of the old Sashay Around on St. Armands Key and in Cashiers, NC, as well as as owner of Souleiado in Chagrin Falls, OH, featuring products from her beloved France.

I took this photo of Paulette at her home on Feb. 20.  Even after bravely battling cancer for almost two years, she still look so beautiful.

In addition to the organizations I have already mentioned, she was involved in a multitude of charities as a board member and event chair, including most recently, her work with the Salvation Army.  She was on their Advisory Board for 25 years, serving as president in 2010-11.  During that time, she founded the Glitz at the Ritz luncheon, which is a bright spot on the social calendar today. 

From my blog posting of the Salvation Army's Glitz at the Ritz luncheon on March 29 - Paulette with her beloved husband, Don, and cherished daughter, Michelle Crabtree.

Other boards she served on were the Asolo Theater Festival, the Council of Epilepsy, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota County Historical Commission, WEDU, and Pan American Bank.  Major social events she chaired were the Governor's Ball at the Ringling Museum and the Sarasota Opera Opening Night Gala.  She was also a member of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Century Club, the Founders Garden Club and the Field Club, as well as United Way County Chairman and founder of the Keel Club.

Awards she received were the Junior League Sustainer of the Year and Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer by the Association of Fund Raising Professionals.

Paulette married her husband Don Blair, shortly after her diagnosis two years ago.  She told a friend that she had met the love of her life and now she had everything but time. 

Paulette is survived by Don, and her children, Michelle Crabtree (Larry Davenport) and John Crabtree (Erin Crabtree), all who have been devoted to her.  She was grandmother to Chadwick Mahle and Faith and John Crabtree and step-mother to Cindy Blair Woodling (Dale Woodling) and Scott Blair (Marie Christine).   

Mass will be held for Paulette at Incarnation Catholic Church, 2901 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota.  Date and time to follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be be made to the Salvation Army of Sarasota, PO Box 2792, Sarasota, FL 34230.

Dearest Paulette, your friends and family will miss you more than you know.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to tell you what you have met to my life and how you inspired me to be the woman I am today.

The beautiful, vivacious, smart, kind, and loving Paulette, as we all will remember her.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Herb Garden

Containers are the easiest way to grow herbs in Florida, I have found.  If they are in pots, I can take care of them easier and water each of them the way they need.  I have staged some of my pots below for more pleasing photos, but normally I just have them all lined up.  We are in the planning stages of completely redoing our yard, and when that happens, I will be able to use all the little props I have in the photos, but for right now, most of them are stored in the garage!

Even though I like my home interiors to be rather formal, I love a country cottage garden.  I cannot wait to install white picket fences, trellises, and arbors.  We have a pretty standard Florida ranch home from the 1970s, where we have lived for 25 years.  Hopefully over the next year or so, the house will be transformed into a more cottage look on the outside to match the garden and edible landscape of my dreams.

Though I am always open to trying something new, over the years I have found the ones below are the ones I actually use and are easy to grow.  Some I like to have to just smell when I walk by.  My youngest granddaughter, Madeline, is quite fascinated by all the different smells and really enjoys it when we take a little tour of the herb garden and she gets to break off leaves to smell them.

I have mixed some tomatoes and flowers in the photos.  I hope you enjoy them!

 Pesto perpetuo basil - which I have never heard of before and am growing for the first time.  Isn't it pretty?

 What I most like about this photo is my bird house.  All of the bird houses I have in these photos I bought at a little country store about 10 years ago in the small town in Michigan where I grew up.  They had lots of primitive antiques and the owner made all the bird houses.  I think they are just cute as can be!

 A close-up of my favorite bird house.  Isn't it darling?

 Fennel, which I grow purely for the butterflies.  A few times a year the caterpillars come and eat each plant right down to the stems, then we find the chrysalis hanging around, and soon butterflies are gracefully soaring around the plants.  I LOVE this process and I love to show my grandchildren each stage.  The fennel comes right back up by itself. 

 Rosemary - the herb I most use for cooking.  I have two or three dishes that it is perfect for AND it makes the house smell divine when it is cooking!

 Basil - probably America's favorite herb.  I grow a lot of it.

Bee balm - I didn't think I could grow it here, but I grew it last year and I actually got some flowers on it.  I was thrilled beyond words!  I wish I could grow lots of it.  This is a very young plant.  It will grow quite tall.

My tomato plants and another favorite bird house.

A close-up of the tomato plant budding

 My yellow tomato plant and the little tiny one at the bottom of the photo was one my husband just brought home from a friend.  It is an heirloom plant that his family has saved the seeds from each year for generations.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

 Food for the butterflies - red penta, white lantana, and a blue plumbago in the back that is just about ready to bloom.  The tall birdhouse is from Michigan and I think the small birdhouse is from Target.  This will look really pretty by Memorial Day.

A close-up

 More garden accessories from Michigan...The rooster is one the antique lady painted, as is the syrup bucket.  I especially like the syrup bucket because my husband's family are maple syrup producers and our little high school is called Maple Valley for all the maple trees in the two towns.  The town I grew up in, actually taps all the maple trees in town and makes syrup for the Maple Syrup Festival, which happens to be this weekend!  Oh the stories I could tell about the Syrup Festival!  Always fun, fun times when I was growing up, but I digress....the little red garden lantern I just bought at Target, as are the green garden gloves.

A close-up of the orange mint - the smell is quite delish!


A baby yarrow plant.  Last year I grew both red and yellow yarrow.


English lavender - oh, the fragrance!!

 Another vignette using a painted chair seat from Michigan.  I also adore the big crocks and the little clay frog house.  So cute!

 French lavender

 Opal basil

This is an old pineapple mint that is just starting to come back.  It usually has more varigated leaves, so I think I need to give it a little more sun.

Lemon balm.  It looks like I need to trim off some of those leaves, doesn't it?  There is some peppermint peeking out of the top right hand corner.

Thai basil - I love the purple flowers against the green leaves.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Favorite Herb Books

Yesterday I shared with you my favorite place to buy herbs - 4 Bees Herb Farm.  Now today I want to share with you my favorite herb books which provide me with guidance and inspiration. 

The one I turn to most often for inspiration is The Herbalist Garden - A Guided Tour of 10 Exceptional Herb Gardens by Shatoiya and Richard de la Tour (2001).  I simply adore this book.  Featuring all types of herb gardens from big retail, yet still farm-like, gardens like the famed Caprilands, to medicinal gardens like the "Farmacy", to meditation gardens.  The two gardens I most turn to are at Plimoth Plantation and a backyard urban farm - which is tiny, but full of ideas.

Another favorite oldie, but goodie is Herbs - Gardens, Decoration, and Recipes by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead (1985).  If you are old enough to remember when Mary Emmerling was all the rage in country decorating, you probably remember Emelie and Chris.  Chris was Mary's longtime boyfriend and photographed many of her magazine features and books.  Emelie's herbs also appeared in some of Mary's books.  As the title says, it shows several gorgeous herb gardens, interesting decorations and crafts, and several ways to use herbs in the kitchen.  It is a big, beautiful coffee table-type book and is a treasure trove of ideas.

Florida Home Grown 2 - The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin (1989) is not only about herbs, but it does have a great herb section.  This is probably my favorite all around gardening book.  From my photo below, you can see it is well-worn from much reading over the years.  If you are exploring turning part or all of your yard into an edible landscape, including herbs, this is the book for you.  Every time I look at the blueprint of different levels of edible landscaping that are featured in the book, I get so excited!  I really feel like everyone should have at least a partially edible landscape, if possible, even if it is only trees, bushes, and container gardening. 

Just a word about an edible landscape....I view an edible landscape as a food source for not only humans, but also birds, butterflies, insects, etc., so to me, there is a wide range of landscaping plants that can be used, and not only fruits and vegetables.

One of the reasons I like this next book, Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens by Monica Moran Brandies (1996) is because it breaks herb gardening down into North, Central, and South Florida.  It also tells about specific gardens in each area where you can visit and learn more about growing herbs in your immediate climate zone.  It has a wealth of information.

My last go-to herb book is Uncommon Scents - Growing Herbs and Spices in Florida by Hank Bruce (1996).  This one I find interesting because not only does it give you information about growing herbs in Florida, but it also gives you more "down home" type chapters like The Herbal Pharmacy, Herbs in the Home and Floral Decor, Herbal Insecticides, and the Florida Dyer's Garden - all which I find fascinating.

I do hope you will try your hand at growing herbs, if you haven't already.  It is so rewarding.  Tomorrow's post will show you my small herb garden.  I can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

4 Bees Herb Farm - A Fabulous Place!

Your attitude completely changes the minute you drive down the lane to 4 Bees Herb Farm.  And believe me, it really is a lane.  It is a charming and relaxing experience.  Take Fruitville Rd. all the way east until it dead ends on Verna Rd./Myakka Rd. and turn right.  Continue for about one mile and as you go around the bend, you will see a tiny dirt lane called Jomar Rd. on the left side.  There is a sign mentioning 4 Bees and also Crowley Nursery.  You go down Jomar a little bit and you will see another sign pointing you to 4 Bees and Crowley Nursery, turn right.  4 Bees is the first place on the left. As you can see below, there is a sign and flags welcoming you.  Just a note...If you continue a little farther on Myakka Rd., you will come to Crowley Museum and Nature Center - another place you might want to visit.

I first discovered 4 Bees Herb Farm and its owner, Deb Blount, last year when I was chairing the Junior League Kitchen Festival.  I asked Deb to teach a couple of herb classes and to be the "expert" at the Larkin home, talking about her herbs and honey.  A week or so after the festival, I made the trek out to the herb farm and it was love at first sight.  I have so little opportunity to go east of 75 in my daily travels that I barely know what going to the country means in Sarasota County.

Herbs speak to my soul and they always have.  I have been growing and studying herbs for most of my adult life.  I love everything about them - their smell, their taste in my cooking, herbal lore, the easy way they grow, just everything.  As I recently wrote about in another blog posting, I was at Home Depot once and literally broke into tears at the beauty of a large hanging basket of pineapple mint.  I know it's a bit crazy, but that is how much herbs touch me.

Usually my herb garden, which is all container grown, mostly dies out during the summer except for my rosemary which soldiers on all through the year.  To my surprise ALL of the herbs I bought from 4 Bees lasted throughout the summer, even my lavender!  I bought both French and English lavender and they both survived.  I did change the location of some of my herbs from previous years to a partially shaded area and that I think also led to my success.

Deb is a font of knowledge about growing herbs and her local honey.  Last weekend she was selling blueberry, orange blossom, and saw palmetto.  She has various other honey related products she also sells.  She just started with some new chickens and is selling eggs.  How terrific to have farm-fresh eggs!  When we were there, our dog was going crazy hearing the chickens and peacocks.  He didn't know what the heck those sounds were!

Deb and her husband, Sam, are so knowledgeable about the Myakka area.  While my husband and I were there, they were telling us that the little lane that runs in front of their house used to be called the Pine Level Trail, a road which ran from Arcadia to Port Manatee.  Ranchers drove their cattle to Port Manatee to board ships to Cuba.  That lane is the last vestige of that road.  Isn't that interesting?  Of course, I am a huge history lover and that area of the county I know so little about. 

Other interesting and exciting news that Sam and Deb told us about has to do with Crowley Museum and Nature Center.  What a treasure that place is.  Have you ever visited there?  If not, you should.  On Saturdays, they have a farmer's market, which I blogged about in October.  It is a marvelous place to take your family to learn about country ways and a little history of the area.

Speaking of country ways, Deb shared with me a bit of news that I was ecstatic about!  She told me that Crowley Museum was going to start a folk school of sorts, based kind of on the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.  I think that is absolutely perfect!  They are in the middle of getting everything arranged and hope to be up and running before fall.  I cannot wait!  I know I will sign up for some classes.  Stay turned for more information. 

I encourage you to make the trip out to 4 Bees Herb Farm - you will love it!!

 Deb Blount welcoming us at the entrance for her shade house

 The entrance sign to the farm.  You can see it really is a little dirt lane!

The drive to the farm.  Last Saturday when we were there, there was a steady stream of customers.

 Don't you just love bird houses.  I am gaga for them and I don't mean Lady Gaga.  She'd probably wear one on her head!

 Isn't the little clay bee skep adorable?

 A garden vignette

 A wild rose

 Eggs for sale!  What a delightful sign!

 Doesn't a cast iron dinner bell just scream country to you?

The cozy shade house

Deb's array of honey, combs, and salve

 One of my favorite smelling herbs - orange mint

The kitty stretching out

 Spearmint is one of several mints Deb is growing

 Chocolate mint.  Looking at all these mint photos, I realize they really captured my fancy and I barely took any other photos of the many, many other herbs Deb has in stock.  If you go to her website, you will see the list of what she carries.

 Chives growing strong

 Great smelling thyme

 The hardiest of herbs for Florida - rosemary

Another kitty hiding among the herbs.  What a peaceful feeling!