Mistakes Were Made in Key West

This is what our back patio looked like three snowstorms ago.:


That orange streak is Taffy, heading into the cat door on the side of our house, off the mud room.

Since then the snow has gotten deeper and icier and depressinger and I didn’t feel like taking pictures of it.  It’s really ugly out there.  50% of the human residents in my house have no desire to venture out of doors EVER. The other 50% is Top Cat, who had to clear a mountain of icy snow from the driveway with an axe.

The only tracks you’ll see in my backyard are made by little birdie feet.


We got a fresh dusting of snow last night, over the solid ice pack. I don’t know what kind of bird feeds at night.

We are dumping great quantities of bird seed out there to help the cardinals and chickadees etc make it through this horrible Winter.


In spite of all this misery I knew that  I would make it to Groundhog Day with my sanity in tact because, come Groundhog Day, I was going to be in KEY WEST.






Mardi Gras beads on the mailboxes. Something tells me that these people would be my dream neighbors.

Ah, Key West. What do I like the most about Key West?

It might be the organic cocktail glasses:


Typical cocktail-coconut grove.


My hair always has a good time in Florida. We have an understanding about being on vacation in heat and humidity: my hair lives it up, and I pretend that I don’t care that I look as if I come from the Land of No Combs.

Maybe it’s the local “color”:



Hey, look! I said to Top Cat, Majorelle Bleu! (At the time I thought it was exactly the color of the house in the Jardin Majorelle that I went to see in Marrakech.)


 I think I’ll take A picture! I said to Top Cat.


 The cat had other ideas:








Yeah, the cats of Key West are in a class all their own.

But mostly, I like Key West because of the Australian Pines on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor.


You see, I had business to do in Key West; I had to get in touch with the wonderful people who won the right to preserve this delightful grove of shade trees, against some civic and governmental hysteria over invasive species.


Long story short, I am in love with this grove of trees and I’m writing about it in my Damn Garden Book. The Save Our Pines people and I had a lovely conversation about the issue and I now feel well-informed enough about the whole controversy and history of this beach to do it justice in the DGB.

P1000229 2

And, having refreshed my memory about the delicate and wonderful presence of these pines, I had to go home and re-do an almost 2-year old illustration I had made when I first wrote about this place:


Old pic, circa 2012-3


New pic, circa yesterday. The lettering says: A landscape hospitable in the extreme is one definition of a garden. (Michael Pollan)im. See? See what practice /practice / practice does?? Practice makes tree bark look like bark.

P.S. This is another illustration of Australian Pines that I did about a year ago…but this grove is not in Florida:


It’s not even in this century.

But this is all that I am contractually permitted to discuss about the DGB.

I also decided that I had to do something about this:


This is another Key West illustration that I did a while back. The shadows from the railing are a problem. Those shadows look as if they came from a different picture. Or a different time of day. They certainly don’t belong here. Also, I painted this a little too honestly — from a photo of a porch of the guest house Top Cat and I rented the last time we were in Key West that included an orange cat that was ignoring me while I took the snapshot. I think it would be a better illustration if the cat weren’t cleaning itself because I’m not sure that, as is, that blob of orange makes sense. And yeah, the cat’s shadow is all wrong too.

I must make corrections. So far, the picture looks like this:


I mixed those grey colors from scratch: a little brown, a little blue, a smidge of white. The challenge will be to get that recipe right again when I collage the right railing (and cat) back into this illustration.

And on this pic…


…I have to do something about that nasty-looking tree in the right foreground.

This is why it’s been taking me years to get this Damn Garden Book done.

But not today! It’s Friday! Time to make a Mai Tai and take a mental vacation back to Key West!

P.S. This is my backyard:


It’s going to take a lot of Mai Tais.

20 Comments, RSS

  1. My hair hates Florida but I love Florida.
    WE have more snow than you do..and it has been frigid cold..
    I would never have noticed anything was up w/ the first chair illustration..
    Going to Fl ..in winter..is leaving a monochromatic world and stepping into technicolor..as your photos show..
    I love groves by the beach..I hate skyscrapers by the beach and hotels.

  2. Deborah S. Farrell

    Ordinarily I roll my eyes, bobble my head, and think, “Weather Wimp!” when anyone enthuses about going to Florida (or any warm place) to escape winter, but I gotta tell ya: You are KILLING ME here! Drinking out of a pineapple, in shirt-sleeves.(stop it! More! MORE! Oh, sweet Jesus!) But I guess I’ll have to be satisfied enjoying seeing how you’ve progressed as a painter.

    When I scrolled to the photo of your drinking from the pineapple, my first thought was that your new ‘do still looked good, and then I read the caption & busted out laughing.

  3. JunoP

    Thank you. I needed a quick mental trip to Key West today. It’s 0 degrees outside and it’s starting to freeze my brain too. I love the tree paintings and I agree with Monique, I would never have seen the problem with the chair and railing illustration but I know you are a perfectionist and I am looking forward to seeing how you “rescue” the picture.
    I want to see you paint!

  4. JunoP

    Me again. Just re-read the blog and I have to say that cat is adorable. And the second tree painting IS better, especially the shadows. Yuummm, shadows.
    I also wanted to ask you to please show how you make the color grey from scratch. I never heard of getting it by mixing blue and brown and this I would love to see.

  5. Love the series of cat photos — obviously that cat was ready for its close-up(s)!

    Good for you for escaping the brutal NE winter. We here in the Pacific Northwest, of course, wonder why you don’t just live here instead. Last week the young ones were roaming about Seattle in tank tops and flip-flops. There are flowers blooming in my garden. On some days this month (and in January too), I got to lounge on my chaise longue. We often decide to just skip Winter, as it is inconvenient, except for the poor skiers who have no snow in the mountains.

    I like the Australian Pines very much, and am curious to see the revised porch painting. Lovely work.

    • Vivian

      My tank top days are over but I can’t even remember what it felt like to be warm, back in the days when I did wear tank tops. I have lost all physical memory of sun and flip-flopping. It’s like losing your sense of taste. But much, much worse.

  6. Key West. Just those words bring warmth. All that, plus a cat that bears a striking resemblance to Lizzie Cosette, porch chairs, warmth. Sigh.

    Very fond of your wonderful paintings — I’m still always in awe when I see the teabag! Can’t wait to see the re-do.

    Enjoy every second. And know your Michigan fans are a tad envious!

    • Vivian

      I got ambitious and started making my grey paint today. Sure, I’d heard rumors of snow coming back our way, but I said Pshaw — we’ve already had all the snow that’s possible. I was wrong.

  7. Laura

    A sunny place to sit on a porch is enviable now. I keep finding signs of spring, even in this sub-zero weather on the north coast. The cardinal shouting this morning, tight packs of sparrows screaming at the cold, a robin visiting my frozen fish pond are the audible signs of life out there. There are also the ruby ripening pussy willow stems and the tight fists of buds on the forsythia and dogwood that are defying this relentless freeze and forging ahead, slowly, to their spring. A quick trip to Key West is a handy fast-forward to spring. Enjoy it.

    • Vivian

      We have cardinals, too — a dozen of them, in fact. They and the other 50 feathered dinner guests we take care of are going through 35 pounds of bird seed every 5 days. It’s cold out there. I want those birds to make it till Spring, so along with the chow I’ve riding herd on our cats — but it’s so cold that even they don’t want to leave the house.

  8. Kimwithak

    Land Of No Combs! Have a fabulous time in the warmth! We have cherry blossoms and spring flowers popping up everywhere here in Vancouver, BC. It is surprisingly mild and I’m grateful for it!

    I’m enjoying your books…I’ve started with When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I haven’t opened Le Road Trip as I want a full trip down memory lane to look forward to.

    I’m so looking forward to your garden book and really enjoy having your blog to read!

  9. Kim

    I’m like Kimwithak (we’re not the same person, I promise). I was given your book by a friend who said “This wanderer sounds a lot like you” and now I find out there’s ANOTHER book and ANOTHER ON THE WAY and a BLOG! I am going to spend the weekend catching up and I can’t believe you are going to show yourself fixing a painting! I’m so happy that my friend brought me to you!

  10. Gigi

    I love that you let your hair have its way and its own version of fun. Like Deborah, I first though, “What a cute sassy do.” That was before I knew squat about hair with sass.

    The Key West Kat reminds me of a kiddo saying, “Look what I can do.” And “Watch me do this.” The last photo cracked me up – striking a grand finale pose as good as a headstand.

    The Australian pines are airy and beautiful. I love your 2nd take, and I so appreciate that you are championing them in the DGB.

    Thank you for the vicarious pleasure of a trip to Key West. I’ve only been there once, for a few short hours. Would like to go back some winter day. Cheers!

  11. ann

    I live in an area that gets very little snow, Vidalia, Georgia, so,I loved your snow pictures. I was telling my husband about the axe, such a different perspective. My cats don’t like 40F, and will not go outside. I love your chair paintings, hard to see how you improved it. We have beautiful lantana gardens here, so come here next time to get warm.

  12. ann

    I live in an area that gets very little snow, Vidalia, Georgia, so,I loved your snow pictures. I was telling my husband about the axe, such a different perspective. My cats don’t like 40F, and will not go outside. We have beautiful lantana gardens here, so come here next time to get warm.

  13. Felicia

    Oh how I feel your pain. We left our “winter quarters” in Florida last week and drove slowly, very slowly back to frigid, snow-bound Iowa.

    I, who usually am a good sport about most things, turned absolutely pouty about leaving Florida this year.

    Thanks for sharing your growth as a painter, it takes a brave soul and a true artist to share so candidly. As a beginning painter myself, it helps so much to see you growing and improving. It helps me to take hope that I can improve, to see how to improve and also gives me permission to let some things rest and come back to them. You are in inspiration!

  14. Linda June

    Welcome back to Blog Land! I have missed you, and it’s good to be reading your blog again. We here in the Puget Sound area of Washington are enjoying sunny skies today. We sent all the snow your way–sorry about that….. Can’t wait until your Garden Book is published.

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