Gardenia Elixir …

Just the thought of Iconic Southern Scents and my mind drifts to sweet honeysuckle, exotic jasmine, the faint lemony magnolia and deeply fragrant gardenias. To me, Gardenias are the glamor girls of southern flowers, they don’t wear out their welcome and we remember them long after they’re gone. There may be no greater mood lifter than floating a few blooms of camellias, a big magnolia or several gardenias on water in a cut glass bowl or better yet- floating on top of the warm water of a bath, which is unbelievably soothing.

Honestly, just those thoughts can fling on me a full blown case of a Magnolia Fever. And, the cure might be as simple as a Gardenia Elixir. Southern ladies, like many other cultures tended toward using what they had to make amazing extracts for use in all manner of ways, especially when more expensive extracts weren’t readily available, much like Rose Or Orange Blossom Water. Gardenia Extract is similar to those and must be made when gardenias are in bloom. Recently my friend, Rebecca from the great state of Louisiana, posted two ways to use gardenia blooms- one is an infusion of the blooms into heavy cream for her No churn Ice Cream . Rebecca’s blog is called Why I Baked a Cake, a must read. And if you’re on Instagram- follow her making gorgeous cakes! @Whyibakedacake

Another recipe in her post, is an infusion for steeping gardenia petals in a simple syrup- which I’ve dubbed Gardenia Elixir. Here’s how you make it:

  • Mix 1 cup pure cane sugar to one cup of water in a saucepan, heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Add the petals only of 4-5 gardenias.
  • Allow to steep at least 4-5 hours (I steeped mine over night)
  • Strain flower petals. Pour into airtight containers.
  • I keep any extra elixir chilled. When used, the fragrance is amazing. And, I made several batches to offer as gifts.
  • Rebecca told me she loves Gardenia Elixir in Tea, Lemonade and her favorite is to add the elixir to Prosecco. I also love it in Limeade. I found having this unusual fragrant elixir on hand, certainly makes any occasion a very civilized event.
  • Gardenias bloom in June, the season of love. Often a suitor would give his sweetheart a corsage of gardenias. Brides have requested gardenias in their wedding bouquets, a gardenia was pinned to the pillowcase of new mother or near bedsides of infirm dowagers; and it was not uncommon for gardenias to grace blankets or wreaths of a beloved’s casket or to discover large evergreen shrubs planted in cemeteries. From the cradle to the grave, southern ladies do love their gardenias. Gardenia Elixir is just one more layer to add on the sweet gardenia’s history.
  • Love y’all, Camellia

    *All photographs are obviously mine.

    A Doctor’s Excuse…

    Today’s WordPress assignment on ‘Everyday Inspiration’ is to write a letter to anyone living or dead- my choice.  For several hours I suffered writer’s block- there are so many notes of all kinds that need to be written, right here from my desk- not the blogging kind, the real- handwritten-signed-sealed-stamped-taken to the post office kind! As often happens when I am stuck- something weird keeps running around in my head, if I can’t get away from it- I just go with it. What I need for today’s assignment is a doctor’s excuse! Then I remembered Winston Churchill’s Doctor’s Excuse- in Prohibition America circa 1932. He had been hit by a car near 5th Avenue in New York City- ‘very near squashed like a gooseberry’ as he put it.  He was taken to the hospital and bitterly complained that he needed ‘chloroform or something’… the something resulted in this note, which he carried with him… You have to love a guy who always gets what he wants…by whatever means necessary…

    churchill alcohol letter

    I don’t need the same Doctor’s Excuse Mr. Churchill apparently wanted- however I sure could use a good letter for my assignment today!

    If you would like to read more about Winston Churchill’s Doctor’s Excuse-

    Go to – Open Culture  – one of my favorite sites!

    I hope you get a good laugh or at least learn a little something fun! Then look at the edit below!

    Love y’all, Camellia

    PS- just so the Happiness Engineers won’t get upset with me- here’s my letter to all of you millions of bloggers out there- who suffer occasionally from writer’s block like I did today (my excuse is that I have cucumbers running out my ears that need to be pickled or something- and a young lady and her truck drivin’ man wanted my husband to perform a marriage ceremony for them in our living room today- but the trucker got called in on a long haul trucking job so they’re going to have to wait a few days or weeks to get married!( We have folks stopping by to get married from time to time since my husband retired) Anyway, here’s your ‘Excuse’ Letter should you find yourself in need:

    ‘Camellia’s Cottage Writer’s Block Clinic’ 

    ‘Dear Readers, Due to a severe case of Writer’s Block- (insert your name) needs an occasional jolt of real life, away from the desk and laptop. Naturally the amount of time is unspecified, however the minimum requirement will be 1-2 days of rest, rehabilitation and reading.  However, (insert your name) should be restored to normal duties very soon. Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated.

    Signed: Camellia,

    Director of Writer’s Block Clinic.

    Tweet tweet…

    EJ Koh@thisisEJKoh 6 Jan 2014

    You study, study, study, and at the end, you are lucky enough to discover the greatest gift of education: that you know nothing at all.

    This quote- found on Twitter- inspires me. I love to study. I think education is the way out of many of life’s dilemmas. And-I love books. Recently after reading Marie Kondo’s book- ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up ‘. I was doing a fine job of clearing out clothing and shoes. I was even good with getting rid of home décor items, no longer used, no longer wanted, no longer beautiful to me. Then I was directed to clear out books and magazines.

    I have an entire wall of books floor to ceiling. Marie Kondo says to bring every book into the same room, then take every book off the shelves, put them on the floor and go through them. Touch each book to see if you feel anything- if any of the books ‘spark joy’. If they don’t? Discard. Honestly I did find some that I no longer need or want, but not many. I went back to the book and re-read her instructions. Ms. Kondo says, no one needs that many books. True. But what I had missed was this- ‘only scholars and authors’. What a relief! I am certainly not fully in either category, certainly not at the level of EJ Koh, Korean poet and translator!

    However, Ms. Kondo’s test beyond keeping or discarding is this: keep only the ones that ‘spark joy’ or that you re-read. It is amazing how many I re-read.  I am a lifelong learner. If I am interested in a subject – I study up on it . I am educated but I don’t have the degrees of an educator, unfortunately.

    Nowadays, with search engines- anyone, scholars or humble learners like me, can quickly reference any subject known to mankind. Yet with all of my reading and the joy it brings, I have come to the same conclusion as EJ Koh- The greatest gift of education is the knowledge that I know nothing at all.

    What I know for sure, is from the oft repeated phrase:

    ‘We are human beings, not human doings.’

    What we do with our lives is not even half as important as what we become.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    Product Details

    The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

    *This post is for Day 7 of Everyday Inspiration- WordPress Blogging University

    And this song speaks to the heart and soul of this post! By Alison Krauss- ‘You Say it Best, When You Say Nothing at All’…

    My Space to Write Among the Ghosts…

    “All Southerners are the great-grandchildren of ghosts.”    William Faulkner


    About a week ago, I started a new Word Press Challenge- Everyday Inspiration. Today’s challenge is entitled ‘A Space to Write’- asking me to write about where I write. When I cleared the space a bit to take a photograph, I was struck by William Faulkner’s quote-

    ‘All Southerners are the great-grandchildren of ghosts.’

    I should frame it, because where I write- I have ancestors looking over me- most prominently- my very handsome great grandfather. I never knew him, he died very young. But every time I made a phone call from my grandmother’s house, Granddaddy Holmes was listening, he was hanging beside the phone, in his suit and bowtie and slickened hair.


    His name was Charles Richmond Holmes, a very distinguished name. He doesn’t haunt me too much, but apparently his arm was cut off when he was run over by a train- he bled out and died on a wagon. They left his arm, not sure if it was the right arm or the left arm, but it was placed on his front porch for some reason. I know it sounds like a bad country music song, but my mother swears it happened. His wife, Granny Holmes suffered from attacks of Melancholia, ever afterward.  Mimi said that you could always tell when a spell of Melancholia was coming on…Granny Holmes would sit on the front porch rocking to and fro- reading her Bible out loud, the faster she rocked, the louder she read- the more melancholy she got. So I guess Charles haunted my great grandmother from time to time. I only knew her briefly, she was really ancient- but I do recall her funeral, folks seemed relieved to see her go. But she did leave me as the ‘southern great-grandchild of a ghost’.Any time my sister and I acted up, or anyone acted down or depressed, Mimi would say- ‘you’re acting just like Granny Holmes.’


    Underneath my great grandfather is a collage of pen and ink drawings with the St. Clair County Courthouse in the middle, surrounded by some of the old homes around or near the courthouse. One is a Bed and Breakfast now and was built by a Probate Judge for his bride when he returned from the War Between the States. He had just one foot- the other one was lost in battle. (This wall seems to have an underlying theme of lost appendages.) There are many stories to be told about the homes and how this collage of drawings came into our possession, but I shall leave that for another time. Suffice it to say, my father in law was Judge of Probate for 14 years and my husband succeeded him in office, after a hotly contest primary, runoff and general election, he served for 20 years and is now retired. The two of them are in the very Courthouse immortalized in the ink drawing.


    My father in law had notecards made from the original drawing and we continue to use them for ‘official’ thank you notes, congratulatory or sympathy cards; so that drawing haunts me, knowing how many I need to write in any given day. I also have a great longing to see that courthouse and the surrounding homes more often- but Backbone Mountain and several miles separate me from seeing it on a regular basis. We are one of the few counties in Alabama which have two courthouses, here because of that big mountain at the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains. The courthouse is said to be haunted, I’m sure it is- a hanging took place there I think; that is one of the hauntings…Anyway, our courthouse has been in continuous use longer than any other in the state of Alabama. It has a long and colorful history- St.Clair County is older than the state. Ashville is the county seat; the courthouse does face south as most old southern courthouses do.

    Below the drawings, my Grandmother looks straight at me from a handmade bowl. Her expression is very intense-and it should be, since she was seriously funny.  Most southern women love talking about food. She was no exception- she was an exceptional cook. She is my Wisdom and Food Muse, I can still hear her wise, witty comments. For instance sometimes she says to me: ‘Get in that kitchen and see if you can fix something fit to eat.’ She said that, at the end of almost every conversation I ever had with her- before she hung up- ‘I need to see if I can fix us something fit to eat.’  Mimi is her younger self in the photo-she told me that she always thought she was 18 years old until she looked in the mirror. Next to the bowl with Mimi in it, there is an iron cross which always inspires but particularly on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings when I write my ‘Sunday Inspiration’ posts and was my constant companion as I wrote the four year Bible study which led to the publication of my book, ‘Four Days- the Lazarus Principle’image

    My author’s copy sits beside my laptop. The book has many travel stories and other things that inspire me still; number one is: ‘If you can write a book- maybe you can write a blog.’


    Off to the side are two mirrors, one is slightly below desk level- I like a sense of mystery in home design- that’s how the wall ended up before I decided to push the desk in front of it. Above that mirror is my grandmother’s mirror; it is not a mirror to look into unless you want waves and streaks distorting your image, which I don’t. Above that mirror is a silhouette of myself as a child, my hair shape hasn’t changed too much.

    The desk I write on- came from a local antique dealer but it’s been at my house so long, it has probably gotten more valuable- or not. The chair I sit in, is shared from time to time with Walter. I don’t think he particularly likes to sit in it but it is a deterrent to my writing when he wants to be brushed, watered or fed. And under the table, on the quirky wall is an empty antique printer’s drawer with tiny spaces for letters to typeset copy. Maybe it is the perfect writer’s wall, now that I think about it. That fat red notebook is stuffed with ideas and things I need to remember if my laptop expires as it is wont to do occasionally. The lamp is a thrift store find, the base turned out to be real pewter; it sheds good soft light. I sit facing East, a very pleasing direction for me, and the ghosts of this Southern girl- face West and gaze at the sunset every afternoon, I hope it keeps them calm and happy. I don’t need them rattling around too often. But I am not lonesome when I write:image

                                                            Walter, our Chief Feline Officer

    Now, if you are not snoring or passed out from boredom– I need a favor. Part of my assignment is to ask you, the reader- for writing prompts. Did you hear that?? You are supposed to inspire me! (and you do! just need a little written prompt from you!) I will record your ideas and the inspirations in that fat red notebook – then perhaps I can pass this WordPress Course I am taking. I wouldn’t want to make the Happiness Engineers unhappy.

    Seriously, post in the comment section on any media that you find this on -or go to my ‘About’ page and email me through my contact information, I’m on a time frame here- 10 days to go for this!  Your Ideas or what you most want to know about Camellia’s Cottage, as if I haven’t hung out enough family ghosts and craziness since I’ve been writing this! I also don’t want to fall victim to Great Granny Holmes’ Melancholia. I won’t send any family ghosts to haunt you, and your name will not be used unless you want me to publicize you to high heaven- And don’t ever forget this-

    I love y’all, Camellia

    *All of those less than perfect photographs were taken by me.


    Happy Birthday, Beautiful…

    America the Beautiful…


    For a Grand Old Lady she sure looks good at 240 years old! All decked out in spangles, stars, and stripes- Red, white and blue ruffled bunting- she’s deserves a party! She’s survived natural disasters, economic depressions and wars. One war came very close to dividing our country in two.. That one broke her heart. I wonder what she thinks nowadays about her bickering children? United we stand, divided we fall, y’all. She’s given us so much freedom. We must never confuse our rights and privileges with our duties and responsibilities to serve Old Glory.  We are free, we are independent yet- dependent on one another to remain strong. It means something to sing- ‘and crown Thy good, with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.’ Our loyalty to this beautiful Lady, America, must include all. Lady Liberty still stands on Ellis Island, beckoning –‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’

    statue of liberty

    We show our gratitude best, when we respect one another, when we treat each other as family, when we debate without being disagreeable or rude. So, let’s throw a party for America and prove our love for this Grand ol’ Lady! Show your love for Old Glory by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance- ‘…One Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all!’ Turn off the bad news, light some sparklers or candles, then sing about her Beauty ‘from sea to shining sea.’ America, may God continue to ‘shed His Grace on Thee…’


    Happy Fourth of July from Camellia’s Cottage!

    Love y’all, Camellia

    *America the Beautiful was written atop Pike’s Peak by a school teacher named Katherine Lee Bates in 1913

    *quote from the Statue of Liberty- written by Emma Lazarus- image from the official Statue of Liberty site-

    My undying gratitude to Jeremy Miniard for one of my all time favorite photos- the Patriotic Porch- – use only with permission

    If you still need some inspiration- the ever famous iconic Southern boy, Elvis Presley singing- An American Trilogy!

    Miraculous Staircase…


    I have been in some of the great cities of this great country and always I go to the great Sanctuaries. Santa Fe is no exception, the St. Francis Basilica is gorgeous and inspiring- however, sitting beside the great cathedral is a small Gothic chapel, thought to be the first of that type architecture west of the Mississippi, the Loretto Chapel. Our Lady of Light Chapel was modelled after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and was constructed in the 1870’s to serve as a chapel for the Loretto Academy for young women, operated by the Sisters of Loretto.

    A serious design flaw was discovered after construction- the tiny chapel had not included a staircase to the choir loft. To install one would decrease the seating capacity and seriously affect the beauty of the design. It was suggested that the young women could ascend a ladder to sing, however this would have not been proper or safe.. The Sisters sought Divine Guidance by calling for a Novena to their patron saint, Saint Joseph, the Carpenter. For nine days they prayed. Upon the ninth day, the last of the Novena, a mysterious carpenter appeared, who called himself Jose. He said he had come to design and build a circular staircase to the choir loft.

    He arrived with a donkey loaded with only three tools- a hammer, a saw and a T square; and tubs in which to soak the wood. The stairway has 33 stair treads in two full 360 degree turns with no center support, nor is it held with any side supports, the full weight rests on the bottom tread. Testing throughout the years has revealed no nails, no pegs and no glue were used in the construction. Further, as science as progressed- the wood has been tested; recent tests revealed- the staircase does not appear to be constructed of any known type of wood found in the entire world.image

    Upon completion, the mysterious carpenter disappeared, without seeking payment. No records could be found by the Sisters for the purchase of the wood or any building materials. The carpenter was never found. Engineers, architects, scientists and historians marvel at the design, the materials and construction techniques employed; there is no known duplication of the design of the staircase-though extensive research has been done throughout the years. The only modification was to add a handrail ten years after construction. A movie was made of the.Miraculous Staircase and books have been written. Every effort seems to have been made to disprove the miracle.


    However, I have been there more than 3 times- though I am no scientist or theologian-I can attest to the fact that I have felt something holy, something miraculous, something undetermined by my human mind whenever I have seen it. The Chapel of Loretto is privately owned, it no longer belongs to the Catholic Church. For this staircase to have remained instead of being destroyed when it was sold, for it to have survived for almost 150 years and withstood the scrutiny of those who would wish to dispel it’s origins, is miraculous. To stand in awe of it, is to stand in the presence of what I have come to thoroughly believe is a true miracle, wrought by an Holy God through a mysterious Carpenter Who Heard and Answered the fervent prayers of His Own. I am blessed to have been a witness to the beauty of Loretto Chapel and the Miraculous Staircase.image

    Weddings and Special Services are still held at Loretto Chapel, the staircase is roped off but was used well into the 20th century. All donations to the Loretto Chapel go toward the retirement funds for the Sisters of Loretto, the Chapel of Light. I hope you are inspired by these unretouched photographs of the Miraculous Staircase. Have a Blessed Lord’s Day. It’s a Day to believe in Miracles, I do…I hope you do too.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    Miraculous Staircase books and movies found on for more information

    Doors of New Mexico…



    Whenever we visit historic places, I always come away with a sense of wonder and curiosity. I find myself asking- what is it that motivated the folk in those times to explore new territories, stake claims- then to stay, settle and build. Build, not just humble homes, places of business, government buildings but also to build cathedrals with intricate attention to detail. The cynic in me says it was for power, wealth and influence. The optimist says these folks were natural builders of society, who could somehow see far into the future- a bright shining city on a hill. I’ve come to believe, for whatever reason- noble or not- these folks had HOPE, not a crystal ball. For a city like Santa Fe to endure for close to 400 years that hope had to be undergirded with faith- and repeated time and again. Hope is a powerful motivator, hope breeds endurance and perseverance, hope starts a new business, builds a home, a library, schools and sparks faith which maintains humble homes and great cathedrals.  Enter the doors and peek in the windows of New Mexico and see if you agree…


    Wherever you look, grand or humble… look close and you will see hope….

    I have to include a few from the last post they were so charming…

    And I particularly loved the rustic ones…

    And what about this one?  A cool oasis…image

    We were amazed among so much Adobe to find these…


    How precious are those rustic wooden angels on the wreath of a tiny shop?

    The hotels in Santa Fe Plaza area are historic also…the one on the right- where we stayed La Posada, is a virtual adobe village on six acres but the main building was run by a woman named Julia Staubb who opened her home to visitors- imagine! Still welcoming visitors today with guests making S’mores in the fireplace one evening! image

    And over on Canyon Road, where statuary is completely amazing…the studios beckon you in… Yes, I do believe that hope for a new way of life, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for making a way to fling open doors and windows, hope to breathe fresh air endowed with healing powers- surely it was hope that convinced many to explore and to settle in this place- New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment! image

    And with my favorite of all the doors, I’ll close…Love y’all, Camellia


    Flowers of the Southwest…


    If I were to compile a list of things I love about Santa Fe New Mexico, the list would be very long and surely incomplete. It is called ‘The City Different’ and that is true; but it is also an ancient city with light so stunningly perfect, artists who are now famous, settled there to capture and re-create things of amazing beauty- one is Georgia O’Keefe.

    Her paintings of flowers are iconic. I share her love for the Flowers of the Southwest…they are not so different from my favorite flowers at home. The photographs include some from my list of favorites:

    • Morning Glories- my grandfather greeted me with ‘Moan-in’ Glow-ree!’ every time I spent the night at his house- I can still smell the coffee brewing and bacon frying  as my grandmother fixed breakfast-and hear his lilting happy greeting whenever I see morning glories.
    • Hollyhocks- which are a staple in Santa Fe and Taos- are loved in the South as well. I once grew some, my husband fertilized them- maybe over-fertilized them because they grew over 10 feet tall!
    • Roses- I can never grow enough roses! The light of New Mexico does something magical to Roses.
    • Trumpet Vine – is a flower we consider to be invasive, yet it’s charming blooms climbing up a tree here or over an adobe building there never fail to amuse.
    • Lavender- is not grown reliably in the South’s humidity- I plant and re-plant it- the fragrance reminds me of my grandmother’s Yardley Lavender Soap which she would put in muslin bags among her linens and lingerie drawers. Of course we loved to take a bath with it too!

    And that’s just my short list of flowers! The photographs have not been re-touched- they have been edited just to showcase the flowers- I think you’ll agree they are amazing Southwest beauties! And because this was a ‘mystery vacation’ – I have included two photographs of flowers which are made by artists and are not real- see if you can find them! Enjoy…


    Everywhere I turned, it seemed there was a picture perfect moment. All but the last photograph were taken in Santa Fe and Taos, the last one in the historic district of Albuquerque, New Mexico. See if you can find the morning glories! I’m still trying to identify all of the different species I saw, help me out! I forgot to mention how much I loved honeysuckle when I was a child- pulling the ‘string out’ and tasting the sweet nectar!So, naturally I had to take a picture of that!

    How would it be possible to make a list of the things I love about this part of the United States of America? How would it be possible not to be thankful to our Creator, for using broad brush strokes of beauty all across this land? No wonder great artists are still inspired to come to this region.   Our ‘mystery vacation’ holds more…

    Love y’all, Camellia

    Mystery Vacation  – go take a look!

    oops I goofed! here is the other pot of flowers that is not real- can you believe these are made from very thin wood? again, not retouched in color..


    The Mystery Vacation…

    I have been writing personal ‘travelogues’ for over 15 years, hardly anyone has ever read them- so why would I openly blog about a vacation? Most travel pieces are either boring or overhyped. I am not an expert traveler, I will not advise you to ‘vacate your life’. I don’t like the phrase- ‘to go on vacation is to vacate your life’… Vacate sounds like an eviction notice‘you must vacate the premises for 5 days and 4 nights.’ Awful and empty, really. The answer to why I write travelogues or any other writing is because my left hand has loved to form letters and words since I was 4 years old and my right handed 6 year old sister taught me to write; I love to tell a good story and my travelogues help me remember the wonderful, aggravating and goofy things that made life larger not vacated.

    This one started out as a ‘mystery vacation’ for our family of 5 adults. We have been taking two family vacations a year for over 10 years. For a good many vacations we would designate the family member to choose, because it was ‘their turn’.Some of the excitement seemed to have gone out of the planning phase. I had narrowed it down to several cities- the replies were- ‘It doesn’t matter, you decide’, ‘whatever you decide will be fine with me’, ‘we have a good time wherever we go’. Answers as breezy and nice as organdy curtains, but with no substance. So… I decided. I booked. Two months in advance-flights, hotel and rental car. Then, rather than tell them where we were going- I began sending out ‘hints’.

    • We will be flying southwest.
    • Our first stop will be Orlando.

    No one was guessing, I’m guessing they weren’t that interested.

    • A rental car has been reserved.

    First response- ‘I am not sitting on the hump.’ from an adult.

    • Designated Driver has been selected.
    • Board, ski and luggage rack has been declined.
    • We will be staying at a resort and spa.

    Second response- ‘Oh good, maybe Dad will give us time to get a massage.’ Did I detect a negative? About 10 more hints, barely a response. I sent this one out-

    • Think ‘Game of Thrones’.

    ‘Well, I thought I had it figured out until you threw that in’. I was having  a ball, they were yawning…probably thinking …’whatever’. Until. that. clue. Plaintively came the cry? ‘When will we find out what to pack?’

    • Your Dad will be wearing his ‘summer travel outfit’.

    They all know what that is- Golf Shirt, with white undershirt, ‘short pants’, tennis shoes and tube socks pulled up to his knees. We did go to Orlando- even had to spend the night, because our flight was seriously delayed and we were going to miss the connecting flight. We decided at the Birmingham Airport that we were not going to allow one day of our vacation to be ruined because of something out of our control. We did make it to the southwest the next day, to a city where the author of ‘Game of Thrones’ lives. No one had to sit on the hump. The offer of massages was declined. Dad wore his summer travel outfit every day.image

    A good time was had by all…stay tuned.  Love y’all, Camellia

    Find ‘Game of Thrones’ on