Anise Sage Salvia

Outside the sunroom, I have a patch of Anise Sage (salvia guaronitica) planted. While having a cup of coffee in the morning, I love to see the hummingbirds come to feed on this tall blue plant. This perennial has deep blue flowers that bloom from summer to late fall. Salvia needs full sun or light shade and well drained, evenly moist soil. Very rich soil can cause these tall plants to flop. These are really tall plants; they can grow up to 6 feet tall. They are also quite drought tolerant once established.

You should plant Anise Salvia in early spring. This sage combines beautiful flowers with aromatic foliage and has the square stem of the mint family. They form broad mounds that are as large as they are tall. Give them at least four feet to grow into. They enjoy a feeding of balanced fertilizer in the spring. You should mulch to keep the weeds at bay and moisture even. They rarely need staking but can lean toward the sun if they are in the shade. You can cut this perennial to the ground in the fall after a frost or wait until spring if the naked stalks do not bother you.

A friend gave me a clump of this plant last year, and I divided it into four sections. It is now about four feet tall and three feet around. Division is only necessary when the center begins to look thin. I thought that hummingbirds only saw red, but they must be able to see this blue, because they come every day going from one plant to another sipping the sweet nectar.

Hummingbirds can fly up, down, right, left and even upside down. When hovering, they hold their bodies upright, and their wings beat in a shallow figure-eight. Most hummingbirds beat their wings about 53 times a second. All I can see is a blur.

Hummers have a high body temperature and fast heart rate. They must feed about every ten minutes. The major part of this small bird’s diet is sugar from flowers and tree sap. We have witnessed as many as six different birds eating at one time. Sometimes they seem to be chasing each other and doing fancy dives like a WWII bomber. Danny thought that they were mating, but we did a little research and decided they were fighting for territory and food. 

There are 328 species of hummingbirds, and I bet they all like salvia. Their bills are long and tapered to fit perfectly into the tubular salvia flowers. Other plants that are good nectar sources are pineapple sage, cardinal flower, butterfly bush, Bee balm, penstemon, native trumpet creeper and cypress vine. Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to Mexico via the East Coast and Gulf States. Hummingbirds live on the average of four years, but there are records on some living to be twelve. Think of the miracle living for 4 years with those tiny wings beating 52 times per second. Amazing! They also remember food sources from previous years, so if they enjoyed your yard this year, they will be back next spring.

I have lots of friends who feed hummingbirds thru the summer months. They put out their  hummingbird feeder when the hummers arrive in April and keep it filled until they leave for Mexico in October. If you have been artificially feeding these little helicopters, don’t worry about them staying. They will migrate because of hormonal changes due to the decrease in the length of daylight. There is nothing you can do to make them stay. In fact, fall is a good time to continue feeding since they need to double their body weight for their trip to the land of the Incas.

We also experience another migration going south for the winter. The Snowbirds come through in the fall. They seem to be looking for coffee instead of sugar water. These “snowbirds” get to Florida before Christmas and then return to deepest darkest Yankee land in the spring. Our job is to give them a meal and maybe a night’s rest as nature makes them complete this migratory cycle.

Hummingbird sugar water for feeder

¼  cup of sugar

1 cup of water

Boil for 3 minutes

Add red coloring if desired

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The Lord Is My Shepherd

One of the most beautiful and well known passages in God’s Word is the 23rd Psalm written by King David as a young shepherd boy about His loving Shepherd – The Lord God. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff -they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever and ever.The psalm brings comfort, provides hope and offers the peaceful outlook required to walk through the sometimes difficult stages of our lives. It is also the foundation for which Billie Karen Walker bases her life. She finds motivation in these words.“Yes, it’s great therapy and my peace and walk with God,” she said, “being a shepherd to these precious lambs and sheep.”From a child, Billie Karen had always been drawn to how God used and inspired writings using the analogy of the sheep for His children. She always wanted to get a hands on experience as a good shepherd to be like Jesus and know these beloved animals.It started in a simple way with the acreage behind the home she shares with her husband, Paul. The back room of the home, overlooking this additional land, is a place for Bible study and visual enjoyment of the outdoors by Billie Karen, “It seemed so empty – it needed animals”, she reflected.As she thought about what kind of animal, she remembered the Sheep farm of friends, Bryan and Mia Sage Beason, they passed daily coming home. She gave them a call asking if possible to come by to pet and love on one of the gentle creatures. It was a touch that reminded her of that childhood calling.Billie Karen also visited another shepherd, Kristen Svensen, of Foggy Knob Farm, who spent many hours sharing knowledge about the lambs and sheep. Discovering that the bottle fed ones required extra love and care, she reflected on that acreage behind her home and how beautiful their presence would be in the green pastures. “May I care for these lambs and other sheep on my land”, she asked Brian and Mia Sage Beason. With resounding approval and support to get started from them, Bille Karen Walker the Shepherd was born.She was instantly in love with the lambs and sheep, sharing her vision with her family and close friends. A vision supported daily by husband, Paul; daughter, Halie Anna Duncan and her husband, Nathan; father, Bill Grady; friends, Leslie, Macy and Meadow and her amazing neighbors.It is the perfect home, just the sight of them grazing and playing about in the field brings peace. It is exactly as the words the song of David says: The Lord is my Shepherd. Billie Karen is able to bring them to her green pastures, lovingly care for them for the pleasure and goodness that is experienced by all who encounter these gentle lambs and sheep. Granting opportunities for photography, visiting churches and allowing some 4H students to visit has created a ministry for showing the love of God to all creatures.“Jesus sees us as His sheep and lambs. We need love and gentle guidance, He is our Shepherd, caring for our needs, showing us ways to give to others and to be used for a greater purpose.” said Billie Karen, “I just love the opportunity to love, and show support to other people and the sheep, I am truly blessed to have this chance and share these sheep and lambs with others. I have been so surprised that from children to the oldest of my friends have never had the opportunity to hold and love a lamb. Many have said they were excited to hold a lamb – that’s the way Jesus sees all of us. As Isaiah 40:11 says: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart…” Thank you Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God!”

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Harrah’s Hope Lodge

The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge program provides lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers. It’s a nurturing community that helps patients access the care they need in a homelike environment. Guest share meals, join in evening activities or relax in their own private room.Established in 1970, the Charleston, SC Hope Lodge was the first facility in the country for cancer patients and caregivers. The concept came from Margot Freudenberg, an actively involved volunteer until she was 105, the longest-serving American Cancer Society volunteer.She saw a similar facility while traveling through Australia and New Zealand with President Eisenhower’s People to People Ambassador Program. Today, Hope Lodge are available throughout the United States and Puerto Rico serving patients and caregivers from all over the world.The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Memphis, which opened in 2010, offers lodging centrally located to area treatment centers. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center donated the land for the three-story facility. Aptly named Harrah’s Hope Lodge as the Caesars Foundation, owners of Harrah’s Entertainment, gifted $2,000,000 as part of their pre-opening capital campaign. Harrah’s founding partnership has continued with annual gifts and sparked a powerful connection with the local Tunica casino employees volunteering more than 500 hours annually.When choosing where to receive cancer treatment, a patient usually decides to stay close to home, however, that is not always possible. Specialized treatment can be far from home and in the situations where travel is necessary, many encounter the inability to afford those expenses. It can be a barrier for receiving the best possible care in their cancer fight, Memphis is home to many cancer specialist not found anywhere else in Tennessee. Prior to the opening in 2010, patients reported avoiding treatment, traveling extensive miles back and forth from home or sleeping in cars while parked at the treatment centers. Those barriers are broken down by the Harrah’s Hope Lodge with a staff committed to providing a nurturing environment for guests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.The first floor of Harrah’s Hope Lodge features communal dining, kitchens, library and recreational areas, while the second and third floors have a total of 40 suitesfor cancer patients and a guest/caregiver. Located at 718 Union Ave. directly east of Sun Studio providing about 70 patients with a comfortable, welcoming home-away-from- home. But most importantly, Harrah’s Hope Lodge provides camaraderie. Friendships are formed as patients and caregivers take comfort in the knowledge that they’re not alone in their fight against cancer.Support from volunteers and local organizations is critical to the American Cancer Society’s mission of providing free lodging to cancer patients and their caregivers.Visit to learn more about how to get involved or donate.

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Gallaher Bend Lake House

Built in 1982, Gallaher Bend is situated on seven acres of lake front property on Melton Hill Lake in Knoxville, Tennessee. The 5,600-square foot Tennessee flagstone home was built for entertaining, with a pool, dock, and multi-level decks with gorgeous sunset views. The back lawn overlooks the lake surrounded by the East Tennessee mountains. The front lawn is vast with rolling hills and fields where whitetail deer are often seen grazing.Joe and Kathleen Atkins of JOPHOTO are Knoxville wedding photographers specializing in earthy and intimate weddings. From destination elopements to large celebrations. In 2017, they purchased Gallaher Bend and hosted the first wedding in November of the same year.

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Beef Short Ribs

4 pounds bone-in short ribs3 sprigs of fresh rosemary3 tablespoons bacon fat3 cloves garlic, crushed1 small onion, sliced1 cup dry red wine1 cup beef stockSalt & pepperPre-Heat the oven to 325. Pat dry the ribs and season with salt & pepper. Warm the bacon fat over medium heat in a dutch oven or enameled cast iron pot with a lid. When the oil is almost smoking, add the ribs in a single layer being careful not to crowd them. Brown on all sides in batches, setting aside once done. Pour off the remaining fat, leaving approximately 3 tablespoons and turn the heat to medium. Add the onion and saute until lightly golden. Add garlic and rosemary and cook another 2 minutes until garlic is super fragrant. Add red wine and stock, it will boil almost immediately. Now place the ribs back in the pot along with any juices that have collected while sitting. Cover and place the whole pot in the oven for at least two hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.Serve with mashed potatoes, cauliflower puree, cauliflower potato puree or creamy polenta and pan juice. Add a small arugula salad (arugula dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil) on top or on the side for freshness and a bright acidic note to the dish.

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Gary & Karen Braden’s Tennessee Christmas

When you pull down the wooded gravel driveway that leads to the Braden home, you have no idea of the little slice of paradise that awaits you. Three years ago, Gary and Karen Braden purchased their lovely 6+ acre lot and farmhouse and dove straight into the process of making it their dream home, or in this case, homestead.

The former owners (and builders) were from Knoxville, and they themselves had quite the affinity for antiques—travelling around the southeast as dealers of early American pieces.

The home was a Williamsburg plan that they constructed with various farmhouse elements from the 1850s. Because of this, the house boasts 7 dismantled and refurbished fireplaces, two large stairwells and other incredibly idyllic ‘farmhouse’ traits.

It was only natural, when the Braden’s set out to update and customize the home, that they wanted to maintain its original nature, character and charm. They did opt, however, to add a covered front porch that runs the length of the home, an incredibly cozy screened porch, a mudroom/office, garage and guest cottage.

The property is also home to a cabin (c. 1830) that was relocated from upper East Tennessee, reconstructed and re-chinked, that happens to be the first building one sees when entering the property.

And if the cabin and main house interiors aren’t enough to make one swoon, the Colonial Williamsburg-style flower, fruit, vegetable and herb gardens–complete with antique brick formations, pebble rock footpaths, Koi pond, shed and gazebo–certainly are.

When asked about his favorite aspect of the home, Gary Braden—2nd generation owner of Braden’s Lifestyles Furniture—says it’s definitely the keeping room, which opens up directly off of their dreamy farmhouse kitchen. He explains that the keeping room is where the home’s largest fireplace is located, creating an inviting, warm and relaxing area during the fall and winter months when the wood fire perpetually burns. The home’s cozy screened porch with painted wood floors is his 2nd favorite spot and where he prefers to greet the day with that first cup of coffee and quiet time.

Karen Braden, without hesitation, says her favorite spot in the home is the kitchen. It could be the large open space, the gorgeous marble countertops, the subway tile, the big behind-the-sink windows or the sink itself—a refurbished 100+ year old cast iron farmhouse basin. Or it could be because it’s where she makes all of her magic, as she is quite the baker.

The Braden’s recently shared that while their family’s Christmas traditions have changed in recent years, due to the growth and development of their kids’ families and personal traditions, they still hang on to a few of the same activities. For starters, in addition to her other Christmas trees, Karen maintains a ‘kids’ tree,’ where she showcases all of the homemade ornaments from each of her three children: Nick, Natalie and Alexander. They still love to host and entertain, whether it’s a Christmas Eve dinner for the family, a large church-based group or even the Braden’s team members and spouses for holiday parties.

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Genera Energy: Putting Down Roots in East Tennessee Soil

If the grass is greener on the other side, that side is Genera Energy. Sam Jackson, the current Vice President of Business Development, says the “company is growing” and will “continue to move forward” in the commercial biorefinery field. Last November, Genera Energy made the Biofuels Digest Hot 40 List. Biofuels Digest recognizes small companies making a big impact in the advanced bioeconomy field, and Genera Energy has certainly gotten their attention. Originally born out of the UT Biofuels Initiative, Genera Energy has flourished in the East Tennessee clay, and has already sowed seeds for expansion.

Genera Energy began working with local farmers and planting switchgrass in 2008, which would then be harvested and converted into ethanol fuel. Last December, Genera Energy closed a round of capital financing, and Jackson is positive that receiving the investment is “significant recognition that they are on the right path.” This year, they have begun hiring for their business development team, and currently have 20 full-time employees on site.

Genera Energy will continue to utilize switchgrass and other dedicated energy crops for biofuels, but as the industry continues to develop, Jackson says their focus will “look beyond biofuels to also include various projects that emphasize sustainability.” They have already begun to develop technologies that convert biomass into renewable products, such as recycled plastics, polymers, and sustainable chemicals.

Genera Energy has already set the bar for biofuel production in the country, and have put down lasting roots for renewable biomass products in the future. To learn more about Genera Energy and their work with commercial biorefinery, visit

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The Mercy House: A Home With a Mission

Just inside the Chattahoochee National Forest, in a bend of the Little Tennessee River, there is a large brick house that overlooks the surrounding mountains. The house was given a new name in 2011, and has offered dozens of women a place to call home since then. Mitchell Payne and his wife Roma have named it The House That Mercy Built, and it truly lives up to the title.Payne and his wife decided to open The Mercy House with the mission to help women who struggle with drug addiction and face a life of imprisonment. The Mercy House is a non-profit, faith-based residential program that seeks to provide a safe, family oriented living facility where women can rebuild their lives on a strong foundation.Payne has been the Pastor at Rivery Life Ministry for the past 28 years, The Mercy House is an extension of their service to the East Tennessee Community. The Mercy House and its staff are dedicated to helping women who struggle with drug addiction become clean, healed, and whole. They show the women how to develop a strong relationship with Christ through daily Biblical instruction and discipleship training.The Mercy House also offers classes to help with goal development, parenting skills, health and nutrition, as well as teaching their members a good work ethic to prepare them for life after addiction. They also have an in-house tutor to assist in GED completion and college preparation through educational materials and seminars.For women who are interested in coming to The Mercy House for rehabilitation, Payne says “we have a waiting list.” All applicants must submit an application for approval. They must show a desire to fully commit to the program for 1 year, as well as living a drug-free life before they can be considered for enrollment. “The girls have to be diligent,” Payne says. “They have to persevere.”Tammy Conner persevered, and successfully graduated from The House That Mercy Built. She is currently 4-years sober. Conner used Methamphetamine for 15 years, often living in the woods to hide from the Police. “I turned into junkie,” Conner remembers; “that was number one. My family, everybody else, I just used them to get what I had to get.”After she was arrested for the 42nd time, Conner gave her life to God completely, and soon came to The Mercy House to become drug-free. When participants arrive at the Mercy House, they must have bloodwork done to add to their file. Conner tested positive for Hepatitis C from coming in contact with contaminated blood. Upon graduating from the Mercy House, Conner had more bloodwork done, and the results showed that she was completely healed. “What’s incurable with man, that’s the business that God is in,” Conner said, smiling.The Mercy House is successfully helping women transform their lives. By offering a safe and spiritual place to live and heal, The Mercy House has begun to repair families damaged by addiction. Payne and the staff at The Mercy House are on a mission to teach and love women struggling with drug abuse. But it is not a battle that they can fight alone; The Mercy House relies heavily on volunteers, donations, and materials given by the community. Their continued success depends on these gifts to help transform the lives of women like Tammy Conner.Conner got her GED through the Mercy House and is set to graduate from Cleveland State University this Fall. But she could not have gotten so far without the help of the people serving at The Mercy House. “I tried to quit,” Conner admitted, “but the only way was through the Lord.” She encourages those who may still be struggling with addiction to “give it to the Lord” because there is a “fulfillment in him that the world cannot offer.”The Mercy house has graduated over a dozen women since its beginning, and doesn’t plan on stopping there. The success of the program is evident in the lives that The Mercy House has touched, including the relationships that have been restored. When asked about his graduates, Mitchell Payne said “Now they are living a life that they never thought possible. They’re doing it.”To learn more about ways to get involved, please visit

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Brenda McCaslin Home

Walking into Brenda McCaslin’s cozy home at Christmastime will make you feel like you have stepped back in time to a more simple and primitive era. The wood and logs that line the home from the floor to the ceiling have been carefully designed and laid out by McCaslin herself. In fact, many of the wood casings, cabinets, cupboards, and other woodwork throughout the home, were crafted and built by Brenda.McCaslin designed her entire home, both the exterior and the interior. For years she worked for a builder remodeling and designing homes. She also took many classes in the past to perfect her undeniable natural talent, and she carried out all of her design skill and building expertise by creating her beautiful home that immediately transports guests back in time. Inside the home it feels as if you have stepped into a log cabin, but the outside of the home was designed and built with antique bricks. From the bricks on the exterior of the home to each carefully placed decoration in every corner of her home…it is all antique and all meticulously decorated throughout.Following in her father’s footsteps, McCaslin has a great love for collecting beautiful antiques and has been a collector for 50 years. She has a passion for finding unique and timeless pieces to adorn her home, and her favorite places to buy antiques are in Ohio and Indiana, although she collects them from all over the South as well. At Christmastime in particular, she pulls out all of her favorite timeless treasures, but the decorations she loves most were from her father’s beautiful antique ornament collection. They bring back special memories of days gone by.Perhaps one of the most unique features of the home is that in all of the living areas on the main floor, all modern appliances and electronics have been covered by cupboards, furniture, or feed sacks that serve as curtains, handcrafted by McCaslin herself. She wanted to keep the primitive feel of the home as much as possible.From a tree full of age-old ornaments to delicately placed reindeer and fresh evergreen branches, this home is as wonderful and inviting as the person who created and designed it. The McCaslin home is where your “troubles will seem miles away” at Christmastime and throughout the year.

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Mums signal the arrival of fall

Another change of the season and we are enjoying the cool nights and short days. Sleeping with the windows open is a special treat except, that I have a tin roof and several towering Oak trees right outside my bedroom window. I am surprised how much noise those tiny acorns can make. To complicate the matter I think I have a couple of bored teenage squirrels who throw acorns against the roof just to hear the noise or to see whose acorn can bounce the highest. I have gotten up twice today thinking someone was at the door only to realize it was the knock, knock of acorns. The barn area is even worse since we have a stately old walnut that bombs another tin roof with the bright green orbs. It’s enough to drive you nuts, pun intended.
Now is the time to think about where you can put some of those bright, fresh, and exuberant mums. Chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium, now reclassified as Dendranthema x grandiflorum) is a hardy fall mum, also commonly called garden mums. Chrysanthemums originated in China and Japan. These beautiful plants are the backbone of the late summer to fall garden. Plants range in height from one-foot cushion types to two feet or more. They come in an array of showy colors, including bronze, purple, yellow, mauve, red and white. Flower forms vary as well and include single daisies, tiny buttons and large doubles (football mums). Both buds and flowers withstand light frost, and new buds continue to open long after annuals have stopped for the season. Fall mums are short-day plants, which mean they need short days and long nights to initiate flower buds. (The long period of darkness at night is the most important.)
Obviously fall is here and I did not plant any mums in the spring. Lazy gardeners and immediate gratification people count on big box stores, roadside stands, nurserymen, and florist to have beautiful mums ready to plant most of these have been forced to bloom early. These fall mums need to be treated as annuals. Nothing could be easier, they can be plopped into the ground for a spot of instant color and can then be replaced when they stop flowering. Fall mums can be easily transplanted even when in full bloom. Because we are planting or transplanting them in the fall frequently they do not have enough time to become established in order to winter over until spring.
These potted mums need daily watering if left in the pots and almost as much water if planted in the ground. They have shallow roots and the nursery has given them a porous medium. When you buy your plants look for tight little buds that will be coming along later. If you need them to look spectacular because you’re having company this weekend, chose plants that are fully bloomed out. Avoid damaged or wilted plants. Please, don’t buy a problem.
After the flowering if you want to try to keep the plants you should cut back them back hard (3 to 6 inches). Once the ground has frozen, mulch with straw or hay. If you have a mum survive through the winter into the spring you can dig and divide the plants as soon as growth appears. They do best if divided annually. Discard any woody portion of the clump. Mums are easily rooted from cuttings taken in the spring and will produce a good-size blooming plant by fall.
Fall blooming chrysanthemums are ideal for combining with asters, ornamental grasses, and other late blooming perennials. Use fall mums to replace annuals that have stopped blooming, in containers, as an edging, or anywhere that needs a bit of late season color. Mass plantings are effective for adding bold color in front of hedges or along shrub borders.
Enjoy another beautiful, colorful Tennessee fall. We are so lucky that we have a long fall and spring. Scarecrows, pumpkins and mums, an unbeatable combination added to those falling nuts.

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