Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts, Questions, and Wishes

I took this photo of a small portion of an installation in an empty Philadelphia storefront called "Ribbon Vault on Arch Street" (2009) by Robert Chambers.

Now that Christmas is over, and I'm back from the conference I attended in Philly, I am facing my house--my real house--for the first time since we returned from the island.  Leaving a place alone for nearly five months, then suddenly dumping clothes and food and books back into it before rushing off again for family Christmas and a conference means that what one returns to is about as tangled as the photo above, although not nearly as pretty.  The whole place is a pile of boxes and bags and gifts and wrapping and inexplicable sprinklings of glitter here and there.

And then there's New Year's Eve to contend with.  I've never been a good new year's reveler.  I don't feel it in my bones the way I feel Christmas or Halloween or Thanksgiving.  Maybe it's because come the single-digit temperatures, I want to pack away my high heels and curl up with books and tea and blankets.  We are heading back up to Maine to celebrate the holiday with my mum.  I'm thinking, make some amazing pan-seared scallops, toast the new year together, and hang out watching movies.  I don't know about anyone else, but as we stood in Penn Station yesterday waiting for our connecting train to Boston, watching the timetable register delay after delay, and feeling like we were living in a scene from Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, it suddenly dawned on me that I was bone-achingly tired.  People were grouchy, understandably, especially since that damn station doesn't offer benches to anyone except Acela riders.  Talk about classist!  Plus, the numbers of homeless folks looking for a dime are way, way up this winter.  I read the IRS statistics about incomes in America this year, and if the cold doesn't chill you, those numbers will.  People are in desperate need. Far too many.  Philadelphia, Boston, my own city of Lowell--they are full of people without a place to sleep or a crust to feed their babies.

Please forgive me for being so real and not very fun-blogish tonight.  I'm trying hard to feel the cheer, but as I walked through the beautiful old Art Deco train station in Philadelphia, watching people trying to beg money, watching the guards armed with machine guns as they led bomb-sniffing German Shepherds around the station, watching the homeless woman who had set up a makeshift desk on the diaper-changing station in the filthy women's bathroom, I asked myself again and again, "What are you doing to help?  What are you doing to make a change?"  And I couldn't answer those questions.  

I don't write this because I want assurance that I am making a change.  Besides, no external assurance I receive will suffice.  I simply must do more to help others.  Period.  I started this post by talking about our possessions--how they are in post-Christmas, post-moving stacks and piles all over our house.  These things are lovely, and I am grateful for them, but my mind keeps going back to that woman in the bathroom.  She was bent over a worn notebook, and she wrote quickly on its pages, intently, never looking up, mouthing words as she scrawled them, words that obviously needed to come out, be on the page, even if no one else was ever going to read them, even if they made sense only to her.  Tonight I am typing, typing, spilling my own words onto a screen, because I cannot contain them.  I must not, even if they make sense only to me.  They, each of them, are more precious to me than any possession I own.  The fact that I have the privilege--and I do mean privilege--to share them with you is something that I will never take for granted.

I am wishing you blessings and health in the new year.  I wish for you a warm bed, a vocation you love, and the comfort of being needed.

xo Gigi

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What to Treasure

I've missed blogging this past week!  I can't wait to read everyone's posts and catch up on what you've been reading, thinking, watching, imagining, creating, and celebrating over the pasts several days.  Early last week we packed all of the belongings that we'd brought to the island plus those trinkets and baubles we've accumulated over the past four months, and we left the island.  It was the saddest I've ever felt leaving a place, and I have left many, many places in my life.  At the same time, we were lucky to have the distraction of the holidays and family and work to push us forward through our days.  Christmas was lovely (hectic, too), and now we're off tomorrow to a conference in Philly for a bit.  We haven't even finished unpacking, but that can wait.

I hope you'll bear with me as I type this one last island post tonight.  I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was a writing a list of what I'll treasure most about my island memories.  Todd has chimed in, too, so here goes:

~The scent of wild roses in the air.
~Watching lobstermen hauling traps outside our front window.
~Riding bikes along the back shore on our road with its well-loved cottages, tenacious wildflowers, brambly roses, sea-weathered rocks, salt marshes, and views of the ocean that stretch for miles.

~Sea smoke like you see in these two photos above.  It only appears when very cold air is moving over warmer water, but when it does, wow.
~Neighbors who wave.  Always.  Whether walking, biking, driving, or riding a big wheel, nearly everyone here waves as you pass by.  If you're walking and they are, too, it is likely that they will stop and chat for a bit, no matter who you are.  It's not a fake, touchy-feely gesture.  It's as necessary to island life as having good storm windows.    
~Kids riding their bikes everywhere on their own.  
~No Starbucks, no McDonalds's, no Wal-Mart--no chains of any kind.
~Leaving the door unlocked.
~Talking with people whose families have lived on the island in the same house for generations.  (Sadly, with the poor economy and the rising property taxes, fewer and fewer of these families can afford to stay here.)
~Eating at home nearly every night.  There are two year-round restaurants on the island, and they are great, but most nights we've eaten at home, and it's been magical to cook with the sun setting and the waves crashing just outside our window. 
~Having Portland restaurants just a ferry ride away for those nights when we do eat off the island.  Portland is foodie heaven.  This is the best food town in the northeast for half the price of Boston and none of the pretense.  Local, organic, original, and beautiful food--that's what you'll find on your plate here.  
~Hannigan's Supermarket.  "If we don't have it, you don't need it."
~Beachcombing.  My mason jars are filled to brimming with sea glass!
~The simple, profound physical certainty of high and low tides.
~The waves.  Their sound, their smell, the constancy of their presence.  
~Riding the ferry--everyone rides it, so it's one of the centers of social life and news on the island.  I never grow tired of this bay and the view of the islands here.  Plus, a girl can get get some good crocheting done on those 15-minute rides.
~Island dogs and cats.
~Island cars--seriously, we saw one that had a piece of driftwood for a rear bumper.
~The blast of the ferry horn carrying over the island--always on time.

~The people we met.  Hands down, this is the friendliest place I've lived.
~Being back in the state where I'm from and in the city where I met my husband.  Nineteen years and several cities and states later, we've come full circle.    

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    A Child's Christmas in Wales

    Illustration by Edward Ardizzone

    One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. 

    Photo from A Child's Christmas in Wales, 1963, 
    a film produced and directed by Marvin Lightner, 
    presenting Dylan Thomas's story, 
    including a recording of the poet's voice reading the tale.

    Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. 

    Above are two excerpts (the beginning and ending) from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I know.  We read it aloud today while the storm that slammed the whole East Coast of the US raged outside.  Tonight is clear, cold, and bright.  Thinking of you all and wishing you joy and peace this season.    

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Bittersweet Perfection

    This is our last weekend on the island,
    and the amaryllis I planted a few weeks ago has opened
    just in time for us to enjoy it here.

    As I photographed it this afternoon there was quite a bit of curiosity.
    Everyone came to see just what exactly this strange thing is.
    How could I explain that I am just as mystified by it as they are?
    One plops a bulb into a pot,
    places it in the sun,
    waters it twice a week . . .

    . . . and is rewarded by perfection.
    If only everything in life were so pure and simple.

    Here's wishing you a happy weekend, my friends.
    If you're snowbound, may your hot cocoa be plentiful
    and your toes be warm.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Looking Up

    I've been away from the blog for a few days, missing your posts, your writing and photos, but also needing to scramble before we move back to the mainland and before the madness of Christmas.  We'll be visiting family then heading to a conference in Philadelphia between Christmas and New Years.  After my last post I realized I'd forgotten that not everybody who visits here knew me before I lived on the island, so I think I made it sound like I am suddenly homeless.  I'm not off on a new adventure to another faraway place, just heading back to my real home in an old textile mill in Massachusetts.  We have been taking a semester off from teaching to focus on some of our writing projects, and now we've got work and our lives there to return to after the holidays.  

    Still, even though I'm done with extended journeys and adventures for a bit, life is taking some big turns for me.  I am teetering, teetering, trying to be brave as I stand on the cliff's edge of changes.  Think I'll look up instead of down.  I'm thinking of Relyn tonight and how she writes the most beautiful lists.  I've been compiling a mental list over the past several days of what I've loved and what I'll miss about this island.  Hope I can share it with you very soon.  It just seems right to take stock as we head toward the solstice and the days feel like flashes of light in the dark.

    My cats are curled up next to me, the big one and the little one; my husband is asleep on the sofa.  I've got the Christmas lights plugged in and a candle lit.  The house still smells like the drop biscuits we had with supper.  Over on the dining table are piles of paper, ribbons, boxes and bags.  Christmas will come, no matter how behind I am on shopping, crafting, and baking.  Bills will get paid when they get paid.  Life will happen, no matter how much I prepare.  I have always been a worrier.  How about you?  Do you have worries tonight?  Come on over (it's only a fifteen-minute ferry ride).  I'll brew us a pot of chamomile tea, and we can sit by the fire.  There are still plenty of biscuits, and I've got one jar left of homemade jam.  The Scrabble board's waiting.  Worries?  What worries.

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Shutter Sisters!

    I feel a bit silly tooting my own horn, but feeling silly has rarely stopped me in the past, so what the heck!  As I looked through comments on my Flickr photos this morning, I discovered one that said, "congrats on shutter sisters today."

    What?  I thought.  There must be some mistake.  I headed over to the Shutter Sisters blog just to make sure, and there it was: my photo "Winter Welcome" was selected as the Daily Click!

    I have only recently started taking photographs with any kind of seriousness of purpose.  In fact, blogging and photography go hand in hand for me, and I have been doing both for less than a year.  In that year, I feel like the world has split wide open and I have begun to see almost everything in a new way.  I'm not expressing this well, am I?  Hmmm.  What I want to say is that by writing, taking photos, and especially by reading and viewing other people's blogs, I have begun to understand that life holds far more possibilities than I had ever imagined.  Does that make sense?  I am daily stunned, inspired, moved, and delighted by what I find in the blogs I explore, by the crafters and thinkers and makers of beautiful things.  I've been a writer by trade for many years, but I learn something new about writing nearly every day now--some new way of asking a question or seeing an ordinary occurrence with fresh eyes.

    And photography?  Well, I am a complete novice.  I don't (yet) own a fancy camera of my very own, but I am saving my pennies.  Most importantly, I am studying voraciously the work and techniques of photographers I admire here in blogland and elsewhere.  The pictures of many of those photographers can be found on Shutter Sisters.  I am deeply thankful for the work those talented women do.  I never thought one of my photos would be selected as a Daily Click.  I am honored.

    When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist or a writer.  I had written, sketched, and painted for my entire young life, but for some crazy reason, when I was preparing to go to college, I was under the impression that one had to be one or the other--an artist or a writer.  I chose writing, and I'm not sorry I did, but I am so, so, so eternally grateful that I stumbled into blogging last winter.  For the first time in my life, I create however I want to, whenever I want to, and I get to share that work with like-minded, like-hearted people.  That's magic to me.  It's alchemy.

    One last thing.  We are leaving the island very soon--a week or so, I think.  I don't want to go, but life beckons, so I've promised not to kick and scream as they drag me onto the ferry that last time.  This has been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live and write and photograph here for a few months.  The photo above was taken here on the road where we've been living.  I will always hold it dear because it feels like this island to me: a little weathered, but enchanting, too, and always, always welcoming.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Batten Down the Hatches and Grease the Pans!

    What do you do when the wind is gusting at 45 mph; snow, rain, and sleet are battling to see who's boss; and the waves outside your front windows look like this?  Plug in the fairy lights (thank your lucky stars that the power's back on), hum a merry tune, and bake.

    Photos are by me, but the chocolate chip bars are by Mr. Magpie.
    Think I'll keep him.

    P.S. Thank you so much for all your get well wishes!
    They're starting to work their magic.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Cough Drops and Tissues

    Lying on the sofa sick with a nasty cold yesterday, I got up to all sorts of tricks:
    • Went through my Christmas hunting/gathering/crafting list and realized once again that I have a much easier time coming up with gifts for females than for males (except Todd--he's easy.  I just find him anything to do with books, fountain pens, coffee, vintage clothing, or moleskin notebooks and he's a happy camper).   
    • Passed the better part of an hour imagining I was poor Robert Louis Stevenson stuck in the nursery with yet another illness.  Those gorgeous poems in A Child's Garden of Verses were the product of Stevenson's lifetime of ailments combined with his own brilliant imagination.  There I was, just like Stevenson, "the giant great and still / That sits upon the pillow-hill, / And sees before him, dale and plain, / The pleasant land of counterpane."
    • Consumed a package and a half of Ricola sugar-free lemon-mint throat drops.
    • Caught up on some of my favorite blogs!
    • Read some of A.S. Byatt's novel The Children's Book.  Delicious.
    • Took random photos of the cottage all from where I sat and/or lay on the sofa.  
    • Stopped taking random photos when all that close inspection made me realize how dusty and cluttered the place is.
    • Drifted in and out of sleep.  The photo in this post is the view I saw above my head upon waking just after sunset.  Nothing like fairy lights to cut through the fog and, in my case, the self-pity of a December cold.  
    Thinking of you, my friends, and hoping you are happy and healthy!

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

    What's better than a visit from your sister-in-law and her boyfriend?  A visit from your sister-in-law and her boyfriend during the first snowfall of the year.  We ate sushi, shopped the Old Port and Munjoy Hill, waved to the kids on the Polar Express, and took the ferry over to the island while the first flakes flew.

    Once home, Todd made us homemade pizzas, then we ran outside to play.  It was perfect snowball snow.  Need I say more?

    I went out for a long walk very early this morning and took these snowy photos.  I love the first snowfall of the year, especially the hush it brings.  Hope you all had a beautiful weekend.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Thanks and Wishes

    I have come to love my mailbox.  It seems each time I open it lately there's a surprise waiting inside.  It all began recently when the lovely Christina sent me a package full of treasures that were utterly and completely me, including one of her own original photographs and a little ticket with the word WISH printed on it.  I'm saving that ticket for a very special and particular wish.   I can't tell you what yet, but you'll be the first to know if & when it comes true.  

    And do you remember my friend Eric , the amazing graphic designer?  He and his wife Carolyn sent me a copy of the Where the Wild Things Are film storybook, which you know I'll be using in my Children's Literature class this coming spring when I teach the book and, now, the movie, too.  Plus, Eric made me a card that I adore.  Art made by friends--sigh.

    More recently, Kim from the wonderful blog A Box of Chocolates , knowing that I collect sea glass, sent me a tin of sea glass that she'd collected on the shores of Queensland, Australia.  So now my sea glass collection's gone global.  So cool.

    This week I received a gorgeous box of goodies from my blogging pal Colette .  I'd won her giveaway , and what a giveaway it was, complete with some of her own beautiful photocards, a handmade Christmas ornament, a puzzle, and even a copy of Pippi Longstocking!!  She is one of my all-time favorite characters.  In fact, I dressed up as Pippi for Halloween in first grade, complete with coat hanger wires in my braids to make them stick out.

    And my brilliant and creative friend Marlowe, who, like me, is a magpie of the most adamant kind, salvaged skeins and skeins of beautiful chenille yarn for me that someone was giving away at her dump's trade center.  She popped them all into a box and shipped them to me.  Free yarn that was just going to end up in a landfill--now that, I love.  I can't use it for the Knit-a-Square project, because they need wool yarn since it's more fire resistant, but you can bet I'll be whipping up some pretty, lacy, curly scarves for Christmas gifts!

    I also received--well, this one Todd & I both received--the three lovely vases pictured above from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jen, and her husband Ed.  The vases are handmade by Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, and they are completely and utterly us.  

    I'm thinking of the day I opened up Christina's box of treasures.  My husband said, "Wow, she really gets you, doesn't she?"  Yes, indeed.  I have friends who notice the little things--a favorite color, a loved author, a collecting habit, or a hobby.  That kind of attention is a gift in itself.  In fact, if wishes are friends, then nearly all of my wishes have come true.

    Just one more thing: thanks to blogging friends, old and new, for stopping by this week!  Hope you have a fabulous weekend!  xo

    Thursday, December 3, 2009


    It is always with us,
    the sound of the ocean waves churning on the rocks in front of the cottage,

    but last night, all day today, and even still tonight, it is thunderous.
    The full moon and a mean storm last night stirred the ocean's pot a wee bit.

    Salt spray and sea foam spilled up over the rocks

    until spots where we normally stand high,
    peering down on the sea's expanse were dwarfed by breakers.
    We walked along the ocean road and let the spray wash over us.

    I'm thinking back to late last night--or very early morning--the wind shook the house to wake me.  I stood in the bedroom window and watched as the waves raced toward me under the moon's gaze.  I think it was my sleep-muddled brain talking, but I had that strange feeling you sometimes get when your plane hits turbulence and you think, "Hmmm . . . what if this is it?"  And then I blinked a few times and calmly went back to bed; my cat meowed once, quite lazily, as if to scold me for disrupting his sleep.  Then he snuggled in as close as he could behind my knees, and I fell into dreams of the sea and the moon and a boat that looked oddly like the cottage where we, a man, and woman, and two furry beast, all lay fast asleep.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Something's Missing

    I am a real tree kind of girl.  Growing up in Maine in the 70's, we kids would pick out not one, but two trees with my dad, and he would wire, cut and drill, crafting the two trees into one densely-branched masterpiece.  One year, he and my mother even bought each of us kids smaller trees of our own for our bedrooms.  I loved lying under the tree, sucking on a piece of ribbon candy, and squinting to make the lights blur and twinkle.  As an adult, I love the tradition of finding a new ornament each year with my husband, and decorating the tree together with the Peanuts Christmas CD playing on the stereo.  

    I understand the convenience of artificial trees, and I also know that cutting down trees just to haul them inside and let them die after a few weeks isn't exactly environmentally sound.  In fact, I'd been dreaming of the day when we'd have enough property to buy a potted tree every year and then plant them on our own land.  This year, however, reality has finally put the kibosh on that fantasy, at least the potted tree part; not the property part.

    You see, over the last few years I have developed an allergy to evergreens.  Not just a sniffly-nose kind of allergy, but a full-blown headache, sneezing, wheezing, sick as a kid who has eaten too much ribbon candy kind of allergy.  I tried to deny it last year.  We purchased a lovely tree, brought it up the elevator of the old textile mill where we live (we're only on the island for 3 more weeks, then it's back to the mill), placed it in a pretty corner of the loft, and then I went to work on the lights, stringing them ever so carefully for maximum effect.  Within minutes my eyes were tearing, I was coughing and wheezing, and I knew then that that would be our last real tree.

    I know I shouldn't mind.  I know that I should look at this as an opportunity to create spectacular alternatives to a traditional tree each year (I'm thinking of driftwood branches with white lights and island berries this year), and I do see it as just that: an opportunity.  I'll admit, though, that a piece of me--the piece that scoops up vintage ornaments at flea markets and antiques shops all year long--is feeling sorry for itself.  I will fill glass bowls and apothecary jars with my treasured ornaments; they will be lovely, but I'll miss the tree, especially the scent.  I went to Yankee Candle the other day thinking maybe an evergreen candle wouldn't be so bad.  It was worse.  Sigh.  

    Maybe one year I'll end up with a pink artificial tree like the ones on the Charlie Brown special.  I've seen people totally rock that look.  I gotta tell you, though, that is so not me.  

    Okay, enough whining.  Tomorrow I'll scavenge some truly cool pieces of driftwood.  Whatever I end up cobbling together won't be evergreen and it won't be artificial, but it will be squint-worthy.  

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Follow Up: Knit-a-Square

    First, I need to thank you for your responses to my last post!  After I asked you all about your favorite charities, I received a remarkable email from a woman named Sandy, the co-founder of a group called Knit-a-Square.  I've asked Sandy if it's okay for me to share a bit about the organization, so here are a few details, in her words:

    "[Knit-a-Square is] an ephemeral idea which has taken hold and become a not for profit called KasCare in just over a year,  I thought to cast out the idea to the world of knitters and crocheters and ask them if they would send 8” squares to South Africa where we could make them up into blankets for some of the 1.4 million children orphaned by the twin perils of HIV/AIDS and poverty.  Actually I am in Australia, originally from Zimbabwe, my Aunt lives in South Africa and had told us she regularly bought and gave out cheap blankets at traffic lights to cold children.  

    We gave up our jobs and work full time now on KAS.   Nearly 50,000 squares, 3,200 items of clothing have arrived from 3,000 members in 34 countries, mostly the States and Canada.  The program is in about 60 schools internationally and we are thinking about how to create a grass roots movement the equal of Roots and Shoots to raise awareness of this mostly hidden but terrible human tragedy, the orphans of Africa."

    I thought I'd share Sandy's work here on Magpie's Fancy since I know that some of you are knitters and crocheters, too.  You can visit the site to find instructions for knitting and sending squares.

    Here, too, is a poem written by Sandy's husband, Roger McDonald, and collected in his book Heart Yarns:


    Why knitting? With a thousand things to choose
    of graver consequence I would have thought
    that fickle and departed tart, my muse,
    might have inspired a more enthralling sport.

    But no. So knitting it would have to be.
    Two sticks, a length of string and endless time
    to make some sense of purl and plain. To me
    it seemed a vague and lonely pantomime.

    Initially, the battle with disease
    looked too unequal. How could knitters armed
    with nothing more than needled yarn appease
    that monster, AIDS? How could it be disarmed?

    A million and a half (or thereabouts),
    unparented, abandoned and alone,
    hungry, homeless, hopeless, cold. My doubts
    soon set about knitting themselves a home

    in my gut – a useless site to stitch.
    Faithless me. How could I have forgotten
    the internet’s electric talking which
    energises fibre, yarn and cotton?

    Now suddenly your knitting is a rhyme,
    a hand-sung hymn, a symphony of clicks
    performed by nimble fingers (unlike mine),
    a wall of hope in wool instead of bricks.

    I’ve come to like your craft, when once I fought
    my mother for the right to be outfitted
    in any form of garment that I thought
    a million miles removed from being knitted.

    And like it more for what it represents:
    the thin, unbreaking thread of simple love
    that salves the small and poor, without pretence.
    Is this the proof I search for from above?

    Roger McDonald, May 2009


    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Giving Thanks, Spreading the Word

    So, I cooked for two days straight, which I love to do, and we housed a tiny cottageful of people who camped out under loads of quilts on Wednesday night in beds and on sofas and even on the hardwood floor (kids can sleep on anything; I think their spines are made of rubber).  It was a fun few days, but I have to admit that I also love hanging out tonight in the cottage with a few candles lit, the rain and waves blustering outside, the cats sleeping, a Scottish mystery (Hamish MacBeth) in the DVD player, and just the two of us, feasting on Thanksgiving leftovers.  There's a reason I make enough stuffing to feed a brigade.  I do love my Thanksgiving leftovers--maybe even more than the meal itself.

    Yeesch, it's really storming out.  The cottage is creaking; boots and slickers and umbrellas are drying by the door.  I am counting my blessings, including the roof over my head, those little plastic containers full of food in my fridge, and the coats that kept us dry as we walked home from the ferry today.  This is going to be a tough Christmas for many.  Thankfully there are many ways to help people who need a hand this winter. Here in Maine, in addition to the incredibly important coats for kids donations, some organizations, like the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, are collecting coats for seniors.  For those knitters and crocheters who, like me, tend to craft obsessively during the winter, a great way to help out is by knitting for charity.  The Daily Knitter has a long list of folks for whom we can knit.  Other places that need donations now more than ever are local animal shelters.  Even a big bag of food or litter is a help.

    If you have a favorite charity, please tell us about it in the comments section so that we can spread the word this holiday season.  

    Thanks so much, my friends, for your inspiration, friendship, wit, and wisdom.  You make every day brighter over here in my corner of the blogging world.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Happy Hallowell

    It was Todd's birthday this weekend, so we took a trip up to Hallowell, Maine, on the Kennebec River.  One of our favorite habits is staring at old buildings and imagining what we'd do with them if they were ours.  You know how you do, like imagining a whole other life that seems quite possible for a magic fifteen minutes or maybe even an hour.  I love those little windows of dream time, especially when shared with the coolest person I know.  Hallowell is the perfect place to indulge in this habit of ours because it is pure architectural perfection.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's packed with antiques shops, too!  At the Antiques Mall we bought a set of three old (I mean old) lockers from a high school in upstate New York.  They're going to hold belts and ties and scarves and whatnot back at the homestead in Massachusetts.

    One of the shops downtown is guarded by ferocious beasties and graced by two Buddha heads.

    I am in love with these two buildings.

    We often speak of Southern Gothic literature, art, and architecture, but growing up in Maine, I always felt that there's a Northern Gothic, too, and places like Hallowell epitomize this style and feeling,

    Think of the wonderful patina of Savannah, place it up north in the cold with less light and a mix of Victorian and colonial houses, and you start to get a sense of what Hallowell is like.

    Someone is redoing this massive beauty high on a hill.  Think of the ghost stories you could write here!  Speaking of which, Stephen King's house just up the road a ways in Bangor is well worth a look, if you're ever in Maine.

    As you head south of Hallowell on the back roads, you encounter sweet Maine villages like East Pittston, where you'll find a gorgeous compound of houses that all appear to be part of Tuttle Antiques.

    Lovingly restored, the houses glow in the late-afternoon sun.

    We stopped briefly in Dresden to get gas at a tiny store with pumps from the 70's that had--I'm not kidding--duct tape on them.  Not sure what it was holding together, and I probably don't want to know.  I felt like we were on an episode of the Red Green show.  But across the street was this lovely church with the sun setting behind it.

    Back in Portland, we hopped on the ferry to head home.  The sky was burning pink behind us and the stars were waking up in front of us.  I asked Todd if he'd had fun.

    "Yep," he said. "Best birthday ever."

    "You say that every year."

    "And it's always true."

    P.S. If you're ever in Hallowell and you need a great meal, go to Slate's.  They make all of their own breads, croissants, and muffins; their food is tasty; and we had the sweetest waitress ever.  Their bakery is just a couple of doors down.  We had to split a pumpkin whoopie pie.  All that snooping around old buildings had made us hungry!

    P.P.S.  Before I forget, the pretty leaf-skeleton lantern on my new header is by Pachadesign.  I bought two from Sammy and Glenn to have for my table during the holiday season and beyond.  They are so delicate and beautiful that I can't stop taking pictures of them, even when there's no candle inside.