Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

photo from The Daily Green
The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment, bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

These lines are the first stanza of Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World." I love the immediacy of the images, the evocation of the moment just after waking when our senses are not quite distinct from one another yet.  The person awakes, hears the pulley of the clothesline, and there it is, the magic of the everyday.  I come back to this poem often.  I won't give any more of it away in case you want to check out the link above.  Like the best poems, this one transforms the way I see and experience a piece of my world.  In fact, it gives me chills.  What more can I ask of art? 

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Glimpse . . .

. . . of sunlight through the basement window of the 50-year-old Cafe Pamplona on Bow Street in Cambridge.  I love this cafe.  It's one of the few establishments left from the old Harvard Square days when independents ruled.  Pamplona isn't shiny and sleek like Starbucks or Peet's or the countless other chains in Harvard Square now, but as Todd says, it reminds him (in a very good way) of the days when he was a young college student spending a summer abroad in Poland.  The perfect spot to hide out with a good book and a cafe con leche.     

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sweet Sunday

After days and days of rain, I decided we needed some summer cheer, so tonight I made strawberry-rhubarb crisp with local fruit from Lull Farm in Hollis, NH--our favorite farm stand of all time, and they have now expanded to mind-boggling proportions while still retaining their old-fashioned appeal.  Dreamy food, flowers, and cool cats who hang around while you shop.
I bake a lot, and I often experiment with proportions and ingredients, so nothing in this recipe is written in stone.  The nice thing about crisps is that you don't have to be as exact as other kinds of baking.  Cherries would be nice in this, too.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
~Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~Toss about 6 cups of washed and cut strawberries and rhubarb in a baking dish.
~Make your crisp topping:
  • 2/3 cup unbleached flour (I like to use 1/3 cup white and 1/3 cup wheat, but all white flour is fine, too)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • about 3/4 cup to 1 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • zest of one lemon (or one orange, whichever you have)
  • (Sometime I toss in a handful of chopped almonds, especially if I'm using cherries)
~Stir all these dry ingredients together, then with a pastry blender (or just your fingertips), cut in:
  • 8 to 10 tablespoons of cold, diced, unsalted butter
~Work the butter in until it is coarse and crumbly.  
~Sprinkle the fruit with the crisp topping and bake 40-50 minutes.
~Serve warm (I can't wait more than a minute) with vanilla ice cream on the side.
~Tuck in and enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Window Lust

Our 15-year anniversary is coming up next month, and it has me thinking the strangest thoughts about weddings and flowers (maybe that explains the roses and stock from earlier this week) and cakes and favors.  Today I was stopped in my tracks while walking down Newbury Street in Boston.  The window at L'Elite had amazing bridesmaid dresses, one in robin's egg-blue chiffon and the other in this glorious shade of peacock blue-green, which I am calling "Marlowe" in honor of my girlfriend who is in love with this color right now.  I'm in lust with it myself.  I had fun taking the shot above, letting the bridesmaid take all the glory while the bride faded into the reflection of the sky in the window.  

L'Elite is having a sale right now.  Wedding anyone?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Room (or Desk or Garden or Studio or Shed) of One's Own

This morning I worked on one of my writing projects in a coffee shop that I love.  Sometimes I seek noise and bustle for inspiration; blaring music, teenagers gossiping loudly over mochas, and lawyers on their cell phones serve as a great backdrop to certain types of writing that I do.  In fact, they create a kind of rhythm and energy that drives me forward.    
Other times, when I want to write poetry, my first love, I need to come home to the cocoon of my workspace, surrounded by my favorite books, mementos, and flowers (yes, those are the flowers from the last post--they're holding up well).  
My desk is beside a window high above an old canal.  I can hear the noise of the city below, but it is muffled by the walls of the huge old mills on my street.  I am safe and sound and quiet in my old wooden chair.  Books are stacked and arranged . . . well, everywhere.  

I keep on my desk an ever-revolving collection of flea market finds and objects from people I love.  I am particularly fond of the escort card pictured above.  Can you imagine a young man today presenting a girl with one of these?
My muse.
The harmonica was a gift for my eighth birthday from my father.  I can't play it one bit, but I always keep it on hand.  You never know when inspiration (or talent) may suddenly strike.  My brother gave me the amazing cat letter-opener--very Edward Gorey.
I am obsessed with stationery items--paper clips, binders, push pins, and notepads--so the cigar boxes help hide some of the clutter.  In the picture below you'll find my other muse, Dill.  He loves to help me write.  Seriously.  If I'm writing, he's right beside me, sometimes sleeping, other times simply staring at me for a very long time.  It's almost like he's sending me brain waves: "Think, dammit.  Be creative, girl!"
I love my desk.  It's one of the places where I feel most myself, most able to create.  The kitchen is a close second.  Where do you love to work, create, make beautiful things?  I'd love to hear about the place that inspires you to craft your best magic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rainy Day Bouquet

It's another gray day here,
 so I thought I'd send some roses and stock to my blog friends.
I hope the sun is shining where you are
or that the rain is falling gently,
and I hope you are warm
and safe

with someone you love nearby.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Whites

Heavenly White
The Old South Church, Windsor, Vermont
Country White
The farmhouse on the salt marsh next to Farnham's Famous Clams 
in Essex, MA  (They are famous for a reason!)
Window White
Desmond McCarthy once wrote that a bohemian is someone 
who uses a toothbrush to hold a window open.  
I wonder what he'd think of the old corbel I use to keep mine propped up.
"Vintage" (aka "Distressed" or "Formerly"White 

Ironstone White
It's not summer without this classic!
Dreamy White

My Favorite White
This sign is at Benson's in Boxford, MA.  
Todd likes the coffee brownie chunk. 
 I heart the coffee ice cream--
the best since the coffee at Hallett's Drugstore when I was a kid.
Happy first weekend of summer, everyone!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Secret Hideouts

Last night I discussed The Secret Garden with my children's literature class.  It's a book I often teach and one that I love as much now as I did when I was young.  Many of my students love it, too.  We talked in class about why this is so, and for many of us, it comes back to the garden itself, which is, of course, a deeply symbolic place, with echoes of Eden, and the roses themselves, like Mary, appearing to be lifeless while they are actually quite "wick" inside.  More importantly, though, we simply love the idea of a secret place where children can go that is separate from the world of adults, a place like Neverland or Terabithia where their imaginations help them solve problems, build friendships, perceive possibilities, and create a sense of who they are and who they want to be.
When I was a girl, I had more than one such place.  All the kids in the neighborhood played in the woods across the street from my house.  We built forts, played hide-and-seek, told ghost stories, and ran wild through the trees.  As I grew older, those woods changed; grownups thinned the trees, built more houses, expanded their yards, and the woods became more like a stand of trees.  Not secret anymore.  
Undaunted, my friends and I shifted our focus to the field behind my house.  That field is still there today, miraculously.  It's smack dab in the middle of houses and yards on three sides and a highway on the other, but it's large enough and the grasses and wildflowers grow tall enough that it provides plenty of secret places for kids.  We built many a fort there with scraps of old wood, truck tires, and whatever else we could find.  Time was different in the field--hours and minutes ceased to matter.  What we cared about was play.  Because play, when done well, is serious business.  
Our construction jobs were not limited to the woods and the field.  We often built forts in and around our house, some more permanent than others.  There were always the Saturday-morning-cartoon-watching forts made of blankets and chairs and pillows.  Those were fun, but fleeting.  On rainy days we would sometimes head for the attic and string sheets up to build fortune-tellers' tents.  The Ouija board and Tarot cards came out on those days, and we scared ourselves silly.  I remember also a tiny, magical fort my brother once built outside in the narrow space between our house and our neighbors' stockade fence.  It had a real door with hinges, a chair for reading, and a little shelf for treasures, for we always brought treasures and necessities to the forts we built.  As a kid you understand what William Morris meant when he said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  Everything we brought, from favorite books to tins of cookies, was essential.  There was nothing extra, not only because it wouldn't fit, but because, well, why bother with anything else?
I often wish that more grown-up houses were like kids' forts--true havens, magical places where we go to retreat from one world and enter into another, better place of our own making.  I always aim for that in each place I live, but I think I forget and start bringing in things I don't need or love.  I have two ideal models for a hideout: one is the hobbit hole of Bilbo Baggins; the other is a gorgeous tree house like the one below.  Maybe the hobbit hole will be my winter home one day and the tree house will be my summer Shangri-la.

What hideouts did you have as a kid? Do you have any now? What would be your ideal hideout?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Maxfield Parrish

When I was a girl, I adored the paintings of Maxfield Parrish.  More accurately, I should say I adored the prints of Maxfield Parrish.  In the 1970's his posters and calendars could be found everywhere from gift shops to head shops.  My brother had one tacked to the wall in his room, and I used to stare at that blue--Parrish blue--wondering how such paintings could be made.  In fact, I'm currently working on a young adult novel, and one of the main characters is named Max in honor of Parrish.  I'd never actually seen any of his paintings themselves until this past weekend when Todd and I went to the Cornish Colony Museum in Windsor, Vermont, on the eastern border of the state, just over the Connecticut River from Cornish Mills, New Hampshire. The best part is that, if you're coming from the south, you have to cross a sweet old covered bridge to get there.  

Parrish lived in Cornish Mills, and he was a long-time member of the Cornish Arts Colony, which had more than seventy members, including actresses Ethel Barrymore and Isadora Duncan, painters Henry and Edith Prellwitz, and sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Bessie Potter Vonnoh.  Cornish even served as the summer White House for Woodrow Wilson for three years.  The museum celebrating the works of these artists is located in an old fire station on the Main Street in Windsor.  Their collection includes several of Parrish's studies, many prints, a first edition of The Knave of Hearts, and a couple of his large murals.
At one point in the early 20th century, Parrish was the most popular artist in America.  It is estimated that his work hung in one in every four homes in America.  This is primarily because he had no qualms with having his paintings reproduced on magazine covers, calendars, posters, and advertisements.  His illustrations for children's books, including the Knave of Hearts, are nothing short of stunning.  He also painted a large oil called Dream Garden, which Louis Comfort Tiffany then executed in glass mosaic.  Of course, what Parrish is most famous for are the paintings of beautiful, often androgynous young women posing in natural, almost mystical settings.  And that lapis blue.  If you live in New England long enough, you will see that color sometimes at twilight and you'll think, "Ah, that's what Parrish meant."  The piece above is called Stars
In 1931 Parrish announced, "I'm done with girls on rocks," and he focused for the next thirty years (until he was 91) on painting nothing but landscapes.  No matter his subject, his process was extremely labor-intensive, involving many layers of paint--always beginning with blue--and varnish.  The Cornish Colony Museum has some wonderful examples of unfinished work that help to illustrate his techniques.  In the museum's pamphlet describing their current exhibition of works by women artists of the colony, there is also a troubling message from founder and Parrish expert, Alma Gilbert-Smith.  This June she stepped down from her position as director of the museum due to poor health.  From the sounds of her message, the museum is struggling to stay open due to cutbacks in grants and donations.  They have shortened their hours and are running with mostly volunteers, so I'm not sure how much longer the museum will survive.  If you are planning to visit New Hampshire or Vermont this summer, I recommend a visit to this hidden jewel.  The countryside there is still old New England with plenty of prime spots for picnics.  And if you linger in the area long enough, maybe you'll catch a Parrish-blue twilight. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This Week on My Street

milkweed & graffiti

after the rain: a temporary lake 
treasures from the vacant lot

Friday, June 12, 2009

Style Crushes

I have always had a crush on Louise Brooks--her perfect bob, that porcelain skin, those gorgeous cloches.  How can I help it?  My photograph of her in a black tutu and satin heels ALWAYS stays on the inspiration board above my desk.  But tonight, as I stared dreamily at Miss Louise while I was supposed to be writing, I got to thinking about other style crushes.  Whose style do I adore and why?  I can think of many friends whose own brand of personal style amazes me, and I'll have to gather up photos to post at some point, but in the meantime, I've rounded up a few famous folks whose way of dressing, smiling, talking, moving, and/or simply being in the world has always fascinated me.  I'd love to hear from other people on this subject.  Who are your style crushes?  There's one person I would have included here for sure, but I know that Cate loves her, too, so I thought I'd wait! 
Nina Simone--goes without saying
Yes, I have always loved Morrissey's style.  Still do.  Skinny, not skinny; young, not so young.  I don't care.  When I first met my husband, he looked so, so, so much like this photograph that it kills me.  Now, nineteen years later, Todd possesses even more style than he did then.  I think age has something to do with this--maybe it gives one more comfort in one's own skin.
Harry Belafonte--OMG!

Anne Sexton had no idea how amazing she was.  Her letters and poems make me want her right back here in the world.  She was decidedly not comfortable in her own skin, yet she had a kind of deep intelligence and wit that made her shine.  If true style is dependent on substance, and I think it is, she embodied style.
Gregory Peck: no one wore a fedora better.  Or anything else, for that matter.
Joe Strummer was my style hero all through high school and college.  Actually, he was my music hero, too.  He's another person I want right back here in this world.
Bonnie and Clyde--dangerous and stylish.  
They were sharp dressers, and Bonnie always wore gorgeous shoes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


You love the roses--so do I.  I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush.  Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on.  They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and waking, all at once!
~George Eliot

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Simple Gifts

This morning I woke up feeling blue.  In fact, I was, I'll admit, wallowing in my own lousy mood. Then I read some wonderful blog posts that helped to shake me out of my sorry state.  In particular, m. heart over at Secret Notebooks . . . Wild Pages suggested posting about the simple things in life that make us happy.  I started jotting some down, and I felt the fog begin to lift.  Here are just a few:
  •  Todd fixing me a late-night sandwich filled with my favorite ingredients after we have taught 3-hour evening classes and are both feeling peckish.  He is a friend generous and sweet.
  • Completing a crochet project.  It rarely happens, but when it does--quiet bliss!
  • Waking up to find Dill curled up next to me
  • Waking up to find another poppy has bloomed while I was still asleep
  • A pretty china cup of Earl Grey tea
  • Receiving a handwritten card from someone I love
For these and many more simple gifts I am thankful.