Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week Around the House

Okay, so I promised some photos of home improvement projects around the house, and these are not those.  I'm realizing that most of our home improvement projects, while thrilling to us, will be literally like watching paint dry to everyone else.  Here, though, are some random shots I took around the house this week.  Above are my vintage clay marbles.  Many of my New England friends will know the flea market where I bought these: the Montsweag Flea in Maine.  It's one of my favorite flea markets, ever, and these little guys came stored in this sweet milk bottle.  They live next to my desk.   

If you've been reading my blog for a few months, you are probably beginning to realize by now that I have just a bit of a collecting habit.  At the same time, and in direct conflict with my collecting tendencies, I hate clutter, so over the years I have developed a solution: many of my collections include items that can be used to store other items.  Brilliant.  Thus my memere's lovely Roseville vase is the home of my knitting needles.  And, as you might have seen in my post from Wednesday, I collect old suitcases and paintboxes.  They house CDs and, well, paints.

The desk above was my father's.  For years his parents rented out a small apartment in their home, and one of their lodgers left this desk behind.  It became my dad's, and when I was a kid I would sit at it writing and drawing and playing with the little drawers and compartments inside.  Now it is mine, and I treasure it.  Some of my favorite books rest on the shelves underneath.  On the top left side next to the lamp is a vintage radio tube that I bought for my husband because he researches and writes about, among other things, early radio at the BBC.  The chair in this photo is an old Haywood Wakefield that I bought for him, too, at one of my mother's antiques shows.  Oh, and I have to mention the pretty leaf lantern made by pachadesign.  

Above is a close-up of the desktop with the beautiful Buddha my mother gave me and and one of a pair of Art Deco lamps she gave us for our wedding anniversary.  We had admired (drooled over) them in her shop, and my thoughtful mum took notice.
Last but not least, it's those paperwhites again!  But I included this photo because it has the only piece of the renovation stuff that wasn't too boring to show.  We took down a godawful light fixture in our master bath and replaced it with something much nicer (I hope), but I was left with all these globe-shaped light bulbs.  I suddenly had the bright idea (forgive the pun) to put them under this cloche.  I actually love them when the sunlight streams through them in the morning.

So now I'm curious . . . What are you collecting these days?  Any favorites or wish list items?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January Afternoon

Walking in the snow, talking about Salinger, changes, and the glow in the distance.

Dream Big

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."
~George Eliot

I took the above photograph last summer on London's South Bank, beside Waterloo Bridge, just before sunset.  That little girl was transfixed by the sunlight on the water.

Yesterday I mentioned a very special woman in my post on the simple things, but I'm providing a link to her story again today just because.  In my mind, she and this little girl are linked by the word "hope."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Simple Gifts

Today I'm joining with Christina and several other bloggers to celebrate the simple things.  Thank you, Christina, for your warm and brilliant heart.  

Here are just a few of the many gifts for which I am grateful: 

~taking a deep breath~

~a clutch of daffodils from my husband~ 
(yes, he wrapped that milk jar in craft paper 
and tied it with twine, crafty guy)
~knowing that my camera is by my side and ready~ 

~finding loads and loads of faux tulips 
at Michael's for a dollar a bunch~ 
(just perfect for making a wreath 
to beat the winter blues) 
~a peanut butter sandwich any time of day or night~
~discovering lipstick in the perfect shade of plum~
~sharing take-out Indian food with good friends~

(and Theodore)
~working on drafts with a girlfriend~ 
(editors and agents be damned!)
~becoming so lost in revising a poem 
that time ceases to exist~
~strong women like this one~

~taking a walk on a trail I've never followed before~
~discovering an old barn~
~watching a hawk fly by almost near enough to touch~
~funny people~
~stacks and stacks of books~ 

(I made not one, but two pans on Monday!)
~a phone call from a friend I miss~
~being forgiven~
~moving on~
~letting go~
~beginning again~


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Try, Part II

Back in November when we were still on the island, I wrote a post called Try about taking a leap of faith, about teaching, about poetry, and about failure.  I reread it tonight, and realized that I had never shown you the poem I mentioned in that post.  In fact, even though I am a poet by training and trade, I almost never post my poetry on The Magpie's Fancy.  Thought I'd post this one tonight just for the heck of it.  I wrote it after watching the Leonids meteor shower.  I won't explain it, because I hate when poets do that, but I will say that it's meant to be read aloud.  That first sentence is long and breathless because the speaker is completely overwhelmed with her thoughts.

When I write poetry or fiction, I love to imagine a speaker or character, and just let myself climb inside her mind and heart.  Please feel free to do the same.  

The Leonids
Meteor Shower, Peaks Island, Maine, November 17, 2009

How could we little heathens
have known
that the gods check their watches, 
that the skies over beaches
and horizons 
and channel crossings
where fishes know the old
rock formations carved by the glaciers
by heart--
how could we believe
that those skies
could flash
a matchstick’s scratch
and streams of fire
could rain down 
just like the old woodcuts
in bibles, the end of days?
Only, these sparks 
flying from Leo’s mane
don’t fall for us;
Christ, we nearly missed them,
so bleary from late shows 
and facebook, wrapped
in the worn quilts and scarves I knitted 
on insomniac nights long past.  

What can we make of this?  What 
can we enact, predict?
We gaze.  Stars require that.
Our necks tense.
Out in the channel, 
the markers flash like beer signs;
behind us the city is an odalisque,
a siren luring our eyes 
back to the horizon.
Treachery is everywhere.
Just south, Ram Island’s light
winks, jealous Ares, old
and endlessly erect--
does he ever grow tired
of protecting?  Even his lantern 
is weak, its power on loan
from Apollo.  How could he 
ever hope to compete?
In the end, he and the siren 
are no match for the streaks
of green and gold
that catch us, hold us cold
until their end, 
on the porch
alone in November 
beside the storm’s brink, 
on the edge of a waning crescent, 
waiting for the next
tiny speck
of the universe to fall
whether we blink
or not,
whether we ever
even look at all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter White and Promise

I just had to show you another shot of the paperwhites on my windowsill.  They won't quit.  How can I give up trying if those little flowers keep going and going?

I'm wrapped up in an old quilt my grandmother made and I'm drinking Earl Grey Tea tonight with a bit of Winter White honey from the Savannah Bee Company.  If you're ever in Savannah, pay them a visit.  They have a honey-tasting bar and the best honeys I have ever tried.    

This week has been all about home improvement projects.  I'll show you some photos later this weekend.  A few posts back I asked what you do to seek comfort when you're down.  So many of you wrote with insights and remedies that I was comforted just in the reading of your words.  Several times I have thought about what Ange said about getting lost in concentration, in the doing of one's work; as she put it, "[I] become what I am doing."  That is one of the best remedies I know.  So, hammers and paintbrushes and nails and screws have been just what the doctor ordered (in this case my husband, who is a Ph.D. and not a "real" doctor, but he's pretty good in a pinch).  Speaking of my husband, have I told you that I have the best one in the world?  I know many of you do, too.  Aren't we lucky?  This morning mine brought me a bunch of unopened daffodils.  Each time I glanced at them throughout the day, they revealed a tiny bit more yellow.

Promise.  Just what I needed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The List

I mentioned a couple of posts back that my amazing friend Jackie had given me the Happy 101 Award, and I promised to make a list of 10 things that make me happy.  Recently I discovered that the lovely Luiza has given me this award, too.  Now, you all know that I've been feeling a bit blue, so as tickled as I was to receive the awards, honestly, I was struggling with even the thought of making a list.  At the same time, I really like the idea of such lists, as they can help shake one out of melancholia and other solipsistic tendencies. My own problems and worries, after all, are mine.  And they are tiny in the scheme of things.

Tonight I type at my desk.  Beneath my window, the city is uncharacteristically quiet.  No sirens wail, no car alarms squeal, no men roar with liquor and anger.  The world seems at peace, and yet I know that this is an illusion.  When I climb into bed, pictures of Haiti will stream through my mind.  What can we say or think in the face of such devastation?  My friend Lily wrote a beautiful post about Haiti and about painting and about breakfast and hope.  Her words left me thinking of beauty, and of making something good and true and real in the face of unbearable loss.  Sometimes it's the only way I know to defeat grief.  

and so we paint
and so we weave
and so we plant
and so we read
and so we teach
a child to care

and so we reach
beyond despair

Here's my list tonight of 10 things (in no particular order):

  1. Craft Hope for Haiti
  2. Doctors Without Borders
  3. American Red Cross
  4. Heifer International
  5. Care
  6. World Concern
  7. International Medical Corps
  8. Habitat for Humanity
  9. World Food Program
  10. Save the Children

Thinking of you tonight, grateful for what you give the world every single day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Week on My Street

Last spring and summer I did a few posts I called "This Week on My Street," showing the changes that are happening in the old industrial neighborhood where I live.  I thought I'd bring back the series with a glimpse at the excitement around here this winter.  When Todd and I bought our condo five years ago, we were some of the first fools people to invest in this very rundown part of an old textile mill town.  Some folks lovingly called it Heroin Alley.  It wasn't pretty.  It's still not what you'd call pretty, and to buy a place in one of the old mills on our street, you had to have faith that things would change.  You had to put up with streets lined with litter, graffiti, having your car windows bashed in (yes, this happened to us a couple of years ago, and it still happens regularly to folks who don't park in the new garage at night).  You had to put up with hookers outside (and sometimes inside) the door and addicts sleeping in the mill stairwell.  When we first moved in, our building had no real security.  We still don't have all that much, and the drama six floors down from us on the street often looks like an episode of "Cops."  In fact, some of the dramas inside our building have been, umm, scary.  Were we crazy?  Maybe.  Yet this old mill is beautiful, and we knew that we could make our little loft home.  We also knew that the city had big plans for this neighborhood.

Now, five years  later, we've seen big changes: historic buildings restored; monstrous, windowless cinderblock warehouses torn down; a new garage built; businesses moving into storefronts that had stood vacant for decades.  The new courthouse is going to be constructed just yards from our big old mill, and across the street is the best thing of all.  Above is a photo of the derelict mill that I look out at from my desk.  I took this photo last summer looking through the window screen.  Running in front of the mill is an old power canal that's really quite lovely.  Notice the old windows boarded over and painted green?  They'd been like that for many years.  I've always loved that old mill, but now, some changes are taking place . . .  

. . . gone are the boards, because, at last, the building is being renovated.  The best part is that the developers are turning it into artists' studios and retail space.  We already have lots of artists' studios in this city, but the demand is growing, and this newest development is going to be huge.  Imagine a cool studio of your very own right on the canal!  Yep, that's the canal in the photo above, frozen over.  Maybe we could go for a skate!


These days, when I wake up in the morning, I look out my window and see these men hard at work.  Right now, they are gutting everything.  I watch them take circular saws to the floor that they're standing on, which wasn't exactly stable to begin with, and then huge cranes lift sections of floor and carry it away.  Magic!  And they do it six floors up without safety harnesses.  This week we're having loads of snow, and they're working right through the storms.  With all those windows they almost look like bees in a honeycomb.

This last shot is the building from street level.  My building looks a lot like this, but with actual panes in the windows and niceties like floors and ceilings.  I know this isn't everyone's idea of home, but it has been a fascinating place to live for the last half decade.  Todd and I never go for the house on a cul-de-sac kind of thing.  I asked earlier, were we crazy.  Yes, I think we were, but I have this thing for old bricks and canals and massive beams and living high up over the city.  Due to some changes in our lives, it's likely that we won't stay here much longer.  Wonder where we'll end up next?  Anyone want to cast a vote?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Morning at Home: Birds, Books, and Blossoms

We are in cleaning mode this week around here, and as I rummaged through the house, shifting stacks of books and rearranging the dust, I suddenly felt like taking photos, something I haven't done very much lately.  So here are a few peeks into our little world.  The roses above are well past their prime, and I finally plucked the blooms from the stems to dry in a saucer, but before I did, I couldn't resist capturing their faded sweetness.

A few of our books.  Up on the top left corner next to A Gentle Madness--which is a wonderful book about bibliophiles--is one of my very favorite books: a first American edition of J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy.  He first wrote the play Peter Pan, and then later wrote the novel Peter and Wendy.  Both are pure magic.  Now that I type this, I'm realizing that A Gentle Madness and Peter and Wendy were both gifts from my mother to Todd.  The woman knows how to shop for books!

Above is the front color plate in an early edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's sweet volume, My Robin.  She is one of my favorite children's authors, so I was over the moon when Todd found this for me at a book market in London.

The rose petals after I plucked them.

A copy of Bright Wings, a new anthology of poems about birds, edited by Billy Collins.  I just picked this up at the Harvard Bookstore last week for a friend, but it's been sitting on my kitchen table for days.  This morning when I passed by the table, I noticed that Todd had placed my broken necklace on it for safekeeping.  I loved the way the necklace and the bird look side by side.

My first paperwhite bloom of the season!  It's leaning against a bowl of cacti for support, and it seems perfectly happy to be there.

Okay, these are probably angel wings, not bird wings, but they seemed to fit the theme.  I've collected antique keys for many years, and I like to leave bunches of them around the house, as if they could unlock whatever I need: doors, riddles, mysteries.  I often attach other trinkets and baubles to them, like these little vintage wings.  I have them hooked over the knob of my china hutch.

Remember the star of Bethlehem blossoms?  They're still going strong.  Today they found a home under the skylight, along with this sweet bluebird jam jar my friend Paula gave us for Christmas.  I think she found it at Anthropologie.  Does she know me or what?

Okay, so the house isn't looking much neater, but I find that the best part of cleaning days for me is revisiting some of my favorite things, seeing them fresh, and thinking about the people who gave them to me or the cool places where I found them.  I will never win any cleaning awards, or if I do, it will be something like World's Slowest Swiffer-er or Most Nostalgic Duster.  I can get lost in a pile of old cards or a shelf of books for hours.  It wasn't a productive day, but it was one of the best ones I've had in a long time.

Hope your weekend was sweet.  xo

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just Touching Base

These days words won't come, and yet I wanted to stop in and tell you I'm thinking of you.  These Star of Bethlehem blossoms say it better than I can.  Thank you for caring and for bringing me your own wise and witty words when I am silent.  I hope I can do the same for you when you need it.

Oh, and an extra special thanks to the beautiful Jackie for bestowing upon me the Happy 101 Award.  Whenever I am down, a visit to her amazing blog is just the lift I need.  I am working on my list of things that make me happy, and I promise to share it soon.  Actually, here's a head start: one of my favorite items on Jackie's list is laughter.  Last night I shared supper with my husband and our deeply funny friend Paula; we ate soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and hung out at her house with her dogs.  Paula made me laugh a lot and think a lot and even cry a little.  And all of these things made me happy.

Hugs to you.  G    

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Choice

(I took this photo on Portobello Road last summer; talk about joy!)

"We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy,
even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry."
~E.B. White

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In Search of Comfort

"There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere,

and we are all apt to expect too much;

but then, if one scheme of happiness fails,

human nature turns to another;

if the first calculation is wrong,

we make a second better:

we find comfort somewhere."  ~Jane Austen

I took these photos at Great Meadow in Concord, Massachusetts, this week.  Those of you who have read my blog since last spring know that this is one of my favorite spots.  While it's teeming with life most of the year, I almost prefer a still January day when the only sounds are distant planes, the crunch of feet on snow, and the tapping of a woodpecker across the Concord River.  This is a place of great comfort to me, and I need all the comfort I can find right now.  That's why I've also baked a chocolate cake.  What about you, my friends, where do you go or what do you do to seek comfort?  What thing, person, or activity brings you a measure of solace during a tough time?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Plaid Love for My Dad

All that talk about favorite colors in my last post got me thinking about my father.  Growing up, whenever we kids asked him what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday, he always answered, "world peace"; whenever we asked him his favorite color, he answered, "plaid."  Needless to say, this meant that he ended up opening a lot of long, thin boxes containing plaid neckties every Christmas.

We all feigned annoyance with my father for not ever revealing one favorite color, but I think we actually loved it.  My dad wore plaid nearly every day, whether on a pair of Bermuda shorts, or a tweedy jacket, a narrow plaid band around a porkpie hat, or, of course, a plaid flannel work shirt.  He didn't discriminate, except for pastels.  I don't recall seeing him in any green & pink plaid during the preppie 80's.  That was definitely not his style.  All others were welcome, and in the 70's he was often known to sport a few different plaids in a single outfit.  He was a handsome guy, and he somehow always made it look charming.

I'm missing him tonight, so I went out hunting on the internet for some of the handsome and the pretty plaids on the web right now.  I celebrate my dad for never settling on just one favorite color.  Why bother when you can have 'em all?  

From Luisa Beccaria via Perfect Bound

Eames Ottoman and Lounge Chair found at Apartment Therapy

From Toast

Glen Plaid Lowball Glasses from Ralph Lauren

From LL Bean

This last one is a classic, of course--the LL Bean plaid shirt.  Being a Frenchman from Maine who chopped his own wood and taught us all how to become pretty good shots with a bow and arrow, he wore a lot of shirts very much like this one.  Today hipsters wear plaid ironically, in a geeky/cool way on their wellies or their glasses, but I'm still a sucker for un-ironic, straightforward, Stanley-thermos, wool-blanket plaid.  When I was growing up in Maine, there was a terrible joke that boys used to tell: "What's the difference between a moose and a girl from Maine?  Moose don't wear plaid shirts."  Jerks!  Boys can be so mean.  I don't care, I still love plaid, and I love this memory of my dad's "favorite color."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Aqua Love

I was recently shuffling through my Flickr favorites,
and this color kept appearing again and again.

It must be love.

What's your current color crush?

NOTE: Mad Mags, whose gorgeous photo I included in this mosaic, pointed out that I hadn't asked her for permission to include her photo in my flickr favorites mosaic.  I feel just terrible about this because I so, so believe in the importance of respecting each other's copyright.  I posted these photos because I love them and admire the photographers who took them, but what was I thinking?  I always ask for permission.  My intention was to celebrate these photographers, so I feel terrible about this.  I have removed the photos from this post, but I've let the links to the photostreams remain, because I hope you will visit the work of these amazing folks.  If you are one of these photographers, please let me know if you would like the link to your photostream removed, too.  I'll happily oblige.

I recently made my own copyright statement on this blog more emphatic because my own photos are showing up on the internet without any link or attribution whatsoever, as I am sure many people's are.  The internet is such a great place to share images and ideas, but it also makes it an increasing challenge to protect copyright--our own as well as others.  Mags has made me realize how easy it is to infringe upon someone else's copyright, even when one is trying to respect it.  I must be much more diligent and responsible about this in future.  Thanks, Mags; I so appreciate your comment.

Thanks, too, blogging friends, for your wonderful comments.  I'm thinking color, color, color right now!  In fact, stay tuned for more color in my next post!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."

~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

Best wishes to you as you make your ends and beginnings.  
Thank you for a beautiful year past 
and the promise of even more 
of your wit, sparkle, and inspiration in the year ahead.

xo Gigi