I am thrilled that my friend Angela Negro is contributing the first guest Legacy post. Her blog, Signed by Ange, is one of my favorite places to visit for wisdom, a really good, deep laugh, and a great story. Ange lives in France with her husband and her "messmonsters," where she creates gorgeous art, engages in some serious renovation projects, homeschools said messmonsters, and oh so much more. She is a an athlete, a traveler, an artist, a mother, a teacher, and, as she says on her website, a wordsmith, whose commitment to the literacy of women and girls, to beauty, and to the encouragement of those around her inspires me more than I can say. Read on and you'll see just what I mean.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Debi at Emma Tree has offered a challenge to respond to the phrase "Just sit there and look pretty." As soon as I read her challenge I knew I had to participate, because pretty and I have a troubled past.
I don't think I am unusual. Pretty is something I have alternately rejected and longed to be. I have allowed my self esteem to be bound up in pretty. Smart and funny and creative and caring are in there, too, but they don't cause me nearly as many problems as pretty.
In a few weeks I'll turn 43, and what do I think of pretty as I introduce her to middle age? Well, I don't think they'll get along very well either, but I'll tell you one thing, smart and funny and creative and caring just keep getting better and better all the time.
In response to Debi's challenge I decided to make a paper collage, and as I cut and pasted, this image of Rapunzel emerged from the clippings and flowery bits. I have long studied and taught the history of fairy tales; they are part of who I am. Like many girls, I was raised on them. Of course, in the 70's there were far fewer Disney versions, so I actually read many, many fairy tales from books. These days there are countless new versions of tales, including the retellings that are meant to empower girls rather than make them feel like damsels in distress.
And yet, the old tales persist. In some, the female protagonists were actually quite powerful, but in others, like poor Rapunzel here, they were passive characters around which everything revolved. Rapunzel just sits in that tower day after day, letting her long golden braid down for the evil witch to climb. Eventually the prince discovers her and shimmies on up to her tower, but Rapunzel's job throughout the story is to sit there in the tower (and then later in the wilderness) and look pretty. She is rewarded for all the pretty sitting with a happily ever after of her very own.
I recall many Rapunzel nights in my youth, sitting by the phone (which was, of course, attached to a wall by a cord, so I might as well have been in a tower) for some prince of a boyfriend to call. In fact, I remember an awful lot of time in my youth wasted on wanting to be prettier. And now that I'm heading into the age when I could be labeled a "cougar" or a "matron" or some other equally ugly tag depending on how I choose to dress, I still waste time and money on special creams and lotions and potions to make me appear youthful. Maybe I no longer identify with the young heroines of fairy tales. Maybe now I am the evil queen in Snow White, asking my mirror who is the fairest of them all, whipping up concoctions made of roots and leaves and spider's legs. Which leads me to this question: notice how the older women in so many (but not all) fairy tales are depicted as evil while the young girls are good? I think this has everything to do with power. We are not evil; we are powerful, and that can be frightening, even threatening to others who would like us to sit there and look pretty.
As women age, we become forces of nature, full of wisdom and strength. No tower can contain us, no king can control us. We are the makers our own ever afters.
Go check out Debi's amazing blog for links to others who are participating in this challenge! xo
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
A few weeks ago I mentioned that our new place has a sunporch. What a joy it is! I step up into it from my study, and it is the perfect place to take photographs with its two walls of windows, two windowed doors, and one wall of white-painted bricks. Plus, my herbs and houseplants love it there.
I bought a huge bouquet of cosmos at the farmers' market early in the morning yesterday and placed them in vases and bottles all over the house. Out on the sunporch they fairly sing.
Next week I'll begin a new series here on The Magpie's Fancy called "Legacy." The series will focus on the people, things, and ideals that we value. In my little Blogger profile I state that I am a seeker of things that shine from within. That's not just a pretty thing to say. I truly mean it. While a bit of surface flash does catch my magpie eye, what I really cherish is a deep, burnished inner glow in people and stories and places. Several talented friends will be joining me in the coming weeks to share their thoughts. Each one of them definitely shines from within. I can't wait to read their thoughts and study their pictures.
Meanwhile, the leaves have started to turn here in New England. Time for cider and apple crisp. I will be gathering up the last blossoms of the season and treasuring them until the first hard frost.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Todd and I went adventuring this morning and wound up at Old Orchard Beach--the classic seaside town, complete with boardwalk, amusement park, arcade, and pizza that you have to dab with your napkin to soak up the grease.
It is always a joy to take photos at amusement parks and carnivals, but I find it especially so when the park has closed down for the season. Instant ambiance, melancholy, nostalgia, and longing.
My family didn't really visit amusement parks when I was a kid. I think I only went to Old Orchard once or twice, but even so, its images have remained etched in my brain all these years. While it's more built up now, the essential things remain pretty much the same.
As you know, I'm a girl who likes a bit of melancholy, so a beach resort town on a cloudy day in September is right up my alley. To get a little of this same feeling for yourself, simply watch this Morrissey video of "Every Day Is Like Sunday." Oh, and just for your knowledge and amusement, I should add that back around 1990, I basically thought I was the girl in the video.
Hope you're having a lovely Sunday, my friends. xo
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I've been at work in my new study all day, a room that has become the favorite hangout of the cats and that also has become, truth be told, my favorite hangout, too. Our apartment now possesses that wonderful lived-in-one-month feeling: still clean and fairly organized, but homey, too. Muscle memory has begun to shift to new faucet handles and furniture placement, and the smells and sounds are becoming familiar--a blend of our own soaps and spices and candles along with the wood and paint scent of this old former rectory.
Soon I'll share photos of this unique place. For now, I'll tell you that my workshop has a special step that leads up to a French door. That door in turn leads out to a glass porch which has become the home of plants and herbs and a little pottery fountain filled with favorite stones. I let the fountain run all afternoon while I work and the cats nap. There is a comfort in this even as I work on writing that is not always pleasant or easy.
And then there is life with which to contend. I worry too much. I fret about things I cannot control. I long to protect the people I love. We all do this, yes, and it's part of what makes us whole. When I can't fix problems, when I can't make things right, when I can't help someone get well again or find them a new job or give them whatever it is they need for body and soul, I reach for what I know: a word or two of comfort, a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl. I measure what I can give, and try to make each portion a little larger, a little fuller, a little richer than before. What more can we offer in hard times than our best selves?
In terms of giving, I know of few things more comforting than a bowl of risotto after a long hard day. I made this one, and Todd and I scooped spoonfuls into our mouths as fast as we could, dipping straight into the pot for seconds. It's a variation of a wonderful recipe by Nigella Lawson (from Nigella Bites). Mine takes many, many liberties, and is very playful. You can vary risotto to suit your tastes and what you've got in your pantry. I've made dozens and dozens of risottos, and I rarely make any two the same!
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side
- Very finely mince one scallion or a couple of shallots and one stalk of celery.
- In a large saucepan, saute the minced vegetables in one Tablespoon olive oil and two Tablespoons butter.
- Add 1 1/3 cup arborio rice. Saute for a minute or so.
- At this point I begin ladling in warm vegetable stock. I make my own stock, but you can use good store-bought stock. It's important to keep it warm on the stove and ladle it in as needed. The amount you'll need will vary depending on the weather and how humid a day it is. As you add a ladleful of stock, stir the risotto. Add another ladle when the mixture thickens. Keep letting the rice absorb the stock before you add more liquid. Some people like relatively soupy risotto while others like it thicker. That's up to you. The most important thing is that the rice be cooked all the way through. It should be creamy when you taste it, but with just a little chew, like great al dente pasta. It takes less than a half hour to reach that wonderful creamy consistency.
- Once the rice is nearly finished, I stir in the zest of a lemon and some finely chopped fresh thyme and parsley. Basil would be nice, too. Nigella uses rosemary, but I like milder herbs for this.
- At this point, I take the risotto off the heat.
- In a little bowl I whisk an egg yolk, a few Tablespoons of sour cream or heavy cream, the juice of half a lemon, and a few Tablespoons of grated parmesano reggiano, then I pour this whole mixture into the risotto.
- Give it a stir, spoon it into bowls.
- Top each bowl with a little more grated cheese, a sprinkling of the fresh herbs, salt and freshly grated pepper, and a little bit of butter. Let the butter pool on top.
- Sigh at the sight of your beautiful creation, and then dig in. Pure comfort in a bowl.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
One summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. We all got ringworm from some kittens and had to rub Pond's Extract on our arms and legs night and morning, and my father rolled over in a canoe with all his clothes on; but outside of that the vacation was a success and from then on none of us ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake in Maine. We returned summer after summer--always on August 1st for one month. I have since become a salt-water man, but sometimes in summer there are days when the restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind which blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods.
~E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake," 1941
Much has changed in Maine since E.B. White wrote his beautiful essay about returning with his son to the lake of his own childhood. The road to many weekend escapes is now lined by strip malls packed with Wendy's and Pizza Huts; most cottages come equipped with wi-fi access and cable TV; and the calm of the lake is disturbed by the incessant buzz of jet skis.
However, if you rise early enough and glide out onto the lake in your canoe, you can be the first one on the water. You can paddle in the cradle of the lake with the sun rising on one side and the moon sinking on the other.
And in the afternoon, there are still porch rockers for lounging and porch beds for naps.
And, of course, there are docks for leaping.
I can think of no better place for a birthday . . .
or a campfire . . .
or a morning sleep-in.
This past week I took a series of portraits of my family on this very dock using this very pink bentwood chair as a prop. Something about the chair all by itself spoke to me, too. What a place to sit and listen for the loons at sunset or watch for the bald eagle who lives nearby. Here a body can forget the rumble and rush of the world and settle into a quiet rhythm all its own.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
In the spirit of my friend Relyn's blog, I thought I'd make a list of a few things that are bringing me joy this week. Relyn is the best list-maker I know. Seriously, I can't compare, but here goes:
the portland farmers' market
fresh lavender growing on my porch
anticipating this year's common ground fair
the olive-green j. herbin ink i bought for todd
this post at mortal muses featuring one of my photos!the photo above of my nephew cannon-balling into the lake
the baby gull who lives with his mum on the rooftop next door
this book (soon i'll have the cleanest house ever)
this post about delhi by my friend lily
the imminent arrival of autumn
did i mention otto pizza?
my new neighborhood
my sweet, lazy cats