Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cabbages & Roses

Spring inspiration from Cabbages & Roses--  
nooks and rooms I could move right into.
I know what you're thinking:
staged & styled rooms?"

Well, yes I was.
What can I say?  
I'm fickle.

By the way, 
how come when I leave books in piles on the floor
it looks like a mess, 
but when they do
it looks chic?

For even more ideas, visit here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Maine Maple Sunday

Yesterday was Maine Maple Sunday, with syrup farmers all over the state opening up their sugar shacks for tours and tastings.  We visited Merrifield Farm in Gorham, where the wait was over an hour in freezing temperatures just to get in to see and smell the sap boiling.  New Englanders and Canadians take their maple syrup seriously, so it was well worth the wait--plus there were pancakes served with fresh syrup, maple cotton candy, ice cream with syrup (yes people ate it in the cold), samples of maple cream, ox cart rides, live string band music, and much more.

The entrance to the sugar house.  Folks were still smiling after the hour wait.  

The farmer gave everyone samples of dark maple sugar--incredible!

Boiling the sap.  It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup.  The syrup season runs for just a few weeks in the early spring, thus explaining the high price of maple syrup.  These farmers work incredibly hard, and they don't get rich from producing maple syrup.  It is definitely a labor of love.

My favorite part of the morning was heading out back where syrup was boiling the old fashioned way in large kettles over wood fires.  It smelled like the best breakfast you've ever tasted.  

These are vintage maple sap buckets.  Most farmers don't use these buckets anymore, opting instead for a system of plastic tubing, but I love these old beauties.  You can still find them at flea markets around New England or online through dealers.  I like to use them as planters.

What a sweet Sunday.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Fairy Village of Mackworth Island

To find it you must travel toward the far side of the island 
where the trees grow denser, casting long shadows across your path.

The fairies of Mackworth like the shelter of towering trees, 
but they also love clearings where the sun shines golden--

--all the better for seeking and finding building supplies for the village.

The most elegant homes are deeper in the forest, 

where the fairies have lived for generations.

But closer to the water's edge, young fairies 
have tossed up McMansions
twice the size of their parents' well-built abodes.

Some are cute, but shoddily built;

others use age-old techniques,
built to weather the island's storms.

While most fairies prefer homes on the ground, 
some have built penthouses 
with glorious ocean views,

or sweet efficiencies

with room for just one or two.

They don't mind if we visit,
but they'll roll out a glittering carpet of frost for our departure,
always anxious to see the back of humans,
who, though well meaning,
are rather bumbling
and not quite clever enough
to understand the plans and schemes
and dreams of the Mackworth fairy folk. 

A New Day . . .

. . . a new daisy.  Actually, it's the same daisy, but in a whole different way.  I'm thinking about revision a lot these days, about re-seeing not just writing, but life in general.  Todd and I revised our whole life this year, which meant a radical departure and a coming home, which isn't all that unusual, as Dorothy and Toto once learned a long time ago.   

If you're looking for this week's Freewrite Friday, it's over at its new home at The Magpie's Pen, where we're thinking about animals today.  We'll be talking about revising over there in the coming weeks, too.  Writing is good, but revising is even better, especially when you know that there are others out there cheering you on.  Writing, like life, can be such lonely work, which is one of the many reasons I started up The Magpie's Pen.  Even lone wolves need to know that there's someone else in the forest to hear their howl.

I hope your weekend will be filled with good things.  My plans include a visit to a maple sugar house.  A good thing, indeed.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


"Just living is not enough.  
One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
~Hans Christian Andersen

I took a series of shots of this Gerbera daisy this morning, and this one sang to me.  It has the color and light I crave and that spring promises.  My friend Sande mentioned on her blog that we all seem to be craving sunshine a little more this year than usual.  It was a hard winter for so many.  May spring bring sunshine, freedom, and a little flower to everyone who needs it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Little Light

From here.

Ah, spring.  Well, the calendar says it's spring, but the weather, well, that's another story.  Dark, cold, snowy.  I shall make my own light . . . perhaps with the oxidized filigree sphere from Terrain.  Or maybe with the sequoia cone pendant from Anthropologie

From here.

Or perhaps I'll use one or two of these lovelies below from Mothology.    

From here.
Is it just me, or does spring make everyone want to redecorate?
I'm craving shimmer and color.
I'm also craving light--lots of it.
What are you craving?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fly Over to The Magpie's Pen for a Freewrite

Just a note to let you know that there's a new Freewrite Friday up

Fly on over, if you're in need of some 
writing inspiration--
or if you just want to discover 
where I found this marvelous door!

P.S. Thanks for the great comments about kicking the door down
(or knocking, or slipping a letter in, or giving it a poke).

I'll keep you posted.  xo

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Today I'm thinking about mysteries--
doors left unopened.  
I'm thinking about what if.  
I'm thinking, what the hell.  
I'm thinking about turning the knob, 
lifting the latch, 
or just kicking down the damn door.  
There's so much to do, so much to see, 
so much I haven't imagined yet . . .
waiting on the other side.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Love and Other Magic Spells

Warm thanks to friends who've sent well wishes
via comments, emails, and smoke signals
about the new blog, The Magpie's Pen.

I'm having a grand time over there,
concocting thoughts and prompts
and other sorts of inspiration
for all my writerly friends.

And The Magpie's Fancy
will stay put right
here. In fact,
I've got a
bit of

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Magpie's Pen

Okay, my friends, it's up and running!
From now on, The Magpie's Pen will be the new home of Freewrite Fridays . . .
. . . and much, much more,
all designed to keep your pen moving 
and your fingers typing.

I hope you'll fly on over there for a visit.

Monday, March 7, 2011


It's a quiet day of catching up on work--lots of it--and preparing the new Magpie's Pen blog for its debut on Friday.  I am sure I won't have all the kinks worked out yet, but I know you'll understand that like any labor of love, it is a work in progress.  Mostly I am just happy to be creating a space for writing exercises, resources, and for thinking about sentences and books and the people who craft them..

In the meantime, there are other writing projects to finish up, submissions to send out, and other people's texts to edit.  So many words, so little time!  Some days my life feels like giant stacks of papers and books, teetering on the edge of some great old, dusty desk, ready to come tumbling down if someone sneezes.  It's not a bad life, but a precarious one, and then there are always the pencils to sharpen, the cups of tea to brew, and the t's to cross with a flourish.  

A writer's life is extremes of great activity followed by long periods of stillness.  We need to live in order to have something to write about, but we also must love solitude and hours of quiet.  Maybe "love" isn't the right word.  "Need" is probably better.  I know I have friends who are reading this right now and nodding their heads.  That's why I love you.  Well, one of the many reasons why I do.

Tonight I'll make some great potato stew, the inspiration for which I found here, and Mr. Magpie and I will watch a movie in the living room to take a short break from all these words.  And yet, we won't escape them entirely, for there are the shelves and shelves of books around us and the small portrait hanging quietly on the wall of that great and wild poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.  No matter what we do, he's there, reminding us every night of our purpose and our passion.  Reminding us that to be heard we must spend hours keeping ever so still, keeping ever so quiet.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Freewrite Friday: Five Easy Pieces (Plus a Big Announcement!)

I have an exciting announcement about Freewrite Fridays.  After this week, Freewrite Fridays will be moving to a new home: The Magpie's Pen!  The new site hasn't gone live yet, as I'm working on some finishing touches, but it will be up and running by next Friday.  Check back here then, and I'll have a link  for you.  In addition to Freewrite Fridays, The Magpie's Pen will be the home of loads of writing inspiration, tips, and links.  If you've been enjoying the Freewrite Fridays series, I hope you'll fly on over to The Magpie's Pen to continue on with the fun.  I'll be including photo prompts, quick exercises, and also some lessons on craft, process, and revision.

When I'm not writing or editing, I spend a good deal of time teaching others how to write, so there will also be information there about my tutoring services.  I work with students via Skype, email, and snail mail.  My purpose is simple: I help people become better writers.  I do this by focusing on writing as a process, and by helping students learn essentials of their craft at the same time they are learning ways to stay motivated and disciplined.  There will be much more information about the tutorials at the new site.  I'm so excited about The Magpie's Pen that I can barely contain myself!  I so hope you'll pay a visit.

You may be wondering what will happen to The Magpie's Fancy.  "It's barely a toddler," you're thinking,  "and she's abandoning it!"  But no, I'm not.  This blog will stay right here, and I'll keep on photographing and writing about everyday life, recipes, vintage finds, wildlife, musings, and my many other magpie obsessions.

And now for this week's exercise.  I am actually recycling one of my all-time favorite exercises this time.  I posted this back in the very early days of the blog, and it's too good not to share one more time.  It will sound a little wild at first, but take a leap of faith and see what happens.  If you give this one a try, please let me know or share a link in the comments!  Oh, and that reminds me, Kamana shared a link to her wonderful take on last week's Scent Exercise.

Five Easy Pieces (reposted from May 26, 2009)

I want to share a writing exercise that I do with my poetry workshop students.  It is not one that I invented, but it is one of my favorites, partly because I borrowed it.  It's like a good recipe for blueberry cake that you've borrowed and made your own, adapting for your fussy oven, your particular love of cinnamon, or your passion for an extra crumbly top.  It's also one that I wait to spring on students until the last week or so of class because it takes some trust to make it work--trust in oneself, in the process, in the person who is asking one to do it.  Even then, some students think it's pretty crazy.  Others, though, create something magical from this foundation.  It works well for writing poems, but it can work for prose, too.

The exercise is called "Five Easy Pieces," and it was created by the poet Richard Jackson, one of my graduate school professors.  I actually never did this exercise with him.  Instead, I found it in The Practice of Poetry, a collection of writing exercises edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.  

Robin was my MFA thesis advisor, so this book is near and dear to my heart, but it is also just a fantastic book for days when one is stuck or needs a new direction to try.  So here goes:

"This exercise, " writes Jackson, "attempts to tell a whole story in a quick scene.  It is to be written in five sentences. . . . There are two preparation steps.  The first step is to remember a person you know well. . . .  The second step is to imagine a place where you find the person.  Then you are ready for the five easy pieces."

  1. Describe the person's hands.
  2. Describe something he or she is doing with the hands.
  3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
  4. Mention what you would want to ask the person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
  5. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggest he or she only gets part of what you asked.
About the exercise, Jackson writes, "it is useful in showing how a poem can condense narrative and characterization, how it can quickly shift focus like a photographer going wild with a zoom lens, how images reveal stories behind them simply by knocking against other images and perspectives, how you can use dialogue in a poem--each time I use it I've found different uses."

And I have found my own uses for it, too, but I'd love to hear from other folks about it.  If you try it, please let me know how it works for you!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At Home

I've been looking at a lot of photographs of people's homes lately.  Not photos that were staged by stylists and lit by photographers, but everyday photographs in natural light, and I've been loving them.

This afternoon I went around our apartment--the place we're living for a year or two until we can sell our loft in Massachusetts and buy a house up here.  For a temporary house, this place has loads of charm, and we immediately felt at home here.  There's plenty of room for my magpie collections and our books. Oh, and a bed of some sort (red wagon, wicker basket, old suitcase . . .) for Scout in every room.  

I purposely didn't stage anything.  Everything's as-is in these photos, dust and all.  I'm sick of staged home photos.  What I like to see are the everyday traces of lives lived.  We all leave a mark on each day--by the things we wear, the words we say, the objects we use, and the way we move through the world.  That's what I love.  That's what inspires me.  

Everyday bling in the bathroom.

We collect and write with fountain pens, 
so there's always ink in cubbies and drawers.

I buy beat-up old medicine cabinets at flea markets, 
sand them, paint them, and use them 
to store curios, spices, books, etc.


A long hallway runs like a spine through this apartment 
with our kitchen at the head.  
Near the kitchen entrance is an old brick arch,  
and that's another of my medicine cabinets on the wall.  
This one stores spices and essential oils.
Yes, that's Bananagrams on the hutch.
Our kitchen walls are covered floor-to-ceiling 
with the original subway tiles.  
I love the border of black tiles near the ceiling.

Like our kitchen, 
the bathroom is tiled in white with black.  
The bird vase is from my friend Melissa.  

This step in my study leads out to the sunporch.  
It's too cold out there in the winter, 
so the step becomes a book shelf and landing spot 
for random plants and paintings.

These vintage suitcases store CD's 
and double as an end table.

Last but not least, the boots.  
You know we love our boots around here, 
but there's no place to store them, 
so we decided that they are art.
As I type that I realize 
that so much depends upon 
how we choose to see and value things.  
The small stones in the first photo
are some of the heart-shaped stones
I have collected over the past couple of years.
Once I spot them, gather them, 
slip them into my pocket,
they become talismans--

they become what I need them to be.

This "home-for-now" has done the same;

it is just what I need it to be.

More photos soon.  
Can't wait to show you my old pilasters 
and favorite books!