Sunday, January 29, 2012

For You . . .

. . . with love and ranunculus blooms.  
Wishing you a week of beauty and adventure.  
Welcome to new followers and subscribers, and thank you to old friends.

Special thanks to Marilyn over at Delights of the Heart for trying out last week's Five-Minute Freewrite.  You can read her freewrite here.  
I'll post another exercise later this week.  
x Gigi 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pudding Days

What is it about ice storms and cold that sends me running for a spoon and bowl?  I can't seem to stop making pudding this winter.  This evening, after dinner, Mr. Magpie said, "So, what kind will it be tonight?"  The man knows me so well.  What kind, indeed.  A simple chocolate it was.  No whipped cream or fancy sprinkles.  Just the pudding, plain and pure.  Other nights it's been butterscotch.  Next week it will probably be banana (trust me when I say this recipe's special . . . and decadent).  I can barely wait.

P.S. Aren't those sweet polka-dot pudding cups?  My sister found them for me at Goodwill about a hundred years ago, and I've used them nearly every time I've made pudding since then.  My sister's the best.   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Five-Minute Freewrite: Remember

It's been ages since I offered a writing exercise--not for lack of desire, but because my life, tutoring, photography, and writing (big writing projects in the works that I can't tell you about just yet)  haven't left me time.  I want desperately to keep going with The Magpie's Pen, but the reality for now is that I cannot, so I'll toss some exercises in here from time to time.  

Some of my favorite writing exercises are quick, five-minute ones you can do anywhere, anytime.  I find that there's never an excuse for not writing when I can always find five minutes in my day to pull out my pen and writing notebook.  I find some of my favorite raw material this way.  Here's the instructions, followed by my own freewrite.  If you give it a whirl, please let me know how it goes! 

The Exercise: Find a photograph you took two years ago.  Choose one that evokes a very particular memory.  Study it for a minute or two, then open up your writing notebook (if you don't have one use whatever paper you have on hand, but then go out and find a notebook to make your very own just as soon as you possibly can!), set your watch/phone/clock/kitchen timer for five minutes and go.  Don't stop or edit or worry about grammar.  Just write what you remember about that photograph, that day, the mood, the light, the smells, sounds, and sights.  If your mind leaps from the memory to something else, follow it.  Just keep your pen moving until the five minutes are up.

My Photograph and Freewrite:

The feel of cold sand against the palms of your hands, the rush of wind between untucked shirt and skin, and then the wish for five more minutes of daylight.  This must be what it feels like to die.  You imagine there is never enough time for the search, treasure map in hand, pocketful of nothing but a washed and dried receipt, palimpsest of inked purchases, of wants and perceived needs--when all around you there are plates and bins and trays of time that you leave behind, never taste, never try.  Your feet grow cold, shadows on the snow turn blue.  From somewhere at the edge of the marsh comes a wild cry.


I'd love to hear about your freewrite.  If you try this, feel free to share a favorite line in the comments.  I promise to share more exercises very soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Candlelit Breakfast

The cats woke me at dawn with cries for food and love and the sound of my slippers shuffling down the hall to start the rhythm of their day.  I filled their china bowls, shifted the curtains, watched the first flakes of another storm, then turned with a shiver to put the kettle on.

In the bedroom my love still lay asleep, wrapped in cotton and linen and the shifting pictures of a morning dream.  Here, in the tiled kitchen, I lit a matchstick, let it touch each candle on the table until I'd burned the match to its quick and the wicks flickered gold against the grey.

I scooped silver forks and spoons from their chest, set out the Polish amber crystal for juice, glazed blackberries with maple syrup until they glittered like onyx.  

The spiced pumpkin pancakes sizzling in the skillet were not silver dollars, but rich, golden coins.  True, you can't buy love, I thought, but breakfast makes a good trade.  

The kettle whistled, my love awoke, and now full of all they needed, the cats fell back asleep in their rocking chair, lulled by our soft laughter and the schoosh, schoosh, schoosh of snow blowing against the slate roof of the church next door.  

My heart, now full, found the rhythm of its day.  


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goldilocks Goes House Hunting

This is one of those grainy realtor photos that you find on Trulia or  Not a great shot, horrible lighting, and awkwardly cropped, and yet . . . and yet.  

After months of clicking through homes and feeling like Goldilocks--this one's too big, this one's too small, this one's outrageously overpriced AND too small, this one has no soul, this one has lots of soul but no yard, this one's a gem but in a run-down neighborhood (I've rented and owned my share of those, thank you very much)--I stumbled last week upon a fixer-upper.  That's a glimpse of the living room in the photo above.  It's a Victorian on a pretty, tree-lined street in one of my favorite neighborhoods.  It's near coffee shops, restaurants, and nature trails, it has a large old barn out back and, while the yard is on the small side, there's plenty of room for gardening.

Most of all, it has rooms like this one: hardwood floors, lovely woodwork, two slate fireplaces, and loads of potential.  It's cheap because it needs work, and it has beautiful bones.  Like Goldilocks finding Baby Bear's porridge, when I gaze at the photos, I think to myself, "perhaps it could be just right."

Only one other house has made my heart sing quite like this one during my search these past several months.  It was a pretty Greek Revival with parquet floors that sold for tuppence last June.  Four months later, it was back on the market for twice the amount.  Someone had bought it, "fixed it up" very cheaply (and I think poorly), and turned it over.  Believe me, I know the very same thing could happen with this one if we don't move quickly.  

And yet . . . and yet.  I hesitate.  It's not the fact that the house needs TLC that makes me pause.  That has never scared me before.  In fact, Mr. Magpie and I have bought two homes before, and both times we jumped in without a second thought.  We made an offer on our first home after looking for just one day.  Our offer was accepted and we were moved into the house in a month's time.  We bought the second home, a loft in an old textile mill, while it was still under construction.  In fact, it was basically just a white box with some windows overlooking a canal the day we made our offer.  That's how we've always rolled when it comes to buying homes.  We love it, so we take the leap.

What's different this time?  Honestly, I think it's age and life experience.  I think it is finally finding (or in our case, coming back to) a city we love and can imagine staying in for the rest of our lives.  One might think this would make us more willing to dive in even faster, buy a place, stake our claim.  Instead, we are taking our time, proceeding with caution, tasting many, many bowls of porridge before deciding which one is just right.  I don't mean perfect, nor do I mean lavish.  I think the right home has more to do with a gut feeling than designer back splashes and custom shower heads.  While those things are dreamy, what makes me stop in my tracks when I see certain homes has much more to do with the way sunlight falls on the wooden floors or the care a master craftsman took a hundred years ago when he built the front stairs.  

And all this brings me to wondering what you love in a house.  I'd love to hear what makes a certain entryway or kitchen or porch feel just right to you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sustenance: An Exhibition by Michael and Christine Jones

Generations, by Michael Jones, 2011, oil and charcoal on canvas, 20"x20"

. . . We grow, 
we sustain, we wait for purple stars of Spring.
~Excerpt from "Rotondo Farm" by Christine Jones, 2011

In keeping with my word for the year, inspire, I thought I'd share the work of two people whose approach to art and life never ceases to inspire me.  I first met poet Christine Jones and her husband, painter Michael Jones, a couple of years ago when I began working with Christine on her poetry.  Since then, I've had the good fortune of meeting with Christine on a regular basis, and I've watched her poems grow and blossom into rich reflections on her many passions, including running, swimming, gardening, and writing, to name just a few.  Some of her recent work appears in The Offering, published by the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Michael is a professional painter and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell where he teaches Art Law and directs the Legal Studies Program.  The U.S. Olympic Committee commissioned him to create the Triathlon poster for the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Olympic Games.  He painted the official portrait of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and his paintings have been exhibited at museums throughout the world.

Rotondo Farm: Winter Farm Stand by Michael Jones, oil on canvas, 2011, 24"x48"

Over the past two years, Michael and Christine have shown collaborative exhibitions of her poetry and his oil paintings at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Tsongas Gallery in Concord, Massachusetts.  This month they have a new exhibition at the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell, Massachusetts.  

The exhibition, Sustenance, demonstrates a careful attentiveness to the everyday, especially as it pertains to the natural world.  As they write in their artists' statement: "Our paintings and poems reflect our joy of the discoveries and simple pleasures we find together every day.  A farm stand under snow reminds us, a hole-punch in the raven sky reminds us, and sprouts in a Dixie Cup remind us that in nature there is something to sustain each one of us."

The couple have two homes in Massachusetts, one on Cape Cod, and the other in the Merrimack Valley, thus their work is inspired by the waves and sand dunes of the Atlantic as well as the quiet peace of inland farms and Thoreau's Walden Pond.

Rotondo Farm: Fall Farm Stand by Michael Jones, oil on canvas, 2011, 24"x48"

For weeks
we waited for the seeds 
we planted
in Dixie Cups 
to become winged leaves . . .
~Excerpt from "The Garden Series I" by Christine Jones, 2011

While the show runs until February 24, I'm excited to say that there will be a reading and exhibition reception this coming Saturday, January 21, from 2-4 p.m.  Directions to the museum can be found here.  Christine will be sharing some of her poems, and it promises to be a wonderful event.  I for one can't wait!  For more information about the show and the artists, visit the Whistler House Museum's website.

I've worked with hundreds of writing students and poets over the years, and few have had the commitment to the process of revision--of re-seeing a work--as Christine does.  I want to share one more excerpt from a poem that she revised many times.  Her persistence and patience were met with a poem that the reader wants to return to again and again, discovering something new each time.  I'll end here with the poem's first few lines:

Time is not a bird.
It does not fly.

It is the branch when the bird alights
shaking the leaves to wake the wind.
It comes right in.
~Excerpt from "Time is Not a Bird" by Christine Jones, 2011

Friday, January 13, 2012

Story Fragment

Before the heaviest snows came, the girl walked for many miles, her feet echoing over wooden bridges,  clambering over tree roots, and shuffling through leaves tattered as forgotten letters.

She never followed railroad tracks, preferring to cross them and move on, off into the cover of the forest.  She was not sure what she sought, but her feet and her heart knew she wouldn't find it in the cities where the railway led.

Each night she made her bed from the forgotten leaves, with pine needles as her pillow.

Always the towers of distant cities beckoned to her, but still she moved on, deeper into the wild.  As winter slipped further into its icy slumber, ponds and lakes froze, turning to silver mirrors that reflected the sky.  Sometimes the girl slid and spun across the glass surface, pretending the clouds were beneath her and she was a red-tailed hawk, circling the world below in great, sweeping gyres.  Often, she broke small bits from the edges of the sky to hold in her mouth, letting the ice melt and and slip down her throat, making her shimmer inside.  

In her pack she carried a folding knife and bits of hard crackers and a notebook and pencil for remembering small but important things.  She wasn't lonely as she walked among trees and grasses and reeds.  She knew the calls of birds and the chatter of squirrels.  She knew the comings and goings of foxes.  She knew the way of things--how they begin and how they end and all the in-betweens.

She knew nothing is certain, all is ever-changing, for she had seen in winters past how even the thickest  of ice melts and the sky returns to its proper place in the heavens.  Yet she came to value uncertainty as much as her trusty knife and pencil.  Long ago, the old man had taught her that everything we fear can be honed and shaped into the finest of tools.  She had sharpened and polished uncertainty until it glistened each evening in the light of the setting sun.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Year and a Word II

By Marlowe Miller

Already it's January 11th, and I haven't told you my word for the year yet.  Last year's word was grace, and I loved that word, mostly because it helped me to look closely, to seek grace in each day.  And on those days when I went looking and didn't find it, I gradually realized that if I sat still long enough, grace would find me.  Part of the process was just breathing and being and noticing the small gifts each day brings.  The other parts were more challenging.  I focused on complaining less, offering thanks more, and letting others know how much I appreciate them.  It shouldn't be hard to do these things, and really it's not.  I think for me, it's just a matter of remembering to do them more.  And maybe it's also about feeling comfortable enough in my own skin to simply say what I think and feel.  One might think that after all these years of being a writer that wouldn't be such a tough thing for me to do.  Writing truth is one thing.  Speaking it is another.  I'm learning . . . piece by piece.

Over the last few weeks, as I considered what word I wanted to tuck into my pocket and carry with me for 2012, I realized that I wasn't going to just chuck out last year's word.  It's coming with me, too.  Perhaps in a few more years, my pockets will be bulging with all the words I'll collect.            

By Marlowe Miller

The word I'm adding to my stash this year is inspire.  I wanted a verb, and I needed one that connects to all aspects of my life.  I am inspired by many amazing makers and thinkers and doers of deeds, and I also hope to do some serious inspiring of my own this year.  

I can't think of a better way to kick off an inspiring year than to share with you the work of one of my dearest friends.  Her name is Marlowe Miller, and these gorgeous glass creations I'm featuring in this post are all hers.  She is one of the most creative people I know in so many ways--with textiles, paper, paint, you name it.  She's also a fellow magpie, and she turns the objects she discovers into exquisite jewelry, some of which I have featured here in past posts.

But today I wanted to show you her most recent creations, these gorgeous glass mosaic windows.  She uses salvaged windows to make them, and each piece she makes is completely one of a kind.  You can find more of her work at her blog, Orts and Fragments.  I love her use of color, and I find myself mesmerized by the blues in all three of the pieces here.  Most of all, I love the sense of movement in all of her pieces.  I feel the wind blowing, the stems shooting up from the earth, and each blossom opening.  

By Marlowe Miller

In the spirit of my word for 2012, I'll be sharing more work by people who inspire me in the coming months.  I have a feeling it's going to be a very good year.

Friday, January 6, 2012

After the Tree

Okay, I admit it.  After I took all the ornaments off the tree and packed them away in their tissues and pretty boxes, I fell into a deep funk.  For the past month, the evening view from my favorite spot on the couch had been this:

With the tree gone, the room felt bare.  No, not just bare--blank.  I'm guessing maybe you've had that feeling before, too.  I think I feel it more right now because we're living in an apartment and can't paint the walls or hang loads of paintings.  I like white and clean, simple lines without a lot of clutter, so I'm okay with that, but magpie that I am, suddenly I was really, really missing the sparkle.  

So I decided to put a bit back.  

I grabbed a string of white lights with a white cord and tied on lots of tulle bows to soften it.

Then, using a couple of map pins on one side and my old apple ladder on the other, I hung the lights over the little red stove.  It's not a forever kind of decoration, but a fun-for-January kind of twinkly bit of cheer.  

The little red stove leads me to one more note about light and sparkle.  I crave light all year long, but especially during the winter months.  One of my favorite ways to get it during the winter is from a fireplace.  Alas, the apartment has no fireplace.  What was a poor magpie to do?  I bought a very reasonably priced electric one just before Christmas.  I don't usually like the look of electric fireplaces.  They often seem fake and flimsy to me, but I found this one online at Plow & Hearth, and I love it.  I swear they're not paying me a commission, but maybe they should, since everyone who comes into my living room now wants this stove.  My mother and sister both bought one after seeing mine, and I know a few other people who are planning to buy them as well.  You can run the flames with or without heat,  and this little stove that could cheers up the entire room.  Best of all, the surface is always cool to the touch, so I can use the top to display a wooden bowl of pine cones--or whatever my magpie heart desires.  

I just thought I'd share this info in case anyone else would love a fireplace but can't have one where they are living.  If you have an old mantle, that would look fabulous with this stove, too.  I'm keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect one.  In the meantime, the tulle-dressed lights add a little whimsy, warmth, and shimmer to these cold January nights. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Walk

It wasn't about resolutions or starting the new year right.  

It was just a walk.

It was just dried berries and salt air and reeds rattling in the afternoon wind.

It was just a squirrel finishing his supper before sunset.

It was just the black lace of bare trees tatted to pink satin clouds.

It was just the sun showing off her finest gown 
before she rode away over the mossy hills.

It was just a catch in the throat, a halted step, 
as night filled in the spaces 
between the branches of the apple trees, 
and we realized 
with wonder that we 
were not alone.