Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Years and a Leap and a Giveaway!

"With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?"  ~Oscar Wilde

The Magpie's Fancy turned three years old on February 26th, but I decided to wait until today to mention it.  What better way to celebrate than with a leap?

While anniversaries usually make me pause and reflect, this year I simply want to move forward.  Blogging helped me muddle through one of the most painful periods of my life (there I go reflecting anyway), and now I feel it guiding me during a time of renewal.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the amazing friends I have made here in the blogging world, and to my dear friends from the face-to-face world who have long supported The Magpie's Fancy.  You inspire me every single day.  I have no idea what the future holds for this blog, but I'm so happy that you have shared the journey with me this far.

To celebrate, I am hosting a GIVEAWAY.  Those who have won my giveaways before know that they are very much in keeping with my magpie tendencies.  I select a winner at random, and then collect various magpie treasures especially for the individual who wins.  I gather them up in a unique package, and ship them off to her or him.  

This giveaway is an extra special one, because I will be gathering the giveaway treasures during my trip to London!  That's right.  All the goodies will come from my favorite markets in and around that glorious city.

If you would like to enter to win a parcel of magpie treasures from me, simply leave a comment on this post between now and March 6th, 2012.  I will draw a winner on March 7th.  

While only one person can win the big prize, I will also be drawing five more names to receive a postcard printed with one of my flower photographs.  

Thank you, dear ones, for giving me riches beyond compare.  x Gigi

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Music for a Tuesday

Because we all need some beauty on a Tuesday, here's a wee bit for you.
I'll be back tomorrow with giveaway news!  x Gigi

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oatmeal Nirvana

The number one most loved breakfast in our house is old-fashioned oatmeal.  Steel-cut or thick-rolled, we eat it several times a week.  The number one favorite multi-purpose food is peanut butter.  The favorite fruit: bananas.  The favorite dessert: dark chocolate.  So, when I stumbled across a recipe on Pinterest that includes all of these beloved foods, there was no question.  I had to make it.

This recipe for Peanut Butter Breakfast Pudding is from Chocolate-Covered Katie.  She is a goddess.  If you like oatmeal, do yourself a favor and try this.  She says the chocolate chips are optional, but when cooking for Mr. Magpie they are an essential ingredient.  I will say, though, that I sprinkled on too many.  I will use maybe 6 chips per bowl next time.  That's all it needs.  You swirl 'em in with your spoon and they melt into a cocoa-y pudding.

And now I will just tell you that this is my favorite. oatmeal. ever.

We like to dip our toast in our oatmeal.  Do you do that, too?  Maybe we are just weird.  I made too much toast this morning.  This oatmeal is RICH.  One slice of toast each--or none at all--would have been perfect.

A few notes about the recipe: I doubled it, and it was enough for two very large servings.  Also, I made mine with almond milk, and it was heavenly.  I used all-natural peanut butter with no sugar in it (is there any other kind?).  In fact, I didn't add any sweetener to the oatmeal at all, and it was more than sweet enough since it has the almond milk, the bananas, and the chocolate chips.  Even without the chips, it would be plenty sweet for me.

This is a weekend kind of oatmeal to make for someone you love or just to treat yourself. And now I'm going to have to try every recipe that Katie makes!  

Happy Weekend, my friends!  x Gigi   

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sun, the Moon, and Everything in Between

I shot this photo of Portland Head Light just before nightfall with the sun setting (in a spectacular blaze of orange) behind me.  The colors here in Casco Bay are beautiful any time of year, but there's something special about a late winter sky.  If you can stand the tear-inducing wind long enough to get one semi-decent photo, then you are rewarded with remarkable, watercolor blues and pinks.

Two years ago I lived for a few months on an island just across the bay from this famous lighthouse.  Here in the city tonight, as I looked up at the star-pricked sky and the waxing crescent moon, I recalled how much more connected to the sun and moon and stars I felt on the island.  I woke every single day with the sun and I watched it set nearly every evening.  The ocean waves were just a few yards (on stormy days just a few feet) from my front door, and I walked the road that ringed the island rain or shine, telling time by the rise and fall of the tides.  Whenever I'm back there to visit with friends or even stay a night or two, I feel my heart slow down to an even rhythm.  Life's purpose and my place within it become clear when I look to the sun and moon to keep my pace.    

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter Light

Just a note to say I'm thinking of you.  
The sunlight here is verging on perfect.
Spring is waiting in the wings.
I'm writing more each day than the one before.
Can't wait--but I must--to show you the words.

Tell me what you're making, sewing, building, writing, spinning 
into silk out of thin air.

x Gigi

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Magpie Take a Trip

Portobello Road

I haven't told you the giddy news yet: Mr. Magpie and I are headed back to England for a week in March!  We are beside ourselves with delicious joy.

Crystal Globe Pendants at the V&A

Chihuly at the V&A

As some of you know, when Mr. Magpie is not busy fulfilling his duties as my better half on this blog, he is known as Dr. Todd Avery, Scholar of British Modernist Literature and Professor of English.  I need to finish sewing his superhero costume, which has a large, sparkly, Edwardian "B" on the front.  B for British and for Bloomsbury, as in the folks he writes about from the Bloomsbury Group. His brilliant books can be found here and here and here (pdf order form from Cecil Woolf Publishers) and here (beautiful exhibition catalog Todd wrote from a Bloomsbury Exhibition he curated at the Lilly Library in 1999 when he was still a graduate student.  The book is now a collectible and a must for Bloomsbury lovers.  Yes, I'm bragging.)  I don't use "brilliant" lightly.  My guy is a smarty pants, and because he is one, he spends a great deal of time doing the sorts of things that smarty pants do, like rummaging through archives and leafing through forgotten papers and books and recordings and even very old films.  Fortunately for me, this means he must travel as often as possible to libraries far and wide, which in turn means I often get to travel beside him.  Occasionally I even share in writing duties;  you can find an article Mr. Magpie and I co-wrote here.   He, being a singular bird, does not much like flying, so having a trusty traveling companion makes the whole business much less taxing.  Perhaps that sounds odd for a superhero, but not all superheroes love to fly.  Batman prefers his Batmobile.  Mr. Magpie prefers his desk chair and his mighty fountain pen.  They take him all the way around the world, thank you very much.

Needs no caption!  :)

Detail of horse from the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum--I visit them every trip!

On this trip, he must visit some film archives in London and a library or two in Cambridge.  Hooray for him!  Hooray for me!  London just happens to be my favorite city.  This time we will be staying outside of the city in Greenwich, one of the prettiest places I know, in a lovely B&B that I have heard is a gem.  We've stayed all over London, but we've never stayed overnight in Greenwich, and I LOVE the markets there, the museums and parks, and the food, so I will have much to report upon our return.

Arriving at Greenwich by riverboat on the Thames

After Greenwich, it will be off to Cambridge.  I've only ever spent a day and a night there, so I am thrilled!  We haven't found the perfect place to stay in Cambridge yet.  If any of you know a fabulous place that is not crazy expensive (we are traveling on an academic budget, which, despite what many conservative US politicians will tell you about lazy and greedy academics, is decidedly not a luxury budget!), please let me know.  We've asked around to some friends and colleagues, but have yet to hit upon the place that fits both our budget and our simple needs (clean, quiet, convenient for walking, ensuite bath, good breakfasts).  For me, when we're on this type of trip, a pretty room is a bonus.  Of course I'd like it, but, honestly, I'd rather spend the money on some good food and wonderful experiences than on a super luxury room.  Am I crazy?  I prefer to think I'm just a girl with a camera who sees her hotel room as a place to sleep between adventures like the one pictured below.

Portobello Road--delicious!

I know some of you live in or near London, so you know just why I am so excited to return.  For those of you who don't live there, I wish I could take you in my pocket, especially to my favorite markets, where we would have a ball together.  I promise to return with photos and new discoveries to share.

We won't be leaving for a few weeks yet, so if you see this any time before March and know of an inn/B&B in Cambridge, please feel free to drop me an email!

Roses at Saint Paul's Cathedral.  I've only climbed to the top once!  What a view!

Happy weekend, my friends, and welcome to new subscribers and followers!  I'm looking forward to making my blog rounds this weekend!  Can't wait to see what you're all up to.  x Gigi

P.S. All the photos above are from our last UK trip two years ago.  I've been missing it so!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Magic Things

"The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
~W.B. Yeats

Wishing you a beautiful Valentine's Day, my sweet friends.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Love Poems for Your Sweetheart

I know that there are many people who adore Valentine's Day and all its lacy, chocolate-dipped, petal-strewn trimmings . . .
. . . and that there are probably just as many who abhor said trimmings . . . 
. . . and that there are still others who fall somewhere in between. 

I also know that one's feelings about this holiday tend to change with one's own romantic fortunes on a given February 14th.  There have been years when I swore myself forever an enemy of that cursed day, and other years when I swooned at the thought of twelve long stems.

For the past 18 years since I married my husband, I've appreciated the sweet gestures shared on this day, but no more, in truth, than those shared on any of the other 364 days of the year.  Still, a handmade card or a thoughtful trinket discovered on my breakfast plate on what here in Maine is inevitably a cold, grey, sleety~slushy day does much to warm my hopelessly romantic magpie heart.

It is in that spirit that I share with you links to a small sampling of some of my favorite love poems (in no particular order) . . . to excerpt, quote in full, use as you will--when you will--on Valentine's Day or any old day when you want to show a beautiful soul the fullness of your heart. 

Oh, and as a side note, a wonderful writing exercise is to take a favorite line or two from one of these poems and use it as inspiration to begin your own poem, just as Billy Collins does in "Litany," which you'll find among the others below. 

I could go on for ages with more of my favorites, but I would like to leave room for you to toss a few of your own into the comments.  Please feel free!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pinterest Passion

From here.

I'll admit it.  I adore Pinterest.  Social butterflies can keep their Facebook; just let me have my pins.

I've always been a magpie, collecting objects and images and other bits that inspire me, and I feel like Pinterest is the only online outlet that reflects this part of my obsessive personality completely.  Maybe too completely.  

From here.

How do I love it?  Let me count the ways:

  1. I can categorize my inspirations any way that I wish.
  2. I've always been plagued by half-remembered book titles and recipes, so I love that it helps me remember what would otherwise slip through my memory's sieve.
  3. I meet people weekly whose own interests and tastes intersect with my own in surprising ways.  One such person is Carole.  Her boards are full of beauty and surprises.  She is more sophisticated than I am, and this delights me, too!
  4. I also get to know old friends--of both the real world and blogging varieties--much better.  For example, my friend Ciara is one of the first people I met through blogging a few years ago, and I have admired her writing and photography ever since.  Through Pinterest I've discovered that we have common tastes in interiors, books, and art.  She is a deeply beautiful and whimsical soul who inspires me daily with her own work as well as her pins.
  5. I am becoming better acquainted with my own tastes.  I've always known what I like the moment I see it, but these boards allow me to see in a more coherent way the elements of design that most appeal to my own aesthetic sensibilities.  I'm also becoming much more realistic about the importance of function in any design.  

From here.

Now that I'm getting to know my own loves and needs better, I can tell you without hesitation that my next kitchen will have ample open shelving above and drawers instead of cupboards below.  I can also tell you that I like chandeliers much more than I ever realized I did.  And finally, I can share with you my deep and abiding love for black and white.

From here.

Yes, just look at the picture below.  There's the open shelves.  There's the black and the white--oh, and with little touches of bronze-y gold.  This combination sends me over the moon.

From here.

Since childhood I have collected bits and bobs, letters and numbers like the ones you see below.  

From here.

And typewriters.  And cups.  And bowls.  And frames.  And feathers.  

From here.

The photo below reminds me that in my next house I would like an all-white room with a few key pieces of black furniture and touches of those browns, bronzes, and golds.  The vase of blue delphiniums softens the edges and pulls the look together for me.

From here.

One of my favorite things about Pinterest is that I can collect thoughtful expressions and sayings, all beautifully lettered.  This one below has that gorgeous black and gold I love, but it also reminds me of a favorite line from a favorite childhood story.  Remember Willy Wonka's words: "So shines a good deed in a weary world."  

From here.

So, yes, Pinterest, I adore you, and I doff my hat to you.  
Now, if only I can decide which one . . .
From here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Memoriam Wislawa Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska died yesterday, and I am torn between the need to write what she has meant to me, means to me still, and my utter inability to do justice to her life and work. I am stunned and saddened by her passing.  It's not that she was young.  She lived to be 88--a respectable stretch of years.  It's not that she was my best friend or my favorite aunt. I didn't know her at all.  In fact, if she hadn't won the Nobel Prize in Literature sixteen years ago, I probably never would have heard of her.  

But I did hear of her.  I was a graduate student in creative writing at the time, gulping down poetry every day along with my morning coffee, my afternoon bagel, and my evening pint of Guinness.  Poetry--writing it, writing about it, reading it, studying it, discussing it--that was my life.  I remember seeing an article about Szymborska by Edward Hirsch in the New York Times shortly after she won the Prize.  He spoke of how reclusive she was, how relatively unknown she was outside of Poland.  And she discussed with him her life in Poland during World War II, then under Communism, and later after its fall.  At one time she had believed that Communism could save not only Poland, but perhaps all of humanity.  She soon realized this was not so, and she eventually joined the Solidarity Movement's struggle against Poland's Communist regime.  

Three of her sentences in particular stood out for me, and they ultimately became the central theme of my graduate thesis.  Speaking of her early enthusiasm for Communism, Szymborska stated, “At the very beginning of my creative life I loved humanity. I wanted to do something good for mankind. Soon I understood that it isn’t possible to save mankind.”  At first glance, this sentence sounded hopeless to me--but then I read her poems.  

Maybe All This 

Maybe all this 
is happening in some lab? 
Under one lamp by day 
and billions by night? 

Maybe we’re experimental generations? 
Poured from one vial to the next, 
shaken in test tubes, 
not scrutinized by eyes alone, 
each of us separately 
plucked up by tweezers in the end? 

Or maybe it’s more like this: 
No interference? 
The changes occur on their own 
according to plan? 
The graph’s needle slowly etches 
its predictable zigzags? 

Maybe thus far we aren’t of much interest? 
The control monitors aren’t usually plugged in? 
Only for wars, preferably large ones, 
for the odd ascent above our clump of Earth, 
for major migrations from point A to B?

Maybe just the opposite: 
They’ve got a taste for trivia up there? 
Look! on the big screen a little girl 
is sewing a button on her sleeve. 
The radar shrieks, 
the staff comes at a run. 
What a darling little being 
with its tiny heart beating inside it! 
How sweet, its solemn 
threading of the needle! 
Someone cries enraptured: 
Get the Boss, 
tell him he’s got to see this for himself! 

—(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Claire Cavanagh)

As I read the poems in Szymborska's View With a Grain of Sand, everything I thought I knew about  poetry--not just its craft and form, but the life and the purpose of poetry--shifted.  This deeply brilliant, funny, sensitive, and most of all, ethical woman wrote poetry that did just what Emily Dickinson said poetry should do: make the reader "feel physically as if the top of [her] head were taken off."

Szymborska's poems examine ordinary, everyday subjects from extraordinary perspectives.  As I read them for the first time, the seventh time, and the fortieth time, I discovered what she meant in those three sentences that had puzzled me so.  I was young myself at the time, so I was just beginning to internalize what she had discovered years before under much more trying circumstances.  A deeply ethical, aesthetically beautiful, and intellectually challenging poem does not try to change the whole world.  It tries to speak to the individual reader.  To you, to me, to the man who lives around the corner and orders take-out Chinese every Thursday.  It is not dogmatic; it needs no soapbox from which to holler.  If the words are crafted from the gut, the heart, and the mind, a poem will speak to the reader and make him think, make him feel, make him see the same old world he's always seen, but from a different--an unexpected and enlightening--vantage point.

I ended up writing my graduate thesis on the subject of personal and communal responsibility in the poetry of Szymborska and her fellow countryman and Nobel winner, Czeslaw Milosz.  Her poetry helped to shape my own work as a poet, but perhaps more importantly, it helped me to shape my life as a person.  

I'm going to end with a Szymborska poem that possesses all her trademark wit, empathy, and candor.  I know it will be quoted and shared a great deal in the days and weeks to come as news of her death spreads.  Szymborska wrote this poem after a friend died.  It will not save mankind, but it will touch one person, then another . . . and then maybe even a third.

Cat in an Empty Apartment

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing’s been moved
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start 
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet’s been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

__(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Claire Cavanagh)