Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

Thinking of you this New Year's Eve.  I took this photo today on a very cold walk by the water at Gilsand Farm.  I heard the quote earlier in the year, and it has become one of my guiding principles.  
As we head into the new year, I hope you are safe and warm and near someone you love.  I wish you health, along with moments of peace and of joy.  May you find adventure and may you have the strength and support to face whatever challenges come your way.

Thank you, my friend, for visiting The Magpie's Fancy in 2014.  Looking forward to sharing inspiration with you in the coming year!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Spirit of the Season

Hello, chickadees!  I hope you are having a beautiful weekend.  Here, we've had one of those sunny and crisp days that seem to happen only in December.  Mr. Magpie and I spent the morning at some neighborhood shops, searching out the last few treasures for stockings.  If you live anywhere near the Portland, Maine, area, may I recommend a few shops that I truly and deeply love?  I adore them for the items that they carry as well as for the incredible people who own and/or work at them.  They are a big part of what makes living in Portland a joy for me.  They're also great spots for last-minute holiday shopping . . . and then, after Christmas, they will be the perfect places to visit to find yourself a treat for the new year.  I'm not being paid for these endorsements; I just want to spread the word about these local businesses!  Several of them also have websites where you can order their unique products online.   

  • Fiachcre ~ Beautiful gardening tools, unique potted plants, gorgeous terra cotta, soaps and candles, and so much more.  I think Mr. Magpie bought nearly all my Christmas presents here last year!  If you go, please tell Melissa I sent you.
  • Portland Trading Company ~ Our good friend Kazeem has made his gorgeous store in the Old Port a true destination for custom-designed clothing, beautiful housewares, and many items that combine luxury and practicality--in other words, perfect gifts.  He also stocks hard-to-find lifestyle magazines and many locally-made goods.  
  • The Honey Exchange ~ I never thought I'd shop at a honey store on a regular basis, but this place has so many wonderful products that I stop in often.  This is where I buy all my local honey and so much more, from candles to jewelry to toiletries and even wine and locally-made beer or mead.  They also carry beekeeping supplies. 
  • Folly 101 ~ Most of my friends know that I have a bit of an obsession with this place.  If you need a hostess gift, this is the number one place to visit.  Also, if you lean towards Scandinavian decor with lots of white and natural wood, you will love the bright, airy feel of the store itself.  I feel at home as soon as I walk in the door.
  • Treehouse Toys ~ This is the only toy store I go to, because it is always my first stop, and I always find the perfect gifts for little ones here.  I also don't want to leave once I'm inside.  It's a pretty magical place.
  • Kurier ~ Beautiful handmade bags and accessories.  I love her designs and colors, as well as her ethos.  She also has an Etsy shop.
  • Papier ~ Exquisite paper, stationery, pens, and cards.  This shop is my idea of heaven.  And now they also carry stunning fresh flowers and arrangements with Fleuriste.  Todd and I are regular customers here, and I can't speak highly enough about their excellent customer service.
These are just a few of my favorites.  I love getting the chance to share them here on the blog.  

I bought the lovely little fern and my paper white bulbs at Fiachre.

I'm nearly done with Christmas shopping and crafting; I've sent the packages and all but the last few cards; the guest room has been taken over by boxes and tissues and ribbons; the rest of the house is as decorated as it's going to get; tomorrow I begin my baking.  In other words, we are in full holiday mode around here.  I don't feel frenzied, though--just lucky that I'll get to see family and friends over Christmas and into the New Year.  

I'll be thinking of you tomorrow as we celebrate the solstice and begin the climb back to longer days.  I hope you are well and that each day brings you moments of joy and of peace as we head into the new year together.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Decorations and a Few Links to Inspire

I love these final days leading up to Christmas.  I'm finding inspiration nearly everywhere I look, such as in the sparkling play of light when I lean a poinsettia against a votive candle in front of the Christmas tree.  Suddenly the bracts seem to transform into stained glass, making the whole plant look like flames.  This would be lovely for a holiday party.  Simply cut bracts from a poinsettia, place them in individual florist water holders, and then place them in front of lit votives.  I used real candles, but the battery ones would be great, and they wouldn't make the plant too hot.  I could picture several of these on a shelf, a sideboard, or lining a mantle.

Storms have knocked down several branches from our trees, so I've gathered up the greens to use on the mantle, tucking birds' nests and pine cones (which I sprayed with adhesive and then sprinkled with silver glitter) into the boughs.  I've also included a vintage birdhouse, some lovely candles, and a string of battery-powered fairy lights from Terrain that are wrapped with glass beads.  Beneath the greens I've hung the garland I made a couple of years ago from old keys and pinecones strung on a pretty chain that I found at the crafts store for just a few dollars.

My little Christmas village is at home on an old silver-plate tray I found a few years ago at Goodwill. I didn't have any of that wonderful sparkly faux snow to spread on the tray, so I simply used kosher salt mixed with a little silver glitter, which looks gorgeous and cost me basically nothing.

I placed the little sparkly house above on a white plate, which I then sprinkled with my kosher salt snow mix.  Then I covered the whole thing with a beautiful glass cloche for an elegant snow globe effect.

Trader Joe's was selling hellebores for a song, so I scooped this one up and just popped it into one of the stone urns that I'd brought inside from the garden for the winter.  It's been blooming for two weeks, and it shows no sign of stopping.  I'm hoping I can keep it going inside until early spring, when I'll plant it in the garden.

I'll have more posts this week on decorations, gifts, recipes, and more.  In the meantime, visit my friend Robin for a beautiful Christmas post and a tour of her gorgeous home all decorated for the season.  

I've also been inspired this year by the holiday recipes and ideas at Food52.  Now I just have to narrow it down to one or two recipes.  Maybe the rugelach . . .   

Finally, for videos that will help you be your glamorous best at holiday parties, visit Lisa Eldridge. She is, hands down, my favorite makeup artist, and her videos are not only inspiring, they are a joy to watch.  She gives fantastic beauty advice for women of every age.

More very soon, chickadees!  xo Gigi

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wild Mind

Remember the baker's twine I mentioned at Thanksgiving?  Well, here's mine in the photo above, and as you can see, it's still at loose ends.  That's fine with me.  Nothing is done or nearly done on my list, and yet I took time today to take and process photos.  It felt good to set up shots, think about light and mood and cropping.  I didn't have room in my head for worry.  I was in my working wild mind.  I go there for photos and for writing; I don't let anything in the outside world touch that part of me.  It's too precious.  You know when people ask what you'd grab first in the case of a house fire?  Besides the kitties and Mr. Magpie, I'd be happy if my body and my wild mind made it out intact.  

It's not exactly my brain that I mean.  My brain's part of it, I suppose, but it's my gut, too, and probably my heart.  And other parts I can't define.  I don't talk about this with many people--just the writers that I help to craft their poems and stories and letters and thoughts, and the people closest to me, the ones who don't mind when I get that absent look on my face in the middle of supper or someone's birthday party right when it's time for candles and cake.  I don't mean to be antisocial or rude.  It just happens.  I smell the scent of cinnamon or catch a glimpse of a book on a shelf that I read in 1982, and I'm gone . . . back to my wild mind for however long it takes.  I'm sharing this with you because I know you get it.  You go there, too, I bet.  You call it something different, but you can't imagine living without it, and that is why we've found each other. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Home for the Holidays . . . and All Year Long

Hellebores on my father's antique desk in the dining room.  

I've been wanting to write an update about our house all fall, and I'm finally getting to it now, at the very time that Compass is running a series called Starter Stories, featuring bloggers posting about their first apartments, their starter homes, or the homes that gave them a fresh start.  Urban Compass is a very user-friendly real estate platform that connects folks looking for apartments in NYC with neighborhoods that suit their personality and preferences.   

The side table at night in the dining room this past fall.  
I'll share a photo later this week of it with the manger for Christmas.  

I'm excited to participate in the series, since we've lived in seven apartments, one loft condo, and three houses over the twenty-four years that we've been together, and I know a thing or two about the challenges and rewards of finding just the right place to call home--whether it's your first place or your eleventh!  And while this wee cottage is far from our starter home, it has definitely been our start-over home.  

Old books find their way into every room in the house.

As I've written about before, I believe that a place can save you, if you let it.  Mr. Magpie and I moved back here to Portland, Maine, after two decades of school and jobs had carried us off to distant places.  Returning to the city where we first met was probably the most important decision we've ever made for ourselves as individuals and as a couple.  We'd gone through a heartbreaking time in our lives, and we desperately needed to move and start fresh.  But we couldn't just sell our loft condo in Massachusetts, buy a house here in Maine, and be done with it.  The recession had dropped to its lowest point, and our condo's mortgage was under water.  Selling wasn't an option. So, like many other folks at the time, we rented the condo out to tenants, and then became tenants again ourselves.  After several years of being homeowners, it was a bit of an adjustment, but a necessary one if we wanted to live in Maine.

An autumn vignette in the living room

We rented here in Portland for a couple of years, saving our pennies and biding our time until we were finally able to buy our home in the summer of 2012.  It was actually a more exciting day to me than the day we bought our first home.  As some longtime readers know, during the first month after we moved in, we set to work right away, making this place our own.  One of the first things we did was to paint the rooms in shades inspired by the Maine coast.  In the two years since then we have expanded the gardens outside each summer, turning them into tumbling, colorful cottage gardens.

The Hobbit Garden in midsummer, with phlox, bee balm, Abraham Darby roses, lavender, salvia, and petunias blooming.

Scarlet runner beans and nasturtiums at the back door.  In the foreground is a Bridal veil spirea.
Looking from the spot where the Hobbit Garden (named for its curving wattle fence) transitions into the little woodland garden.  On the other side of the fence are our herb gardens and the patio.  The wild looking arbor is made from branches and this past summer it was covered in scarlet runner beans and sweet peas.

One corner of the herb garden ( taken in Fall 2013, while we were building the arbor)
As much as I love the gardens, I find myself also loving winter hibernation in this house.  The Christmas season never fails to stir the most domestic of feelings in my magpie heart.  As soon as the first snowflakes fall, I'm lighting a fire in the fireplace, baking shortbread, and stringing fairy lights in nearly every room.  I can't help myself.  

Christmas 2012

Our bedroom/sleeping loft
A few days ago we made our now annual trek to a local tree farm to cut down the Christmas tree. It was a blustery, frigid afternoon, and the muddy pathways between the trees were coated with a sheer slick of ice, so it was tricky to even get to the trees, let alone saw one down, but we managed, bringing home a smaller one than usual to fit into one corner of the living room.  

Late afternoon at Staples Tree Farm

I've also draped the mantle with fresh greens from the trees in our yard, tucking in pinecones that I've iced with silver glitter as well as the bird nests I've found on the ground over the last couple of autumns.  Our yard is home to many birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild beasties, and we feed them seeds and water year round.  For Mr. Magpie and me, our home wouldn't be complete without the wild creatures outside as well as the wild ones inside (Scout and Dill, our tuxedo cats). 

A closeup of one of the nests on this year's holiday mantle.  I'll have more photos of the whole mantle and other decorations soon!

The kitchen windowsill at suppertime with a string of fabulous Starry Starry Lights

The tree is now up and decorated, but I've still got work to do.  There's the manger to finish, and the sparkling winter village.  The ever-thoughtful Mr. Magpie bought extra strings of fairy lights, so you know I'll be plugging them into every available outlet.  I think it's time to play some Christmas CDs and mull some apple cider.  The holidays equal home for me, and this year more than ever, I'll be grateful to start a new year in our little white cape beneath the great white pine.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Orange Upside-Down Cake

Please forgive the lousy picture quality!  We were in a hurry to eat, so I snapped a quickie iPhone shot, and then we tucked in.  Sometimes the stomach wins over art.
What does a magpie do when she has a bowl full of oranges plus a container of Greek yogurt in the fridge that needs to be used pronto . . . plus a serious craving for something sweet to go with a cup of Earl Grey?  She makes a sparkling, bejeweled orange upside-down cake.  I used this recipe from Family Spice.  It's incredibly fast and easy to prep, and it bakes in just 30 minutes in a cast-iron skillet.  My cast-iron skillet happens to be my favorite pan; it's well-seasoned and well-loved.  And now that this beauty of a cake popped right out of it with zero sticking, my cast-iron skillet is loved just a little bit more.

If you like oranges as well as a very moist cake, you will adore this recipe.  I'll definitely be making it again before Christmas, only this time I might do blood oranges and cranberries . . . or I'll change it up completely and do thin slices of pineapple (and maybe ripe mango).  I will likely add some vanilla as well, as the current recipe doesn't call for it, and I think it would boost the flavor a bit.  A little orange extract in addition to the orange zest would be nice, too, although just a drop or two.  It's easy to go overboard.  The recipe calls for plain Greek yogurt, but I only had vanilla, and it was delicious.  I often use vanilla yogurt when making sweet baked goods, and it substitutes beautifully.  I just use a little less sugar than the recipe calls for in order to balance out the sugar in the yogurt.

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More soon, chickadees!  xo Gigi

Monday, December 1, 2014


Like much of the northeastern US, we had a snowy Thanksgiving.  I woke early and peeked out the back window to discover several large branches of the great old white pine scattered across the yard, and dozens of juncos, sparrows, finches, and squirrels hustling about, gathering up the black-oil sunflower seeds that were now easy to spot against the crisp, white snow beneath the feeders. 

All weekend I said thank you's in my mind, humming Peanuts Christmas music to myself and feeling grateful for the roof over my head and the calm center our little house provides when the cold winds--both real and metaphorical--rage outside.  Family and friends gathered.  There were dinners and leftovers and parties, plus late-night movies and early morning pumpkin pie.  

And this morning I flipped the calendar to a new page.  Ah, the chimney cleaners come tomorrow, just in time for all the fires we will light against the growing cold and dark.  Like the birds and squirrels with their seeds, I've been gathering supplies, taking stock.  The shelves are full, and we are as ready as anyone can be, I suppose, for what the winter will bring.  I've snipped fresh greens from the fallen branches to fill the window boxes and line the mantle.  Soon we'll cut down our wild beast of a tree from the local farm where we've gone each year since we moved back to Maine, and as we guide it through the kitchen door, with a great blustery rush the whole house will fill with the scent of a frozen forest.  And so winter will begin. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On this Thanksgiving Day, I offer two quotes from that wisest of women, Julia Child, in the hope that they might alleviate any little moments of holiday stress.  Keep them in mind as you mash your potatoes or as you reach for your second helping of stuffing.  

"With enough butter, anything is good."

"People who love to eat are always the best people."

xo Gigi

Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks

I keep thinking about what I want to say for this, a post of thanksgiving, and I am struggling to find the words.  I usually keep my personal life and my blog life quite separate, writing only about the things here that inspire me and feed my creative spirit.  

Giving thanks for such things is easy.  I feel blessed to live in a beautiful part of the world, to have friends and family in abundance, to have food in my cupboards, and to have a roof over my head.  For these and so many other blessings I am grateful beyond measure.  I can blurt out my thanks without thought or hesitation.  

There is something else I am grateful for, though, and it is harder to express.

This year has been a difficult one for me and for some of the people I love most.  Truly, it has been a year that has sometimes felt like it was endured more than lived.  That's probably not a good thing to say aloud in the land of lifestyle blogs, where things tend to feel rather nicely tied up with candy-striped baker's twine.  Nothing in life has felt nicely tied.  All has been at loose ends.

The ends are still loose, and even a bit frayed at the moment, but that's just it--I don't care.  I am grateful for this truly horrible year.

I am grateful for what it has taught me about empathy, about love, about holding on tight with both hands, and about letting go, too.

I am grateful for what it has forced me to face and for what it has forced me to feel.  I am grateful that I've had the chance to learn very difficult lessons from someone much wiser than myself--and to learn them in the most loving and supportive of ways.

I'm also grateful that even on the most wretched of days, there is always room in my heart for a walk through fields and woods.  Yes, I am truly blessed.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall Botanicals: Tips for Arranging Floral Patterns

Earlier this fall during my annual cleanup of the gardens, I began putting some of the colorful leaves, blossoms, and berries into a basket.  Their shapes and textures were so beautiful that I decided I needed to do something more memorable than just plunking them into a mason jar to keep on the windowsill for a few days.

Using a worn old tablecloth as my makeshift backdrop, I arranged torn petals from marigolds, nasturtiums, and hydrangeas into simple medallion shapes on my picnic table.  I combined them with tiny pinecones and whatever else I could find in the yard, and then I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a few shots of the various arrangements.

I had to work quickly, as it was a chilly afternoon, and my fingers were growing numb, but I found that the more fanciful I got with the arrangements, the more I was loving them.  Later that evening, safely inside with a cup of Earl Grey, I processed the photos on my laptop and then shared a few of them in a post here on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.

I was quite surprised and touched by people's reactions.  Some folks even emailed to say that they thought I should turn the images into greeting cards.  I've been making and photographing more of the arrangements since then, and I had some prints done on Shutterfly.  I'm on the hunt now for some vintage gilded frames so I can hang the prints in our guest bedroom.

Today, as I worked on the latest in my "Autumn Gatherings" series, I took photos of the steps as I went along so I could share the process with you.  This isn't really a tutorial, since anyone can arrange flowers in beautiful patterns, but I have discovered a few tips along the way that really work for me, and I hope they may be helpful for someone else trying this.

First, the background is key.  If you want your arrangement to have a sort of vintage, nostalgic look, it's  helpful to begin with a vintage background.  Today I used this wrinkled, worn, and faded piece of Irish linen that I've had for years.  The colors of the flowers printed on it are just right as a backdrop to autumn leaves and branches.  (In fact, I used this same fabric as the background for my Artful Blogging post.)

Next, I gathered from our yard whatever flowers, berries, twigs, leaves, cones, and seed pods struck my fancy.  If your backyard happens to be more of a wooded forest, be careful, as some plants can be poisonous. 

Here in Maine, we're deep into autumn, but I still have a few hardy flowers blooming in my garden beds and in the pots on my front porch, so these were musts for me, plus some scarlet runner beans left on my arbor, and the last of the husk cherries in their lovely paper-lantern shells.  Various shrubs and woody perennials provided lots of great material, too.  The most important thing is to find an interesting range of textures, shapes, and sizes.  The colors this time of year tend to be fairly easy to harmonize.

Now that it's getting really chilly out, it's easier to work inside, so once I'd gathered my materials and placed any tender stems in water to stay fresh while I was working, I stationed myself on a large table on my sun porch, which was ideal, as it gets flooded with a particularly lovely warm, golden late afternoon sunlight this time of year.  

I began by playing with colors and shapes.  I tend to lean toward ovals and circles for my designs, but other shapes would, of course, be beautiful, too.  What I love about making medallion shapes is that you can have a beautiful, useable shot at almost any point in the assembly process.  If you want something as simple as the above mini pumpkin surrounded by geranium leaves, this would be nice as is.  You could move right on to cropping and processing the photo from here.  

I found myself smitten with this sweet little robin's nest that had fallen from one of the mock oranges bordering our yard.  I would never steal a nest from birds, but I do collect the windfall nests that I find on our property every autumn--or you could fashion a little nest yourself from twigs and moss.  This one just seemed like a perfect centerpiece for my medallion.

I love varying textures, shapes and colors, and then repeating certain ones for effect.  Once I had placed the yellow flower (the last one of the year from my porch planter) in the center of the nest, I knew that I would want to pick up on that yellow and accentuate it.  So, I simply played with possibilities.

Lamb's ears are particularly wonderful because of their silver-green color, their spear shape, and their fuzzy texture.  I love them contrasted with the azalea leaves that I've laid on top of them; the azalea's leathery texture and its burgundy color contrast beautifully with the lamb's ears, but both plants are the same basic shape, so there's some repetition, too, which is always pleasing to the eye.  The dark purple leaves radiating out from beneath the geranium leaves are from one of my many forsythias.  They repeat the same shape, but offer yet another color.  Plus, as yellow's complementary color, purple is a great back layer.  

As with any creative process, a huge part of it is trial and error for me.  I tried adding bits of pink begonia blossoms along with the purple and pink scarlet runner beans, but then the whole thing started feeling just a wee bit Easter-y, so I scrapped that idea and continued on.  This time I used much more autumnal petals of orange marigolds and red nasturtiums.

In the photo above I felt I was nearly finished, but I wanted one more layer to give it a sense of blooming out almost beyond the borders of the frame.  

My final step was to add some lavender leaves to the outer tips of the forsythias.  They pick up on the silver of the lamb's ears, and they also repeat the shapes of the central flower blossom petals.  I love that not all the leaves in the image are exactly the same size, and I never fuss over making things exactly symmetrical.  Perfectly imperfect suits my eye and temperament much more.

Finally, when it comes to processing the photos, I tend to play with lightening the exposure just a little bit.  I also sometimes blur the edges of the image, as I've done in the photo above.  Many of you are incredible photographers and much more brilliant than I at photo processing.  If you're newer to it, you don't even need to be a Photoshop expert.  Try using a simple online photo processor.  Most of them have loads of ways to give your photos a vintage look.  Or, simply snap away on your phone and use a processing app to get wonderful results.  If you want to see live examples of how others process their photos, YouTube is always a great teaching tool.  The version below is finished off with a final texture layered over the top of the image.  The texture is a photograph of another piece of old linen, which, once processed, gives an even more vintage look to the image.

Before I have Shutterfly print up my next round of photos (and my first batch of "Autumn Gatherings" greeting cards), I'll likely play with each image a little more, tweaking it until I'm satisfied with the results.  For me, the most important aspect of making this series is how much fun it is to create beautiful patterns from the bits and pieces I've gathered from my own backyard.  Now I can hardly wait to make the "Winter Gatherings" series.  I'm already imagining the dreamy Christmas cards.  Holly, pine, and arborvitae, here I come!