Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Note to Self: Write Your Way Back

I hope you are well, my friends.  Here, life has been filled with work--lots of work--some sunshine, some almost unbearably sad days, some hectic ones, a few nights by the fireplace, more work, some serious pie baking for holidays and birthdays, and little time for writing my own stuff or taking photos--even silly iPhone photos.   December looks to be a bit wild, too, but I have promised myself that I will steal time every day for my own creative work.  I always tell my students and clients that no matter how crazy life gets, there is always, always, always time to write, always time to create.  And it's true.  I spend most of my days helping others with their creative processes, and while I LOVE every minute of it, I sometimes break my own rules and forget about my own process.  The fact is, there are always deadlines to be met.  There is always more work to be done.  We simply have to turn away from the noisy demands of life on a regular basis, seek quiet and solitude, and focus on creating.  I don't mean creating for yet another deadline or another editor; I mean creating for the pure joy of it.

The photo above is one I took in early November, right after Mr. Magpie and I returned from a trip to Sweden, where he had a literature conference.  I took hundreds of photos there, and I promise to show you a few inspiring ones, but in the meantime there's this shot, which, for me, was all about stealing an hour or so of quiet one day to set up my beat-up chalkboard, this lovely copper vase that belonged to my memere, and some fading flowers from my garden.  The little hanging votive lantern is something I discovered in a sweet shop in Uppsala, Sweden.  I didn't process the shot until about three weeks later.  I'm not kidding when I say that I've just really struggled to find moments in the day for quiet joy.  And when I do take a few moments, it's not long before I feel a rising panic inside my chest, a sense that things are undone.  I'll start to work on a poem or a photo shoot, and then I'll remember all the leaves that haven't been raked yet, the window that needs fixing, the lecture I haven't written, the new course I haven't even started to plan, oh, and, of course, the laundry I haven't finished--ever.  And then there are all the personal commitments to people that I feel I'm just not honoring.  It can be crushing, this feeling.  I know that you likely know it well.

However, there is a worse feeling.  The one that happens when I don't write the poem or set up a beautiful shot in some softly lit corner of the house.  Todd told me the other day that he met a fellow scholar at a recent conference.  She asked him what his wife does for work.  When he told her that I'm a writer and freelance photographer, a writing teacher, an editor, and an obsessed amateur gardener, her reply was, "Oh, she's a maker!"  Todd later told me what she said, and I felt, well, a little sad, because I haven't felt much like a maker this fall.  I've written a ton, but all of it has been for other people's deadlines.  I've actually felt lost, a million miles away from my own creative center.  

I help other people overcome this same problem pretty much every week, so it's a bit odd to be feeling it myself.  Thus, I'm taking my own advice: when you feel lost and far, far away from yourself--I mean your real self, the maker, the crafter, the dreamer, the alchemist--write (or paint or sculpt or dance) your way back.  Imagine a path in the forest. Your process is right there in front of you.  You left a trail of bread crumbs as you wandered far from home.  You'd forgotten that you always leave those bread crumbs, but you do.  You always do.  Just follow them back.  Every single day.  Forget the laundry mountain in the distance.  Forget the dark and frightening forest full of undone tasks.  Forget your fear of what might be around the next bend in the path.  Just do what you do.  You'll find your way home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hard Frost

I knew it was coming.  I felt it before I'd even checked the forecast.  As the sun sank behind the pines last night, I scurried around the garden beds, gathering as many blossoms as I could to bring inside.  

So even though it pained me to look out the back window at the frozen gardens this morning, here in the house I had the small comfort of all my rescued blooms in vases and pots and pitchers.

Really I don't mind this turn to the darker months.  Here in Maine it is the best time to head to the woods or the beach or the mountain trails.  Soon the last of the leaf peepers will climb back in their SUVs and head for warmer states, and we will have all this beauty to ourselves again until next June.

And this turn outside means it's time for the turn inward, too.  Time for fires in the fireplace, candles on the mantle, cups of tea, and thick books to read.  I've piled up the warm blankets and taken my sweaters  out of storage.  And there's still plenty to do in the garden--bulbs to plant and leaves to rake and beds to prepare for the long, cold winter to come.     

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Finding Stillness

What do you do when one of your oldest and most treasured blogging friends announces that she will be holding a still life photography workshop for three magical days at her brand new studio in Rivers, Manitoba . . . and another of your oldest and dearest blogging friends invites you to come stay at her house just twenty minutes from the workshop . . . and those two sweet friends also happen to be among your favorite photographers in the entire world?

If you're me, you thank your lucky stars, and you book a flight to Manitoba.  

In my post last week I mentioned that I've been a thousand miles away both literally and figuratively.  Really, I've been two thousand miles away, but the miles cannot begin to measure what my time at Kim Klassen's The Studio meant to me.  

Finding Stillness was much more than a workshop.   

It was a time and a place where we had the freedom to set up a shot, and to keep coming back to it as the sun moved across the sky over the course of the day--no distractions, no responsibilities, no other task than to play with color and focus and shadows and light.

It was a space filled with well-worn tables and chipped-paint chairs and shelves of cups and bowls and books for us to use as we practiced making magic.  

Kim Klassen giving a demonstration on how she makes her magic

It was also the place where after years and years, I finally got to meet my two incredible friends for real . . . and to watch them work . . . and to soak up their brilliance.

Aeleen Sclater setting up a shot

Barb Brookbank, Diana Foster, Kim Klassen, and Shelley Rounds out for a morning walk on the trail

And it was, perhaps most importantly, three whole days that I got to spend with ten inspiring and talented photographers from the United States, Canada, and the UK.     

Carol Hart and Diana Foster

We talked shop--lighting, cameras, lenses, techniques and tips--but we also talked life.  And we laughed.  A lot. 

Ilse preparing a gorgeous salad while Xanthe Berkley, Barb Brookbank, and Barbara Skrobuton shoot

We also ate the most delicious and nourishing food, cooked by Kim's mom as well as by Aeleen, and by Aeleen's friend Ilse, an incredible chef who graciously let us photograph her preparing our gourmet lunch on the final day of the workshop.  It was a relief to be in a room full of people who not only didn't roll their eyes when I grabbed my camera to take endless shots of a gorgeous basket of peppers or a bowl of fresh salad tossed with line vinaigrette, they grabbed their cameras, too, and we all happily snapped away.

And then there was the stillness.  I found it each day in moments both expected and surprising.  We all shared an hour a day of silence, during which we were free to keep photographing or to process shots, read a book, write, take a nap--whatever our hearts desired.  I treasured those hours, as I'm naturally a pretty introverted person who loves to spend most of my time working in silence.  

But I discovered many times of quiet stillness throughout the day, even working side by side with other photographers.  It was easy to simply be.  Kim created such a light-filled and welcoming space that I think we all felt at home, whether we were gathered around Carol Hart giving a shop talk on using studio lighting or watching Xanthe Berkley make one of her incredible stop-motion animations or learning the secrets to gorgeous top-down shots from Barb Brookbank.  

The feeling of home extended beyond the four walls of Kim's studio to the town of Rivers itself, where we took walks, went out for supper, and popped into some of the local shops.  Everywhere we went in this small prairie town, people welcomed us, asked where we were from, and swapped stories.  I can't imagine a more perfect spot for a photography retreat.

Kim's sweet dog Ben was our muse and companion.

For me, the retreat extended beyond Rivers all the way to Aeleen's beautiful house on the prairie.  There, I got to meet her husband and one of her sons, hang out with her in the evenings, and run out the front door, into the fields each morning with her sweet pup Zoe.

Morning light in the room where I stayed at prairiegirl's place

Everything in prairiegirl Aeleen's world is arranged with love.  The shots above and below were taken in her house.  I didn't have to set them up, because this is just how she sees things, how she crafts beautiful vignettes at every turn.   

me and beautiful pg (Aeleen)

On my last day in Manitoba, I got to roam around early in the morning, taking shots full of color and texture at Aeleen's like the one above.  And her gardens!  And her studio!  I think I need to save them for another post.  There's too much to share.

As if staying with Aeleen were not treat enough, on my last night there, she took me to her neighbor Willi's Octoberfest, where we watched the full moon rise over the fields, and I got to see the biggest, most impressive bonfire of my entire life . . . not to mention fireworks and a fire lantern being launched.  Fire was definitely the theme of the evening!  And Abba.  Did I mention Abba?  There was much dancing to Abba.  Perhaps there wasn't much stillness that one night, but it was a time I won't soon forget.

Spoons and leaves at prairiegirl studio ~ love

Since returning to my own life back on the coast of Maine, I've been swamped with work, but I've also been finding that my week in Manitoba is very much present in my mind in heart.  The people I met there, and the time we spent simply sharing our love for taking photographs, have helped me to see why I turn to my camera so often, why I set up corners all over my house, always chasing the light, always seeking to discover a mood, a moment of stillness that once I've captured it, will always be mine . . . and maybe someone else's, too.  


I found myself using one hashtag again and again on my Instagram account while I was in Manitoba: #feelingblessed.  Thank you Kim, Aeleen, Xanthe, Carol, Diana, Barb, Brenda, Dorry, Shelley, and Barbara for three days full of more blessings than I can count.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015


I have been a thousand miles away--for real and true.  There is much to tell, and I will, but for now there is October, the clear light it brings, and the days that disappear to dusk when I look away, when I take a breath, when I least expect.

Each leaf that shifts to gold on the maple outside my window is another blessing.  We will rake them, pile them out behind the shed, let them take their sweet time to turn to magic for the borders and the raised beds.  And there are bulbs for planting.  I'll haul out the barrow and the heavy spade, dig troughs for crocuses and daffodils.  There will be whole hills and mountains of snow between now and the next full bloom, but gardeners bank on hope, and October's sunlight gives just enough to keep me until spring.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Strawberries and Sunshine

I have lost count of the number of quarts of strawberries we've eaten so far this summer.  If it's true that you are what you eat, then I am on the verge of actually becoming a strawberry.  We grow beautiful strawberries in our garden, but the squirrels steal them, so I buy mine from local farmers, which is just fine by me.  Before we ate the last quart, I managed to stop munching on them long enough to do a still life shoot.  I could seriously take photos of these little gems all day.  I believe they are among the most photogenic of all foods.  The backdrop of the top shot is the inside of a vintage picnic hamper.  It's the loveliest shade of forest green--just right as a shadowbox.  The white berry basket is one I bought on sale at Anthropologie last week. Maybe they still have some left . . .

We have just been enjoying the berries fresh with Greek yogurt or a little light cream--or straight out of the box, but I do love them in baked goods, too, so I thought I'd share a link to one of my favorite summertime treats: strawberry-rhubarb crisp.  This one's from Ina Garten, and I've made it a few times.  Pure heaven!

And here's a recipe that I'll definitely be trying; this one's from Gena Hamshaw at Food52.  It's a vegan strawberry vanilla coconut ice cream.  I feel like I need to make it before the season is completely over.  Maybe it's time to invest in an ice-cream maker!!!  If you have one that you love, please let me know the brand. :)

If you live in the US, hope you've been having a joyous and relaxing Fourth of July weekend filled with firecrackers and, what else, strawberry shortcake.

Back with more summer treats soon, chickadees!  xo Gigi

Friday, June 12, 2015

Moody Me

Hello, my friends!  I can't begin to tell you how much I have missed being here on the blog this past month.  There I had made a big promise to post about our Brimfield adventures, and then I just fell off the map.  Two things happened: first, my little Brimfield post kept growing and growing into a big, all-encompassing flea market post.  Not unlike Brimfield itself, it started spilling out over the sides and becoming a little more than I could handle in just one brief post, so I've decided to develop it more and take my time with it.  Second, my life speeded up much faster than I had planned.  I have too much on my plate with work right now, and I haven't been able to keep up with, well, much else.  

But all that is boring.  All that matters is that I'm here now.  I managed to steal some time this week to do a still life shoot or two--woohoo!  The shot above is a vase I inherited from my Memere.  It's filled with purple and chartreuse posies from our gardens.  The backdrop is an old, beat up blackboard.  The fabric is a pretty scarf I bought in London at Spitalfields.  The lighting is my steady favorite--the moody north light I get coming through the window in my study/studio.  Have I told you before that this window is beside the bathroom door, so I end up doing a lot of shoots against that door, which often means blocking access to the bathroom for hours.  Good thing we have a second bathroom downstairs!

I was thrilled to discover this morning that the photo had been included by my amazing friends Kim and Aeleen in their #fouriadorefriday feature on Instagram.  You can take a peek at the beautiful grid they selected here.

This week here in coastal Maine we are finally having springish/summerish weather!!!  The sun is shining and the gardens are bursting with life.  I'm working in them whenever I have a moment to spare.  You'd think all my photos at the moment would be flooded with light and white and beachy sunshine, but I'm kind of loving dwelling in the darker, moodier realm right now.  The shot below is a "portrait" of Mr. Magpie.  Those who know him know why this is a portrait.  ;)

Sending a warm hug, lovelies!  More very soon.  xoxo Gigi

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vintage Spring

Hello, chickadees!  Just stopping in to share some spring blossoms.  The crabapple is blooming in the front yard, and the lilacs and azaleas have just joined in, too.  Next up will be the viburnums and rhodies, and then the weigelas, mock oranges, and bridal veil spirea will follow not long after that.  

Life is a rush of activity this spring, but we did take one day to hit Brimfield Flea Market with our friend Kazeem, from Portland Trading Co.  I'll have some photos and finds to share soon!

My photo above was featured by DistressedFX on their Instagram feed and Facebook page this week.  If you haven't tried this app, I recommend it for photos that you want to really manipulate and push in exciting directions.  I use this app as well as Stackables to create moody effects for some of my iPhone photos.  I think I ended up using both apps on the top photo of the crabapple blossoms.  Before I used the textures, though, I upped the exposure and desaturated the photo a bit.  The background of that photo is my picnic table, which most people would think really needs a paint job, but I use it a lot for photos, so it will stay shabby chic a while longer.  ;)  

For photos I take with my big girl camera, I often use fewer textures and stick to subtler processing techniques in Lightroom.  I do some of that processing from scratch or with my own presets, but I also use presets by other folks, including this exciting new set from Kim Klassen.  Presets provide me with so much flexibility, and they give me ideas for creating several moods with one shot.  If you've never tried them before, take a peek at Kim's collection.  I think you will love it.

Vintage finds from Brimfield in the next post!  I have some exciting things to show you.  

Happy weekend, my friends! 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dreams and Schemes

I've been working in the garden whenever I have a little spare time, which usually means early morning or just before sunset--the two most beautiful times of day.  We spread yards and yards of compost last week, and still have more to go on some of the beds, but I'm not rushing.  These are days meant to be savored.  As you an see, the fritillaria and 'thalia' daffodils are blooming this week, as are the primroses and grape hyacinths.  The tulips are just about to open, and in the woodland gardens, things like epimedium and lungwort are at their peak.

I've allowed myself to cut and bring inside just a few specimens for still lifes, as usual.  I always love photographing them, but I love them in the garden even more.  As much as I enjoy arranging large, elaborate bouquets (just wait until the dahlias and roses are blooming) I also love really simple clusters of flowers--not arranged at all, but just tossed in a dundee jar.  They say springtime to me.  In a couple of photos below, I've included my latest find, this sweet little watering can, which I bought at my friend Melissa's incredible garden-inspired shop here in Portland.  If you are ever visiting coastal Maine, a stop at Fiachre is a must!

Oddly enough, I had begun taking some shots of the watering can and flowers over the weekend, and then I saw my friend Kim's latest prompt in the Online Studio: Potting Bench!  Well, that was an easy one, since my shots already looked like potting bench-inspired photos.  As I took these, I thought a lot about my plans for the garden this year.  In the photo below, you'll see that my gardening journal is opened up to a page I sketched our first fall in this house.  Nothing really ended up as I'd planned it, of course, but that's not the point.  I love dreaming and scheming, and discovering surprises along the way.  Among the surprises in the garden this spring are the lady's mantles that have self-seeded, which I was hoping they'd do, but you can never plan for these kinds of happy accidents.  I'm also excited to see that the lilacs, which I've trimmed back hard for two years, are looking the best they've been yet.  Soon there will be blooms to share.

Have I told you that I'm devoting one of the raised beds to nothing but cutting flowers this year?  I can't wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I am loving the elegant fritillaria, with their little checked blossoms, hanging like plum bells beneath the wings of the white daffodils in the early morning light.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Being in the Moment

End of the Day, Town Landing, Falmouth, Maine

Spring in our house always feels jam-packed.  The to-do lists are long, the days fly by, and suddenly, after winter's long semi-hibernation, I wish I only needed about two hours of sleep a night.  There just aren't enough hours in a day for us to do the work that pays the bills plus do the million and one house projects that somehow feel most urgent in spring plus keep up with the classes I'm taking, plus get my own writing projects done, plus see friends and family plus workout daily plus cook meals plus--and most pressing and exciting for me--work in the garden.

Just Before Dusk, Congress Square, Portland, Maine

I'm grateful for my iPhone camera, because it reminds me in the midst of all of these tasks and commitments (so many of which I love) to pause and breathe and just take note of what's around me.  My word for the year is "see," and I live in a part of the world where so much of what there is to see is beautiful.  But I see what's not beautiful, too, and I believe that's just as important.    

Early Morning on Moulton Street, Portland, Maine
So many of us feel rushed and stressed these days more than ever.  I think that as much as we love them, our technologies--our phones and laptops and various other gadgets and devices--play a big part in this stress and in this feeling of never being able to truly shut down, rest, retreat.  It's up to us to take charge and use this incredible technology for our own benefit--to determine how we use it rather than letting it gradually take over.  So, I love to use my phone to take photos of simple, quiet moments.  I share some, but many more I just keep for myself to enjoy.  I also make sure that when I go for walks or out to eat I don't always bring my phone with me.  Sometimes it's best to just be in the moment, no need to record it.  I don't need a photo of every pretty latte I drink or every gorgeous rose I see.  That makes the photos I do take all the more precious to me.

I'd love to know what you do to slow down and relax.  What helps you rest and recharge?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ordinary Objects and the Poetry of Salvage

Last weekend I climbed through many, many trailers of salvaged architectural bits and bobs, old stoves, rusted pieces of ceiling tin, faded signs, and corroded hinges to find a treasure in the rain.  My sweatshirt was soaked through and my boots were caked with mud as I climbed the rickety steps to the next-to-last trailer in the salvage yard.  I squinted into the gloom, took a few half-hearted steps across the sloping metal floor.  Nothing.  I didn't see a single object that sang to me in the way really special things do when you're on a treasure hunt.  I was just about to turn to head back out into the downpour when my magpie eye caught sight of a soft glint in the shadows on a shelf over my head.  I couldn't tell what it was, but I threw caution--and my fear of tetanus--to the wind and just reached up to grab whatever it was.

Well, it turned out to be the frame that you see in the photo above.  A Victorian beauty, completely intact, with wonderfully worn gilding on its inner edge.  That had been the glint I'd seen.  I had to make it mine.  I cradled it in my arms and went in search of the salvage yard owner.  It turns out he had just placed the frame on that shelf earlier in the afternoon.  When I say "placed," I don't mean displayed.  It was just sort of lying there on the top shelf, nearly out of sight in one trailer out of several that were packed to the gills with jars of springs, boxes of brackets, and bins of rake handles.  

When the owner offered to sell me the frame for the little bit of cash I had in my pocket, I knew two things immediately: 1) I will buy more treasures from him, and 2) this frame was going to be important for me, for my photos, for the vision I have of where I want my work to go.

I believe in the stories that beautifully made things can tell us--in the texture of history, the poetry of ordinary objects.  That is one of the aspects of still life photography that appeals to me most. This photo is the first in what I hope will be a series of photos featuring my newly found treasure.  I believe this old frame will help me dream up countless stories in the weeks and months to come.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

April Rains--A Garden Update

The April rains have come, and with them the green and red buds on the trees.  Out in the garden we've had crocuses--then snow--then then more rain and even more crocuses, sprinkled with some snowdrops.  We have raked and tidied the beds, made way for the grape hyacinths, the buds of which are tinged with purple at their edges.  The tulips are midway up, as are the daffodils and fritillaria.  The lady's mantle are everywhere, pushing up their tiny pleated fans through the soil, and the pulmonaria are showing off their polka-dotted leaves.  I've even caught sight of the first secret frills of red where the bleeding hearts grow at the edge of the woodland border.  Out along the edges, the shrub border is filling with color--the red twig dogwoods and the Hakuroo-Nishiki willow are scarlet red, covered with buds.  I'm thrilled to see that all the hard cutting and pruning I've done on the lilacs these last two years is paying off.  They are looking stronger than ever--and they are loaded with buds.  

Chores for the coming couple of weeks include dividing some of the day lilies and spreading the three yards of compost that we're having delivered this weekend.  No bed will be left out.  Everyone will get a top dressing to start the growing season with a bang.  I'll also be starting many, many flower seedlings for the new cutting garden I'm planning to grow in one of the raised beds this year.  And then there are the dahlias.  They will be emerging from their winter sleep down in the cellar.  I'll chit them out until the soil is warm enough to put them in.  For the past couple of seasons I've mixed them in with other plantings, letting them grow with all the other flowers.  This year I think they may get their own bed.  We shall see.

Spring came late here in the Maine this year, but now that it's here, every plant seems to be rushing to put on a show.  I am relishing these cool days, especially the ones when the sun puts in an appearance.  It's too cool yet for the mosquitos, so we can just be out there in the mud, spreading grass seeds, trimming limbs, and dreaming up new garden plans.  I hope your spring is shaping into a beautiful one. If you garden, I'd love to hear what is blooming right now and what you're up to in your garden.  More soon--plus pictures of the early spring garden!