Monday, December 30, 2013

it was a year of flowers & cats

Looking through this year's pictures, it's obvious that my favorite subjects are flowers, cats, and flowers and cats.

I've been feeling kind of stuck, unsure, insecure.
Roads not taken. I always get melancholy around the holidays.

Then I read this beautiful post on Floret and let myself dream of a flower farm. Took out my gardening books and scribbled plans for a cutting garden, which may not ever exist, but the act of planning and dreaming is enough for now.

Aji confided that she would like her very own cutting garden.
She is on my lap as I write this. Cats (and flowers) are an excellent remedy for melancholia.

Monday, December 23, 2013

merry and bright

There is joy this holiday season, but also there is loneliness. And if that's you, I just want to say hello.

Here are some wonderful ice pictures.

Dylan Thomas reads A Child's Christmas in Wales, here.

I hope your days are filled with warmth and love, good books, delicious food,
and the beauty of nature.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, dear friends.

xo, Jen

Friday, December 13, 2013

winter whimsy

We're expecting our first big snow tomorrow, conveniently on Saturday. I'm afraid I might cover every surface in the house with bottle brush trees and deer. So far they are confined to the mantle, but it could happen. I feel the temptation lurking, waiting to pounce.

Enjoy your weekend.

xo, Jen

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

a visit to Bow Street Flowers

 Hey friends, your local indie florist is a great place for holiday shopping. 
You'll feel like you walked into a secret garden spa.

Bow Street Flowers has soaps, candles,

ornaments (I got an elephant for the elephant-lover in my life)
sweet containers of paperwhites....

and of course flowers. A fresh bouquet might not be practical (under the tree and all that),
but a gift certificate is,
or a dark days of January surprise.

(another visit to Bow Street here)

Also, another book gift idea: A Year With Rumi, Daily Readings.

These Lights

Inside water, a waterwheel turns,
A star circulates with the moon.

We live in the night ocean, wondering,
What are these lights?


Friday, December 6, 2013 ideas

Books were always under the tree when I was a child, and I kept up the tradition with my family. The other day my son Matt and I went to the New England Mobile Book Fair (when I first saw the name I though it was a book mobile) to buy some gifts. They used to shelve their books by publisher, not subject or author, which made a lot of people crazy, but I loved the randomness--it became a real exploration. I was disappointed to see that the books are now conventionally shelved, but it's still a great store. Half of it is older bargain books, which is always fun.

I freeze up when people ask me what my favorite_______ (color, movie, book) is, but I do enjoy reading other people's lists. It's been a great year of reading for me, so here are my absolute favorites that I read in last year or so--substantial books that could make great gifts.

Literary Novels 
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
The Roundhouse, Louise Erdrich
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
Swamplandia, Karen Russell 
Live by Night, Dennis Lehane
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller

Wild, Cheryl Strayed
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller

Older Gift-Worthy Novels  I Read This Year
The Shadow of the WindCarlos Ruiz Zafon (thanks to Amelia for the recommendation). It would be fun to pair this with Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore.
All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy (The entire Border Trilogy would make a nice gift.)
A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin (The third time I've read it.)

Advice on Love and Life
Tiny Beautiful Things,  Cheryl Strayed

The Ecopoetry Anthology
New and Selected Poems, Volumes 1 and 2, Mary Oliver (Dream Work is my favorite single volume of hers)
The Four Seasons Poems, Everyman Library Anthology
The Everyman Library Pocket Poet series is wonderful--attractive little books, reasonably priced. Great gifts!

The Best American Series is terrific. I buy several of them every year--always the essay, travel writing, and sports writing volumns. Don't feel you have to limit yourself to this year's books--the older ones make good reading too.

I hope to do another post of detective/espionage suggestion (and maybe on some other random book gift ideas). I read all kinds of books, so feel free to email me (or comment) if you want some suggestions. I'd love to know any favorites of yours too.


p.s. Comments from Alicia and Petra remind me that the majority of people who comment here don't live in the U.S.A. and therefore have no (or limited) access to the books I mention. I didn't think about that when I wrote the post. If you live in another country and have a favorite book or two from there I would love to know what they are. I found the Zafon book when asking Amelia for books by Spanish authors. thank you, merci danke gracias grazie spasbida cheers!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

the 16th man

Coincidentally, a few nights ago I watched a riveting documentary (from the ESPN 30 for 30 series) called The Sixteenth Man, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a turning point in South Africa. Mandela was the 16th man. Watching it gave me some insight into his courage and goodness, and a  glimpse at the challenges he and his country faced. Tolerance. Compassion. Forgiveness.

Good film, now, a nice tribute. I found it on cable tv, and it's available on You Tube:

Sport has the ability to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people that little else has... It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.

                                                                                              -Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

there's something about a diner

The last summer my store was open a nice family from Brooklyn blew in. They had bought an old diner in a nearby town and loaded up with retro items that fit the character of a diner and the setting in the Catskills--a wooden box filled with ice fishing tackle, enamel mugs, a lantern, an aqua breadbox (and more) and went on their way.

I'm happy to report that The Phoenicia Diner is thriving. Great food, setting and service. Right now I'm dreaming of the Farmer's Skillet: potatoes, bacon, and cheese topped with two sunny side up eggs, served in a cast iron skillet. Fuel for a day of hiking, skiing or reading by the fire.

Diner breakfasts remind me of my father. He was one for spontaneous road trips, and he took me on several during my troubled teenage years. We travelled California in his old Land Cruiser, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Oregon, Monterey, Half Moon Bay, Big Sur.

Plenty of diners along the way. Always eggs over easy, rye toast and black coffee for him. There's something comforting about diners--they're familiar, not demanding.

 (Unless you're Jack Nicholson.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

giving thanks

Grateful for flowers & snow, kittens & mittens, books & tea, oranges & toast, home & family. And you dear friends, I am grateful for you.

Wilbur looked up. At the top of the doorway three small webs were being constructed. On each web, working busily was one of Charlotte's daughters. 

"Can I take this to mean," asked Wilbur, "that you have definitely decided to live here in the barn cellar, and that I am going to have three friends?"
"You can indeed," said the spiders.

                                                                       from Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

Monday, November 25, 2013

late November

I've been thinking about seasons and landscapes. 

Saguaros are everywhere in the Tucson area, common as hemlock here in the northeast. Those arms make them seem lifelike, friendly, welcoming.

This one, (which seems to be dying) reminded me of the Straw Man from Wizard of Oz.

Birds nest in holes in their bodies. Their night-blooming flowers, white and yellow, appear in the spring, and their ruby red fruit is edible.

In New Zealand it is spring. Here it is leafless and bitter cold. I read Polar Star, which was fascinating. A fish processing factory on a ship in the Bering Sea. Truly bitter. I will never look at cat food the same way.

We're going to the Catskills for Thanksgiving, and I'm hoping for snow to soften the starkness of November. A roaring fire, icicles. I spend too much time inside in the winter, looking out (or down at my book).

It's deer hunting season, which I used to hate, until I thought about the slow starvation of deer through the long winters (which happens when there are too many). Actually, I still hate it, just a little less.

A year ago we adopted Aji and Masa. They had been sheltering under a porch. Now it seems like they've always been here.

Monday, November 18, 2013


It's been a beautiful autumn, brisk and crisp, leaves from green to gold, scarlet, orange, bronze, glowing yellow. The windows are open and I'm taking long walks and trying to savor, store it up for bleaker days.  I've discovered pink lady apples, (they've edged out honeycrisps as my favorite) and beautiful sunsets from my studio windows: fat pink clouds and streaks of gold over the old mill town of Lowell.

I've been culling my books, pruning, paring, streamlining, saving only the ones who touch my heart.

The rest go to More Than Words  a used books store that trains teens in foster care: "Empowering youth to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business."

You know when you go into someone's house and look at their books, you get to know them? Here are most of my surviving A, B, and start of the C (by author) novels, those that aren't scattered elsewhere or in the country. It's scary how few there are, but it feels good too, that I've passed along the ones I'm pretty sure I won't read again, stripped down to the necessities.

"May something always go unharvested!
 May much stay out of our stated plan,
 Apples or something forgotten and left,
 So smelling their sweetness would be no theft."

from Unharvested, by Robert Frost

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

pine needles, fragments

 I've been painting evergreens, lots of them. A large canvas divided into grids (again) with two or three trees in each square. I started out simple, but I keep adding layers and thinking about all the ways we see them--close up, at a distance, layered with other trees, in the forest, against a house, in the house...soft needles, sharp needles, spruce, pine, fir, cypress, juniper...

When I paint something realistic I'm more interested in the idea of the thing, the sense of it, than the thing itself, so it becomes semi-abstract (or semi-realistic) like a quick glimpse out the window or a memory, or a line in a poem. Edges, fragments.

One of the things I like about painting-- I don't have to think, (beyond simple questions of color and composition). I'm completely absorbed in the moment. Like a dance or jazz--improvisation, meditation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

houses, Barrio Viejo, Tucson

Ten days back in the cool sensible northeast, and it's just a memory--brilliant heat and colors, the strangeness of cactus, the proliferation of taquerias. The sense of space--I could drive north into the Navajo Nation, the Grand Canyon, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana; or east into New Mexico and Texas--big open places that make New England seem charming and quaint, which is not a bad thing, just different.