Maggie O’Farrell – Book Riches

Sometimes social media delivers a wondrous gift. A while ago Priya Parmer, who wrote “Vanessa And Her Sister” (the novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf), posted on Instagram a photo of a small stack of books. I could make out one title and author, “This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Born in Northern Ireland and living in Edinburgh, O’Farrell has published seven novels set mostly in the U.K. Her characters – sufferer of eczema, journalist, linguist, reclusive movie star who disappears at the height of her career – are siblings, children, parents. Amongst themselves they grapple with secrets, loss, love, and tragedy. In “The Hand That First Held Mine,” O’Farrell guides parallel stories, separated in time, until they intersect.

Such a fine storyteller, she writes the kind of language I read for. Describing a café gone quiet: “A sack of coffee beans slumps, exhausted, against the counter. A bicycle skims past the window, the beam of its light veering over the dark street. The sky outside is mineshaft black, washed with orange. As if sensing the nighttime calm, the refrigerator obligingly shudders into silence.”

Later the sky goes from “mineshaft black” to “five-fathom blue,” and then “drains slowly into a milky gray.” I love how her observations, often piled up in lists, set scenes and capture the layers of grief or joy.

Describing a new mother after the baby feeds and falls asleep: “She looks about her, in the manner of a traveler who hasn’t seen their home for a long time. She is light-headed with the possibilities open to her. She could read a book, phone a friend, send an email, write a letter, do a sketch, make some soup, sort out her clothes, wash her hair, go for that walk, turn on the television, check her diary, mop the floor, clean the windows, fiddle about on the Internet. She could do anything.

But should she risk moving him?”

Houses – in the best books there are always houses (ones where the kitchen might hold a “kitchen dresser”). “She peeled up the rotten carpets and old, damp lino, scrubbed the boards and varnished them. She whitewashed the back of the house. She rubbed the windows with newspaper and vinegar until sunshine glowed through…. It seemed astonishing to her to own a patch of land, an arrangement of bricks, mortar and glass. It seemed an impossible swap: some money for a life like this.”

Given how often and well O’Farrell writes about children and parents, I enjoyed finding this piece about her “typical” writing day. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/17/my-writing-day-maggie-o-farrell

I’ve read just two of her books so far, beginning with her most recent, so I’ve missed years of anticipating a new book – but now have treasures in reserve!

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Kind and Dear

It’s January and cold – in Washington these days the thermometer rarely tops 32° and sinks to 22° – making me long for our usual winter 42° and appreciate house and heat.

This month I try to turn my attention to the house, clearing Christmas, which stops looking jolly and becomes clutter (except the tree, those lights are still so welcome). And January also invites more organizing, seeking comfort and cheer from order.

But in numerous ways I avoid those tasks. Although this year, I happily reboxed Christmas on January 6, energized after reading about the Irish tradition of “Women’s Little Christmas,” the old, but still observed celebration of the women (and surely now men), who worked so hard to make the holidays for their families.

A more typical stalling maneuver is to look at books about houses, including a Christmas present, Ben Pentreath’s “English Houses,” a beautiful book full of photos of loved houses that creak with tilted floors and worn Turkey rugs. Pentreath introduced a room new to me, the “snug,” a tiny room with books and fireplace looking just like the word. (I discovered while writing this that Pentreath writes a blog about his life in Dorset:    http://www.pentreath-hall.com/inspiration/).

And this January I miss “Red House West” – may it return soon! I did see a Pin from the blog’s proprietors of an imaginative under-the-stairs bed, cozily curtained off. And I began thinking about how certain house elements, sunny French windows, odd but comfy chairs, deep window sills, long pine tables make me stare at a photo and want to be there.

Leanne Shapton, an illustrator I admire, said she processes life by employing series and repetition in her work. Maira Kalman does that too. And an artist, Debbie George, I discovered while painting teacups last November, paints antique teacups and flowers one lovely image after another.

January lets such thoughts string together into a project. So, I’m going to look for little moments in rooms that make a difference – quirks, rumples, using houses I know or photos from books or the Internet. Done up doesn’t always do it, but personal often does.

And I can start with this little poem that William Morris had embroidered around the top of his four-poster bed:

     The wind’s on the wold

     And the night is a-cold

     And Thames runs chill

     Twixt mead and hill,

     But kind and dear

     Is the old house here,

     And my heart is warm

     Midst winter’s harm…

That’s the idea!

wm-morris-bed

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The Teacup Project I

I could title this an escape into teacups. Autumn always brings the appeal of a drawing project on the blog – a month of penline drawings or flowered objects from the V&A. This year, more than ever, I want to refocus my mind away from the incessant and scary election palaver.

So, sourced from the Internet’s byways, I offer a selection of teacup encounters, planning to share them till Tuesday the 8th. (And daily on Instagram.)

Rather than fretting about what’s next in my real work (or for the country), I’ve loved being absorbed in thoughts of these comforting objects, as I sit under the circle of my desk lamp with pen, watercolors, and tea to hand!

teacups-geo-wash

teacups-nesting-teacups

teacups-cptn-cook

teacups-teacups-to-tractors

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June Gatherings

My husband tells me he will “KonMari” his closet. Slowly, in his own way, employing some complicated system of discarding one item one day, two the next, then three, and so on. Only just begun, he assures me that the end result will be as dramatic as Marie Kondo’s magical tidying.

How would it be to take your keen tendency toward tidy and, in no time, have your name become a verb! People either swear by Kondo’s methods or absolutely dismiss them (and you can probably see the difference in their houses). She loses me with her book ruthlessness, but I try with clothes and get most hung up by sentimental things (although I think she allows a few such items if they “spark joy.”)

But hearing my husband’s plan, I thought I should KonMari my workroom, specially the drawer of little drawings I have from all these years of the blog. What sparks joy? Then it occurred to me that this summer I might delve into that archive and select related images for some posts.

And so here we are into June – the last international postcard sent to my young friend as she headed home – and then some remixes.

And I’m wishing you wonderful summer days!

Int'l postcard #5 1

 

 

Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl

During my recent visit at Downtown Abbey, Mrs. Hughes proposed for dinner this recipe from Deb Perelman’s blog, “The Smitten Kitchen,” – it’s delicious! The complete recipe is here, but you could make a fine variation using Perelman’s ingredients list in the bowl below.

I followed Perelman’s suggestions for preparing the vegetables – first coating the baking tray with “a thin slick of olive oil” and roasting one-inch chunks of sweet potatoes for 20 minutes. Then I flipped the sweet potatoes and piled on the broccoli florets to cook.

The dressing makes this dish, and Mrs. Hughes whipped it together (while I played a “helicopter rescue and take patient to the hospital” game). She layered our bowls with a mix of wild and brown rice, lots of the vegetables, and topped with the sauce.

Something comforts about warm food in a bowl – each bite different. Maybe not so comforting as a helicopter airlift – but good!

Sweet Potato and Broc