Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blizzard musings

Blizzards are not for the faint of heart. Most people choose to witness the fury of a blizzard from the inside of their safe and cozy abode. Yesterday photographers and folks with pooches were the exception. A lovely greyhound with a red coat, a sweet older golden, my friend John's terrier, Teddy, our goldens and two small dogs too far to identify.
With a wind chill well below zero even the hardiest couldn't stay out long. The words of a talented nature photographer named Dan Tobyne rang in my ears." The worse the weather the better the photographs. " The wind whirled in vicious, biting gusts and the steely gray sky showed no promise of a warming sun. The prize for such bravery.....the exhilarating feeling of being alive in nature's fiercest elements.
There was a distinct feeling of excitement in the air as we walked through Concord Center.
People were feasting on hot soup, drinking tea and hunkering into the warmth and friendship of one of the few places open. The steaming cup of latte I shared with Paul at Main Street
cafe tasted especially sweet.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010


"Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Choose with no regret.
Continue to learn.
Appreciate your friends.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is."
Mary Anne Radmacher

Chatham in December

Chatham in December is
and wild
in equal measure.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best friends

" There is a friend in the life of each of us
who seems not a separate person, but an expansion, an interpretation
of one's self, the very meaning of one's soul. "
Edith Wharton

Friday, December 10, 2010

" Room in Heaven "

Last night I took care of Mary. She is 92, sharp as a tack and dear as the day is long. Once a week I go to her apartment and " Help her get ready for bed. " I make the coffee, wind the cuckoo clock, put in her eye drops and bring her nightie to her. She does the rest. She has her routine, a lovely place to live, four children and countless grandchildren, many who live nearby.
Before she went to bed she told me her dearest and oldest friend, who she was due to have lunch with, called to tell her she had been diagnosed with dementia. A wiz at math, she knew something was wrong when she began to struggle with balancing her checkbook. Soon simple subtraction and addition became impossible. As Mary told me this a deep sadness I had never seen came over her. She realized, though her friend was only one town over, this meant she was losing her. " I don't have many friends left you know. Most of the friends I have are younger, but it's not the same." I agreed. Old friends are like gold. She went on to say, " I miss my John most of all. I'll never get used to that. I wish there was room in heaven for me now."
This strong, positive woman looked down at her hands, twisted her wedding ring and wept. I wept inside for her. I held her hands before she went to bed and told her what an amazing woman she is and what a treasure she is to her family. But at that moment I wondered, if she wants to go why isn't there " Room in heaven " for her?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Laugh often and " Love the one your with"

I just read an article in the New York Times by Yoko Ono. Yesterday was the 30 year anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. The piece, titled " The Tea Maker " is a memory of tea, of making tea, of their cats, and their Dakota kitchen. There is a photograph of the two of them. It is a photograph of love.
The piece is short; it is a story about the middle of the night. It is a story about laughter. I believe life is in the details. Stories breathe life into all the many nooks and crannies. At the end of the story she says, " My memory of us is we were a couple who laughed often." This reminded me how blessed I am to be " A couple who laughs often."

Monday, December 6, 2010


A few of my favorite things......
Right now it is savoring a bowl of hot McCanns oatmeal.
Now there is oatmeal and there is OATMEAL!
These are 100% whole grain Irish oats distributed by Sturm Foods in Manawa, WI
This oatmeal won the " International Exhibition Award in 1876 "
A 28 ounce can costs about $7-8 and has 20 servings.
Here's how you do it...
1) Buy a can of McCanns ( It may seem expensive but if you analyze it against the processed/ prepackaged Quakers I think it may be more economical and certainly healthier. Plus you end up with a wonderful can that you can put your pens, paint brushes or tools in. If you are feeling ambitious you can even decorate it with lovely paper using modge podge or glue.
2) Bring 1 quart of water to a boil, add 1 cup of oats, stir and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Stir a few times while it's cooking.
3 ) In your favorite bowl add whatever your heart desires. Personally, I add a dollop of
butter, some fruit, vermont maple syrup and milk.
4 ) Sit in a comfy spot and eat it slowly. Savor every bite; it is so different than the processed kind. It has a chewiness and a heartiness. It sticks to your ribs and is good for your heart. Think about Ireland and the traditions attached to this wonderful food.
On the back of the can is an Irish blessing
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On being astonished

Mary Oliver says " Work is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. " This fall I have spent more time in the woods than ever. Every day I am , as she says , astonished by something. The tiniest bird camouflaged in a dark rotting tree. The thinnest layer of ice on the pond looked more like a topographical study than frozen water. A cluster of pine cones that Andy Goldsworthy might have arranged around a tree stump yet I know it was nature's random version of perfection. I am learning to love the bare branches of November. I can see more and the sun can easily find me now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Walk with the dreamers....

" Walk with the dreamers, 
the believers, 
the courageous,
the cheerful,
the planners,
the doers,
the successful people
with their heads in the clouds 
and their feet on the ground.
Let their spirit ignite a fire within you
to leave this world
better than when you found it.
by Wilfred Peterson

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Writing, writers and lessons learned

I am sad today. Some days are like that. Writing has brought up all kinds of memories of late.
Writing is a bit like excavation; you dig up more bitter than sweet most of the time. I am beginning to understand why our band of experienced writers has dwindled . Yesterday I looked at the original email list. Half the people have left. One friend who left told me, " Robin, I just couldn't handle it. I didn't want to think about all those memories. It made me feel like I might lose control." I understood. She has two young children to raise, to "stay in control for".
I've been talking to Thelma Nason, a 90 year old writer I help out one night a week. Tima ( her other name) spent seven years writing " Ethel, A Fictional Autobiography " the book is about Ethel Rosenberg. Tima was struck by the excruciating choice Ethel made to go to the electric chair when she had two young boys; at the time Tima had children the same ages. She told me, " I felt people needed to think about Ethel as a mother and the terrible choice she was forced to make."
Tima is a very beautiful ,intelligent woman. She taught at John Hopkins where she became friends with Tillie Olsen. She also went to Mac Dowell and The Virginia Writers Center. There is much to learn from other writers especially those who lived through the depression, WWII and the Red Scare.
I love my Thursday nights with Tima. We read Mary Oliver poems, talk about other writers we like and we talk about life. The last time we talked about writing she said, " When you write I think you discover yourself."
We all have sadness in our lives. I'll embrace it, then let it go. A walk in the peaceful woods of
Punkatasset always does the trick.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The worst of November,the best of November on the cape

Early last week I spent a few days on the cape. The weather was so frightful even I couldn't brave the beach for long. It felt like a full blown nor'easter though there was little mention of it in the news. At night the wind howled outside my bedroom window like a sad, sad woman. It was the bleakest weather I have ever seen on the cape; when the elements we love so much in summer take on a new and frightening dimension.
These photos of Nauset Beach in Orleans do not convey the raw force of the waves; they were breaking out as far as the eye could see. Row after row of a roiling sea. It seemed the white foam stretched to infinity. The beach had been so battered there was no where to walk and high tide was a still a few hours away. It was one of the most thrilling spectacles of nature I have ever seen.
I was the only person on the beach. If a rogue wave swept me into the sea no one would have been the wiser; I stood back respectfully and watched in awe. I thought of my son, Peter, now in snowy Aspen. We spent so many days together here this past summer. He surfed and I collected wampum to make into earrings. I wished he could see this Nauset!
No one in my family understands why I am so enthralled with the cape off season. There are a million reasons. This was one more.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A photo of my father

A photo of my father stares back at me. It is dated " Timmy 1938 outside of Bones"
The writing on the back of the photograph is in red. It is in my mother's distinctive handwriting, though more shaky than usual. Daddy is in the middle, clearly the center of focus. He is relaxed, happy, handsome and smiles earnestly at the fellow to his right. I don't know who this man is, he looks attractive, though I can only see his profile. He sits cross legged on the grass with his wing tip shoes and dress pants. The look between my father and this unknown fellow is of total connection and comfort; a kind of "yes, yes!, I get you, I'm finding this story funny, revealing, maybe even racy." Then to the left of my father is another fellow, also sitting cross legged on the grass, with a big white cloth hanky, the kind they all used to use.
My dad looked so happy, so in the moment and in his element. How handsome and unfettered he looked. Before the war, before mum, before four children and all the weight that carried. Before Morgan Guaranty Trust Company and conforming to a job he was not suited for. This day, this moment, in this photograph looks like one of the best times in his life. At Yale, before the war, in 1938.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Strangers in the woods

The woods are filled with strangers
until you get to know them
the winter berry
and the china berry
blue greens
and bright, bright reds
the softest blue
of the chicory flower
and the brightest blaze of the virginia creeper
the yellow leaves of the grey beech
and the frizzy flower
of the native witch hazel

Friday, October 29, 2010

The geese fly by my window

The geese fly by my window
over the wetlands
over the pink clouds
that sit softly on the horizon
they are large groups that instinctively form into 
the classic v formation
or sometimes a straight line 
of a mere four
They are a certain portender 
of things to come and
things to go 
the lovely autumn leaves
ablaze with colors like fire
will fall to be replaced with
the browns and grays of winter
It will get very quiet
very cold and very sad in those early days of November
when too many people I loved died
I will celebrate and remember
my mother, Junie
Paul and Steve's father Poppie
and my father, Timmy
I will not dread November
or be sad in November
as I once was
they would not want that
I will live for them
I will live with them in my heart
I will carry the love they gave me
into the world

Sunday, October 24, 2010

100 cards and the beauty of a real store

Last weekend when I went into The Concord Bookstore Jill looked at me, beaming, and said "We just sold you 100th card! " The Concord Bookstore has always been one of my favorite shops in town. It is also one of the few stores that has remained virtually unchanged and hasn't closed it's doors. I have lived in Concord for 25 years and the first to close in my time was the 5&10. When I was working in the old black and white darkroom at Anderson Photo, Kristen Anderson and I would eat lunch at the counter; the best blt's ever and a mound of french fries to die for. The waitresses were old and grumpy and at the same time wonderful and familiar. Other stores that have since closed are The Mary Curtis Shop, Open Market, Placewares, and The Harness Shop.
Now for the good news......stores that are significant to me and are still there. The Colonial Store, The Cheese Shop, The Pot Shop ( may have the name wrong) Artinians, The Toy Shop, Vanderhoofs and The Cambridge Trust and of course, The Concord Bookstore.
A few years ago I saw a bumper sticker that resonated for me and one I try to live by. It's simple and wise, " Think globally, shop locally." If we get all our books online or at big chains like Costco or Barnes and Noble how can independent stores like The Concord Bookstore survive? It's easy for me, I would rather flip through through a book, try on a nightie or get personal help with my finances than order online. Call me a luddite, it's ok with me but please consider my favorite bumper sticker and shop locally.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I Love Mornings

I love the quiet
the promise of another gloriously long day
stretching before me like a lazy cat
I love the light
how subtle it can be
or how crisp and cool it can be
with it's exacting shadows
geese fly by my window
a bunny hops tentatively from the black berry bushes
the clouds that hover on the horizon
give way to peaks of sunshine
there are things to be done
I do not care
all that matters in the first hour of this new morning
is coffee in my cozy pajamas
snuggling with my sweet pups
and watching the wind
as it makes the trees sway ever so gently
this morning has it's own rhythm
slow, slow, slow
hands wrapped in the warmth of my big mug
the first cup of coffee
the promise cup
sure is sweet.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day turns to night

On September 22nd at 6:28 pm I watched the sun set ever so slowly over Stage Harbor in Chatham. Like a last breath it slipped behind the trees leaving little mention of it's whereabouts.The sky faded to an unsensational palette of muted colors, the palest pinks and blues.
Behind me the setting sun reflected on the glass door of a house named " The Centaur". Glowing in a blaze of orange, pink and gold, the door looked like fire was dancing on it.
Then, as though that was not enough, in the eastern sky, the moon rose over The Monomoy Trap Company building. The stark beauty of it reminded me of an Andrew Wyeth painting.
The first day of fall, blustery, cold and utterly unsensational, gave quite a show as day turned to night.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What I will miss when I die

My writing group, a brave band of five, has started up again with my friend and writing teacher, Barbara O'Neil. We meet every Wednesday at The Concord Library from 9:30 to 11:00 am. The writing practice is based on Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones" More details on the practice are in my post dated February 10th, 2010.
The prompt was " What I will miss when I die" This is the unedited version of what I wrote.
The feel of a warm kiss on my cheek.
hugs from my beloved boys
the green in peter's eyes
Alex's "hello beautiful" greeting over the phone
Teddy's soft fur
the smell of the ocean
the sun on my face
and the cry of a gull
poppies swaying in the breeze,
my camera
endless meanderings on my bike early in the morning
before most of the world has awoken
I will miss all of the beauty
and none of the ugliness
I will miss words
reading them
writing them
hearing them
I will miss snuggling up by the fireplace in winter
lighting candles for dinner
making soup
I will miss my husband
collecting stones
and wampum
and shells
picking up a roll of film
at the photo store
I will miss making art
writing notes
finding the perfect card for someone
I will miss color
and sherbet sunsets
and hours on the boat
I will miss the morning light in my bedroom and warm blankets on my skin
I will miss more than I know
more than I could ever imagine
and I vow not to waste
a minute of this precious life
this life that is a gift
my gift
every minute of it
it is a precious gift
I will not waste it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Frances Roddy Show, three's a charm

They say " Three's a charm". Last year I submitted work to The Concord Art Association twice. After my second rejection I wrote a blog about artists putting themselves out there. (January 30th, 2010 ) Knowing two other artists, one a painter the other a photographer, whose names did not appear on the list made me feel better. I knew I was in good company. It's astonishing that a relatively sleepy town like Concord has such a popular and prestigious venue for artists. I'm not saying it's like getting into the Decordova Museum but it's certainly a feather in the old artist cap.
Victoria Munroe, who has a fabulous gallery on Newbury Street in Boston, curated the show. It's by far one of the best shows I've seen at the Concord Art Association. Not only did she curate the show, she also decided how it should be hung. How a show is hung; what pieces should go together, whether it is thematic or random is incredibly important. Victoria did a brilliant job with this. The many volunteers who executed the actual labor, hauling, measuring, nailing and hanging deserve our thanks as well.
If you can't make it to the show it's on the Concord Art Association website. Go to www.concordart.org and go to 2010 Roddy , view exhibit ( I'm in the upstairs gallery )
The show will be up until October 17th.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Double celebration forever on September 24th!

Yesterday I turned 58. It was an Indian summer kind of day. Temps went into the 80's and the sun felt hot on my back as we hiked to the top of Mt. Wachusett with Peter and the dogs. This morning it struck me that yesterday was also the 2 year anniversary of my retirement from 20 years of teaching photography, interdisciplinary studies, video production and fine art at Cambridge Rindge and Latin H.S. I was not in a classroom teaching. I was on the top of a mountain! I was collecting maple leaves for mono printing. I was photographing the blaze of a single red leaf in macro mode. I was feeling strong and fit as I made my way up some steep and challenging parts of the hike.
I felt so much love yesterday. Birthday greetings came in the form of texts, face book messages, songs over my cell phone, emails, cards and presents sent from afar in bubble wrap. I even got
a salutation all the way from Copenhagen. One of my favorite students ( yes, I confess... ) in my last Freshman Fundamentals of Art class sent me a Face Book message " HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I hope you are having a great life and continuing to do art! " My best friend sent me scallop earrings and Paul said he didn't want to give me another pair of earrings and he didn't have a present for me yet. He then said " I know you've been wanting to get that Canon G12. Maybe we should get you that for your birthday. YEEHAW, works for me!
When I woke up this morning I realized the significance this 2 year anniversary of my retirement. I didn't need to take a " personal day" for my birthday ever again. Now everyday is a personal day and no one can criticize me for taking too many sick days. I am free. Free to write, take endless walks with my beloved pups, friends and family. Free to get on my bike at 6 am to photograph and come back whenever I want.
So now my birthday will always be a double celebration. Mary Oliver says " Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? " PLENTY!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eulogy for my Aunt, First Church of Round Hill, September 9, 2010

Good morning to everyone as we celebrate and say goodbye to Nancy Tyner Gagarin. Aunt Nannie was my mother's younger sister. Her brother, John Tyner, was my uncle and godfather. These three Tyners, their parents and my cousins have all been pivotal in my life.
A few weeks before Aunt Nannie died I came to visit for two perfect days and nights. The first night, as we ate lobster from Chatham and drank wine I looked over at her and even with all she was going through she looked beautiful and happy. The next day we looked through old albums dating back to the 30's when my grandparents bought the big house in Chatham. Aunt Nannie remembered every detail, date and name. She was always like that and we shared a passion for all things Chatham.
This is what I want to talk about this morning. As best I can piece together, when Aunt Nannie was a child she had petite mall, a mild form of epilepsy. My grandmother being a Christian Scientist of sorts and being at a loss for how to handle her youngest child's illness sent her to Chatham with a nurse from the age of 10 to 12. She lived in the little cottage my grandparents built with her nurse Ms. Hicks. She had a horse which she kept at Eldredge's garage. On it she explored all the nooks and crannies of a virtually undiscovered Chatham.
Those years, living apart from her family couldn't have been easy but I think it gave her something so profound it cannot be described. Her childhood friend Boo Weller told me
" Nannie had a depth of feeling for the Cape your mother and I couldn't touch. "
The beloved big house, known as Riptide, the two cottages and the garage are no longer in the family but the memories are and that is what Aunt Nannie and I shared. We were both obsessed with Gammie and Gampie's legacy. We referred to it lovingly as the big house. Aunt Nannie was the one I would turn to for questions about that fabulous bygone era. She would tell me " Oh Robbie, I dream about walking through the rooms exactly as they were and I can smell the smells. It's as though I was there again." She told me things no one else could and I was like a sponge. On our last visit she told me the names of her childhood dogs. She would tell me things in an excited, almost breathless way that I loved to hear. "Your grandfather could charm the birds out of the trees. Your grandmother was cozy and funny and dear. Your great grandmother didn't like drinking and tried to keep the Tyner brothers apart."
The other night I looked through old family photos. My mum and Aunt Nannie, lying on the deck of my grandparents sailboat at 14 and 16 years old, feet touching. In these albums I see her love; for my grandparents, for my Uncle John and my mother. Her love for Uncle Peter was something out of a love story and her love for her children, grandchildren and friends.
Honestly, it was her love of her dogs that took the prize. In those old photos she was always petting a dog. Dirk the bull terrier,Happy Hooligan, Baffie or Dash. If it is true that all dogs go to heaven she is in good company. But they are in the best company of all. Our beloved Nancy Tyner Gagarin, we will live you forever.