Feast!

feast table long viewToday is the greatest feast day on the calendar (The “-mas” in Christmas literally means feast in Latin). The day which conveys, above all other days, the spirit of generosity and fellow-feeling. So it seems fitting to share a few images from a dinner which took place on December 14th at Flatrocks Gallery which took generosity of spirit as its guiding principle. Net proceeds from the evening went to support the work of the Open Door, an organization which feeds thousands of people here on Cape Ann while offering a range of other crucial services.

The owners of Flatrocks Gallery, AnneMarie Crotty and Cynthia Roth, wanted to hold the fundraising dinner in conjunction with their current show, also called Feast! and asked food writer Heather Atwood and myself to help put the event together.

The menu was conceived and cooked by Heather, who provided a four-course meal via several crock pots and giant roaster full of ingenuity, metaphorically-speaking. The food evoked warmth and light and conviviality and coming inside out of the cold and dark to sit together elbow to elbow with strangers, eating at a common table via candlelight. Like an idealized version of a 17th century wayside tavern where it’s warm and clean and everyone smells awesome.

The mulled wine and roasted brussel sprouts start the evening by the fire.

The mulled wine and roasted brussel sprouts start the evening by the fire.

The guests ate and drank mulled wine over the fire on a beautiful snowy New England night before heading inside to eat and drink some more. A fisherman/musician neighbor, with a great white beard and the evocative nickname of Sasquatch, stopped by with a guitar and a set of reindeer antlers on his head to offer a bit of spontaneous song in return for a bit of spontaneous cheer — given in the form of warm appreciation and a pull of whiskey. The spirit of the Irish mystic poet-priest, John O’Donohue, was at the table in the reading of his work (he would have fit right in). A few more songs, played on the flute along with a banjo and guitar, came at the end of the meal, and the guests even had the chance to join in, singing on the chorus in full voice.

On the way out the door, guests could stop by the photo booth for a chance to put themselves in the middle of a huge painting of a true medieval feast, hanging ham hock and all.

Heather Atwood looks appropriately medieval at the Feast! photo booth.

Heather Atwood looks appropriately medieval at the Feast! photo booth.

It was a warm evening on a cold night, at nearly the darkest time of the year in our part of the world, and at every point in the evening we stopped to remember, and remember again, that those of us who have much are blessed when we make an offering of our abundance, out of the fullness of our hearts.

Vintage cookbook pages were used to make the cones that held the evening's menu.

Vintage cookbook pages were used to make the cones that held the evening’s menu.

Grace Before Meals

As we begin this meal with grace,
Let us become aware of the memory
Carried inside the food before us:
The quiver of the seed
Awakening in the earth,
Unfolding in a trust of roots
And slender stems of growth,
On its voyage toward harvest,
The kiss of rain and surge of sun;
The innocence of animal soul
That never spoke a word,
Nourished by the earth
To become today our food;
The work of all the strangers
Whose hands prepared it,
The privilege of wealth and health
That enables us to feast and celebrate.

— John O’Donohue, 1956-2008

Handmade Wedding

My nephew Andrew just married a girl named Elizabeth, who grew up a couple of cornfields away from him in Ohio. They’ve known each other their whole lives, but it took a change of scenery a few years ago — a college trip to Europe with fellow students — for them to really see each other. Since that overseas trip, they’ve been steadily inching toward marriage, with the whole thing culminating this summer in a wedding in Ohio.

About a week before the wedding I checked in with my sister, Andrew’s mother, to see how things were going. We were traveling from Massachusetts and I wanted to know if she needed help with anything before I got there. Well, my sister told me, she wasn’t really involved with the wedding itself, just the rehearsal dinner. And she didn’t really know what was going on with the planning, actually. As she hesitated while trying to give me the details over the phone, I could feel her trying to lower my expectations. She had good reasons for underplaying things. Among the people who know them best, Andrew and Elizabeth have a notorious reputation for being easygoing. So easygoing, in fact, that they sometimes appear to be enjoying a reality the rest of us are not privy to. An alternate universe where there is, quite literally, nothing to worry about. All she knew, my sister said, was that Elizabeth had been “making crafts”, as my sister put it, for months and months now.

Sun setting through an old oak tree

But as it turned out, Andrew and Elizabeth, floating along in their parallel universe, were right. There was, in fact, nothing to worry about. Because they managed to create just about the loveliest wedding humanly possible — with a little help from their friends, not to mention the heavens, which cooperated in the end after pouring buckets and buckets of rain all morning long. Sometime late in the afternoon, alarmingly late in the afternoon, the skies suddenly cleared, the sun broke through, and everything and everyone was imbued with a golden glow.

The vortex of those months of craft-making resulted in the most thoughtful of handmade experiences, where we, the guests, were treated as if we were the ones being honored, while at the same time we were expected to fully participate in the festivities, to the point of being asked to wash our own dishes at the wedding. Yes, you read that correctly. While it sounds insane to ask your wedding guests to wash their plates — and it is — somehow it suited the occasion, much to my shock and to the shock of everyone else I met in line. Yes, you read that correctly as well. We stood in line to wash our own dishes. And as I stood there waiting to plunge my hands into dishwater, I had conversations with people that I would never have met otherwise, and it felt, altogether now, like we were helping this young couple by taking a quick turn at cleaning up. And in return they treated all of us to a lovely wedding ceremony followed by some awesome food, great music, crazy dancing, homegrown flowers, funny stories and of course, lots of crafts. The good kind.

Those dishes, by the way, were all vintage and collected one by one by Elizabeth and her friends at various second hand shops over the last few years, in anticipation of the day when she would need to find place settings for well over two hundred people. Elizabeth also hand wrote the name of each and every single one of her guests on individual place cards.

How could we feel anything other than loved?

Francie's place card

Francie’s place card

They were married in the front yard of Elizabeth’s parents’ house, under a canopy Andrew and Elizabeth made out of saplings. After the ceremony, which invoked the solemn prospect of marriage across space and time while also managing to make everyone laugh more than once, we all trekked one hundred feet or so to the reception, which took place just behind the house under a big tent, as is the fashion these days. Actually, Andrew and Elizabeth incorporated a lot of ideas that are the fashion these days: mason jars, a photo booth, wildflowers, old windows, pennants — but every single handmade detail felt so imbued with their young love and enthusiasm that it all transcended a cynical scroll through pinterest and became greater than the sum of its parts.

Just thinking about the wedding makes me happy, and (I must confess) half-wistful about my own wedding many moons ago, which was an equally handmade affair but not quite as mellow. Because attending to the details and worrying about the details are two different things entirely. If Andrew and Elizabeth can go on to achieve the same balance in life that they achieved on the day they started their life together, they will be blessed indeed.

You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.

— Henry Drummond

Projects: Holiday Decorating the Natural Way

In a recent post I mentioned a small project that I made a Pinterest board for, which I filled with images of handmade clay ornaments and paper decorations, vintage photos of winter sports and a technique for making clear glass as shiny and silver as mercury glass. The project was completed last weekend as part of a tour of local inns and home kitchens, a fundraiser for our town’s high school. Happily, I wasn’t in charge of anything other than a bit of holiday decorating for an inn here in Rockport located in one of the most amazing spots around, right on Eden Road.

Eden Road is a locally famous stretch which clings to a spit of land between the rocky coast and a few hardy houses. Thacher Island, with its legendary twin lighthouses, is directly just off to port or starboard (as a Midwesterner I’m not sure I can pull off seafaring references). There’s not much you can do in terms of decorating when you’re competing with a view like that, so why compete at all? I decided to just go the natural route — with just a bit of added shine — as the inn itself, built one hundred years ago in perfect turn-of-the-last-century rambling summerhouse vernacular, epitomizes natural style with its stone fireplace and wicker furnishings. It’s a place entirely comfortable with itself with little interest in impressing anyone by being fashionable. Instead, the inn relies on the basics of comfort: plenty of upholstered places to sit, good lighting for reading, tables to put your drinks on, ottomans to put your feet up, a fireplace when it’s cold, a sunroom when it’s not, a porch with a few lighthouses in view, and innkeepers that are so nice the same people keep coming back year after year.

I had great help from some high school students, the inn owners, the event organizer and her daughter. Even my six-year-old and three-year-old pitched in, though they were slightly less useful. Together, all of us managed to decorate a mantel and a Christmas tree that made its way through the stairwell at 9 feet tall. Here’s a sketch of the room and a breakdown of our handmade, natural Christmas at the Inn.

TRH2012ProjectEdenPines

1. The view! As you come in, the two large picture windows opposite the entryway highlight Thacher Island and its lighthouses. So after this everything else is secondary. But I could still draw even more attention to the windows by hanging a fresh wreath on each one, adorned with nothing more than a red striped burlap ribbon.

2. Over the fireplace I put together a gallery of vintage photographs depicting Christmas and winter sports in black and white. The frames were mounted with the same red striped burlap ribbon. Two black urns were filled with greens and twigs and tiny white lights while fresh greens (lots of pine in honor of the inn’s name) lined the mantel itself. Mercury glass votive holders were placed among the greenery.

3. On the sofa table facing the entry I placed a large branch in a silver vase. Originally, I intended it to be an Advent tree, much like my own here at home, but I settled for a tree filled with tiny candy canes affixed to white tags hanging from it, tags with the same vintage images as the framed pieces over the fireplace. Continuity! And the candy canes could still be pulled off the tags, one a day, just like an Advent calendar, only without all those pesky numbers corresponding with the days of the month to keep you honest. Around the branch I stacked boxes with scalloped edges in a natural brown finish and more striped burlap ribbon.

4. The tree. I’ve never decorated a 9-foot tree, and it was a feat, at least for me. I was going with all red ornaments and had dreams of stumbling across a cache of 200 vintage red bulbs that someone just wanted to give to me…for free. Instead I went to the Dollar store, and what I gave up in credibility I gained in savings. But to keep it real, I made white clay ornaments and painted little red birds that I glued to clothespins and placed throughout the tree. It looked like a flock of red birds were scattered on the branches of the tree, and the sight made me happy.

The owner of the inn saw the direction in which we were taking the room, and promptly went out and bought yards and yards of fresh garlands, wreaths galore, and some whopping white and red poinsettias, which, when amassed together, look overwhelmingly lovely. All of this worked well against the background of the lodge-like room, with its deep couches upholstered in dark colors, real wood panels in the entryway and stairwell and a fire blazing away in the stone fireplace. To see such a room, intended to be a communal gathering spot, filled with live greenery and flowers and branches and little white lights felt like an early sort of Christmas present.

I hope your holidays are filled with a sense of old-fashioned beauty, a warm hearth, and your own version of a natural Christmas, wherever you are.

Interiors: Our House

For the most recent Stylebook, I thought it would be a good idea to feature my own home and my use of vintage pieces — items found in The Roving Home’s store and some from my own stash. While it feels strange to highlight my own living space before it reaches its more idealized version, it occurred to me that if I wait until this ideal is attained, I will never show a single photo of my house. Besides, I know how much I like to see other people’s interior design choices (I refuse to think of this in terms of voyeurism), so it only seems fair to show my own, especially since I’m always going on about how much vintage pieces add to interiors. And I thought it might be fun to show some of the no-cost approach we’ve taken toward the more generic aspects of our house, all while we wait for that glorious day when we can hurl money around like Reality TV stars and design the space to our specifications.

The following photographs are all by Esther Mathieu, whose use of natural light in interior shots is no small achievement. (Thank you Esther!)

Living room with vintage library table, school map and chinoiserie lamp & painted sideboard.

I love this antique black library table, which has heavy carved feet in the shape of lion’s paws (not shown). The painted sideboard is a mess of a piece which I bought when it was still a bit waterlogged from The White Elephant Outlet in Essex, Mass, where the owner leaves a good amount of his inventory out in the rain and snow for some unknown reason. The piece has great and unusual lines, tall and narrow, and it’s very useful too, with four drawers for linens and dishware as well as several shelves. The painted design was intended to be a stopgap — I’ve always meant to paint it something more dramatic, maybe just a solid red, but in typical fashion I’ve have never gotten around to it. The school map in the background is huge with a great depth of color. I just listed the map in our online shop recently but it doesn’t have quite the same impact in the store’s photographs that it conveys in real life. It is most definitely a conversation piece.

Living room with cabinet of curiosities.

I bought the painting sitting on the small black chair from the artist Gary Lavarack who showed up at a sad little craft fair in Rockport one summer with a bunch of his work. The paintings were shockingly good, especially in light of the prices he was asking for them. He disappeared from Rockport just as quickly as he showed up and after a few unsuccessful summers of attending the Craft Fair again in the hopes of finding him, I finally had the bright idea to google him (oh google! how much more mysterious the world was before you became a part of our lives!). It turns out that he has had an illustrious career in the movie industry, in visual effects no less. Apparently he’s off making movies and far too busy to sit for a day in downtown Rockport at an old-school (and not in a good way) Craft Fair, surrounded by woven potholders and handmade contact paper bookmarks. So if you want to buy a really good painting from a non-starving artist, you’ll have to track him down online. I am very happy that I was lucky enough to encounter him in person, as I love my painting in its ten-dollar flea market frame with its Hopper-esque depiction of a farmhouse in Maine.

The cabinet of curiosities is actually a custom-made store display cabinet from the 19th century. I bought it to sell in my store but have never really wanted to part with it. I’m glad I gave in to the urge to keep it.

living room with black & white images

This Moroccan-inspired side table is another piece that I keep thinking I need to paint red. But somehow I never quite move away from my palette of neutrals, as illustrated by my extensive use of black & white in this wall of vintage images. My favorite photograph on this wall is an old one of Rockport’s famous fishing shack, Motif No. 1, taken in the 1930s.

handpainted chinoiserie panel

Chinoiserie handpainted panel. I never get tired of this classic motif, which is a good thing, as I paint these pieces to sell in my shop. The chair is antique with a handpainted faux bois finish. And it cost $5. Which makes me love it even more (Is that bad? To base my affection for my possessions on how little they cost?)

Driftwood over the fireplace.

This driftwood piece over the fireplace is huge and resembles a fish, a wave, or an angel’s wing — depending on eye of the beholder. The old painting depicting a rooftop view of a European village was found in a junk shop in Belgium, when I visited my sister in Antwerp where she lived for several years. I only mention this because it makes it seem like I shop in Belgium regularly, when my actual antiquing route rarely takes me more than 30 miles from my front door. This is the sad reality.

Dining room with vintage light fixture and my great-great grandmother’s table.

This light fixture is another $5 find. Again, I believe this makes me love it even more, pathetically enough. But what this fixture really adds to my life is a touch of streamlined modernism, especially in light of the fact that there is so much old brown stuff in our dining area. I really need to replace our chairs with something more interesting and not-brown. This is on my to-do list. Where it will stay until further notice.

Kitchen with vintage schoolroom clock.

A few years ago we took on a kitchen makeover, or make-under, in a quick attempt to update the space that we spend more time in than any other, it seems. We changed out our dated oak cabinets by removing the upper ones and replacing them with open shelving. Instead of replacing the existing lower cabinets, we just painted them a glossy black (simple to wipe down), after which we pretty much called it a day on this particular remodeling job. The fun part was  adding a few accessories, mostly in avocado & fern green and using hand-blocked dish towels from Dermond Peterson as cafe curtains.

Kitchen table & chalkboard wall.

The ever-present chalkboard wall, which I unapologetically love. It’s useful and fun, lending itself to grocery lists and artistic endeavors in equal measure. Let’s hear it for chalkboard paint, may it never go away entirely, no matter how many hipsters slather it on their walls!

Vintage metal light fixture in upstairs landing

The light fixture is another Moroccan-inspired piece, jazzing up a very boring upstairs landing. The wall color ties into the upstairs bathroom, which can be seen from the stairs.

childrens’ bedroom with vintage painting

I will eventually paint these beds — again, there is far too much brown wood in my life — but for now the color in the room is provided by the aqua accents in the room, most of which are vintage. The blinds are an extremely simple solution to the ever-present window treatment problem: aqua polka dot fabric applied to cheap vinyl roller blinds with spray adhesive. The lampshades are custom-made from images taken from vintage postcards of Rockport that I have in my collection.

childrens’ bedroom

Upstairs bathroom.

The bathroom is, like the kitchen, a no-cost idea for updating generic builder’s features. We painted the golden oak vanity a deep slate grey, changed out the pulls, put up vintage mirrors to replace the giant sheet of mirrored glass, and add a valance made of found wood pieces. Done! The beautiful little seascape is by the artist Karen Tusinski, in shades of grays and greens that perfectly capture the mood here on the rocky New England coast. The vintage oar with the great patina as well as the green glass floats are all from our own shop. The linen hand towel is from my beloved Brahms Mount textile company in Maine.

upstairs bathroom

That’s the tour for now. Of course there’s more to the house — another bedroom, an office, a powder room — but I decided to leave a little mystery to our interiors. And it gives me something to aspire to…someday I will make all of our spaces interesting enough to photograph. And in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that much of the reality of living in our home is successfully edited out of the photos: the sense of scale (small!), the mess in every room (endless!), and the tiny children, who seem to be always hanging around (but they are very, very cute…)

For more vintage pieces and interiors, be sure to check out all three of our 2012 Stylebooks and don’t miss stopping by photographer Esther Mathieu‘s site as well.

Weekly Wrap-up: Clicking Made Simple, DIY Chinoiserie & that Crazy Internet

  • Find of the Week: the Roku & its Little Friend

The Roku is a brilliant little device, just about the size of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that allows you to stream data directly through your TV. We just bought a Roku this week and can now watch what seems like a million shows through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more. Having rid ourselves of Cable long ago, the entertainment sweet spot is ours: we are no longer held hostage to the endless mind-numbing chatter of commercial television without being consigned to life in an Amish-esque household, making shadow puppets on Friday nights to amuse ourselves. But even more fascinating is what accompanies the Roku: a remote control so small and streamlined that one would be hard pressed to identify it as a remote control. First of all, it lacks the surplus of buttons that are usually associated with a remote. Secondly, to use it is an intuitive experience, which is unlike using any remote control I’ve ever encountered. Say, for instance, you want to make your way to options on the right side of the screen. Usually, you have to hit a Down button and then a Menu button (but not the Enter button, not just yet), then a Forward button — or is it a Back button? — on an on until you’re thoroughly confused, the screen is a field of fuzzy snow with something like “Channel 278” in the corner, and you’ve resorted to randomly hitting buttons until you call in the troops — usually an 11-year-old — to come rescue you and restore the screen to a recognizable image. Meanwhile you’ve missed half the show you wanted to watch and all the ice has melted in your drink. The remote control is the very thing that is supposed to make using the TV set and all the extras like DVD players easy, but somehow it just manages to make some of us angry. But not the Roku’s remote — if you want to make your way to the right of the screen you just hit the “Right” button.  There is a total of 12 buttons — 12! As opposed to an average of 105 on a typical remote. The only problem with the Roku is that it will make watching stuff way too easy, and the last thing we need to be doing this summer is sitting on the couch appreciating the beauty of our remote control.

One of these things is not like the other: the Roku remote control

More information: The Roku website.

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