Squam :: Of Pathfinding and Salt and Hay-Scented Fern

During the summers when I was a small child, we used to drive several hours to my grandmother’s camp nearly every weekend, to a small, no-longer-mobile home placed on a small, cleared piece of property up a hill from a not-so-small river. There were, on any given weekend, a range of five to ten adults and seven or more of us little cousins. I remember that time more as a vignette than a storyboard, an abstraction of knees and heels and elbows, sharp angles and unfiltered energy covered in mosquito-bite scabs and sunburns; sweaty, our hair plastered to our foreheads as we lay on the floor of the back bedroom, a jumble of blankets and pillows, too excited to sleep, each of us filled with whispers and summer songs and scary stories.

Memories of a River

There are a handful of particular moments that rise above the din, but for my purposes here, it is the gestalt where I am finding my thoughts drawn. It is difficult to describe this phenomenon fully, what I picture is more of memory of a memory, a trace left behind of what has been forgotten. I believe these are the roots of nostalgia, a longing to capture those wispy threads and weave them into something more than a few frames of a short movie clip, a desire to process their meaning into something relevant to our lives as we live them now so we can preserve the ephemeral and transform it into what we believe is more concrete.

Sitting on the Dock

It is within this space where I am now processing the past week spent at Squam. I have been trying to write about the experience for the past three days, but haven’t found the right way of stringing together the words to properly convey and commit those moments to the meaning I intend. I find myself thinking about the pleasures and taste of salt, the difficulties of describing that intensity, the brightness, complexity mixed with desire, and somehow an understanding of how it all comes together without the ability to call it anything else than by what is already known. There are no simple words for it, and using metaphor is the only clumsy way in which I can imagine it might make sense.

Little Bits of Work

On Friday morning I found myself a tiny bit lost in the woods of New Hampshire, not realizing I was on the incorrect path until I found myself at the far edge of the camp. I wasn’t truly lost with the lake on my right, and I didn’t have a particular schedule so I felt little need to continually compare the forks in the road with the map I carried along. I was trying to find a way to capture the beautiful paths that led through the woods through the lens of my camera, paths that were hard to find and impossible to photograph while looking ahead, yet magically appeared under your feet with each steady-paced step.

Hidden Path

That walk was so very evocative of the woods in the backyard of my childhood and the entire placed smelled like my grandma’s camp. “Hay-Scented Fern,” my cabin mate Ivy pointed correctly toward the lacy green covered ground, but she didn’t know what she was missing in her description; she carries none of my memories of elbows and summer scabs. Her nostalgia was fed by the sounds of squeaky sliding summer doors. Olivia, by thoughts of screened-in lake-view porches for a summer’s worth of writing. Or Jenn, by the paths left on her body mapping her entry into motherhood. Only short, shared glimpses of a whole that is difficult to see, capture, or describe fully, but imbued with meaning none-the-less.

Hay-Scented Fern

And so it is with Squam. A collection of amazing women, in an incredible setting, exploring our creativity, and restoring our spirits. Each of us finding and losing and finding once more our own paths, intersecting with others, connecting through experience and stories over smoky camp fires in rustic cabins, coffee served in thimbles, and meals announced by the ringing of a bell carrying clearly over the still waters of the lake. Words that describe only the vaguest sense of what the experience actually meant to those who participated. And therein lies the crux of my problem; I am grasping at all the threads gently drifting on currents of thought, trying to tie together that which is amorphous and unwilling to be shaped by restrictive constraints of words falling inextricably in line to explain the entirety of something too abstract to properly convey.

Process Piece

Squam is the path; impossible to see beyond the length of your step or to capture through the limitations of any lens, but unfolding steadily as it was always meant to be. And we are the salt; a richness, a point of saturation in sensation, an experience that defies description, but is instantly understood by all who know it.

Be Back Soon

This is an incomplete and unworthy metaphor, this talk of salt and paths, but it the best I can manage. Perhaps the words will come to me next year—and yes, I will absolutely return—when likely I will once again find myself following an unexpected trail with an unknown destination. I will think of the friends I made; fellow mamas who pack up all the belongings and move themselves and their four children on a boat to set sail to far away islands; women who feed the hungry of their community every Tuesday for eight years with soups and salads and twelve loaves of the bread they make each week; two women who maintain their cross-coast connection through Squam every year but are willing to open their arms to welcome new friends; vibrant women who have already written two books before they’ve reached mid-life, and who will share openly their passion and talents and offer honest advice; women who are our personal icons who teach and nurture us along this path and share themselves and open their hearts (and studios) as the most amazing resources…

And I will be sure to think of salt once more.

Of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Start Where You Are

Start where you are.
Use what have.
Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

It has been a long, drawn out, tumultuous sort of year for us, full of surprises—welcome and not so much—where most energy has been sunk into getting through the days with as little drama as possible.

Slowly, though, the tide is shifting, and the art of surviving is taking less of my focus and the daydreaming and wishful thinking displacing the strain is making me hopeful that time for creating won’t be too far behind.

Vacationing :: Cherry Picking

To The Sky 

Pictureskew

Apple Bins

Bounty

Getting Started

Picking With Pappy

Abundance

Ladders

Beautiful Buckets Reaching

Huge Haul

Big Barn

A few days ago, the eldest two finally finished up with school for the year, so I packed up the car, stuffed the kids and the dog in, and drove back home to Pennsylvania. After a weekend of sleeping in and catching up with family, we kicked off our newly schedule-free days with an early morning of cherry picking.

The orchard we visited opened at 7am, but the day was forecast to be rather rainy and dreary, so my dad and I decided we didn’t need to be there at the crack of dawn since we thought not many people would venture out. Well, that turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Bu the time we got there at 8.30, the place was mobbed and the sour cherries—which we love for pie baking—were completely picked through and we barely collected enough to make two pies. There was an overabundance of sweet cherries though, and we are working our way through the many pounds of them at an alarming rate, although not fast enough for my dad who claims there isn’t quite enough room in the fridge and we need to eat. more. now.

And that big haul up the page a bit, with the dozen or so 5 gallon buckets of cherries? They were collected by a group of Amish women (who obviously showed up at exactly the crack of dawn!) the total cost of which was two cherries shy of $500.00 worth. The women checking them out gave them five free fruits, which I though was a nice little bargain, but she did make them run and grab the five themselves. I wonder what deliciousness they will make with such an abundance, and I also can’t help but to be curious how they’ll pit them all.

Buck In Velvet

Black Raspberry

Rolling Hills

Big Sky

Stormish

Enclosure Path

After the cherry picking adventure was over my dad took us all to a local deer farm for a little walk. The weather was, well, it was quite unpredictable, but absolutely lovely at the same time. And the views? Let’s just say I miss the sweeping views of all those rolling hills more than I could have imagined. But then again, that ocean view of ours does make up for a bit of what we lack in purple mountain(ish) majesty.

Inlows

DriveIn Diner

Foot Longs for Lunch

After all that picking and walking we just happened to find ourselves at one of my favorite little local drive-in diners for foot-long hot dogs and malted milkshakes. I love this place and stop by every summer I come home, even though the drive-in part is a bit of misnomer; no one has come out on skates to take your orders ever since I can remember. Those are the original 50’s counter-tops by the way… not much has changed here since they opened up back in the day of car hops and greasers.

I would say overall, we’re off to a great start to our vacation!

On today’s agenda? Resting, pie making, and maybe a nap or two! The black raspberries are coming in, so I suspect there will also be some jam-making soon.

Pickled Kale Salad

This has to be my number one favorite salad at this very moment…

Pickled Kale

…well, actually, for the past  three years worth of moments. We call it the Pickled Kale Salad ’round these parts. It is not for the feint of heart or palate. It’s this recipe here, although at this point, I’m not sure I use the recommended ratios anymore, I just wing it.

Green Green Green

Of course we still use the kale…

Fresh Parmesan

and fresh parmesan.

Dressing

The dressing is incredibly acidic, which is what you need to break down that tough kale into tender little bites of deliciousness. The garlic and hot peppers really stand up to the strong flavor of these greens, so don’t be afraid of

Favorite Salad

I make this with three bunches of kale, or whatever I can grab from our garden. Unlike most green salads I’ve experienced, it actually tastes better the next day, so making a big batch is a huge time saver and gives me a few ready-to-eat meals throughout the week.

Delicious Bite

When I make it for new initiates, I tend to dial down the garlic and chili, but when it’s just the two of us (oh no, the kids don’t go for this one!), I do not tend to hold back.

One Last Look

I just finished up the last bit of this week’s batch tonight, so looks like I’ll have to make another.

The Baby’s Room :: Dressing the Windows

I’m making progress, one slow little baby step at a time, on the littlest one’s room. I’d really like to have it “done” by the end of the week, but the more time I spend in there, the more ideas I come up with, which isn’t helping with the whole let’s get it done mentality.

One of the things I worked on this weekend was dressing up her bare naked windows.

Bare Naked Blinds

How do you feel about window coverings? There were sheers and curtains on nearly every window in each room in the house when I was growing up. And my mom still feels like a window without a curtain is pretty close to a criminal act. But I’ve got to tell you, here in this house, we hate the though of covering any little bit of the view out of ours. It might have something to do with how dark our first house was and how light-starved we felt, or possibly it’s how sometimes we have to pinch ourselves just to make sure that view is real life, or maybe it’s just that I’m too cheap to buy large swaths of fabric that do so very little other than look nice. I do have to admit there are certain windows that needs some sort of privacy covering (bathroom, anybody?), but I still have trouble finding anything I want to put up.

Whatever the reason for our window covering hesitation, we were incredibly thankful that the previous owners had installed room-darkening roller blinds on all the bedroom windows. Our kids go down incredibly early every night (5 pm for the baby and 6.30 for the older kids) and those room darkening shades certainly help in the spring and summer months when there is more light in the evening. I have to tell you, I am not so enamored with the brown/tan/taupe material used to make each one. The good thing is, when they’re down, it’s too dark to see them, and when they’re rolled up, you see only the tiny bit of the topper. But, those few inches really aggravated me.

I had a little idea, and thanks to ebay, a little box arrived in the mail a few days later. I found a sweet lot of delicate white handkerchiefs, which I thought would work nicely laid across the valance (how do you pronounce this… VALance or vaLANCE?) helping me achieving the vintage feel I’m trying to create in the room.

Handkerchiefs

When I opened the box, I caught the faint scent of a delicate perfume. The handkerchiefs themselves were in beautiful condition and the handwork blew me away. Tiny little knots, crocheted lace, hemstitching, embroidered details, super fine fabric; all of it reminiscent of another, more genteel time.

Not So Naked Anymore

I’m happy to report that this idea came together very easily and just as I imagined. The fabric is so airy light it is very nearly transparent.

Little Details

All those beautiful details are even more pronounced when the sunlight filters through and it doesn’t feel like we are blocking any of our spectacular sea view.

Hemstiched

Handkerchief Valance

Beautiful Hand Embroidery

The best thing about this? It is completely no-sew. They are simply folded and tucked into the crevice between the topper and the window frame. And when they get dusty? I can just give them a little tug and throw them into the washing machine.

Beautiful Borders

Such Detail

Crocheted Edge

They cover that rather indelicate brown/taupe/tan valance with just a hint of girliness.

Quite the View

Well, that was pretty easy! Now, onto a few more changes before the week is out!

The Baby’s Room :: The Dresser

A few weeks ago, the baby turned two. I took this as a sign that I really should get moving on finishing her room, you know, before my husband takes it over as his office sometime in the next few months. A few weeks before her birthday, the dresser we bought from IKEA met an untimely and unfortunate death (well, at least the bottom drawer did) which has had a rather devastating waterfall effect on the state of her room. If there’s no place to put the clothes, they stay in baskets, until she decides it’s time to empty said baskets of course. It was time to get things cleaned up.

Enter this lovely.

Naked

A friend of mine has been moving her house around and decided to get rid of a few pieces, this one included.

Dresser Before

The dresser was a tad dusty, the top had a bit of water damage, and needed just a tiny bit of TLC, but otherwise, it was a beautiful piece. So I got out my sander, some paint and wax, and this is what I came up with.

The Dresser

It fits in the corner perfectly, and since the side panel is the view I see from my perch on the rocking chair I decided it need just a little touch of something extra…

Side View

a touch of hand-painted pattern, wiped away and slightly distressed.

Top Corner

I was hoping it would look a bit like old and faded wallpaper. I have to say I’m pretty happy with the result.

Pattern Detail

It was a bit gut-wrenching to go at the pattern with a wet cloth and sand paper, but I went slowly as I built up my courage, and I think the end result was worth the distress.

Dresser Front

The front panels of the dresser seemed to be in pretty good shape, but was feeling a bit rough. I can not believe what a difference 320 grit paper and some dark wax made. I tried the Howard Restore-A-Finish, but I have to say it was the dark wax that made the biggest difference.

Bottom Corner

I painted an undercoat of Annie Sloan’s Duck Egg Blue, touched it up in a few places in with a bit of petroleum wax, then painted a top coat of Annie Sloan’s Provence Blue. A bit of sanding, the pattern painted on top, then a coat of clear wax and a few touches of dark wax to age it ever so slightly.

Dresser Top

The top was sanded down to bare wood, then stained with two different colors of minwax Sedona and Mahogany Red (straight up stain without the poly) with two or three light and buffed coats of dark wax. It’s hard to describe just how much the new top glows.

Booties

And last but not least, the pair of teeny tiny booties I knit for her, which evidently, I have forgotten to write about. You’ll see the sweater in a later post about her room, once I finish up another wall.

Boy I hope I get this room finished up soon!

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Have you visited these awesome sites where I’ve shared this project?  ::  Miss Mustard Seed  ::  The Shabby Creek Cottage  ::  The Handmade Home  ::  Funky Junk Interiors  ::  Finding Silver Pennies  ::  Under the Table and Dreaming  ::  Today’s Creative Blog

Spaces

SPACES01mist

From where I sit today, if I keep my eyes above the level of the floor scattered with sharp-edged plastic toys and kids still in their pajamas, I see the steady, gentle rain of a spring shower. On days unencumbered by the tyrannical schedule of a busy family of six where I can sit and catch my breath, I consider this meditation weather. On other days, it’s merely another tick on the long list of annoyances that gather as I find myself overstretched and unmoored. But after the past few months we’ve had, today’s rain and the quiet contemplation it brings is quite welcome.

SPACES02tempest

There is something about this weather that makes me acutely aware of the spaces that surround me. The grey, edgeless sky brings the contours of my world into relief, focusing my attention on the boundaries that sometimes overlap and sometimes diverge, making me more aware of margins that I don’t often consider. The difficulty of finding center—a center always pulled by the calculus of the shape of the roles we play, the geometry of our environments, the mass of our responsibilities, the weight and buoyancy of our failures and successes—ia always a bit more clear after the gift of time spent in reflection. This is what rainy weather offers me: a space to think, to feel gravity, to place actions and responses along a new axis, to realize that life is often difficult, and messy, and answers aren’t always obvious, to remember that all of this is OK and a part of the experience of being human. When the rain must fall, if I can welcome it as a reminder to be human, to be humane, then maybe I can weather difficult times with more grace.

SPACES04light

I have missed this space as I have navigated others that needed my attention. I am many things to many people and I believe I will always struggle with the realization that there will never be enough time as there are items on the to-do list.

SPACES02breakthrough

And in the hours it has been in writing what should have taken a few minutes, the rain has stopped and the sun is slowly beginning to break through, just as it should.

Food on Friday :: Fried Egg Sandwich

I imagine, during these last long days before Spring, there are different food we all crave when we seek out comfort. Mine is the color of sunshine on a warm summer morning.

I am pretty sure that if I were to go back in time and tell me six year old self that this humble fried egg sandwich would be something that not only would I eat, but actually dream about, I would think the messenger had me confused without someone else.

Butter Onion Salt

I love to cook, although sometimes my plans are grander than what time or energy may allow. But there are times when I need something filling, and warm, that wraps arounds me like a soft blanket, and of course it should be quick. It never ceases to amaze me with all the spices and recipes and fancy vinegars and oils I keep on hand, that it’s the humble combination of onion, butter, and eggs to which I always return.

Nicely Browned

Browned gently with a touch of salt, the onions become transformative, changing a few beaten eggs into substantive meal especially when placed between two slices of bread thickly spread with mustard.

Add Beaten Eggs

It smells wonderful. I can’t imagine a more welcoming scent than onions and butter cooking together. This, to me, is the smell of home.

Falls Right On Out

I know some recipes call for a gentle approach to heating the onions and cooking the eggs. This, however, isn’t a delicate recipe, and I find the browning of both with a quick and hot flame adds a bit of depth, a touch of texture, and a quality that some may call rustic, but I consider heartening. And you need the good old-fashioned yellow mustard here; dijon and whole grain have their place but it is not here on this sandwich.

Yellow Mustard

My mom used to make this for supper and although I’m sure we had them occasionally all year, I associate them most with clear winter evenings when the light faded early and the fireplace was warm and inviting and burned your back when you sat too close.

Piled High

This is a pile-it-high type of sandwich, one where the bits fall out through your fingers and onto your plate and you need utensils to dig it all up.

Time to Eat

It is not just eggs and onions between the slices whole wheat, it is a powerful memory these simple meals serve to us. I suppose it’s a way of reconnecting to a simpler time when we had more care given to us than we distributed others, the care we give freely now as parents and neighbors and community members. How could I not feel comforted remembering that love?

Half Bath Project :: A Little Painting Here and There

Some Color

It’s called Royal Fuschia, a shade by Benjamin Moore. But really, everytime I looked at it, I couldn’t help but to sing Raspberry Beret.

Rollin Rollin Rollin

It’s quite shocking, isn’t it? I mean, who paints magenta in a bathroom these days?

Raspberry Beret or Royal Fuschia

But paint it I did, and three people walked into the bathroom and never noticed it until after I pointed it out.

Really Bright

You see, it’s on the ceiling.

Tomorrow… the trim!