22 November 2016. The other day, I found myself in a field with a pack of dogs. They were romping around me, barking, jumping, zigging and zagging, playing like pros. So much of being a human around an animal involves play: chasing an animal through a park, rolling around on the floor, giving belly rubs and getting couch cuddles are a few examples.
But without an animal, play can become a complex pursuit. The Oxford Dictionary defines play as "Engag[ing] in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose." So is reading a form of play, or only if you're letting yourself sink into a story with no concern for edification? Is getting sucked into an hour of phone scrolling play, or not so much if you're doing it to distract yourself from a painful commute?
This kind of analysis probably defeats the purpose. Simply, real play should feel invigorating, natural, and absorbing. It's helpful, when you've been sucked into the internet or find yourself unable to get up from the couch, to think of those romping animals. Get focused on fun, whatever it may be. Maybe you get a little muddy and dirty, but play until you're so tired that all you can do is flop down and fall asleep. A bath can wait until tomorrow.
*image of grey white stripe cushion by jenny hallengren.
14 November 2016. By the time I knew her, my mom had become exceedingly practical; a chin-length bob, comfort clogs, and running shorts were her everyday uniform. But from the Kodak photos I sifted through, and from my dad's stories, I knew that she had once been less geared toward the utilitarian. I liked and admired my sensible mom, but I also really wanted to know that mom from the photos. So, on the regular, I would sneak into her closet to get a glimpse of that different side. In her closet, jewelry she'd collected had been thrown together in boxes and bags. Though I knew her to be thrifty, there had clearly been a time when my mom could be won over by the shiny and unnecessary.
As I got older, I started working my mom's jewelry into my outfits, and she was happy to see it being worn. A cuff studded with turquoise and 70's era plastic flower brooch were in my rotation. And now, fifteen years later, my mom remains practical and I find myself catching up to her. The waist-length string of candy-colored beads I used to wear to brighten a dark outfit has been replaced with quieter items. My everyday earrings are thin, brass hoops, which I scoop out of my own jewelry boxes that are now stuffed with pieces that don't quite suit me anymore.
We evolve, and what we choose to adorn ourselves with does too. There's no right or wrong direction. Maybe you were once streamlined and now you get mistaken for Iris Apfel. And if you're just starting to figure out what jewelry you like, have fun. Someday, some sniffily little kid will probably be rooting through what you've collected and you'll want there to be something in there for her, too.
07 November 2016. A tea cozy might seem like a terribly old-fashioned item, and, historically, it is. Tea cozies may have been used as far back as 1660, when tea was brought to Britain, but their first documented use came just after the custom of afternoon tea was introduced.
Around 1840, the Duchess of Bedford (Anna Maria Russell to her friends) decided that the wait between breakfast and dinner had become intolerable; dinner was getting later and later, sometimes as late as 8:30pm. (Sidenote: some of us around here consider an 8:30 dinner to be both practical and an achievement.) The Duchess deemed a light afternoon repast was in order, one made up of cakes and sandwiches that would stave off hunger. According to Wikipedia, the Duchess took such a liking to afternoon tea that she started inviting friends. "Hey Jane, wanna come over for this new meal category I just invented?"
As the Duchess and her friends ate, drank, and talked, their teapots and tea would grow cold. In earlier years, this might have put an end to their merriment, but the introduction of tea cozies solved this problem. Acting as insulators and, on occasion, silly hats, tea cozies kept the tea warm and the gossip flowing. Word of these nifty fabric teapot covers spread to America, and in 1892, the Philadelphia Enquirer reported on cozies' "sudden and unexpected rise in public favor." Unexpected? Let's be real. When haven't we co-opted British trends with a ravenous, frenzied appetite? Exhibit A: The Beatles. Exhibit B: Gastro-pubs.
These days, you might see a vast range of tea cozy designs in a variety of textiles. Ornate or simple, tea cozies still carry the practical function of keeping your tea warm so that it lasts through a date with a friend (or tv show or book). The importance of warm tea to carry you through a catch-up session? Perhaps one of the few things on which you and the Duchess of Bedford could relate.
28 October 2016. Shop Fog Linen shares space with our sister business, Pod, a brick and mortar retail shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The shop is on the corner across from an elementary school and a highly trafficked playground. Our day to day is pleasantly marked by children's shrieks during recess and the school's broadcast that the "Chocolate Cone" bus has arrived for pick-up. (Fun fact: "Chocolate Cone" sounds exactly like "Chaka Khan" when you marry a loudspeaker with a Boston accent.)
Years back, a nearby side street was designated as the main stage for October 31st festivities. On Halloween, the street is closed to traffic so that kids can flood the area. Each year has a different theme, and homeowners enthusiastically decorate accordingly. Last year's theme was Star Wars; this year's is still a secret.
It might not be obvious from our wholesome image or selection of homey linens that we take great pleasure in Halloween. We love to walk down Crescent Street, marveling at the costumes on the kids and the houses. The street is a whirlwind of noise, lights, and action. Our favorite part, though, happens beforehand. We decorate the shop's entryway with cobwebs and a huge spider and hunker in the doorway to greet trick or treaters. Kids that we see almost everyday are transformed by a costume, becoming more brazen or soft-spoken, depending on the child and the get-up. Last year, we misidentified a little one's costume and we're pretty sure she'll never forgive us. For a few hours, we get to see the neighborhood transformed, and they see us outside of the shop's four walls. If you're nearby, come visit. We'll be on the stoop with plenty of candy.
24 October 2016. The darker it gets, the more we feel like holing up with friends, some bites, and a good beer. For some reason, going out feels less appealing when the sun sets at 4:30pm. Under the guise of being generous, we announce we'll host, but we know it's actually selfish. We quietly greet guests at the door, not wanting the neighbors to know that there will be some boozy Bananagrams taking place. We lead our friends into the living room, where the pillows have been propped up and refluffed. Throws are folded and stacked, at the ready for any guest's momentary chill.
At a low table nearby, we have a selection of bites ready. Small, tasty snacks that don't require a lot of preparation, but that will keep everyone sated. Salty, buttery crackers are spread with a smooth, mellow cheese, while a bowl of crunchy grapes sits nearby. Frozen pigs-in-a-blanket debut fresh from the oven. Nuts and some cut-up vegetables round out the table. Nothing takes much effort, and no one feels underfed.
These little gatherings are our bread and butter through the colder months. They keep us going, keep the laughter and tears flowing, make us hearty enough to brave the outdoors, the moments when we step outside and the insides of our nose freeze. With zippers biting at the underside of the chin, we stomp through the snowy dusk, keeping that feeling of warmth alive and just under the surface, ready to spill forth at a moment's notice.
18 October 2016. Have you ever spoken to the person sharing your Uber pool? Yeah, we haven't either.
We're always going, aiming for a fast pace with seamless transitions between one activity and the next. 100% fulfillment, 100% of the time. Reality, though? It ain't that way. Tired, overwhelmed, and depleted, we turn to gadgets to make life easier, but that lock us into habits and routines that further alienate us.
We're not sure there's an answer to this. We can't say that sniffing lavender oil will make a difference or that taking three, mindful breaths every hour will change that feeling of overwhelm. The one remedy that comes to mind is this: just try to be human. Be aware of what's going on around you so that the day doesn't pass without knowing what the weather is. Entertain the idea of making eye contact with that person in the Uber pool. In the few moments of wakefulness between your alarm and when your brain clocks in for duty, feel the weight of your comforter against you.
It's not a miracle cure, but it's a way to notice that despite the madness, you're still you. Not perfect, not tireless, but a decent human making your way, one moment at a time.
*image by jenny hallengren
11 October 2016. I have a set of measuring spoons that is an unglamorous as they come. They're not ceramic or substantial (they might top out at 2 ounces), they're not the world's most accurate spoons, nor are they narrow enough to slip in and out of spice jars. They're not brand name. If I think hard, there's not a single thing notable about them, except that I grew up with them. They are the spoons that measured salt for my first pie crust (it sucked), and they were used by my parents long before I got my hands on them. Using them brings a sense of ease and connection to family members and foods past. Objects can have this power and presence, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
On the other hand, a new thing gives you the chance to start over with no memories or associations attached. You get to create them. If you crave comfort, choose a scarf that settles gently against your neck to bring warmth and peace with each wear. If you want to cook more, a wooden spatula that fits perfectly in your hand might lure you to the kitchen just to feel its smooth edge glide through scrambled eggs. Even though they're just things, these things add meaning to the everyday. So I'll take that spatula and bring it into the fold, nestling it in with my spoons to take on the next soup or stew or stoup. The dish doesn't matter so much. I'll be glad simply to have the tools I like by my side.
04 October 2016. We start the week with the best intentions to carry only what we need. Snacks, tech, sunglasses, a notebook, maybe a charger. Throughout the week, though, our bags seem to grow heavier. Is it us or the lingering apple and unreturned library book? We find ourselves wondering, would it feel magical to walk around with less the way bestselling books espouse?
This brings us to an idea: approaching the packing of a tote like we do a recipe. A recipe gives a list of ingredients in specific amounts - and we follow it to a T. So how about this recipe?:
- One charger, coiled up in a small pouch.
- Two pairs of glasses, for sun and for reading.
- A wallet and a phone, minced (just kidding).
- Half of yesterday's leftover chicken and two pieces of fruit.
- Writing utensils tucked into a pocket.
- Four ginger candies, also tucked in pocket.
Combine all ingredients in one empty tote. Resist the urge to add loose papers. Let rest on doorknob between uses. Suitable 365 days of the year.
*pictured above: johann tote in black and brass safety pin
27 September 2016. Every year, a box arrives at the shop that looks perfectly normal, cardboard and scuffed from travel. But this box is different from all other boxes. It's full of calendar cloths, the once-yearly, limited edition cloths that arrive to a waiting list and our collective bated breath. Though the kitchen cloth is the workhorse of the kitchen, the calendar cloth can live as a casual wall hanging, clipped to a piece of twine or pinned to the wall throughout the year. Each cloth features an artist's unique design that conjures a mood or sentiment to usher in the new year. On one cloth, an artist (Japanese architect Wataru Ohashi) breaks down the steps of baking through playful drawings and captions (Baking). On another, Scandinavian printmaker and textile artist Lotta Jansdotter's flowing branches quietly frame the calendar's months. Each cloth offers a snapshot into the simplicity of day to day life, reminding us to live well and mind the passing of each day. At the end of the year, the calendar cloth can continue to hang on the wall or it can have a Cinderella moment, changing back to a workaday cloth.
*Cat and yarn calendar cloth by Wataru Ohashi.
20 September 2016. People coming into our brick and mortar shop will often find something they like and ask, "What's it for?" It could be a napkin or a throw, but whatever it is, it certainly has multiple lives and uses. Take a kitchen cloth. We can't tell you how many gifts we've hidden in the folds of a linen kitchen cloth, securing it with a piece of ribbon or washi tape. Aside from being reusable gift wrap, it's a lovely add-on for your giftee. A kitchen cloth also subs in nicely as a napkin if you want just a little more lap coverage. At the shop, we use kitchen cloths as placemats during lunch break and keep them in the bathroom as light hand towels. Such a simple thing, but it really gets around! Live with linen everyday, and be surprised by how much life you can get out of your linen.
*image: kitchen cloth in Peter plaid by jenny hallengren