I have started my summer with delayed spring cleaning... a sort of re-nesting. The spring was too much of a whirlwind for any true decluttering, but as they say, throwing a party really forces you to get your house in order. The wedding and the subsequent cleanup was an excellent motivator to finish all my half-done tasks and improvements. So I have been editing and sorting through and cheating the Kondo system by giving my "extra" kitchen and dining things to the newlyweds. (You are not supposed to saddle others with your castoffs... but they have seemed pretty grateful so far...??)
At any rate, all of the sifting through has dredged up so many memories. The plates my daughters ate on – the napkins they wiped their little mouths on – the mealtime chores that they all divvied up. For a few years we had this porcelain "job jar" – I got SO sick of hearing them fight about who was supposed to do what that I took this tip from my daughter's teacher Flory (at any of my other girls' nursery schools, she would have been called MISS Flory, but this was a cool, nature-center hippie school, especially for preppy Connecticut, and so she was simply Flory.) There were four jobs, and every night, the girls would draw them out of the pitcher and have no one to blame but the fates! Napkins, silverware, water glasses, and the wild card of the bunch, which had only a little cat face drawn on it – the TIGER. If you picked this one, you job was to station the cat in the mudroom. It was the most active chore of the bunch, because you needed to race up the back stairs and make sure the other exit was also fortified... he was a particularly greedy cat and made mealtime hectic unless he was basically barricaded away from the food. Memories.
It has gotten me thinking about a re-fresh of dishes and napkins and a few homey things. We religiously use cloth napkins at every meal and have since I first started setting my own table – I cannot stand the waste of paper. Yes, it means a little more laundry because I am usually too lazy to check if there is mustard or something on the corner, but what's a half-dozen more napkins thrown in the load if I'm already running the washing machine? I love the little Provençal glasswort print on these ones (though of course salicornes sounds better in French,) and how simple and clean they are. There is also something very sweet about the scalloped edges on these from Amanda Lindroth. Napkins are an easy and relatively cheap way to freshen up your table if you're feeling that itch to buy something new... though some cut flowers in a glass never hurt anyone, either.
Another quick-tabletop makeover: placemats. When I first went to France, I was so charmed by the boutis that they put out on the tables. As a twenty-something, I just loved the way they looked... but as I have gotten older, I appreciate even more how they buffer the sound of clanking dishes being passed! I know I am well into middle age when I feel myself getting anxious about noise level... They of course have coordinating tablecloths that can go indoor or outdoor or simply spread out on the grass as a picnic blanket. (I used to lay it on the floor in front of the television for no-school-night summer dinners and park my girls on it, when they were desperate to eat in front of a movie or something... no harm, no foul.) If that's too much blue for you, they also make a whole set in a slightly wilder, more colorful floral print.
And it's the season to eat outside. For hard-to-break outdoor dishes, I used to have a set of Chinese tin plates with little flowers painted all over them. They were charming, and still remind me of summer and picnics almost thirty years later. But we sell this wonderful melamine line of dishes that are SO much better. They look like the fanciest French pottery, but are nearly indestructible and can even go through the dishwasher. Maybe all of this table dressing seems fussy – and if you don't care about it, that's okay! But for me, it is such a pleasure to make it all pretty. It's just better. Better vibes, better conversation, maybe even better digestion! Another summer, several years ago, one of my daughters had spent a month as a guest of a family in Chile. They had a wonderful large family like ours, and every afternoon at 4 they sat down for tea and a snack. We spent all of July and August upon her return doing the same with a properly set table and it was a complete delight. I wish I could say we kept up the ritual – but, like a lot of things, I fell off the wagon – but that one summer lives solid in our heads.
And these things are great for houseguest gifting too. When my girls were young, we very rarely had access to a swimming pool. Even if we could have afforded the membership dues to the country club (we couldn't,) it wasn't even an option, as the waiting list was years-long (if not decades.) This made the three months of summer a real challenge – it was hot, school was out, and we needed some activity to fill the days – so I relied a lot on the kindness of friends and family. I'd throw them all in the station wagon and head out on an extended road trip where we would arrive, all of us little women, for a few days here and there. My friends' homes in the Hamptons, my parents' retirement community pool in Savannah, a magical house in the Berkshires that had lots of rooms and lots of dogs and a secret passageway. We were constant houseguests, careful not to overstay our welcome. Our hosts usually had no children of their own, so they were charmed by so many little footsteps – as long as we kept it to two or three days! I wish I could say that I came with great gifts in hand as well. Sadly, I don't remember bringing very much other than wine or fruit and vegetables from a roadside stand on the way. And now that I am thinking about it, I need to send something wonderful to all those accommodating friends who put up with me, plus 4 and then 5 small girls under their roofs. Twenty years late – but why not? We have lovely little notecards for the thank-you notes too... we designed them ourselves and printed with the most beautiful stationers, Arzberger, out of Charlotte. My very favorite says DID I LEAVE MY PHONE CHARGER? Maybe this holiday weekend, you are invited someplace cooler than your own... or at least with a place to get wet. You will be happily welcomed if you show up with some cheery little napkins or dishes in hand. It will be the gift that keeps giving. And even if it's just your own home... and the gift is just from you... it will still keep giving! Whether you're a houseguest or not – you need them, I promise.