Girls On the Porch

Hunting down the authentic. And gabbing about it.

The Porch in Autumn

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Bright red leaves

Autumn is upon us!  Grab some spiced cider and a pumpkin for carvin’…it’s just about sweater-and-boots weather.  As a born and raised east coaster, I’ve always loved the change of seasons.  Something to celebrate in all of them, I think.  So for this post, a selection of the things I love.

1) Fall foliage.  Hands down, leaves in the full on color blast of autumn are up there with the most spectacular things nature gives us.   Grab a friend, jump in the car and head out to the wine country.  If you’re around the D.C. area, The Washington Post maps out a perfect road trip of exploration.

Chunky throw from Loopy Mango NY

2) Chunky sweaters and scarves. I can’t get enough of them.  Visit our GotP friends at Loopy Mango for the most luscious selection of yarns imaginable.  Grab some giant needles and get to your knitting!

Fall picnic

3)  Picnics from farmers markets.  The things you can find a farmers markets in autumn just beg you to grab a jacket, spread a blanket out with friends and watch the leaves drop as gentle bits of color on the ground.  Wonderful cheeses, squash soups, hearty breads and a good bottle of red will make your day.

Halloween porch drapes

4) Halloweeeeennn. What’s not to love about this crazy pagan celebration. It’s the best excuse ever to unlock your alter ego and scare people for the fun of it.  Creep out your house and bring on the witchy wonder.

5) More candles! I have a thing for candles, no matter what the season is, but as the days grow shorter, adding some more soft light to a room lifts my spirits.  If you don’t have a fireplace, this idea is a close second.  Including a scented one makes it even better. We are a fan of Park Hill candles here on the Porch.  My favorite at the moment is “Burlap & Barnwood” – seems to complement the season perfectly.

Cozy candles

 

Chop some wood and grab your hats!  It’s time to get out there and kick around in the leaves, buy cider and apples from roadside stands, whip up some scrumptious casseroles, open some cabernet and be slightly shocked the first time you see your breath when you go outside. Fall has descended.

A real, ends of the earth kind of adventure.

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GiantsCauseway

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland

I think Lord Huron has it right in this song.  “Ends of the Earth” would make an excellent sound track for exploring.

This world is made smaller by technology.  I write this from Virginia, you read it in Philadelphia or LA or Atlanta or Sydney or Copenhagen. We connect via technology. We learn, we watch. And we sit back.

We get busy, we get wrapped up. We’re slave to the office. We’re perpetually connected to the technology that connects us.

We’ve been talking a bit about road trips here on the Porch. But what happened to adventure? Real, honest to God adventure…get lost with no GPS signal pinging your iPhone, dusty pickup truck down a rutted road in Patagonia kind of adventure…

Looking at that photograph of Earth taken from the Moon, the world isn’t small at all. In fact it is almost too large to fathom.  It would take nearly three years of non-stop walking to get all the way around.  We spend so much of our lives typing and staring and armchair exploring because for most people, it’s what we can do.

But what if you could take time for a dance on the Cliffs of Mohr?

CliffsofMohr

Cliffs of Mohr, Ireland

 

 

What if you could drink whiskey on a glacier in Patagonia?

Whiskey all around after hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Whiskey all around after hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

What if you could climb the ancient crags of the Faroe Islands?

Faroe Islands, Heljardalsa Waterfall

What if you could fly as far away as possible to the other side of wherever you are and wander through countryside you’ve never seen, figuring it all out as you go?

One of the best trips I’ve ever taken was when two friends and I got on a flight to Paris without one single plan or reservation. We wound up making friends on the plane, sipping $100 a bottle wine straight from the cask with the winemaker in Bourgone, sun bathing in our underwear atop Mt. Blanc, practicing French with the locals at 1am outside the Louvre and watching fireworks paint the skies over the Seine on Bastille Day.

The Louvre at night.

The Louvre at night.

That was an Adventure with a capital A.

I admit to being a bit of a sissy when it comes to being somewhere completely foreign. And by that, I don’t mean Paris. I mean someplace where the alphabet is unrecognizable.   For these places, there are tour guides to bridge the gap between anxiety and mystery.  The very worldly staff at National Geographic has kindly compiled a list of the top adventure travel outfitters, divided into 12 categories, including “Voluntoursim” if you feel like giving back while you’re taking it all in.

The dictionary defines adventure this way: “daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.” Enterprise and enthusiasm! Maybe it’s time to grab hold of that curiosity about the rest of the world. See natural wonder, speak a new language, learn about history, paddle a kayak in the Southern Hemisphere.  Get on the slow train through the low country, and look great doing it. The Athleta people have figured out the right mix of sport and style, and none of it wrinkles.  Go from diving into a pool underneath a Polynesian waterfall to dinner on the beach by throwing this over one of these and you’re good to go!  Maybe it’s time to jump into the deep end for real.

On the Road

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Ah spring.  Time to fling oneself into new adventures – out and into the wild and warming, open air.

My husband is a life long biker. And by bikes I am not talking bicycles, but motorcycles.  “Motorbikes” as he, and other Brits, say. And not big and loud, low-riding Harleys, but sports bikes. Quick little things that have always been like children to him, especially those of vintage variety. He still tears up when he speaks of his first bike at age 16, and just had a 1971 Honda SL 125 restored to immaculate perfection.  Just because.

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The beloved is now busy launching a motorcycle awareness initiative called Be Alert for Bikers. Annoyed by the ugliness of the bumper stickers he’s seen slapped around on cars for years, he engaged the help of a great agency in San Francisco (bikers themselves) to design his own. Boom, done! Again, just because.  This enthusiasm that makes his eyes seem to glow even more blue is what I’ve always loved about him.

While I don’t share his passion for motorcycle racing as a sport, I do fully appreciate the design side of the culture. In recent years a whole network seems to have blossomed – makers of hip, safety-conscious clothing; focused, well branded events; stunning periodicals. Finally, after more than two decades together, my husband and I seem to have finally found our sweet spot in what we can agree is cool about bikes, bikers, and bike trips.

First off, there's Roland Sands, way up in the rarefied air of the bike design world.  He’s built beautiful machines and is featured in a series of of excellent mini-docs produced for Royal Purple motor oil, including this particularly gorgeous video. It conveys the creative spirit of the culture that’s rarely as well communicated.  He also designs bike wear, and I find this women’s Maven jacket to be downright swoon worthy.

Image“You’ve got good taste” my husband sighs, noting the price tag.  “Why yes, I do” I answer, hoping he’ll grow more excited by my excitement, and is maybe taking mental notes for my next birthday.

Thanks to the internet, there are some pretty great lists of motorcycle roads out there to get the adventuresome blood bubbling. Years ago, we did a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway which was a revelation: my husband had waited his whole adult life to ride along that legendary drive and I learned quickly about vertigo.  For reasons I still don’t really understand, I had the insane urge to jump off the back of the bike and soar out, over the Pacific.  Repeatedly and without warning. As if I could elect in the moment to morph into a bird. True story, very strange.

Besides struggling with the urge for flight, I struggled with my hair.  Helmet head. I envisioned the ads in which the woman with the long blonde hair gets off the bike and shakes loose her mane. It tumbles down on cue, golden waves laying just right. Her legs are supernaturally long and lean looking in her just-right jeans. She is smiling, walking in slo-mo into some cool, gotta-be-in-the-know-to-even-go-there dive in Malibu.  Well that wasn’t me. Not at all.

I am 5’3″ on a good day, and more closely resembled a slightly annoyed, wet seal in that 90+ degree SoCal heat. Hair so plastered to my head in such a distinctly unappealing way that even pulling it up into a ponytail didn’t look right.  However we did have lunch at the cool place –  Neptune’s Net – and even spotted a movie star.  ImageWell, a recognizable actor.  One who’s played bad cop and biker roles for decades. With blond hair. I will not reveal his name, only share my immediate impression:

“Wow, he looks old. Really old. Rode hard and put up wet…” a phrase I love but do not get to use often enough.

I went back and forth to the bathroom twice, just to get a better look. The closer I got the more haggard I thought he looked, which made me feel guilty and small.  Who am I to judge? I returned to my table and put back on the shades.  Everything seemed better that way. The food there is way secondary to the atmosphere – greasy good fried fare, great beer, all eaten on picnic tables overlooking the PCH.  A loud mix of raggedy, old school bikers, business men and B-list movie stars.  The western wind blowing in, cooling off my sweaty forehead.

“This is pretty cool” I thought, chomping on my fish tacos. ‘Cause in fact it was.

My husband keeps a file – lists of motorcycle trips he thinks look promising. Whether or not I accompany him on these is still an open question. “I bet that’d be just as much fun in a convertible” I’ve been known to mutter, looking over his shoulder as he oogles yet one more article packed with Nat Geo-worthy scenery shots.  “And I could bring my camera. And more shoes…” The last bit I should’ve left out. His eye roll indicates he has no intention of taking me seriously when I was, in fact, utterly serious.

There was no room for my 35mm camera in our saddle bags, and the black, steel toe motorcycle boots I wore for safety were clunky. Awkward. They worked out alright with jeans at Neptune’s Net but they did not not do me any favors with the sundress I wanted to wear for a nicer night out as we rode into Monterey. I’ll confess I got a little whiny that night. Unattractive.  We’d been on the road for four days and I was starting to lose my cool. The unruly hair, lack of shoe options, oh I revealed myself to be far more prissy than either of us ever thought possible.  But we made it through, with mostly great memories intact.

For my husband’s sake I’m not giving up on the idea of another bike trip though. It’s been about 5 years and I think we both are itching for an adventure.  I am slowly but surely starting to align myself with the notion of hopping back on his bike.  But this time, I’ll plan the trip.

First of all, since music is so important to us both, we’ll have to sort out a person-to-person intercom system.  There are a million to chose from, so I’ll leave that up to him.  All I know is that I want to be hearing Jeff Tweedy’s voice singing about California Stars while riding down a curvy backroad. Camping holds appeal – I love the romance of sleeping in tents and simple meals cooked on a fire.  This collapsible outdoor stove seems like a good idea.  We could eat this kind of meal and plenty more, based on a quick perusal of dirtygourmet.com. A few ziplocs full of basics and a roll of aluminum foil and we’re in business. Shoe and hair worries, byebye.

My husband also just turned me on to this fantastic magazine called Iron & Air. Wow.  WOW! Always a sucker for a beautiful periodical, I was impressed.  Thrilled even. I read it cover to cover.  I salivated over the gorgeous photography and a fantastic journal feature from James Crowe and Jordan Hufnagel, who are following their dream of a motorcycle odyssey – traveling from Portland to Patagoina and back again.  They custom-made bikes to carry extra fuel and heavy cargo – it’s not as if they’d find BP station conveniently located on dirt roads in Mexico.  They also had crazy circumstances to deal with in terms of weather, road conditions (i.e. sand.  No pavement. Just sand.) and military checkpoints, as in “teenagers with AKs.”  I was entranced.

I also found this great-looking, protective denim for my husband – kevlar lined, vintage inspired. “And British!” I cooed.  My husband smirked.  His strategy worked: I fell even harder than even he anticipated I would.

Next thing I know, I’m adding events into our Google calendars for next year: April in Austin and late May in Indianapolis. Again, as a sucker for compelling graphics and good branding, who could not be excited by The Hand Built Motorcyle Show and Rockers Reunion?

I couldn’t believe that while paging through, I even happened upon one of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes, planted artfully in the middle of a full, beautifully spare, white page:

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The Dharma Bums, 1958

“Ah” I gasped audibly.

“You know what it is?” my husband asked rhetorically.  “What you’re loving about it? This magazine, this movement, is exactly like you and your girls on the porch. It’s about living authentically…”

Yes, I realized. At its core  – the term authentic living means having eyes wide open, looking for subtle beauty and ears attuned, listening for quiet truth. Riding on a bike, digging in a garden, sizzling in a frying pan.  Wherever one finds it.

I nodded in agreement, pleased with my somewhat profound feeling of truth. Then I had one more thought, looking again at the photo of James and Jordan on their road trip: Image
They are so cute.  All three of them. The girls find that inspiring too. Road trip 2015? Stay tuned for details.

Cocktails on the Porch: “The Wildebeest”

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Welcome to what is, if you live Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.53.29 PManywhere east of Los Angeles and north of Jacksonville, probably the first warm weekend since approximately October 15, 2013.  It has been the longest winter in recent memory and we’ve spent waaaay too much time talking about it so…we’re moving on.  It’s time for Cocktails on the Porch, and our favorite organic, small batch, unsung hero of a vodka is on order.

Tito’s is an Austin, TX-based distiller of “…smooth, I mean really smooth” vodka that has the greatest stream-of-consciousness “About” story ever written and a penchant for rescue dogs.

Tigger. There's only one.

Tigger. There’s only one.

We love dogs here on the Porch. On any given day, there are at least two loyal, furry friends entertaining us with their pranks, so a vodka company that rescues dogs themselves, then goes on to support the local Austin clinic is a combination that’s almost too good to be true.

To wit, we offer The Wildebeest.

The Wildebeest

The Wildebeest

A delicious concoction that includes pineapple, ginger, thyme infused simple syrup and Bad Dog Bitters (of course), poured over ice into a tall slip of a Collins glass.  There’s not a Friday night on a porch anywhere in the aforementioned continental United States or, for the benefit of our two Australian readers, pretty much anywhere in Australia (thank you, by the way, Australians!) that wouldn’t benefit from a good Wildabeest.  Click on the link for Tito’s official recipe.   Bottoms up!

Spring. The Underdog.

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Adios, winter.

Adios, winter.

You know we’re not the only ones who want to see this winter adios when you can find stuff like this:

Countdown Clock til Spring

It’s time. Earth’s axis works in our favor, the light changes and we’re on the fast track toward the longest day of the year again.

Spring is determined. An underdog in the Big Picture, offering things soft and alluring to fight against winter’s hard, icy gray. We root for spring like our lives depend on it. It always seems so unlikely to see the first strong crocuses popping color through the brown earth. Like it’s never happened before. And then with each flip of the day, more amazing things pull us out of the slumber of winter. Bright green baby leaves. Fields of tulips. Daffodils, all sorts.  Soft rain. Flower boxes in the city. Warm evenings. Blossoms on the apple trees. All that color!

Definitely cause for celebration!! Which means we are launching another Porch contest.  This time, we’re just looking for photos.  Send your favorite images of spring to porchingit@gmail.com.  At the end of the month, we’ll compile them into an online Porch Portfolio, then publish them as miniature picture books to be sent to a select lucky few of you.

A tiny keepsake, like holding a moment in your hand.

And they’re magnetized! What a great way to pin lists of creative inspiration to your fridge. (Remember, we give credit where credit is due here on the Porch, so if it’s not your photo, tell us who’s given you permission to use it.)

We put a Pinterest board together for motivation (I got visually lost in this for at least an hour so…viewer beware).  Send us what you got!  Come on, equinox!!Wildflowers

Someone grab a pen.

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Let’s all just calm down for a minute. Take a deep breath.

We live in an age of instant gratification. Things are fast and immediate and rush rush rush. We love spreading the word electronically here on The Porch (since our other options include carrier pigeons or smoke signals) but there is something to be said for the heartfelt beauty of a real, handwritten note.

Enter Sideshow Press in Charleston, SC. Founded in 2004 by “three women in ink-stained aprons…”, Sideshow makes all their stationary in-house on vintage presses, and of course we love this about them. Their designs bridge the gap between vintage and modern with just the right mix of quirk:silentstars

Consider posting a wooden post card.

Send your best friend off on a new adventure with a nod to their courage for tackling the proverbial forrest on their own.

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And if you really want to say something but can’t get it quite right, just say “hello” and leave it at that. Image

If the Sideshow girls haven’t come up with quite the right thing for you, they do custom too.  Low country shrimp boil turned house concert?   OK.  A wedding inspired by a bolt of lightning?  Sure, why not. A summer solstice party on a glacier?  Sign them up.  (I made this one up but I bet they’d create something that’s  just right.)

Now that we’re heading down this path, consider too that sometimes writing a special note on lovely card doesn’t feel as special when using a Bic Rollerball. Sort of like dressing up for a night out and wearing Chuck Taylors instead of heels (we love these for other reasons, but that’s a rabbit hole for another time).

Enter Anglewood Penworks in Gainesville, Florida.

Owner and craftsman, Lee Breeze is a true artist (with a great name) who brings a bit of history into the classic pens he creates.  I love his “Darkwater Line”, hand-turned in his shop and made out of recovered curly pine from the Suwannee River. Cool!  Mr. Breeze ups the ante by giving back to the planet with his efforts: with every pen sold from this line, he plants a tree in one of Florida’s national parks. Supercool.

So grab a pen.  Preferably one from Anglewood. Tell someone you think they rock.  Invite people to dance and howl at the moon. Check in.  Find a stamp. Head to the post office. Send off a little laugh and a smile…

And see what happens.

I Asked Alice

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It had to happen.  A runner-up.

6061102112_133f36cac5_oThe following piece was submitted a teeny bit late, after we’d already chosen a winner. A young Girl on the Porch in her own right, Alice, is just 14 years old.  Our families are close and some of my best memories are of our two families – mothers and kids, no husbands allowed – at their summer house in Vermont.  Reading and talking and drinking tea and best of all – we girls making art up on the second floor sleeping porch, still clad in pajamas,  while the ruffians were all out in the woods target shooting with BB guns.

It’s a dreamy summertime escape, a place where time stands still: electricity is spotty, there is no television or wireless and up until very recently, no hot running water.  We boiled a pot on the stove to wash dishes.  We bathed in the lake. I asked Alice if she’d share some thoughts on it, and this is what she wrote:

VT porch

Our weather beaten couch, our wicker white chairs

Our spray painted rocker- and a few of the stairs

Our paint flakey railing fading with age

Our wonderful porch transformed to a stage

A home for spiders, birds and vines

Surrounded by graceful welcoming pines

So though we’ve already announced a porch story winner we’ve determined we need a runner up. We’ve want to give special something to a wise and thoughtful soul who shines her light on all of us, regardless of any difference in age.  For Miss Alice – these rather charming garden markers are headed your way.

I happened upon these wandering through a fantastic little shop down here in San Marco called Rusted Market. A lovely woman named Patti Richards makes them.  She has a business called Judy’s Antiques within the market, named after her mom.  I love that. My mom’s name is Judi too.  A funny little coincidence, another example of the feelings of connection that make the world go ’round.

Patti explained that down here in the south there is a plethora of old silver that finds its way into estate sales, junk shops etc.  The random pieces long since separated from their sets were too pretty for her to ignore.  She figured that flattening them and stamping them could put them into useful service again as garden markers.  Clever, creative, thoughtful.  We Girls on the Porch types love this.

Finding them and talking to Patti also spurred on a rambling trip down memory lane. That old English ballad made popular by Simon & Garfunkel “Scarborough Fair” –  I remember hearing it on the radio on our back porch in the Chicago suburb where I was raised.  I asked my mother, Judi, “what is parsley-sage-rosemary-and-thyme?” (It sounded like one long word to me then.)  She explained that they are herbs, plants.  “You cook with them.”  I couldn’t grasp that. At about 6 or 7 years old, the only things called herbs I’d heard of were those red and white McCormick jars my mom pulled out of the cabinet. It seemed impossible that those dried, dark flakes could have started out as green and leafy plants.  You could actually grow them?!

We had recently moved from a city apartment into a tiny and sweet, white clapboard cape cod on the outskirts of a suburb about an hour north of the city.  It had a half-acre back yard which felt enormous, and my summers were spent carefully investigating all of the flowers and plants growing there.   The bed of pink and white peonies crawling with ants along the right hand side of the fence line.  The giant lilac bush off to the left, which I turned into my own private fort. The strawberry patch my mother naively pulled up, thinking they were weeds. (She replanted them once she learned the truth.) That neighborhood had the feel of a small, semi-rural town then as opposed to the sophisticated suburb it is now. When my grandmother came out to visit she was frightened of the darkness and silence at night. There were empty lots full of wildflowers and several acres of cornfield right down the road. It was magical to wander out the kitchen door in the morning – I can still hear it slam – with a blanket and book, my paper and pencils and disappear for hours.

It was there, in that house, that I developed a life long interest in gardening, a passion for flowers and a preference for a quieter, off-the-beaten-path kind of lifestyle. Interestingly, the love of cooking didn’t really kick in till much later, until college, when I started working in restaurants and helped tend my friend’s herb garden in the front yard of the little, pink house we rented in Lawrence, KS.  Another wonderful small town, incidentally.

I’m not sure if Alice has given any thought to starting her own garden yet or maybe just planting up a window box.  If not, she can just keep these as something pretty to look at and inform her daydreams. We know she’ll be able to hear and see the stories, to find the connections in that softly shining silver when she retreats to her own quiet space on the porch to listen…