There is a Vigilante movement a-brewing of creative, entrepreneurial mothers who are balancing work, kids, self-expression and holding down the fort. These women now have an online home in the invention of SpitfireMom, a place for documenting, celebrating and growing as women, mothers and creative professionals. As Co-founders Heidi Yarger and Julie Schumacher describe the Society, “At SpitfireMom, we’re all about the juggle and the hustle—that balance of being yourself, a creative, a mom, a friend, and a partner. Of meeting the needs of clients and kids. Of pursuing passions with relentless energy. Of taking time to prioritize yourself. Of getting it done, whether that’s a Pilates session or a strategy session. We feature fresh content for and by creative working moms who do things with style. Design, fashion, fitness, career, home, relationships, products, tips & tricks—it’s all here.” I like this movement. I think it’s important.
Check out the feature on the lauded photographer Elizabeth Messina, or how Rena Tom of Makeshift Society has been multi-tasking, or how to make a totally original “campfire” birthday party with designer and photographer Kelly Allison. I even wrote a piece on my experience in The Sandwhich – a reference to being caught in the Sandwhich Generation scenario between caring for little kids and ailing elderly parents all at once. Hint: my saving grace was to ADD something to my life (a business) — not to subtract anything important!
So my hat is off, WAY OFF to these dear friends of mine Heidi and Julie — for creating this community and making my journey feel like that of a killer posse of likeminded smart mothers.
Rena Tom’s SpitfireMom feature was thought-provoking.
Photographer Kelly Allison’s feature on creating a camping-themed kids party was mega original and chic.
I wrote a piece on balancing family & work as a member of the Sandwich Generation.
Spitfiremom Society site.
Spitfiremom on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.
In case you missed the last issue of the Sunday New York Times’s T Magazine (April 13, 2014) there is a most remarkable article about the eccentric Expats of Tangier. Their homes remind me of my parent’s way of decorating a house: consisting primarily of books, colorful mismatched paintings, textiles, prints, trinkets and gifts given to them over the years — and most importantly mementos from their travels and years living abroad. Homes like these feel real to me: they are accurate reflections of the people living in them rather than the vision of an interior designer (who provides his or her own ideas of what “interesting” look like.) In the Editor’s Letter in this same issue, Deborah Needleman does a superb job defining what is so anemic about the term “personal style” and why is is so meaningless. Nobody says this, but you really have to read, travel and DO something to have style. You don’t have to have money, but you have to be interested in the world. You can’t just go to a store and buy real style. Those are the hard and fast rules, it seems. These expats are immensely appealing. I wonder if Moroccan Tangerines living in the US would have as much to soak in and make their own? It would be an interesting experiment. Maybe they would turn their two-car garages into lush courtyards with tiled floors.
The Times also made the video (above) which captures what brought these expat individuals to this famous Moroccan city of light. There is certainly a lot in the piece about how they live. Much can also be gleaned from the unbelievable photography of these peoples Tangerine homes, shot by Will Sanders. The Times also put out the video, above, which leaves me breathless for a trip to this North African city. (All photography by Will Sanders)
I once had the sublime opportunity to play hookie from work to pick grapes with Angelo Garro. It was a memorable day. At dawn we gathered at The Renaissance Forge, Angelo’s blacksmithing studio-and-gourmet-kitchen housed in an historic industrial space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, for a coffee before our caravans left for Napa. Angelo had arranged for us to glean the vines where the winery had already finished harvesting. Fifteen or so of us picked grapes with gardening clippers for a few hours, picnicked on a hill with blankets spread out while Angelo passed around plates of pasta and home-made wine that he’d had brought along. A simple, heavenly meal – paired perfectly with our sweaty brows from the grape-picking and buzz from the midday vino. Then we drove back to the Forge to crush the grapes in a giant contraption he’d set up out in the alley. I thought I’d died and had landed in a Gourmet Magazine photo shoot. But no, this is just how Angelo takes advantage of a typical autumn day: with friends, outside celebrating nature’s gifts, and then preparing and eating these gifts. In his native Sicily, which he left behind as a teen, these traditions are based on seasonal customs. Nature informs your annual habits; but it is Angelo himself who is a Vigilante for keeping these traditions alive here in the USA.
The Forge. Photograph by Laurie Frankel
Angelo in his kitchen at The Forge.
You may have heard of Angelo – he was the badass Italian who Michael Pollan featured prominently in the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, referring to him his “foraging Virgil.” If you recall from the book, Angelo invited Pollan on a wild boar hunt (an exhausting, laborious sport.) What sets Angelo apart from a typical hunter is that he is also an expert in what to do after you kill the animal. Angelo can outline exactly how to butcher and prepare the entirety of the pig to turn it into many varieties of sumptuous dishes. It’s all part of his repertoire. And naturally, no part of the animal was wasted. He is master of the hunt, the kill, the butchering, the curing, and finally the cooking and celebrating. Not to mention the community-creating.
Perhaps what strikes me as most Vigilante about Angelo is how much of his life is genuinely cinematic by virtue of it’s gusto — he blasts his opera at dangerous decibels, he offers big bear hugs for “Hello”, he stands on a hillside picking grapes in his straw hat, he is a sure shot with a wild boar… One might think, “God, if only a documentarian could capture this original man” — BUT WAIT, one did. Angelo’s buddy Werner Herzog (of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man fame) has recently done so. Herzog filmed a movie about Angelo, The Story of Omnivore Salt in celebration of Angelo’s most recent project — a gourmet salt company. With Omnivore Salt, Angelo attempts to bring to people inspiration for cooking with his same sense of passion and connectedness to the earth.
“I have been making my Omnivore Salt for many years”, Angelo explains. “My grandmother taught me the family recipe when I was a young boy in Sicily. This salt blend works on everything – meat, vegetables and fish; just a pinch unlocks the deepest flavors of your food. Many of my friends are chefs, restauranteurs, and artists, and for years I have been giving my salt to them. They loved it and urged me to share it with the community and with food lovers everywhere.”
Is there not an aura about this man that makes you want to slow down, put away your iPhone, pour youself and your friends a glass of wine, converse, and enjoy your sweet existence? Sign me UP! Angelo is a poster child for Vigilante Living: his life itself is a work of art. There is no artificial separation between his work and his play. It’s all one cohesive project called Living Well. Signore, please pass me some of that salt.
Courtesy of The Selby
Courtesy of The Daily Meal
Meat bring cured neatly in the back of the Forge.
The blacksmithing studio is adjacent to his open kitchen.
Angelo Garro’s newest endeavour, Omnivore Salt.
As a native Californian now located in the Midwest, it has taken me several years to develop methodologies for how to survive winter. Here are some Vigilante Living tools for my friends in the wintery climates to keep in mind while getting through these next few months.
1. Wear bright colors. Go right now to the sale section of JCrew.com and pick yourself up something wildly colorful that will cheer you up. Houseoflavande.com is a marvelous resource for vintage jewelry of high quality that you will not find anywhere else.
2. Buy insanely colorful items for your home or apartment. Christmas is over, and if you didn’t get what you wanted, go to Bellocchio.com and buy yourself a magnificent turquoise metlasse box to hide all your trinkets in. They are not expensive but they look it.
3. Wear a dab of perfume — behind your ears and your knees. If you are a guy, work a smidge of aftershave. Try Sephora.com for small bottles in new fragrances so you can test them out.
4. Pour yourself a drink and make a homey warm dinner. Just forget about salad. It does not help you feel better in winter. Make yourself a hot cider for dessert if you still do not feel the sunshine running through your veins.
5. Music is the most essential blues breaker for winter doldrums. If you want to spice things up cheaply, get a used record instead of hitting up iTunes — record shops are curious places where you can stumble upon something magical — get a record to just to shake it up and actually read some liner notes. The tactile nature of a record will go well with your cocktail at the end of the day! Tropical music, like ska, reggae, salsa, or other latin music will do wonders for your sun-deprived self.
6. The next time you are at your corner bodega or grocery store, look at the flowers for sale. If they are not dying and brighly colored, just buy them. Even baby’s breath look nice on your kitchen windowsill or on your desk at work. (I am not a flower snob. Almost every plant has some beneficial qualities.) The smell of something alive is not to be underestimated. Plants are great too — but only if you remember to water them. A dead plant is only going to add to your winter woes.
I hope these tools for surviving winter are at least a little helpful. They are not avant-garde, but they are cheap and appeal to everyone’s need for color, humor, and desire for JOY in everyday life. For those of you in California, India or Australia (where it’s now summertime) please do have a margarita for me and take a look at your legs. I totally forget what mine look like they’ve been in pants for so long.
Sayonara from the polar vortex….
It’s January 2014 I’m suffering from hipster fashion fatigue. I am tired of you, hipster. Raise your hand if you’d much prefer a hot date with the late, conservative poster-child William F. Buckley than spend an evening with a skinny-jeans clone on a fixed gear. It would be more original to be with Buckley! More fresh! He’d probably suggest doing more shocking and fun things, and order you one too many a cocktail. Sure, I might have more in common with the hipster, in terms of music and cuisine, but there is something to be said for a little SHOCK VALUE. This brings me to an existential design question: does what’s on the inside have to match what’s on the outside? What if someone who held the interests of a hipster dressed like William F. Buckley? I admire people who don’t wear their political alliances as a costume. Give me contradiction or give me death.
So here at Vigilante Living, we’re deeming 2014 The Year of Preppy Edge. How on earth is preppy dressing revolutionary, you might ask? Well, khaki trousers and a button down are a classic way to pass under the radar and spend your core energy doing something original with your life. In essence, you are not screaming “I AM DIFFERENT” as you sashay down the street. You are whispering to others to come closer, listen to your stories, make some mischief, and offer just a sliver of a window into your interior life, which makes everyone realize that you are much more rich and complex than your preppy uniform suggests. It’s about subtlety and the slow reveal.
I find it immensely appealing in both men and women when conservative clothes on the outside sheath avant-garde leanings (whether Left or Right) on the inside. It’s only once you talk to this person that you realize they are a true original, or a weirdo. These are the people who are so comfortable with their originality that they don’t have to wear it on their sleeve. Preppy Edge is irresistible because it defies visual expectation. (Preppy Edge, by the way, is not to be confused with the disastrous, over-used phrase “classic with a twist,” used of late by influential interior designers and celebrities.) Lord, bring me a severe preppy in plaid pants. But give him a rebellious interior life filled with knowledge of obscure 1960s reggae groups and a penchant for reciting naughty bits from important literature. Or deep knowledge of astrophysics. Edge preppy is preppy on the outside, 100% original on the inside. This is what style in America needs right now. A little more substance, a little more humor, and a little more reserve.
I have always had a thing for Yul Brynner. Maybe this is due to a childhood peppered with musicals from generations prior (i.e. The King and I (1956), in which he starred.) And then of course, he is owed tremendous props for his strange continental-eurasian accent. I took note in the early 2000s when Stephen Malkmus wrote “Jo Jo’s Jacket” which is a 100% idiosyncratic song which begins with an excerpt from a Brynner interview about his shaved head. My family pumpkin this year is a tribute to Yul Brynner and Malkmus. While the face design is mine, the masterful carving is the handiwork of my surgeon husband who relishes cutting and sewing in a tidy fashion. Not sure if it actually looks like Brynner. But it was the intent that mattered to me.
Happy Halloween y’all. Malkmus’ song is below.
Some of my favorite tchotchkes.
Raise your hand if you love mid-century style, but are suspicious of bare, minimalist interiors. Especially those that are so minimal as to be devoid of tchotchkes. Tchotchke is a Yiddish word for “a decorative knick knack — with an emphasis on its worthlessness.” The fancy sister of a tchotchke is the pompous term objet d’art, or “an article of some artistic value” (i.e. antiques, or a small significant Picasso sculpture or whatever.) Neither of these words, however, capture the importance of the smaller objects in a home that provide it with vitality. Sacred and profane objects, collected over one’s lifetime, provide a visual feast for the eye: a tin box found in Ecuador, a small Finnish vase given to you by your well-traveled Aunt Madeline, little bottles of vodka from the flight to St.Petersburg. These are talismans of a life well-lived and remind you of your experiences and past. They are the detritus from your career moves, momentos from trips with old boyfriends, a stolen ashtray from IHOP, or even a framed rejection letter.
The Phillip Johnsonesque minimalist house is far too devoid of tchotchkes to be a real person’s house. Surely in the plans for his 1949 Glass House he considered a storage bunker underneath the pristine box? Where else would its inhabitants store all the little bits of life: your child’s trophys, National Geographic subscription, and grandaddy’s matchbox collection? Johnson left no place for tchotchkes in his crystalline architecture. The problem is, Mr. Johnson, that’s just not how an interesting person lives. Graham Hill, the urbanist and serial entrepreneur behind TreeHugger.com and now LifeEdited, approaches modernist living from a similar less-is-more perspective, but adds a layer of “less space is more” ethos to the argument by suggesting that 420 sf is plenty of space to lead a fulfilling life (see Fast Company’s piece about this new eco-architecture movement.) And naturally, his LifeEdited prototype home is entirely devoid of tchotchkes, or the suggestion of comfort, for that matter. I have nothing against living in 420 sf in New York City — one of the most fabulous places to live in terms of public amenities. But can’t I bring in grandma’s little Victorian sofa? And what about my vintage Paris Review collection? Are there even enough shelves? I do indeed have an axe to grind in terms of the LifeEdited’s suggestion that stuff is meaningless. Are you supposed to photograph all your favorite objects, toss them, and show a streaming slideshow of what your formerly tactile life was like? This depresses me the way that ebooks depress me. You can’t smell an ebook like a musty old hardback. And you can’t live in a perfect clean box and expect to be reminded of your past. The visceral is too important to be left behind for the sake of ecology. I hereby challenge LifeEdited to continue to think in small square-footage numbers, but consider a more open-ended prototype that allows the user to be themselves, rather than a minimalist robot. Just because LifeEdited is ecological does not mean the result is humanist. Mr. Graham, if you’d like to collaborate with Vigilante Living, we’d be more than happy to address this architectural conundrum! But maybe we could meet somewhere more comfortable than the LifeEdited apartment.
Philip Johnson’s 1949 Glass House in Connecticut
Graham Hill’s prototype 420sf New York apartment for his company, Life Edited.
Tchotchke montage photos by Olivia Joffrey/ Life Edited prototype apartment via Lifeedited.com / Philip Johnson’s Glass House photo by Thomas Loof/ Trunk Archive via ArchitecturalDigest.com
There is soap, and then there is the best soap in the world. Santa Maria Novella soaps are capable of transporting you to another world, another place in time — and are really in their own category of perfume meets soap. Santa Maria Novella soaps come from an ancient Florentine pharmacy founded in 1612 by Franciscan friars associated with an infirmary for the monks, and was later supported by the Medicis. While I have never been to the pharmacy, by all accounts it is a magical, historic complex. My absolute favorite soap scent is “Sapone Per Uomo,” which is expensive and hard to find in the United States. The beautiful paper from inside the soap packaging looks as if were printed in 1900 and works nicely in lieu of scented lingerie drawer sachet to make you want to bury your head in your sock drawer. If you’re in San Francisco, the place to buy Santa Maria Novella soap is Bell’occhio. Located on a little alley off Market Street, this jewel-box of a European-style general store not only sells Santa Maria Novella, but uses the Sapone Per Uomo as a room scent; there is nothing more heavenly than swimming in a room saturated with notes of this sandalwood blend. It’s entirely unisex and pleasurable in a non-floral way. Whenever I order things from Bell’occhio, the tissue paper in the package releases subtle hints of this heavenly scent. If you have a summer guest coming to stay at your house, order some Santa Maria Novella soap for their bathroom, and make them feel special and welcome.
Photo of Bell’occhio courtesy of Paperpastries
While I always relish the arrival of the Sunday New York Times, when there’s a T Style Magazine tucked inside, I positively squeal. A particularly good issue lands itself on my bookshelves, like a book. The April 3, 2011 issue was one of those. The magazine’s cover story “Family Style” by Pilar Viladas, above, depicted a children’s playroom in a grand Georgian estate in Somerset, England. Rarely have I felt a photograph encapsulate my own idea of how a stylish house (where children live) can look and function. It’s messy, but it’s still elegant due to the building’s bones and the wise choice not to pack it full of period antiques. Who are these people, I thought? Turns out they are Jo and Chris Mycock the owners iof a successful English I.T. company. The c.1801 Georgian Estate, called Dinder House, was re-imagined for the Mycocks by the genius interior designer Ilse Crawford. To quote the story, Dinder House “was spectacular in its grand but subtle blending of the minimal and the baroque.” And, I would add, vibrant color, space to play, and in the former basement kitchen turned playroom — a setting for imagination and spontaneity. Turns out the rest of the house is perhaps more austere than I’d want for myself but still tremendously appealing in it’s use of color, scale, and respect for historical architectural elements like the classical moldings and parquet floors. Apparently, the best drawing room in the house, with hand-blocked Zuber wallpaper from Paris, houses a Ping-Pong table for spontaneous tournaments. I love how unstuffy this house is, especially given how grand it’s provenance is. A very vigilante house and family indeed.
White Woman, Lithograph 1967 is a piece I grew up with in my house. We’re pretty sure its of my mother.
When you grow up with the work of a particular artist around your house, their art becomes a part of you. In my case, that person was the Northern California painter, sculptor, and printmaker Nathan Oliveira. Wherever we lived, the lithograph White Woman hung above our fireplace. The piece had significance to my family, as is was suspected to be a depiction of my mother, a San Francisco stage actress in 1960s San Francisco who was a founding member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Perhaps Oliveira had seen her in a performance? Regardless, the mystery of how this lithograph so resembled my mother was always of great intrigue. Later, when I went to college at Stanford University, Oliveira was a Professor in the Art Department and I’d go visit his shows. I felt a personal stake in his work; his work shaped my eyes from an early age.
My mother Anne-Marie. Her stage name was Mimi Carlile.
Blue Head, Oil on Canvas, 1990
Oliveira’s lithographs and other prints are superb (he was a member of San Francisco’s Crown Point Press) but his paintings are marvelous too. I love his command of color and the human form. And his references to shadows in his figures. He was lauded in his lifetime, having over 100 solo exhibitions, but I am surprised that he was not more famous. I adore his work for it’s subtle and quiet quality. His 2010 obituary included this statement form him, that made sense to me: “I’m not part of the avant-garde. I’m part of the garde that comes afterward, assimilates, consolidates, refines.” I agree with the last part especially: exceptionally refined.
Man with a Hat, Cane and Glove, Oil on Canvas, 1961
Nineteen twenty-nine, Oil on Canvas, 1961.
Nathan Oliveira 1928 – 2010.