It is definitely summer here. Mosquitoes are buzzing, gardens are just beginning to set first fruits as the abundance of flowers promise a cornucopia for the harvest, kids bike by decked in sun-faded swim suits and the grass invites you to go ahead and sit a little bit longer. Today I’m sitting a lot a bit longer to share these thoughts with you.
I love to watch the seasons change and to be aware of the cyclical passage of time. Beyond just the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, I squeeze every bit of season celebration out by having a monthly mantel.
It started out with a little wall that held our lovely calendar in 2012 (two houses and two states ago). With the birth of our daughter in January, I created a garland of cards over the calendar for that month. The next month was my husband’s birthday and I switched out pink “it’s a girl!” cards for Valentines and birthday wishes for him and it really took off from there.
At the next house we actually had a physical mantel over the fireplace in the living room. Although I certainly didn’t change things out every month, especially since almost all of our belongings stayed safely packed through that year, I did try to spruce it up and change it around. I made the personal goal then to continue monthly mantels as a family tradition.
It would be easy to hold off a month or so till the unpacking chaos settles down into just regular every day chaos. After all, we don’t have a fireplace mantel and everything is in such upheaval, waiting till I wasn’t rearranging furniture every couple hours was perfectly sane and oh so reasonable. But who wants sanity?
Well I do. But not that kind of hum-drum sanity.
I want the kind of sanity that you find in little oasis in the dessert, eyes of the storm, fresh water springs bubbling from nowhere in hostile wildernesses, and oh yes, magnificent mobile mantels found in homes that are just starting out.
How I create a monthly mantel:
1. Define a mantel.
Don’t have a mantel? Find a place in your home that is a gathering place and create a space there. In my case I need something small and mobile. A tray was the perfect solution.
This is my all time favorite tray; get used to seeing it. My grandmother let me pick it out at an estate sale when I was 7 or 8 years old. While my little sister picked out a Care Bear, also an excellent choice, I chose something that I perceived as elegant and useful. At the time it made me feel very sophisticated and grown up. That was my 7 year old thought process and I must admit my mind hasn’t changed much since then. I still feel oh so refined when I plop a teacup and saucer on this battered tray and place it on the table when tea party friends pop in.
2. Don’t clutter.
Stick with a few items to show them off to their best advantage. Here the unifying themes were eggshell blues and bird/nest items. Do I have more than these pieces that are either blue or bird themed? Ummm. Yes. But especially when working with such a small mantel, keep it short and sweet.
3. Go with a theme.
Probably in the future July will be much more patriotic. I didn’t go with the old red white and blue for 2 simple reasons. 1) I don’t have anything 4th of July themed yet, and 2) I’m really embracing this whole nest theme right now. Look at a nest out in nature. Does it look orderly and homey? Possibly. But it’s also a pile of twigs with unfinished ends sticking out all over the place. Sounds just like life right now.
Before the move I was already dreaming about a nest themed mantel and even carefully packed a bird’s nest with a found precious hatched robin’s egg to showcase. Don’t look too hard for it in these pictures, you won’t find it because I haven’t found it yet either. Never fear, it will find its place on the mantel one of these days.
Putting something living up on your mantel grounds it while keeping it fresh. I have a few trusty houseplants that cycle through. If I am given a surprise bouquet from my chivalrous husband or gather up an arrangement of vibrant autumn leaves while out on a walk I splash them into a vase and let them take center stage as long as possible.
5. Use new eyes.
Now that you have a place for your mantel, you know better than to go all crazy about stuffing it, you’ve picked a theme, and hopefully a plant is somehow in the equation, you now get to the really fun part – look at your belongs with new eyes. Unless you live in a waddle and daub house with only one chair and no other possessions, please do not go and buy things with the sole purpose of making a mantel. It’s the beauty of seasons that old can be new again as you rediscover their use. Developing an eye for the beauty already filling your home is a huge benefit for having a mantel in the first place.
See that bowl there, the one just dripping with gorgeous trees and holding a surprisingly healthy African Violet? It was definitely holding onions and garlic in the corner of the kitchen counter behind the fruit bowl. I’ll showcase it for a while and then it will go back to the hum drum of daily life.
And the book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, oh this book! I’m actually still reading it but I plan to finish it in July. With it being in a focal location I am way more likely to pick it up and float through a few more pages. It was a gift from my mom just this past month and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Oh her writing style alone is worth the read! To make it even better what she has to say dives deep through your eyes, blasts through the synapses in your brain and reverberates in your soul. Today I underlined this quote “How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral?” If you swoon over lyrical writing or cry while reading books (as I do) be sure to have smelling salts and boxes of tissues nearby. There is a distinct possibility that you’ll be sobbing by page 5.
She also keeps up an uplifting blog at www.aholyexperience.com
Unintentionally I have always had a card in every mantel I’ve ever made. Getting letters in the mail is a joy and I find that I take time to reread the note, delight in the picture, and think of the person who sent it my way much more often if I see that card in the mantel. More on my love for mail later.
My little bird nest necklace was also a gift from my mom. Man my mom is a terrific gift giver! So grateful to be her daughter. Sure it fits the theme, and I wear it all the time, but also I’ve been terrified of losing it during all this shuffling of stuff. Even the bathroom drawers aren’t safe from the rearranging mania which throws me into midnight sorting fits. Here is a safe place for it to alight when it is not gracing my neck.
For those interested, this necklace is from Jimi Sue’s Jewelry. I have been really pleased by its craftsmanship; it has withstood a toddler which is a downright miracle.
I was pretty pleased with my progress at this point. It all looked cohesive but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was possibly just one more thing to add a bit of dimension. When such niggling thoughts bubble up, make a pot of tea, and while you are waiting for the water to boil, browse through your cabinets (or in my case scattered cardboard boxes) as if you are leisurely sauntering through Anthropologie just gathering inspiration. If you haven’t found that perfect finishing touch by the time the water has boiled, move on. While a physical mantel is supposed to represent stability, the adornments are fluid, so you can play with it all the time.
I followed my own advice, put the kettle on, and looked up at the shelf above the kettle. It has been a catch-all for things I know I want to have out somewhere but don’t know what that somewhere will be. Yup, it’s a big jumbly mess up there and really I’ve tried not to acknowledge it. But there was the final detail complete with a blue bird for happiness and a fantastic hat. What a cute face! I have no idea when I got this but pretty sure it is another gift from grandma from childhood.