A love letter to Kyoto

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Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Kyoto, a place like no other, holds a special place in my heart with its many Buddhist temples, traditional wooden houses, imperial palaces, gardens and delightful food, but most of all for it’s beauty, history and peaceful quietness that allows space for reflection.

I first wrote about Kyoto on this blog three years ago after a visit where I stayed at a Buddhist temple for a weekend in order take a meditation class, and over the course of the few days found many unexpected surprises, met new friends, walked through a bamboo forest and hiked to the top of a mountain to see the monkeys.

This week I was fortunate to visit Kyoto again with some of my colleagues for a day of fun and exploration before we kicked off our work in Osaka with a corporate partner.

Yet today my heart is heavy that just a few days after our visit Kyoto saw an atrocious act of arson with a fire that caused so much harm and lost so many lives.  I share photos from our visit on Monday with reverence and respect to Kyoto and my heart goes out to the families of those lost.

Monday, July 15th, a day of exploration…

We were staying in Osaka so we got up early and took the train to Kyoto and immediately made our way to the bike rental company.   Once on our bikes, Kris and Kristin navigated us through the city to the bike path along the river so we could make our way north to the Philosopher’s Path.

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As we rode through the streets, crooked and small, and along the path, I felt exuberant and so free.  We were lucky in that it was not too hot; the day was cloudy, which kept us out of the sun, yet it did not rain.   The wind was on my face and rushed through my hair.  As we made our way the scents of the city filled my nostrils: wafts of fragrant flowers, bursts of incense seeping from the shrines and temples, and delicious smells of delicacies flowing out of the myriad of restaurants.

The Philosopher’s Path is a stone path lined with cherry trees that follows a little canal where one of Japan’s famous philosophers was said to have meditated during his daily walk to Kyoto University.

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After walking our bikes along the path, we stopped at Omen for lunch to have some of their famous udon noodles and experience local fare.

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After lunch we mounted our bikes again and made our way back to the banks of the Kamo River.

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We stopped for a minute so that we could walk across the stone path…

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The Kamo River stepping stones include large turtles crossing the river.

Our final destination was across the city again to The Golden Pavilion, dazzling architectural beauty surrounded by water and zen gardens.

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The Golden Pavilion

Before heading back to the train station we made sure to enjoy the refreshing green tea ice cream.

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

 

 

Cantaloupe – How to pick the perfect one

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Summertime for me means warm, sunny days, flip flops, digging bare feet into the sand or walking across the freshly mowed lawn, picnics, ice cream and of course an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies.   One of my favorite summer fruits is fresh cantaloupe, but you need to know what to look for for ripeness or you’ll be disappointed as they do not ripen further once off the vine.

I have distinct memories growing up of time spent every summer with my grandparents at their place on the Chesapeake Bay.   They had a huge vegetable garden and always grew cantaloupes.  Many mornings when we were called to the breakfast table there would be cold slices of sweet cantaloupe sprinkled with salt waiting for us.

Last week when I was at the market I was holding a cantaloupe and smelling it, trying to pick the perfect one.  A woman approached me and asked how do you know which one will be good?  I figure perhaps there are others of you who also could use a few tips.

The best way to pick a cantaloupe is by smell. The fruit should have a sweet, slightly musky scent. If the smell is too strong, it will be be overripe.  A good cantaloupe feels heavy for its size, should feel firm but not hard, and should never feel mushy.  Next look at the color.  Cantaloupes have a rind that resemble raised netting and the ripe ones have a golden hue.  Finally the stem end should yield slightly when pressed with your thumb.

You can eat cantaloupe on it’s own or sprinkled with salt, put it in smoothies, salads and even grill it.  Here are a few ideas…

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

Gather – Flowers for your table

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Wildflowers collected from our fields in White Stone, VA

I firmly believe that when you gather friends and family at the table you should always have fresh flowers there too.  They elevate the experience and can be done simply and inexpensively from gathering wildflowers in various shapes and sizes to pulling together one flower, in one color, to make a statement.

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Wildflower arrangement by Jamie Campbell for Decoratop

You can pick one vase to fill for a center arrangement or find various jars, cups and vases in varying sizes to place organically around the table and house.

When I have a special event, dinner or meal and want that extra help I love collaborating with a florist in order to get more unique flowers than are readily available in the yard or at the local market.

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Photo by Will Hawkins / Flowers by The Wild Bunch

It’s also fun to add in fruit and vegetables as part of the table decor.

Think about what season you are in and pull from what is growing at that time.  Lilacs are my favorite flowers and I love to fill vases of them in the spring all over the house for their soft color and lush scent.

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Mason Jar Vase and Lilacs by Country Living 

If you have a large group, it’s fun to have flowers run down the entire table so that everyone gets to enjoy them like I did last summer for a large family gathering in the photo below.  I worked with Cindy at The Wild Bunch in Kilmarnock, VA.  She does amazing work.

If you do not have a garden or yard to pull from, visit your local market or grocery store.  When in Boston, I love what Trader Joe’s keeps in store year round and look for groupings of one type of flower to mix and match colors as opposed to the prearranged bouquets.  Another favorite – peonies…

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Peonies / Photo by Amber Lilyestrom

When creating your own arrangements, you must strip the stems of all leaves for the part that will be below the water line.  This slows up any bacteria growth and keeps the water clean longer.  I like the flowers to be cut shorter in the vase, so that the flowers are poised just above the top of the vase and often tie the vase or jar with twine or a ribbon.  Cut each flower individually to fit your vase in order to have various heights and place them loosely for the look you want.

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Flowers by The Wild Bunch

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

July 4th – what are you serving?

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
   ~ Thomas Jefferson

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It’s that time of the year when we come together to watch fireworks and commemorate America’s independence. I thought it would be fun to share images and recipes that are inspiring me as I plan our festivities for next week, and hopefully give you some inspiration too.  So… let’s jump into picnic mode, fire up the grill and hoist up those Stars and Stripes in celebration of the 4th of July!

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Photo by Yossy Arefi

July 4th is the ultimate way to officially kick off the summer and bring together friends and family around your table, whatever form that may be – a picnic blanket or backyard BBQ, while adding in lots of fresh fruits and veggies as lush displays and recipe ingredients.

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Rose Sangria with Peaches and Raspberries by College Housewife

It’s always festive to have a special drink or cocktail in addition to your other drink offerings in the cooler.   We’ll be mixing up pitchers of this Rose Sangria with peaches and raspberries from the College Housewife blog.

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For me the menu planning goes hand in hand with thinking about the way you want your table to look.  Think about the overall effect, including flowers, tablecloth, napkins, and decorations.  I love to have a broad display with a fruit, veggie or cheese board that makes your table look lush. Sorella Collection in LA makes the most amazing Graze Boards.  Mix and match veggies, fruits, herbs and dips for a big impact.

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Sorella Collection Graze Boards


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Oysters at Merroir

Since we’ll be in White Stone, VA for our 4th of July celebration we will definitely be shucking oysters fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.  Every time we come home to White Stone we eat oysters at Merroir, one of our favorite spots right on the banks of the Rappahannock River.

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Krister at Merroir


What’s on the grill?

The Dog Days of Summer… you can have a variety of hot dogs from beef, chicken, sausage links to veggie dogs, and go crazy with your toppings with a topping station.

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Creative toppings for your dogs by the Sun Chronicle

Chicken is an easy option for the grill.  Marinate chicken breasts any number of ways and grill or go for barbecue, one of my favorites.

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Photo by Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post July 4th recipes

What is a 4th of July celebration without corn?  Here are four ways to grill those ears

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Photo by Scott Suchman for the Washington Post July 4th recipes

Something for everyone
In this day and age of wide spread allergies and varied food preferences, you’ll want to make sure you have something for everyone on your table.  For the vegetarian and vegan friendly entree in addition to the standard veggie hot dogs and burgers consider Barbecue Jackfruit Sandwiches  that I found on the Better Homes and Gardens site and if you are not familiar with the fruit they also give you the Jack Fruit Basics.

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Who’s your sidekick?

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Spring Potato Salad by Mississippi Vegan

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Firecracker Green Beans by Mississippi Vegan

Sweet Inspiration
I love fruit!  Fruit on it’s own as dessert, fruit in a pie, fruit in a crisp, fruit in a cobbler.

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Various berry pies by Martha Stewart

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Blueberry Cobbler by Mississippi Vegan

With all the fruit pies, crips and cobblers I like to serve ice cream, both dairy and non-dairy options.  I also think I’m going to try this gorgeous vegan strawberry ice cream pie.

So these are the things I’m thinking about.  What are you thinking about serving? Let us know.  Meanwhile, we’re getting things ready and just hung our new flags…

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

 

Our Climate Crisis and a Sustainability Journey

Yesterday hundreds of thousands of students from 1,600 cities around the globe walked out of school to protest the climate crisis.

The “School Strike for Climate” movement was started by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who, at 15, started her strike last August in Stockholm outside of the country’s Parliament.   Greta’s passion and singular action has sparked an international climate movement.  Yesterday’s strike was the most recent organized event following on the heels of a strike on March 15th which brought over 1.6 million folks out to demonstrate from 133 countries around the world.  It is expected that yesterday’s turnout surpassed those numbers…

In light of this, I thought today was a good day to share a recent conversation and interview I had with Charlie Szoradi, someone who has committed his entire life to sustainability.  His passion and interest in sustainability was first sparked in 1979 at 13 when he waited in the gas lines to fuel their family car, and he started thinking about alternative transportation. For his science fair project that year, Charlie, with two of his friends, built Omega Boat of the Future and won the Science Fair Popular Prize, which set him on the path that fueled his passion for a career in sustainability.

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Charlie is an architect, inventor, author, entrepreneur and CEO of independence LED Lighting.  He is committed to energy-saving solutions and global cost-effective sustainability.  Charlie’s book “Learn From Looking – how observation Inspires Innovation” was published in 2017 and it covers over 20 years of travel insights and drawings from around the world on 400 pages with 200 sketches.  The book focuses on actionable intelligence for innovation, sustainable design and critical thinking.  The drawings herewith are Charlie’s, taken from the book.  Charlie studied architecture at the University of Virginia where he first became friends with Krister over 30 years ago.   This is the first of several posts that I will share about Charlie and his work that focus on the ecosystem of sustainability.

I share snippets of our conversation below.

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CA: My blog August Ardor is about passion and sharing stories about people’s passions to inspire others.  I often encourage people in my writing to slow down and pursue things they love, to reflect on what’s important, and live in the moment.  I love how in your book “Learn from Looking – how observation Inspires Innovation” you talk about taking an “observational pause” – the change in tempo lets us look closer at certain things that we may otherwise take for granted and this can inspire innovation and learning.

 Is Sustainability your main passion and are your initiatives outgrowths of this – the book, founding the LED lighting company, Future Food films, the online resource Green and Save….?

CS: Yes, sustainability in the purest sense is to think beyond the immediate element that you might be impacting.  If you buy a water bottle from the vending machine you need to think about where the bottle will end up.  Thinking in this way impacts everything –  lighting, air conditioning, algorithms and architecture – how you design your home.  Thinking about the purchases you make is a vote – you vote with your dollars.  If your purchase can be functional for you and have an aesthetic that you like, but also fit into the context of the community, not just you personally, you can make the greatest impact.

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 CA: Can you tell me more about your passion for sustainability, what you do and why?

CS: Voltaire wrote in Candid (1759) that, “we must take care of our garden.” I am passionate about improving the world through micro actions that lead to macro change. You can lead by example in the decisions that you make to cultivate your own “garden,” and others will see those actions and perhaps emulate some aspect of them. I live in a solar house, ride my bike wherever possible, work for a company that focuses on energy-saving lighting, travel the world to continually learn more, and share insights on sustainability from my work and travels with anyone that may care to listen and engage.

 

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CA: How do you define “sustainability”?

CS: For me, sustainability is the concept of stewardship with an understanding of the actions and reactions that are part of an integrated eco-system. I don’t see sustainability as an obligation but as an opportunity to explore lifecycle costs and find lifecycle benefits. Sustainability is a wholistic approach to long-term thinking focused on the most cost-effective means to use resources and clean technology to achieve desirable results for the individual and the collective.

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CA: Who inspires you with their work in sustainability?

CS:  Two architects inspire me. Kinya Maruyama is a Japanese architect, who was one of my Master’s degree professors at the University of Pennsylvania. Kinya hired me to work with him in his Tokyo studio and served as my mentor. William McDonough is an American designer, advisor, author, and thought leader. Both of them have dedicated their careers to sustainability.

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CA: The term “sustainability” is being used more and more in the market place and investment community.  Any thoughts on this?

CS: The market has started to catch the “green” wave, and in many cases, corporations have increased their attention on sustainability initiatives. The positive eco-trend increases demand for cost-effective solutions, which in turn attract investment dollars and opportunities. The key to sustainability success is to look at the bottom line with ROI and clean-tech job growth as bookends to a myriad of performance metrics.

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CA: Please elaborate on what you do to support your work and ideas in your book, Learn From Looking?

CS: I pause to observe and think carefully about the impact of each of my actions. In my daily life, I think of my environmental carbon “footprint” as if it were the footprint of everyone else. This approach extends from what I eat to how I can meaningfully share information with others.

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CA: Please tell us about other trends you are seeing in sustainability – like Microgreens…

CS: Microgreens are a great example of a new generation of eco-friendly smart food. Direct Current (DC) microgrids along with light-emitting diodes and energy-smart houses are other examples of trends that will become increasingly part of the fabric of our clean-technology landscape.

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CA: What do you see as the biggest challenges or barriers to the ‘field of’ sustainability?

CS: One of the sustainability challenges is the perception that “green” is a politically liberal cause that requires subsidies rather than an economic driver that can create jobs. Sustainability and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive.

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CA: What would you tell the next generation about the field of study of sustainability and its integration into actions?

CS: I speak at many schools in addition to conferences and other events, and I tell people young and old that we are individual spokes on a wheel. The wheel rolls on because of our interconnectivity to each other and to the living fauna and flora. The word eco-system has “system” in it, and we should not forget that we are part of a greater system.

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CA: If you would have us leave here today with one core idea and one actionable step for us to take related to it, what would that be?

CS:  Think of each purchase of a product or service, no matter how large or small, as an “eco-smart vote.” A cheeseburger requires over 600 gallons of water to produce, given the water needed to grow the food for the cow. The cap on a single use plastic water bottle may end up adding to the massive plastic waste in our oceans. You can think about the lifecycle impact of what you do and vote with your wallet to embrace environmental stewardship from a salad to a re-usable drinking container. One action to retain: Pause before you purchase.

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Charlie Szoradi is an architect, inventor, and the CEO of Independence LED Lighting. He is passionate about cost-effective sustainability and is a sought after speaker. As an entrepreneur, Charlie has pioneered groundbreaking new energy intelligent products and services. He graduated from the University of Virginia and earned his master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Charlie has authored numerous articles, op-eds and the biography of Leon Battista Alberti for the Encyclopedia of Architecture. He lives with his family in a solar home that he designed outside of Philadelphia.

 

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

Eat, Capture, Share

August Ardor is all about passion and sharing stories of passion with the hope of inspiring more people to follow their dreams and bliss – more happiness brings more joy into the world, natch.

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Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Kimberly Espinel, an award-winning food photographer and stylist, photography teacher, author of The Little Plantation blog, and creator of the EAT, CAPTURE, SHARE podcast.  Kimberly lives in cool and cosmopolitan London, creates stunning plant-based dishes and images that make your mouth water and your heart skip a beat, teaches workshops, works on her blog and podcast all while pursuing her bliss.

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She inspires me every single day.  It’s no wonder she was the Saveur Blog Awards Editor’s Choice for the 2018 Best Food Photography for last year. Kimberly has a very distinct lush style with her photography – one that she honed herself as a self-taught photographer.

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I asked Kimberly how she got started and what inspired her to take the first step towards following her passion in food photography.  Her journey was circuitous (as many journeys can be) with twists and turns and back roads traveled, with side journeys along the way, before she found where she wanted to go.  She worked as a social worker for 13 years or so and then had her son.  She realized that going back to the same job did not feel right anymore or fit in with the family life she wanted to create.

She asked herself is there a way I can work for myself and be more present in his life? What opportunities are there… what am I passionate about that would allow me that opportunity?  She decided to go back to school to be a nutritional therapist and at the same time moved from an omnivores diet to a plant-based diet.

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She started the food blog as a way to have recipes to share with clients when she was finished with school; however, when she started picking up the camera and shooting food and writing recipes, she filled a void in her heart and it brought her so much joy.

By the time she graduated from school she already had 40,000 followers on her Instagram account.  Yet when she started the blog, she had not heard of Instagram.  In one of her nutrition lectures another girl sat next to her and said “she’d just discovered this photo app and said it’s insane” …Kimberly was mesmerized.

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What’s important to note is that she was not a photographer before starting the blog.  She says she did not know how to work a camera or anything, but once she got the gist of it, she loved the feeling of creating something in her mind and making it come to life.  She said “I loved recipes, I loved to cook – the styling and the photography are my favorite part and now I love teaching others on the side.”

Many other bloggers go to recipe development but she went to photography.  I asked her what inspires her most when she shoots and how her style evolved.  She had always been interested in interior design and architecture, and as a teenager she would redesign her bedroom and kept a scrap book of fabric, looks and visuals that she liked.   At that time, she didn’t know her style yet, but through trial and error she noticed a pattern in the way she shaped and sees things.  She is really drawn to nature, the colors of nature, the colors of the seasons, the colors of vibrant plant-based food that she gravitates towards.

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Over the years she always leaned into her strengths – one of her strengths is bringing people together and creating a creativity community.  She listened to her followers and their needs, wants, and struggles and she realized a podcast would be a great way to bring the community together to further address their pain points and help them achieve their dreams.  The EAT, CAPTURE, SHARE podcast is for a wide audience of food bloggers, food lovers, and everyone in between – mainly people who love sharing their photography, their art and creativity.

Give it a listen and you can check out more of Kimberly’s images and posts on The Little Plantation blog.

All photos by Kimberly Espinel

 

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

Carrie Allen – Passion Prints

I have spent much of 2019 thus far looking inwards and reflecting on what’s important in life, what’s important to me, focusing on my daily rituals, which ground me and give me a cadence I crave, so that I can be true to my authentic self and show up every day full of love and inspiration in all that I do.  (At least that’s my goal…of course we all have good days and bad…)

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August Table block prints in Tern Gray

Following your bliss and passion are key to finding happiness, key to slowing down and embracing each moment.  Life is better when you slow down and pursue things you love.  One of my passions is Indian block-printed textiles.  Patterns made with wooden blocks, hand printed by skilled artisans, with natural dyes, derived from indigenous plants – indigo, turmeric, hibiscus, pomegranate and ochre.  Each print has imperfections that add beauty to the overall artistry.

While block printing was first developed in China roughly 4500 years ago, the practice of block printing is about 2000 years old and trade in cotton cloth is said to have existed between India and Babylon from Buddha’s time.   It was on the Indian subcontinent where hand-block fabric reached its highest visual expression.

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Photographs by Mehera Shaw

In home workshops scattered throughout India, you can still find chippas, a caste of printers who continue day after day to stamp lengths of cotton fabric with color using hand-carved wood blocks. They were taught this trade by their parents, who were, in turn, taught by theirs — each generation working almost exactly as the one before, going back at least 300 years.  They are truly skilled artisans.  The recipes for the plant-based dyes are developed within the families and kept alive for generations. The colors are dependent on the quality of the plants, the water and skill and knowledge of the printing masters.

Last year Krister and I worked with an amazing team in a little factory in India to design our own block-printed textile patterns for napkins and tablecloths – and August Table was born.  August Table and our block print designs bring together so many passions for me.  Passion for connecting with loved ones over a meal, passion for baking and cooking, passion for entertaining, and a passion for trying to inspire others to find joy in the same.  I also realize I have a love for styling photographs with our textiles, slowing down in the present to capture a moment of our daily lives.

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August Table “August” print napkin in Tern Gray

Additionally, we get great pleasure in knowing through the production of our textiles we are providing a source of income to many village families in an environmentally positive approach with mill made cotton and natural dyes.  Using cloth napkins is good for the environment while also bringing a touch of boho elegance to your meal, and the linens get softer and better with each use as they age. A few of my favorite shots from 2018 with our textiles are below –  a visual diary of quiet, caught moments, special moments, celebrations and more.

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here.