Monday, September 22, 2008

The Harvest Moon, September 15

Last year I decided to have a Full Moon Party partly to celebrate the Harvest Moon which occurs every year in September. It is also near my husband's birthday which gives us another reason to celebrate. This year I decided to make it an annual event and researched even further how other cultures celebrate the moon. I decided to pay close attention to all details just as a fashion designer doesn't miss a thing on any ensemble. The end result was a tribute to the Chinese and their celebration of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.
Here is some history... Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, marks the time to celebrate the (Mid-Autumn Festival)! The festival is better known to Westerners as (Mooncake Festival) and is not just a Chinese festival as it is also celebrated by Koreans and Vietnamese, known to them as Ch’usǒk and Tết Trung Thu respectively. This day is the next most important holiday after Chinese Lunar New Year and a time for family and friends to gather together, feasting on food and admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon. The main delicacy of the festival are 月餅 (mooncakes), though aside from the food, the day will also see incense burnt and offerings such as fruit and whole steamed chicken offered to the gods.

Like most Chinese holidays, the mid-autumn festival is rich in oral history and legend. According to stories, Hou Yi was a tyrannical ruler who won the elixir of immortality by shooting 9 suns out of the sky with his bow. But his wife, knowing that the people's lives would remain miserable for all eternity if Hou Yi lived forever, drank the potion. The fluids made her lighter, and she floated up into the moon. Even today, Chinese like to think of the moon as home of Chang E.
In order to prepare for the Full Moon dinner , I took the children to Chinatown in downtown LA. I don’t think I have ever been, it was fantastic! The Thein Hau temple we visited was incredible with its colors and motifs and I loved the ceiling in this space. The use of red, orange and pink… lots of lanterns made everything magical. The attention that fashion designer Philip Lim pays to his color combinations and accessories is just as awe inspiring as color combinations that I saw in Chinatown. As a place of worship, I found many of the altars to have wonderful little shrines and many rich offerings. The packaging for Chinese incense is also beautiful. I did not have enough time to go everywhere, so we are going back again soon. There is so much to see in Chinatown and lots of good food too.

The history of Chang E, and the belief that she “floated” up to the moon has brought about the use of lanterns to celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival. They are symbolic in that children often use lanterns lit with a small flame that when released floated up in the air much like Chang E did when she drank her potion. (As a side note - while checking out all of the spring 09 fashion runway shows on a Betsey Johnson dress reminded me of the lanterns, airy and feminine.) As part of our dinner we needed lots of lanterns for our table decorations. We found one shop with paper lanterns in many colors. I used a combination of paper lanterns (lots of pink, coral and magenta and white) inside the house and strung elegant silk ones (off white, gold, turquoise and orange) over the tables for dinner. I used small electric tea lights inside so that they would not burn and as night time approached the table looked amazing. As center pieces I bought gold fish and created little vases on each table with multiple fishes and bamboo accents. It was a great party favor for the guests who each got to take a fish home.

The ubiquitous fare at any Chinese celebration of the Full Moon festival, mooncakes are a flaked pastry stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. Egg yolk, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and coconut are common, but walnuts, dates, and other fillings can be found as well. Most have characters for longevity or harmony inscribed on the top. Special cakes can reach almost one foot in diameter. For the party I wanted each guest to be able to have a mooncake. So when I was in Chinatown I found Queens Bakery which was full of them and decided on lotus paste, red bean, green tea, and nuts and dates. I have to say they were not bad... kind of like a fig newton. The giving of mooncakes is a very serious business in China and as you can see they come in many different packages and colors. Depending upon where you buy a mooncake will also determine its price. Ours were $2.50 each but they can cost up to $500.00 from a top hotel in China. Along with the traditional mooncakes I had cupcakes made from my favorite shop, in many different colors to also add more fun to dessert.
As our guests approached the house the moon was just rising over downtown LA. It was big and full. Did you ever wonder why the moon looks bigger as it rises and by the time it is high up in the sky it is smaller. I included a description of what the Mid Autumn Festival was about as part of the place settings along with chop sticks and a fortune. The dinner was for 45, family style, sit down. I used my favorite Chinese blue dragon fabric as a table runner and with the fish alive and swimming it really was a great effect. Along with the moon and the celebration everything was perfect. Attention to detail was the fun part of planning this party. Fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré definitely did that for his spring 09 collection using plastic beads, discs, and paillettes.

I love a party with a theme and this one will be back for next year. Who knows maybe we will visit Thailand for dinner… and the full moon will be my inspiration!

End of Summer, August 2008

With the end of summer and the start of fall, the days start to get shorter and the days of summer seem to slip away. As the light at sunset begins to change and the evenings start to cool. Such is the time marked by end of summer...

A visit to Cape Cod for those of us from the west coast can be a refreshing taste of Americana. Some of my favorite places to visit while there were...

If you like ice cream Four Seas Ice Cream is the place to go. There is always a line and the delight is worth the wait. After all you might run into someone you haven’t seen in awhile and catch up on what everyone has been up to. Once you make your way in the front door, you step inside to an old fashion soda fountain counter and it feels like home. Loaded with so many different flavors of homemade ice cream, Four Seas is a treat for the child in all of us.

There never seems to be enough time to visit the beach when we are home. There is nothing like enjoying a long walk on the beach in the afternoon light while collecting shells and spotting old mollusks on the shore. For my children and I the time spent doing this was full of quiet reflection and relaxation. Catching up on thoughts and ideas and plain old just “hanging” out.

Vintage Lizzie in Dennis, MA was great for finding trinkets and treasures for the home. There are many little towns dotted along the coast of Massachusetts and so many of them have great antique stores. From Dennis to Provincetown you can find many little wonders along the coast.

Our trip took us to Hyannis Port where we spent a lovely week in a traditional Cape Cod style home overlooking the water. The small town of Hyannis Port is made up of a series of small streets where kids can spend the summer riding up and down the lanes without supervision. The water is always close by for quick dips and long sails.

When I am on vacation it is nice to break the rules. Stay up late and sleep in. Such was the vibe at our rental home. There is style of living much like the style of Nanette Lepore does in her spring 2009 collection, clothing that is relaxed and easy with a feminine touch. Eat when hungry, sleep when tired. After all it is vacation. For me I like the unexpected… like the outdoor shower outside our house. Which was fantastic way to get clean and felt like summer camp. The small tool cottage in the back garden with its worn weathered shingles and rickety gate. Or the full bloom of roses and the green grass of summer. All are reminders to stay in the vacation mode. Casual tennis shoes and hand-me-down quilts for cool nights, it all is part of the experience.

Cape Cod style is inspired by a life style dictated by living near the sea. Everyone here is somehow connected to the ocean. More than nautical motifs and shades of blue, the design is unique and organic to the people who live here. Sixty-year-old men, just getting back from their afternoon sails, wear Sperry Topsiders and kelly green whale prints in earnest. Nantucket pink shorts and Izod shirts are sported by thirteen-year-old bushy haired boys, who pull the sail carts back from the pier. There is no pretension in their style; it is how their fathers and grand fathers dressed when they spent their summers here. You can feel the lineage of a unique style.

The long harsh winters require the winter styles to be warm wools and tweed, but when the days get longer, bright cotton prints and solids are everywhere, as if to taunt the colder days. Faded shingled homes against light blue skies are reflected in the interior décor. Crisp whites gleam in the bright sun light like sails stretched from the mast of the wood sailboats. Summer breezes blowing softly on our faces stirred childhood memories of care free summers that seemed to last forever. Not only is the style of this beautiful area unique in its origins and region, it illustrates a profoundly American theme and our relationship to the sea.

Sailing across Nantucket Sound on our friends fifty foot, one hundred year old wood yawl, you can almost feel the curvature of the earth. The coastline village towns are filled with architecture that looks almost fairytale in its uniformity. The light at this northern latitude is so much different than home and you can sense winter around the corner, encouraging everyone to enjoy what’s left of this incredible season. I love all the details and functional references that make up the design of a life by the sea. Shell motifs are on fabrics and decorate treasure boxes. Rope details and nautical reds outline safety and style. Small reminders like a ship-in-a-bottle find themselves randomly sprinkled as a theme everywhere. Just as Michael Kor's spring 2009 collection is full of nautical and americana references. On our arrival the sea was as warm as bathwater because of the Gulf Stream water flowing north, but only a five days later the temperature had dropped more than 10 degrees. The cooler evenings brought out polar fleece and blue blazers, almost worn interchangeably no matter how casual or formal the affair. The texture of the fabrics seems almost woven in the weather and landscape. While a casual first look leaves you thinking this style here it is mostly driven by its conservative culture, when you emerge yourself in it, you see how authentically it is spawned from the life style. Like the beach inspired accessories from the Just Cavalli spring 2009 collection, the sea subtly inspires and takes over.

Like the memories of summer... these are the moments that we treasure.

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