For the Love of Camp

(Originally published August 8, 2017)

It was the summer of ’91 and my husband, clad in a top hat and tux, was belting out “There Is a Sucker Born Every Minute” with all the bravado of Broadway. I, on the other hand, discreetly cartwheeled behind him across the social hall stage in a leotard and costume room cape uncovered from a previous summer’s rendition of “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Unlike the future father of my children, I had neither lines nor delusions of camp grandeur. But the play was required, so a mute, but boldly-outfitted acrobat was the drama counselor’s solution. 

I had no predilection then that this precocious and universally beloved camper was my future. In fairness, I was twelve-years-old, paying attention only to boys that were at least Bar Mitzvah’d. Mike was nothing more than my pet, a sweet kid a whole year younger than me, often clad in an overly self-assured getup of Led Zeppelin T-shirt, Rastafarian beanie, John Lennon sunglasses and not a hint of irony or at least self-awareness that he was a Jewish boy from Long Island and decades too late. But this affable kid who rejected embarrassment as I somehow managed to revel in it secondhand, over the years became, as so many of us do when afforded that eight week freedom to be the person that we see in ourselves, a fixture at this summer home that still remains to each of us the most influential place on Earth.

And so, it was in a desperate search to regain a semblance of this wholesomeness that I lost somewhere on the campus of my small liberal arts college that I returned to camp as a counselor after a long hiatus. The campers had not yet arrived when I abruptly dialed my mother from a payphone and told her that I knew the person that I would marry. There were two peculiar things about this canteen-side confession. First, I was not a believer in sharing feelings. And second, I wanted to be perceived as emotionally detached, so falling head-over-heels in love, admitting it to myself and then unabashedly declaring it to my mother was against my principles. 

But Mike had called shotgun on me. Like the front seat of a car. It seems that he had loved me all those years since he stood on the stage as P.T. Barnum and, when news hit that I would be returning, there was a scramble amongst his former bunkmates and “calling shotgun” felt like the appropriate way to secure his future. 

Beyond Mike’s chivalry, something immediately struck me. I instinctively foresaw that the uncomplicated joy I felt at camp would not be left behind, but that with Mike, who embodied the spirit of this place, we could invariably carry camp with us into adulthood. It was as though the idealism of my past had collided with the fantasies of my future — I was in the middle and I could still choose both.  I didn’t love him because of camp, but I loved Mike because his free-spirited character exuded all of those precious and happy qualities that camp also represented to me. And, while the reality still seemed a lifetime away, I knew with pure conviction that Mike’s children were going to have a lot of fun. Simply put, he was the ultimate camp counselor — legendary for his shenanigans, but also a mentor to his campers and champion of the misfits, making all kids feel good about themselves with his knack for celebrating not just their achievements but also their idiosyncrasies. Mike seemed destined to one day be the kind of dad that would make kids feel lucky because he was theirs. I wanted to be the mother of those kids.

Looking back, it comes as no surprise that the essence of camp - laughter, tradition, individuality and camaraderie - would be the foundation that I required in the family I created as an adult.

As we planned our wedding, more than seven years after that phone call home, we instituted our mantra — as long as we were still finding a way to laugh together we would get through anything. If camp had a resonating sound beyond the countless HC shack announcements squawking over the speaker system, the collective shower hour whir of hair dryers on Girls Camp, or the chosen anthem of each summer blasting from the wooden bunks, to me it would unequivocally be laughter.

So when we were told in our early thirties that the children in my visions were never to be, it was remembering that original need to be the mother of Mike’s lucky kids that kept me forging us ahead through three long years of heartache and disappointment. And finding that laughter— even in the darkest moments — sustained us. Our now six-year-old twin boys Crosby and Sawyer, also known as Sweetlips and The Bean (because nothing says camp like an eternal nickname), have proven that my youthful convictions were true. I often hear them telling Mike that he is their best friend. 

Now, we did not go to scouting camp. From my husband they will never learn to survive in the wilderness or forage for food. We went to a plush sleep away camp in the Poconos where we brought our own down duvets and counselors snuck in pizzas after their nights off. When it comes to survival skills Mike can’t screw in a lightbulb. Because ‘they never go in straight.” And the one time I asked him to hang a gifted mezuzah I became the victim of a self-inflicted hate crime. That one has always bewildered me as hammers are, without argument, the most straightforward tool in the box.

Mike has to their amusement educated our children on how to relieve themselves in the great outdoors, even though I am quite certain that in all our camping years we never actually went camping, making this resourcefulness altogether unnecessary. There were always bunks with multiple toilets and even showers that, while perhaps required flip-flops, were within feet of us. So when Bean dropped his drawers and peed in the flowerbeds at the entrance of his nursery school while the other mothers watched in horror, I felt validated that this boyhood life lesson was unwarranted and misguided. 

It’s not that Crosby and Sawyer do not see Mike as an authority figure — although at my nephew’s bris he could be found sitting in a corner sucking in helium balloons and shouting out different words for male genitalia — but as a confidante that will guide them through both the confusion and the comedy of their coming of age. If only I could summon the resilience not to laugh.

A few years ago, we learned that one of our boys had been uncharacteristically mean to a girl in his class. Mike left a meeting and within an hour was waiting for him outside of swim. Our son explained that he loved a girl and her best friend was coming between them on the playground. He was jealous. How someone his age could have feelings that are so mature and complex surprised us, but now he was also beside himself with our disappointment. Mike discussed our parental expectations — that harmless mischief may slide, but kindness, respect and understanding of others is fundamental. Mike then footnoted our camp-learned code of conduct with advice for his little buddy. “Sometimes the way to impress a girl,” he told our toddler, “is by winning the heart of her best friend.” My husband knows firsthand that a boyhood crush, no matter how youthful or innocent, is a sacred thing. 

What Mike teaches our boys is to have fun without abandon. To celebrate those that are different. To laugh like they are bunkmates on a lifelong adventure. To follow their hearts in love and in life. To feel the confidence to be whomever they know themselves to be. May Crosby and Sawyer too have the self-assurance to play lacrosse by day and passionately belt out show tunes by night. 

I will continue to bandage their knees, pack their snacks, wipe their tears, put chains on the tires in the snow (one of us needs to have life skills), cartwheel when they are centerstage and be the enabler and sometimes even the initiator of the inane.

I feel blessed that when I say, “It smells like camp,” after a rainy day, Mike knows from our collective experience that I mean wet asphalt baking in the sun. And when our boys go to bed singing Taps it is because this ritual reminds us both that, at the end of the day, we are blessed. The collective memories of our happiest place do not need to be explained — they are shared — and our kids are products of that joy.

And while we have plenty of our moments, it delights me that my husband always sees me as he did when he was eleven. He sometimes asks how it makes me feel that after all these years he still has a crush on me. I carried two children in my stomach at once. The butterfly tattoo that once seductively peeked over my vintage jeans grew to be a pterodactyl and has since shriveled to what appears to be a dying moth. It makes me feel forever young…and also very loved.

Realizing that it has been nineteen summers since the canteen and decades since Barnum, I recently turned to Mike while getting ready for bed and as I put my bite plate into my mouth casually lisped, “You know, you are the only person in the world that I would want to spend every waking minute with.” 

Dumbfounded — in part because the girl of his pre-pubescent dreams now sleeps by his side, never mind that the adult orthodonture alluded his childhood fantasies — Mike half-jokingly responded, “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” I am still not a big believer in professing my emotions. 

But to me, my husband is camp. And there is still no place I’d rather be. 

_______________

It should come as no surprise that we live in a ramshackle 120-year-old farmhouse with board and batten barns that always smell like camp. From dessert to design, here are a few other reminders of summer sleepaway all grown up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am absolutely enamored with Will Kahn's "Notes on Camp" from the June/July issue of Town & Country. I'm inspired to design another guest room in the barn.

 

 

 

 

PACKING YOUR CAMP TRUNK...

I'm crazy about these vintage-inspired campy tees, particularly when paired with old-school denim shorts that bring me right back to my sleepaway days. My tennis game may need work, but I fell in love with this cross-body racket bag when shopping at the GOOP pop-up in Amagansett last weekend and, while I've been trying to hold out, I will unquestionably own white Birkenstocks by week's end. The GC CAMP necklace comes with and without diamonds and 10% of all proceeds benefits SCOPE, an organization dedicated to sending children from underserved communities to summer camp. Email us at info@garlandcollection.com for details. 

T-SHIRT/GC CAMP NECKLACE/TENNIS BAG/SANDALS/SHORTS

CAMPING IN...

Strewn with handmade dream catchers and John Robshaw pillows, we used to keep this teepee in our living room in LA. It's now in Sweetlips and The Bean's bedroom where they read books and "camp out" on Saturday nights. We keep one of these cozy floor mattresses inside the tent, as well as in the guest cottage for parent/kiddo sleepovers and also strewn around the house for relaxing in style. Even if you don't bunk courtside, everyone has room for badminton and this set is a perfect hostess gift. We often pack in duffles for multi-destination road trips and this stylish piece is reminiscent of a camp trunk gone glam. And while I never learned to rub sticks together to start a fire, an elegant match striker ups the ante all year long, as rustic-chic enamelware mugs remain forever classics.

CAMPING IN.jpg

 

 

 

Nothing beats the real thing, but these S'Mores Cookie Bars in our Recipe files are a close second on a rainy day. 

Procrastinating: chic Obsessions

Currently, I'm hyper-focused on the completion of two essays as well as a few very exciting developments for the GC brand. In other words, I'm procrastinating. I'm either all in undeterred by any interference from the world around me or I must immediately clear my head and I'm quickly heading down the illustrious path of being the first person ever to surf the entire internet. So, in a desperate need to take a break from myself, while attempting not to move from my office desk, I've decided to do something mildly productive beyond compulsively refreshing Neiman's clearance sale. Below I'm sharing my latest obsessions, some of which I have found by stalking the World Wide Web (see Neiman's sale) and others I have less shamefully been introduced to in person.  Hoping you're obsessed too...And that you'll share your obsessions with me. I have valuable time to kill. 

MAR X Clare V. Marmy Jacket

Marlien Rentmeester, who I have known since my editor days in L.A., has grown her much-adored fashion blog Le Catch with MAR, a capsule collection of her own designs, including a chic collaboration with handbag maven Clare V. I visited Clare's Soho store during their NYFW launch and got to see Marlien and the painted and personalized MARMY jackets in person. You know I believe in monogramming everything and hand painted military jackets now rank high on my list. 

  Image courtesy of Mar.lecatch.com

Image courtesy of Mar.lecatch.com

 

 

MAR X Clare V. Collaboration MARMY jacket, $395 at Mar.lecatch.com.                                                                                                            Public service announcement: This is the last batch.

 

 

 

  Illustration by Jennifer Vallez via insta @sophieandlili

Illustration by Jennifer Vallez via insta @sophieandlili

 

 

 

Illustration of Clare Vivier and Marlien Rentmeester by Jennifer Vallez, whose family portraits are a fabulous gift. Plus, she's an artist who's not afraid to speak up for what's right and there's nothing chicer than that.                              

 See her work on insta @sophieandlili

 

 

 

In other jacket news...

Chic - Coats.jpg

 

 

While attempting to hold onto summer, I'm now determined to find some sartorial excuses to look forward to fall. Here are a few more of my favorites for when the temperature drops, including this peacoat that will be mine. Oh yes Mike, it will be mine.

 

 

 

 

 

ONE (ALSO IN BLACK HERE. AND CHECK OUT THE PLEAT IN BACK!)/TWO/THREE/FOUR (OR A NAVY VERSION WITH STRIPED CUFFS HERE)/FIVE (OTHER COLORS HERE)/SIX

 

I have always been in love with wicker...

  Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Growing up, a white wicker desk, headboard, etagere and mirrors complimented my Laura Ashley floral upholstery and pink and white striped wallpaper. Later on, the souvenirs of teenage reflection - Grateful Dead stickers, Tribe Called Quest posters and the "Dazed and Confused" High Times Magazine cover - that I added to the preppy overload were the perfect juxtaposition. These days, I've been particularly drawn to everything rattan, woven and bamboo, but now I prefer the look in natural hues. I often scour flea markets and antique stores for special scores, but I always appreciate modern pieces that offer an equally timeless look. Here are a few of my favorite images for inspiration as well as some very chic finds.

 

  TOP: Baskets at the Whitby Bar at The Whitby Hotel, BOTTOM LEFT: Via "Home Again" movie, BOTTOM RIGHT: via  Garden Inspirations by Charlotte Moss

TOP: Baskets at the Whitby Bar at The Whitby Hotel, BOTTOM LEFT: Via "Home Again" movie, BOTTOM RIGHT: via Garden Inspirations by Charlotte Moss

Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 10.11.07 PM.png

LAMP/STOOL/PLACEMAT/DAYBED/CHAIR

Don't judge me...

 

 

But I'm going to need a pair of these babies in pink. That's all.

 

 

 

 

That's not all.

 

 

These too.

 

 

 

 

 

Can't stop. Won't stop.

  Not my size, but one of you should really buy these!! Via www.neimanmarcus.com

Not my size, but one of you should really buy these!! Via www.neimanmarcus.com

 

As I mentioned earlier, I take a shameful amount of writing and designing breaks by compulsively refreshing the Neiman Marcus clearance sale. It includes a very happy amount of pieces from Co, one of my cult favorite designers, as well as Gianvito Rossi and Tabitha Simmons. Oh, and it's up 75% off...plus free shipping and free returns. (See how I feel about SALES here) I cannot (will not) stop.  The whole thing is ridiculously satisfying.

 

 

 

Mascara. Yes, seriously.

  Image via BEAUTYCOUNTER

Image via BEAUTYCOUNTER

 

The mascara that I have been devoted to since it landed on my desk when I was the Style Writer for Los Angeles magazine has been discontinued and I've tried countless replacements only to be left with raccoon eyes. Sweetlips and The Bean only use BeautyCounter bath and sunscreen products, thanks to my dear friend who has become committed to safe ingredients. When I was in L.A. a few weeks ago, she insisted that just because Beautycounter mascara is safe does not mean it won't work. I've been a tough convert to that concept. But I tried it. And...I love it! (In full disclosure, I already use their face cleanser, body lotion, lip balm and lip sheers, but I am very particular about eye makeup). No clumpy lashes, no raccoon eyes and I get to say it's non-toxic. 

 BEAUTYCOUNTER Lengthening Mascara, $29 at www.beautycounter.com

 

This Cookbook...

  Malibu Farm Cookbook by Helene Henderson

Malibu Farm Cookbook by Helene Henderson

 

I have really been missing L.A., particularly our friends who are family, Pacific ocean views and farm to table living. A few weeks ago, we had the most delicious meal overlooking the ocean on the pier at Malibu Farm and one of the first things that I did when I returned to New York was order their namesake Malibu Farm Cookbook.

I love enjoying the recipe tome of favorite restaurants or places once I return to my own kitchen (See more here). There is something about the sensory experience of food that can take you back to a place you love. I'm crazy about this cookbook. It reminds me of the farmers markets, driving along the ocean and eating fresh, quality food. I am begging you to try the recipe for potatoes. They are so easy and so delicious and excellent for a crowd. My kids (and I) cannot get enough. Plus, I get to pull the rosemary right from my garden. A potato farmer I am unfortunately not. 

    

Gold Letters...

 

Simple or statement, subtle or bold - the look of a solid gold initial is always classic or timeless. I always wear a GC single Statement letter or a Small solid gold initial piled with my other charms. But lately, I've been very into the idea of wearing multiple Medium letters layered or on a single chain. The look is chic and sleek. The perfect gift for someone else...or just yourself.

 

 

 

On a Serious Note - Hurricane Relief Effort...

  via insta @garlandcollection. On the French side of St. Martin earlier this year...

via insta @garlandcollection. On the French side of St. Martin earlier this year...

Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention St. Maarten. While this obsession as of late has not been of the joyful kind, as many of you know from interviews and instagram it has, and always will be, my "happy place." I am heartbroken by the devastation of this beautiful island that is filled with tangible memories for my family, continuing to tether us to my grandparents for whom Garland Collection is named. Garland and Up Chic's Creek are committed to supporting the relief efforts faced by the devastating hurricanes. Our hearts and thoughts are with ALL those in the U.S. and Caribbean whose homes, livelihoods, families and happy places were affected by the storms. We are committed as a brand and as a family to the relief efforts. 

As we have posted on instagram, 20% of all sales of fine jewelry on the GC site through September will benefit the American Red Cross and UNICEF. As we learn more about what can be done through drives and necessity registries we will share them with you. In the meantime, you may also donate directly to the American Red Cross, UNICEF, the Humane Society and many other organizations on the ground via their individual websites. 

 

XOXO,

Nicole

the outlaw

(from the archives with updated links to our nursery decor)

 

“I wanna baby, I wanna baby, I wanna baby!,” my mother-in-law squealed at the top of her lungs as we stood outside a Los Angeles restaurant late one Saturday night many years ago.

“So get knocked up,” I responded placidly, undisturbed by the absurdity of a grown woman having a hissy fit.

Yes, to most, my mother-in-law’s level of involvement in our life together seems inappropriate. But my mother-in-law is completely inappropriate and, well… she’s mine. When I married my husband, I effectually married her too. I knew what I was getting myself into and after seven and a half years of dating, “The Outlaw,” as my painter called her, was part of the package.

Was I always so accepting of our, ahem, her little arrangement? A year and a half into our relationship, Mike and I were home from college and staying at his parents’ house. We were lying in bed when the door suddenly swung open and in walked The Outlaw, who proceeded to climb into bed with us, squealing and clapping with joy. Stunned, horrified, and stuck in the middle, a good foreshadowing of the years to come, I crawled out the other way on all fours. 

But this was a shining moment for my mother-in-law, a story that more than a decade later she recounts with pride, while I wonder if perhaps therapy could have helped me get to the root of whatever emotional issues I have that forced me to stay with someone else’s meddling Jewish mother that doesn’t simply lack boundaries, but bulldozes over ones that most would innately believe are set in stone…like loudly stating that my “headlights” were on at a family friend’s chilly backyard party six months into Mike and my very fragile relationship. 

She’ll embarrass you into submission if she has to.

The truth is I already have overly needy emotional issues with my own mom, who I call fifteen times a day, despite an inordinate level of neurosis on her part that has clearly begun to rub off on me. Why would I have exacerbated an already unhealthy situation with the coupling of two mothers who would become friends and get branded with the singular nickname “Mom Squared”?  (Two separate lunatics melded into one completely insane human being.)

When I decided to leave a job I loved to take a daunting leap of faith, I received a little pewter, swinging door in the mail from The Outlaw that reads, “Another opens.” It has. And The Outlaw was behind me.

 

____________

 

We did not know then that when the time finally came for us to also desperately want that baby, we would have a very long and difficult journey ahead. But in the end, as my grandmother mused, “I guess when you wish and work hard enough, sometimes you get twice as lucky.”

So when I saw those two healthy heartbeats, the years of heartache turned to bliss. The fun could finally begin. I poured my excitement into creating a precious nursery in our very first home as a family. 

Playful and quirky decor ideas that may not work in other areas are right at home in a child’s room — it's free reign for a chic fantasy land. And while there are plenty of sophisticated furniture lines for kids, there’s no need to restrict your choices. Sweetlips and The Bean’s changing table was a nine-foot 1940s bar console with lion handles found on 1stdibs.com. The top was fitted with two changing pads while the cabinets stored their little onesies. Today, it’s in our living room lined instead with cocktail tray and highballs. And yes, I do see the irony of parents turning their twin infants’ changing table into a home bar. 

Here are a few of my favorite elements from that first precious room…

 

1. TEEPEE  2. DREAM CATCHER  3. WALLPAPER  4. SCULPTURE  5. RUG  6. BASKET  7. PILLOW