At the Heart of Kith & Kin

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Danielle Allen & Benner Dana at Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, VT.

Three-generations of the Allen family came to the studio this morning to try their hand at Pysanka egg decorating.  My neighbor Jaci had decided to treat her two delightful (grown-up) children, their charming spouses, and enthusiastic grandchildren, Kai and Tegan, to a morning of color, design and sweet hilarity.

It was a crystal, late March day — cold but with a polished, full-blown-blue sky.  My guests walked in the door, carrying with them the first blush of spring.  Everyone admired my egg tree, the grown-ups helped themselves to mimosas, coffee and fresh raspberry danish from King Arthur, and then we got down to serious pysanka business.

I spent the morning watching this lovely family in motion, quietly sharing, perfectly calibrated. Jaci’s son and daughter-in-law, Tate and Suzie, and their children live in Massachusetts, while Jaci’s daughter and her husband, Danielle Allen and Benner Dana, own Root 5 Farm (formerly Your Farm) — a certified organic farm on 28 acres in Fairlee, Vermont .

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Danielle & Jaci Allen and GORGEOUS vegetables from Root 5 Farm at the Farmers Market

Ben and Danielle are refugees from Hurricane Irene, their previous farm in Burlington, VT having been contaminated and ruined by deposits of silt, chemicals and refuse Irene’s floods dumped onto their fields.  With help from many sources, including the Vermont Community Foundation, Danielle and Ben were able to start again, this time on the other side of the state.

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Pysanka involves using raw eggs, big jars of dye, hot wax and lit candles.  Two and a half year-old Kai could not wait to get his hands on all of it.  Jaci had assured me the plan was for her to entertain Kai while the others focused on playing with color and design, and that 7 year-old Tegan was a very competent little girl. But still. I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

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Kai, Tegan and Tate learning pysanka.

With the rest of the family bent over their pysanka creations, concentrating on applying swirls and dots of melted wax on the ever-curving surface of eggs, Jaci quietly helped Kai participate in his own way.  Crayons are much easier to handle than a kistka (the tool used to apply the flowing wax to the surface of the egg).  And Jaci, brilliant grandmama that she is, had brought along a dozen hardboiled eggs especially for him.

Of course Kai caught wind of the fact that his eggs were somehow different from the others and wanted none of it.  Without contradicting him directly, Jaci deftly switched out the raw for the hardboiled eggs, just out of his line of sight. She spoke quietly in his ear and maneuvered all kinds of potential disasters out of the way as he wriggled and reached. She helped him have a hands-on experience of his own, while keeping him safe and never once saying “no.”

Indeed, Kai and Jaci were a team. They went for a walk, they came back, they went for another walk… Jaci kept pace with her grandson’s short attention span and never exactly foiled his plans, keeping him entertained and busy while the rest of his family had a couple of hours to focus on their projects. Kai had the opportunity to try and learn new things, and didn’t have to sit any longer than a 2 year-old can reasonably be asked to. It was a little gift Jaci gave to all of them.

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It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of using the kistka.  But once you ‘get’ it, it’s enormously satisfying to use the natural capillary action between shell and flowing wax to achieve the design you’re after.  Dye is applied in layers, with wax applied between each dye bath. The final step is to reheat the surface of the egg to remove all the wax. When the big reveal comes, you get to see how all of your layers have come together. It’s pretty cool.

As they labored over their creations, there was quiet conversation about this and that.  The brothers-in-law discussed approaches to pond building, driveway construction and sliding glass door installation. Tegan asked for help from time to time and her dad was happy to give it.  There is something so sweet about people sharing something new. Kids and grown-ups alike, all on the same plain, figuring out how to make it work.

Kith & Kin is all about celebrating these sorts of connections — between friends (kith) and family (kin), even total strangers.  It’s the whole reason I started Kith & Kin.  The kids got to take home bunny-shaped cookies “to eat after lunch.” Everyone went home with a beautiful Pysanka egg or two.  And I dare say a good time was had by all.

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Your Party: Trumpets, Banjos, Violins!

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Music can make an event. I mean, make it.

I’m talking about live music, played in the moment, by actual people.

I think of a party as being made up of ‘colors’ on a three-dimensional, life-size canvas, or layers in space and time — a visual layer, a sensory layer, a taste layer and the social layer.  Several of these elements you’ll likely begin to think of right out of the box: food, decor and guests. But there’s this whole other hue, this whole other layer that can contribute so much: the sounds, the music of a party.

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The invention of recorded music gave us something marvelous: music on demand. You can plug in your iPhone or MP3 player, or fire up your parents old stereo (dare I say ‘hi-fi’?) on a moment’s notice. You can have digitized music in the car, in the elevator, in the office, in the kitchen, on your run — pretty much anywhere — whenever you want. Which is great.

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But it gave us an over-whelming quantity of choices.

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And it took something out of our lives: the intimacy, the human connection of right-in-front-of-your-eyes, watch the breathing, see the fingering, people-powered music.

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I want to argue for bringing LIVE music back to parties and events. There are so many sources for digitally reproduced music, and it’s so easy to access, very few of us experience music being played in real time by real human beings. This is a shame.

There is no thrill, no hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling like the moment a bow touches a fiddle string, or the first note comes peeling out of a trumpet.

Live music is an instant ice-breaker. Everybody arrives at a party or event feeling a tad self-conscious, a bit on guard.  But you can’t stay stressed-out for long when you literally feel the vibrations that come from a really tight band, string quartet or jazz ensemble. It just carries you off and out of yourself…

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And then, of course, there’s dancing. It’s so good for us. Even if it’s excruciating at first and we look like total dopes, we should all dance. If we all did it, no one would notice how Elaine-esque we look. (But I realize the prospect of figuring out how to get your guests to dance might send you over the edge, so unless you are planning a wedding, we’ll leave that conversation for another time.)

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Here’s the thing, musicians give us a gift like no other. When they play, they lay themselves out before us in all their human vulnerability. They put themselves on the line every time. Being a musician requires intense effort, a singular kind of concentration, and endless hours of practice.  There is risk in the moment –a leap of faith on the part of both musician and audience — and I suspect that that’s part of the thrill for both.

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Musicians must cooperate, literally harmonize with their co-workers in a way that would make any Forbes 500 CEO envious.  It’s a thing of beauty and although your guests may not consciously consider any of this, but they will ‘know’ it in their bones.

Rhythm and melody are as much a part of us as our heartbeats and voices.

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In the olden days, it would have been your neighbors, your siblings and parents, YOU, taking up the fiddle or sitting down at the piano.  Playing music together was a part of everyday life and most households had a fair-to-middlin’ musician or two in the family. There wasn’t much else to do in the evenings except maybe read aloud together (another disappearing pleasure) or whittle and sew. Everybody played and danced and sang together.

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These days too few of us have both the opportunity and the motivation to learn an instrument, or even attend a concert now and then. That makes the inclusion of live music at an event even more special, more spine-tingling.

When you’re thinking about music for your party, don’t be afraid to think out-of-the-box and go big. You might expect a string quartet or a solo guitar at a wedding. But would you expect a brass ensemble?  Or a gospel choir?  How cool would that be??

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Here in New England, many villages still have town bands made up of retired professionals and talented amateurs who get together to play just for the heck of it.  Wouldn’t it be fun for everyone to exit the church after your wedding ceremony to the sound of clarinets, flutes, drums and trombones playing When the Saints Go Marching In?

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You don’t need a wedding, by the way, to get your groove on. A cocktail party accompanied by a jazz ensemble, an anniversary dinner with a violinist wrapping sweet notes around your beloved, a birthday sing-along accompanied by accordion — for Kith & Kin, music is as essential to any kind of successful gathering as good food and wonderful company.

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There are, of course, as many different styles of music as there are kinds of people.  You might want your event to reflect your heritage, for example, or a theme, or match the origins of the cuisine you are serving.  Greek folk music, Indian sitar, Zydeco — anything can be adapted, incorporated.

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Want to have a really successful wedding? Everyone there should feel comfortable getting their groove on. There is nothing worse than having half your guests sitting on the sidelines. Want all your guests young and old to drop their inhibitions at the door and feel the exhilaration of doing the two-step? Try a Cajun band.  Or a bluegrass band. Cowboy music! Get those toes a’ tappin’.

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Big Band, Gospel, Classical — whatever your taste, whatever your tempo — spring for live music at your next party or event. Your guests will be surprised and thrilled.

Tips:

  • As always, hire reliable people, get references. (Very important to get references.)
  • Have a contract, be clear about start and end times, cost, etc.
  • Usually bands or other groups will have someone — a member or an agent — who handles bookings, contracts, payment, etc. Use that contact person for all your negotiations.
  • Ask about how many breaks they take and for how long.
  • What are their needs/expectations, if any, for food and drink to be provided by you? Do they need housing? Are travel and other expenses covered in their fee?
  • Before you sign on the dotted line, listen to the group playing music — not just the songs they will cover as played by others, but they themselves performing. Sometimes there will be sound samples on musicians’ websites (again, ask if these samples are recordings of their group rather than those of other people playing their repertoire), or they may have a video you can see. If they are performing publicly, go listen.
  • Talk about dress code. Especially if it’s a formal occasion where photographs will be taken, suggest a specific attire or color scheme. Your musicians are an integral part of the whole visual effect.

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  • Choose the right group for the kind of music you have in mind.  Many pop tunes can be successfully transcribed, but most won’t transfer well across genres. Don’t expect classically trained string quartets to do justice to Taylor Swift or rock bands to play Pachelbel. It won’t turn out as you are imagining it and it will cause the musicians to sweat unnecessarily.
  • Be prepared to pay a deposit to secure the date, and pay the balance either a week before the party or on the spot (before they begin playing). Tipping is not usually expected, but if you are especially happy with their performance, feel free.
  • If for some reason your event has to be cancelled or postponed, let them know right away.  There is a good chance you will still need to pay them as they will probably have refused other opportunities in order to put yours on their calendars. Most will work with you, however, to find an alternate date.
  • All of these specifics will/should be spelled out in the contract
  • Most important: BOOK EARLY and communicate your needs/expectations.  During wedding season in particular, the best quartets get booked months — sometimes a full year — in advance.  Talk with them about what you would like in terms of specific songs/pieces. If “your” song is not already in their repertoire, they will need time to acquire, arrange and learn it. They may charge you extra for this service. Put all of these details in writing and keep the emails. (Assume nothing.)  This will help prevent bad surprises or disappointment.

Need help in tracking down the perfect group? Or managing all these details? Call Kith & Kin. We’ll help you find the best musicians for your event, take care of all of the details, and see that your wedding/party/event is a huge hit!

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Studio Parties

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WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020730008 WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020710030WhiteLoftStudio_eggs-000020710023The K&K Studio is open for hands-on creativity for anyone and everyone. Simple projects, with all the materials included, are offered by announcement or appointment.

We paint, glue and create, just for the joy of it.  Refreshments and snacks are included, and you’ll go home with a project in hand, feeling refreshed and relaxed from having spent time with friends, trying your hand at something new and fun.

Great for a girls’ night out, a bridal shower, birthday parties or a moms-and-kids activity. No experience or artistic ability necessary! The studio is also open to children age 6 and up, by special arrangement.  (Studio time is billed at a flat, per person rate. Snacks and materials are included in the price.)

Encore Weddings

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Kith & Kin specializes in encore weddings (marrying not-for-the-first time). We believe that mature couples deserve to celebrate their love just as much as younger ones, but often have a different, more discerning take on what that celebration might include.

Love that comes along later in life is often even more precious and heady than the love that sweeps younger people off their feet.

In many ways, such a love and the wedding that publicly declares  it can be sweeter than the first time around. You’ve lived more of life. You know yourself better.  You’ve loved and lost and loved again, and have emerged with an even greater appreciation of how precious it is to find the right mate. You want your nuptials to reflect that.

There is a certain freedom in being an older bride or groom. Couples are often less tied to having a by-the-book wedding. You probably don’t need gangs of bridesmaids in matching dresses or a team of groomsmen. You can skip the raucous bachelor party, and tossing the bouquet or garter just doesn’t make sense.

Even if you don’t want a lot of frills, you still want a meaningful event – perhaps an elegant wedding with a few rituals that really speak to you or an afternoon picnic by the river. You may have children and stepchildren or even grandchildren to include in the ceremony and want everyone to have a role. Or you may want to have a small, intimate affair followed by a lovely dinner or luncheon at a restaurant with just your nearest and dearest. You know what works for you, what’s important and what’s extraneous.

Kith & Kin can help older couples identify what traditions they want to follow and what elements will make the day unique and exceptional.  Whether you plan to elope to a tropical island or be married by the justice of the peace, we can do the legwork for you. Whatever your picture, Kith & Kin will honor it and help you make it happen.

How We Work

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Kith & Kin starts at the very beginning.

Whether it’s an elegant dinner party for eight or a wedding for 200, Kith & Kin is on it.

Once booked, we’ll map out a ‘backwards calendar’ from the day of our first working meeting through to the day of the event and afterwards, sketching out deadlines for decisions and book-by dates to ensure that you get the venue and vendors you want.

From there, we’ll create a personalized binder to collect colors, images and ideas that will be the jumping off point for your event and be used as a reference throughout the planning process. We’ll gather samples for you to consider. If you have a firm budget, we’ll map out a hierarchy of must-haves. And if you already know what you want, we can jump right into timelines and activities.

Your Event, The Day Of

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The planning process is totally fun. So many details to think about, colors to play with, flowers to choose, food to taste, favors to find…

But Kith & Kin keeps its eye on the prize: the event itself. We will deliver an event that will remain one of the best you and your guests ever experience. The Kith & Kin team ensures you are free to participate your party, be an honored guest, instead of having to worry about things running smoothly. No distractions. No disasters. After all, you are the last person who should miss enjoying the results of all your hard work!

During your event, Kith & Kin will buzz around in the background, quietly keeping everything running smoothly while you dine and dance, and enjoy your time with your guests. We want you to have the head space to really pay attention to the content of your event rather then worry if there’s enough ice or if the food is being served on time. We’ll make sure your vendors deliver what you’ve paid for, on time, with the kind of attention to detail you deserve.

We’ll be invisible, but you’ll know we are there.

 

 

 

How to Hire Us

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Interested in hiring Kith & Kin? Here’s how it works:

We’ll set up an initial meeting to get together and talk about your needs, the size of the event, what you have in mind for style and scope. We’ll get an idea of what makes you tick, what’s important to you, what your vision for the event looks like. Together we will sketch-out a rough plan for Kith & Kin services, discuss budget and look at our calendars. (There is no fee for this initial conversation.)

If you decide to go forward, we’ll send you a letter of agreement outlining services to be delivered and ask for a deposit to secure the date. After that, you are on the K&K calendar. We limit the number of projects we take on so we can focus on yours and be easily available to you.

To begin, head to the K&K home page and fill out the Contact Us form or post a comment here and we’ll be in touch!

How We Came to Be

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Kith and Kin means “friends and family” in Old English.  It seemed like the perfect name for a business that is all about bringing together family and friends — be they newly-minted or held dear for years and years — to share important moments.

After nearly thirty years of being a development director for a number of terrific humanities-based and environmental non-profits (which included putting together events large and small) I decided to go out on my own and just focus on the parts I really love most: design and people.  Kith & Kin allows me to get to know my clients well, figure out what they are hoping to achieve, and put creativity to the test.  It is a natural fit, combining my passion for aesthetics and design with my boundless love of my own friends and family.

I love nothing more than to craft exceptional, unique and memorable occasions.

I know when and how to break the rules, what makes a party flow, and how to show guests they are appreciated and loved.  Whether it’s an elegant dinner party for two or a full-on bash for two hundred, you can have a gathering that is beautiful, authentic and unique. I would be honored to help you create your event.

 


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