Tuesday, February 2, 2016

year in review

Try to recall a year chronologically and you may get caught up in the nostaligia of minute details and the proper sequencing of it all. It's taken me weeks and I've not enjoyed the process, and yet I feel it's important to recall certain things of 2015, to etch them into the internet and protect them from the distorting haze of time. Memories are unreliable. Studies show that the more we recall a memory the more we reshape it, adding bits, layering experiences. They call this memory reconsolidation. 

Think of when you've taken long trips away from home; say more than 2 weeks... when you return everything inside your house feels a bit different. It lasts only a few seconds usually; but the feeling is distinct as your brain re-recognizes it surroundings. The interior dimensions of rooms, the layout of all your things on tables and walls -- having not changed at all, having merely sat in the silence and dark of your absense, is mysteriously and minutely different.  

What follows are photos; a non-sequencial recap of what was a very full and productive year for us at Saipua. The photos are real, and I guarantee you that I took them all, was in that place in that moment behind the camera. What I cannot guarantee is the accuracy of all the stories I am about tell. Believe it or not, my chickens, I am an embellisher; and though I pride myself on honesty and describing this life the way it really is, remember that I come from an industry of dreamweavers...so here we go...

2015 started off with my discovery of whipped cream in a can. I used it as an easy snack in-between farm chores (true) but I also told people that I carried it in my jacket pocket and traveled with it, and that I could not leave home without it (false; I often did in fact leave home without a can of whipped cream). Recently, while moving out of our city apartment, I discovered a dozen (actually 3) cans of whipped cream in the refrigerator and was thankful that this trend was over (mostly) because whipped cream in a can is actually not cheap and not particularly good for you. 

It is true that we relinquished our apartment this year, after 8 years at 168 Coffey Street, arguably the most beautiful block in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The top floor of a row house built for sailors in the 1860's (true), it was a bit shabby with its decades-old cheap linoleum kitchen floor and peeling ceiling paint throughout. The plumbing never drained, and when you took a shower you were often standing in 4 inches of water by the time you finished (true). Raccoons often nested in the walls (true). Downstairs there were a handful of tenants (actually only one) who found ways to passive aggressively complain about the thin floors and my very early morning schedule.

I emptied it out a few days after christmas, amidst a whirlwind of Saipua events. With an event company, moving becomes just another task on a todo list. U-Hauls and hands were sent over to handle the load out of almost a decade worth of carefully collected junk. Junk that now sits in various boxes and garbage bags alongside tarps of compost in our new studio. I will miss those mixed up wall colors, and the privacy the apartment afforded me; a sanctuary in what is often a storm of saipua meetings and events when I am in the city. My evenings spent dancing alone or sitting in the window smoking. I was on the phone with my accountant discussing the reality of Saipua's first profitable year (true) when the boys came up for the last load and looked at me and then the bench I was sitting on. When I stood up they carried out the last things from under me. I stayed there two more nights with just a mattress, a coffee set up, my laptop, a burner phone,  and some files on the tremendous wedding we were in the midst of producing. It was two days after Christmas in NYC. I joked with staff that I was living like Peter Quinn, a lone assassin in an empty apartment, but no one got it because none of them watch TV.

I drove home for a quick christmas before the big event and managed to loose my grocery bag somewhere along the way. Down in the kitchen garden I pulled the last carrots and clipped some miraculously unfrozen arugula. We roasted some lamb and made an aioli from our hens eggs. (Let the record state that the picture of carrots is from Thanksgiving, but is generally representative of WorldsEnd-Christmas-Miracle-Carrots...)

2015 was a year where we really started eating off the farm. Where we could create whole meals with farm food - save for olive oil, lemons and wine. And coffee. I've always fantasized about a closed system farm - impossible to achieve but not impossible to strive for.  There is a distinct difference there. 

2015 saw the completion of half of our giant barn. The half on the left there; the half for teaching and events. This mammoth project took so much time and money to complete and I'm still in awe when I go inside and can flip a light switch that is powered by our solar rig. The next phase is to complete the second half; the ground floor will be a giant cheese and teaching kitchen (for our sheeps milk ricotta!) and the upstairs will be lofts for visitors. Currently I am doing everything in my power to raise the money we need for this project; including finishing my book proposal and planning more plant sales. 

We cooked outside a lot. Or I should say Samin cooked outside a lot. We cooked our first lambs for a massive feast in October, and we cooked a small Thanksgiving dinner. Samin says that cooking at Worlds End is her favorite place to cook (true, Samin?) and one day we're going to build the best kitchen together here. When that happens it will be an equation with equal parts; something lost and something gained. I will miss cooking outside, even in the depths of winter. 

We had our first lambing season at Worlds End. Four weeks of checking the pens every four hours through the night sometimes in sleet with headlamps and a toolkit full of pseudo-medical supplies. No lube? You can use dish soap (true). As someone who is thoroughly appalled by anything having to do with birth, I did alright. Animals make it look easy and then you get baby lambs to play with.

I've written this before, but there is nothing in the world to me like snuggling with baby lambs. It is just beyond great. For someone like me who struggles with softness and gentleness it's probably the best therapy for me. I would, not often enough, spend extra time in the pen at morning or afternoon chores sitting against the fence becoming a human mountian for lambs to climb. 

And then some die. Every shepherd tells you this, right from the beginning: that you can expect to loose 10% of your lambs. It doesn't make it easier when it happens. A little black lamb named 'Vitamin B' was that lesson for us. She struggled for weeks and then succumbed to pnemonia and probably a weak heart or a genetic defect. I screamed out loud on this particular sunny May day - the sort of day that looks like baby lambs should not be able to die. Eric carried her little body out into the field and sat with her while I paced back and forth not knowing how to cope. But we did cope. We put her body away in the freezer, we'd harvest her pelt another day. We drank a beer together on the back porch - I think it was 11 in the morning; there were no rules that day. Then we went back to chores. Gwen came to shear the ewes in the afternoon, arriving just as it started to storm. When everything was done we drove to Germantown to a birthday party and danced till we sweat through our clothes. Life went for us, and all around us.

It was definitely a year of a lot of sheep selfies. I can't lie about this because I recently discovered that all the photos I take on my phone are somehow automatically uploaded to the Saipua corporate dropbox. It's a lot of sheep selfies. 

The flower field was in a lot of a ways a complete failure this year, except for the lessons we learned about the importance of a reliable irrigation system. Weather was weird and awful (I think I'm understanding now that farmers will say this about every year) and the pond we pumped water from dried up after a beaver dam that was holding it, broke, and for the first time we missed our beavers. Remember when we were cursing and trapping beaver? The karmic connection there was palpable. Without a water source to irrigate; the field became seriously stunted and between the intensity of our first year with lambs and all the wedding work in the city, the field was all but abandoned by June... left to its own devices. 

Bearded Iris, however, we did see -- it's the perennials that really kept on giving this year; their roots well enough established to handle the lack of drip irrigation and weeding. It was our first year with blooms on the iris and I hoarded nearly every stem for myself. Next year I hope for more stems to sell and we'll add another 200 foot bed of them if we can afford to in the fall. I believe in them like gods.

In 2015 we rebranded or, I should say, branded officially for the first time. Saipua has always been a mash up of hand-drawn logos or someone's (mine) mediocre photoshop skills. This year we went out on a limb and hired Vanessa and Lisa of Ensemble to give us a proper graphic representation. It was really such and exciting, indulgent, and at times painful process, but in the end we have gorgeous new packaging which does justice to my mothers soap-making process and the quality of the ingredients she uses. And we have a website which elegantly honors the hard work of our entire team and community. It still makes my stomach drop every time I open it.

We made a lot of weddings and events all around the world; big and small - from Detroit to France. Even after 10 years of making events, each one brings its own distinct set of lessons. The unusual May heat wave in Detroit reminded me that refrigeration can never be over-planned; the wedding in France continued my education in ordering flowers direct from Alsmeer.

We did lots swimming this year; in oceans, creeks, hot tubs and water parks. I have to remember to cool down all the Saipua fire signs...

We also composted a lot in 2015. Tarps and tarps and tarps of spent floral material and branches were hauled around, stashed in parking lots, storage units, moved to box trucks and eventually deposited at the farm at Worlds End. Collecting compost from our own events and from our colleagues events in the city can be a real exercise in logistics. There were, many times when I felt crazy. When we were storing compost in a storage unit in Brooklyn for a short period (Sadly, true); it felt a little like we were hoarding trash. Which people actually do, and that is a sickness. I don't want to be sick, and I don't want to be stupid; but I still really believe that our compost program is going to work and going to help revolutionize waste in our industry. 

We expanded our core staff in 2015; adding Dan as a full time Operations Manager. Dan is the sort of special, well-adjusted person that makes you believe that, in fact, there may be some people out there who do not have 'issues.' As I've gotten to know him better I'm often surprised by his thoughtfulness and sensitivity. (I can see him cringing now.) Dan is credited with running our new event breakdown/compost initiative - and equally importantly - inventing the peanut butter/blueberry sandwich combination while on assignment in Detroit this summer.

We also snagged this girl - Jessie May Booth - from the UK. First thing we had her do was record our answering machine message so we sound more sophisticated. Jessie has produced events around the world, and lived in Saudi Arabia working for Sheik Mohammed for a year. She led me on a hike in the hills of Scotland; I thought we'd never get back; I snapped that photo before things got weird. Her ruggedness and willingness to dig into any task is balanced with perfect manners and elegant poise. Crazy about her.

We drank a lot of LaCroix in 2015 and joked too frequently about possible sponsorship. (Other sponsors could have been: Ezekial Bread, The Peanut Butter Commission of America, Carhartt, Weleda Skin Food, American Spirits and Miguel [the singer.])

 We played a lot of spades.

The dogs and I took a lot of walks in the woods.
We lit a lot of fires.

We made a plan to pay off our Saipua credit card and travel to Scotland as a reward. We didn't pay off our credit card, but we went anyway.

We stayed in a remote 15th century castle on the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. One night we walked in the pouring rain down the beach to a deserted cabin where Paul and Linda McCartney once stayed. We lit a fire and sat in the haunted room. It occurred to me sitting there that we needed to do the trip regardless of finances... we need to take the time for ourselves to experience the most beautiful, haunting things. Because it is what our clients expect us to create for them, and you can't give it unless you get it first.

This year was about so much progression for us as a team and as a business. Painful at times, at least for me it has been. It's been a lot of letting go of the old habits of working, sometimes before I know what the new habits are. At many points this year I found myself in a limbo of indecision, and yet big things were happening around me...

Just a few days ago we cleared out our old studio at 147 Van Brunt Street. Our new studio is 4 blocks away in Red Hook. It's five times as big. It's going to allow us to push further in the realm of making the most gorgeous weddings; it will allow us to educate more people about flowers, plants and the occult... It has a proper kitchen and a fireplace. 

We're building a ceramic studio which be home to a rotating artist residency program where ceramists can work for free in exchange for making all the vessels Saipua needs for events and deliveries. Because I'm tired of buying shit made overseas, and we don't have to.

We're building a walk in cooler at which will allow us to store product from our farm and from neighboring Hudson Valley Farms. We have plans to partner with Nobel Tree Coffee (located here in Red Hook) and put in a top notch espresso situation, so when Taylor or Britney or Amy or Mikey come over to buy flowers out of our cooler I can convince them to stay a little while and have a coffee with me.

That's all I really ever want to do. Have coffee with friends and talk about nature. And as big and as crazy as Saipua gets, I have to remember that at its core is a very simple desire to connect and make something beautiful.

In August of 2006 we opened the first saipua shop.
There is a lot to do to finish our new space and realize all the above; but come hell or high water we'll be throwing a giant party in August of 2016 ... though it may be in a construction zone.
That would be very saipua.
Whatever it looks like, I hope you'll join us then.


Desi said...

Keep doing what you do, Sarah. One of these days I'm going to get to see it all. The old store, the new store, Worlds End.

The lamb stuff is rough. My husband grew up on a sheep ranch in Idaho and the lambs are the source of many conversations, good and bad.

Happy 2016!

lynn/trouble said...

sooooooooo glad you are writing a proposal for a book! I would be one of the first in line to buy it. Your writing skills are super fantabulous!

Unknown said...

2006 was a big year in Red Hook.

thea said...

I can't remember how long I've been reading your blog, but I know I took my first little flower school class almost 6 years ago! Its been fantastic to watch Saipua grow all the years, and this year in review was equal parts run away to a farm fantasy inspiring and "oh hell no I couldnt hack that" reality. I can't wait to see what comes in 2016. PS if you ever decide to take on investors, let me know. Flowers and baby lambs are a hell of a lot sexier than the stock market.

Rachel said...

This is great. I think I've been soaking up every flower photo (and sheep selfie) you'd give me since damn near 2006. Congrats on such a big year! Well earned. May all the good things keep coming.

Julie Read said...

I love this: That's all I really ever want to do. Have coffee with friends and talk about nature. And as big and as crazy as Saipua gets, I have to remember that at its core is a very simple desire to connect and make something beautiful.

Good luck in 2016

Anonymous said...

You had a great year! Congratulations!

The day may come when you have a rejected lamb that has to be bottle fed. You will seriously love this.

Unknown said...

This year in review made me laugh and tear up (the lambs, ah, they got me again)... its a wonderful blog you write. your frank and seemingly indifferent writing just captures the wild, determined spirit that rings true for that part of me (and a lot of people who tune in for your instalments so it seems...) Looking forward to a publication in the working. this thing you do is good.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Beautiful!

Meg said...

Beautiful as always. Looking forward to all that you will share in 2016.

Unknown said...

I love that you are creating a ceramics studio! If you want a southern ohio potter for a stint let me know! Oh and I am a Bearded Iris kindred I bet I have 2000 around my house so I loved you comment about them... Carma Baker

Elizabeth Daniels said...

Desi sent this link to me and I have to say, I'm hooked! We recently moved from San Diego to Vermont, originally for 'just a year' but, inspired by a seasonality and simplicity and beauty similar to what you've highlighted in this post, we've decided to stay.

Thanks for sharing your story in all its raw glory.

wanna said...

This year in review made me laugh and tear up (the lambs, ah, they got me again)... its a wonderful blog you write. your frank and seemingly indifferent writing just captures the wild, determined spirit that rings true for that part of me (and a lot of people who tune in for your instalments so it seems...) Looking forward to a publication in the working. this thing you do is good.