I’ve watched Kristin Schell’s Turquoise Table journey from afar (not that far — we only live 75 miles apart), and I was inspired. I wrote a column about her turquoise table and my neighbor, Smokey Joe for the WACOAN. Then my husband built our own table, and I painted it turquoise .
Sadly, we had to leave the table when we moved. But I knew was in good hands when the new owner saw it and said, “Front Yard People!” (I checked on the table, btw, and it looks great.)
In June, Kristin released her book, The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard. This book isn’t one I’m setting aside or passing on to a friend. No, this one is going on my cookbook shelf, so I can grab it often. The shelf already has many, many printouts of Kristin’s recipes from her blog.
The book isn’t just about a picnic table. It’s about hospitality — from Kristin’s F in high school French to the Front Yard People movement.
Hospitality is one of those things: You know it when you see it. If you ever meet Kristin, you’ll see it.
There are two women in my family who consistently show hospitality. One is my Aunt Fayma. For years she hosted Drummond Christmas at her house in Hamlin, Texas. Her motto was, “Come early, stay late,” and we did. She never knew exactly how many people to expect, but she welcomed everyone. Throughout the year, when she found snacks or drinks on sale, she’d stock up. The person who bought her old house is extremely blessed.
The other person I think of when I think of hospitality is my sister-in-law, Amy. She has hosted many a Christmas as well, also to an unknown number of guests. But I think the moment she captured my heart was when she made her house the go-to destination during my mom’s funeral. One day she served everyone lunch, from both sides of the family. Family from Wyoming met family from Oklahoma and Alabama. She especially showed hospitality to me the week my mom passed away, as I wrote about in The Joy of Poetry.
“Amy is my sister-in-law, who did treat me like a sister that day and also that night, when she took me out to dinner and ordered exactly what I like because I was too upset to make sense of a menu. A week later, before my mother’s funeral, she arranged a mani-pedi, complete with a glass of white wine.”
Unlike Aunt Fayma and Amy, hospitality doesn’t come easily to me. (It does to my husband.) There was a time when I not only lost my few welcoming shreds of decency but also the entire ability to cook.
That’s why Kristin’s chapter “The Broken Table” was so meaningful to me. She describes when her turquoise table broke during an interview/photo shoot. One friend thought the picture of the broken table wasn’t suitable for the newspaper.
“No!” I jumped in. “Make sure to put the picture of the broken table in the paper. This isn’t a table for the perfect: this is a table for people with trials and flaws.”
I told the photographer about the Turquoise Table. “It’s when we come to the table, broken and vulnerable, not hiding behind our perfection, that the realness happens . . . when we’re really human we connect.” (page 138)
For a long time our table was empty. Food became a weapon; the table, a battleground. The best I could do was to keep separate food stocked for each separate member of the family. Then there was the night we dared to order Domino’s and share it as a family. We survived. Finally, with Kristin’s recipes in hand, I braved the stove, the oven, the CrockPot. I wore an apron and played music in the kitchen. The table stayed broken, but the food began to build connection. Like Kristin’s broken picnic table.
Truthfully, I needed the visual reminder of the broken table. The cracked wood and splintered bench was hard-earned — weathering the hot Texas summers and two years of carrying the emotional and physical weight of those who gathered.
Eventually the wood had to be fixed, but I know the table is stronger and more beautiful having been broken. And so are we all. (page 147)
We joined a small group at our church. We gather once a month for prayer and study … and a meal. Whatever my assignment was — salad, bread, appetizer — I’d bring a Kristin recipe. People started looking forward to my dishes, even to my desserts, which I rarely make.
Then we moved to a new house, one with space to actually put a leaf in our dining room table, and we started inviting people over. John loves to grill, so I cede the meat to him, and I make the sides. It’s kinda fun. (shhh!)
And it’s kinda vulnerable. When we make the table a place to, as Kristin says, Gather Small, Love Deep, we find out hospitality isn’t about matchy-matchy and Instagram-worthy dishes. It’s about a space where we can talk about our lives.
… the fragile marriage, the volatile temper, the compulsion to shop, the binge on Fritos, the loss of trust in a child.`(page 139)
Our new yard won’t support a turquoise table, but it will accommodate turquoise Adirondack chairs. They are built but not yet painted. On our new street, neighbors actually do come out and visit in the evenings.
But I think the bigger story is our table inside, the one we bought for our first home, 21 years ago. The one at which no one sat for a long time. The one that got broken but is again becoming a space where hospitality can happen.
I made the Turquoise Table M&M Cookies, recipe from Colleen Enos, for our family. No table was involved — I just placed them on cooling racks, and they got eaten up. Baking them was hospitality for us, to celebrate our new convection oven and the start of summer, perhaps our last one together because our youngest leaves for college this month. I told Kristin the cookies were a hit, and like all good hosts, she was gracious.
“It’s the shortening,” she said.
Colleen said this recipe was given to her years ago by her mother-in-law, who is remembered for her genuine hospitality. (page 87)
If you want to check out other spots where Kristin’s been taking her turquoise message, check out the Turquoise Table Collection at Tuesday Morning, and the variety of outlets where she has done interviews, including the Today show.