Maine Chronicles: Becoming Jane, or maybe Phoebe

Maine Chronicles: Becoming Jane, or maybe Phoebe

Is that really me?? It's been a slippery slope, adapting to my new life in a tumbling down farmhouse on an isle off the coast of Maine. As we have started using objects left here by the prior owners of our farmhouse, I have felt myself shifting with the house (quite literally, as we are currently re-building the foundations). Of course a new environment will change you, but somehow this feels different. All these objects have a lived memory that touches me.

It has been a gradual shift. I've already told the story of all the amazing culinary treasures that we found here. There are not only vintage cooking tools of all description, but also 2 different ice cream makers, about 5 blenders, every tool you could possibly need for cracking open a lobster or a crab leg, every shape and size of cake and pie tin, a gorgeous collection of table linens which complement the china and mismatched silverware I've painstakingly washed and dried by hand, and there's just so much more. 

Meanwhile, all of our own family heirlooms, art, and belongings collected over decades have made their way to a storage space here on the Isle, which we have gradually been introducing to the house.  

As we unpack our boxes, we have been making choices over what to keep, store, give, or toss. Due to the house’s bounty of tableware, we’ve kept much of our own in boxes, apart from certain beloved items Beau and I have collected from around the world, and that feel right at home in the house. I've unpacked my little earthenware bowls from Chile which I bought in 1991 while visiting Santiago, the stack of Moroccan serving bowls I picked up in Essaouira the summer of Hannah's 2nd birthday, 21 years ago; my grandmother's silver candlesticks; the huge black terracotta dish I carefully toted back from Todos Santos in 2008, the year I moved back to the US after 25 years abroad. Beau unpacked his mom's favorite bowl and various kitchen antiques he collected for his 50 year old spice shop.

But now, our own German high-performance saute pan has given way to a cured and beloved cast iron pan which we found in the house and brought back to life. We soaked off the rust in a vinegar bath, heating the pan and oiling it, and ta da, the most perfect pan was reborn.

I also love using their salt cellar on the table and mixing our salad dressing in a spouted 1/2 bowl that was on a shelf in the pantry. I take pleasure in using these beloved tools. The jobs feel like a ritual, not a chore.

The microwave broke, and we decided there was no good reason to replace it. And instead of paper towels, we now use cloth napkins and a table cloth which I change out weekly, choosing from the house collection; I toss them in the wash every week and hang them out to dry on the line outside the barn. 

In the barn I found an old canvas bag filled with clothes pegs. I sling it over my shoulder like she probably did, and peg the table-cloth and napkins to the line. 

When it warmed up enough to cast aside my snow boots, I discovered her pair of rubber boots in the barn. Knee-highs. Perfect for crossing the pasture to the veggie garden without worrying about ticks. There was that day I found the little pouch hanging on a peg in the barn, with shears and rubber ties, perfect for fixing the beans and peas to their stakes. I garden the same patch she started, many years ago.

Yes, that's me, wearing her rubber boots and gardening kit, and her baggy work trousers. The only piece of clothing of mine in that photo is of course the "Make Tahdig Not War" sweatshirt I brought from Parisa Parnian in LA, in 2023.

I have adopted quite a lot of Jane's wardrobe, and given most of my own clothes are still in boxes in the barn, it has been quite handy, and always practical and comfortable. I lived in England like she did, so the tried and true UK brands make me smile. Marks and Sparks tees.  Jolly practical. She liked blue. The blue striped tee and the blue tablecloths.

She also collected little things. We threw out the old decaying bugs, moths and mummified mice, and the leaves that she would stow away in sketch books to draw and make collages with, but we kept the felted kittens, the old tin with a moose on it, and just about everything else, including all her art supplies, which my daughter Lily is very excited about.

It's obvious she was a creative, who scattered projects around the house. I believe textiles and collage were her specialty. In addition to the lace and embroidered table linen collection, there are gorgeous patchwork quilts which must be 200 years old. Treasures with which I'm not sure yet what I’ll do. She was surely a craftsperson—I found two sewing machines, knitting needles of all sizes, and a wheel for winding skeins of wool. 

When the winter comes, will I be picking up needle craft? I've been thinking I could use the machines to sew curtains for the single-paned windows we are restoring around the house. I haven't knitted since knitting my first born sons' full baby wardrobe while waiting 9 months for his arrival, but after 12 years in California, I might need a bit more knitwear!


Just when I started wondering if I was taking on more than a healthy dose of Jane, I found out about Phoebe. She was the "lady of the house" before Jane. An artist from New York, she summered here with her artist husband and her daughter Maya, until she died of cancer at 65 (the neighbor remembers "she was an ardent feminist -- but also a chain smoker!" and indeed you can see the cigarette in her hand in this photo with her daughter.) An East Coast American Jew, a bit like me...

Now I wonder if it was Jane who started the veggie garden, or maybe Phoebe!? Next door was Meta Goldin, another amazing looking Jewish New Yorker artist who was certainly friendly with Phoebe -- (and later I see in the guest book that Meta came here for dinner with Jane too!) -- But back in the 70's, Phoebe and Meta's children played with each other through the long summers.


Did they decide to buy these houses together? Why this unlikely community of intellectual, artistic Jewish women living here on this remote Maine Isle?  Does the place call us together, like sisters? Or did they infuse the place with their energy?

I went down a Phoebe rabbit hole online and discovered her daughter Maya is alive and well, and visiting the isle later this month! She asked to come see the house again. Perhaps she will feel like a long lost sister or cousin, and I wonder how she has been formed and impacted by life in this special place that she continues to return to even after her parents sold this house over 20 years ago. 

Deep in the rabbit hole, I spiral in questions. Maybe what I thought was "her," AKA Jane, was really Phoebe?  Or partly Phoebe. When Jane moved to this house, did she pick up on the energy of the previous "lady of the house," just like I did? Is this something cyclical that happens to each new steward of this place? How does knowing this place, and knowing these women through this place, change how I know myself?  Ok, I stop myself spiraling in this wave of questions with the conviction that I will NEVER become a chain smoker!  Now, time to change the table cloth.



  • Selina: August 08, 2023

    I love this! Like sitting at a table with you chatting about your new life. Brava! Xx

  • Mayra McCullough: August 08, 2023

    Oh my! What a perfect Monday morning read with my mocha bullet proof coffee! Thank you Jennifer! I’m delighted to witness your transmutations from LA and I’m so happy for you.

    All of your inquiries are fascinating. You are exploring the sacred geometry life weaves for us in stories, stewardship and place.

    I also sold my house in LA last year. My beloved and I now live in Costa Rica. Our intention was to be in the land that would have us as stewards and we were handpicked by a beautiful piece of the jungle surrounded by an eco-lifestyle neighborhood.

    I resonate so much with your experience because I also keep having these uncanny realizations about how the house was designed for us.

    Your story spoke to me about you being blessed with a great reward of all you love and connect with. Congratulations for having the courage to step out in faith and receive all of it.

    May every depth you submerge in these rabbit holes bring you closer to your unique, creative and adventuresome authentic self! Cheers!!


  • Peter: August 08, 2023

    There’s always an element of destiny in a house purchase, and it feels like yours is slowly revealing itself. Love your Maine Chronicles – and rubber boots!

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