Red Tent Dinner: Taking a Risk on Second Chances

I read the email over again, seeking to ensure it said exactly what I meant. Asking felt so risky. This whole dinner felt risky. Why had I agreed to this?

Yet underneath the fear, I felt like I was on the edge of something really lovely. I engage with some of the bravest women I know on a regular basis–playful, resilient, and kind. To invite each to gather around a table and share her story of a “second chance”…I could only imagine where the evening might lead.

As I worked up courage to send out invites, I found myself dreaming of the space that would hold our conversation. I wanted a table that had given up on maintaining appearances. It needed to be a little messy, and real. A recovering perfectionist, I wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. But I knew someone who thrives in creating with the wild and undone, which led me to this email I was now re-reading.

Spring Sweet is dreamer, shop owner, and lover of beauty–from the items she chooses for her boutique to her personally designed bouquets. I’ve probably run through Spring’s shop a hundred times, coming to know her bit by bit through our varied interactions. She is tender, witty, deep and creative–the perfect soul to help inspire what this evening would be about. I inhaled with hope as I signed my email requesting Spring’s help, then clicked send. A day later, Spring typed back, “Of course!!!”

That’s where this Second Chances Dinner began.



Table: Spring heard my vision of carefree beauty and brought to it the theme of harvest. She imagined a centerpiece made entirely of vegetables–radishes and artichokes, leafy romaine and kale and herbs–all overflowing from a simple wood trough. For Spring, a table of second chances wasn’t about delicate blooms or bright arrangements of color. It was about unearthing ordinary goodness.

We burned the candles down in advance, all different heights and in different holders. We mismatched my white china and wine glasses, and Spring accented the tablescape with craft paper. The scene was lush: familiar and yet otherworldly. As a final touch, the vine sprigs Spring tucked into the place settings let each woman know she was anticipated and welcome.

Theme: As I thought about ways to prompt our evening’s conversation on second chances, I asked Spring if we could place a different quote at every setting. She agreed the quotes would serve as the right touch of intentionality. I gathered up favorite authors: T.S. Eliot and Richard Rohr, Leo Tolstoy and Laurence Sterne. What was a list of 20 quotes was finally whittled down to 7, one for every guest. Spring penned the words on her craft paper and then arranged them at random around the table.

Meal: With a table that felt as though it belonged in the hills of Tuscany, Italian struck me as the ideal inspiration for our food. I pulled out my mother’s recipe for Pesto Cream Chicken Lasagne and then every woman offered her own flavor in shaping the rest of the meal. Custom wine selections from Laura and Sara; caprese and bacon wrapped asparagus from Bethany; a fig, goat cheese, and walnut salad from Andrea; and for dessert a variety of truffles from Alison.

Conversation: While each guest knew someone at the dinner, everyone also found new faces around the circle. Connections were formed as my loft bustled with each guest finalizing her own preparation–Spring ensuring the table was set, Bethany sautéing her asparagus, and Alison capturing it all with my camera. Over appetizers, I invited each woman to choose her spot for the evening: the quote at her place was to inspire whatever she story she told. What ensued was a time of authenticity: laughter and a few tears came freely as we shared some of the hope that has filled our lives.

Even as a veteran to the Red Tent Dinner, I found my face flushed from the depth of care and kindness I felt as each woman marked something unique she sees in me. It was an evening I’ll always cherish. For more of how the night unfolded, you can read my personal story on my website.

We all have a longing for laughter, connection and feeling known. Consider hosting your own Red Tent Dinner.

DSC_0429Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 27 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart.  Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day.  For now, she shares her thoughts here.