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blog archive (2007)

read more archived blogs from 2009 or 2008

Dec. 30, 2007

A Member of the Cabinet

Casey and I grew up in politics. In politics, if you were a candidate with any sense, you had a "Kitchen Cabinet" - a group of people you held close to you that you trusted to help you make important decisions. And, in politics, you occasionally had to make these decisions at breakneck speed.

STUFF has a Kitchen Cabinet. We don't make lightning fast decisions because, unlike politics, most of our decisions don't have to be made in two minutes. But occasionally the choices we have to make demand that we reach beyond the knowledge the two of us hold.


Cathleen and our mom

Cathleen Connealy was a member of our Kitchen Cabinet. For a little over eleven years, there was very little we dreamed up that we didn't run by her - leases, human resources concerns, raffle rules, contracts, and taxes. We knew her from when STUFF wasn't a part of our fiber, and she knew - from the beginning - that this new chapter in Casey's and my lives would be very exciting and challenging. She eagerly - with her skills as an attorney - helped us to continue to be different in our approach to retailing.

This past November, we dedicated our holiday open house, "Wings of Hope", to Cathy. At that time, we crafted a letter to our customers telling them why. 4,000 invitations to join us at this two-day party were sent, and we endeavored to share with each of those customers our motivation to continue to raise money. Casey nearly fried the computer keyboard with her tears while drafting it, I couldn't see the numbers on the telephone keypad while calling Cathy's best friend to have the letter approved, and the tears continued to flow on and off throughout the "Wings of Hope" event - not just for Cathy's condition, but in unison with those individuals that attend the event and shared with us their stories of fear, hope, and loss. This is your chance to read it again...

this year we are hosting this event in honor of our dear friend cathleen connealy.

cathy defines the word dignity. she has always shared her bottomless knowledge and wisdom with us freely for as long we can remember. she has always lived by her own set of standards, beliefs and commitments.

we have never seen her flinch at the impossible. the idea that real change for our world may take lifetimes has never caused cathy to compromise her vision for a fair, just, equal and healthy world for every person living on our great mother earth. she is gentle, kind, smart, patient and loyal - and we are grateful to call her a friend.

after years of fighting cancer, cathy recently was given difficult news about her condition. again, she acted with bravery and has decided to live the rest of her life with dignity.

so, cathy, in your honor, we will continue to celebrate hope. we will raise money to help find a cure for cancer. but mostly, we will work hard to treat everyone with the dignity and kindness we have tried to learn by your example.

Cathy is no longer available by phone, and we will no longer find her at her office when we need her.

Cancer has left her alive in only one place where she has always been: our hearts.

Dec. 23, 2007

Touched

Yesterday, Sloane and I worked with hundreds of customers. But I went home with two customers on my mind. Both had been shopping for jewelry. Both were shopping with heavy hearts. Both were trying to find a way to change the inevitable.

A man was selecting jewelry to give to women in his life. His goal was to find pieces that would help these women remember his sister. His sister is dying of cancer, and she is a friend of all of us. It was important to him to find pieces that are a reflection of this amazing woman.

A woman was selecting a piece to give to her friend who is in a battle with cancer once again. Her friend has just begun another round of chemotherapy. It was important for her to find something that would "say" to her friend that she was surrounded by love and friendship. We know the woman because her children went to school with us.

These experiences got me thinking. Why do we buy these talismans? We all know that these tokens won't change the reality that these women are fighting a deadly disease. I even wear a thumb ring in memory of my younger sister who was lost in an auto accident 10 years ago. I know my ring won't bring my sister back.

So...I thought about it. I thought that maybe we fear that we will forget them without the reminders. Maybe we are just grabbing at anything that will help us stay close to them. And then I noticed that I was twirling my thumb ring. I looked down and watched my hands naturally and seamlessly twirl the ring. From years of practice, it is second nature to me. And I decided that we have these talismans because they are tangible. They are a physical presence. We can touch them. We don't need them because we fear we will forget; we will never forget them. We aren't grabbing for ways to stay close; we will always feel close to them. We have them to touch them. Because we want to touch them - our loved ones - and we can't.

These experiences don't happen at most stores. You generally don't find people buying big screen TVs and toaster ovens to honor the people in their lives. But at STUFF we are blessed with these experiences all the time. When the world strips away everything, you will find art. It is in art that you find the pain, joy, challenge, and triumph of everyday life. I am thankful for the chance to help someone find peace in a work of art.

This year I feel truly blessed because my family is healthy, happy, and able to be together to share in the spirit of Christmas. My wish for you is that you are also blessed with a happy and healthy holiday and that you are touched by the people you love.

Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a good night...

Dec. 17, 2007

Liberate Your Soul

A friend recently sent me snapshots of the art in his office. I responded by sending snapshots of art from the walls of my home. And the great art exchange began. What was amazing about the "conversation" was how much we learned about each other from the 4 images. Because of today's technology, we were able to have an intimate visual conversation in a matter of minutes. I was captivated.

It was even more exciting to discover that the prints in his office are by my favorite artist, Keith Haring.

I fell in love with Keith Haring's art many, many years ago. His images spoke to me instantly. I was in love with his energy. He created an iconic language that everyone can "read". He created tirelessly. He shared his vision with the public freely. His work is honest and revealing. But what Keith Haring did for me was to make art mainstream. He helped to take art out of the galleries and museums. He brought it to the people. People see art differently because of Keith Haring. He broke the boundaries and the rules. And breaking the rules always appeals to me. Ask my parents.

Since the exchange, I have been revisiting my passion for Keith Haring's work. I have re-read some books and visited some websites. I even looked back at some of my old artwork that was from my "Haring Phase" and saw what I have brought forward in my own work both on and off the canvas.

I can't help but wonder what Keith Haring would have done with today's technology - our ability to share images so rapidly and seamlessly. I know he would have been pushing the envelope with all his might. I would have liked to have seen the evolution of his art. Keith Haring was born on my birthday. Actually, I was born on his tenth birthday. He died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications. I know he would have liked the fact that my friend and I were e-mailing images of art taken with our phones. I believe he would have thought that was cool.

It is difficult to always explain to people why I am so passionate about what I do for a living. To many, it seems like just a store that sells some funky stuff. But I believe it is something greater. I believe that art has a power all its own.

"I don't think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination, and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it." - Keith Haring 1985


One of my own pieces, inspired partially by Keith Haring.


Me with one of my favorite Keith Haring books.


Some beautiful art on my wall at home, by regional artist Philip Robl.

So, if you have a few minutes, take a snapshot of the art on your walls, send it to a friend, and start an "art talk". You may just be surprised what you discover about each other.

Thank you, Keith, for sharing your vision...you are missed.

http://www.haring.com/

Dec. 12, 2007

What Sensational Weather!

My, the weather has been sensational! Or should I say sensationalist?

I can't decide whether to laugh or become irate at the media's lust for sensationalizing the weather. And I don't mean the real, honest-to-goodness, look-outside weather. I mean the weather forecast - you know, that nebulous guesswork about what might happen but quite often doesn't.

On Monday night, after a great day at work and a visit with the kids to see Santa at Corinthian Hall at the Kansas City Museum, my family went to our favorite pizza joint. We walked in at what should have been peak pizza-eating time. Instead of a packed house with a waiting list, there were about three tables with pizza-eaters. After a day of scare tactics by the local and national weather services and the media, everyone else seemed to have been too afraid to come out and play in the rain. It worked out for us, but it was obviously not good for the restaurant business.

I watched the foot traffic all day in Brookside and elsewhere. I received calls from friends and relatives asking if we were headed home to sock in for the storm and whether we had enough food to last us through the upcoming weather emergency. My son's school was canceled for Tuesday based on the idea that it might be bad weather on that day.

I hear from a friend that one local newsperson actually said that the upcoming storm was going to "have a great economic impact." Let me tell you: it seems to me that the media hoped to create that economic impact.

The real joke is that, of course, the terrible ice storm never came. It was chilly but comfortable. It rained a lot. The trees became ice coated, but the streets did not. But it was no worse than your average winter day. I will admit, I have several friends who were without power for hours, but not days. And if the power's out, what better reason to get out and enjoy the season and spread some cheer?

What ever happened to looking outside to see what the weather was like before heading out? Maybe driving a little more carefully and heading home if it feels like the weather is getting bad? Why is it that an entire community can go berserk like a flock of dodos just because some weather person, instead of just saying, "It looks like things might get icy, so be careful," all but screams for hours on end, "THE SKY IS FALLING. STAY INDOORS. LOCK THEM. THE NASTY WEATHER COULD GET IN! AND BE SURE YOU HAVE PROVISIONS TO LAST THROUGH A NINETY DAY SIEGE OR YOU MIGHT STARVE!"

Really. Think about it. When was the last time the weather was so bad for so long that you couldn't eat?

I can personally attest that the maniacal, sensationalist media wreaks havoc on the local economy every time they start crying wolf. Will they ever stop? Probably not as long as people keep falling for the hype that keeps their ratings up. Casey and I are fortunate; surprisingly, the havoc it wreaks at STUFF is positive. For some reason our business thrives on the nastiest days.

I think it's because we are a happy place.

Dec. 7, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

As many of you know...I don't like winter. But what many of you don't know is that I am sucker for big, white "polka dot" snow. I just look out the window and think "cue snow" and it looks like I walked onto the set of a Hollywood holiday movie. It's beautiful! It's nostalgic! It's lovely! It makes me want to drink hot cocoa and curl up by the fire. And everyone knows I like things to be pretty, picture perfect, and arranged in pleasing piles.

Yesterday I was at STUFF watching the snow fall. It was beautiful. It made us all playful. Sloane and I hung out on the sidewalk taking photos for an e-mail to our customers. Emma (one of the shop dogs) ran through the snow kicking up flurries. The staff was singing and dancing to the store music. It was like we all turned 9 years old and a snow day had been called.

I believe this is why we all wish for a white Christmas. It is the ultimate snow day. The city is shut down, you are surrounded by family, the food is yummy, you stay in your PJs all day and YOU GI believe this is why we all wish for a white Christmas. It is the ultimate snow day. The city is shut down, you are surrounded by family, the food is yummy, you stay in your PJs all day and YOU GET GIFTS! It doesn't get much better than that.

So...CUE SNOW!

Dec. 6, 2007

AIDS Is Bigger Than One Single Day

World AIDS Day is always December 1st. Worldwide. Every year. But here in Kansas City, AIDS is bigger than just one day. It warrants a whole week of contemplation and celebration. That week just ended for me.

I was at a lunch on Wednesday, November 28th, where the speaker - Dr. Victoria Cargill from the National Institutes of Health - spoke passionately about HIV/AIDS in America. I filled my program with quickly written quotes from her speech. She was awe inspiring. She rocked my world. She has dedicated her professional life to HIV/AIDS and her private practice is in our nation's capital. A city where 1 in 7 people are HIV positive.

I was at a fabulous reception on Wednesday night, the 28th, at a wonderful loft in the Crossroads District. I would define this event as a "party of the faithful" - a party of people who either work every day at organizations that support those living with HIV/AIDS or who regularly give of their time or their finances to making sure that AIDS doesn't gain a greater foothold in our area. And the main topic of conversation in all the little pockets of people was doing more, giving more, adjusting strategies, and making greater change. Dr. Cargill had humorously spoken earlier in the day of being "54 and tired" but that it didn't deter her. It made her realize she had more to do in order to leave this world a little bit better than she found it.

And I looked around that night at one point and realized that the youngest at the event was probably already 30. And, the group of people - nationwide - who are at highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS are those 13 to 23. My son is 3 years away from that lowest number. I have known a world without AIDS, but my son most likely will not.

I was at a party on Friday night, the 30th, and was chilled when my friend John spoke from the podium of those who were close to us but who are now with the angels. He said it so evenly, until his voice broke. We all felt the uplift of thousands of wings in flight.

I was at work tonight and a group of women in Kansas City - True Blue Women - found it in their hearts to have a party at our store and to have it benefit the AIDS Service Foundation of Kansas City. Their website says they "gather progressive women to advocate social change, provide education and promote camaraderie". They were doing exactly that and shopping at the same time!!

Only one woman, whom I've known since high school, asked me why I was "involved with AIDS". I didn't take long in answering, but I took a moment so that I didn't seem so vehement. This is exactly what I said: "How can I not be involved in the world's largest pandemic? And our part of that world has over 5,600 people living with its effects every day here in Kansas City." I prattled on for a minute about these people being part of my human family, my neighbors, my friends. She nodded her head in understanding, and she handed me her credit card. I was thankful for her business and for her question.


These and the pins above are my treasured personal red ribbon collection. They have been given to me by my husband, my son, my friends, and strangers.

This ended my World AIDS Day Week. In my heart, and in my mind, AIDS is greater than just one day.

It's every day.

Dec. 5, 2007

At a Loss for Words

Earlier this week, an old friend from my high school years lost her mother. It was not an unexpected passing, but it didn't make it any easier. When a person leaves our world, there is a flutter of wings that stirs up the years of dust that have settled around us all. It makes us think of our own fragile lives. I spoke with my friend today, and she was sad, tired, and at peace. But, when I got off the phone, I still felt like I wanted to say more.

So I found myself at the STUFF card racks. While I searched - reading, feeling, thinking, and filling my hand with 7 cards - I realized there were many people to which I wanted to say more. I just mailed a sympathy card to my friend, and I mailed 6 additional cards to my friends to let them know I love them.

Take some time this holiday season to stop and share a few words with the people in your life. It may help you feel less lost. It worked for me.

Nov. 29, 2007

Amazing Grace

The women you see before you are guilty.

They are guilty of pulling off amazing grace while covering up a huge power failure.

Shall I digress?

OK.

On Friday night, November 9th, STUFF hosted - along with our friend Susan Henke Miller - a private party within the walls of the store. It was a fundraiser for a breast cancer research fund, held at the KU Cancer Center, that is named for Susan. It was a wonderful success and kicked off our Wings of Hope holiday open house weekend.

What very few people know is that the ambiance that night - mood lighting accented by candlelight - was not planned. Actually, it was furthest from our dreams. You see, the team at STUFF had spent whole days - and nights! - preparing a winter wonderland here at STUFF for our holiday open house. And the last thing we all wanted was for no one to be able to see it in the pitch black!!

Less than one hour before the party was to start, we had a power failure that knocked out 1/2 of our lights, our furnace, the phone system, the computers, and the credit card machines. This didn't mean we couldn't have a party. This didn't even mean we couldn't check people out. This meant we needed to get our hands on 100 tea lights jiffy pronto, and to reacquaint ourselves with the manual receipts we used 11 years ago and always have on hand for emergencies.

The women who worked with Casey and me that night pulled off the deception beautifully. There was much behind-the-scenes drama before the event, but none of it carried over into the party. We could not be more proud of the women who grace us with their presence at work.

Everyone had a wonderful time. The food was fantastic, the drink plentiful, the cause just. And the lighting was perfect.

Nov. 19, 2007

Cancer, Socks, Susan & The Holidays

We almost lost my friend Susan many years ago to breast cancer. Stage 4 right from the start. The inspiration of her victory over cancer was the impetus for our "Wings of Hope".

The first year STUFF had an official holiday open house we called it "Sock It To Breast Cancer". We partnered with a great artist in Vermont for her handmade socks (an artist we still represent!!) and built an event around it. That event, and every one since, has benefited the Susan Henke Miller Breast Cancer Research Fund at the KU Cancer Center.

Then, in 2000, we founded "Wings of Hope" and the rest, for us, is history. 2007 was the 8th year of "Wings of Hope", and it is still a fundraising partnership between STUFF, Susan, and the KU Endowment, where Susan's fund resides. Susan joins us every year and helps us with our customer service for two days straight. KU comes and sets up a table with important information on all types of cancer. Casey and I, along with our staff, put on a holiday party that is a winter wonderland. A joyous, happy and delightful shopping experience.

But the 8 years have not been easy. We've lost a grandmother to a long fight with breast cancer; our mother has had yet another breast cancer scare; our dear friend Cathleen Connealy is currently fighting a cancer fight she may lose. And there are many, many others whose stories have been shared with us by customers, friends and Susan. Stories that end both happily and not so happily.

Just look at what cancer has brought me: yearly chances to raise money for research; celebrations of battles won and battles lost; lasting friendships and a belief that hope does have wings.


Casey and me with Susan Henke Miller at "Wings of Hope" in 2006

I have much to be thankful for. Amazingly, cancer is one of them.

PS. You can read all about our "Wings of Hope" celebrations through the years on the Events page of our website, www.pursuegoodstuff.com. Check 'em out.

Nov. 14, 2007

Trick or Treat on Our Street

Brookside is a wonderful neighborhood. A neighborhood in every sense of the word.

Every Halloween, many merchants on our street sponsor a "Trick or Treat Street" that basically equates to us ooohing and aaahing over all the little kids who parade past on the sidewalk outside our stores. A majority of the kids that come by are the ones that are probably too young to go out in the dark later that night without full blown crying fits from exhaustion!! So, their intelligent parents bring them here in the daylight where the kids can safely get mounds of candy.

This year, STUFF handed out 3,200 pieces of candy.

That's a big mound of candy . . . . and a big mound of kids!!

Oct. 29, 2007

Just Down the Road a Piece

Last weekend, my husband and I took off on a National Geographic Expedition - to Arkansas. OK. It wasn't like the great radio programs on National Public Radio, but we did follow a general itinerary that had been written in National Geographic's Traveler magazine last year.

We have been to Arkansas many times, and it is a great, great state if you are a road trip lover - which our little family is. They take fantastic care of their byways (we stayed off major highways!), and they will overwhelm with their character - lots of great turns on mountain terrain and scenic drops from mountain tops to river basins. We loved it . . . again.

What was amazing was that Saturday night found us in a national treasure - Mountain View, Arkansas. The highway sign as you enter town proclaims it the "Folk Music Capital of the World". The magazine had mentioned the phenomenon of "music on the square", but we were not prepared to be truly amazed. We parked our car around 5pm right on the square and walked around a bit to get a feel for the festivities.

That almost makes it sound like it is an organized undertaking. Since getting back this week and telling of my trip, friends have asked if we went to a festival or a concert. The big, fat answer is "NO". It just so happens that every Friday and Saturday night, people come to town with their guitars, mandolins, slide guitars, harmonicas, violins, string basses and - my personal favorite - banjos. Heck, we even saw a woman with an accordion. They sit in small groupings without sound systems, mixing boards or speakers, and they make fantastic music. The lack of fancy equipment finds the "performers" sitting on folding chairs in a circle facing each other, and their voices dovetail beautifully with their instruments. I was so glad I had the foresight to pack the folding chairs. We stayed for hours.

We sat in one location for around an hour, then I turned to my husband and said, "Let's see if we can find a banjo." On the other side of the courthouse we did. It was being played by a young woman of maybe 23, and her group was being "fronted" at that point by a 6 year old boy who was singing his heart out to the banjo, two violins and a string base. It was wonderful. (I confess to a love of banjo that goes back to my time listening to Steve Martin's comedy LPs and his banjo playing.)

On our drive away from the square that night, I added up in my head how many groups of people we had heard as we walked - and sat - for 3 hours. It came to 10 groups with a minimum of 5 performers each. That's a lot of folk playing folk music.


Two of a seven-performer group on the porch at Mountain View Music.


Yes, this is a bacon-wrapped, cheese-topped hot dog, best eaten in a folding chair while listening to folk music.


The Chill -n- Grill, where you can obtain the bacon-wrapped, cheese-topped hot dog.


Mellon's Country Store in Mountain View asks you to toss your caps in the driveway. It was really cool.

General Arkansas Highlights:

  • "Bubba's" Bar-B-Q in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The meat is good, but the French fries are out of this world.

  • Never miss a chance to eat in Jasper, Arkansas, at the Ozark Cafe. It's right on the square, and you absolutely can not miss it. The French fries there were fantastic as well. Maybe it's an Arkansas thing. Beats me.

  • Exit the car at state parks near rivers. The waters are so clear that they scream out to be touched and listened to.

  • Visit Mountain View Music in Mountain View. The staff is amazing, and the instruments are just begging you to play "a little foggy mountain breakdown".

  • See if Marsha is working at the Jasper Conoco (right off the square). You will like her. I did. When she came out to put the gas in our car - which is rare and not an experience I've had more than 2 times in my time behind the wheel - she told me that it was a self-service pump but that the owner, Bob Reno, is "from the old school in Louisiana" and just likes customer service. We ended up talking long past the fill-up about my hybrid car and how much I love it and how much she wants to own one. She says her farm "needs it", and she was taking her husband to look at one like mine.

If your travels find you anywhere near Mountain View on a Friday or Saturday night, take time and stop. You won't regret it. I promise.

Oct. 17, 2007

Are You Looking At Me?

When our son was young, he was given a book titled "How Are You Peeling?" by Joost Elffers. It is a wonderful book. However, I think whoever gave it to him was making a slight jab at me, because I'm not really adept at "sharing" my feelings.

Don't get me wrong. I have opinions and I share them. I have passionate beliefs, and I share them with others to try and get them to change the world with me. However, I'm not one to immediately open up and pour out my emotions.

Now, this book is a fabulous picture book of fruit and other food items that have been chosen because their outer shells or skins seem to have faces on them. And, with careful placement of other food items and partial peeling of the fruit, even more fantastic faces appear. It is a mesmerizing book and not just for children.

I've always loved finding the "face" in manufactured items, so my love of this book was a natural progression. I always swore there was a face in the side of my grandfather's Allis-Chalmers tractor; I think there is a face - in profile - in every crescent wrench. And STUFF's last vacuum had a face when the vacuum bag was being changed.

And then, over a year ago, a face appeared in the peeling paint on the outer walls of STUFF, where I park my car every day.


the smiling face out back at STUFF

It makes me very, very happy, and I don't know what I'll do when it no longer exists. I can't help but smile every morning when I see it. And, for some reason, it reminds me of the face of the little boy who sat on the sofa with me while we looked at all of Joost Elffers books.

Come on . . . check 'em out for yourself at the Reading Reptile here in Brookside. You'll be glad you did, and if you need to talk about them - or share your emotions - just come on down the street and I'm here for you.

Keep smiling.

Oct. 8, 2007

Presto Change-o

We have lived in our house for 14 years. For a majority of those years I re-designed the kitchen in my head, on paper, and, occasionally, verbally directly to my husband. Sometimes I demolished the entire thing, moved exterior doors, and saw all new things in all new places - furniture, appliances, rugs.

And then I was part of a "No Place Like Home" tour with SAVE, Inc. (www.saveinckc.org) and toured the apartment of a person whose life is a daily battle with HIV/AIDS. But all of those problems seemed to stop at the door, because this one bedroom apartment was a "home". And it was perfect in the eyes of its inhabitant - our tour guide - and was everything he needed to make his life better and balanced and safe.

I came away from that tour deeply shaken. I realized I had spent countless "pretend" dollars re-designing and re-configuring a kitchen that was perfectly fine. The food we served from it sustained us, the parties we held in it brought us laughter, and the room was a place of daily reflection when we sat down to dinner at the end of the day.

True, it needed a few updates. The floor was linoleum, chipped and peeling. The paint job from before our son was born looked all of its ten years. The walls were a modge podge of art and treasures. Something had to be done.

And over the course of the past year, we've worked on that checklist. The best interior painter in the world - James Johnson - made it look like new. The linoleum was removed and replaced with glueless laminate flooring. The art was edited and re-hung just so.

But tonight my husband and I completed the final touch . . . we changed all the drawer and cabinet door pulls with recycled glass knobs from an artist we represent at STUFF: Kathleen Plate and her company Smart Glass. They are fantastic. She makes them in her studio in Atlanta, Georgia. We had a lot of colors to choose from, but black won out in the end.

This year's kitchen changes cost a mere fraction of what my "vanity kitchen" would have set us back. But the reason that I didn't change the whole kitchen was not the money. It's because the kitchen we already had, with just a few minor updates, is perfectly fine and will be for another 14 years. Or more.


Presto...


...Change-o!

I just needed a stranger to show me his "dream kitchen" for me to see that mine already was one.

Oct. 5, 2007

Sappy Mothers

I know many mothers. I turn to them for advice and strength when I need help. Mothers have an instant bond. They can take one look at you and know what to say that will make you feel better about the "bad mother" moment you just convinced yourself will scar your child for life. They can also help you know what to expect when your child heads off on a new adventure.

My daughter started school this year. And every mother I know warned me that I would cry like a baby when I left the classroom on the first day of school.

They even included tissue in the parenting survival kit they gave us on Parents' Night. But I didn't need it...she was ready.

She was so excited to join the other toddlers in the Toddler Program at St. Paul's Episcopal Day School that she RAN up the hill to school. You see, we live 5 blocks from her school, and we walk to school together.

Her cousin (my nephew and Sloane's son) has been at St. Paul's for 8 years and had been "showing her the ropes". She marched in and only hesitated briefly before she said goodbye, and I walked out feeling happy. No tears. I thought, "Look at me - no tears, no big scene - what are these other sappy moms talking about?" And the year began.

Then, this Monday, walking to school as usual, we talked about her being brave and letting me leave her at the front door of the building with the other kids. She wasn't sure, but said she wanted to try. We arrived. She looked at me and gave me a big hug and headed into the building. She took about 5 steps, turned around and with giant eyes filled with big fat tears said, "I can do it Mama...I will try." Then she blew me a kiss goodbye. I cried all the way home. Sappy mother all the way, baby...it's the only way to go!

At least she will still let me fold her up in a ball and lay her on my lap and tease her about not fitting in my tummy any more.

Oct. 4, 2007

It's In the Bag

I am a self-professed bag hag. I love handbags! I have bought the "perfect bag" many, many, many times. I can give you a presentation of each of my choices and why it is the "perfect bag".

Just ask any customer that has made the mistake of asking me why I like a particular bag. They know that I will gladly tell you all about the nifty features and uses of any bag we sell. I just smile at myself because it reminds me of my father and the way he talks about his cars and/or boats (at least my passions are less expensive - did I mention I love jewelry, too?).

I have learned from this addiction that every bag IS actually perfect. It depends on your destination and mood. So...today the "perfect bag" is my new STUFF favorite. Which we offer because it is the "perfect bag"...at least today!

Here's what's in my bag today.

What's in your bag?

Oct. 3, 2007

The Big O

That's "Big O" for Omaha.

What were you thinking?

Oct. 2, 2007

Friends - Can't Live Without 'Em

This is not a competition. I have the best friends and am lucky to have them. I'm no fool. I know there are all kinds of friends: best friends, lifetime friends, family friends, work friends, college friends, friends from high school, etc. And then there are friends that don't fit an easy, tried and true description.

My friend Patricia came to be my friend when I was pushing forty. We met at our son's school (her oldest is my son's age) and made the general early acquaintances that moms make look easy. Heck, we had an interest that we shared that we both cared deeply about - a child. But I have to admit: from the beginning, I knew we probably shared a lot more than that, and I was willing to commit good amounts of time to figuring out why I felt that way . . . to find out why I had a feeling we were "soul sisters". I'm not a stalker. Really. I just know a friend . . . right from the beginning.

And then it happened. I realized during polite conversation that she shared a love of "nesting". That she, too, saved pages from home magazines of rooms she loved and things she coveted. That she, too, memorized the feel of things without even touching them. And then I realized, through a joint antiquing adventure, that she, too, took a long time looking in small places for the perfect item - old or new. That she, too, knows that items "speak" to you, that they haunt you if you don't take them home the minute you find them, and that you take a real risk of a broken heart going back for it to find it gone.


Patricia and me last Friday night.
The kids are out of camera range!!

And then she started a web log - a "blog" in computer speak. It is charming, full of beautiful pictures and witty, witty words from Patricia. She doesn't mince words, and her honesty is refreshing. She takes no prisoners, likes what she likes, and makes no excuses. Hurry. Go and check it out. www.mrsblandings.blogspot.com.

But remember, life really is like 5th grade, and she was my friend first.

Oct. 1, 2007

O' Boy, A Trip to Omaha!!

Christmas never ends for the STUFF gals!! Last year for Christmas we gave our good friend Ryoko a trip to the Omaha Zoo with her "grandchildren", which are actually our children. So, in early September, it was time to celebrate with Ryoko.

Several weeks ago, we loaded the STUFF mini van with ourselves, our children, and Ryoko, and we took off for the great North on I-29. For the first several miles, we sang Christmas carols to get Ryoko in the mood, and most of the weekend we wished her "Merry Christmas" whenever she seemed particularly happy. The highway was a highway, but the zoo was fantastic, incredible, amazing and well worth the 3 hours each way spent on a boring interstate. For years, we had heard from friends and customers how amazing the zoo in Omaha is, and I guess we were just too lazy to drive up there. I can't think of another excuse, even though we really aren't lazy people by nature.

There are many reasons that the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha constantly ranks in the top 5 of American zoos. I will be honest right now: with a two and a half year old in tow, we didn't even see the entire zoo, but the parts we experienced were wonderful. Penguins, an amazing glass tube you walk through under an "ocean" of sea creatures, a desert dome, a feature called "Kingdoms of the Night" that had nocturnal animals active in the daytime (it was dark inside!!), an amazing number of gorillas, orangutans in an outdoor - and huge - environment, a tropical rainforest environment full of plants and animals, polar bears and way more. I'm still stunned.

And I'm ready to go back next year with a 3 and a half year old and her 11 year old cousin. And this time, we're gonna see it all.

PS. Travel advice: Stay at the Embassy Suites in the Old Market area of downtown Omaha. (Bigger than average bedroom and a comfortable living area.) All 5 of us stayed in one room comfortably. The free breakfast and an indoor pool were nice bonuses, but not overriding reasons to stay there. Old Market isn't a huge area, but it was a charming place to walk around and it has a smattering of locally owned shops and a great ice cream place that "churns" their ice cream in the old fashioned crank-style barrels every day.

Sept. 27, 2007

When You Wish Upon a Star

I returned last week from vacation. If you read our blog, you know my daughter and I spent over a week on the beach in Montauk, New York. It was a fall beach trip, so lots of sweatshirts at sunset. We were blessed with a wonderful house a block and half from the beach. Or as my daughter now says "to get to the beach, go to the stop sign and turn left...theeeeere it is." It was wonderful. I would have been perfectly happy if our trip had been filled with days at the beach sprinkled with a few trips into "town". But my friend Claire made sure we had an adventure that we will forever remember.

You see, my friend is a surfer. She doesn't just surf, she IS a SURFER and with that comes a lifestyle both external and internal. For example, every time she calls me in Kansas City, she reports the surf conditions almost before she says hello. I am not a surfer, but, as many of you know, I am an ocean lover. I don't just "dig" the beach. I live for a chance to be near an ocean. I have to see a beach more than once a year or I go batty. And my home and office are covered in shells, photos and artwork that keep me close to the tide. It is this mutual love that helps Claire and me understand each other so completely.

One thing we both love about the ocean and beach communities is that everyone is equal when you are in or near the water. It creates a level playing field. You can be rich or poor, outgoing or quiet, young or old...it doesn't matter. When you stand at the edge of the mighty blue water it all washes away. And you never know who you may meet.

That is how it came to pass that Jimmy Buffett sang "Row Your Boat" to my daughter. It was the power of the waves.

On Friday of our trip, Claire invited us to Ditch Plains Beach to hangout while she volunteered her time to an organization called Surfers Healing. This amazing group that takes autistic kids into the ocean to surf. When I learned about it from Claire, it made perfect sense to me that going into the ocean had therapeutic effects on autistic kids. It has always had a therapeutic effect on me. My daughter and I spent the whole day building sand castles and watching surfers from all over the country take kids out on surf boards. It was truly inspiring to watch these kids surf. Their faces said it all. Everyone cheered at each success. Everyone worked together to create a magical day filled with companionship and healing. (I encourage you to read about it at their website.) I felt hugely lucky to be on the sidelines.

Later that evening, the volunteers, supporters and some families gathered at the local surfer hangout Sunset Saloon. And, as a special treat, a regular surfer at Ditch Plains Beach offered to sing a few tunes to thank the group for the day. This is where Jimmy Buffett comes in...yes, "the" Jimmy Buffett sat on a stool with a guitar, and a buddy played the bongos and congas, and he sang for the group.

When he started to sing, my daughter put down her third fish taco (she is 2 and half, but the fish tacos are particularly good) and weaved her way through the small "crowd" and sat down on the floor in front of him. I crawled my way up to join her. She was mesmerized. After a few songs, Jimmy reached down for his drink and my daughter asked me (loudly), "Mama, what is that man drinking?" Jimmy laughed and good heartedly responded, "it's not apple juice." Then we all laughed.

We sat there for a few more songs and then crawled back out to let someone else have the floor seats. We found our away around a deck that put us directly behind Jimmy and the drum player. On the way around, my daughter asked me if "that man would sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat for me." I thought it was so cute I shared the story with "Aunt Claire" while we stood on the deck listening and humming to our favorite Buffett songs.

As he got near the end of his "show" he talked a bit and asked if anyone had any requests. Claire, with my daughter in her arms, simply said, "she wants to hear Row, Row, Row Your Boat." So, with a few words about how "he never does this" and a promise from the group to join in the round..."that man" Jimmy Buffett sang to my daughter.

It has been a difficult year for my daughter and me. My divorce from her father has presented many challenges for both of us. But every night we sing songs together and it all just floats away. It's like the power of the waves.

I will forever be grateful to my friend Claire for giving me the gift of being near the ocean. I will always be humbled by the strength of the families that came to the beach that day. And I will always be thankful to Jimmy Buffett for granting my daughter her wish.

Sept. 24, 2007

Party All The Time

My sister and I love a good party. And last Thursday night at STUFF was just that; a good party. The store was full of people, the food was simple and delicious, the wine was cold, the jewelry was fantastic, and, more than anything, laughter filled the air.

This party was a celebration of 10 local artists (women!!) who make fantastic jewelry. And all 10 of them were here in the flesh and telling us everything we needed to know about their current work. The party had a name, "extravaganza", and that name was very fitting.

On Saturday there was another party at STUFF. And this one featured 9 local artists working feverishly in our classroom downstairs on their art. Much like Thursday night, these artists were women - albeit younger women. They too were celebrating - celebrating the art they were creating and the 11th birthday of one of the artists!! There was no food (just candy!), no wine, no jewelry, but laughter still filled the air. The sweet sound of young women laughing, talking, and, at the end of the party, singing "Happy Birthday" at the top of their lungs filled our store with happiness.

Casey and I had a wonderful time at both parties. But who doesn't love a good party?

Sept. 20, 2007

Impromptu Porch Party

In early August, we threw a small dinner party for a sister-in-law's visit. It was really a celebration of the completion of our exterior paint job and the inauguration of our newly re-decorated (and painted!!) porch.

Our porch is not screened in. It is open to the elements and is perched on the south side of our home. It's "closed in" with thick hand-built lattice that does nothing for the bugs but does provide ample privacy. We love it.

When the house painter was booked last winter, I decided that this was my chance to finally have the porch look as I had imagined it; we had done little to change it since moving in 14 years ago. We live in a 99 year old house full of character, and the porch was not designed as an afterthought.


My current favorite state plate

I have inherited and collected vintage wrought iron furniture. Most of it had been so lovingly cared for by a great aunt and a grandmother that they needed no repair. One table and chair set had never seen the great outdoors until it came to live with us!! So, while the house and porch were preparing themselves for their painting make-over, my husband and I planned for the painting of the furniture, purchased the fabric, and called the upholsterer for all the cushions.

While we were at the fabric store, I had the greatest epiphany . . . I could incorporate my vintage state plate collection into the "new porch", as I was calling it. This made me very happy. I had been told years ago by my maternal grandmother that "God was in the details", and I felt that these plates would be the porch's crowning touch.

But I digress . . . .

I didn't know that the night of the small dinner party really wasn't really the porch's inauguration at all. That night happened a month later when my son took center stage on the porch . . . .

You see, by then school had started, we were back in the monotony of a stricter schedule, and we were all bucking a bit under its initial strain. So, my son and I took to the porch one Friday afternoon and vegged out. Not two hours into it, we heard voices we recognized walking up the street, and we saw Casey, our friend Ryoko, and Casey's daughter bringing Ryoko home. And, that began the night no one wanted to see end.

My husband came home from work around the time my mother called and said "I can't find your sister. What's everybody doing for dinner?" I knew where Casey was, and I knew - right then - that dinner would be a huge pasta served on the porch to those who were already on it and those who were on their way over.

Before we ate, while the natural light was leaving the porch and the candles were just taking over from the sun, my son stood up and recited the poem he had started that day at school and had finished an hour or so earlier on this very porch. His sweet voice silenced the porch as he read:

Summer Goes

 

I can tell when summer goes,
because the Fairway Pool will close.
I can tell when summer goes,
for I will have to go shopping for new clothes.
I can tell when summer goes,
because the summer camps must close.
I can tell when summer goes,
for the alarm clock goes and goes,
when the alarm clock rings and rings,
I know the birds have stopped to sing,
I can tell when summer goes,
for the heat comes to a close.
I can tell when summer goes,
for the sand leaves my toes.
Summer goes, Summer goes,
Why does summer have to go?
I can tell when summer goes,
For the alarm clock goes and goes,
I can tell when summer goes,
For I can't go to late night shows.
Summer goes, Summer goes,
Why does summer have to go?
Why does summer have to go,
If I don't want overnights to slow?
The alarm clock rings, and rings, and rings,
I can hear when birds don't sing.
Summer goes, Summer goes.
Why does Summer have to go?

That was the night the "new porch" became a member of the family. It was the kind of night that can not be planned and will not be forgotten by the little boy's mother who cried as she held his candle.

Sept. 19, 2007

Changes in Latitude

Three years ago, before Casey's daughter was born, we decided that, although my son had turned out alright in the end, we needed to raise the next child in a more child friendly environment and move our office out of the concrete-floored, always-a-bit-dusty lower level at STUFF. Since moving to Brookside, we had shared office space - really cute, well-lit, and a bit vintage feeling - with our friend and STUFF's CFO (Cheap Financial Officer), Ryoko. Besides the birth of an heir, there was no impetus to move upstairs.

But we love that we made the move. We converted what had been a "back room" behind the counter - filled to the ceiling with supplies, bags, tissue, ribbons, etc. - into our current home. Now, what is unique about this office is that it was originally a safe for the bank that occupied our space in Brookside when the shopping district opened almost 90 years ago. So our walls, floor and ceiling are one foot deep concrete, and the room had no air conditioning, heating, windows, doors or electricity. Needless to say, a few things had to be done to make it ready for bringing a baby to work, let alone bringing ourselves to work in it.

We installed ceiling fans and fashioned a "Dutch" door from an interior door we found at the hardware store. The door has 9 little windows in the top half and nice panel work on the bottom. We realized very quickly that two grown women and a newborn would make a bit of noise, and that concrete wouldn't absorb any of it. So in came a Gypsy Rose rug from Dash & Albert, an old slipcovered sofa from my house, and a curved-back Queen Anne chair for acoustic support. In time, the walls have slowly filled with art and STUFF memorabilia.

The office is 10 feet wide and 28 feet deep. Casey and I sit back to back, and we have surrounded ourselves with the electronic detritus of a small business: two desktop computers, a multifunction printing device, a color inkjet printer, the security system, and the modems, routers and phone system that make for a working environment straight from a sci-fi film. I am always asking our on-call computer genius - my husband - "can we ditch those cords?" and "does that have to be seen?" and, his favorite, "does it come in any color but black?"

But the best thing we splurged on when we were designing our new digs was framed cork boards to go over our desks. Casey's is 3 feet by 4 feet, and mine is 1.5 feet by 2 feet, and they are filled with treasures we just can't part with or file away. More ephemera.

We have a great office and much good comes out of its door. You'll find us there most days with the ceiling fans spinning and the electronics humming. And, in the winter, you'll see the little space heater cranking it in the corner.


My cork board

 


Casey's cork board

 


Casey and me playing office at our "desk" at our Grandma Simmons's house in 1971.

Sept. 12, 2007

You Just Can't Fake It

Earlier this week I was looking back through some of the "keepsakes" Casey and I brought back from our trip to Philadelphia and New York in mid-August. I keep a travel diary - and have for years - and I pick up little pieces of paper ephemera all day long. I bring them all together at the end of that day of travel and paste them in my book along with written memories and facts.

I have officially decided that The Reading Terminal in Philadelphia is so authentic that it can never be duplicated, even by the super duper "we can mimic anything" environment planners in Vegas (e.g. Venice, New York, Paris). It is a place of great wonder and is a site to behold. Every time I have ever been there, it has been packed with people. Some, like me, are wandering around aimlessly trying to get a lay of the land. Others know exactly what they are there for and know by heart the fastest route to retrieve it.

Maybe when I visit again I will instinctively know the fastest route to my favorite slice of pizza. Or maybe, on purpose, I will wander around and take my time.

PS. I've never been to Vegas.

Sept. 10, 2007

It Takes a Village

Earlier this year I joined the ranks of women who have become single mothers after a divorce. Shortly after, I started making jokes (since all you can do sometimes is laugh) that my family vacation had gotten cancelled this year and I was looking for a travel buddy.

Tomorrow, my two and half year old daughter and I leave for 9 days on the beach in Montauk, New York. But it took a village to make this trip possible.

My friend Claire in New York snagged a free beach house from her friend to whom I will be forever grateful. My sister Sloane sat quietly while I obsessed about the dates, the flights, the costs, and the arrangements. Then she simply said, "Go on vacation Casey. It will all be okay." My mother and her girlfriend are getting my mail and watching my house, and they're the airport shuttle. My sister and her family are watching my dog. My nephew loaned my daughter his portable DVD player, which my brother-in-law had to deliver to me at 9:00 tonight. My best friend has taken 10 calls a day listening to me worry about every other detail in my life. And another friend went to the drug store for me - twice - to get cold medicine and tissues, since somehow I have managed to get a head cold, too.

You see, as a single mother, you are unable to just leave home after your child is in bed. Either you have to hire a babysitter to go the drug store or, if you're lucky like me, you have a village that makes anything possible.

So, this is a thank you to all the people in my village. You deserve to be sitting on the beach with us.

Aug. 30, 2007

My Sister, Casey

My sister makes me smile. A lot. Often. And she is one of few people on this planet that can make me laugh hard enough - and for long enough - to truly test my hours of Kegel exercises.

We were out this weekend doing a little shopping for vintage items for the store. I happened upon one individual's "booth" and was truly dumbfounded by what they had chosen to sell. I think I stood there a bit too long staring. The next thing I heard was my sister cracking up because she had been just as dumbfounded but had moved on ahead of me and turned just to watch my response. She was already losing it - tears running down her face, bent over at the waist - when I made eye contact and I fell in right behind her. It took us almost 5 minutes to bring it under control.

The laugh lines on my face have been awarded to me primarily by the people I hold closest to my heart. I can still quote comedic passages from Bill Cosby, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. All of them are from the stories they told about their families. They are as lucky as I am.

We were raised well, and I think it is important to state that there was no one in the booth, so no insults were handed down when we had our "come apart". In addition, the items we brought back are wonderful. Come in and check them out.

Aug. 29, 2007

New York and Philly

Here are some fun shots from our whirlwind trip to markets in New York and Philadelphia in August. Enjoy!

Aug. 27, 2007

Friends Out of Context

Me and Barbara Cosgrove

Casey and I were going through all the fun photos we took on our trip to New York (a painting on the actual street outside of MoMA, Casey with the world's largest roast "beast" sandwich, etc.) and we saw the picture Casey took of Barbara Cosgrove and me on the corner of 53rd & 7th Avenue. We both look so amazingly happy, and mostly I think what comes shining through in the picture is that we found each other on a street corner in Manhattan and that made us relax. And then Casey snapped a photo.

Back Story: Barbara Cosgrove makes the most amazing lamps for a living here in Kansas City (www.barbaracosgrovelamps.com). STUFF carries a few of her lamps, but the pieces we carry are really more one-of-a-kind than what she sells to people around the world. She has the great fortune of having two fantastic people who work with her, AJ and Jeff, and they all seem to make each other laugh and that carries through into the lamps they make. Barbara was in New York showing her wares at the convention center. Or, on that particular day, AJ and Jeff were.

Barbara had just been walking down 7th Avenue when she saw us get off the shuttle bus (re: Greyhound!) from the convention center with at least 40 other people. She admits to being as amazed as I was at spotting a friend from "home". It seems like when you walk alone in New York - and other big cities - you kind of insulate yourself in your thoughts and your journey and can be a bit unaware of actual faces, even while processing the movements of the bodies they are a part of. She raised a hand, when our eyes met, from the north side of the street, and I waved from my spot on the south. And then we stood and visited for a very long time. About kids, husbands, business, food, work and parties. It was divine.

This has happened to me a few times over the past several years. Friends out of context. I have been in a city or remote location and have looked up when crossing a street and seen someone staring at me and we lock eyes for a brief minute and then the "Oh my gosh . . . .What are you doing here?" type comments start to flow.

It really is a big, small world. But, I think I've said that before.

Casey and the World's Largest Roast Beast Sandwich at The Stage Deli on 7th Avenue

Aug. 23, 2007

Back to School

Well. It's over. Summer has officially ended today in the Simmons/Van Deursen household with the beginning of 5th grade for my son.

Today brought back a very exciting memory: I was in 5th grade when I met my "best friend for life" Cathy Stark, currently the good Reverend Catherine Stark-Corn. (You can see a picture of us together on this website on the Events Page. Just click on the AIDS Walk logo!!)

It was an overstatement to say that summer ended today. I was feeling dramatic. Summer ends slowly for me with school starting, then again when the Fairway Pool closes on Labor Day, and again when Fall begins in late September.

I've always been a summer person and have never really liked Fall. Not because it isn't a great season - it is! - but because it takes away my favorite season for a while. For several years I was unable to drive my son to the park in Fairway that adjoins the pool because I couldn't stand to see the pool empty. My palm would itch for the feel of the water and the sounds of summer.

Don't worry. I'll be fine. I'm getting better. Really.

Aug. 20, 2007

Dream House

I build houses in my dreams. Many of my friends already know this, but I have a recurring dream in which I build a house. It starts with the plans and the pouring of the foundation and continues all the way through the minutest detail (knobs, trim, built-in shelving, paint, furniture, books, fabrics, sculpture, wall art, etc.). Only in a dream could you build your dream house in a matter of hours. I often repeat ideas. After years of trial and error the basic layout now remains the same. I have added and taken way features over the years. The house has never been outrageous or "over the top". Since Sloane and I started STUFF, I have tried out many of our offerings in my dream house. I have re-built rooms around a fine art painting, making the light from a window strike it just right. I have moved the courtyard to accommodate a sculpture. I have redesigned the bedrooms to feature an endless supply of bedding and rugs.

But one feature never changes. There are windows and doors everywhere. The builders just roll their eyes at me, but make the changes. In my dream house there is always a view of the world that surrounds me and doors to let myself out and my friends and family in easily. Because what good is a dream house if you don't share it with your world? It is in sharing our lives that the items we collect and the houses we build become "real" and embodies our memories and experiences. That is when a house becomes a home.

Aug. 17, 2007

Out Of The City In The City

During our recent time in New York City we had two days that were not spent in the convention center and we were able to do our work in a more relaxed setting. (Relaxed meaning sitting or reclining!!)

On one of the days we rode the bus way, way, way up Madison Avenue to the top of Central Park and we then cut west and proceeded north on Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue to 190th Street, a stop for The Cloisters. The bus ride took 1 hour and 20 minutes and Casey got a little goofy on it but I loved looking at the city change block by block. Manhattan is amazing and I love every part of it.

The Cloisters is an adjunct museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is dedicated entirely to the Medieval times in Northern Europe. This is not a time period that I hold close to my heart but this museum shines. They have incorporated such fantastic historical architecture, stained glass and cloistered gardens that you feel very far from home. And, the sounds of the city just melt away.

The 1 mile walk from the bus stop to the museum was divine and is when we really felt "out of the city". The park that this museum sits in, Fort Tryon Park, is a rambling and hilly location that overlooks the Hudson River and one spot in the park took the breath away from both of us, The Linden Terrace. The linden trees are all over 100 years old and were set in a half circle with magnificent views of the river and the George Washington Bridge. There are many benches set in the same arching circle as the trees. We were there on an 90+ degree day and when you stepped under these magnificent trees, at least 10 degrees fell away. I will never forget this place. The light was muted under the trees and I swear, no direct sunlight was hitting the old brick sidewalks. It was superb.

 

The Cloisters is worth the trip to the upper reaches of Manhattan and is much, much smaller than its mother ship, The Met. We were there for several hours and they flew by. One of the cloistered gardens is growing only plants - or their cultivars - that would have been in medieval gardens.

We walked back to the train stop at 190th Street on a different path and saw a place we hope to visit and eat at in the future, "The New Leaf Cafe". The Cloisters may not be part of every one of our trips to New York City, but we will be back. It was that fantastic and peaceful.

Aug. 9, 2007

Amazing Women

I believe this is a big, small world. Here's why: Casey and I were cruising through the lobby of the Marriott in Philadelphia when I spotted one of Kansas City's greatest mayors, Kay Barnes. She was quietly reading a book in the cacophony of a "big city convention hotel" when we interrupted her to say hello and briefly catch up.

And, a few days later, on one of New York's hottest summer days, Gloria Steinem got on the M4 bus we were riding. We were all heading uptown and she took a seat and was quietly reading a book in the noise of the bus until her exit. Needless to say, we did not bother her to say hello or ask for an autograph.

These two experiences made me think about how amazing these two women are. One built a myriad of partnerships to change the way our city physically looks and is perceived by others, and the other woman changed the way the world views women and their potential.

Women are amazing.

PS. New York is a place where you can see famous people in normal situations. Casey thought she saw Hugh Grant at the grocery store on Broadway at 55th. It was just a banker.

Aug. 7, 2007

Trailer Park

My theory is that all hotel rooms are crap. Although the Ritz Carlton isn't half bad (which I sadly haven't stayed in for over 10 years)...it's still just a hotel room. Every time I check into a hotel I immediately start to feel trapped. I pace around the room feeling edgy, which in New York City is difficult because the rooms are so small that you have to take turns. But that is not why I am writing this blog.

I am simply writing to say that every hotel room looks just like a house trailer once you hang your bra and panties from any available "hook" that of course isn't a sprinkler head. So spend what you want...but I can turn your high end $350-a-night hotel room in mid-town Manhattan into a white trash motel on wheels in 10 minutes flat. And I don't even have to get creative.

Aug. 5, 2007

No More Wire Hangers!

I had a big giggle this morning in my hotel bed.

Casey's and my room here in Philadelphia is nice, but it's still a standard hotel room: two queen beds, a table and lamp between them, a TV cabinet across from them, and a bathroom to the left of the door. In addition, it has a window that looks out onto downtown Philadelphia. It is nicely appointed and almost feels like the people who style Ralph Lauren's Polo ads had a hand in the decorating with our made-to-look-like-cut-crystal table lamp. Heck, we even have a desk for the STUFF computer and paperwork from the artists we met with yesterday. So, it's a nice enough room in a hotel that's attached to a convention center.

What gave me the laugh was the 3 inch round sticker in the shape of a bright red circle with a slash through it that is stuck to the wall under the sprinkler head to tell you not to use the sprinkler head as a place to put a hangar with clothes.

Maybe they should just put a few hooks in the room in addition to the one on the back of the bathroom door.

Call me crazy.

Aug. 4, 2007

Monopoly

One of the problems of waking up at 3:30AM and flying halfway across the country before you go to work is that you end up in a daze hovering between reality and theme park delirium. Keep this in mind when I tell you that I was sitting on a Monopoly square for lunch.

All aboard the Reading Railroad! The Reading Terminal in Philadelphia is amazing. It is what you fantasize an open stand market should be - vendors shouting to customers; meat, fish, veggies and fruits piled high in food magazine-esque mounds. All this and the chance to eat. Almost every vendor has prepared offerings that you can buy and then fight for a seat at the very limited area crammed in the center of all this hubbub.

So...this is where I found myself eating Japanese noodles and octopus sushi while my sister ate pizza and we discussed cannoli with a labor lawyer eating a Philly steak sandwich and welcomed the interruption from the woman nearby enjoying ice cream with her son wanting to know where I got the noodles.

 

You may be wondering if we took the lawyer's advice and had a cannoli. No, instead we grabbed a bag of Amish homemade BBQ chips that we ate on the way back to work.

YUM!

PS. I was thinking about my friend Pat Deaton the whole time. Wish you were here, Pat.

July 27, 2007

Chicago Invades

Today I was thrilled to have two of our former team members come-a-callin'. Many of you know our friends Meghan and Natalie. They both find themselves living and working in Chicago now. The three of us got comfy on the STUFF sofa and chairs, then we talked and talked. What a fun way to spend the mid-day. It is nice to re-visit with our past, to watch them evolve, to share our families, our relationships, our laughter...it feels like no time has passed. Both Meghan and Natalie look amazing and are happy, healthy and living exciting lives. I think about them often and always giggle when I remember Meghan's first interview and how she said "I feel like a caged animal" (no joke). I believe this is one of the big reasons we hired her -- honesty will get you far at STUFF. I also remember when Natalie slipped off a stool causing pretty big harm to her leg, but her only concern was if the display looked good and she kept right on working all night. It wasn't until days later that she finally had it examined. She smiled and laughed through the whole ordeal. I miss them both and I am honored to call them friends. Thanks for sharing your day Nats and Megs. I love you both.

July 27, 2007

Another Suitcase

It all began with needing light bulbs and small bite sized cookies, and it ended with two polycarbonate, hard-sided suitcases.

A little back story: Casey and I were delighted years ago when a warehouse store decided to build a store and grow their business in our inner-city neighborhood; the neighborhood where we live and raise our families. We had neither one ever been warehouse store shoppers. Mostly because they were always built miles and miles from our homes and they didn't fit our desire to "shop locally" whenever we could. However, this company excels at paying a living wage to its workers and in giving back to the communities in which it builds. As the years have passed, we have become quite close to a few of their treasured employees and long visits happen often as we are exiting or entering the store. So, we were back again today for a few items...

Tonight we have an event at STUFF for the group of people -- 450!! -- visiting from Kurashiki, Japan, and needed a few bite sized cookies to serve with our amazing Diva Punch -- a recipe developed years ago for our annual "Diva Day Doubled" event -- and we were off to our favorite warehouse store. Our friend Molly, who works for us, tracked us down in the car and said we also needed light bulbs. So far, this was barely a list worth writing down. We hadn't made it 20 feet into the store when we were face-to-face with what we really needed and never knew we were coming for: very large suitcases!!

You see, we leave soon for a 10 day trip to the East Coast to meet with the amazing artists we represent at STUFF, and that is a long time to be in a hotel with limited laundry facilities. What each of us didn't know was that the other had been having real discussions internally about how they were gonna get it all together in one 22" roll-on suitcase, the only suitcases we have ever needed for our business trips in the past.

A lot has changed in the 10+ years STUFF has been open, and we travel with a lot more office supplies, forms, contracts, and -- much hated for the weight of its battery -- a laptop computer handed down from my husband. (We have been known to have discussions over who has to carry it. It is a reviled necessity to help keep our business running when we are both gone.) This trip to Philadelphia and New York was stacking up to having too many small bags for a longer-than-usual trip.

In front of us, right there in the aisle, were two different 29" suitcases. And, the one that won out after much test driving down the aisles, having the manager cut the seal for an internal inspection, and having a friend Carrie give one a thumbs up is the:

" 29" / 74cm Hardside Spinner from Samsonite with a 10 year warranty fully constructed of rugged polycarbonate for lasting durability with four wheels for zero effort. "

Casey has a little paint work to do on them because they are not yet STUFF style. Give her time for inspiration and we'll be ready to go.

Of course, the light bulbs are compact fluorescent, the cookies will be delicious, and we hugged an employee on the way out when she wished safety on our trip. We're ready to party.

July 24, 20077

Old is New Again

I was getting a piece of STUFF's ancient history out of the furnace room and was reminded of that silly statement that my Grandma used to say, or I thought it was silly then, that "all things old are new again"!! My guess is that when our 10th year in business is over in a few months quite a few of our things will feel old and new. I like that about us . . .that we re-use just about everything we come in contact with.

I had to have help carrying the steel, plasma cut, brushed finish, hollow construction, handmade rolling sign up our stairs; it's not heavy, just awkward. When it reached the light of day upstairs, two of the people that work with us - and have been with us for several years - said, in different ways, "Where did that come from?" and when I rolled it outside, a young boy said "Cool".

I have to admit, our "ancient" history is cool and today it is advertising on of our art classes that will take place tonight. Tomorrow, that old thing will be new yet again and put to work doing something else in the clean air and sunshine.

Be well.

July 24, 2007

Pool Friends

I was at the pool today with my toddler who is part fish and while she was chanting "catch me MaMa, catch me MaMa" a woman came up to me to say she got a gift from our store last night and she loves her new earrings. She described these wonderful shamrock earrings we sell that are very dainty and simple but full of shine. She was so happy and it she made me happy too by sharing her story. It's the little pleasures in life that often make my day shine like those dainty shamrock earrings. They are already bringing us all good luck!

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