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blog archive (2008)

read more archived blogs from 2009 or 2007

Dec. 31, 2008

Institution, Not Institutional

Before I begin my story, I want to make clear that I am not a fried chicken person. I do not crave it. I do not enjoy eating it. To be perfectly honest, I have had two very disturbing events in my life involving others and their consumption of fried chicken drumsticks. Gross.

However, since the first time my mom and dad took us all to the Stroud's on 85th Street here in Kansas City, there was nothing I didn't like about their food. Now, to the best of my knowledge, I never ordered fried chicken; but what's not to love about mashed potatoes, seasoned green beans, awesome chicken noodle soup, amazing gravy, and hot cinnamon rolls? I think it was probably still in the '70s when first our family trucked out there, and it was a big, big deal.

It had been many years since our family had been to Stroud's, and just yesterday we made the pilgrimage again. It took a "vacation" week to get us all there together in the daytime.


My niece and her fried chicken.


Fresh-cut French fries.


Mom's chicken noodle soup.


Duh!

Regrettably, the Stroud's on 85th is long gone due to road construction and capital improvements, but it was probably going to fall over anyway if someone didn't tear it down in the spirit of progress.

So we all met up at the new location in Fairway for a meal my sister dubbed "Chicken Feast". From a woman whose favorite meal is sushi, you can garner everyone's enthusiasm. The youngest among us - my son and niece - had never been to Stroud's, and their indoctrination was complete.

You see, Stroud's is a Kansas City institution. In a town known for barbeque, and with those joints being spoken of with single monikers - as in "We are having Gates tonight" or "They had Bryant's at the party but Masterpiece sauce on the side" - you can tell someone you are going to "Stroud's", and they will know exactly what you are speaking of, and they will moan just a little bit and rub their tummies. It is that good. It is pan fried chicken and homemade sides. Nothing institutional or "chain restaurant" about it.


Casey's salad.


Fresh-cut cottage fries.


Sweets & the cleanup committee.


What I came for. (It tasted better than it looks.)


Seasoned green beans.

Now, I believe eating food that, in our health conscious times, is labeled "bad for you" brings out all your food demons, and you blow it all on one meal. Heck, my favorite thing at Stroud's is their incredible fried chicken livers with gravy as a dip, and my beyond-the-pale organic nut sister had thousand island dressing on her salad!! Goodness gracious, good food does that to you. It makes you yearn for the days when you were younger and you didn't count every bit of everything you put into your body at mealtime.

Yesterday, I was younger and could see in my mind's eye the probably less than 15 times in my life I have been at a Stroud's. On each of those occasions, I have been surrounded by my family who are rubbing their tummies and making yummy sounds right along with me. And, lucky me, yesterday I added my son and niece to the roster of family members who litter the good times I keep in my mind at the red checkered tablecloth.

Just go. Plan it and go. If a non-fried-chicken person like me can have a ball, you have no excuse.


Our wonderful server.
And me.

PS...Check Stroud's out on-line at www.stroudsrestaurant.com. Their history page is amusing and full of juicy bits. They are always busy, and the wait time can seem ridiculous. I knew my husband would never go for waiting several hours for the chicken he loves, so we went at 2pm on a Tuesday.

Dec. 29, 2008

Craft Time

Let's get one thing straight. Our family is not normal. But, none are, really. We enjoy entertaining each other in our homes, and, on special occasions we have a "craft" project during the evening we are together. Casey has had the entire family to her house many times over the past several years, and we have made ornaments after our meal. Just last year on Christmas Eve, we completed gingerbread houses from kits at my house.

Craft time in a family of Type A personalities is a dangerous proposition and one that must be entered into with a thick skin and a healthy sense of humor. I have taken years of ribbing for the fact that I complete my craft early so that I - in the words of others - can "be done with it" and can "move on to next task". I must defend myself: this is not true. In fact, when I am given advance notice of the "craft" or am the one dreaming it up, I spend days thinking about what I'm going to create, and I hit the ground running. That can lead to finishing early - or first, as I see it.

Current tradition holds that Christmas Eve and early Christmas day are spent at our house. Even though my sister and her daughter and my mother and her partner live only 3 blocks away - in opposite directions - from my house, we all have an "overnight" at our house, and a craft is part of that grand event.

This year, it was trees and wreaths made from sugared candy. This is a craft that was re-visited upon the group from several years ago, and I love it. It is fantastic because little hands and big hands can accomplish this amazing feat. In addition, buying the candy in abundance and filling bowls with it all is a decoration within itself for several days leading up to the big night.

Each piece turned out to be incredible, and my niece insisted on wearing her wreath as a crown until the weight of her chosen candies had it back on the table.

It was decided, at the end of the evening, that this craft would be duplicated next year early in the season so that we will have the pieces to decorate our houses with for the duration of the holidays. This was exciting to decide, but it left me with a quandary - what will we do on Christmas Eve? A new craft?

Most importantly, will I have time to prepare for my gold medal finish?

Dec. 26, 2008

Inspired

We shared with our customers this season our pledge to be the stuff you have come to know. We said we would spend this season counting our blessings, not dwelling on our concerns. And the blessings came...in the warmth of every smile and in the kind words you shared. Your commitment to our store is humbling.

As 2008 draws to a close, we find ourselves inspired by the gift of another remarkable year. We are grateful to our artists, our stuff team, and our customers - or, as we call you, the stuff family. With your continued belief in all that we hold dear, the challenges of the next year will be lessened.

We are proud of our family, and we wanted you to know we love you all.

Dec. 15, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

I can tell you stories about difficult customers all day long. And you would laugh, gasp, and be dumbstruck by what we see from behind the "bar". You see, working behind a counter in retail is like working behind a bar, but without the liquor - which some days is a blessing and, frankly, some days is not. In retail, this season is dubbed "working the trenches".

But today I want to share with you the reason that, even after 12 years, I get excited to come to work.

It's because this small little store sitting in the middle of the uncelebrated Midwest has grown a heart. We are like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. It is through trial and journey that our heart was earned. I spend my days in November and December hugging, laughing, sharing, and sometimes crying with the people that grace our door.

This is an extraordinary place to work. And Sloane and I can not take the credit. We simply opened the door...it was the people that came in that created a place that is so sacred to me. The great irony of my life is that I co-own a store that is called STUFF, and it has never really been about the actual stuff. It has always been about the people.

So...as the year comes to an end...I want to take a moment to reflect on some of my many blessings.

To our artists...thank you for sharing your passion to create. To our staff...thank you for your dedication to helping everyone who comes through our door. To my sister...thank you for taking this journey with me.

And to our customers...thank you for your eye for beauty, your stories, your laughter, your tears, your hugs, and for every purchase you have made at our store.

Because of you all, I have found the true meaning of Christmas.

The "bar" is always open...

Dec. 9, 2008

What Goes Around Comes Around

I had a friend ask me last week, "When is World AIDS Day?" It's not like Thanksgiving and Easter, galavanting around the calendar of its own free will. World AIDS Day is always December 1st.

So it came around again this year, and the events that day - and the day after - gave me time to reflect quietly at an all-faith service, to tap my toes and move to the music of the Interfaith Choir, to share a drink and conversation with those in Kansas City who care as I do about the state of AIDS in Kansas City, and to listen intently to men and women sharing their stories and their dedication to eradicating the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our lifetime. From our city and from this Earth.

I decided to look back through the photos we have from this past year's AIDS-related fundraising events that STUFF and its families were a part of. Here are a few of my favorites:

The quotes from all the activities that I never wanted to forget were hastily written down on my programs in half light and without my reading glasses. However, the one that stuck with me and gives me chills even now was spoken rather eloquently by Dr. Kevin Fenton, the director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control: "We are the ones who have been sent to save ourselves." Well put.

World AIDS Day has gone again and left me thinking about the year ahead and all I must do. I'm ready.

Dec. 1, 2008

How I See Myself

This is how I see myself in my mind's eye. I know I am deluded, but I truly live in my soul like these women look in these photographs. Look at the full color and the amazing smiles. To say I desire to capture their look for myself would be beyond truthful.

Two years ago, I was stopped dead in my tracks at a market in New York by textile work on display. I waited in a small line with my sister Casey to learn more, and that sealed the deal - well, that and being allowed to touch!! Three months later, we had handcrafted handbags in the store, each one hand hooked and finished with leather by this amazing job creation and empowerment group in South Africa for women artisans.

(Right here you see the handbag that most members of my family and the staff at STUFF conspired to make mine last Christmas!! Yep. I am a lucky girl.)

We work directly with a South African woman, and the bags are made for us. The coolest thing is that, when the bags arrive, each has a tag attached, and each tag is signed by the woman who made the bag along with the month she finished it.

Just today I touched cards signed by Ntsaphokazi and Zondani. Both women will never know that just seeing their handwriting reaffirmed my commitment to continuing to support hand-crafted and hand-worked art from here and from far from here. There was a spirit that stayed with those cards until they got to me, and I sent that spirit out into STUFF with the handbags.

I live in full color every day. Join me.

Nov. 30, 2008

Cue Snow!!

I think I speak for Casey, too, when I say we love Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a fantastic day off for eating, resting, and being with our family. Low key. Peaceful. Happy. And the time between the holidays finds us happily ensconced at STUFF putting wonderful gifts in the hands of our fabulous customers. And that is exactly what we did both Friday and Saturday. It was a blast.

And this morning, on our mutual day off this week, we woke to snow. A light dusting. It was as if someone on the movie set which is our lives said, "Cue Snow!!" It was perfection.

This was the last of Fall on my front stoop this morning. It made me think of James Taylor singing, "Well, the frost is on the pumpkin and the hay is in the barn...." And, yes, there was a little bit of humming going on when it caught my eye.

Happy holidays. If you find yourself in Brookside, come and say hi. We will be making merry every day.

Nov. 24, 2008

We Give Thanks...

Dear STUFF Family:

You have made this journey we call "stuff" a remarkable adventure. We wish we could sit with you all at a giant table this Thanksgiving and share stories, laughter and friendship. Please know that when we pause before our meal to remember our blessings - you will be in our thoughts.

Like you, we are humbled by the talk of our economy. We want our artists, our staff, and our customers to know that we will work very hard this season to continue the history of success our store has celebrated. And we will continue offering a shopping experience that focuses on people, not product.


The youngest Simmons and her turkey.

We are asking you to choose to shop at our store this holiday season, and we pledge to you the same friendly services no matter your budget.

Our wish for you, your family, and your friends is a season filled with joy.

Thank you and all our love...

casey & sloane simmons

sisters & co-owners

Nov. 19, 2008

Surrounded

Friends make your world go round. It's true. But these women have held my confidences, my hands and my heart. They have laughed with me until every one of us could have peed in our pants, and several of them have waited for me to finish crying before speaking one word of solace. And they have had the strength to tell me I'm crazy, or wrong, or stupid.

I am surrounded by women who care deeply not only for me but for the world around us all. They are committed to their churches, their families, their jobs, and countless other humans. Their hearts are pure, and their trust in the unfailing power of friendship matches mine.

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to have a handful of my friends come by STUFF so that the magicians at Kdog could capture the heart and soul of my friendships on film. I was the lucky one. Can you see me? I'm right here in the pictures, holding on tightly to what I hold dear.


Me and Casey - my sister AND my friend.

PS...Next time we invite you to a party with portrait sessions as a "freebie", get off your duff and come on over to our world. To say you'll be glad you did is an understatement. See many of the pictures from this weekend on our website.

PPS...All photos courtesy of Kdog.

Nov. 13, 2008

Making Magic

My sister Casey finished decorating the store for the holidays this week; STUFF is a winter wonderland. She is a magician in the way she brings together all of the favorite things we chose to have in the store for the holidays and all the great things the local artists we represent bring to us. Pure magic. It's like erecting the perfect building without much knowledge of what your building materials will be; the artists don't tell us what they are bringing, and we usually forget what we chose!!

Last year when I decorated my home for the holidays, I was left with a few things I just wanted to find the perfect place for. I was being very picky about placement. Several, in fact, were items I get to see briefly once a year and enjoy greatly. I have a deep love for vintage holiday glass ornaments. My husband and I have collected them since our first year of marriage when I scoped a few boxes at a flea market and pounced. Then, three years ago, I found this snowman at a small local store and fell in love with the felting and the pink accents. So, in the end, they all ended up together on an antique silver tray in the foyer. The table lamp highlighted them perfectly. I grinned every time I used the front door, and it may very well be my favorite decoration ever.

I hope you find time this weekend to join us at STUFF's holiday open house, Wings of Hope. It is a fantastic two days. You can see all the magic, take a little magic home, and make a little magic for those who live with the hope of a cure for cancer.

Magic happens where you least expect it. Last year, mine was right inside the front door.

Nov. 12, 2008

Cheesy

Even as a teenager, clutching my "Hotel California" LP to my chest while Don and Glenn and the boys sang their hearts out to only me, I can remember thinking that the sunset on the album looked fake.

I have carried with me through life the belief that sunsets are breathtaking and fantastic - but only in person. I have turned to my husband and other companions on beaches and docks around the world and said, "No one would believe how beautiful this is," because I truly believe that photos and paintings do them little justice. I have seen sunsets with heavy purple overtones that would be garish if you painted them. I have seen sunsets that took place in air so hazy you'd think the camera was out of focus if you stopped to catch it on film.

I believe sunsets are best enjoyed with your loved ones. In October I broke down, like so many times in my past, and took a few photos of the amazing sunsets my best friend and I were a part of over several nights. We would come out to the beach and spend the entire afternoon in the sun and surf, and only after the sun set would we pack it in for home.

They were breathtaking and fantastic sunsets - but these photos look a little cheesy and fake to me.

Nov. 10, 2008

I Wasn't Fully Prepared

I was not mentally prepared for the cold weather at the end of last week. Sure, my closet already had my polar fleece pieces on the shelf, and the sweaters had been unpacked from their summer storage. But my brain was not ready. So I decided not to wear socks for half of last week and half of Saturday. In my mind's eye, that would make it still warm-ish in my soul.

By Saturday night, I gave up the ghost and pulled on a pair of socks before heading out to dinner.

Sunday morning when I put the dog out, I knew it was time - I could smell it in the air and feel it in the sun's weakness - to deal with the last of the potted plants - my cactus and the geraniums. One is easy. I take the cactus and the pot it was planted in and move it 7 feet from the deck onto the kitchen counter. But the geraniums require transportation.

Like my sweaters have a summer home, my geraniums "overwinter" with my Mom, just like retirees in Florida. She cared for them last year, and they came back happy. I know that geraniums may be the cheapest plants around, and most people just toss them and start new each year, but these are the most fantastic shade of hot pink, and I love how time has made them a little "leggy".

My cactus makes me very happy, too. It was a gift to me from one of my grandmothers who, like me, never really cared well for house plants. Your see, cactuses are foolproof, and I don't have a green thumb. Plus, I hate to fail at anything, and watching a house plant wither is failure in my book. My cactus came to me as one little ball of spikes, and, in the 20+ years I've had it, it has been transplanted only once and just continues to fill its pot with many, many more green spheres. Amazingly, this summer, it bloomed twice for the first time ever, and I was able to catch one on film. The other bloom was over the Fourth of July when we were traveling. Our loss. You see, the bloom lasts only one night and part of the next early morning and is so delicate it is hard to believe it came from something so outwardly unfriendly and solid.

So now were are all prepared, the plants and I. I can't promise to wear socks all winter, and the cactus can't promise that I won't sneak it out for the one overly warm day that will arrive in January and scare us both a bit silly. But I can promise that my Mom won't let me bring the geraniums home until they are fully rested on their vacation.

Nov. 6, 2008

Angels Among Us

A couple of nights ago, I was carrying my sleeping daughter in my arms, from the car to our house, and she pulled a classic wake-up-and-puke-all-over-your-mother move. If you are a parent, you know what I mean. And if you are not...well trust me when I say it isn't something you want to experience.

I'll bet you are wondering what this has to do with angels. Well, after her pukefest, I had to undress her and lay her weak body in shallow warm water to bathe her. I gently laid her back in the water until her body was covered and her head was surrounded by floating hair that looked just like a halo. And, instantly, my little puke-demon was an angel once again.

But what really struck me and had me frozen with recognition was that there is a poster print of a floating angel that hangs above my bed. Her hands are bound, and her halo hovers above the dark water. She - the angel - looks completely at peace. I brought the poster from France to my sister many, many years ago. I saw the actual painting at the Musee de Louvre and was thrilled to see the image in poster form for my sister Lindsay.

As my daughter slowly closed her eyes, she looked just like this angel as a child.

I believe in angels. I inherited this belief from my younger sister when she died. Sloane's and my sister, Lindsay, didn't survive an auto accident over 10 years ago, and she was lost to us all. But, when she was alive, she was mesmerized by angels. She collected angel-related art, and she spoke about angels regularly. After her death, angels took on a new significance for me, and now I find myself collecting angel related art, reading angel related writings, and even creating art with angels and/or wings featured in them.

It wasn't until years after the creation of our event "Wings of Hope" at STUFF that I made the personal discovery that the wings of an angel have a very powerful meaning to me. I know now that angels give me hope. Hope that we are being watched over. Hope that we are sometimes pushed or held back as guidance. Hope that there is a place for the good in our souls to take flight. Hope that our spirits are not only limited within our bodies.

So...in these last couple of weeks, I have worked with Sloane on our Wings of Hope event. I have been captivated by the image that my friend Rachel captured for this year's event. I have seen my child as an angel. And, as I am writing this blog I am looking up at the other small pieces of angel art that hang above my desk - mixed with some of the images from my life. And I am once gain struck with how prevalent angels are in my life and how completely unaware I am of this most days.

Oct. 27, 2008

MY Chocolate Story...

I read my sister's blog tonight and wanted to defend the chocolate glazed donut. I mean really - chocolate glaze on a donut does not "seem odd".

I love you Sloane, but I must defend the donut with the ever-so-yummy chocolate glaze.

Many people know that I am not a "sweet tooth". I am a "salty". I have been known to get into long discussions about the evolution of the flavored potato chip. And now that I have gone "wacky organic", I must say that I am single-handedly keeping the blue corn chip industry "in the black". No economy scares for that bunch - as long as I can still have my blue-corn-munch-a-lunch.

But I do have a weakness for a donut with chocolate glaze. The fresher, the better. The way the chocolate sticks to the roof of your mouth when you take a giant bite. H-E-A-V-E-N!

Sometimes I can't believe Sloane and I come from the same folks - really.

Oct. 27, 2008

My Chocolate Story

I begin this missive with the deeply held belief that I am not a chocoholic. Truly. I do not crave chocolate desserts. I think flourless chocolate cakes can be a little weird. Chocolate-based ice cream flavors are ones I never reach for first. Fruits and fruit flavors in chocolate aren't my favorite. And chocolate icing on a doughnut seems odd, as does a chocolate cake doughnut.

Now, with that said, I love chocolate candies with nuts in them. M&Ms in particular, and peanut M&Ms precisely. I have great memories of car rides with my best friend while we ate copious amount of these treats while swigging Diet Coke on ice. I can vividly remember sharing a large Hershey's with Almonds bar with my husband when he got it in his stocking one year for Christmas. (You know, back when there were full-sized almonds in the bar, not chips!!) I can remember receiving my first Whitman's Sampler box and thinking it was a genius gift to receive because they had the little diagram on the lid to tell you what not to sink your teeth into. And I can remember when I first started liking dark chocolate, when milk chocolate had clearly been my very favorite for all of my life.

So it was with great fondness that I headed up the "personalized chocolates" project at STUFF. Casey and I have always wanted large jars of inexpensive - but good - chocolates at the counters at STUFF, and we now personalize for ourselves - and for our customers - Hershey's chocolates. They rock, they are just the right size, and they say just exactly what you want them to say.

A customer of ours always hosts an election night watch party in Presidential election years - for all her friends, no matter their political bent - and she had us design 6 different amazing labels in red, white and blue. All 400 will be an awesome sight to see around her house.

We're excited to offer this new product at STUFF for weddings, parties, customer appreciation gifts, and so much more. I'm excited, as are certain members of our staff, because the smell of the chocolates when you go to label them is divine.

I think it is only fitting that this chocolate thing came to mind during the week of Halloween. In years past, I have not really allowed into our home Halloween candy that I have a weakness for. It is dangerous, and you can see your stock diminish before the first "trick or treat" greets you at your front door. But this year I capitulated, because I had a vision of our skeleton sticking out of the candy buckets and he, like me, only likes chocolate with nuts.

Happy Halloween.

Oct. 21, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere

Last week I was sitting with my dearest friend on the beach, looking at an amazing ocean. We had three whole days of staring at the water, floating in the water, and walking near the water, and it was wonderful. I am a very good swimmer, but the ocean always scares me a little with its power and its immensity. And that's OK. I can take it.

While we were on our little trip to the beach, I read a lot. In one of the magazines I had taken with us, I saw this ad for Pur. It made me laugh because I did drink out of hoses and directly from faucets as a child. And I still drink directly from the kitchen faucet with my hands cupped for a "quick drink". Now, we don't have a purifier on the kitchen faucet, but we do have one on our fridge, and we use it religiously to refill the humongo plastic water bottle we purchased on our road trip this summer to Santa Fe and Colorado. I love to drink water, but I hate those little plastic water bottles for many, many ecological and financial reasons. However, I saw every reason to purchase this jumbo water bottle on our trip - for the cooler while we traveled, and for the fridge when we got home.

There is water, water everywhere on our great Mother Earth, but we're gonna run out of all the drops we can drink if we keep using huge amounts of water to manufacture plastic bottles, just so we can turn around and drink water from them one time each.

Now, to end the beach story. When we got to the island we were staying on, there was a "Mandatory Water Boil" in effect due to contaminated supply lines that ruptured during road construction. So we had to buy a super-big water jug for use in the house for drinking and for brushing our teeth, etc. You know, the kind that is rectangular and slides onto your shelf in the fridge? Super-big, like I said.

When we were leaving the island and taking our recycling to the designated bins on the beach, this plastic water bottle didn't fit in the bin, and we were beside ourselves with what we were going to do. Honestly, two grown women, looking perplexedly at a plastic jug and trying to twist it down to fit in the round slot. There was no room in our luggage, and there was a pit in my stomach when we had to toss it in the trash can.

OK, the reason my carry-on was so full: I had already crammed in our flattened Wheat Thins box, my toothpaste box, and several other non-plastic recyclables. Maybe this is why I like road trips. I can just put my recycling in the car and deal with it when I get home.

I love the ocean. It's a lot of water. Water, water everywhere. But not a drop to drink.

Oct. 11, 2008

Voracious Readers #2


My bedside table.

Something is amiss. For the first time in my life, I am reading things outside the controlled, type-A system that I set up for myself when my parents bought my first subscription to Rolling Stone magazine in the early 80s.

I love magazines, and I love books. Equally. And here was the system: I never mixed a book with a magazine. If I was reading a book when magazines arrived, the magazines went to the bottom of the reading pile while I finished my book. Then, because I always need time to grieve the end of a really good book, I would pick up a magazine from the top of the pile and start in. This would begin the depletion of the magazine pile - one magazine at a time. When the pile was empty, another book could be started. This system never varied.

But in the past few months, although I am still not mixing books with magazines, I am reading more than one magazine at once. For the first time in my life, I have bookmarks in 3 magazines in the pile you can see right here.

This is perplexing to me, and I am interested to see just how long it lasts.

Sept. 30, 2008

The Great Pumpkin Hunt

It happens overnight. One day there are no pumpkins in huge piles at the grocery stores, and the next day there are, and it makes my heart leap. I have passed this excitement onto my son, and he and I have a ball every fall picking just the right pumpkins from the piles at several local spots. Now, for clarification purposes, I have only ever been to one pumpkin patch in my life - and I loved it - but weekends this time of year have never seemed to hold time for that adventure since our son graced this planet.

So yesterday, when pumpkins were spotted outside our local grocery store, my husband Harl said to us, "Please, let's not spend $200 on pumpkins this year." Right then I was amazed - and a bit hurt - but then I realized it was really all about the end of pumpkin season - after Thanksgiving - when we drag them to the curb in the paper yard waste bags. The bags really aren't made for this, and the job can become unruly and frustrating. We don't carve all the pumpkins, because I love their color at the door until the holiday wreath is hung.

The three pumpkins we brought home last night are fantastic. They have great stems, and one has a stem that is so thick it looks like a small hat; we'll have a ball with that!!

OK. I confess. We brought home three orange pumpkins, one variegated gourd, and two small white pumpkin-shaped gourds. We passed on the turban squash, because Harl was looking right at us in the produce section; turban squash are hard to hide in the cart and and on the conveyer belt at the check out.

I'm not really sneaking around this season in my pursuit of pumpkins. Harl will be right along beside us at the Boy Scout spot in a few weeks, and he will be just as excited and on the lookout for odd pumpkins - the ones with blemishes, the ones that are tall and skinny or fat and squat. The odd balls. They truly make the best jack-o-lanterns.

But it won't be above me to say, with a smile on my face, just once, "Harl, I don't know, how much is that one you really love and are cradling in your arms like a newborn baby?" It is really cute when he does that, and I can assure you a great laugh will follow.

Happy hunting!!

Sept. 23, 2008

Fred is Family

OK. Not really. We don't even look alike.

However, Fred Conlon makes Casey and me happy, much like our family makes us happy. He laughs easily, and, from the moment we met him at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, the three of us knew we were in for a good time and for a long time. That was 4 years ago....

We've met his Dad and he's met ours. We've met his wife and he's met my husband. We have yet to meet his children, but he has met my son. But the most overriding thing that makes him family to me is this: when he hugs you, you sustain soft tissue damage, and you are glad for it because you know he's sharing a bit of his magic. I've always liked people who truly, deeply hug you when they see you after an extended period of time, because I believe they are expressing sincere greetings and taking time to do so by holding on a little longer.


My dad, Fred, me, and my son.


Fred & Casey in front of his Plaza Art Fair booth.

Fred's sense of humor comes flying out at you from the magical steel and reclaimed metal art he creates at his studio in Utah. I made a comment the other day that I swear he laughs and smiles every time his flame touches metal with his torch. And you can feel that frivolity when you look at his finished pieces in our store.

Fred came to town this past weekend and was a participant in the Plaza Art Fair. We were delighted to have him in our fair city and almost fell over when we looked up Thursday morning and he was standing at our counter with his wife. One of the only questions he asked of us that day was, "What barbeque should we have first?" And then we were off to the races!! The opinions were flying, and, by the time he left, he had many Mapquest documents from Casey's printer showing him and his wife exactly how to get to each of the five winning BBQ places from their hotel on The Plaza.

Come and see his work at the store. The happiness you'll feel will embrace you fully. Just like family.

Sept. 14, 2008

Original and Unique

Last night, I went to one of my favorite places in Kansas City for possibly the last time. Bar Natasha.

My friend Missy Koonce and her partner JD Mann are closing their dream. When that news was first shared with me, it broke my heart. Not because in the future I would be denied the joy their business would bring. Not because I had stood in awe of their great idea for over 5 years. It was because dear friends were having to close a business they held as close to their hearts as I hold to mine the dream Casey and I have built in STUFF.

They have given their all to the dream business they founded. They have given of their time and energies to countless charities and not-for-profit organizations. It always made me smile that they actually named a day of the week - Thursday - as "Philanthropy Thursdays" and you could stop by their establishment and learn about great people and causes in our fair city.

The real loser is Kansas City as a whole. We are losing a truly unique experience that can be found nowhere else on the planet with the authenticity that Bar Natasha holds. I am tired of the cookie cutter, planned experience & themed concept way of entertaining the masses. I crave - and seek out - the original and the unique. Bar Natasha is just that - one of a kind.

I am a late bloomer. I married young and never really did "the bar scene" when I was young. In the past two years, my husband and I have gone to Bar Natasha quite often. It never let us down. The cabaret always had us tapping our feet - and, in my case, singing along. We always saw people we knew and had a great time catching up.

I will miss Bar Natasha, and it will be hole in my soul I probably will not fill very soon.

However, I know that Missy and JD will go on to continue making magic for themselves and others in all that they do. And I hope to be standing in their shadow when the lights go up.

PS...Bar Natasha will have special shows every night during the upcoming week, with their final "hurrah" on September 19th and 20th - a Cabaret Festival that will run each night from 5pm to 1:30am. Get your butt down to The Crossroads and share in the love. You will not be disappointed. I promise.

Sept. 12, 2008

Dockside Delight

There are things you carry with you through life - from childhood to adulthood - that make you happy and bring you great joy.

One of mine is bottom-dwelling catfish and other carp that weigh a minimum of 10 pounds and swim in shallow water.

When I was a little girl, I was at the Lake of the Ozarks with my family a great deal. My father was raised at the Lake on summer weekends as a child, and I have fleeting images of the little trailer his parents kept at the lake at a place called "The Alamo". The smell of wet concrete can still remind me of the patio there. When I was a pre-teen and a teenager, my parents kept a larger boat at the Lake that we spent whole weekends on. We slept on it and spent the weekends on the water. It was fabulous, and the memories abound.

Now, every engine that ever gets into a close relationship with water has problems. No matter what. And, when I was young, we would find ourselves at a marina called Links Landing when - not if - we had trouble with our boat. I was never happy coming "off the water" because it always seemed exponentially hotter on a dock, but I loved Links Landing because they had "feeder fish". They had an old-fashioned candy machine that you loaded nickels into, and little pellets of fish food visited your palm with a twist of your wrist. Then the fun began. I can remember all the feeding theories my sisters and I bantered about - slowly dropping one pellet at a time into the water, putting in a "trail" to be followed, spilling your whole hand - and I can hear our voices laughing as the water roiled with response to our scientific methods. I can also hear our squeals when, by chance, the fish ran into contact with our fingertips. And I can still hear their mouths sucking and at the air for first catch.

This past weekend, Casey and I took our children to the lake to spend a true last weekend of the summer with our father and stepmom. It was cool and overcast, but that didn't keep us from our water adventures.

On Saturday, after Casey's daughter had her inaugural run on a tube pulled by the pontoon boat, Dad said, "Let's go to Ozark BBQ for lunch by water." No problem or push-back from us. A boat ride? Food? All of us together? That's a done deal!!

And what do they have besides very good pulled pork, smoked brisket and onion rings? Hundreds of feeder fish!!

It was amazingly fantastic. My son and my niece beat a path from the restaurant to the dock getting more and more food in little plastic cups to feed the fish. I stopped counting their trips. Ozark BBQ has a huge bin of fish food inside the door and a great looking jar for donations to the "Fish Food Fund". I plugged it with over $7.00 worth of bills, because that's cheap for memories that never fade.

I'm not quite certain if my father heard the little girl's voice when I asked him several times, "Dad, did you see that one?" Or, "He's huge. How old do you think he is?" Or, "Wow." But I heard her, and she was very, very happy.

PS...It was a whole weekend of firsts. The first time my son had seen feeder fish, and the first time my niece took a spin on a tube.

Sept. 8, 2008

Gustav's Girls

Big ocean! Really big ocean. Really, really big ocean. I mean there is nothing like a hurricane to kick up a bunch of kicka*s waves. Talk about your ultimate natural amusement park. Roller coasters pale in comparison to the scare-you-sh*tless-scream-your-head-off-heart-stopping-nerve-tinglin' thrill of the big fat waves a hurricane offshore can land on a beach.

Two weekends ago, I was jazzed to head to Florida with my girlfriends to commemorate our 40th birthdays. We were outrageously excited to shed children, spouses, businesses, yards, homes, pets, laundry, bills, cooking, cleaning, and the seemingly millions of other daily responsibilities we all have.


The four of us weathering the storm.
This photo was taken by Rachel Meiring (at center),
my friend and co-owner of Kdog Photographers.
Check out Rachel's blog of our trip.

We had been hearing all week about the bad weather, the rain, the wind - the ruined trip we had planned for months. But we were not going to let that get us down. If it came to it, we were prepared to hunker down inside to sleep and read, sleep and read, and sleep and read some more. I mean, really, did I mention we were going to be alone with no kids? Do you really think being sequestered in a lovely beach cottage with three of your closest friends with nothing to do would make any group of women unhappy?

On Friday, we woke pre-dawn, hopped a jet, grabbed a rental car, and were beachside eating lunch by 2:00 pm. Sun shining bright. Life was good. We were happy and free.

And then the bad weather hit - the rain, the winds, the rising waters. Gustav - the hurricane - was gulf-bound. The hurricane then took a turn and left us safe and relatively dry. But it brought the waves. The big, massive, powerful waves that started this whole story.

We stood on the beach in awe. Humbled by mother nature in all her beauty and power. We then slowly stepped closer. And then we looked at each other and thought (whatever it is that crazy 40 year old women think that makes them desire to step into a wall of water).

I am not sure how many times we got "laid out", but I know I was slapped down like a rag doll many times. I dove through waves that were twice my height and got sucked under by the undertow that was so powerful it felt like I was standing in the path of a rocket launch. We held onto each other with "the death grip". We picked each other up and held each other back. But mostly we laughed, shouted, swam our hearts out, and begged for more. It was addictive. I was in a trance. My blessed ocean was calling me back. It was washing me clean. It was healing my soul.

I looked at my friends and saw the same look on each of their faces. Their soaked, exhausted, shaking bodies couldn't distract me from the pure joy that shined from their faces.

It was worth every one of my 40 years to have that moment. That blink of an eye of a storm.

Note: We are all accomplished swimmers. Some with lifeguard experience. With years of ocean experience. And we were NOT in an actual hurricane. If Gustav had turned toward us, we would have hightailed it inland and been hanging at the airport Ramada instead.

Sept. 4, 2008

Missouri Treasures

For as long as I can remember, be it with my Mother or with either Grandmother, I have been going to Davis Baskets in Mack's Creek, Missouri. It is a true wonderland for me. Mr. Davis - who, at 84 years old, still works full time in the store 6 days a week - admits to stocking all kinds of baskets from around the world. But what I go for is the oak baskets handmade right in the Ozarks.

Over the course of my life, I have learned much from him about how the baskets are made, why they are important to the local economy, what time of year is best for making baskets, and why he loves owning a retail store. I have never called him anything but Mr. Davis, although a fabulous picture of him on their website uses his full name, Delmar Davis. (Check out his photo on their History page. He has changed very little.)


The big round baskets on the left are dream baskets....
I dream of taking one home.


Me and Mr. Davis

In addition to baskets, he carries Frankoma Pottery, Minnetonka Moccasins, and - my personal favorite - cheap beaded toys and decorations in the Native American style. If you ever received a bow & arrow or an Indian headdress as a child, you will know exactly what I'm talking about! He carries much, much more, and I can admit to not having been in certain aisles of his store for years and years.


I even love the billboards!

Although I have clear memories of going to Davis Baskets with both my grandmothers, it was my mom's mom that loved and cherished her oak baskets. When she passed away several years ago and the house was being cleaned out my my mom, she made a pile of the baskets my grandma had still been using. The pile wasn't large at all - maybe 5 or 6 total - but each had been purchased with a specific use in mind over the years. One had seen use as a kindling basket, one had held a fantastic collection of jumbo pine cones from vacations in the American West, and one had seen duty as a vessel for a Pyrex casserole dish for delivering food. (Note from Grandma: line the basket with newspapers and lay the casserole in hot from the oven, and it will be perfectly warm upon delivery!!) The other baskets escape my memory. What was amazing about the casserole basket was that the handle showed years of burnishing from her hands and was a richer color of oak; it had been varnished with her love.

Just this past weekend, I went to Davis Baskets with my husband. I was looking for the perfect oak basket to hold soaps and shampoos in my closet. Needless to say, Mr. Davis had exactly what I was looking for. I, too, am slowly collecting handmade oak baskets for particular uses. I have purchased many on my own, each with a special purpose in mind, but the basket that now holds towels in our guest bathroom once held pine cones for my grandma.


I love this place. I'm holding the one I took home.

Mr. Davis and Davis Baskets are Missouri treasures and should not be missed if you find yourself anywhere near the Lake of the Ozarks. It is just west of Camdenton, Missouri, on Highway 54.

Sept. 1, 2008

He Nailed It

Three hours before the pool closed for the summer, my son perfected his dive off the high dive at Fairway Pool. He only started diving off the high dive today, so this was a big deal for our little family - hence the cameras and the cheering.

I can now proceed with my slight seasonal depression that has been known to set in around this time in the calendar year. But I won't be as sad this year, because I can still see him in my mind's eye with the 7pm sun shining on his body as he slices the water.

It was perfect. He did indeed nail it.

Aug. 28, 2008

Upon Further Investigation...

I am rather jaded when it comes to "green" proclamations. Casey and I have worked very hard on making STUFF as ecologically friendly as possible (click here to see how), and we are continuing that quest by making changes all the time. But we've seen other organizations and businesses make statements that are misleading and are, in the end, fibs used to fool us into believing said company/institution is a brighter shade of green than it really is.

So, when I left a restaurant in New York last week (see yesterday's blog), I picked up a postcard that caught my eye at their host stand. Ruby Foo's is in the heart of Times Square and is a very large restaurant. It is also part of a chain called "B.R. Guest Restaurants".

Now, the postcard claims that they were the "first multi-concept restaurant to be certified green by the Green Restaurant Association". This required research on my part - to understand what this meant, and also because then it might make me feel better about eating in a chain restaurant. (Small business owner guilt strikes again!!)

My research astounded me because, to obtain this certification, you have to follow some strict guidelines, and every year you have to add another "green" policy to your business plan. Cool. Awesome. See? This big restaurant in NYC was really just like STUFF - the comparisons were shocking!!


The postcard in question in our organic basil at home.

So . . . here's what Ruby Foo's currently does for the planet: It uses faucet aerators and pre-rinse spray valves for water efficiency and conservation; it recycles all glass, metal, plastic and paper; and, in the area of pollution prevention, it uses no polystyrene foam in the kitchens or in the takeout containers.

Mother Earth and I thank them.

Aug. 27, 2008

Just Right

I read a lot of magazines, and I mix it up a bit - National Geographic, Country Living, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, and Country Home, just to name a few. And, if you read a lot of home fashion magazines, you read the word "scale" a lot. And getting it right seems to be imperative. I can admit to thinking about it at home quite a bit, and I can drive my husband crazy moving little - and big - things around to get them "just right".

Casey and I have been staying at a hotel in New York for our business trips that is a bit north of Times Square on 7th Avenue. The lobby interior is like stepping into a Ralph Lauren ad, and the rooms are well designed for business travelers. (Read: They got the scale right.) However, this area of New York isn't the best for getting reasonably-priced food, so, occasionally, we opt for an "experience" while eating. Last week we ate in a restaurant called Ruby Foo's, right in the heart of Times Square.


Casey with the big lanterns.

Ruby Foo's has nailed "scale". Some things are oversized (not the portions, thank God), and some details are subtle, but the entire look is well done. Their sign and business card will tell you that they are a "dim sum and sushi palace" - two distinct food cultures wrapped into one description. However, though the interiors are heavily influenced with Chinese decoration, the subtle Japanese comes shining through. There is no visual clashing of cultures, just cultures mingling on your plate.


A view out onto Broadway.


A mah jong tile wall . . . they spin!


Blue and white chinese pots in my hotel lobby.

I've never been crazy about Asian interiors or Asian accents in my own home, but I do have select pieces I enjoy that I have collected through travel to China and gifts from family friends. I do, however, adore Chinese lanterns in any color (although red is my favorite), blue and white Chinese pottery, diminutive Japanese sauce dishes, mah jong tiles, and oversized cloisonné Chinese vases.

A feast for the eyes may be just what Ruby Foo's was going for. And stepping into it from a packed Times Square sidewalk can soothe you tired body, feed your tummy, and bring your sense of scale into alignment. They got it "just right".


More jumbo lanterns.

Aug. 19, 2008

First Kiss

I love New York City. I fell in love with it many years ago in a cab from the airport on my first trip to the Big Apple.

It was dusk and, as we crossed the bridge into Manhattan, there it was before me. It took my breath away. It was like a first kiss. It excited me, made my senses tingle, and scared me all at once.

This city is a special place for me, filled with abundant memories. I have come here to celebrate, to escape, to grieve, and to find answers.

What you can witness in one short block could take months to see in other places. On a warm night like tonight, I could roam for hours. I lingered in front of our hotel tonight and tried to absorb the sights, sounds and smells, in hopes of taking the feeling home with me tomorrow.

And, in case you are a regular STUFF blog reader (or a good friend) and you know about my passion for places near oceans, you won't be surprised when I remind you that it is also an island.

I have never lived in New York City, but I have always felt like I belong. So earlier this evening when I stepped off a plane with only a purse on my shoulder, grabbed a cab with Sloane to Times Square, and was having a sushi dinner at one of our regular haunts with in a handful of minutes, I kind of felt like I was at home.

Aug. 16, 2008

Trashy Chick

It all started with lunch.

Casey and I like to go to Chipotle occasionally, because almost everything they serve their food in and on can be recycled. Oh, yeah, the food is fresh and good, but the recyclability of their packaging pops it further up our food chain.

This time, we brought lunch to the store. I had opted for a burrito and not my usual "burrito bol". At this lunch, we were discussing a new store window idea for our Diva Day promotion. I had taken my aluminum foil from the burrito and, since it was clean, made a long rolled "snake" with it. While we were talking, I made silly jewelry with it and drove Casey crazy - and was accused by her of "not paying attention" - by showing her my new silver bracelet and then my new ring.

And then the flash went off. We both stood there and new exactly what the window would look like and what it would feature - a chick decked out in recyclable and reclaimed couture. Even the lid to Casey's burrito bol was dug out of the recycling bin right then and was fashioned into fringe with Casey's two hands.

A week later, with the implementation help of our summer interns, we had a fantastic woman to feature in our store. And my "jewelry" became the impetus for the coils that hung around her in the completed window.

See? I was not only paying attention, I was creating art.

PS...If you take the lining out of your burrito bol when you have finished eating at Chipotle, you can take the bowl home and recycle it. It's paperboard.

PPS...Come by the store and buy a raffle ticket. We're sending this "trashy chick" home with the lucky winner. Come on - they're only $1, and that makes her a cheap date.

Aug. 11, 2008

New Shoes

These are my new shoes. I got them for my birthday, and I love them. I have only worn them once, and I consider that still breaking them in. You see, I have a tendency to not wear new things a whole bunch right away, because I don't want to wear them out too soon. And this is because most of the shopping I do for myself and my wardrobe is agonizing. I am not the best clothing shopper, and I HATE dressing rooms for every reason.

When I get new clothing and accessories, I almost hoard them in my closet and sparingly wear them to "special occasions". At some point in their lives they go from being for special occasions to something I can pull out to wear to work every day.

My last pairs of new shoes have fabulous bows (see my April 16, 2008 blog). There are instructions on our website for tying new bows onto these shoes, and for this I am happy. I need the guidance. I have never been good at tying bows, and that was always a puzzler for my grandmother, who could very easily make an attractive bow from craft yarn and couldn't understand how I had gotten through life with this humiliating handicap.

I will never have to buy laces for my new treasures. But if I did, I would have to look very carefully at all the million bazillion ways to lace them at this super cool website I found. Check it out. With these instructions as my guide, I could whip up a snazzy lace ensemble that would make my grandma proud.

However, for at least a year, these will be "party shoes" that I will wear gently and for only special occasions.

Go figure.

Aug. 1, 2008

I Can't Decide

Just yesterday, Lori Buntin delivered 5 new pieces of art. She came by a little after 10 am, and I am here to tell you that getting to see new art first thing in a retail morning is a treat.

The best.

Hands down, the best way to start a work day.

As she walked them in, I audibly oohed and aahed and silently went about picking my favorite from this set.

I can't decide. When she delivered, the piece called (STUART) HA(LL) was the one I was going to save my money for. When I was entering them into inventory, Billboard, No. 1 was the hands down winner. And when I finally hung them around 1 pm, Moonliner, No. 1 swung into first place.

However, I had to rearrange a few of her pieces from an earlier series, and the one I was coveting from that set ran back up the flagpole. The decision became impossible.

Luckily, I don't have to decide because until they go to a good home - most likely not mine, given the indecision factor - I get to see them every single day I'm at work. I can count on more than my fingers and toes the items I have "lost" at antique stores and art galleries because I haven't acted with my pocketbook when I should have.

I know I'm taking a risk. But that's OK. I can be at peace with that, because I know these pieces of amazing art will end up exactly where they are supposed to be. And then Lori will dream up even more remarkable paintings and bring them in for me to covet, and they will go home with yet more wonderful people who know great art when they see it and aren't afraid to act with their wallets.

Until then, join me in celebrating the arrival of these one-of-a-kind wonders into my world. Maybe you should take one to your house and, when you're ready, you can invite me over to visit it.

July 31, 2008

Christmas Every Day

I have a friend who, in the not too distant past, took a job with a "big box clothing retailer". When I ask her what she loves about the job, she tells me she loves opening the incoming boxes every day because "you never know what's inside", and that is thrilling to her. "Just like Christmas," she says.

That's how I feel every time an artist we represent delivers new work. Opening their delivery bags and boxes always takes my breath away. And it is usually because they have pushed themselves even further in their art and have developed, designed, and conceived something entirely new. Usually a one-of-a-kind - and, in my book, that's even better. I love owning something that is an "only".

Two Saturdays ago, Casey and I met with 5 new local and regional artists whose work we will be introducing into the store in the next few weeks. That means we will experience the thrill of truly new work at STUFF five times in the next few weeks. Make a point of stopping by to check out the new artist work.

It is amazing to work at STUFF. The human mind knows no limits in the dream department, and the hands that build those dreams are honored and treasured within these walls.

July 16, 2008

Grandma's Jewelry Box


Abbye and Andrea caught playing
"grandma's jewelry box".

When I was a little girl, my sisters and I would stay with our grandparents in the summer for a week or two. We would stay for a week with my mother's parents and a week with my father's parents, and each week would be distinctly different - and wonderful.

At one house, we would get to go to the public swimming pool by ourselves, eat watermelon on the cool carport in the evenings, ride our bicycles freely through the neighborhood, and hang out with our summer vacation friends. At the other house, we would cook and bake, work in our grandpa's wood shop (with real tools) and play in our grandmother's jewelry box all afternoon in the breeze of a fan.

We could play with her jewelry for hours. Our Grandma had a very eclectic collection of pieces from every era in her lifetime. She had a love of "pretties" and would let us try on every piece over and over again.

That is what it is like to work at STUFF. We (my sister, I, and the amazing STUFF team) play "grandma's jewelry box" every day. We try pieces on each day with our outfits. We experiment with new combinations. We share ideas about what would look good on each other. We get excited every time new pieces arrive.

You would think the boxes delivered were filled with presents for us instead of for you - the customers - to enjoy and to give as gifts.

Of course, we learn everything about the artists, including the processes and the passions that drive the artists to create the jewelry we offer. But not a day goes by when we don't find time to play with the jewelry. I peek out of my office door and eavesdrop on the voices, whispers, laughter, and friendly ribbing among the staff. It takes me back to my grandmother's bedroom. My sisters and me sitting on the floor at the foot of her bed with the boxes of jewels before us like treasure chests dumped at our feet.

It is this playful time that makes it possible for a staff member to seemingly effortlessly find the perfect piece of jewelry for you to keep or to give. I am not sure we even realize we are working. We can visualize the pieces being worn. We can see them with different outfits, on different people, and in different combinations because - yup, you guessed it - we have been playing "grandma's jewelry box".

Come play with us. I promise it will put a smile on your face. I just wish grandma was here to serve us angel food cake with fresh strawberries for dessert.

July 15, 2008

50 Places . . .

A year in the life of a retail store in a fantastic, older neighborhood includes a sidewalk sale. Every year. In the heat of summer. No matter what.

Sidewalk Sale Days was this past weekend here in Brookside. The four days were exhilarating and full of bargains. But the best part happened on Saturday night right when the store was closing.

We had brought all the sale tables in from the sidewalk and were regrouping our tired and hot bodies for the chores yet to be completed when we heard a tap on the window. There stood a woman we had never seen before and who none of us recognized. Holly opened the door and told her that we were closed and would re-open tomorrow. She then told Holly that she just had to get in because her plane would leave on Sunday before we opened, and that STUFF was "one of the 50 places on her list to visit before she died".

Now, Holly is an excellent bouncer, but that melted all of our hearts and we let her in.

She took in the whole store, chose wisely in the purchase of local art, gave us all numerous pats on the back, and thanked us for staying late and "making her day". Before she left, I asked Holly to capture us on film - a tired store co-owner and a weary traveler. As I was walking her through the store, she told me our customer service was everything she imagined it would be since the moment she saw Casey and me in Country Living magazine - and that she was "delighted". And then she was gone. Back to Connecticut.

Our staff had done it again; they had risen to the challenge of giving one last customer - after a very long and hard day - the best they had. At the best store in America.

July 14, 2008

Coming Down from a Rocky Mountain High

When it's time to journey home from Colorado, if you've been west of Denver, all roads lead downwards. Last Saturday afternoon, we began our descent from Steamboat Springs towards Kansas City. Vacation was over. We had begun the day in 90 degree and sunny weather, and when we stopped it was 55 degrees and raining.

Our stop was for dinner, and it was worth getting wet and cold for - hamburgers and ice cream at the Empire Dairy King in Empire, Colorado. They were perfect.

My younger dining companion chose a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. I don't think I've made enough of these for him at home, or maybe our four years as a vegan household was too much for him, but he kept wondering "what is all this grease?" on his sandwich while he was maniacally shredding paper napkins trying to get it off his hands. When I informed him that it was butter, he started licking the grease directly off his fingers and making happy noises. My older dining companion - my husband - informed me, after his single bite of the grilled cheese in question, that it was "a really good one". Duh.

My husband and I each had a hamburger. We watched the woman make it from our choice vantage point at our table with three chairs. Each table in the joint only has three chairs, and there are only four tables total, because the Empire Dairy King is housed in a trailer. A converted mobile home. But our table had a shot right into the grill, and the woman who put our little pieces of heaven together did an excellent job. The tomato slice was fresh, the lettuce was crunchy, the 1/4 pound of meat was cooked just right, the pickle slices were the semi-garlicky kind I like, and the onion was - well - perfect. The bun was slightly grilled but still soft. Heaven. Perfect heaven.

On the way out, my husband and I each had a small soft serve chocolate cone. It transported me back to my childhood for a brief minute; I could see my grandfather handing me my cone through the car window on a warm night. My ice cream cone had a little swirl on the top, like the kind you see in children's books and that live in your memories.

It's hard to come down from the high that is vacation. But, if you find yourself traveling on 40 highway just north of I-70 in Colorado, stop by the Empire Dairy King. They can help soften your landing.

July 13, 2008

Glazed & Confused

These yard balls are at my house. I love how the phlox and coreopsis have grown around them.

I absolutely - no questions asked - love glazed terra cotta pots. And I absolutely love glazed yard balls. They must be blue; rich, deep, swimming pool blue. They stop me in my tracks every spring at Soil Service when my family and I are out at Mother's Day making our yearly decision on annual plants for the yard at home. My son and husband have learned to walk away while I touch each one and talk in hushed tones to myself as to why I love what I'm looking at and where it would be perfectly placed in my life.

These pots are not at my house.

This desire did not die while I was on vacation last week in Santa Fe. These pots made my heart do a super flutter. They sang to me from their places in the back lot of Jackalope. And I sweetly muttered back.

June 18, 2008

Busted, Two Doors Up

We took off several weeks ago on a walk with our dog. This is something my son does every day, and this occasion found the whole family out together. Not unheard of, but rare, that the three of us walk the dog as a group.

I thought we looked pretty good, after a day at work for two of us and a day at school for one. Just a midtown family, out for an early evening stroll with their dog. But, two doors up, we were busted by a friend throwing a baseball with his son in the front yard. I'm guessing the black T-shirts, the clean blue jeans, the flip-flops, the groomed dog, and the man with us - lugging a camera bag and holding a huge camera - gave us away. I believe our neighbor's quote was, "Just documenting a day in the life of a dog?"

Exactly.

Our dog is now pushing 16 years old, but you wouldn't know it from the spring in his step and his bright eyes. You would, however, know it from his almost complete deafness. He is my good friend and my dearest daily companion. He has seen it all - from very unique perspectives - and has said nothing. That is a true friend.

It was time to capture the magic of our family with him. And our friend Philip did just that. See for yourself.

We spent two hours with Philip, walking near our home. The time flew by, and the best part was the hour we spent with our dog off-leash in public places.

Our dog knew what we were up to and never ran off. He also decided to play up the deaf factor, and chose not do too much that Philip asked of him directly.

Philip co-owns Kdog in Kansas City with two other fantastic photographers. Give them a call and book time for the magic in your life. It's hidden right there in the activities you do every day. They'll find it for you, capture it, and hand it back.

That's what magicians do.

June 10, 2008

Burnt Toast and a Tie

We don't know about you, but shopping for our father is always a challenge. He has great taste and wants for very little. We believe we have never bought him a tie.

We did take him to the zoo a handful of years ago, where we all melted in the heat. Truly. We all combusted individually. We were unable to hug our dad when we got back to our cars, because we all were wrung out and unable to lift our arms in embrace.

He does seem to enjoy gifts that show that we have taken some time to think about him. For many years, we have had a tradition of taking him to dinner - just the three of us. It is more than wonderful to spend an evening with our dad all to ourselves. He believes it is all for him, but truthfully it is a bit selfish - no grandkids, no spouses, just the two of us and our dad. We all miss our sister, who was lost to this earth and us 10 years ago, but these meals still feel a bit like Father's Day morning years ago, when we three used to arrive at his bedside with burnt toast and over-cooked, cold eggs - always spilling orange juice on his sheets.

Over the years, we have found some great gifts hidden in our own store. We know he loves his Cathy Broski sculpture - his Broski boat has three birds that represent his three children. His vase by Beth Mueller has an "XOXO" design.

The baseball cap is this year's perfect gift, but he blew the surprise last week when he dropped by stuff unexpectedly and found one hanging there. We just laughed, went into our office, got the one we were holding for him, and said "Happy Father's Day".

This year's gift is done, but we still have our yummy dinner to look forward too. We would love to help you find a gift for your Dad, too. Have a great Father's Day weekend. And our advice is this: skip the tie, avoid the zoo, and try not to burn the toast.

June 2, 2008

Yum Yum Dim Sum

Okay...I know you all loved the burger blog my sister wrote a while back. I know you can taste the juicy beast, and you are groaning for more. But my "ultimate food fantasies" are meals like sushi, Vietnamese noodles, calamari (lighted breaded and drizzled with garlic olive oil), and DIM SUM!

Yes, traditional Chinese dim sum - cart after cart of amazing little plates, each with a unique taste. I can feast on dim sum. My family knows this because I constantly talk about it. On my 40th birthday, which was the Sunday of the Brookside Art Fair, they conspired to make my day special by bringing take-out dim sum to the store for my lunch.

Of course, it wasn't quite that simple.


My daughter reading a book she received from Ryoko just after she was born

Ryoko, who many of you know and love as much as we do, had planned to slip out of work and take the Max bus to Bo Ling's on the Plaza to pick up the feast. But she was held up by a well-meaning customer on the street and missed the bus. That didn't stop her.

I should probably stop and tell you that Ryoko has been a member of our family since I was two. She changed my diapers, taught me to use chopsticks, read to me, and sang to me. She is now an important part of my daughter's life and, yes, changed her diapers too. And, since we are on the subject, she helped raise Sloane, our little sister Lindsay, and my nephew. She helps run the store and is the most over-qualified small business bookkeeper in America.

Anyway, back to the food: So Ryoko missed the bus.

She then walked - yes WALKED - to the Plaza from Brookside to make sure I would have my favorite food on my 40th birthday. When she returned (by bus this time) she placed the feast (not an understatement) in our kitchen downstairs.

I was working with a customer, and when I was done Sloane asked me to go downstairs and get her something. That is when I discovered the surprise dim sum feast. Yeah, aaaaaawesome!

I feasted! And then through the afternoon I would sneak downstairs and fill yet another plate with these tasty little treats and feast, again and again. There was so much food that I was able to share (a little - I am pretty greedy with my dim sum) and I still had a take home sack.

I am thrilled to report that today my daughter and I had take-out dim sum again and, although the feast was much smaller, it still "hit the spot" and brought back my wonderful birthday memories.

Yum yum....

May 30, 2008

Voracious Readers

I come from a family of voracious readers. I read a lot too...but I read slower than the rest of my family. I always worried that I was missing something - the gene that makes someone a fast reader. But over the years I realized that I suffer from the need to not miss anything (this isn't limited to just reading, by the way).

I am a "re-reader". I am so fascinated by the way people write that I re-read the lines I find interesting. I am not willing to leave a paragraph, illustration or photograph before I absorb it completely. I try to find hidden meaning. I admire a writer's talent to paint a picture. I get lost in the visual fabric of writing and publishing. I also often find my mind wandering around in my own thoughts and ideas.

To read the dozens of publications my sister and I read in order to stay in touch with the arts and design world, I have had to develop my own approach so I won't get bogged down in the amount of reading I have before me.

I figured out that if I let the publications pile up, it actually helps me streamline my reading. What happens is I am able to increase my reading speed, because I can ignore the repetition. I can eliminate the trendy and start to identify the styles with more depth and longevity.

This recent holiday weekend, I brought home 40 plus publications to read and review. I pull out articles & pictures and circle quotes while I read. I end up with this pile of clippings on my desk to keep or research later.


Desk


Table


Bedside


Drawer

This is the same way I tackle our store. First, I worry I will miss something. Then, I get re-energized by the individual items. Finally, I find perspective (usually after a kick in the butt by Sloane). I am always searching for the story the pieces can tell collectively, so I just keep experimenting. It is a daily challenge to bring forward the many artists, ideas and products that we find. I am thankful to have my sister and an amazing team to work with. Some days are more difficult than others.

Yet, some days it just seems to fall into place. I hope today is one of those days.

May 26, 2008

Super Summer Sunday

Just a few days ago, as I was reading one of the many magazines that come to my home every month, I saw this ad for Dodge and laughed out loud.


Part of the Dodge ad that got me thinkin'

As I was laughing, I was transported back to summers almost 10 years ago and the times I spent with my best friend Cathy in my minivan.

For 13 years, I was the director of a summer festival of sorts on the grounds of the Ford Motor Company's Claycomo Plant right here in Kansas City. It was called "Super Summer Sunday" - a non-original name that stuck. For probably 7 of those years, I co-directed it with my best friend, Cathy. Super Summer Sunday was always hellaciously hot because it was always the last Sunday in July or the first Sunday in August. It was always held in the parking lot of the assembly plant. It was always a lot of work, and it was always wonderful when it was over.

The event was part company picnic, part education fair, part community service outreach. It was co-sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and the United Auto Workers, and we always tried to have the final decisions and tiny details decided before they went into contract negotiations every other July.

Now, why this ad reminded me of this event was this: during those months (May to August), we lived in my minivan - driving to meetings at the plant, having meetings in the car out in the lot of the plant, or driving to meetings at locations around the huge plant grounds. And my dear friend Cathy had a way of making the van seem fully equipped with a conference room, snack bar, mail house, art department, warehouse, and supply closet. Miraculously, the van was never trashed, because we are neat freaks to beat all.

I have fabulous memories of those summers and truly believe those yearly experiences have carried though into the work we both do today: her as a pastor at Country Club Christian Church, and me at STUFF.


My best friend in the whole wide world

Word to the wise: keep your car clean - you never know where you're headed.

May 24, 2008

The Party's Just Getting Started

Thursday was the end of 5th grade for my son. As we have since Kindergarten, my husband and I met him in the carpool line with "champagne", and we toasted another great year.


The new sixth grader

But in my heart, silently, I was celebrating the fact that summer was here.

Finally.

It was a long time coming to our neck of the woods. My personal celebration will last for at least three months and will be spent, as much as is possible and appropriate, in a swim suit.

The silly fact that summer doesn't officially start until mid to late June is unimportant in our house. The end of school means the beginning of the pool, which means the beginning of summer. It's that simple, and the solstice has little to do with it in our eyes.

So grab a bottle of bubbly and join us in celebrating all that is good - even if 5th grade for you was a long time ago.

Happy Summer!

May 22, 2008

Greg's Perfect Gift

I love my job! I work every day surrounded by art, creativity and wonderful people. STUFF is a happy place. When I meet someone new when I am out-and-about and they ask what I do for a living, I answer - I sell wonderful stuff to wonderful people.

Over the years, I have helped thousands of people find the perfect gift. And it never seems repetitive or impersonal. Actually, it is still magical. In the end, the "stuff" isn't as important as all the people that are involved in bringing a smile to someone's face.

I recently helped a customer get a companion necklace to a pair of earrings his wife loves from our store. After talking for a while, I suggested that he take a picture of the earrings and send it to me, so I could make sure the new piece would coordinate.

A few days later, my e-mail beeped and I opened an e-mail with a picture attached. What I expected was a photograph of earrings lying on a dresser or table. Instead I was greeted with a playful smile filled with trust, happiness and love. I was looking at a photograph taken by a husband of his much-loved wife. And she believed that the photograph was for him.

I enjoy this photo so much. It brings a smile to my face when I look at it, knowing that I was asked to be a part of a secret gift, and being asked to share in their lives for a brief moment makes me happy too.

That is the magic of STUFF: we get to share in people's lives every day.

PS...She loved the necklace. I know because Greg told me the next time he was in the store.

May 15, 2008

8:53

My son ran the inaugural Main Street Mile this past Saturday here in Kansas City.

It was a cloudy, cold morning, and he left early from home with his "friend Gary". That's how he says it: "My friend Gary and I are running on Saturday" or "My friend Gary and I ran the Main Street Mile". What's amazing to those to whom he tells these things is when they figure out that his "friend Gary" is 60+ years old, trains every day for marathons and sanctioned runs, and, along with his wife, has been a close friend and neighbor - we share a driveway!! - for 10+ years.


running


running away


My son and his friend Gary

Now, this was my son's first race, and he doesn't train for marathons, but he was truly excited and ready to run. So excited, and so cold before the start, that he and Gary skipped running in the heat they had chosen - the Fun Run - and ran in the "39 and Under" bracket after averaging their ages!!

Gary is a good man. As my son would say, a friend. And this friend, on this day, saw to it that my son started the race, ran a good race, and learned a little bit more about himself during the race.

And when they came flying - he's an only child; it seemed like flying - over the crest of the hill at Westport Road and Main Street, I nearly cried. You see, he was doing what he's been doing since the day he was born . . . moving toward his dreams and away from me. But this time, like so many times in the past, he caught my eye and smiled. And, he kept right on truckin'.

As always, my son's cheer team included not only his parents, but an extended family that included his aunt Casey and her daughter, my mother and her friend Lori, my son's virtual grandmother Ryoko, and Gary's wife Janie (also my son's good "friend").

They finished the race side-by-side at 8:53. When they joined their "Cheer Team" back half a block at 40th and Main, he ran straight to me. Then, as he "worked" the whole group with his breathless hugs and thank yous, I stood there and clearly saw the baby who finally made it across the carpet on all fours to get the stuffed bunny and who looked back at me in triumph. I saw the toddler who finally made it to the end of the sofa on two wobbly feet while grasping the cushions with two hands, and who had looked back at me in sheer amazement and fear. And I saw the child who still runs from the car every day into the wonder of his school hollering "love you too" over his shoulder.


part of the cheer team and their reasons for cheering.

I've never run a mile on Main Street in under 9 minutes. I probably never will.

But I am 11 years into the greatest marathon I will ever run.

May 8, 2008

Thinking Person's Laugh

I can laugh easily. But there is nothing I like better than something that is funny, but has a twist that makes it just not quite right. Case in point:

Two years ago, we had to have a drain pipe replaced in our kitchen here at STUFF. Our kitchen is really cool, because Casey and I designed it to conceal lots of storage and to be sleek enough for the catering we bring in over the course of the year. However, it is on the "lower level", has no windows, and has the main drain pipe running along one wall in plain view. So, when the plumber was done installing the 300 lb. cast iron replacement, we had it painted deep black and had our artist friend Jane Hosey-Stern come and paint a quote on it in her magical style.

Now, due to our building being about 100 years old, we have two drain pipes on the wall in question, and the quote I finally chose made me fall out laughing - and Casey did too. Jane, however, was late to the laughing that night, but when it finally hit her, we three had tears running down our faces.

The quote: "It is quite a three pipe problem." by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I think it perfectly suits our complicated lives. There may only be two pipes on the wall, but the problem is greater than that.


handling a three pipe problem with two pipes.

May 1, 2008

Take Really Good Notes

My grandfather, my Dad's Dad, kept a daily diary. It really was more of a ledger and was kept in a ledger book. It was amazing, because he limited himself to only one line for each day. If memory serves, each month was on a single, long page. He dated the covers of the books, and I can vividly remember reading some of them and absolutely loving it when I came across days when I - or my sisters - were included.

My grandfather was a farmer in Mid-Missouri. His daily diary was not the most exciting reading because he tracked things like when he planted a certain crop, the price of fuel, the weather conditions, when they turned the air conditioning on - and occasionally he included social activities like visits from us, birthdays, etc. I loved when he would go and reference it for data. I had to have been 11 or 12 when he asked me to "run down" and check his ledger - he told me to look in a particular month for a certain thing. And I can remember him being dead-on and me being stunned that he could remember such things.

Now I keep a travel diary, and I've been pretty religious about it since 1996. Each book has been different in style - where my grandfather's were all exactly the same - but I now officially know I want one I can keep closed with a big, colorful rubber band. You see, I cram it full of important things to remember AND bits of keepsakes from the road. The books are usually bulging when I am done with them, and a little elastic help is welcome.

I am about to fill the diary I purchased a few years ago in Grand Lake, Colorado. So, just today, I picked up a new victim at STUFF. It's a 100% recycled book, plus it utilizes no new trees, it is acid-free and chlorine-free, and it uses only vegetable-based glues and ink. It's called an "ecojot", and I love them all. We've carried these sweet suckers since last fall, and I have been using one as a daily workbook (I'm a list person!!) and it's been perfect.


some of stuff's current assortment of eco-jots.

Part of the fun for me in keeping a travel diary is slowly decorating the outside. My son and I scour gift shops and checkout counters for great stickers. National park shops are great for this, and God knows they need our money!! We even cut up funky weird stickers to make cooler stylish ones.

All the diaries since 1996, and a peek into the one I'm finishing up.

What's been amazing to me is that I've gone back - just like my grandfather - and referenced places I've been for return trips or for others' adventures. I'm probably not keeping all the really good data like my grandfather kept, but I am keeping track of events that are beyond my everyday life and routines. It also reminds me that I've been so many places my grandfather and grandmother never saw, and for that I am able to count my blessings.

A new diary brings on the chance for me to change what I track. Maybe I will start keeping track of airline ticket prices, fuel costs, miles put on the odometer, etc.

Or maybe I won't. Who needs reality in a travel diary that's dedicated to escapism?

Apr. 20, 2008

Off Island Burgers

Today was a great day, even though I had to leave Florida and the beach. It was great because my husband and I really just had light snacks until 3pm when we hit The Shake Pit on our way to the airport.

My father and I share a deep love for hamburgers that are really good. We don't have a rating scale, and we don't even talk much about a ranking system. He said to me several years ago, "The best burger on the island is Skinny's, and the best burger off island is The Shake Pit." Since then, I have tried both and not been let down at either. (The island is Anna Maria Island.)

Skinny's was out of the question when we left the island because the line was out the door. I wanted to stop but knew that the wait would be long, and I've been there several times, so I knew that they hand-form each burger when you order it. Waiting is usually no problem because the beer is always very, very cold. But I do hate to miss a plane.

Today, however, was hamburger bliss at The Shake Pit. My husband and I each had a cheeseburger - his with mustard, mine without - and, instead of crinkle-cut fries, we shared a hot dog. Before I continue with the hamburger monologue, I must say that this hot dog - on a scale of 1 to 10 - was a rock solid 9. The bun was slightly grilled but still soft, and the dog was grilled, too. Absolute heaven with just mustard and relish. (Next time we are gonna have it with those two condiments but add ketchup and diced onions and see how it sits.)

The Shake Pit is an "eat outdoors" place, although they to do offer maybe 10 counter seats inside. I went in today to score a business card and got to see our burgers being made on the open griddle. Just when it was about done, they laid the American Cheese on, and my dream lunch was complete. When it started to bubble a bit, they lifted that little bit of fried paradise and laid it on the soft bun - no grilling on that sucker - with the fresh tomato, onion, lettuce, ketchup and mayo.

The cokes were cold, the burger and dogs were hot, and the ice cream chasers were soft serve chocolate ice cream sundaes with marshmallow cream, whipped cream and nuts - no cherry on mine!

Don't miss The Shake Pit if you find yourself on Manatee Boulevard in Bradenton, Florida. It just may truly be the best burger "off island". But "off island" is a pretty big place.

Apr. 16, 2008

Brave Honesty

I believe that people often equate bravery with physical sacrifice - men charging into battle and the like. But I have been thinking a lot about my Grandma Ginny's life, death and funeral that took place a handful of weeks ago.

My life has been filled with success and failure, celebration and tragedy, comfort and pain. (My ex-husband always said my family was like the Kennedys' without the fame or fortune.) I have witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, courage, intellect, creativity, and sadly extreme acts of selfishness, mean spirit, and vindictiveness throughout my life.

It is bravery, however, that I find myself thinking about these days.

My Grandmother's last days were spent in a hospital. She had very little privacy, she was constantly examined, and she was given one bad piece of news after another until she was told her condition was fatal.

And, during the experience, she kept her sense of humor, her mind was clear, and she was selfless. She asked about our lives in detail every day. She laughed, smiled and told jokes - which was the Grandma I grew up knowing. She was authentic in her character until she took her last breath. And even though that is brave in itself, it was her honesty that made me realize how truly brave you must be to reveal the truth.

She did not waste her final days re-writing history. She spoke about the good and the bad with equal frankness. She loved people very, very deeply. She also saw them with a clear mind's eye. She talked about her disappointments and her triumphs with the same attention to being honest.

It was a remarkable experience to be holding her hand when she died. My father, my sister, my stepmother, and I stood around her and held onto to her while she passed. There was no pain in the room, only peace.

My sister, Sloane, spoke at her funeral, and as she spoke I closed my eyes briefly and could hear the same frank honesty, the same accurate and articulate telling of my Grandmother's life that I had come to expect from my grandmother. She bravely told an honest story about an honest woman that hid nothing and revealed everything. And, once again, there was only peace left when the story came to an end.

Maybe the truth will set us all free?

Apr. 16, 2008

With the Right Pair of Shoes...

My husband was vegan (plus fish!) for 4-1/2 years, but he never had as much fun as I've had in these vegan shoes.

Yes, they're vegan, made-in-the-USA, massaging, anti-microbial, waterproof, top-rack-machine-washable, and recyclable*. And you can change out the spiffy ribbons.


Enjoying the exit row.


Going through security in KC.


Waiting for our luggage in Florida.

If you thought that T-shirt from a few days ago made me happy and pushed all my "feel good" buttons, try to come between me and brightly-colored shoes in my size. (Not easy to find, as I'm a 12.)


Admiring the floor art at KCI airport.


Picking up Hertz car #662.


KCI is full of art!

Yes, they're available at STUFF in five or six color combinations and many sizes. But don't be surprised if we're sold out of my size.

*When you have worn them to shreds, bring 'em back to STUFF and we'll send 'em to the manufacturer in Georgia, where they'll be shredded further and made into new shoes!

Apr. 10, 2008

It Doesn't Get Any Better

This is the perfect T-shirt. Here's why: It is made from 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled plastic bottles (RPET). It is made entirely in the USA. It comes in two great colors. The company that supports these great ideas is a Kansas City company, Jones & Mitchell Sportswear. Their sales person that helped us make this tee "ours" is Brian Partlow, a friend I've known for 10 years through our love of AIDS Walk Kansas City. And my sister and I personalized this shirt for the neighborhood we love, Brookside.

Life is all about partnerships, friendships, and jointly held beliefs. It doesn't get any better than this T-shirt.

Apr. 8, 2008

Story Box

I came to STUFF this Sunday morning to do a bit of work and get the store "rolling" for the day. It took me longer than I had planned because, truthfully, I was caught in a moment alone with all the art that I am blessed to work near every day.

You see, STUFF is open 358 days a year, and to make that possible we work before and after hours too. So it isn't often that I get the whole place to myself...alone, quiet and with a few extra minutes to stop and breathe in the beauty of it all.

This morning I was drawn to Ninette Maumus's work in particular. We have proudly represented her work for years. She creates these captivating three dimensional shadow box assemblage pieces. And I believe I was struck by her work today because of a project I recently completed at my daughter's school. Creating symbolic assemblage and working with three year olds gave me a refreshed perspective on the stories held in these special pieces.

There I was, slowly moving from piece to piece, trying to translate the story being told by the objects and images that were meticulously chosen and assembled by Ninette.

What I realized is that, even though these boxes seem to be portraying a past story, it is our own story that is privately revealed to us by viewing them. Each of us projecting our own history into this storytelling, often inexplicably drawn to the piece that resonates with us personally, and comfortably expanding them into full-blown stories with dialog, emotion and thoughts.

In the end, my private moment was interrupted. But, just like these boxes protect a story from dissipating, my connection with them won't fade either.

Apr. 6, 2008

It's a Family Affair

I adore my family. Not just the ones that birthed me, raised me, or married me. Not just the ones that allow me to continue to be the "older sister" or the "Mom". Those people are an intricate part of my greater family - the family of people I've surrounded myself with and love deeply.

This past Friday night was one of my favorite Friday nights every year: The Mosaic Project. It is the culmination of a year of planning with my fellow committee members, Catherine and Greg and Terry and Harl. It is the bringing together of volunteers that work this event every year and enjoy seeing each other. It is the night where we all get to catch our breath - from lifting heavy boxes and hanging banners - and stare at the wonder of 1,000 pieces of art. And for me, it is having most of my favorite people in one place at one time.

The Mosaic Project was 10 years old this year. Here's the exact definition of the event from the back of one of the this year's tiles:


My niece with her favorite tile at that moment.

Over the past ten years, nearly 10,000 glazed ceramic tiles have been created for a unique Kansas City AIDS awareness project called Mosaic. Area high schools, youth groups and artists have donated time and talent to produce a yearly exhibit called "A World Without AIDS". The participants developed their own concepts, which were interpreted using glaze on 6" x 6" ceramic tiles. All supplies for the project are provided by the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City or donated by local businesses.

Thousands of people have seen the exhibit. The exhibit installation has been held for many years in the Art Lobby of the Chair Building during "First Friday" gallery openings in the Crossroads Art District, south of Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The installations are impressive and thought-provoking, and Mosaic has become an integral part of the pre-event awareness for Kansas City's largest AIDS services fundraising effort, AIDS Walk Kansas City.

Schools or youth groups who are interested in participating in this important project can contact Greg Hugeback at (816) 531-4606 to join the local AIDS fight and to help raise awareness among our youth, one of the groups with the fastest rising HIV infection rates.

All funds raised by Mosaic directly benefit AIDS Walk Kansas City.


Me, with my friends Greg and Catherine, setting up the show.

But it's more than that to me. This project had become a part of my life.

My son painted a tile for the first time this year and was a volunteer at two of the events leading up to Friday night.

My husband joined the committee several years ago so that our data on each of the artists was uniform.

My sister and I - and our store STUFF - are corporate sponsors of the event, and we continue that spirit all year by displaying the tiles in the store and selling them year-round.

My best friend has worked on this event since we joined the committee together 9 years ago.

And this year my niece attended the event, as she has every year since joining us on the planet - but this year she was able to walk around on her own, turn to strangers looking at tiles near her, and ask them "Which one is your favorite?" and "Are you going to buy that one?". (She's charming and amazing.)


My mom, my niece, and my sister.


A few of this year's tiles.


My friends Gary, Janie, Jane & Chip.

AIDS is a part of the world I live in, and my family has joined me in fighting something so much larger than all of us put together. Tell me I'm not lucky.

PS. AIDS Walk is Saturday, April 26th.
Check out details about STUFF's team at http://www.firstgiving.com/stuffteam.

Mar. 30, 2008

Happiness

I am at my happiest in a swimsuit. The perfect day, for me, is to go from PJs in the morning to a swimsuit to PJs in the night.

I love to swim. I may very well be some kind of a water goddess/princess/shaman - my palms actually itch when I see large bodies of water: pools, rivers, oceans, lakes. And my palms itch for the pool paintings that Lori Buntin creates. She too may be a water junkie. I don't know.


"Pool No. 1 (Refraction)" by Lori Buntin.


"Pool No. 2 - After Hours" by Lori Buntin

I love the water for many reasons. However, when I was swimming last week it reminded me of my favorite quote. "stress can't swim".

So true.

PS. The paintings are available at STUFF. I suffer every day looking at them while fully clothed.

Mar. 22, 2008

Breathless

Two weeks ago, my last grandmother died. But it was the week before that - the seven long days preceding that day - that had me experiencing all of life at a breathless pace....

On Monday, I took my grandmother for her quarterly foot doctor visit. It was a sunny day, but very windy and cold. We had intended to have two stops that day, but the trip to the doctor was enough outdoor activity for her. So, instead of a snack at a table with any type of service, she wanted me to serve Brach's peanut clusters and a "good fountain Coke" in the front  seat of my car. Easy. And I probably outdid myself when I parked us in front of a construction site. Hey, it was activity, and it gave us much to talk about.

On Tuesday afternoon, my grandmother had "an episode" at lunch. It was different than, say, the kind that Casey or I would have at lunch - because those we can usually talk each other down from. Grandma's episode got me a call from my Dad - who was in Florida - and had me finding my grandmother in the maze of an emergency room an hour later making a doctor laugh. It crossed my mind quickly that it really was an episode like Casey and I have and that he had "talked her down".

But it wasn't, as Wednesday proved.

My son's math club meets every other Wednesday at 7:15 am. That Wednesday, we were at Lamar's, the home of the best doughnuts in the world, at 7 am to pick up our four dozen for the group. At 7:45, I was at the hospital visiting Grandma, who, I was told by the nurses, "had a great night" and would "probably go home today" with her doctor's approval. I was happy for her. In hindsight, I wish I had brought her a doughnut. Her last real food was the next meal - sausage, egg, hash browns, OJ - all prepared at the hospital. She loved it and told me so. My grandmother truly loved food. I can't imagine what she would have said if I'd sneaked just one doughnut out of the box....

Forty minutes later, she began a series of strokes that most likely had begun the day before - although that one had not appeared on her CT scan - and that she would continue for the next 24+ hours.

Strokes are weird. The next three days were a roller coaster for her, gaining some ground and then losing it. She talked, she laughed, she made others laugh, she stood up with help, and she recognized every member of our family. My family and I were on a different ride - the Tilt-A-Whirl - our brains spinning with all the knowledge her fabulous doctor and the nurses were giving us and, finally, as the ride was slowing down, whirling with the knowledge that she was leaving us.

Thursday found Casey and me at the hospital very early and at STUFF very late. It was an awesome night at STUFF - eleven local jewelry artists all at the store with all their new hand crafted collections for 3 hours. The name of the event is EXTRAVAGANZA because that's exactly what it is.

My energy level was refilled by the people who joined us that night. I breathed deeply and soaked it all in.

Months before this amazing week, Casey and I and STUFF had been chosen as a Top 25 Under 25 Kansas City small business. A fantastic honor. An incredible experience. And the week we were now in was the culmination of all the special events that are a part of the honoring process - radio interviews, the gala, etc.

By Friday morning, Casey and I pretty much just wanted to be at the hospital. My grandmother's journey was one we didn't want to just hear about - we wanted to be her bell captain and porter and help her with all her luggage. On our first visit to the hospital, she surprised us when she asked Casey how the party had been; the woman missed nothing!!

We did a little bit of it all that day. We got our kids where they needed to be, we were guests on a live radio program for half an hour with the publisher of Kansas City Small Business Monthly, we dealt with pressing issues at STUFF, we worked the floor of the store, we went to the hospital four times, we realized we had to deal with a few small personal issues regarding clothing for Saturday night's gala, and I went to bed feeling like the times we went to the hospital were too few.

Saturday found each of us at the hospital and then with our families all day, and, in the evening, we were seated at the Marriott downtown with family, mentors and artists that STUFF represents at the rockin'est table: Number 56!! 800 people came to celebrate the "Class of 2008" in all their Top 25 glory. When Casey and I made our walk across the stage, I realized I was holding my breath in wonderment at the 11 years of business that had gotten us there.

It was a wonderful night, and it was extremely special. The view from my end of the table was breathtaking.

And Monday, early, my grandmother's breath was taken away, and she handed it to the four of us at her bedside. But I knew right then that it was the wind power that had seen our little ship through the week.

Feb. 14, 2008

Top 25 Things I Love at stuff

  • My sister Casey - she's the best.

  • Magnutz - they're awesome magnets; we've sold them for 10 years.

  • Locally Made Jewelry - how can you not love a one-of-a-kind?

  • Zippernut Cards - they always hit so close to home.

  • Laughter - it's all around us here.

  • Tuscan Currant candles by Nouvelle - hand poured in Louisiana everyday.

  • Cotton Rugs by Dash & Albert - they always make me want to buy them.

  • Our intense recycling commitment - it has me driving packing foam and CFL light bulbs down 63rd Street!!

  • Our new blue sticker - great color.

  • The fact that my dog comes to work with me 2 days a week.

  • Art classes kids can take - offered all year long.

  • My son "working" with me. Translation: a bit of work from him, and then my money spent at Topsy's!!

  • Julie Ann's shortbread cookies - the best cookie in this world.

  • MOSAIC tiles in the store year round!!

  • Piel Leather bags.

  • The "Gnome Bearers" by Fred Conlon.

  • Serving trays & such by Decorative Things. Handmade in New York City. Wacky!!

  • ANY clip earrings that come in!! (Little known fact: I can only wear clip earrings.)

  • Our funky "reader" glasses - because I occasionally need to wear them in the late afternoon.

  • My desk & office space.

  • Lavender lotion by Pre de Provence.

  • The Brookside Sweatshirt - my sister designed it, and we donate a portion of each sale to the local park.

  • Having my niece yell, "LaLa, I'm here!!" as she crosses the threshold.

  • The music we play - it always gets me in trouble.

  • Our customers. Truly, they're the best.

What are your Top 25?

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Feb. 13, 2008

749, Unbelievable!

We finally met him last night at sit down dinner in a bank lobby downtown. And, of course, we told him how honored we were to meet him. And we were. You see, he rocked our world.

His name is Tom Doty and he works at a small business in town called Warehouse 1. And, until last November, I can honestly say we had never heard of him. His business, yes. Him personally, no. The phone rang in early November, and a man on the other end asked if it would be OK if "Tom Doty from Warehouse 1" nominated us for the Top 25 award. It seems as though he had had a wonderful experience in our store and liked what we were up to. We said, "That would be fine," not knowing what the Top 25 award was, but figuring it couldn't be all bad. And, it being November, we went back to dealing with the holiday season at STUFF and thought nothing of it until "the packet" came in the mail yet that month.


The amazing graphic design work of Casey Simmons.

"The packet" was from the Kansas City Small Business Monthly magazine telling us we had been nominated to receive the "Top 25 Under 25" award, which is given every year to the top 25 small businesses in Kansas City with less than 25 employees. We read on through the packet and saw outlined before us the items we needed to pull together to submit to the judges, one of the items being financial statements. We hemmed, we hawed, we procrastinated. And not because we weren't honored to have been nominated - that's always been the part of the process that humbles us - but because it was November and our plates, as retailers, were full.

Then we came to our senses and called off the pity party. I was assigned the task of pulling all the pieces together and preparing the 7 packets for the panel of judges. One item was a letter of recommendation, and I turned to my friend Steve Metzler and asked if he would write it. Steve and I have yet to say "No" to each other, and he didn't let me down. His letter brought tears to my eyes, as often happens when you are looking at yourself through other's eyes.


The amazing photography work of David Riffel.

Another item requested was a photograph of Casey and me to be used throughout the nomination and award process. We immediately knew that the photo my husband had taken of us in my backyard over two years before wouldn't cut the mustard. So I called on another friend, David Riffel, one of Kansas City's finest photography gurus - and he didn't laugh out loud when I told him what we needed and when. Within two days of my call, Casey and I were standing on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum on a crisp - and gorgeous - late fall day, having our portrait made. The entire session with him took 14 minutes, and I'm pretty sure he got the shot he wanted in the first 3 minutes!!

Last night at dinner, we learned that 749 small businesses were nominated this year. I did a little math in my head - that's all the math I can really do - and realized we made it into the top 4%. It blew me away. But small business had gotten us there. The individual artists we represent every day, the small businesses around the nation we seek out and support for their hand crafted goods, and - of course - Warehouse 1, Metzler Brothers Insurance, and David Riffel Photography.

Thank you, Tom Doty, for calling us so many months ago. You rock.

Feb. 11, 2008

A 3rd Birthday Party...
Twenty Years in the Making

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter turned three. I took the day off from the store and spent the day with her. We started our day snuggling in bed and reading books. We then joined my nephew at school for lunch, where she was able to eat in the "big kids" lunchroom. We came to Brookside, and her LaLa (Sloane) took her up the street to the ice cream shop for a treat. And then, after our afternoon naps (yes, I joined in), we headed off to meet our family for dinner.

It was a special night, and it wasn't just because we were with our family to celebrate a third birthday. It was special because we attended the AIDS Walk Kick-Off Party at Bar Natasha. All the other parents reading this are smiling right now because you are thinking, "Way to fool the kid into believing an all-adult event in a bar for a local charity is good way to spend your third birthday." And, when I arrived I did suffer a bit of mother guilt; but by the time we left, I realized that I couldn't have planned a better celebration.

She sat on my lap watching and listening to inspirational speeches, videos and singing. She was curious and asked me a constant flow of questions. She loved the music and was a good sport when she sat on my lap watching and listening to inspirational speeches, videos and singing. She was curious and asked me a constant flow of questions. She loved the music and was a good sport when she won a beer coozie and baseball cap when her winning raffle ticket number was called.

I listened to the stories being shared. I looked at my mother and sister and took a walk down memory lane. I remembered all the door-to-door canvassing, envelope stuffing, phone banking, and campaign work we did as children. You see, I come from a long line of strong, opinionated, articulate, justice-seeking women. It is one of my life's greatest gifts. gifts that last a lifetime.

This year, AIDS Walk Kansas City is celebrating 20 years of offering a life of dignity to the people in our community living with this disease and joining them in their wish for a cure for HIV/AIDS. The men and women in the room that night have not wavered, and their commitments have only grown stronger over the last 20 years. Their selfless and tireless belief in a world with social justice is remarkable.

We did go on to have a "real third birthday party" the following weekend, but my daughter often talks about that night. She walks around the house with the beer coozie over her milk cup, wearing an AIDS Walk baseball cap, and she stops occasionally to asks, "Mama, why does LaLa wear an AIDS ribbon all the time?" I respond, "Because she helps to remind us that people need our help, baby girl."

To learn more about AIDS Walk Kansas City click here.

If you would like to join and/or support the STUFF AIDS Walk Team on April 26th, 2008, click here.

Jan. 29, 2008

The Magic of Mom

On Christmas Eve, I noticed my Mom was doing a little needlework; it may have been knitting. Since I was in "selfish grown child" mode and didn't truly stop to notice, it could have been crochet. I know it wasn't needlepoint. You see, she can do all those things. (I myself needlepoint, yet I send buttons to the tailor to be reattached to the item they fell off of.)

Something about her concentration, or possibly the clicking of needles, made me remember that I had some dresses that I wanted to "fix". I didn't like them the way they were, and I wasn't wearing them. Big waste, because they are fabulous, lightweight linen - an anytime fabric in my world. I knew I wanted to make them shorter - but beyond that, I had no idea.

So I asked her to help. I ran up the stairs, and, on the way up, it hit me. Embroidery!! She can do that!! She had embroidered my French espadrilles in high school, and I cried when they "died" - as espadrilles inevitably do. Now here's where the magic of a Mom steps in: I showed her the length I wanted, and I turned her loose. We briefly talked about colors, and I stuffed them in her bag. Out of sight, out of my mind.

Two weeks ago, I was handed the first one, and have worn it 6 times since then. I LOVE it. You see, it has been handsomely embroidered by hand with the coastline of Scotland, a sort of nautical map, and the embroidery loops the base of the dress with shoals, kelp beds, old wrecks, etc.

My Mom is a genius with the atlas, but I know she made half of it up. OK, not "made up" but "embellished" with the magic she holds in her two hands.

PS. If you think I cried over the espadrilles, stand back. Linen doesn't last forever!!

Jan. 21, 2008

Mother Nature Rocks My World

I am in love with nature. I wear a custom made Elle bracelet with a Frank Lloyd Wright quote that reads "I believe in God, only I spell it nature." Mother Nature rocks my world. She is gentle, beautiful, steadfast and powerful. Talk about the perfect woman.

The first time I stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, I was speechless....and if you know me, you know it would take the Grand F**king Canyon to shut me up. But I digress.

I don't "collect" many things. I buy fine art. I seem to acquire bowls, but nothing specific. I love artist-made jewelry, but again it is not a focused collection. I do, however, collect shells and rocks...abundantly. My home is a shrine to the handiwork of the oceans and rivers. In other words, I collect pieces of Mother Nature.

A couple of days ago, STUFF received an order of a small gift book entitled "Heart Stones" by Josie Iselin. It is a lovely little book of photography and inspiration about heart shaped stones.

I grabbed myself a copy, took it home, and sat on the sofa with my daughter to share it with her. She will be three years old very soon; she paged through the book a few times, then walked to one of the many dishes in our home that hold stones and said, "Look, Mama, we have some, too." I just smiled.

She went on to drive me crazy about all the other stones in our home, and even wanted to go out to our deck in freezing temperatures to find the heart stones on our outdoor table. It was a truly magical evening. But that doesn't surprise me.... Mother Nature works in mysterious ways.

Jan. 6, 2008

Shame On You, Bad Man

That's it! I am pissed. If you dare to pick a fight with my sister, you pick a fight with me. I am saying "watch out" to the bad man - the bully - the lowdown dirty scumbag - that just lied through his teeth to save himself a handful of dollars. I mean, really! Is your good karma worth so little? Do you value your pride at such a bargain basement price?

Here's the story. During a recent trip to our neighborhood grocery store, my sister's car was smacked into by a jerk. She was pulling out of an angled parking space, and this guy whipped around her from the opposite direction - crossing the oncoming lane of traffic - and ripped half the rear fender off her new hybrid car trying to squeeze into the spot next to her before she could pull out. He then proceeded to evade calls from his own insurance company for two weeks, then finally denied responsibility for the result of his illegal and dangerous driving maneuvers, sticking my sister with several unreasonable choices: paying for the repair herself; claiming it on her own insurance (we all know how that would affect her in the long run); or getting a lawyer and spending an outrageous amount of time and money suing the loser just to see justice served.

Folks, this is why people go crazy and start freaking out in public. This guy knows he is wrong. He knows he should pay for the $950ish worth of damage - and maybe even say "I'm sorry." But NOOOOOO! Instead, he's trying to use the system to weasel out of his responsibility.

So...I am calling on all karmic gurus, voodoo doll practitioners, séance sisters and the like to call down the thunder. I believe strongly that this bad man should never eat a warm doughnut again. He should be plagued with halitosis, a big shiny balding spot, and ill-fitting pants. I want his fanny to smart from the spanking given him by the karmic powers.

Here is what I know: My sister, Sloane, is honest, true and fair. ALWAYS! She is a moral compass for so many people. She inspires me. She inspires almost everyone who knows her, for that matter. She serves selflessly; she works like a dog; she takes care of her family, her friends, her community, and her world. She would never lie about a car wreck, and she would work three extra jobs to pay her debts. She deserves to be treated with respect.

So, Charles Randolph Williams, Jr. . . . get off your butt and write the check. Because if you don't, you've just sold your soul to devil for a lousy nine hundred bucks.

Jan. 2, 2008

Next Time

I have written before about how there are different kinds of friends in your life (see my October 2nd entry), and I can't neatly put my friend Gina in a labeled box. We see each other rarely outside of STUFF, our children go to different schools, and we live miles apart from each other. We met many years ago when STUFF was in Westport and her children were members of a book club that met at The Reading Reptile, which was even then just a few doors away. She would grace our retail world with her smiling presence every couple of weeks, and we slowly got to know more about her and members of her family as she took her time choosing and purchasing gifts for them.

And then, one day, a year or more ago, we realized we share something very exciting: a love of Scotland. We discovered this because I instantly recognized the handbag she was carrying since it was from a small store I had discovered in Edinburgh. I couldn't keep the excitement out of my voice when I asked her about it because I knew they were not sold anywhere other than two places in Scotland.

OK. Here's how I fell in love: When I turned 40, my father and I traveled alone to Scotland. This was my very generous birthday gift. Since returning - over two years ago - I've been itching to get back, and Gina may be the only person I talk to in Kansas City who understands that desire. I've driven my husband and son crazy with my reminiscences. My dad and I spent 12 days in our own rental car driving around Scotland. We followed a well planned itinerary, seldom staying in one location more than one night. The world slowed way down, and we got to explore, at our own pace, a huge portion of that amazing country. It was bliss for many, many reasons.


My friend Gina with her handbag made from wool tartan, designed in Scotland and woven in the Hebrides.

I've been blessed with a fairly rich traveling life. I've been to China and Malaysia with my husband; I've been to Rome, Italy, with my step mom; I've been to the British West Indies, Mexico, and many US cities, islands and national parks. But I've never been to a place that has left such a lasting impression as Scotland - an impression that begs you to fill it again by visiting.

Gina has shared her family's adventures with me: their time in Edinburgh at the holidays; her son's current desire to attend college there; her remembrances of shops she loves, castles she's visited, and places she hopes to visit "next time".

Because, when we talk, there is never the assumption that there won't be a next time.

read more archived blogs from 2009 or 2007