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
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
My niece and her fried chicken.
Fresh-cut French fries.
Mom's chicken noodle soup.
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.
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
tonight" or "They had
Bryant's at the party
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.
Fresh-cut cottage fries.
Sweets & the cleanup
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
and it has never really been about the
actual stuff. It has always been about the
So...as the year comes to an end...I want to
take a moment to reflect on some of my many
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
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
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.
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
many of the pictures from this weekend on our website.
PPS...All photos courtesy of Kdog.
Nov. 13, 2008
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
Magic happens where you least expect it. Last
year, mine was right inside the front door.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
the black". No economy scares for that
bunch - as long as I can still have my
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
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
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 -
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.
excited to offer this new product at
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!!
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.
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
Last night, I went to one of my favorite places in
Kansas City for possibly the last time.
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
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
Sept. 12, 2008
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
For as long as I can remember, be it with my
Mother or with either Grandmother, I have been going
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
History page. He has changed very
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
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
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
I read a lot of magazines, and I mix it up a bit
- National Geographic, Country Living,
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
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
More jumbo lanterns.
Aug. 19, 2008
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
was time to capture the magic of our family with
him. And our friend Philip did just that. See
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
reading a book she received from Ryoko just after she was born
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
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
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,
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
May 30, 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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+
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
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
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
Two years ago, we had to have a drain pipe
replaced in our kitchen here at
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
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 -
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
Life is all about partnerships, friendships, and
jointly held beliefs. It doesn't get any better
than this T-shirt.
Apr. 8, 2008
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
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
Apr. 6, 2008
It's a Family
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
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
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
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
My sister and I - and our store
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.
friend has worked on this event since we joined
the committee together 9 years ago.
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
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.
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".
PS. The paintings are available at STUFF. I suffer every day looking at them while fully
Mar. 22, 2008
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
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
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
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
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.
"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.
& 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
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
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
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 -
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
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
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.
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
If you would like to join and/or support the
STUFF AIDS Walk Team on April 26th, 2008,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Jan. 2, 2008
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
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
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
Because, when we talk, there is never the
assumption that there won't be a next time.