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blog archive (2009)

read more archived blogs from 2008 or 2007

Dec. 13, 2009

Graceful


My best friend and me during
our senior year in high school.

First things first. I am rather self-assured, and am comfortable in my skin. I like me. And not in a self-centered, narcissistic way. I have been labeled passionate, spirited, a team player, gracious, witty and nice by others. All wonderful traits. Possibly not completely true, but welcomed and treasured as compliments to my person.

If there were one thing I wish I could change about myself, I would be more graceful. But it has never been in me. I have always been a wee bit clumsy and not altogether surefooted. The testaments in my past to my falling and fear of falling haunt me. High heels are my nemesis, and my size 12 feet, while providing stability, can be troublesome. I have steered clear of dancing in all forms, but I loved square dancing in Girl Scouts.

When I was much younger and working in politics, I was placed in the office of the mayor of St. Louis, Vince Schoemehl, who was running for governor of our great state. Like all good political operatives, I believed in all that he stood for, and I still do. (He was big on light rail between the major population centers of our state, among other things.)

My wobbliness came into full view on the morning I arrived at City Hall. I had entered the elevator heading to the 3rd floor when I heard, "Hey. Hold the elevator!" and there stood the Mayor. We spoke freely as the elevator rose. When it stopped, all I could see was the buffing machine on the thick, polished marble floors, and I could feel - all the way up to my throat - my little kitten heels. Stupid footwear choice.

Mayor Schoemehl stood there holding the elevator door waiting for me to exit. He was waiting because I was in a state of shock, since the image that had flashed before my eyes was me laid out in the hallway of that lovely building. He waited a bit longer while I devised the ruse of needing to return to my car for what I had forgotten, which was nothing. He left the elevator with a gracious "Have a good day," and I rode the elevator down to the garage and then right back up.


Finally, saddle shoes.

In high school, my best friend tried out for our Pom-Pom Squad in our sophomore year. Our inner-city school supported a cheerleading squad AND a pom-pom squad. I did not try out for either. I knew better. I was holding out, quietly, for a coveted place on "Honor 9".

You see, SOUTHWEST has nine letters in it, and each of nine young women in their senior year of high school wore a single letter on their chest on all spirit days and to almost every sporting event - football, basketball, track, etc. However, they did no coordinated kicks, jumps or swing dances. The W historically landed on the woman who was just a little bit crazy when it came to spirit. You can imagine my complete apoplexy late in my junior year when I learned that I would be replacing a mentor of mine, Stephanie Donaldson, as the W. I finally got to purchase black & white saddle shoes for the first time in my life. Well, and "blackies", those amazing leotard bottoms that covered your "dainties" under your short skirt. I loved Honor 9 and still do.


Honor 9. Check out that crazy W.

This fall, our son took an "etiquette & dance class" with Kansas City's treasure, Penny Vrooman. I have to admit to being just a wee bit jealous every time he left the car to enter the church basement with all his friends - boys and girls alike. They laughed and talked while walking away from the car and made the same happy tracks back to the car an hour later. The stories were glorious to hear in the driver's seat. And, when the kids I was shuttling would drift to other topics, I would daydream about my lifelong friends and myself in a church basement learning to dance. My son is very lucky; he learned at least seven dance steps - two-step, swing, waltz, foxtrot, etc. He has only offered private lessons to our family friend Ryoko, and only on the nights right after class. I've asked for an application for private classes and been denied. I think he already knows how it would end.


I will never not want these shoes.

That brings us to this holiday season and all the parties to attend. When most women are out honing in on that "perfect pair of heels", I'm in my closet polishing my cowboy boots. Kitten heels died for me when Mayor Schoemehl lost his election, and my desire for the amazing plaid shoes at Halls this fall subsided when I found out 10 was the size cap. Hey, my "party shoes" of choice have got heels: cowboys are cool, and those who rope and ride have a grace I will never know. Besides, I have two pairs of boots that are black, and black goes with everything.

I have fallen. I have stumbled. I have tripped. I have suffered soft tissue damage. However, I have only ever slow danced - in high school and at my wedding - and it is still the peak of my grace.

Dec. 12, 2009

Christmas Santa

I love art children create. They are not limited by judgment or concerned with interpretation. And often they feel free to re-interpret their work as needed. So here is this afternoon's masterpiece, clearly influenced by the current environment of the artist's life: "Christmas Santa", crayon on paper. The image features Santa with his sack, large snow, children and parents.

Happy December.

Nov. 25, 2009

To All We Hold Dear...

This past year has asked us to revisit and tweak every thing we've built our business on: purchasing decisions, business relationships, hiring, training, travel, and, of course, insurance. We have lived vividly in each challenging, exhilarating, brutal and delightful moment. But there is one thing we have not ever been more sure of in a changing world, and that is our deep gratitude to our customers. You are the reason this small business - this small dream - is holding on tightly to all we hold dear.

For that - for you - we are thankful. We humbly ask for your continued support of our local store this holiday season. When you shop locally, the impact is felt instantly. The members of the stuff family (the people we hire, the artists we represent, and all the people at the local businesses with which we do business) live where you live, go to your schools, attend your churches, support your charities, and live with you in your moments.

We are always counting our blessings; some days we do it silently, and some days we sing it from our rooftop. At our family table on Thursday, in that moment of silence so deep only our souls can hear, we will count upon you as that blessing that sees us through this amazing year.

Happy Thanksgiving and all our love.

casey & sloane simmons

sisters & co-owners

Nov. 13, 2009

Our Alley Rocks

The neighborhood that our store sits in - Brookside - has an old-fashioned alley behind our strip of shops. If you thought that STUFF was the only ardent recycler on the block, think again. Proof appeared two days ago on the trash dumpster. And we had nothing to do with it.

A hand-lettered sign appeared, and it made me very happy. Whoever wrote it is right: it's not like the cardboard recycling dumpster is too far away and not worth the walk.

Mother Earth is smiling on the alley behind STUFF. We rock.

Nov. 12, 2009

Adoption Policy

We've told customers for years that we have a strict adoption policy here at STUFF. This is all said in jest. However, I wouldn't put it past Casey and me to deny someone a purchase if we thought they were going to mistreat it in any way.

Two years ago, I know that a woman was very happy and was going to love a painting she was buying for a long time because she was crying when she thanked me. She had been so nervous that the piece would not be here when she had pulled her funds together, and, when she saw it on our wall, she was overcome.

And then we have great customers who send us photos of their purchases in their homes. It makes us delighted to see people using functional art. Each of the jewelry holders by Hoop Dog Studio - and they delivered many - is unique. Every. Single. One. Different.

Since our adoption policy does not insist upon an in-home site visit, the photos are nice to receive.


The jewelry screen photo I recently received.

Nov. 11, 2009

Cleaning It Out

Late last Thursday night, I went to a basement storage room at STUFF. My mission was to retrieve the sole remaining CRT computer monitor we owned. We replaced our CRTs four years ago with more efficient flat panels, and we'd been keeping this one as a backup in case of "flat panel trauma", but that hadn't come to pass. So Casey and I decided to take advantage of the Electronic Waste Recycling event near UMKC on Saturday and get rid of it.

Now, I had spent the preceding days with Casey getting the store ready for our holiday open house. We, along with our staff, had busted butt to make the store look amazing. We had traversed the stairs between our levels at least 100 times each. However, this last trip for me late Thursday night with the world's heaviest Dell monitor almost put me over the edge. That sucker weighed 700 pounds, and I honestly can't remember having ever used it in the store. Unbelievable.

I loaded it in the car and delivered it to two people I know who were volunteering at the event - my husband and our son. I warned them both that it was the most monstrous monitor ever developed and sold by Dell and to be careful lifting it. I mumbled something about stairs, but I'm sure it fell on deaf ears.

My husband Harl is an independent computer consultant, and in his zeal to keep his clients - small businesses, individuals, home businesses and not-for-profits - running efficiently, he had filled a small section of our basement at home with their old electronics. For years, his private mission has been to keep these items out of dumpsters and landfills. Trips to Surplus Exchange had become old hat to him. It had been a while since the last sojourn, so on Saturday morning we loaded my car to the gills and they were off....

And then, on Saturday morning, while those two were off making the world a better place for used electronics and Casey and I opened STUFF's front door a few minutes early for waiting customers, the sweet sound of glass being deposited in the new Ripple Glass container across the street made us apoplectic. We're that kind of gals - recycling makes us excited. Our staff at times has been afraid to throw anything away, and we have more than one recycling bin. All weekend, the tinkling and crashing of glass told us all was going to be well in the world of glass recycling in our home town.

Kansas City is making leaps and bounds in cleaning up its game. It delights me.

Nov. 3, 2009

Turn Your Face to the Sky

Dear STUFF Family:

We read this year about a family recovering from their loss to cancer of someone close - a 36-year-old mother and wife who left a legacy of hope and happiness with her family, her friends, and the community. She shared her writings about her struggle with cancer - frank, honest and positive stories. She clearly always kept her face raised to the sky.

We didn't know Laura. We are not close friends of her family. But her story inspires us. Her story reminds us why we dust off the Wings of Hope event notebook each fall and plan, once again, our holiday open house. Laura's strength reminds us that giving up is not an option.

How many cancer benefits have you been to? How many pink ribbons have you worn? How many breast cancer months and awareness campaigns and parties and fundraisers and walks have we all participated in? Is it too many?

Yes, of course it is too many - not because we are bored with the events, but because we are sick and tired of cancer. Cancer has a way of dragging us down even when we don't have it in our own bodies. But cancer will not win. A cure will be found. We must push upward and onward.

The first Mother's Day after Laura's death would have been her 37th birthday. On that day, her family turned their faces to the sky. They celebrated with a simple idea that soothed their pain, opened their hearts even wider, and spread hope - they wrote messages to Laura on balloons and released them into the heavens.

On November 7th & 8th at Wings of Hope, we will turn our faces to the sky. The first balloon we release will read "Laura...Thank you for reminding us there is always hope!"

Please join us to celebrate hope and happiness.

Until there is a cure...

Oct. 29, 2009

Larger Than Life

When I turned 16 years old and all the driving lessons were over, my mother handed me the keys to the car and told me she doubted she'd ever go to the grocery store again. After 16 years of me and two other children, she was done with that particular chore. So Casey and I made a grocery store list template, and it was organized by aisle so that we would forget nothing while we were there. Also, this alleviated any backtracking in the store - never cool in my book.

So, off we went each time to Milgram's in Brooskide, with me behind the wheel and Casey clutching the blank signed check from our mother. It was fun. The novelty soon wore off, but we still went together and did our fair share of laughing and arguing.

We have lived in separate homes for over 25 years, so we no longer tackle this household chore together. But just last week, there I was at the grocery store in Brookside, and Casey was right there with me. And even though she was with me, she wasn't actually in the store. There she was - larger than life - looking at me through the window while I presented my own check as payment. Missouri Bank, STUFF's new banking best friend, has put three huge faces on a 6 foot by 10 foot banner on the outer wall of their future location in Brookside, and Casey's smiling face made the cut.


Go and see Casey for yourself on 62nd Terrace across from Cosentino's Brookside Market. You can't miss her.

My sister is amazing and one of the true joys in my life. To see her at the grocery store every time I visit makes me smile and makes me vividly remember great stories from the past. And God knows she's smiling at me - all 6 feet of her!!

Oct. 27, 2009

Understanding Custer

This summer, I stood in wide open spaces in western and northern Nebraska and wondered at the stupidity of General Custer. How could he not have thought that there were more than four Native Americans wandering around? Well, I guess he found out when they all crested that hill headed straight for him.

I quickly thought of him again a week ago while my son and I were volunteering at the Kansas City Marathon. We were standing in the middle of Main Street at 19th around 7:08 am, holding paper cups full of water when the leading edge of 10,000 runners crested a hill way back at 17th street. It was amazing and a wee bit awe inspiring to see that much human strength and determination headed your way for a sip.

We were trained to hold the cup flat in our palm and hold our arm out so that the runners - those who chose not to stop - could easily pick it up and carry on. And it worked. Over and over again.

By 7:30 am they were all past us. By 8:00 we had raked the street of all the empty cups, and by 8:20 we had gathered up all the discarded clothing - four huge trash bags! - left by the runners and had them loaded in a waiting car from a local charity. It seems it's common practice for marathon runners to dispose of unwanted clothing on the course. My son and I joked that we wanted to be at the finish line to see all the naked runners because, if they were shedding clothes at the 2.5 mile water stop, they were going to be cruising across the finish line in their birthday suits.

We were at the finish line when our friend Gary Foltz crested the final hill at Grand Avenue right after 11 am. We cheered and clapped when he swooshed right by us. My son ran after him with the camera in tow to be there when his final time was registered. We wouldn't have missed it for the world. Heck, he had just run 26.2 miles, and we wanted to see if he had any clothes on!!

Oct. 14, 2009

The Best Burger Joint on the East Coast

I finally found a burger joint I love! I am not much of a carnivore when it comes to burgers; it's just not my thing. I know, I know, very anti-American. But, what's a girl to do?

I was recently on the east coast for a friend's wedding. I was staying with another friend in Montauk, New York, for a few days before we travelled to Westport, Connecticut, for the celebration. And my beach loving friend teased me for days before my arrival with a promise of all-you-can-eat blue crab at a local joint.

You can imagine my surprise when she whisked me off to Bay Burger, a burger joint in Sag Harbor, New York. When we entered, it was - of course - charming, and it had a family-owned feel. Everyone was smiling, and the wait staff was buzzing, and our table was waiting (thanks to my very smart reservation-making friend).

Bay Burger is known for burgers and its homemade ice cream. The daily ice cream selection is neatly presented in an old-fashioned ice cream cooler that sits to the side of the main counter. The whole place is clean & cozy and has a New England style comfort.

As if that isn't enough to make you want to camp out there every weekend, they offer live music by regional musicians. The night we were there, Mick Hargreaves was performing (Mick on Facebook) and occasionally someone would wipe their hands clean and remove their crab crackin' bib and join him on "stage" (which was a rug thrown out in the corner of the dining room).

What about the crabs, you ask? Bay Burger offers an all-you-can-eat Crab Boil on Friday nights in September. I was honored to have been there for the 2nd Annual "festival of crustacean delight". I am assuming that last year's Crab Boil was a huge success and was therefore brought back this year to smash all records in human crab consumption at one setting.

And folks, we did our part. We slapped away hands when they tried to remove our trays too fast, and we raised dripping hands to request more. We did not wear the sissy bibs, and we turned up our noses at the fact that they served our wine in cheap plastic cups (until we realized that we were having a hard time keeping them from slipping from our hands – good call, Bay Burger).

We ate 12 crabs each! That's 24 total. I know you are impressed. We pushed back with two full tummies, one bandaged finger, and crab juices rolling off our elbows to the floor. We were victorious - over what, we are still not sure, but victorious all the same.

And then: Bay Burger knocked it out of the culinary park!

Upon our return from upper body bathing in the bathroom sink, we were served dessert. And I am here to tell you that a grilled peach with homemade ice cream and whipped cream is like sex on a warm beach. (Hopefully, no children are reading this.) My friend and I were shameless with our responses to our first couple of bites. I certainly hope we are welcome back, because I am booking flights for next September.

I highly recommend visiting Bay Burger any time you find yourself in Sag Harbor, NY. But truthfully, I can't recommend the burgers, since I have never had one.

Oct. 13, 2009

Dumpster Diving

I love water. Everyone should know this about me by now, but if you are just getting to know me, here is a big fat hint about what I enjoy most: water! To me, there is nothing like being immersed in water. I love oceans, pools, lakes, rivers, puddles - any body of water.

My sister, Sloane, has claimed for years that stress can't float, and I think she is right.

So, when I came across this article, I was immediately pacing off my back courtyard to see if a dumpster would fit. How freaking cool would it be to jump of my back deck into a dumpster full of cool clear water?

It would be like a recycling dream come true, turning a giant trash can into an oasis. These inventors are genius. I want one. Screw that, I want a whole block of them.

Anyone have an old dumpster they want to donate?

You can read more at Ready Made - Dumpster Diving.

Sept. 24, 2009

Challenge

My daughter and I recently rode in the AIDS Bicycle Challenge. It was an amazing way to spend a morning.

It all began a couple of months ago when my 4 and half year old daughter and I purchased a tag-along bike. It's a nifty attachment that lets her ride half a bike behind me. She loves it, I love it, and we have been known to ride all over town together. Of course, it also means that I have to pull an additional 70-plus pounds of weight, which can be tricky sometimes.

On the morning of the AIDS Bicycle Challenge, we took off from our house with a friend and joined the other riders at the Power & Light District. We signed on for the 11-mile ride - and truthfully, I was naive enough to think (silently) that it wouldn't be that hard to finish the ride. We had already been on many 11+ mile rides this summer without much trouble.

But it turned out that the route was tougher than I expected. It was sprinkled with hills - some long, some steep, and some long AND steep. And many times we were forced to come to a stop near the bottom for traffic to clear. This eliminated the only advantage I had to having 70 extra pounds in tow - momentum.

And so we climbed each hill slowly but surely until we reached the top, again and again.

After the ride, with good humor and many laughs, it was pointed out to me that a change occurred during my ride. At the beginning, I was cheerfully supportive of my child, saying things like, "Way to go kiddo" and "You're doing a great job" and "Awesome job, we rock!" Near the end of the ride I was heard saying things more like, "Sit down and pedal" and "Mama needs you help" and "We are almost there, promise" and "Stop shaking the bike!" (Insert panting between these words).

Since that morning, I have often thought about the how our ride was so similar to the efforts of the AIDS service organizations in Kansas City. These organizations are like my daughter on the tag-along bike. Even though I had to pedal, push and suffer to move forward, I didn't have to do it alone. I had a loving and deeply caring spirit right behind me - kicking in when I needed it the most.

I know now that it was her belief in me that kept me climbing those seemingly impossible hills.

Sept. 18, 2009

Finally

The porch is finished. Finally. All it took was the arrival of an 18-wheeler at work to get this home decorating job completed.

The porch had been painted two years ago. We had all the upholstery done at the same time. I had moved the finishing touches from other rooms in the house. But it was just missing that certain something....

Casey and I had been waiting over a year for Dash & Albert to perfect a new rug rack. When ours finally arrived at STUFF - along with all the samples of all the incredible rugs Dash & Albert creates - I knew it was just a matter of time before the porch at home received its final touch. That certain something. A rug.

I took five rug samples home and flopped all the options down on the porch floor. In 1.3 minutes, the decision was made: Captain Stripe in navy & ivory was the clear winner. 6' x 9'. Indoor / outdoor polypropylene. Done.

Now we're sitting pretty.


Yep. A sample for every rug they make is on this mother.


Heaven. Dig it.

Sept. 17, 2009

One-of-a-Kind


Click the image to open a readable PDF of the article.

I have had this page from a magazine on my desk for a long time (since April 2006). I re-read it all the time. The author's thoughts really resonate with me. I do believe that working in retail is a great sociological study. Oh, the stories we could tell.

What really kept the article on my desk for more than two years is the idea that I have spent the last 13 years of my professional life helping people define themselves - evolving, reinforcing or exploring their identity by shopping.

What also fascinates me is the gift buying process - how our customers are so aware and articulate about the people in their lives.

If you agree with Mr. Campbell's remarks, then it takes a very conscientious friend to pick a gift from our store. It may even be more challenging than shopping in a chain store. But it is that extra effort that makes the gift meaningful.

When I re-read this clipping today, I couldn't shake the sense that I had seen myself talking about this before. And then it hit me: In 2007, we aired a TV ad that speaks to this idea. Check it out right here (or watch it on YouTube.

Remember...
YOU are one-of-a-kind!

Sept. 14, 2009

Family Reunion

We live in the same town as a majority of our family. I work with my sister every day. I see my niece almost every day on her way to school. My mom, my dad, my stepmom, my step-sister and her family - they all live in Greater Kansas City. So my son has never been to a true, blood-relative family reunion with my family in his 12 years on this planet. What would be the point? We see each other all the time and we like it that way.

But this past Saturday, at 6:30 in the morning while we were standing outside in the Power & Light District, my son said to me, "Wow. This is like a family reunion." And it was. There was food. There was drink. There were members of our "real" family and our extended family. He could run around and feel the parenting leash loosen. You know, family-reunion-like stuff - if a family reunion encompassed 400+ bicycle riders descending upon us to take to the streets in an organized fashion.

Saturday was the AIDS Bicycle Challenge - an annual fundraiser for the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City - and our volunteer duties had started at 6 am. You see, my son and my husband and I, as a family, we were assigned to be "greeters" for everyone who was riding.

But our son had a much bigger job throughout the morning: he was the "starting whistle blower" for the 50-, 33- and 11-mile bike rides when they rolled around. I was very proud of how seriously he took the job. He had been talking about it for weeks. But, when he was going over the race start notes and scripts with the event coordinator, Michael Lintecum, I had a knot in my throat and had to look away. He looked very grown-up and was learning so much because Michael was taking the time to not only tell our son what to do but to tell him why it was being done in a particular way.

Michael has known our son since the year he was born. Our son was born in March of 1997, and AIDS Walk that year was held in May. He was there in a little white sleeper with a red ribbon sticker on the center of his chest. He slept through the entire event.

It was my first AIDS Walk. By the next year, I was a full-fledged volunteer and have been ever since. It is a fantastic organization, and the people who volunteer and run all the events have become family. We've done all the things a family does: cried, laughed, corralled each other's children, aged, argued, and stood in awe of the power of good.


The bike that did the 11-mile ride
in 1 hour and 8 minutes.


The briefing and run-through.


Our son and Michael starting race #3.


The 50-mile riders.


Volunteering at 6am is fun.

So in the wee hours of Saturday, when our son looked around the Live! Block inside the Power & Light District downtown and saw all the people he sees several times a year, it was just like a family reunion.

He knew he was safe, because he was surrounded by the people who have helped him to grow up to be the young man at the microphone thanking hundreds of people for caring about the 5,500-plus people in our town living with HIV/AIDS.

I knew he was safe because most of the village that is raising him was right there.

Sept. 4, 2009

Art & Architecture

For years, I have been a Frank Lloyd Wright fanatic. I inundated my brain with facts and images of his talent, I collected too many books highlighting his genius, and I mentally traveled back in time to the places be built that are no longer standing, placing myself in them. I have traveled to Chicago to be a part of "Wright Tours" in Oak Park. I have been inside his home and studio in the bustle of a tour group. I have sat inside his Unity Temple in Oak Park in silence and cried.

But on Saturday night, I slept with him. Frank, not my husband Harl. Well, both of them actually. Does that make me a slut?

Harl and I traveled to Oklahoma with friends over the weekend and spent our only night away from home in Bartlesville at the Inn at Price Tower. Frank Lloyd Wright designed Price Tower, and it was completed in 1956. Fantastic and amazing architecture with comfortable and welcoming rooms. You would be hard pressed to find a 90-degree angle in the entire building except for the joins in the windows. I kid you not. Even the super small elevators had limited space for more than three humans, and they were unusually short on squared-off corners.

An entire building based on triangles.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed Price Tower to be a multi-purpose building over 50 years ago, and it still is. It houses a museum, a small hotel, offices, a restaurant, and a bar. If an evening on the road finds you anywhere near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, stop and stay at this historic hotel. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will fill your heart with joy in more ways than the Super 8.

Sunday found us in Tulsa at two great museums chock-full of great art: the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Gilcrease Museum. The impetus for the trip was an installation of Gustave Baumann's woodblock prints at the Philbrook. I had seen his work several years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and, when I read that a museum in Tulsa was running a small and limited exhibit, I figured a road trip was inevitable. Beyond that particular show, the exhibits at both museums were amazing in their depth.


Garden follies rock!
Even at the Philbrook.


The gardens behind the Philbrook.


I love these guys.

Both museums house exquisite collections of American and Native American art - and they do it in abundance. The Gilcrease doesn't have just one amazing painting by Frederic Remington, it has probably 20 or more. And the Philbrook has a world class assortment of Pueblo pottery and clayworks, besides a historic home and garden at its center.

Two woodblock prints by Baumann.

We all got to take naps on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we all ate food at locally owned food joints (that my husband vaguely regretted when it came time to button jeans over the next few days), we laughed constantly, and we marveled at all the sights we were taking in. And I know two of us made lengthy lists of things left "undone" for when our roads lead us back to Oklahoma.


As you can see, this was not a culinary weekend; it was an art and architecture weekend.
("New Oil"? As opposed to...?)

Art and architecture are unique. They pull you in, they hold on. And before you know it, you're in bed.

Sept. 3, 2009

Dog Smiles

As our dog has aged, it seems as though his smiles are saved for the things that truly make him happy - car rides, boat rides, dog walks, the first blush with a neighbor dog, and going to work with me on Tuesdays. On each of these occasions, he shares a brief smile with his humans and forges on.

These photos are from our family vacation and were taken on my Dad's pontoon boat. You would be hard pressed to find a member of our human family that doesn't jump at the chance for a boat ride - even to a nearby marina and back for gas. Our four-legged family members are no different. Through the years they have all jumped on the boat, secured locations with the best view, and leaned into the breeze.

My son says the math on dog years versus human years is a factor of 7. Therefore, since Einstein is at least 16 in dog years, he's at least 112 in human years. Amazing that he has the energy to smile at all, let alone jump from the dock to the boat gracefully.

When I grow up, I'm going to be just like him: graceful, smiling, and ready for a boat ride any time.


Technically he's not smiling here, but all our children are beautiful when they are sleeping.

Sept. 2, 2009

52,000 Words

When I was in school, I was the kid that always found the loophole in a syllabus. I really should have been an attorney, but my creative side just wouldn't go dormant. I did, however, spend 10 years in political consulting. (You can't really find a better job to hone your loophole finding skills.)

I always look for ways to "outsmart" the requirements for anything, often creating more work for myself, but thriving on the knowledge that I am thinking "outside the box". So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this is my 52,000-word essay from our recent trip to New York City to search for the freshest, most creative, cutting edge work for our store this coming season. And yes, I want full credit for all 52,000 words!

Enjoy!

Ahhhh . . . home at last!

Aug. 20, 2009

Cravings

I have just spent five days in New York City with my sister. This business trip found us laying our bodies down in Hoboken, New Jersey, at a friend's empty apartment and utilizing the city's amazing public transportation system. All five days, we were regular commuters on the busses and subways to and from NY and NJ. We passed an innumerable quantity of eating establishments and street vendors.

Of course we ate good food - outside the convention center - but some days our options just didn't seem to include what we were looking for. Simply put: a Mixx salad and a Brach's caramel.

Jo Marie Scaglia, with the salad empire she's building, has created monsters in Casey's and my hearts. We crave her food when we are away from home - no matter our exotic locale. We ate Mixx salads before we left for the airport last Friday, and it was the first place that popped out of Casey's mouth as an option for lunch today.

Now on to the next course. Desserts are always important and can be eaten anytime. I seldom want dessert right after dinner any more. Before dinner is fine. As dinner is even better. But the best time, in my mind, to eat dessert is about 30 minutes or so after you've eaten your meal. In New York, all Casey was looking for was "just a little caramel," and we never found one in the 5+ mini markets we entered or at any of the 700 million "Hudson News" stands we cruised visually as we walked to and from work. (Those newsstands have almost EVERYTHING under the sun. Just stop and look carefully the next time you are in New York. Chock full of everything but caramels.)

We've returned to the land of our cravings, and great handmade "stuff" will be trailing in our wake over the next 3 to 4 months.


Ladies who lunch.


Eating a salad she designed herself.

PS...The French fries at The Mixx are out of this world. I have not eaten at a McDonald's in 8 years but, if memory serves, their fries were awesome. The Mixx leaves McDonald's holding the greasy bag in the salty potato category.

July 30, 2009

My History of Goodbye

Today's story should be short, really. I do not use the word goodbye. I tell friends when they are leaving our home, "See you soon." My common phrase at airport departures is, "Have a great trip. I'll miss you." Even when all transactions have occurred at the store and a customer is leaving, I tell them, "I look forward to seeing you soon." And not once while speaking at four funerals for four amazing grandparents have I ever said the actual word goodbye.

And I didn't on Sunday when my husband and I took our son to his first two-week "away camp". You know, overnights and far from home?

Now, this child has traveled extensively. London, Japan, Hawaii, Yosemite, The Bahamas. And those are just some of the places he has been that I haven't been. Add Washington, DC, Baltimore, Florida, and most national parks and historic sites between here and the Continental Divide. And a few further West and South of that. He loves to travel, and with every one of his departures from me I have never uttered goodbye. Not even every morning for the past nine years when I have delivered him safely to school and he's shutting the car door - "Can't wait to see you at 3:30!!" or "Have a great day." or "Love you."

I may possibly be physically unable to say the word.

My parents had three children, and I only have one. My parents may very well be saints; I can't say. They led busy lives when I was growing up. They were self-employed most of the time. They had business partners and businesses, a home to run, causes to support, and children to raise. They both, in all this chaos, made me feel like they were carving out time to be with each child individually. One-on-one time. Quality Time. Mommy Time. Daddy Time. Whatever. Call it what you will. I was warmed when the spotlight fell on me.

One time with my father stands out as unique - and involves my unspoken word. If memory serves, my mother was traveling for work in Iowa, and my father had business out of town. It was far enough away that air travel was necessary, and, not being not old enough to drive, I was unable to take Dad to his Braniff plane.

Now, as all good memories are a bit fuzzy, I have no idea where my younger sisters were. But on this day my father walked with me the few short blocks to the Country Club Plaza, and we had lunch together - just us and his suitcase - at The Granfalloon. At that time, the restaurant was darker and much moodier in its 1970s demeanor, and I thought it was definitely "big girl stuff". The taxi would pick him up from there, and I would walk back up the hill to home.

Simple plan. Time alone with my Dad. Lunch at a place I was dying to get into and tell my friends about. Perfection..

Until, through the window of the taxi from the curb, I uttered the word "Goodbye". Huge mistake, even in 1980. He could maybe tell you if I was crying as he pulled away, but the road home was beyond blurry.


My dad about the time I said "Goodbye".

I waited several hours before I called him at his hotel and told him I was sorry. I remember him being a bit confused, but to me it was perfectly clear: Goodbye means forever, and I wasn't ready to give anything - not even a silly word - that carte blanche.

And to this day I haven't.

I do look forward to friends coming back to the house, and seeing my grandparents again, and delivering people to airports that will take them places that their hearts desire. And I treasure time with customers and the exchange of souls and stories that frequently happens.

And the word goodbye did not escape my lips a few days ago when my son walked away from my husband and me toward his cabin and his bag and his bedroll. And probably because, early on, my parents taught me that you could only use words if you knew their meaning and their power. My Mom is a firm believer that there are no "bad" words, only "strong" words, and by God you'd better know what you are saying before you put breath behind it.

I don't really have a handle on the full power of goodbye. So, I'm not really ready to use it.

July 24, 2009

Body Memory

I really, really, really loved this installation piece at the Smoky Hill River Festival. My sister and partner in crime, Sloane, has written recently about the festival and has even featured this piece of art. But I just can't seem to get it out of my head. It made such a deep groove in my mind.

I was floating on my back in the ocean last week, and the tubular art came into my mind. I started thinking how cool it would be if you could somehow get inside and ride through the twists and turns - like slow rolling waves. At some sort of magical, no-impact, opposite-of-a-roller-coaster speed. Continual, smooth, peaceful movement that would lull you to sleep but would stay with your body movement memory like the waves do once you leave the beach.

I want Jason Peters, the artist, to come build one in my back courtyard. Three stories high, over-looking the park below, so everyone - including me - can marvel at it each day.

July 22, 2009

Another One Gone

I had a birthday this week. I like birthdays. I do not fight them, and I do not fight growing older. I was lucky this year, because my special day was celebrated for two days, since it is hard to talk your whole family into going to the pool for an entire work day. Go figure.

Late on my birthday, my husband gave me a birthday card that included the quip at the left, and it made me laugh very, very hard. The funny thing about him is that he is the creative genius behind a line of greeting cards, but every year he gives me cards from other companies.

This one, however, takes the cake - and all 44 candles.

July 17, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

A week ago when I was breezing through photos from the Smoky Hill River Festival for my blog, I was constantly stopped in my tracks by the close-ups of Lori Buntin's new dog paintings. Well, the dog chairs, too. And the mixed media collages.

Of course you can commission Lori to paint your dog on a chair or canvas. And it's fabulous when you do. Many people have. However, these dogs stop me because these are the dogs of whimsy, fun, frivolity, and just a pinch of Lori's imagination. She has caught each pooch a little off guard and not perfectly posed. They are happy. You can tell.

In addition, Hoop Dog Studio, of which Lori is a member of the chorus of two, has begun making "Dog Tag" jewelry. These are pendants and earrings with images from these dog paintings captured behind glass and finished with a backing of salvaged metal. In essence, the pendants are two-sided - but the dog side is my favorite. Duh.

These are the long, hot, dog days of summer, as my grandma used to say. She was an "August baby" and not a great fan of the heat. The heat follows each customer and dissipates after they open the door of STUFF and enter our cool oasis of art.

Grandma would like it here right now.
So will you.

Come. Sit. Stay.

July 15, 2009

What He Did For Love

My husband outdid himself last night. There are two things I know about him implicitly. He will leave me and call a divorce attorney if I ever have a server in a restaurant sing him birthday wishes. Also, he hates to attend movie premieres or go to the movies on busy nights or weekends. I have ceased to ask when the movie muse tempts me.

On Monday, our son pushed him on item number two above. He didn't even push hard.

So last night found us at the premiere of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince at our local movieplex. Our son has been reminding us about the date of the movie premiere for months, and on Monday night he said, "I really want to go. Bad." And he wanted to go surrounded by his two best friends and his two parents - not just his Mom. And the first slotted time would be great: 12:01am

So I got out my debit cards and made reservations. For five.

I'm a sucker for the movie theater and the "going to the movies experience." Not movie theater prices and not packed houses, but I do love going to the movies and enjoying the big screen. I can vividly remember when I saw Out of Africa on the big screen at the Glenwood Theater at Metcalf and 87th. It seemed to take ten minutes for the velvet curtain to make its way across the jumbo screen. It was magical.

Movie theaters used to be a place for me guzzle gallons of soda, but I gave up Diet Coke over 3 years ago, and I recently gave up the crutch I used after that - its sister, Coke. Those addictions are behind me, but they can rear their ugly heads when we walk by the snack counter. But I digress.

I kicked myself for not taking my camera on our midnight outing. Although our group of five did not get into the full Hogwarts spirit, the lobby and theater was full of young people who had dressed up in all things Harry. We spotted scars above eyebrows, neck ties with vests, capes, wands, round glasses, Gryffindor badges, and team paraphernalia. It was glorious, and I felt underdressed.

It was a good movie, and I would give it high marks for cinematography and set design. It was, however, a reminder that you should ALWAYS read the book first. So much was cut from its pages, it was mind-boggling. And that perception was universal in the comments we heard as we slowly made our way out of the theater.


Then.


Now.

My husband had a good time, believe it or not. Of course, I bribed him by taking him to Walgreen's before the show and letting him buy all the candy he wanted. I said nothing. Shocking but true.

I think he really wanted to go all the time. He was just playing hard to get.

July 13, 2009

Artsy Fartsy Road Trip

Many moons ago - OK, maybe a month ago - we all loaded in the car to spend a weekend in Salina, Kansas.

On and off for a handful of years, either Casey or I has been asked to be a juror for the American craft fair inside the Smoky Hill River Festival. This festival is a four day bonanza of the arts, with music, dance, fine art, fine craft, installation art, artist demonstrations, performance art, and great food. But I've mentioned all this before.


Base camp.

This year I was a juror, and the added bonus of that honor is that two of the artists that STUFF represents every day - Kari Heybrock and Lori Buntin - were asked to do demonstrations. This made the trip doubly fun. For those needing indoctrination, Kari is a glass artist who loves to fire up her torch, and Lori is a fine art painter and an active member of Hoop Dog Studio - home of "The Dog Chair".


See Lori Buntin at work.


See Kari Heybrock at work.

Casey, her daughter, my husband, my son, and my son's friend all crammed into small hotel rooms for two nights and spent two glorious days at "the camp" - the shady spot in Oakdale Park where we parked our coolers, chairs, tables and art supplies. From that vantage point, the wandering began. And the gorging, too. Stuffed cucumbers, deep-fried Snickers, Hawaiian wok fried noodles, corn dogs, frozen lemonade, BBQ ribs, and hand-cranked ice cream are just a few of the amazing food items that passed the muster of the jury that governs that part of the festival. And that passed the lips of our group.

Salina doesn't need me to tell it that it is not a noted tourist destination. However, this festival is a class act that is accomplished with the talents of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of hours of planning. Casey and I fall back on our years of event planning and gossip among ourselves as to what it takes to pull off a celebration of this scope. We are also a wee bit embarrassed to think that for years we knew nothing about this fair. Shame on us.


A huge grass painting.


The most amazing art installation - at night.


Cool 2D "fair participants".


Our mesmerized children.


Curvy metal temporary art installation.


My mom at base camp. (Casey's mom, too.)


This one was my favorite.


The most amazing art installation - in the daytime.


Young artists in action at base camp.


Just couldn't get enough of this one.

It's a great festival. If early next June you get a hankering for an art attack, go to Salina. For the whole weekend. Then hoof if back home before the sweltering heat of the plains sets in for the summer.

Go. Art is good for you.

July 11, 2009

Front & Center

I mentioned in an earlier blog that my son has been making great strides with his digital camera.

Last weekend, the 4th of July found us in Grand Lake, Colorado, visiting my husband's siblings and their children.

Grand Lake is a very small town that puts on a HUGE fireworks show over the waters of its namesake. We clocked it at 40 minutes this year!! This year, however, the fireworks had to to do battle with a great big, almost-full moon. The moon rose slowly over the mountains, and, at 10pm when they lit the first fuse on the anchored barge, the moon was front and center and attempting to steal the show.

Now, even a novice like me knows that taking pictures of fireworks takes camera equipment that far surpasses what our little family owns - or will ever purchase. From my vantage point, it looked like my son attempted one shot and then moved on to pictures of his cousins and their glow-in-the-dark jewelry. That was my thought. I guess I turned my head.

When we walked back up the mountain from the lake, I asked if he had taken any fireworks shots. My son mentioned that he had decided to focus his camera on the moon. His quote: "They look different, but I like them."

A few days later - all the way back in Kansas City - we sat down to download all the pictures, and I came across "the moon pictures" from his camera and loved them all. I think what I liked the best was how they all looked together as they flashed across the screen.

There have probably been millions of photographs taken of the moon rising over the Rockies. Multiple millions. None have made me smile in wonder like these do.

July 10, 2009

Professional vs. Amateur

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from Izzy's mom. She mentioned that she had caught up on her blog reading, and, although she was delighted to see Izzy's photos in my May 14th blog, they were not her best poses.

I couldn't agree more. Herein lies the difference between professional photographers and amateurs.


Amateur.


Professional.

I had mentioned in my blog that poor Izzy had spent most of that evening being hounded by a 12-year-old boy and his new digital camera. My son is an amateur photographer if there ever was one. But he has learned all kinds of amazing things about his camera this summer, and his photos have impressed me several times.

I have never been able to take good photographs. Casey can. My husband understands the processes on most cameras he touches and takes good pictures. I have just never found the patience to learn all the little buttons and special features on the newer cameras. I can, however, hearken back to my art director days in a heartbeat. I can "see" a photograph in my mind's eye and then have a professional capture it for me. That sweet action will spoil you, and I have found that spending time with an experienced photographer is never wasted.

Just yesterday, I returned to my inbox to see that it was time for FuzzyFotosKC, a cooperative fundraising effort between the Kansas City Free Health Clinic and No More Homeless Pets KC. And, joy of joys, Izzy and her beautiful mother had been chosen as a delightful couple we can vote for with our dollars.

I plan on voting - early and often - because both of these organizations couldn't be more worthy or do more good for the community.

Vive La Izzy!! Vive La Missy!!

June 23, 2009

Mozy In to The Cozy Inn

A little over a week ago, we were in Salina, Kansas, for the Smoky Hill River Festival. Of course I loved the art, the music, the fantastic installations, and being with my family for two straight days. But what I talked about quite a bit on Saturday was how to "get back to The Cozy Inn before we leave town."

We did not stay at The Cozy Inn; we gorged there.

This restaurant is an real piece of Salina history. It has been in the same location since 1922 and has been building the same burger since then as well. It was one of America's first fast food burger joints. There are no French fries, there's no ice in your drinks, and there is no need for utensils. You are welcome to enjoy an ice cold canned soda - 13 varieties available the night we were there - and, if you desire a small bag of chips, they're right on the wall. Grab one.

This place is tiny. Six stools at a tiny counter with a grill you could reach out and touch if you sit on the stool by the door. Locals will tell you that you should never eat inside but should, instead, order at the window and enjoy the outdoor seating on 7th street. Eating outside will save your clothes from being engulfed by the flavored steam from your very freshly made burgers. However, not eating at the counter will deny you the company of the amazingly friendly people who work there. It's a toss-up.

My husband and I visited The Cozy Inn in March for the first time, and we had a fabulous conversation with the owner and two of his staff. It was hilarious but informative. Come to find out his "special order 3-inch buns" are made "due east on I-70 in Boonville, Missouri," we were told. That blew me away, because my parents grew up in Boonville, and Casey and I spent great times in Boonville with our grandparents. I can clearly remember "working" with my Grandmother Price at the law office she worked in. Her work was serious; my work involved calculating how to spend $5 really well on Boonville's Main Street. (I had a whole week to decide.) But what comes singing through my memories is the smell when the Wonder Bakery - right there on Main Street - had fired up the oven and was probably baking great buns to ship to Salina.


I loved this shot.


Prices now...


...Prices then.

So, this past Saturday I returned with my clan in tow. There were eight of us, and I had to show them all the tiny inside. We sat outside with our 2 dozen burgers to share, canned soda all around, and a bag of chips for my niece. Paradise on a clear blue sky night in central Kansas.


My honey and his grape sodey.


Even my sister breaks down and eats a burger once in a while.


Inside...


The staff this time around.


Saturday night.


Half of our order on the grill.


Mmmmm...Mmmmmmmm...


...Good.

It doesn't get more authentic than this anywhere. If you find yourself cruising down I-70 this summer, take a side hike into Salina. You can see The Cozy Inn neon sign from Iron Street and 7th.

Trust me. Go.


...Outside.


And again, Sunday evening.

June 16, 2009

Scherenschnitt & Salina

I know I have written about my friend Patricia before. (See my October 2, 2007, blog.) We share a like sense of humor, a love of interior design, and a pragmatic view of raising children. She has three children and I have one, so I rely on her heavily for said pragmatism.

The first time I was ever a guest in her home, I visually took it all in - her design sense, her love of particular items, and her knack for perfect placement. But I left with the memory I carry to this day of the pillows in her family room that were silhouettes of her children's heads. I think at that time there were only two pillows because baby number three was on the way. But I can't be sure.

It was such an amazingly personal touch in a bright and highly trafficked room. I love handcrafted items, and these rang my bell. I admit I was jealous of such a great idea, and I also admit to never having copied it.

This past weekend, I was in Salina, Kansas, for the Smoky Hill River Festival with my family. It is an amazing celebration of the arts - visual art, fine American craft, artist demonstrations, art installations, music, dance, theatre, etc. We have been going to the fair for four years now, and it amazes us all every time we step foot on the grounds. We "set up camp" (blankets, lawn chairs, pop-up tables, cooler, wagon) in the center of the festival - in an old city park - under huge old growth trees and make a multi-day event of it.

The only piece of art I purchased at the fair this year was a small silhouette for my friend. I can admit to ogling a necklace, several pieces of fine art, and one sculpture - all from artists standing right there in their booths - but what blew me away was this piece for Patricia. I know she would have loved meeting the artist, Ursula Dunnewind from Kansas City, and seeing her demonstrate the amazing art that she accomplishes with her tiny scissors. I was entranced.

Now, Ursula calls her art by its German name, Scherenschnitt, but agrees it has many names, such as silhouettes. She gave me a fantastic little slip of paper that told me the history of the art form - in 750 AD it appears in China, then travels by merchants to the Arabic cultural centers and from there to Europe. It seems to have really caught fire in the 7th century in Germany and has become a folk art that is highly praised by many and practiced by few in the world.

Patricia has shared with the world her knowledge and love of silhouettes. You can learn more from one of her previous monthly columns for Spaces magazine, and she shows her children's pillows in one of her daily design blogs (see October 17, 2008) at www.mrsblandings.blogspot.com.

I hope she likes this little piece of handcrafted heaven. I have a strong feeling she will.


In real life, this entire piece is only 1.5 inches tall - half the length of your pinky.
Ursula cut this from black paper with a white core, and it's mounted on white paper. Note the incredible detail in the hair.

June 11, 2009

Road Show . . . And An Art Show


A little Mondrian.

I love a good road trip. Just me, by best pals or family, a map, a few back roads, lots of ice water, and I'm happy. Contented. At peace.

Several years ago, STUFF started offering art classes taught by local artists here at the store. Every single class has been a ball, and everyone leaves very, very happy. What has been an amazing part of the art class journey is that we have taken one of the classes, SoulCollage, "on the road" to groups of people at a location of their choosing.

The last two road shows have been taught by Jane Hosey-Stern. I have been her trusty assistant. (Yes. I am trainable and will perform admirably in a crowd.)

Both of our journeys have been to places more than 15 miles from the store. In my book, a road trip!! For the first one, I was denied using any maps because it was across from Kauffman Stadium. Our class was a small part of a "party weekend" for children with cancer - terminal and otherwise. It was an amazing night, and Jane and I talk about it often.

Now, the other was in Greenwood, Missouri, and our participants were elementary school art teachers. I wondered what we could possibly teach art teachers, but I moved beyond that puzzlement quickly. Everyone, even art teachers, can benefit from a little artsy R&R and a chance to work on a new project of their own - one not necessarily meant for others to poke around in or have an opinion about. It was an amazing afternoon.


A bright hallway.


Chinese brush painting.


The ceiling.


Paper quilling.


Chihuly inspired Shrinky Dinks.


Another amazing hallway.

But what blew me away was the art hanging in the halls of the school we visited. Our host was LeeAnne Gourley, and our class was in her room at Greenwood Elementary School. This school is dripping in art - she has it on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and taped gently to windows and doors.

I was in heaven and spent many minutes soaking it all in. She teaches not only the basic concepts of art but also about famous artists, their lives, and the processes they used. I can tell you right now this woman has deeply affected the lives of the lucky children who have entered her classroom. Heck, I'm 43 years old, and I've only been in her classroom once - and I am changed.

Our classes - and our road shows - have been well received, but they surprisingly still seem to be a bit of a secret to some of our customers. If you're looking for a really great art class, check us out on-line. And, if you want us to bring our show to you, give me a call.


Yet another hallway.


Watercolor and assemblage.


How could you not be happy learning - and working! - here?

June 8, 2009

Chernobyl Cheese

My father has a knack for discovering the unique when it comes to food joints. He has introduced our family to countless off-the-beaten-track greasy spoons over the years. I am not sure of his secret to discovery. It's like he has a divining stick that points his car in the right direction.

And don't think he isn't very picky about his finger-licking choices. He will speak strongly in favor of not only his choice of joints, but what to order and how to garnish (if necessary) his top menu picks. He will even clue you in on the better times and/or days in which you will get the best food and service. These tidbits of wisdom can, of course, be set aside in the case of emergencies - like cheering up your children and friends.

My sister, Sloane, inherited his talent for the juke-joints of food finds. I did not! Don't get me wrong, I am strongly opinionated about food (and most everything else), but my tastes tend to lean away from the greasy spoons of our grand America.

However, I am game to chow down on some memories from time to time, and I found myself doing just that recently on our collective return from the hinter-northlands, post 6th grade lacrosse game. Our father made the insightful and popular choice to treat us all to IN-A-TUB tacos.

Now, IN-A-TUB is the home of the Chernobyl Cheese taco. This is MY name for them; I am sure they would not appreciate my reference. But check it out: What else can explain the color of the powdered cheese they dump on top? And don't even think about having them hold the glow-in-the-dark garnish - it is the secret ingredient. But the secret ingredient here isn't very secret, folks. The magic is right on top in radiation orange. If you miss it, you need a seeing eye dog!

Here is how it works. At IN-A-TUB you order your tacos in quantity by the basket. For example, a proper young Simmons woman will start with "3-in-1" and go back for a "2-in-1" or maybe a second "3-in-1" - especially if she is sharing with her 4-year-old daughter at her inaugural trip to IN-A-TUB.

As we usher in a third generation to the Simmons family tradition of Chernobyl cheese tacos by the dozen, we invite you to start your tradition today!

Note: When I was a little girl, IN-A-TUB was across the street from its current location and sat back from the street, with outdoor tables out front. It was next door to a self-wash car wash I would frequent in high school to wash the INSIDE of my 1977 International Scout. I would make bets with people that I would actually spray the INSIDE of my car. I always made sure to bet enough to afford a 3-in-1 before I would head home. Sadly, the car wash is gone and IN-A-TUB moved "up" to an old building across the street that once housed a food chain franchise. But, happily, the food is still the same.

June 2, 2009

An Envelope in the Mail

A small family business like ours gets its fair share of mail. Some days we get a truckload, and other days not so much. Last week, on a truckload day, there was a pretty little invitation-sized envelope addressed to Casey and me. I save these to open last - after the bills, the catalogues, the junk.

The contents of this particular envelope were exciting. It seems as though past visitors to Kansas City had been asked to nominate their favorite places during their visits here. The names were compiled by the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. And we made the grade for the first time ever!!

They only compiled nominations from people from outside the five-county metro area. So these are truly visitors who nominated us.

As with the nomination process, voting for the winner is limited to visitors. You know the next part - please share with your summer visitors your love of all that we do, and ask them to click here to vote for what we believe is the best retail store in Kansas City: STUFF. They can vote from May 15 to August 31.

We are honored to have been chosen for the KC Visitors' Choice Award '09. And we thank you for all that you do to "share the love" we generate at STUFF.

May 19, 2009

Inbox

On Monday, I was not in my best mood, and I still do not know why. It's not that I wasn't "fit to be with" really, it's just that I wasn't myself. Generally happy. Usually smiling and quick to laugh. This was not me yesterday.

But I changed around noon when these photos appeared in my Inbox from a customer. Aren't they delightful? Someone obviously has more talent with the camera than I do! She sent them to me so that we could see the art we sell in action.

We have vases full of the button flowers you see here, and we have sold them for over 6 years - one stem at a time - for a local artist, Celia. They are handcrafted from buttons old and new, and Celia has a new variety that incorporates her ceramic "petals" into the button flower stem.

They are flowers that last forever and are used in bouquets that never fade. And they changed my moody Monday. Enjoy.

May 17, 2009

Seems Like Yesterday

My niece was born in January four years ago. Casey and I did much planning at the store for the time she would be home with her daughter. We even planned the Valentine's window down to the very last detail - the art, the rug, and the theme. What I didn't plan on was how difficult it is to write backwards on our plate glass windows. Casey is our calligrapher when we attempt these projects, and I am in charge of font size, placement, and kerning. We are a team. She makes her part of the deal seem effortless, although the letter S can still throw her for a loop occasionally. But you didn't hear it from me.


Stuff window #35.

So, on the day of the new Valentine's window that year, I hopped up on the display riser and got started. And it was awful. I'd like to think that it just wasn't the same because Casey wasn't there, but it was really because I was inept. I take some pride in the fact that, even when I am failing at a task, I maintain my leadership skills. I therefore promptly turned to one of the young women helping me and said, "Here you go. Here's the paintbrush, the paint, and the words. This is will be a great skill for you to learn as you consider a career in retail." Pretty good. Huh? Empowering? She did a great job - as you can see. What I can say is that the inside of our front window got washed many times that day as we all got it right!!

This week, I saw this article in House Beautiful about grosgrain ribbon (one of my favorite things on this planet) and was instantly reminded of that same Valentine's window because we had designed an all-ribbon "wall" between the store and our raised window display. It was fantastic. Every time the front door opened, the wall of ribbon would slightly ruffle with the wind and then gracefully fall back into place. They were incredible shades of pink and red - and, to mix it up, we added a hint of purple.

This window is numbered 35 in the "Window Diary Book" we keep here at the store. It is much like a scrapbook in that we keep in it our preliminary sketches, photos and paint swatches; it is a memory bible. We moved our store to Brookside in May 2002 and are currently getting ready to do window number 82.

I get excited about every window we do because I get to do them with my sister. She's my #1 window collaborator.

May 15, 2009

Laughter is Contagious

I have always loved that my family laughs. We laugh to survive, to celebrate, and to remember. To me there is no better drug than laughter. My sister, Sloane, and I have always had a special connection. Some people believe we are twins born three years apart. We have worked together for more than 20 years. Yep - TWENTY years. And, we are known for our laughter. We egg each other on. We get rolling, and the tears start flowing. When we are on a really, really good "falling out", we make everyone near us laugh, too. We are complete fools, and it is marvelous.

Today we "loaded" all the STUFF television ads onto YouTube.com. After they were loaded, I thought I had better review them to make sure they all worked. And, as soon as Sloane heard our voices, she turned around to watch with me. We share an office that used to be a bank vault, and our backs are inches from each other. (This, of course, does not prohibit us from e-mailing each other all day long, every day. We even have to set meeting times to discuss business. This is not a joke.)

Anyway, back to the YouTube ads....

There we were, huddled over my computer watching our ads, and we started laughing. We stopped short of a complete "falling out", but we laughed, laughed and laughed some more. Partially because we have both changed so much since our first ads (hair, weight, style), and partially because the ads are pretty darned funny..

You see, our ads were an accident. We had this brilliant idea to create TV ads. We worked diligently on scripts, and we worked with our consultant John Kekisein to be prepared. The big day came, and we couldn't pull it together. John was so brave. He put up with our endless "out takes", our giggles, and our flubbed lines. He just kept filming and saying, "Let's try that again."

When he got back to the studio, he had nothing to work with. The footage frankly sucked. That fateful day, John had the genius to make something from nothing - and the first of the STUFF ads was born.

It truthfully takes a little guts to review an ad of yourself acting like a fool and say. "Great, let's air that to hundreds of thousands of households in my home town." But the one thing I can guarantee is that - with my sister at my side - I have guts to spare. I knew if it had backfired we would of just laughed.

Enjoy a laugh at our expense today. Search "pursuegoodstuff" on YouTube.com to find all of our ads.

May 14, 2009

The Playdate

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, our dog Einstein had a playdate with a friend's dog.


Isabella.

OK. Honesty prevails. Our 16-year-old dog was mostly in the house while the three humans with whom he cohabits had a playdate on the porch. My son's part of the playdate was stalking our canine guest with the camera and capturing her every move. Einstein was at peace the entire time and proved himself to be a gracious - if sometimes absent - host.

Isabella is a beagle, and for many hours she kept our property free of birds and squirrels. And she made good use of her vocal chords in controlling the wind blowing through the hosta leaves. When my dear friend Missy Koonce returned from work - she's in The Unicorn Theatre's current production of Bare - Izzy went crazy greeting her Mom and then pretty much just hopped up on the sofa and crashed next to my husband.

While the children - four-legged and two-legged - slept, the three adults whiled away a few hours on the porch while the air cooled and the friendship deepened. Who says playdates are only for children?

PS...Go and see Bare. It is fantastic and proof yet again that Kansas City's theatrical scene is cutting edge and amazingly diverse.

May 6, 2009

Nothing Like the Picture on the Box

Casey and I do not follow a recipe when planning the parties at STUFF. But don't be too impressed. We do follow an outline, a budget, and a plan. Our previous careers taught us the power of all three of those.

We had an event last Thursday night in the back alley of STUFF for Fred Conlon, a metal artist from Utah that we represent. It was a celebration after a week of endless rain.

Long after the event was over, the fires in the fire pit had smoldered, the extra ingredients from the s'mores were packed up, and Fred Conlon was in his truck headed for home, I ran across this recipe on the back of the graham cracker box and giggled.

We had used every single one of these name brands, but we left the funky blue sky and picket fence out of our event. We're crazy urban girls - our event included a dramatic post-storm sky and a truck and trailer full of amazing art as our backdrop - nothing like the picture on the box.


Yes, the fire pit is for sale.
Come in and see the one we kept.

The s'mores were delicious - just ask every adult that attended the party. They aren't just for the small people in the world. Big people love 'em, too.

May 5, 2009

Pick Three


My favorite brick and mortar store, STUFF.

Last summer, I was in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and spent a few hours shopping the locally owned stores all nestled in down by the river. I was with my son and two nieces, so a trip to the bookstore was a given.

As I entered the store, I saw a fabulous little logo on the glass that caught my attention. It was for IndieBound.org. A week or so later, back at work on my computer, I checked it out and was glad to find out that I had supported one of the "good guys" with my purchase several states from home. I stayed on their site a few minutes and then moved on with life.

Then, just last week, Casey told me all about a "3/50 thingee" and the benefits of shopping locally that they were touting. She made great sense while she was talking. Of course I agreed with her, nodded my head at all the right times, interjected comments of approval when appropriate, and said we needed to "check into it". And life moved on.

So today I did it. We were called to confirm our involvement with the350project.net, and after the phone call I read everything they had put forth on their website. And here's how it works, in short:

The 3 Part: Choose 3 independently owned local stores you would miss if they were no longer in business.

The 50 Part: Spend a little something in all 3 of them, and, in doing so, try to spend a total of $50 in local stores every month.

This is easy to do. As a co-owner of an independently owned business, I've been doing this with the businesses I treasure for years. I shop locally to a fault, and so does STUFF. (You can see a partial list of our favorites on our website.)

What blew my mind was this next little part of math: for every $100 spent in independently owned stores in my neighborhood, $68 returns to my local economy through payroll taxes, property taxes, sales tax and payroll. That same amount spent at a chain or franchise store only returns $43 to the city I love. And if that $100 is spent online, nothing comes back to my hometown. Zilch. Plus, I pay too much in shipping to get it to me while adding nasty CO2 to the environment.

So, pick your three and love 'em up. They will thank you, your community will thrive, and the earth will breathe just a little easier.

PS...My thanks to Patrick Binder for the amazing photo of our store.

Apr. 14, 2009

Treasures


Photo courtesy of my son and his new camera.

I admit to having been raised for a short period of time in a trailer. Not a double wide, and not for very long. Like right after birth for just a little bit.

And it's possible that the very essence of that existence has affected my taste in holiday decorations from time to time. Or so I've been told.

But I consider my heritage a plus when "embracing" all holiday decorating styles and being in tune with humanity.

So at Christmas I believe C-7 and C-9 multi-color twinkling lights can be appropriate for outside decoration if planned well. I think a blown-plastic fully-lit three-foot black cat rising from an orange jack-o-lantern can look stunning in October. And I know that, for Easter, plastic "fill and thrill" eggs are unbeatable.

So, years ago, I began the journey to the display you see above. It probably started with one dozen or so, and the collection has increased as our son has grown. This was the happiness that greeted us at the kitchen table this Easter season. Yes, I smiled every time I glanced them. Every. Single. Time.

But the highlight of my Easter Sunday was the quick sketch my niece made of the Easter bunny just for me.

It doesn't light up or twinkle. But it does hold a treasure.

Her.


Pencil on paper original.
Untitled. Unframed. Unsigned.

Apr. 10, 2009

Feeling Blue?

I have always felt at odds with the idea that "feeling blue" means you are sad. To me, "blue" is magical. To me, "blue" is everything good, strong and pure.

I, of course, think first and most often of water when "blue" comes to mind. I will never forget the sensation I felt when I leaned over the edge of a boat floating on the Pacific Ocean. I was stepping from the boat to a submarine to check out the "Big Blue" from below - but I couldn't move. I was mesmerized. I was hypnotized. I was being summoned.

The tour guide leaned close to me and said, "Don't do it, lady. I have seen that look before, and you ain't going swimming on my watch." I looked up, surprised to find people around me. I am not sure where I floated in my mind, but it wasn't anywhere near the deck of that boat.

After reading an article recently about a man that has dedicated himself to preserving the art of indigo dying ((Traditional Home, April 2009), I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the excitement of pulling the fabrics from the vats and experiencing the magic of the color blue over and over again.

Next time you are "feeling blue", remember blue is...

peaceful as a clear sky;
soothing as the waves slowing rolling by;
endless as the Pacific;
majestic as the Rocky Mountains; and,
as cheerful as a bird's song.

I hope I feel "blue" today.

Apr. 1, 2009

Enough

My husband and I used to be so good. We used to start our taxes in early February and have them turned in to the tax attorney by the end of the same month. I think we probably got gold stars in our "permanent file" at the firm, but they never showed them to us because they didn't want us to get big-headed.

However, last night, March 31st, we started our tax work for 2008. March and April are insanely busy months for both of us, and we seem to always put off the inevitable until my husband is truly fussy just from the prospect of the work - and then we start. All year long, I save every receipt my hard-earned cash produces when I'm out stimulating the economy, and at tax time I sort them all out.

It was while sorting the "Miscellaneous" sub pile into other sub-sub piles, "Food Expenses" and "Charitable Giving", I was reminded of how lucky we are to go to the grocery store and buy food when we want it, not just when we need it. Every November and December, our local grocery store brings out the donation cards so that we can add a donation to our food bill for our local food pantry, Harvesters. It always cuts me to the bone to see the bounty I have on the conveyor belt while thinking of those with almost nothing, and my reach for the donation card is swift. You see, my family is one of the lucky ones. We have enough.

Harvesters does amazing and far-reaching work in our community. The newsletter I got from them recently spoke to how there has not been enough lately.

The spirit of plenty seems to be sparse at the dinner tables of many in Kansas City during this time of financial upheaval. Maybe it's time to bring the donation cards out of storage and put them to work at the grocery store.

PS...My Kansas City friend, Patricia, otherwise known as Mrs. Blandings, had this to say in her daily blog today: "...Meg of Pigtown-Design and Chris of Easy and Elegant Life, have developed an initiative to help in the fight against hunger through Feed America. Feed America is a national organization that supports over 200 food banks nationwide, including Harvesters here in Kansas City."

Mar. 28, 2009

Indoor Sunshine


The stowaways in my purse on Saturday morning.

Two days ago, the weather took a rather winter-like turn; the skies turned grey, the air cold, and the back deck icy.

Just last weekend, my husband and I were doing the yearly raking of the back and front yard - I come from people who rake in the Spring, not the Fall - and loving the hot sun and warm air. We actually found it hard to come inside at day's end.

So, as the week got colder and the days greyer, I was dreaming of blue skies. And salvation was just around the corner. In the last 24 hours, we have experienced two artistic "shows" that have left me feeling sunny.

Two nights ago, my husband and I were in our regular seats at Kansas City Repertory Theatre for "Winesburg, Ohio". It is a new American musical that is based on a novel by Sherwood Anderson. The new artistic director of The Rep, Eric Rosen, had written the book and lyrics of this play. It was fantastic.

We were transported back to early 1900 rural Ohio and were guided through 13 "stories" of the people who inhabit this fictional town. They were slightly interwoven, yet distinctly set apart. I was mesmerized - left breathless in one scene and found crying in another. This play is loaded with some of Kansas City's finest performers - and a few from that far off artistic Mecca, New York. When we were leaving, I eyed my friend Missy in the crowd, and, when I tracked her down later on her cell phone, she stated perfectly what I was feeling after this non-traditional musical: "I feel like I was part of a perfectly-wrought piece of literature."

Harl and I have been going to The Rep since 1985, and I don't think we've missed many shows. We had the rare opportunity to meet Eric Rosen when he was first in Kansas City after accepting his current gig at The Rep. It was one of those magical nights at Bar Natasha where you really were surrounded by some of the most creative people this town harbors.


Artwork from the musical.

Eric and my husband got to talking a bit - they share an alma mater - and, when I spoke with him directly, I can remember being very excited about the season of plays for which we had plunked down money just two weeks before. Eric has not let Kansas City down this season, and this current show is a masterpiece of human collaboration.


My favorite portrait from the exhibit.

And yesterday, right after carpool, we whisked our son off to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to see the limited engagement exhibition of paintings from India's Mughal emperors. They are in town from Dublin, Ireland, where they reside in the Chester Beatty Library. The museum has provided magnifying lenses on ropes so that you need not miss any of the details in these pieces. They are album paintings - scrapbooks, really - from several hundred years of the Mughal empire (1526-1858). They are all rather small in size but huge in detail and rich color. All three of us went through the exhibit at our own paces, but we found ourselves inviting one another over to view hidden treasures. Several emperors were open to all forms of religion, and many of the pieces have a unique blend of Chinese dragons, Madonnas, and Islamic script.

These painters were masters at capturing the human face. I can't say there was a huge array of different emotions displayed, and a majority of them were profiles, but the way light plays on the skin was expertly applied in pigment and paint. They held me in their sway.

The rest of our weekend is full of birthday parties and lacrosse games in unseasonably cold weather.. But the sun will be shining in two of Kansas City's finest artistic playhouses. If you have a chance, go and see "Winesburg, Ohio" before it leaves the stage and "Muraqqa" before it sails for Dublin.

Mar. 27, 2009

Blue Glass and Green Art

Oh the joys of ownership!! On Wednesday, I was the lucky one who got to open a package from Kathleen Plate and Smart Glass.

We've carried Kathleen's work for years, and her evolution as an artist - and a company - has been amazing. When we saw her this past January, we decided to bring in her newest and "greenest" creations.

She is slicing recycled glass bottles, kiln-firing the rings, and fashioning amazing jewelry with sterling silver. She sent a card that showed what kind of bottles each color of ring is from. Kathleen's company has always been dedicated to improving the environment and not messing up the planet, but this latest collection has taken her concepts and ideas a step further. Awesome.


Check out the blue!!

I immediately made Casey try the "Asymmetrical" necklace on; she is my supermodel. It was amazing, and I loved the blue color on the upper ring. Kathleen has always used a great range of blues in her jewelry. It may be one of the reasons I'm always so entranced.


Even the bags she sends her work in shows her love of Mother Earth.

The blues are wonderful, but these rings are almost glossy - like they're holding the essence of the purest water you've ever immersed yourself in.

However, for pure ingenuity, she wins an award from me for the following stunt: she is taking the very bottom of the bottles she's just sliced and is and cutting out the thick center part. This center part is called the "punt" in the glass industry. She then works them with heat and style and sets them into sterling bezels for rings and cuff links.

Very cool. Very Green.


Isn't my sister pretty?

Mar. 19, 2009

Lucky Ducks

This past Saturday, our store participated in the annual Brookside St. Pat's Warm-Up Parade. The warm-up part is a little confusing, but it is because our city hosts several of these parades in various neighborhoods. The winners of first place in the warm-up parades have slots in "The Big Parade" that is always held on St. Patrick's Day. Rain or shine. No matter what. We won 1st place several years ago in our neighborhood parade and had the honor of marching in The Big Parade. It was incredibly cold. Fun. But cold.

This year was beautiful. 60+ degrees. Sunny. Perfect parade weather in anyone's book. Casey and I operate daily under the closely held belief that STUFF is bigger than the two of us and has been since we opened our doors almost 13 years ago. The parade every year confirms that theory, and it finds us inviting artists, friends, our families, and various pets to again join us in the parade as we make fools of ourselves in front of thousands of people. This year we were joined by Patrick Binder who, along with his cameras, perfectly captured our shenanigans. Click here to see all the fun for yourself.


The float in action.

This year we handed out 1,000 "Lucky Ducks" with numbers at their necks, and 100 of these ducks gave people the chance to win a $10 gift certificate at STUFF. Our friends dressed up in shower shoes, mud masks, robes, towels, curlers, PJs, and all things ducky, and we strutted our stuff for the people who lined the route and cheered us on.


Getting ready for my performance. Yes, those are rubber duck earrings.


Our friend Patrick.

STUFF is nestled nicely in Brookside, and we love the neighborhood. Every day finds us right here - strutting our stuff for the lucky ducks who cross our threshold.

PS...All of the photos from parade day will be on our website soon on the Events page. Patrick Binder may have been the only professional who brought a camera, but that doesn't kick to the curb the others who had their shutters working overtime to capture the excitement.

Mar. 11, 2009

Passed Me By

Saturday was my first foray into the world of math competitions.

And not as a competitor.

Our son has been a participant in math competitions for three years now, but this is the first one I have been able to attend. I have made time for practice, cleared schedules, and cheered him on.

It was boring for me while he was taking the series of tests. While sitting there, however, I realized that - again - he has passed me by. He is mastering math concepts that are beyond my abilities.

I have always considered myself in the "lost generation" of girls/women who, in the 70s, were led to English, history and art, but not to math or science. I have been at peace with that and, when I hit a math wall, I call my husband for a refresher course.


This is what a math geek looks like.


Scribbles like this freak me out.

But having my eleven-year-old doing math that makes my head swim has been humbling. Since he started crawling, I have known that he was moving away from me, knowing that he could always turn around. And then he walked, and I knew he would be able to run back.

All children take in knowledge that leads them places you've never gone. Every time my son comes back, I'll be right where I've always been - behind him one hundred percent.

Feb. 24, 2009

Valentine's Day Surprise

In my recent blog, I spoke about not knowing what would happen on Valentine's Day but knowing it would all be "perfect" in the end. And this year a surprise made my prediction come true.

After an early dinner with my family at Minsky's, my daughter joined her Nana for an overnight, and I went home and found myself in my home alone with no plans. I decided to use this rare opportunity to catch up with friends on the phone. And, since I roam when I talk, I found myself standing on my front stoop (yes, I have a front stoop). As I was talking on the phone to a friend about her new babies and all their trials and triumphs, I saw a man walking back and forth in front on my building and the houses next door.

It was dark and cold and I assumed he was a bit lost, but I just kept talking. The mystery man walked by again, and then I heard my name from the dark. "Casey, it's Lee. I can hear you, but I can't find you."

That's when I realized that the lost man in the hat was looking for my home. I quickly ended my call and called Lee over. There in the freezing cold was a friend holding a Valentine's gift for my daughter and me.

I was so taken aback (and my damned phone kept ringing) that I just stood there dumbstruck for a while, and then I managed to fumble through a crappy thank you as Lee hurried off to finish his cupid deliveries.

I went inside and was struck dumb again. The gift was a tray of the most delicately beautiful cookies you could imagine. They were packaged in a pretty box tied with a bow. I realized that Lee, his wife Lisa, and their two daughters had made the cookies, and each one was a work of art. It made me instantly happy and thankful to know such kind people.

Later that evening I met friends for drinks and even managed to do some late night dancing. My night ended poorly, not anywhere close to the romantic night I had envisioned.

But, when I came home and switched on the dining room light, there was the box of cookies - lovely, beautiful, thoughtful, and made by a loving family. And one had my name on it.

So this year, once again, Valentine's Day was quite perfect after all.


My daughter with her cookie.

PS...When a 4 year old with a very stuffy nose asks for her "big 'S' cookie", it sounds amazingly like "big ass cookie". So, if you have the opportunity to ask my daughter about her Valentine's cookie, don't be shocked if she tells you she got a big ass cookie from Elizabeth and Allison.

Feb. 23, 2009

Early Warning System

I didn't see the signs this year. I didn't think I was cooped up. I had embraced the onset of winter WAYYYY back in November. And, being a natural "nester", I had prepared the house and myself for the dark days ahead. I was ready to snuggle in, slow down a bit, and enjoy the change of climate. I pulled the heavy curtains on all the windows and French doors in the living room and had dug out the "snakes" to block the cold air from seeping into the house.

But, by the middle of this last week, I realized I had missed all of my warning signs for the restless behavior that sets in right about now. My friend, Mrs. Blandings, mentioned how cruel February was in a blog last week, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement on the grey skies. I had my family out hiking in very cold weather last weekend when one member of the family truly hates the cold. I found myself asking questions of my husband about wall colors for paint and what he could stomach. I found myself pulling sheets from magazines that showed colors I liked. And I considered moving most of the wall art in the house to new and exciting locations.

I was attempting to change what I could when I couldn't make the sky blue and the sun shine. I had missed all of my early warning signals and didn't realize it until today. It dawned on me that we really didn't have a room that needs re-painting before we deal with a small construction issue on the upper floor of the house. I came to the conclusion that moving all the wall art would just drive me crazy because I like where things are now.

I know. Spring is almost here. Almost.

Feb. 14, 2009

Lovin' It

Today it was 35 degrees and sunny - in my book, perfect weather for walking around outside. And, since I was the cruise director today, we packed a picnic and did just that.

Several years ago, my son and I must have been at some tourism kiosk when we picked up information about state parks close to home. Those postcards have sat in a bowl in the kitchen since that day, a reminder that we need to go that was quickly forgotten. Last weekend, I found them again in a bowl underneath the dinner napkins and said to my son, "Let's go soon to this place." And he said, "How about Saturday?" And we were on. You never have to ask me twice to go on a road trip.

I was delighted when I woke up and the sun was shining. I hoped that my husband wouldn't look at the thermometer he keeps by the bed, but he must have because he came down to the kitchen with adequate padding, with an almost happy demeanor about spending the day in the cold.

This is a man who, from the first of November through April, would wear a parka into the shower so as to not be cold when he got out. He deplores the cold, and it has been one of the only sticking points in our marriage when we use it as a psychological weapon against each other. I do get cold, but I also warm up long before he does.

A short time later, we were at Watkins Woolen Mill near Lawson, Missouri. The light dusting of snow we had at home the night before was deeper there and made winter beautiful again. Watkins Mill is a Missouri State Park and is fantastic. It is well kept, and the tour guides know their stuff. I work with the public, so I know it must be hard to put on a "good show" in the off-season for five tourists. But Randy, our guide, was awesome and very informative about the only 19th century textile mill in the country with all its original machinery intact. It truly was as if we had stepped in while the workers were at lunch!! I was a question-asking fool, and I was beyond intrigued at times.

Given that my husband HATES the cold, I knew that a picnic in the sun at a picnic table was out, so we ate while driving 40 miles or so to Weston Bend State Park just outside of - well - Weston, Missouri. The view of the mighty Missouri river was great today because all the leaves were off the trees and the blue sky made the river not seem so muddy. After a one-mile hike for my son and husband and a shorter hike for me and the dog, we "made the turn for home" and, on the way out of the park, we saw a bobcat in a clearing. It barely moved, but it never took its eyes off of us while the car was stopped.

The thermometer never struck 40 today, but it was toasty in my heart because the four of us were together, driving on back roads, eating bologna sandwiches, soaking up a little history, drinking in fresh air, and lovin' every minute of it.


The first bobcat I've ever seen.

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Feb. 6, 2009

The Valentine's Day Conundrum

I spend the weeks before Valentine's Day every year trying to act cool.

You know what I am talking about. You say things like, "Valentine's Day is so stupid. I mean, really who cares? It is a made-up holiday that is designed to suck bucks out of people's pockets. I don't want to do anything special for Valentine's Day - I would just be happy staying home. I don't want anything for Valentine's Day, really, I don't."

And all along you are secretly thinking, "I want to be swept off my feet. I want the perfect mix of love, passion, laughter and indulgence. I want to know that I am loved. I want to spill my fancy, prix fixe dinner in my lap and have my date think I am charming, cute, and even more beautiful with pasta sauce on my shirt."

I want a full-blown romantic comedy.

It dawns on me that the true tradition of Valentine's Day has become to act like you don't care, but to feel your heart beat harder that week in anticipation of the possibilities. Knowing that it will never live up to your dream, but realizing the next morning that it was quite perfect after all. No matter what happened.


A few ideas for this year's gift to my daughter.

The greatest part of the this "silly" holiday is that you don't have to be in a couple to play. For many, many years, I would get a single rose from my father each Valentine's Day. My mother always creates these artistic and thoughtful goodie bags filled with treats and treasures. Our family often spends part of the day enjoying heart-shaped pizzas at one of our favorite local haunts, Minsky's. And, now that I am a Mom, I look forward to surprising my daughter with a piece of art that reminds her that she is loved deeply and treasured by many.

For the next week, I will help customers find gifts. I will help parents, children, lovers, wives, husbands, partners, and friends find the perfect "token" for their Valentine. And, with each gift, I will hear a story. I will get to share a bit of their insecurity, their desire, and their love. And I will be reminded every day of how easy it is to share your love with someone.

So this year, remember:

"Don't be reckless with other people's hearts.

Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours."

PS...I love words, quotes, thoughts and conversation. So, this year I LOVED working on our Valentine's Day theme for the store. We sat around and came up with 365 words to describe a gift from your heart. Part way though this exercise, I had to leave for a bit, but I kept calling Sloane (making her crazy, I am sure) with more words I thought of in the car. So, enjoy our list! And, if you can't think of anything to do on Valentine's Day, sit around with the people you love and think of your own 365 words.

Feb. 5, 2009

Another Day In Paradise

On Saturday, it was 60+ degrees in our fair city, and we had a party for an artist we represent, Kelly Aaron. I want you to have her tell you all about it - www.kellyaaronmosaics.blogspot.com.

We planned the event a month or so before. You can't custom order the weather, but it was divine.

I describe Kelly's amazing work as "found object mosaic". I have yet to hand over to her my broken pieces of Italian pottery, although I did loan them to the display window we fashioned in honor of her event. I'm still designing in my mind what I want her to fashion from my breakage. Her work is detailed, occasionally tongue-in-cheek, and always perfectly beautiful.

elton john forever!

Casey and I always have fun designing the events we host in the store. However, one of the coolest things we did in preparing for Kelly's event was make part of our web page about the event sing an Elton John song  when hovering over Elton's photo. Of course, he crooned "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart". He has become my mascot for this Valentine's Day. We have never added this technology to our website before, but watch out: we're on a roll.

My other little, subtle piece of fun for this event was a plate of "mosaic cookies" - carefully broken Chips Ahoy, Nutter Butter, and Sandies packaged cookies. I forgot to take a picture, but I had to refill the tray many times.

We'll have another party soon. Join us.

PS...At the left is Elton as he appeared previously on our website. Make him sing for you!

Feb. 3, 2009

26 Minutes

Today the power was out from 12:59 to 1:25pm at STUFF. It gets very quiet, very fast, when our power fails.


Today's treasured shopper.

I kind of liked it, because it reminded me of STUFF when we opened 12 years ago and wrote every sale up on a carboned paper receipt - so no computers and printers humming. We had no stereo - so no music playing. It was quite a different experience than now. However, I like now just a bit better.

My favorite part of STUFF is that, when the lights go out, people keep shopping. Many other shops on our block locked their doors right away today, but we never have for power outages. And today, like most days in the past, we had a woman who was in the store when the lights went out, and she was still there when we came roaring back to life. She chose a perfect gift and was never fussy.

Several years ago, we had a man on staff, Parrish, who had the quietest sense of humor. It was sharp, however. On a day in December, we had a power outage near the end of the day that sent us running for candles so that customers could see - and even then it was a challenge. During this power struggle, he walked over to me with probably the most expensive necklace we had in the store at that time and told me he needed it gift wrapped. I knew he must be joking; that would be just like him. I quietly said, "Very funny," and laughed. He said very little, but something like, "I'll meet you back up front with my customer." So I wrapped it. And she bought it. And yes, she knew the price; it had been shared with her even if it was too dark to read the tag!!

So, even on the darkest days at STUFF, we sparkle and shine, laugh and gift wrap.

Jan. 25, 2009

Cover To Cover

In the room in our house that we call the library, you will find a set of books with extremely tattered covers. My son likes them to be housed in numeric order, 1 through 7. All of us have read them - as they were released - and in order. There were times when that was dicey, because my husband and I would tussle about who got to break the spine and dive in first.

We have loved every one of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. And although our son loved having them read to him by my husband, he chomped at the bit to be able to read them while ensconced on the lower bunk in his room - all by himself and by the light of one thin bulb. I inhaled these instances of pure magic every time I visited his room as the "lights out executioner", and at times the emotions I felt were suffocating.

I was in Scotland with my father - and 40 years old!! - when Dumbledore died in the book I had brought on vacation. My father had stepped out for a moonlit view of the The Old Course at St. Andrews, and I had stayed in the hotel room to bathe and read. I was crying when he came in, and he immediately thought something bad had happened back at home. When I had the ability to speak clearly and told him what the true problem was, he laughed. I believe he understood because, in his words, "I just finished the first one a while back."

This weekend, our son was invited by my mom to bring a friend and the first five Harry Potter movies to her house for a two-night-overnight-movie-watching-extravaganza. Of course they are watching them in order, and, when I checked in today from my business trip, they were in the middle of number three. It was mid-day, and I'm sure she had darkened the area around the TV. They all sounded like they were wrapped in bliss.

In a continuing effort to be an exemplary mother, I had packed a little candy as strength and sustenance for their film journey. I knew my son and his friend wouldn't really want to eat candy that tasted like dirt, squid, snot, or shepherd's pie. So, I bottled up a little bit of my own Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. M&M's were the stunt doubles, and I'll bet the bottle is empty upon my return.

Just this past Christmas, I mentioned to my husband that I thought I was ready to re-read the Harry Potter books in order and back-to-back. I'm gonna crack the spines again just as soon as I get home.


The imposters.

Jan. 24, 2009

The One That Got Away


This is the one that got away.

The piece of art you see here will never be displayed for sale at STUFF. That's because, the day the artists from Hoop Dog Studio delivered it, Casey bought it. You see, to say my sister loves the ocean and all of its treasures would be an understatement. And this amazing piece of sculpture is a treasure from the sea and from the hands of Kansas City artists - an A+ double whammy.

My sister and I share a business, and our children share a school, but we really do not spend every moment together. We do not share a brain and know everything about each other. Plus, we live in separate homes. But her love of the sea permeates all of that, and I have been involved in at least two incidents involving conch shells that make me giggle as I write this.

Incident #1: At one restaurant in Kansas City - in Brookside no less - is a women's restroom. It has no windows, one stall, and a single shelf above the sink and mirror. On that shelf, several years ago, was a great conch shell sitting alone. I know this because, although I did not need to use the facilities, I was sent in by my sister to see the "travesty" that was playing out in there. When I rejoined our table, I shared with everyone what I believed to be the problem. Casey saw it as more than a mere problem and asked me if I would mind creating a small disturbance in the main room while she went in and confiscated (read: steal) the shell and took it to be "with its friends" at her house. It bothered her deeply that the shell was in a darkly painted restroom with no fresh air or a window. I pointed out that it was near a water source, but she merely rolled her eyes.

She did not steal the shell. Truly. She did, however, ask the owner about it. She may have even offered to pay for it - I'm not sure. The shell was a "treasured" thing in the owner's wife's life, and he could not part with it. Casey begged to differ - silently - in her soul while talking to him, but I heard about it in full color all the way back to work.

Incident #2: Probably 5 years ago now, my sister and I hosted our two best friends for a long weekend at a house our father was renting in Florida. The home was within easy walking distance from the beach, and the weekend was slow paced, restful, and easy - until the day we got in the car to "pick up a few things" as presents for our families and children at home in landlocked Missouri. While driving down the main two lane road on this skinny little island, I was asked by my sister to bring the car to a stop, turn it around, and head back down the road to see something shocking.

Now, as the driver of the car, I would like to believe that I would have been aware of any true danger. What I had missed, because I was looking out the driver's window at the beach and ocean, was the collection of conch shells that had been fenced in on a shelf outside a gift shop. This was a five alarm blaze in my sister's eyes. As Casey told us in plain English, "Just look at them. They're chained up." And, what bothered her the most, "And right where they can see the ocean." She added something else about "no justice" and "disgusting". Now, to be honest, they were not chained up. Technically, they were on a lovely, weathered, 4- or 5-shelf cabinet outside a locally-owned gift shop. True, they were behind chicken wire, and there was a lock between the fence and the wood, but we learned from the store owner that this was only for "overnight" and that during the day they were allowed to breathe more deeply of implied freedom. These were cool conchs - they were not shiny, and several had a non-fancy air about them. They were authentic specimens.

I can't remember if Casey bought one or not. I can tell you that the ride back to the house was delightful, and no harm came to the group. I can only guess that the conchs that were left behind were sad when we pulled away.

Each incredible piece of art that Hoop Dog Studio delivered this week bears the inscription "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." This is a quote from John Muir, and each unique sculpture grabs you in a different way. One of them has me in its sway, but I haven't plunked down any money yet. The one Casey chose was hitched immediately to her blue planet and all that swims in its water.

Come in and see them. They are phenomenal. We do lock the doors at night for their safety, but we leave the fresh air circulating and a few lamps on so no one gets lonely.

Jan. 11, 2009

" No Paint ? ! "

These are the words that were asked of me in New York several years ago. Casey and I had flown to NY for business and, at the end of the "tour on foot" we had conceived for ourselves covering several neighborhoods between the convention center and a favorite place for dinner, we landed ourselves in the a place called Think Pink on 6th Avenue at 10th Street. My sister had been there before with girlfriends, so we spontaneously plunked down money for manicures. It was to be an adventure like nothing I had put myself through before.

You see, every member of the staff was using a different flavor of broken English, and I think I was having trouble expressing the fact that I can't wear nail polish on my fingernails. My skin goes into "allergic insanity", and we all know blood doesn't look good on anything. So, since the ripe young age of 10 and what seemed like a few too many visits to my pediatrician, I have opted out of this rite of womanhood and style. (I can wear nail polish on my toes - who knows why? - and it has been my occasional joy throughout life, but not something I maintain on a regular basis. I save those finances for facials, my one true beauty love.)

I admit to not being much of a girlie girl. I can still count on one hand the total number of manicures I have had, and I can use the other hand to do the math on pedicures. I like them both, yet have never made them a part of my beauty regime. I tell myself I can't find the time or the money, and I move on.

Most people think work trips are like vacation anyway, so we went crazy and plunked ourselves down for a little pampering - but not until I spent many long moments that were slowly filled with hand gestures as I tried to explain the "no paint" premise when it came to my fingertips. I had been walked by the wall full of little bottles of fingernail polish temptation and had been asked to choose "mine" at least twice. Casey could stand it no longer and finally stepped in and said, "No paint."

Those two words registered. We were met with "No paint ? !" in a querulous tone understandable in any language. By now, I felt like a medical spectacle in a very small operating room. Everything in New York is designed well and wastes no space, and this salon was no exception. They have the ability to perform probably 12 manicures and 8 spa pedicures simultaneously while 20 people are parked at the nail drying stations. All this in about 800 square feet. If memory serves, at least 900 people were watching this spectacle, including the people that were looking through the street level glass at the Midwestern girl who wanted "no paint."

It didn't get better. My nails were cleaned up, the cuticles were restrained, and a slight shine was applied with a great manual buffer. Then, the top of my hands were slapped firmly two times each as a form of massage. I was handed my briefcase and handbag and was sent to the waiting area - two leather footstools under the coat rack, four inches inside the front door.

Now, my sister chose the "paint" package, and, when I was able to lift my head from its slightly embarrassed state, I saw that Casey was being escorted to the drying station by her manicurist. The woman walking toward me was bringing me her coat and bags to hold. What happened next still puts me on the floor with laughter.

At the drying station, my sister's manicurist was treating her to a small shoulder and back massage, gratis. Her small Asian body was firmly bent into Casey's shoulder, with her elbow providing the pressure. I had been slapped on the hand two times and sent to the corner - and she was getting a massage.

Our hands had been equally damaged. We paid the same amount of money.

But she had had a genie in her paint bottle.

PS...This past Friday, I had a spa pedicure right here in Kansas City at Persona. My son gave me a certificate for Christmas, and I wasted no time finding a time to go. Connie was the wizard who transformed my feet.

read more archived blogs from 2008 or 2007