Casey's and Sloane's Blog

Three Hours and Forty Years

It was the only day on the calendar that was “free”. When my Sunday New York Times arrived over a month ago and had a flyer in it about a show at the Wichita Art Museum, I did a double-take. Wichita? In Kansas? Then I grabbed my calendar to pick a date to go. A Friday three weeks away was the only day on the whole Month-at-a-Glance that had nothing on it, or at least the only one that could handle six hours of driving for art.

It was a show of pieces by Hudson River School painters curated by the New York Historical Society. Three words hooked me. Hudson. River. School.

When I was in fifth grade at William Cullen Bryant Elementary School, a docent from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art brought a huge – to all of us – painting from the museum. She talked about it at length, asked us to “look more closely,” and urged us to answer “What else do you see?” with real words.

I was mesmerized by this piece. It was full to the edges with deep, dark corners of trees and bushes. Greens that ran to black but still showed leaves and vines. It was filled near the top of the frame with white clouds and a sky of every shade of blue. A top corner of the canvas held a foreboding cloud out in the distance that warned of change coming. It had animals and flowers and rocks and cliffs and possibly a waterfall. I am unclear on the waterfall, but there was water coursing through it somewhere.

I learned years later that, in the late ’70s, the pieces that went out with the docents to schools were replicas. Being very close to true size and with frames that were gold and fancy, if not as expensive at the originals, they were breathtaking to my 10-year-old self. They even showed brush marks.

I looked deeper, and, when we were told we could come closer, I did. I gazed in to the darkest corner for more and then up to the sky for relief.

I vividly remember telling my parents about it, probably yet that night. I nagged that we had to go to the museum “soon” to see it. I wanted to take them there and walk them to exactly where it hung, knowing I had no idea exactly where that was but sure that someone would know about the huge painting that a blonde lady had brought to my school just a few days ago! I wanted to show my parents what the docent had shown me. I wanted them to look closely and see more than I did. I wanted to talk about it like she did.

The docent kept mentioning the “Hudson River School,” and I just knew that was a place I should go to school. She made it sound like college, whatever that was. A place of learning with dark corners and majestic skies is what hooked into my brain.

I walked to school back then, and my family could have walked to The Nelson had we chosen to. I also walked to the Plaza Library at the corner of Ward Parkway and Main Street. The kids’ section was in the basement, but I knew that any books or information about the Hudson River School would be listed upstairs in the big card racks. I loved that building, and I really, really loved those 3×5 cards and talking to the librarians. Slipping into the Dewey Decimal language always felt special and foreign. And grown up. Sometimes they would give me “the look” that silently willed us younger people to realize we shouldn’t be upstairs. Not this time.

I was happy to know more about the Hudson River School and the painters who defined it using the pile of books I scavenged from the shelves. I spent a fair amount of time that day looking at many paintings in several books, but I was devastated to learn that there was no physical school. I had no desire then – nor do I have now – to be an artist, but I was crushed to find I could never, truly go there.

Except at a museum, which I go to every chance I get. The Hudson River School genre is no longer a true favorite, but it can hold me in its sway for the length of a special visit. I can still hear that docent and see that massive painting she carried into our room. I can still feel the old library and the gazes of those wise women behind the desk as I traipsed by them with my large format books to sit by the big windows.

Last Friday took me three hours down the road from my home and forty years back in time. On the ride back, as the sun was fading in the Flint Hills, I remembered that the original painting I saw when I was ten is still in the collection of The Nelson. I saw it a few years ago as I was hurriedly cruising through the museum on my way to a meeting. It stopped me in my tracks.

I stayed riveted to that spot just as long as I could, and I still can’t tell you if there is a waterfall.


p.s. All the photos above are tiny pieces of paintings I saw at the special exhibition at the Wichita Art Museum. I was enthralled by the skies and water in this particular set of works. The show runs through April 30, 2017. We also strolled the permanent collection and found the woman below. I love her.



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Posted in Art, Memories, Travel | 10 Comments

The Whole World Nicer

Several days before we left to meet our son in New Orleans for his spring break, I was ribbed a little for wearing my AIDS Walk wind breaker. My partner that night informed someone we ran into that “…she always wears that jacket. I don’t think she owns another coat.” I saw no reason to defend myself, and I smiled.

I love this jacket. For many reasons. One: It was a gift over ten years ago for meeting a goal in fundraising. Two: It is lightweight and perfect for travel. Three: I can wear it in the winter easily. Four: It reminds me every time I look down at the logo that AIDS Walk knows no season for me. HIV/AIDS doesn’t quit. It is a 24/7 disease.

So you can imagine my terror when I found a hole on the seam under my left arm. I was crossing my arms on the bus back from a plantation home. I was trying to get my right shoulder in a comfortable position so that my son could fall asleep on it. He might have moved out of the house almost two years ago, but a mother NEVER forgets the pain of a limb arranged stupidly for a child’s nap!

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Posted in Clothing, Family, Health, Travel | 22 Comments

Easing Back

I am easing back into wanting to go the grocery store. As in, on one of my days off, when there isn’t a time crunch or a huge list to be purchased, I will enter the store. Alone or with my husband, I am easing back into what was a huge part of my life for so many years.

I have written before about myself and grocery stores. My last two trips to the store have been with my husband and almost a month apart. Both very different experiences. One got me a “talking to,” and the other, after following preset parameters from the “talking to,” got me a good dose of the stink eye.

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Posted in Food, Humor, Marriage, Shopping | 17 Comments

I Miss Snow

There. I said it. I miss snow. In addition, I have missed the sun for many days in a row this past week. But that’s another subject and slotted for another session.

In pinpointing what I miss most about snow, I landed on one constant: the quiet beauty it brings. The snow muffles the sounds of my neighborhood, and I am unable to hear cars moving slowly at the bottom of my hill. A favorite. When I walk my dog, the sounds that are closest to my ears – and which are usually drowned out by the environment – become sweet retreats for my mind.The brush of my arms against my quilted coat and the dog’s paws lifting off the pavement are two of my favorites.


In addition, the Midwest is not at its loveliest in winter. But our sloping hills, stark trees, and structured landscapes become magical with even the slightest snowfall. Quiet beauty. This region needs snow to brighten the brown that overtakes the ground. Not being a scientist, I can only imagine this region needs the snow for a myriad of reasons, water tables and pest control being just two.

I do. I miss snow. Writing those three words, I can only imagine what the polar bears would write if they had a blog….


p.s. This photo is of my niece almost three years ago. Time has flown, but she clearly embraces in this photo how I feel about snow.

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Posted in Environment, Mental Health, Seasons | 3 Comments

Rest In Peace

Almost thirty-five years after leaving junior high school, my French teacher walked into our business this past weekend and told my sister the saddest news of our year. A dear friend – an acquaintance, a confidante, a secret keeper – had died. And not recently, but six months ago. Unbeknownst to us all, and a shock.

John Creighton started cutting my hair when I was ten years old. I probably sat on a phone book in his chair at the swanky Salon Klaus on The Plaza. He cut the hair on the heads of my parents first, and what propelled me to follow suit is unknown. School photos? Unruly cowlick? He cut my hair until my fifty-first year. No one else did. Not ever in all those years. Not even when I moved whole states away. Continue reading

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Posted in Death, Family, Memories | 15 Comments

Once A Year

Today is World AIDS Day. It is a bit of a high holy day for me. I take serious time to think about what my commitment to the AIDS battle is on a local level and how HIV/AIDS ravages communities and the world. It is, by sheer numbers, a global pandemic.


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Posted in Health, Philanthropy, Volunteering | 4 Comments

Truly Blessed

It isn’t hard for us to find reasons to be thankful. We are truly blessed. Yet some days it is harder than others. Sometimes the din of daily challenges drowns out the good in our lives. There are days when we are just trying to get to the end of the day without stumbling and landing flat on our faces.

This year we have had many challenges and many blessings. The most notable challenge has been having both our father and our mother fighting cancer. They are vibrant, strong, and engaged parents. They both have big personalities. They both are very strong-willed and opinionated. They are both loving and actively involved in our lives and our children’s lives.

You can imagine how scary it is to have them both facing life-threatening diagnoses. It has been humbling and all-consuming at times. Our parents have always set their expectations for us very high. They have led by example. They insist that we suit up, show up, and engage in our careers, our family lives, and our community. They have very different personal motivations and beliefs, but they share the same core value of being accountable and present. There is no “wall-flowering” allowed in the Simmons family.

Sloane, our Mom, Casey and our Dad at Wings of Hope a couple weeks ago.

STUFF celebrated its 20th birthday last week. Since our store’s birthday also falls on the anniversary of our younger sister’s death, we do not make a big deal about it. However, we do enjoy the feelings of success and pride in having built this amazing business that shares so much with so many. We mention this because this year we were given the opportunity to expand our footprint in Brookside and move our store to a larger space up the street. It was exciting and inspiring. It was a dream come true. It was also a stressful and overwhelming decision about our future in business. In the end, we decided to stay put. We are happy with our choice and know the dream will continue to grow and thrive.

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Posted in Celebrations, Children, Entrepreneurs, Family, Holidays, Memories, Relationships, Sisters, Small Business | 1 Comment

One Of The Days I Went Crazy

I can remember it well:The day I couldn’t take one more minute in my minivan with Disney songs on the CD player. Being the driver did not mean I chose the music every time. Many were the days when I pushed my young man too far and crammed him into the car seat one too many times. To appease him and soothe his crankiness, I played Disney music. He loved it with his every fiber.


When we purchased the CDs, my husband and I chose well, knowing we would be surrounded by these pieces for a while. They were recorded well and sung by professionals. Sure, Mickey performed some songs, as did Donald Duck. OK. But great orchestrations and orchestras moved it along, All fine and good.


Until your beautiful child wants to hear “There’s A Hole In My Bucket” performed by Goofy for the ten-thousandth time in a row in one day. I was beginning to hate Goofy.

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Posted in Children, Mental Health, Motherhood, Music | 2 Comments

Living With Cancer

Let’s start with the simple truth: Both of our parents have cancer. At the same time, in their separate homes. One is in chemotherapy for a cancer that has been battled four times. One is in a remission that will not last. Heck, it’s not really remission. It’s just a wonderful string of days that lasts until the cancer pronounces itself and the chemical treatments resume.

But what they are both doing beautifully is living with cancer. Truly living. And the gift they have given us is that they have let both of us in for the private appointments, the fears, the sickness, the good, and the bad. The days that seem numbered, and the days that never end.


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Posted in Cancer, Celebrations, Family, Health, Shopping, Small Business | 14 Comments

Wearing It

This past week has been crazy busy. And crazy.

I looked down in my closet today and saw the whole week – and every event I attended and every hour I worked – in one pile. Shoes right where I had left them the minute I took them off.


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Posted in Clothing, Memories | Leave a comment