Casey's and Sloane's Blog
Friday night I stood in the ice-flecked, bitter air at a truck stop in very rural Iowa. The wind that blew across the concrete from the wide open and fallow corn field beyond was cutting. In the brief minutes it took me to finish operating the gas pump and wait for the receipt, I heard my grandfather’s voice in my head at least two times.
“Are you prepared for the road trip?”
“Have you checked everything?”
Maybe there were a few more of his comments bounding around my frozen brain. He spent his career as a Missouri State Highway Patrolman. He not only loved a good road trip – as I was on that day – he spent most of his career working the highways and back roads of central Missouri in a car. He didn’t teach me so much about cars mechanically, but what safety on the road really was.
When I was in college at Mizzou, I made trips to Chicago to visit my boyfriend (now husband) many times in my 1983 Honda Civic 1500 S. Thirty years ago, at lower speed limits, it was a rock-solid eight hour trip. Time meant nothing to me and my passengers. Well, not time of day or daylight. We would leave for a weekend just as soon as we could on a Friday and not get into the car in Chicago to return until midnight on Sunday night – a time chosen because it was exactly eight hours and forty minutes from the start of my geology class.
He knew about these trips. When I saw him during this time of my life, he would drop hints like, “Sweetie, have you checked the tire pressure lately?” or, “How’s your washer level?” I visited him and my grandmother often. One, because I loved them with my every fiber, and two, because they lived in Jefferson City, which was only thirty-five minutes from my dorm. A hot meal and great love was a short ride away.
Any deficiencies in my car upkeep was dealt with in the carport right off the kitchen. Extra jugs of washer fluid were always on hand, and I knew exactly where it went. His son-in-law may have been my chief teacher of all things under the hood, but my grandfather’s eyes shined with pride when I knew to pull the dipstick, wipe it, and place it back before pulling it again for the “real” oil level reading.
I had checked my car tires before leaving Friday morning. I checked the gas level. (Oil level and the like are now the purview of the dealership that leases me my car. I trust them.)
Travel safety was my grandfather’s ultimate goal. He always wanted me to have a few bottles of water in the car in the winter. A blanket would be nice. “Pretzels keep nicely,” he would mention. Of course I had harnessed a AAA card in my wallet, a birthright of all his descendants. Cell phones were not of his era, but I now have one.
He would have been horrified at the conditions last Friday evening. Rain was changing to snow. The temperature had dropped fifteen degrees in less than an hour. It was dark. We were still two hours from home. The highway I was on was familiar but not memorized. I was not wearing socks. There was no water in the car. Heck, I didn’t even have a winter coat with me. Quite possibly, his first born great-grandchild, who was in the car with me, was coatless as well.
An angel swooped in on us when I bothered to try and swipe the salty road crust off the windshield while idling at the truck stop. I had pulled forward from the pumps so my dear friend had a shorter walk from the restroom. Nothing came out of the sprayers. My husband jumped out and purchased a gallon of the magic blue water like he was jet propelled.
I am wise enough and have been happily married long enough that I did not jump out of the car to help my sweatshirt-clad husband find the reservoir in the thirty degree wind. He did just fine, although he utilized one choice cuss word.
I would have so loved to see my grandfather’s smile had I been the one to remove the big black cap and place it for safe keeping in the track of metal to the left formed by the fit of the hood to the body of the car. Far away from moving parts. Safe and secure.
p.s. These photos were taken Friday when we drove to and from Kansas City, Missouri, to Des Moines, Iowa, to eat pizza that we meant to eat last March on another road trip. It’s a long story, but the pizza and friendship were divine. Much love to my friend and travel buddy Sherry Jackson, who remembers my grandfather well and enjoyed many a meal at their home when we were in college. You can read about the trip that birthed this one here.
If you haven’t read Part One, you can find it here.
Our customers are remarkable. You are all real, alive, three-dimensional, diverse, and interesting people. You are not statistics on a printout to us. You are not numbers in a database. You are Carl, Roxanne, Erika, and Beth. Ashley, Stephen, Michelle, and Kirk. You make a choice to shop at our store. You are parents, friends, spouses, work colleagues, family, collectors, and community partners. You are YOU. We celebrate YOU, and we are deeply grateful for your openness, kindness, and thoughtful shopping. You are why we come to work every day. Thank you for choosing our store. We can never thank you enough. Keep the laughter and shared stories coming. The joy you share is inspiring. Thank you for your faith in us and in our dream business.
Last week we received a giant stack of boxes. We are conditioned to piles of boxes rolling into our store every day. In October, November, and December, the piles grow pretty tall. Some days our deliveries fill half the UPS truck that Rafael – our UPS driver who, like us, also loves the lemon cake at Cafe Europa! – drives to our back door. On this day, however, a small box was cushioned in the pile. It was addressed to us personally in the most fantastic lettering you can imagine. Inside we found a handpainted ceramic bowl, made especially for serving our traditional party M&M’s. It reads: “PURSUE GOOD STUFF…LIKE M&M’S”. It is quite perfect, and we are humbled by the thought, kindness, and generosity that created such a meaningful gift. Thank you, Julie and Robin Cates. You “party girls” are forever in our hearts, and you will now be with us at every party we host at STUFF.
Our lives are incredible. They are not always simple, yet they’re not too complex. But they are always extraordinary. There is so very much to celebrate – graduations, returning travelers, small cancer victories, anniversaries, and birthdays. As we look ahead to 2016, we are already planning parties at our store and in our homes. We have no doubt it will be another year filled with celebrations and meaningful connections.
We invite you to join in all our celebrations at STUFF. We encourage you to plan parties of your own as often as possible. You will not regret it.
We would also like to recommend serving a bowl of happy and colorful peanut M&M’s. We have found it makes for a joyful journey. And added protein for the ride.
We have been gifted almost twenty years of success, and we are thrilled to be experiencing a busy holiday season again this year. We are constantly grateful.
When we started our store over 19 years ago, we were younger, naive, and deeply passionate. Many people told us we would never succeed, and there have been many times over the years when we feared the same. But we kept our dreams alive, with not much more than sheer determination and blatant denial as life support. Honestly, this business has never been easy. There have been times when it has crawled and walked by sheer willpower. Much like a toddler, it has always taken daily management and our constant attention.
We have experienced many, many challenges over these incredible years. But one thing has never changed at our store: the celebrations. We started our store by hosting art opening parties, and to this day we have continued to host an increasing number of events every year. We love a good party. Yes, we are self-professed “party girls” who believe that life should be celebrated as often as possible.
We also believe that it is not a party without a bowl of peanut M&M’s. Since our first event, we have always offered a bowl brimming with those colorful sweets. It is both a tradition and a superstition at this point. We believe the business might fold if we forgot the M&M’s. If you have had a peanut M&M at STUFF, you are part of this tradition, and we thank you.
STUFF is our careers and our creative muse, and it has been a foundation for self-discovery. Professional and personal growth came along with that. Our store is the extension of our family. Our work team is extraordinary. Today, and for the last 19+ years, we have worked with people who we are proud to call our work family. Our past team members have gone on to nestle into rich, full lives. We have attended weddings and baby showers. We have held many babies, and we have hugged past employees tightly when they drop in for a happy visit or during difficult times. They are part of the STUFF story. And the team we have this season is no exception. We are grateful for Ryoko, Maggie, Lynne, Rebecca, Andrea, Christopher, Cori, Abby, Joy, Sherry, Vivian, Ella, Sean and Sue Ann. They have offered 110% every day and in every way. They make our work together playful and happy. We offer each other support, love, and kindness. We are very proud to have a team that puts people first. These people embrace the true mission of our store. They all have seen the power of peanut M&M’s at every one of the twenty-two parties during our Season of Giving this year alone. Thank you, team; we love you!
Many things have changed over the last 19 years. Our store was designed to evolve. We recognized early on that this special project had a spirit of its own. We strive to let our treasured artists grow creatively by finding their own paths. We do not push our artists to make work based on profit. We encourage our artists to challenge themselves, to gain confidence, and to become better small business owners themselves. We try to share our experience and wisdom openly and freely. We even find ourselves offering seminars in small business, customer service, and creative motivation beyond the walls and mission of STUFF. This last part is a journey we did not foresee but continue to explore. To our artists: we admire your talent and are grateful that you have chosen STUFF to share your work with the world. We look forward to supporting you and many artists for years to come.
We, in many ways, have become the stewards of this magical little place with a very big heart. We have always worked hard to let STUFF take shape somewhat on its own.
Stay tuned for Part Two…
We are indeed thankful. In so many ways, and for so many reasons. Each year, we take a moment right about now to thank our lucky stars for this amazing planet we all ride on and the lives we’ve built within that powerful grace.
- We are thankful for each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- We are thankful for our parents’ continued gentle guidance.
- We are thankful for our childrens’ patience in our absences and silences.
- We are thankful for our employees’ diligent work.
- We are thankful for our customers’ trust in our dream business.
- We are thankful for the artists we represent and their commitment to handcraft.
And we are very thankful that you take the time to read our blogs and emails. We wish you the most delicious and peaceful Thanksgiving. Ever.
We all want to know that we are making a difference when we shop. Heck, when we do just about anything. The “why” in all our actions is important, and the effects can be long-lasting.
STUFF made a commitment many years ago to support local artists and to be active members of our vibrant community. This is true of both of us in our personal lives as well. Each year since the first one, we have renewed that commitment by setting higher goals for our support of local not-for-profit organizations.
Please join us this year on any of the 20 different nights listed below. By shopping during one of these great charity parties, that charity will receive 15% of your purchase, and all the money raised stays local.
Yummy drinks, delicious snacks, and STUFF’s signature bowl of M&Ms makes each night complete. Magic serendipitously shows herself almost every evening when connections are made between the dedicated charity partners and our customers who want to know just a bit more about possibly doing just a bit more.
Let’s keep making a difference…together.
AIDS Walk Kansas City
November 10, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
Great Plains SPCA
November 11, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
November 12, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
November 13, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
The HALO Foundation
November 17, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri
November 18, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
November 19, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
November 20, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Green Works in Kansas City
November 24, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
November 30, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Women’s Employment Network
December 1, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
December 2, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
UMKC Women’s Center
December 3, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
Jackson County CASA
December 8, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Kansas City Actor’s Theatre
December 9, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Kansas City CARE Clinic
December 10, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Reach Out & Read KC
December 14, 2015 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
Good Samaritian Project
December 15, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
The Whole Person
December 16, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Hope Care Center
December 17, 2015 – 5:30 to 7:00 pm
Every day, someone enters a treatment center for cancer. Every day, good news is handed out. Every day, bad news is received.
“Every days” have happened to the people in these pictures. Our family. Our friends. Their family and their friends. It seems never-ending.
But for two days a year we childishly imagine cancer takes a break so we can celebrate a wonderful season full of hope and renewal. Those two days are when we open our store wide to our customers and our city and put on a great party, Wings of Hope. It is a holiday open house, and it is a crowning moment in our year. We take a breath right before our season kicks it into high gear to laugh, tell stories, and shop for friends and family.
As in years past, we are donating 20% of every purchase this Saturday and Sunday to a cancer research fund named for our friend Susan Henke Miller. She will be with us again this year – so many years after we thought we would lose her to her cancer.
Join us for an “every day” this weekend. Help us raise money. Help us consume great drinks, delicious snacks, and STUFF’s signature party food: peanut M&Ms.
Help us make this season bright.
We thank you for your business.
p.s. These pictures from previous Wings of Hope parties remind us of our fantastic past. What wonderful days they all were.
Today I missed him for the first time. As in: My heart silently whispered to me, “I miss him.”
And it is all because of six slices of bacon. The fleeting pain I felt and the blink of quick tears were caused from the extra slices of salt-cured meat my husband bought for a recipe earlier this week that called for two. I might have know then, when I inquired about the thick chunk of meat in butcher’s paper, that by the end of the week I would be struck with heartache when I opened the refrigerator to reach for the Greek yogurt.
My son eats breakfast. When he was a baby, his happiness in the high chair with the sun coming in the kitchen windows was glorious to behold. He would make yummy sounds at just about anything I put on the plate, which within minutes was moved to the tray, where he enjoyed his food the most. Bananas chunk were fine, mandarin orange slices even better. This would keep him entertained while I put eggs in the pan. Cheese was always a small part of the mix, and, as he grew I slipped in vegetables – spinach (a favorite), tomatoes (not), roasted sweet potato leftovers (loved when available).
The baby grew, the highchair moved on to others’ homes. A plate at the worn pine table was now full-time home to “special breakfasts”. Those were his words for breakfasts where I had time, usually on the weekends, to make bacon. Bacon takes time, and, if I try to rush it at all, I burn it. Bad. Like smoke fills the house. He likes his bacon very crispy, but not black, so I have been handed a lifetime challenge.
His hands-down favorite meal that I make on slow mornings – and with a teenager, that could be early afternoon – is crisp bacon, very cheesy scrambled eggs, cranberry juice, and thin pancakes my grandmother taught me to make.
And the best part of this meal is that I always eat it with him. The sun shines in the windows, but I make the yummy noises.
And he smiles every time.
p.s.These photos were taken in September when we visited him for Parent’s Weekend. I look forward to his return for Thanksgiving. I need to let my employer know I might be late one morning of our busiest weekend of the year because I will be burning bacon from lack of practice.
Long before I started my career selling art, I got hooked on needlepointing. My mother had done a great pillow I remember so well from my childhood, but that languished for years needing to be finished. I was in awe when I watched her work on it as a child. It now resides in my guest bedroom with a like-designed pillow my sister Casey needlepointed for me as a gift.
I have completed six pillows, one belt, and one holiday stocking for my husband, and I have been part of the pair of parents that attempted and finished a gorgeous stocking for our son. All this in my short life of fifty years.
I say short because needlepoint takes time. Maybe I take a little too long to complete projects, but hey, I’m occasionally drawn to other tasks. Like growing a business. And child rearing. And going to parties.
To this day, there is no machine on the planet that can needlepoint for you. It must be done by the human hand. Needle up through the canvas and needle back down, all while pulling wool or cotton or silk behind.
So, on Wednesday, I stood in awe at all that my friend Patricia had accomplished. I was transfixed by the artistry of her paintings on canvas and the forms themselves. The birds, butterflies, divers, and fruit held me in place. She had painted many of these canvases herself and had painted an original work to make all others from in the future. To scale and to size.
I felt like I was cheating my work as I stood midday during the work week at what was feeling more and more like an art show. It seemed like my sister and I should leave the small needlepoint store and take a leisurely lunch somewhere. A walk and possibly a nap. Art was all around me, and my friend had made it all. My envy of her talent has no end.
When we entered the store, she was stitching a piece of her own in the quiet. A diver entering a pool was swaddled in her hands. I believe she was working on one of the blue tones, of which there are many. She jumped up to welcome us, but I might have been a tad rude because I wanted to brush by her to see all the canvases tacked to the wall. Of course I hugged her, but it might have been too short, as I was impatient.
For me, needlepointing is quiet handwork. Some can stitch while watching TV. I can not. Some can listen to music. I can not. Some can stitch and talk on the phone. Not me. I do, however, enjoy stitching with others, but my last several projects have been worked on in solitary silence,
My greatest memory of stitching is when my sister and my husband and my mother were all stitching projects during one year. This was over twenty years ago. I had begged my mother to finally finish the pillow she had started in the 1970s, and she capitulated. All four of us would meet at my mother’s loft and stitch in silence, breaking the silence only to talk for a bit about current events or to gossip shamelessly. Then, we would drop back off into the quiet. I am always lulled by the scratch of the wool against the canvas webbing. It is soothing and rhythmic. I remember occasionally we would ask each other for help on the serious things: when to stop with one color and begin another or how to tie off a dwindling strand in a tidy fashion.
I stood in the quiet store and was so proud of my friend, She is a true artist in that she sees a future for herself in handcraft and all that that holds. She understands paint, and thread, and patience. She is excited to figure out the business of art, and it shows in her eyes and her smile.
Needlepointing is not knitting. it is not sewing. it is not cross-stitch. It is not crochet. It is not embroidery. It is needlepoint, and it holds me in its sway.
p.s. All artwork seen here is the work of Patricia O’Dell, who is building her needlepointing business under the name Mrs. Blandings. You can find out more here. I am partial to the particular blues she used in the wings on the peacock. Check out the close up below.
p.p.s. You can see her work at KC Needlepoint on Gregory in Kansas City, Missouri.
I said something a couple days ago and it has been bumping around in my head since. I think I should share it.
“We only have one store. One brick-and-mortar store. One actual, real-life, real-time store. You can touch the stuff, we can see you and feel you. We can share a smile and a conversation face-to-face with you. Just this one little store.”
Sloane and I were speaking to illustration students at the Kansas City Art Institute about choices.
One authentic store. That is what we wanted. That is what we built. That is why we continue to work so hard. It is tangible. It shares the joy of art and creativity with so many. It is never easy.
But, most things worth having in life aren’t easy. We were raised to know that and that is why you will find us, The STUFF Sisters, at our store, again today.
We hope you will come visit soon. We believe it is worth the journey.