Casey's and Sloane's Blog
There was a time, not long ago, when my 6′ 3″ son had to stand on tippy toes to see anything counter height. Food as I prepared it. Paperwork being looked at by my husband and me.
When he was five years old, and “knee high to a grasshopper” as my grandfather used to say, I stopped in to my second favorite store at the time, my own store being my first favorite. It was a clothing store that had been in Westport when we grew our business there, but it had moved to the Prairie Village shops not long after STUFF left Westport.
We were driving back from lunch with my father, and I thought we would just “bop in” for a quick look. My son was always delightful in shops and not a terror. I made a quick decision on a shirt and moved to the counter to pay. Nap time was approaching, and the clock was ticking to get home.
I will never forget him standing there mesmerized at the glass of a fully-lit vintage jewelry case. Quiet. Arms by his sides. Eyes bright. I took a moment to really watch him. He looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “Mom. I want to buy that for you,” in a voice that still burns me to remember.
On the bottom shelf was a double-strand turquoise, silver, and crystal necklace with a turquoise bead pendant. It was on the other side of a perfectly placed thread of red embroidery floss that delineated the items on sale from those that had yet to make the cut. This piece had made the cut.
The woman checking me out knew me and shopped at my store occasionally. She said, “What did he say?”
“He said he is going to buy that necklace for me.”
“Ahhhhhh…..How sweet.He obviously knows you like blue!”
We proceeded with the “how much” – with her asking him how much money he had, and with me buying it, and with her handing the gift-wrapped bag to him.
He beamed and glowed and gave me the greatest gift of waiting to fall asleep until we got home. Two hours in his own bed, not the car seat. Well, and that amazing necklace.
I loved that necklace to pieces. Two pieces, in fact. One day, earlier this year, it just gave out at the toggle. I was visited by this terrific memory and put the pieces in a Ziploc until I could deal with it without crying.
Near spring, I met with the artists at Hoop Dog Studio with my baggie in hand. I asked that the pieces be used to make a new piece. I wanted them to re-design it and use the beads any way they saw fit.
And now I have this. Gorgeous.
I am not the same woman I was when I was a young mother, and this new style fits me perfectly. One long strand and no symmetry.
I miss the little boy at the glass counter every day. Most mothers would give their left arms for little pieces of their children’s childhoods back. The day they reached for your hand and the sky was so blue and they didn’t let go. The night the sky was clear and they didn’t fuss once all the way through the midway at the State Fair. The day they stood up for themselves against odds. The high dive. The double dip that dripped on everything clutched in pudgy fingers.
Happy Mother’s Day.
p.s. No real, official research was done on which arm a mother would give for her children. I assumed left because the right arm is so useful.
Last weekend I attended a fantastic charity party for a local health clinic that I adore. Serving the uninsured and under-insured is the full-on mission of the Kansas City CARE Clinic. What I believe sets this event apart from many other great parties in this town is the intense creativity of the event and that filters from the intense creativity of the volunteer committee that steers it. The name of the event is “Bloom”, and it is themed each year. This year it was “Bloom Fleet Week”, and all of us stalwart sailors and patriotic participants where waiting at port when it docked.
I was thrilled to turn to one of the local artists my store represents with three pewter anchors in hand to ask her to make fleet week magic. She asked a few questions – what the neckline of my shirt was, what color I was wearing, what my preference in beads was – and told me she would call me when it was done.
A few weeks later, this piece of magic blew me away. It was perfect. Red coral, pewter, and pearls make a dynamic friendship. Paired with my navy blue tee, I was ready to set sail.
Hoop Dog Studio, the home of the artist who made this necklace, would accept no payment for this piece of art. She thanked me for my service on the CARE Clinic board. With her generosity, I told her I insisted that the piece come back to her so that she could use the beads again in other jewelry.
So, like me, this necklace will have enjoyed a one night life. As much as I have wanted to this week, I can’t go back to Bloom. The magical experience in a warehouse in the East Bottoms is long gone.
It was a wonderful night. It was packed with my friends and caring people I don’t even know who want to make sure Kansas Citians have access to quality health care, no matter their ability to pay.
I like this one night lifestyle. Magic happens.
Yesterday, like most days since our son left for college, I did not want to go to the grocery store. We needed very little, and truly I believed they were all things we could do without for the rest of our lives. The list was maybe seven items long. So I came to my senses and began negotiations with my husband.
“Do we really, really need mushrooms?” I demanded.
“Yes, if you want me to make this egg thing you love with the kale,” Mr. Wonderful answered.
“Can the rest wait?”
“Sure. For a few days,” he wisely stated. “Just drive me by the store, and I’ll run in while you wait.”
Done. I didn’t even wince or make a pucker face.
The routine when we get to the grocery store near our home – not the one near my business, which has another routine of its own – is that I drop him at the door and then circle the car to the west of the lot and watch for him to come out. Then, lazily, because I am off going to the grocery store right now, I pull up and pick him up and speed off. I am ‘fessing up right now to the fact that this has happened a great deal and not just yesterday. I am owning it.
But yesterday, when I pulled the car to the west of the lot and got out of the car, I bathed myself in the beauty of the two gorgeous, huge crab apple trees that grow along the embankment. I forget about them every year until I see them. The smell was of my favorite childhood home and the magnificent old crab apple tree that grew there.
Every spring that tree exploded with blooms that were massive. My sisters and I danced underneath it, shook its branches to be showered in petals, and pretended the petals were pink snow on the day every year when it gave up its finery for leaves. I remember my sister Casey being a “bride” underneath it, and the petals that cascaded down her dress were being “thrown” by the flower girl – not the older sister shaking the thickest branch.
If I had gone into the store – grumbling all the way while grasping my cotton grocery bags – I believe I would have missed this grandeur. Pure justification, I believe, for never entering a grocery store again.
What if I miss something? Something very important?
On an afternoon where I had a host of other priorities and jobs to accomplish, I decided to put all that off until the evening and focus on moving into my new used car today.
One of the upsides to getting a new used car is the act of cleaning out the old car and deciding who you are going to be in the new car. I usually take a full week to open up the box into which I crammed all the “old” things while dropping the old car at the dealership. I like just one week of feeling like it’s a brand new top-of-the-line race car on loan for me to test drive. You know, to help the manufacturer realize its potential. A true fully-functional prototype. One I won’t have long, so why bother sullying it with all the baggage of my real life?
And then real life steps in, and I remember this is my car to keep on a two-year lease. The charity notebooks, the trash can, the lint roller, the glass heart from my maternal grandmother, my stash of mint gum, Sharpies, small notepads, a tub of hand wipes, and the phone charger all made their way into the main cabin of the car today. Much was tossed – my 2015 and 2014 Fringe Festival buttons, a crammed full notepad of what seems like unimportant notes now – and much more.
A week ago, I called my father and asked him how to spell his father’s middle name. I knew how to spell the beginning part and was pretty sure of the whole thing, but I really couldn’t remember if there was an E at the end.
“There’s an E. Why do you want to know?” the smile in his tone apparent.
“Well, I am finally ordering a Roscoe bag. For my car.”
“What do you mean, a Roscoe bag? Who makes it?”
So I reminded him of my small love of L.L. Bean tote bags. What made him laugh out loud was my story of the inheritance of one and the purchasing and monogramming of two more.
When my Mom’s mom died, I asked for the L.L. Bean tote bag that had Grandma’s name, Gladys, in red script. I had seen her bring it to my home many times for Thanksgiving. Always in full use, it held the fixings for stuffing, spices for the turkey, and food and utensils I might not have on hand.
She had told me that she had finally purchased one with her name on it for “going to church.” She took this bag to church when she was part of the “meal brigade.” “It’s just perfect for casseroles, which you can stack with cardboard between them in the bag. Just ask your grandfather.” I didn’t need to ask him. She never lied, but she had a hand in teaching me the art of dancing around truths that could cause harm to others.
The part of the story I remember best is how she admits that the first one she had made by L.L. Bean carried her initials: GAP. Gladys Amanda Price. They were in block letters, and she liked them in that order and in that font. “But at the time that store, The Gap, was very popular, and someone did the very un-Christian thing and swiped it from me. I guess because they thought it was from there.”
Not to be deterred from her deliveries of food to the widows, widowers, mourners, wedding parties, and celebrants, she ordered another one. Same red-and-cream bag, same handle structure, but this time with her name in cursive. “Very different and definitely mine,” she concluded.
When L.L. Bean came out with the offering of longer handles – much easier to get up on your shoulder for pack-horse style carrying, my stock in trade – I was transfixed and knew I must have one. Not one to purchase things out of silly desire, I made a plan. I explained to my husband that, with all the road trips we were taking with our young son, we needed a bag to carry the food into and out of the car with ease. The food that wasn’t in the small travel cooler. The apples, the paring knife, the tablecloth, the crackers, cookies, and chips. We stopped often at roadside parks and Interstate rest areas to stretch legs and eat, so this bag would “be perfect!”
My dad’s mom had just recently passed away, and I knew exactly what I would emblazon the smaller, long-handled red-and-cream bag with: Virginia. In cursive. I would have both of my grandmother’s working with me again. It was dreamy when it arrived, and its use has been frequent.
With my new used car, I wanted a bag for all of my road supplies. Moving blankets for work, jumper cables, ice scraper, cotton grocery bags, first aid kit, and more. I wanted it to zip closed and have a terrific monogram. Not something that stated something boring like “car things”. I had been wanting a blue L.L. Bean tote for a few years but really had no apparent use for it. But this: this was clearly an apparent use. A true necessity.
Five days after laughing my way through the story with my dad and hanging up, the bag arrived. The biggest bag they make and with short handles, Roscoe will start riding with me tomorrow. I’ve stashed all the unsightly but necessary things away and zipped the top shut.
I probably should have named it “Cal” or “Madison” after my mom’s father. He was the highway patrolman who taught me car safety and the need to have on hand the things that will be riding in the Roscoe bag in the first place.
But I needed Hubert Roscoe Simmons to help me organize the remotest section of my car. He was a terribly tidy farmer who worked very hard, as all my grandparents did. But his cabinet-making workshop was a place to behold when I was a child. We three girls were always welcome and were taught the virtues of having every tool and piece of wood in its place at all times.
That’s who’s riding with me in my fully outfitted car starting tomorrow. Roscoe.
p.s. I wrote about my grandfather Cal here. I miss all my grandparents every single day.
p.p.s. Previous musings about the color blue and L.L. Bean totes can be found here and here.
Today, much like a day months before that, I sat by myself while a family member stood alone to protect all that she holds dear.
My sister has just finished a ten month ordeal that ended in a court order. She has shown fortitude, strength, love, and anger. Today, she most likely dug deep and stood on the firm conviction that love always wins and the truth would light the way. Leaving a court room triumphant can be bittersweet, with the emphasis on sweet this time around.
Several months ago, I sat holding my father’s jacket and his wallet in my lap, leaving my handbag on the floor of the surgery suite. He never took off his street clothes as the surgeon took a brief look and an even quicker biopsy. The bottoms of his shoes were my only sight line on him as they raised his form to horizontal on the padded table. He was there alone with his thoughts, while my mind raced. A large Band-Aid in place, we were swiftly off to the safety of the car.
Both events ended well for my family, and for that I count my lucky stars. However, I am trying to absorb and learn from the power these two people voicelessly reminded me that I also harbor. It has been over 20 years since I stood in a courtroom alone; the last time I was alone in a hospital bed, they handed me a baby of my own.
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.