Casey's and Sloane's Blog
I have entered into an unhealthy relationship with a plant. Two plants, really. Both geraniums. Almost co-dependent, this relationship is. I provide water and shelter; they provide color and joy.
This photo was taken on Valentine’s Day. These blooms were not there on the 13th of February but were bright and cheerful when I came downstairs on the 14th. Full of love for me, and smiling in the weak sun.
I do love these plants. All summer long, they live on my deck and are more gorgeous every day. They get huge and bloom constantly. They are the two colors I love most in geraniums – red and hot pink. Both of these colors were grown by my maternal grandmother, and therefore I have placed a value on them higher than the 99-cent plants they grew from.
I do hate these plants when I bring them in every winter to the only window in the house that can hold them – the south-facing one in the kitchen. Our busiest room in the entire home. Already overfull with our active lives. I get to enjoy them, true. But I have never enjoyed house plants – in any variety – and I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking they are just “visiting for the winter,” not staying in the house permanently. True, again, but winter is long.
Just when I reach my winter peak of wanting them out of the house, they give me a show of color. I don’t talk to plants or listen to them if they are talking, but I know a plea for a few more months of patience when it is silently offered.
So they will stay.
p.s. I have written of geraniums before. Feel free to read more here and here.
This is a story about cookies. But first, I need to admit to feeling a little smug about brownies until cookies brought me back to Earth.
On Valentine’s Day, I admitted on Facebook that I liked Valentine’s Day and always have. Since long before boyfriends, a husband, or a son. My dad and mom both celebrated the day and included their children in the lovefest. Candy, flowers, small gifts. Tokens really. Nothing big.
In addition, my dad’s mother loved holidays with her whole heart, and, after she moved out of her last home and into a care facility, I found a box titled “non Xmas decorations” in a closet, written in her majestic cursive. I asked other family members cleaning out the house that day if they were interested in the contents. A resounding “no” echoed back to me.
I kept the box and opened it much later. Single and simple decorations were found for most holidays. Easter, St. Pat’s, and a touch of Halloween. She and my grandfather were farmers, and spending money on holiday decoration was not a high priority. Many of the decorations still held price tags from the Five & Dime store in their small town. One Thanksgiving turkey still says 29-cents on his belly when I set him out every November.
I have not been as good about decorating the house as I was when I was first married or as over-the-top as we used to decorate for the non-Christmas holidays when our son was little and growing up. He loved unpacking the small boxes of pumpkins, turkeys, plastic eggs, or hearts. He let me tell him stories about where things came from, and he had real ideas when he was five and six years old as to where things should be placed. Amazingly, they were all at his eye level – our waist height! – and precariously positioned for the dog and cats. After he toddled off to bed, I would move them and make a big deal the next morning about how his “helping” me had inspired me to move them up in the room(s).
This past Friday night, I realized I had never decorated the house for Valentine’s Day this year. I have three items left – from my peak of too many! – that carry provenance from my past and I truly adore. With those decorations still upstairs and packed away, I decided not to beat up on myself. I thought that baking would take my mind off guilt. So I headed to the kitchen.
Brownies are my forte. And what could possibly be cuter than brownies cut into hearts? And cut with cookie cutters that my grandmother gave me? And in two sizes! Genius and cute. I was on a roll….
My pride ran away with me when I placed the freshly cooled and cut brownies on a bright white ceramic tray in an arching circle. Cuteness incarnate held in place with plastic wrap! One for each member of our staff and a few extras for snacking. I arrived at work Saturday morning with a smile on my face, ready to meet the day’s shoppers on one of my favorite days with treats for the staff.
It was a good day. Happy. Much talk about gifts being given and to whom. I even had a visit from a friend that is a “Bah! Humbug!” about the day, and he left with a smile on his face and told me his love for me has forever changed his view of “Gee, I’m Still Single Day” (his words, not mine). I choose to believe him.
When I arrived home, I was greeted by the most amazing display of baked goods ever to enter our home on Valentine’s Day. Handmade by dear friends. Each heart decorated in a pink and white theme with the perfect icing. A single bird in the softest blue. Our names on individual cookies. Such talent with an unwavering grasp of beauty. Each unique. Personally delivered to our home by the chefs themselves. Crisp wrap with a bow and ribbon.
My brownies paled in comparison to this food art. I stared at them in wonder. Then I ate one and marveled again. Light, not too sweet, and delicious.
The artistry of my brownies paled in comparison to these cookies, but the love that made them was the same.
You could taste it.
p.s. No photos were made of the brownies. It’s better for all of us….
It may seem obvious to say that, at STUFF, we love art. Over 18 years ago, we started the STUFF journey, and our mission has never changed: to help you find the stuff that makes your home and your life extraordinary. Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect time to for us to renew our commitment to artistry, artists, and art.
We enter this renewed covenant with a much deeper understanding of what will be expected of us. We know how hard it will be. We know how incredible it will be. We know how it will drain us, raise us up, and grant us amazing rewards. We know it will continue to be inspiring, never boring, and filled with unexpected discoveries and challenges. We renew our vows with our eyes and our arms wide open.
Please join us. We hope you will choose to renew your commitment to keep shopping at our store. We love you, too, after all.
To have and to hold from this day forward….
Casey & Sloane Simmons
Sisters & Co-owners
I live a life of having. I have a home. I have a job. I have insurance. I have reliable transportation. I have a child. I have my health. A happy marriage. Loving friends. The list goes on and on. And, as my sister and I say to each other when things seem bad, I have my own teeth.
A week ago, after a week or so of dry coughing and a no-longer-sexy-to-me-sounding voice, I needed someone – a professional – to take a look at my throat. Getting in to see my primary care doctor is easy when you can book months in advance for a wellness exam, but it gets dicey when you need to see him on the fly. I like him very much and trust him implicitly, but I needed a quicker opinion. Like a walk-in clinic. But the one in my local Walgreens makes me nervous. (I’m sure I’m being irrational and it is just fine.)
Then it dawned on me that I knew of just such a clinic, and I headed for an appointment at the Kansas City CARE Clinic. Excellent choice, and I was able to get in one day after I called.
Me and the Clinic. Well, the front door logo at least.
Now, in an effort a full disclosure, I have served on the Clinic’s board since 2009 and am currently their immediate past board president. I have known about them and their services since 1995 when I began my volunteering love affair with our local AIDS Walk and, therefore, the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City. These two entities raise much needed funds all year for not only KC CARE but three other local AIDS service organizations.
I have been a part of leading multiple tours of the Clinic and the building as a whole. I have helped clean the garage, shoveled ice and snow from the front, and sat for a multitude of meetings in the various meeting rooms.
But I had never been a patient in the Clinic. Several people who I work with there knew I was booking an appointment, but I specifically asked that I get no special treatment and that no one on staff know of my volunteer service. I wanted to experience the Clinic as all our patients do.
The reason I had never been a patient is because I have had health insurance since I was 20 years old. Plastic card carrying member of the “I have insurance” brigade. I’ve been lucky to be able to keep it through a multitude of life and job changes and premium increases.
But now, after a multi-year implementation conversion that allows the clinic to be able to accept insurance should a patient have it, I was in!
Pen choices. I chose the purple flower.
A smiling man met me at the counter. ID card and insurance info were whisked away and returned swiftly. Questions were answered quickly and in a friendly manner. This was an experience I shared with the people who followed me to the counter to check in and then waited with me in comfortable chairs in the warm, well-lit waiting room with a huge west-facing window.
“Ms. Simmons?” the man in the orange pants said as he opened the door to take me back to the scale. My nurse. A private room. A blood pressure check that confirmed, again, my severe “white coat syndrome” and its high-numbered reaction to health care providers. He asked good questions. We laughed at several of my answers, and then he was gone to retrieve the doctor, but not before I asked to take a photo of his pants because they matched my jacket. He smiled wide at the request.
Nurse pants. Great color.
A snippet of my orange jacket. And the reading materials.
All was well with my throat. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it was clearly angry. It wasn’t scratchy, it didn’t hurt when I breathed in or out, and it didn’t burn when I swallowed. The doctor and I talked through a few oddities – mid-life onset allergies being one we landed on. We’d wait and see.
Clutching a prescription, he left me to decide whether I needed it after another day or two. I was asked to check back if anything stayed “funky”. I was given clearance to continue to be with people and to share tight space with a friend on a road trip.
Mostly, I was asked to consider making the Clinic my “home”. I knew just enough about the phrase “patient centered medical home” to know what the doctor was asking. I said I would think about it and walked out of the room after a warm pat on the back.
I had to wait in front of the huge window for my ride home to appear. During that time, I watched people come and go from the waiting room. They were always greeted and cared for with a smile and respect. It blew my mind. This was not always the case at my primary care doctor’s office. Many of the people I was sharing this waiting room with – maybe most of them – do not have what I have. Or in the combination in which I have them. Most of them did not have insurance.
Place was spotless. Spotless.
For over an hour, over a week ago, I was clearly in the hands of people who know how to run a true home. It was warm, inviting and clean. I was cared for, and extremely well.
In that sunny room, for that fleeting time, we all were living in “have”. We were having incredible and focused attention paid to our deepest fears and immediate concerns.
We were all lucky. Together.
p.s. The stated mission of the Kansas City CARE Clinic is “…to promote health and wellness by providing quality care, access, research and education to the underserved and all people in our community.” That means insurance or no insurance, if there is an appointment available when you call, you are welcome as a patient. Turning people away is not part of the mission.
These guys were in my room and were my favorites. It’s like they are begging to be set free!
I left town for twenty-nine hours over the weekend with a friend. A road trip. You never know how much you need to leave town until you are in the car and rolling down the highway.
I was past ready to get out of town and away from some of my responsibilities. My traveling companion is pretty darn fantastic at pre-planning a road trip. Dinner reservations for the first night? Done. Snacks for the car? Done. Food and drink packed for late night cocktails and breakfast? Done.
I was the slacker as such. Well, I drove. That counts. There was gas in the car, a fresh oil change, and a music mix available with the punch of three buttons. Not as impressive as the rare mini bananas my friend provided. “Show off,” I said, as I bit into my first.
Art was what got us out of town. A desire to see a show that was closing at a museum in not so many days. It was the impetus we needed to spend much needed time away together.
I have learned in the past year to not let ideas – and therefore chances – for getaways get by me. Life is looking shorter and shorter most days. I am not known for my ability to relax, but I am willing to finally learn. Time away with friends has proved to be tonic for me and a great education in kicking back. Earlier this fall, I headed an hour south with two friends for a night of glamping – an incredible twenty-four hours away from our families and our to-do lists that felt like days, not just one day.
What was spoken one night well over a month ago while sitting in bar chairs – “Let’s go together and see that show!” – turned into reality because we made it so. My friend and I are both owners of small businesses, and the needs of those businesses can overwhelm and overstep. So, we danced right around them and carved out the time.
On the drive home, we kind of planned the next trip. A location was mentioned, a desire to go was announced, and we had just proved to ourselves that we travel well together. Quite well, actually.
I’ll be packed and ready.
p.s. All images were taken by me, and most are only small parts of some of my favorite pieces at the State of the Art exhibit that closes at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Monday, January 19th. A few are images of pieces in their permanent collection. Again, close-ups of my favorite parts.
I’m looking. Constantly. He probably knows it. Probably playing dumb for his mother’s sake.
I am looking for signs of what won’t be in my life when a certain someone takes off for college in the upcoming fall. I catch myself noticing how things will not be in places where they have been for 17 years. Coats, mittens, sporting equipment. Coins, pencils, backpacks.
Today I saw this as I cruised down the hall. Moving swiftly to a shopping date with my sister, my mind had captured the image, but I was halfway down the stairs when I stopped, climbed back up, and reached for the camera in my overfull handbag.
A twin bed recently slept in. Warmed by an afternoon sun that is boxed in by a west facing window. A tumbled mess and two sleeping buddies that have missed few nights with my young man.
This I will miss. Stay tuned….
December 16, 2014
One of our greatest joys is working each day with a dog in our office. Our little Chancey brings us happiness and warmth at the most unexpected times. He never shows frustration or impatience. He always has time to listen or to share a hug. He never complains. He is always cheerful.
STUFF has always been a dog-friendly business. We invite pups into the store with their people. We offer a handful of gifts for our furry friends. We always make sure our Christmas tree has plenty of animal ornaments. And we have a long, beautiful history of store dogs.
Each year we host over 25 charity parties at STUFF during our Season of Giving from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Tonight we will host Wayside Waifs at our 23rd party of 26 charity parties this season.
Wayside Waifs is the only pet-based charity that booked an event this year, and Chancey has been waiting. He has been working hard by our sides all year. It is finally a night all about his furry friends, and he is pretty excited.
We would like to share our gratitude for our pet family members and to thank Chancey for his loyal commitment to this small family-owned business.
Casey & Sloane Simmons
Sisters & Co-owners
Chancey spends his days doing the usual office stuff: Greeting customers, working with artists, testing out product, and browsing the Internet. (Mmmm…bacon.)
On Monday, World AIDS Day, I accepted an award from the AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City – the Mark Dreiling Community Leadership Award – for twenty years of passion for the cause. It was named after my friend Mark who died several years ago from cancer and who was a fierce believer in eradicating AIDS from this planet – or at least from our town. This award humbled me, as I was the first to receive it after it was given to Mark last year posthumously.
In the days since, I have been asked by five people to publish my remarks – two people I know well, and three I don’t really know but who were at the luncheon and sought me out later that day either in person or via e-mail. Again, I am humbled.
I can’t promise that the words below were spoken verbatim, because I only wrote down “bones” for my comments, not a complete script. I also spoke with a voice quivering with passion partnered with eyes brimming with tears. Here are the remarks.
Thank you very much. When I stand here and think about what I have given to the fight against AIDS, I can honestly say that today I have been involved in the delinquency of minors. There are three young people in the audience who could be at school – I don’t know, maybe learning something! – and instead they are here, and I am deeply touched. To you, Dakota and Sawyer and Zach, I say that you saw the numbers and the facts on screen, and I am looking to you to finish what we’ve all started.
I don’t really know when I began hearing voices – not the bad kinds that tell you to do bad things, but the kind that stick with you and become part of who you are. I can clearly remember my parents saying to me that I could be and do anything. The power of those words has fueled me to almost fifty years of age. To you both, I say thanks.
This particular journey actually started with a phone call from Steve Metzler way back in 2000 asking me to serve on the board of the AIDS Service Foundation. You told me, “There really is no time for orientation. You’ll catch on quick and will like this. You can call me anytime.” And I did all of those things. But not without drive by meetings on our street about things I didn’t understand or that I was questioning. Since then, your voice on the phone and in person as I have considered other commitments and board positions has been priceless. I treasure your friendship and your wisdom.
Which leads me to the next voice. A little boy’s voice at bath time. There isn’t a partner, spouse, parent or child in this room who hasn’t lived through what I call the “Litany of Leaving”. It goes like this: “I am heading out to a meeting. I have done these things before I go, I need you to do these things while I am gone, and when I get back we can accomplish these things.” That is the Litany of Leaving.
On this particular night, my son Dakota was maybe three years old. He was splashing in the tub with my husband dutifully near him because you really don’t want the baby to drown because by three you’ve got so much invested. The dog was on the rug looking at me, the room was moist and damp and happy, and I was leaving. I stepped around the dog, and, as I touched the wet blonde head, his little voice said, “Mom? Is it AIDS again?”
Greater than the sound of the splashes and the rubber toys hitting the side of the tub was this voice that has stuck with me since. “Yes,” I said. It was “AIDS again” that was pulling me away from my family, and I told him – to the point where he probably glazed over but I felt better – that we needed to fight to end AIDS so no one suffered anymore…that what I was doing was important for all of us. I had lost him at the word “yes”, and I knew it.
In the silences and the noise, I hear all of you. All of you who taught me the way of beer busts and garage sales at Missy B’s. Standing with you in darkened theaters waiting for performances to end so that we could greet people with buckets after they had been prevailed upon to give. Standing with the same buckets on 47th and any old street asking for more money. With tiles and glaze and high school students. Through walks and runs and rides and golf games, I have heard you all, and you are with me.
And finally, I hear Mark. I will not stand here and pretend that we were close friends. We were not. But we were friends, and I miss him. We served on two boards together, and I felt I had finally joined an elite club when he let me in on his quiet, biting humor. His deep passion for this cause wore off on me, and we ended up sharing much more than either intended.
The first time he called me “Madame President”, I winced, and then I smiled. I hear his voice every time I speak those words to Missy – and, for that matter, most of the other past presidents with which I share the title.
I am deeply touched that the committee chose me only one year after Mark. Thank you. I will not let Mark’s memory fade.
I have worked with all of you in one way or another for the people in our city who struggle with the stigma and the disease. I have said it a million times – and Michael Lintecum is sick of hearing it! – we are all in this together, and none of us accomplishes great things alone.
I firmly believe that when one of us has AIDS, all of us have AIDS. I promised that little boy in the bathtub a world without AIDS in his lifetime.
Thank you for helping me keep that promise.
p.s. Thank you to Theresa Van Ackeren for taking this photo on Monday and to Tom Styrkowicz for sharing his abilities by capturing that image in the first place…and for charity to boot!
“May we all be thankful for our colorful lives and abundant blessings.”
We have spent the past year with our eyes wide open and the desire for change in our hearts. We want to change our father’s lymphoma journey. We want to look into the future and see where Sloane’s son lands for college. We want to continue to watch Casey’s daughter’s esteem bloom as she realizes what being a strong young woman is all about. We want our mother to stay blissfully cancer free.
It took Casey painting the quote above on STUFF’s front glass to realize we have everything we want and have changed what we can. Colorful lives are what we lead every day.
We are ready for a holiday season that kicks off in earnest on Friday after we take a day to rest and nourish ourselves with all of our family at one table.
You are the abundant blessing for the artists we represent and the families we support.
We are so very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!
Casey & Sloane Simmons
Sisters & Co-owners
I have lived the last week with my eyes and my hands. My eyes and the hands of others. My hands holding the hands of others. In silence and in noise.
Yesterday I attended the funeral for a friend’s mother. I had a seat that afforded me the view of my friend’s right hand. I could see no faces, having only a limited view from several rows back. Her hand rarely left her father’s right shoulder. It gripped him to hold him up, with every muscle in her forearm defined. It caressed his back gently and then returned to its grasp. Nails polished a burnished steel, her hand told a story that left me in tears. The quiet kind that slips out while your eyes are wide open and you are unaware until you swipe them back.
Not a week before that, I was standing in the living room of a friend in the company of many. I was listening intently to the quick speeches of two other friends when I realized one of them was veering into speaking about me. I reached immediately for the arm of a dear friend to my right, and his hand found mine and never left. Having been summoned, I left him to walk into the realm of the speakers. I can still feel the comfort of his grip. The knowledge that he was there for me and would have held on through thick and thin was transforming.
I know that my friend’s dad felt that from his daughter. The thick and the thin. Through the liturgy, the Eucharist, and the final hymn.
The gentle power of the human hand has been a wonder for me to behold.