Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gentleman Caller

       He's large.  Far bigger than the other spiders who hang around here.  If he were closer he might be scary, but he stays on the far end of the porch having spun his web just over the swing.  He's smart, of course, as the light from the big window nearby draws all he needs to nourish. I don't think he means me any harm, though others might see it differently.  I have no interest in shooing him away or dismantling his web. One could argue that he's doing me a favor, ridding me of all those bugs.  He amuses rather than frightens me, as he draws his long legs up and makes himself, in his mind, invisible, though his body, which is as big as my thumb, is in clear view. I talk to him as I come and go.  The jingle of my keys no longer startles him.  We watch to see what the other will do next.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Falsies and Falling in Love

I never saw my mother or my step-mother leave the house without make-up. "That can't be true," you're thinking.  It is.  "They must have gone to the pool or the beach or the hospital," you argue.  They did.

Not only did my mother wear make up every day, my mother wore false eyelashes every day.  I thought it was normal until I was in high school, and then I thought it was embarrassing.  No one else's mother wore false eyelashes.  No one else's mother wore false eyelashes to parties, more or less every day.  I never mentioned to her that it embarrassed me.  I knew she would lower her phony giraffe-like lashes slowly and say, "I like them."

Her lashes, unlike her personality, were skimpy and short. My lashes are long, but pale. I'd rather not consider how they relate to my personality, but I've never worn false eyelashes. Something, however, about that thick, black sweep as she opened and closed her lids must have imprinted on my brain. I do love mascara.

We were not allowed to wear make up at my Catholic grade school, so I did not begin experimenting with mascara until high school. I envied the girl whose locker was across from mine freshman year.  Her hair was so blond it was nearly white and she wore coats and coats of mascara that made her lashes thick and black and pointy.  I wanted to ask her what brand she used, but I did not have the nerve. It wouldn't have mattered. I would not have had the courage to wear my mascara like that any more than I would have kissed a boy behind the door of my locker between classes as she did. Still, I envied her both of these things.

From the time I was thirteen years old I've searched for the perfect mascara. I've played the field.  I'll develop a loyalty, but then a friend or beauty editor will tell me that this mascara - this one - will change my life.  It will make my lashes thicker, longer, lusher. This mascara is the answer. I switch without a backward glance.

This time it was true.  Diorshow is the one.  Each lash distinct and deliciously enhanced.  Two coats almost too much for daytime, though I do wear two coats in the daytime.  Three coats makes me feel like a movie star from a by-gone era of fur stoles and champagne coupes.  Three coats makes it look like I'm wearing false eyelashes.  And I like it.

Monday, September 14, 2015


        I am finally recovering from my cabinet-jumping, foot-breaking accident a few weeks ago.  For a while it was difficult to determine where the break actually was as everything hurt. The whole foot has been swollen and bruises bloomed and faded. There is a lump at the center of the ball of my right foot.  It’s tender there and at the same place on the top. It’s obvious now that the fourth toe is the injured one. The others taper again, as toes should, from their cushioned pads to their thinner tethers.  The fourth is puffy with its pain.
        I am back to reading on the porch, which for the last few weeks has been too hot, too sticky, too buggy.  Now our weather is cool in the morning and we are reminded, the hundred degree heat hopefully behind us, that we Midwesterners do love the distinctness of our seasons. Soon we will have fall.  This week I whisked the crumbs of the squirrels’ breakfasts from the cushions – they will have an easy winter as the walnut tree has been generous – and wiped the dust from the table where I prop my foot, to which I am both apologetic and resentful.
        I’ve made few accommodations to my foot, treating it like a deadbeat relative who has stayed too long.  I convinced myself that yoga is important for the greater good of mind, soul and backside and ignored the possibility that my short-term vanity will have long-term repercussions. I acknowledge only in passing that the duck-footed limp may remain.  
        I have, however, stopped walking the dogs.  We still stroll in the evening and it placates them, but we all miss the brisk pace and the long strides of our morning walks. Still, I can’t.  It’s not wisdom or taking care. Very simply, it hurts too much. So they sit with me on the porch in the new cool of the morning and read the paper and watch the squirrels a little more carefully instead.
        For the last few days we have been an audience to the routine of a small black cat in our neighborhood. She is completely black, her gleaming coat unblemished by blaze or socks.  At first, I thought she was a half-grown kitten, but a year and a half later she is the same size. She is the Audrey Hepburn of cats.
        We know one another in passing, though I don’t know where she lives.  I see her up and down the block, but not only in one spot and never off of it. She darts under bushes as I walk by with my beasts. While I admire her sleek, youthful looks, I silently curse her; I believe she is the one who tears the bottom of my trash bag each week, though I don’t know it for sure, so I never say anything to her about it.
        I’ve seen her hunting the last few days. Saturday she came down the driveway of the house across the street.  As she emerged from behind the hedge I could see that she had something her mouth.  It was small and pale and I wondered if someone’s pet had met a tragic end.  Then I assumed it was probably a young rabbit.  Her head high, she moved with a quick clip, not hurrying, but purposeful.  She reminded me of myself in my first grown up job.  My new suits and high heels added to a preening gait through the corridors of a place that made me think I’d really done something to get there.  I watched the cat travel through two yards and disappear behind a house that may or may not be hers. I wondered if she’d eat the bunny or simply let it go as I did the job that I’d been so proud to catch.
        Yesterday, she came from behind the same house with the some unsquirming something about the size of my fist held firmly in her teeth.  It might have been a rather hefty chipmunk, which, too, had been feasting on walnuts for his now-unrealized winter plans. Though he was larger than her head, she had no trouble holding him.  Was he dead, I wondered, or playing along while he planned his escape? She leapt a short brick wall and carried him around back for breakfast or mercy; only the two of them know for sure.
        I watch her, but she is, I think, ignorant of me here on the porch, hobbled, envying the ease of her escapades.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Taste of Ireland

I've been so fortunate to be involved with the Committee of 100 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  For the last three years the Committee has hosted a luncheon that features a nationally recognized designer.  It's been a pretty swell line up: Alexa Hampton, Charlotte Moss, Miles Redd.  Each speaker has brought knowledge and advice with heaping amounts of humor.  This year we are so lucky to be hosting Kathryn Ireland, who I know will offer more of the same.  In spades.

In order to receive an invitation, you must be a member of the Committee of 100, an auxiliary group of the museum.  For more information, call 816-751-1278, option 9.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Eight Is

Today I have been blogging for eight years.  Today I am fifty years old.  I hadn’t given it a lot of thought, but I suppose I did expect to be fifty; I never expected to be blogging for eight years.  But life, as we know, is often not what we expect.
            I have started designing a line of needlepoint.  As much as I love stitching, I did not expect that I would pursue creating my own line.  I started stitching twenty-four years ago with two, small rectangular fish pillows for my boyfriend’s house.  I bought them to have something to do as I sat with my mother when she was sick and dying.  Reading, even a magazine, made me feel as if I were distant from her and what was happening.  I wished, both emotionally and physically that I could be distant. But I needed to be there and the starting and stopping to accommodate the doctors and friends who were coming and going made retaining anything that I would read impossible. 
Stitching allowed me to feel as if I were doing something, while still being able to talk or not talk, to make eye contact or not make eye contact.  Beyond that, I found the rhythm of the needle moving in and out soothing. The subtle rasp of the wool against the canvas echoed a dissonance that I felt in my heart.   Being close to her was always putting myself in harm’s way, but now I had to. It was the right thing to do.  Push in.  Pull out.
            I finished the pillows and married the boyfriend a few months after my mother died.  She never expressed interest in the fish, but she did like the boy.  I moved into his house and the pillows and everything else became “ours.”  My next needlepoint project was his Christmas stocking.  I bought it in the neighborhood shop where I had bought the fish from a woman who became my friend.  Joanie’s almost exactly thirty-five years older than I am.  I did not expect to become friends with her when she pulled the T-pins from that Christmas stocking, took it down from the wall and referred to my husband by his boyhood nickname, but we did. 
She owned the shop and her own line of canvases, yet a different artist had painted my husband’s stocking. It featured ducks and geese and holly on a background of white.  Joanie painted his monogram across the top of a canvas that had 13 holes per inch.  It is, roughly, two feet long and about ten inches across at its widest point.   If you don’t stitch this means nothing, but if you do you know that it was a big project. I did not know what I was getting myself into, but I was determined.
            I finished his stocking before our second Christmas together and started my own.  Some stockings are part of a line and the artist creates a series within a theme, so that you can have a different, but similar piece for each member of the family.  That was not the case with the first stocking that I chose, so I designed what I wanted – first for myself and then for my children – and Joanie painted them for me.  They all have the repeating pattern of holly. Mine has poinsettias and a long, yellow satin ribbon that twists through the greenery.  My oldest son has snowflakes; the middle has pinecones and the youngest has cardinals and mistletoe.  I finished each boy’s stocking before his first Christmas, because that’s the sort of person I was then. My oldest son was born in November.
            For a long time, I was rarely without a project.  I stitched loads of pillows and made ornaments for the boys every year.  It still provided a sense of calm and productivity. After I had come up with the concepts for the boys’ stockings I found that I preferred designing my own projects.  Joanie, who continued to paint them for me, was always enthusiastic about my ideas. 
I tore images from magazines and sketched on legal pads and explained, using large gestures with my hands, what I wanted.  She listened closely, her eyes alert, until I finished. She would never interrupt. When I stopped – talking and gesturing - she would nod sharply and say, “Sure. We can do that.” And then she would.  In an effort to eliminate so much background, which is the Siberia of any needlepoint project, I began to play with scale and pattern.  Often, I asked her to make the flowers bigger, to paint a subtle damask, to create a wide border.  It’s nonsense to think of background as tedious; it’s all the same stitch.  It shouldn’t matter really, the color of the thread, but often it does.  The joy is in the revelation of the image, not the field behind.
Three years ago, I began thinking about starting my own line of canvases and I talked to Joanie about it.  No surprise, she encouraged me.  She invited me to her house and walked me back to her studio, which is flooded with light and a view of her garden, and she taught me how to paint a canvas. 
“I don’t know,” I told her.  “Maybe I should I just show you what I want and you can paint it.”
She looked back, her mouth a firm line, and said, “No.  You need to do this yourself. It has to be your work.” And she pushed me, gently but firmly, out of the nest.
I had a file of tear sheets filled with images of things that I thought would make great pillows or seat cushions.  Old rugs, Chinese jars, wallpaper. And I sat at my desk and started to sketch and then finally to paint on paper and eventually on canvas.  I showed my first designs to Joanie and she pointed out where I was going to have trouble and said, “Keep going.”
And I did.  After several attempts on paper, I painted my first complete canvas, a pair of peacocks inspired by a piece of Chinese pottery.  Eighteen inches square, it features hues that I love: lipstick red, jade green, rich turquoise against a background of pale aqua.  But painting it was not enough.  I needed to see it complete.  Once it was dry, I pulled yarn from my bag, separated two stands, folded them tight and slid them through the eye of the needle and began.  As I anchored the thread against the back of the canvas and pulled it through, beginning the weave that would create the picture, I could see the whole collection coming together. I was going to start my own needlepoint line. But I got a divorce instead.
I’ve never met anyone who wanted a divorce or who has come through it without feeling as if he or she has walked through fire.  The end of a marriage, I’ve learned, is usually a long unraveling.  Sometimes people are aware that it is coming undone, but others don’t see it until it’s in a heap at their feet.  Regardless, it’s rarely the doing of one person. 
Once I could admit that my marriage was over, I began to look around to find people who had ended theirs well.  I was lucky that I knew a few women who stood on the sidelines of soccer games next to their exes and planned birthday parties together and formulated schedules for holidays that were sane and civilized rather than battle zones.  I sought them out.  I begged their counsel.  They nodded when I told them that I wanted my divorce to be different than my parents’ had been and they promised me that it could be.
Living with my mother and witnessing her dying was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but getting a divorce is certainly the second. It is not what I thought was going to happen.  I did not think I would ever sit at the kitchen table where our family had routinely exchanged stories of our days to tell my children that their parents were not going to be married any more. Three pairs of clear blue eyes looked back at me in disbelief. I was stunned that they were stunned.  I had wept my way through the summer and as much as I tried to keep it from them, I felt our home was awash with pain and worry.  They had not seen it.  It was not what they thought was going to happen.
I did not envision standing in my basement with the boxes of Christmas decorations open on the ping-pong table as we divided the hundreds of ornaments I’d collected. I remembered where I bought every one as I slid them into two bright and glittery piles.  I did not think I would ever pull four stockings from a box and leave one behind, worrying that whatever came to replace them in my ex-husband’s house would not match the one I made him twenty years ago. Then I realized he would probably never use it and I ached for all that went into it.
Still, we managed the dividing with some grace.  A woman asked me recently, after watching me and my ex-husband sit together for nearly three days of swim championships, “How do you do it? You make it look so easy. I don’t think I’d be able to speak.”
“It’s not always easy, though it’s usually not hard either,” I told her.  “But what it always is is conscious.  We do it for the boys.”
We have always parented well together and we still do. We consult with one another on the larger issues of rules and responsibilities, rewards and punishments.  Any sentence that I prepare to utter that contains the words, “your father,” I stop and review in my head: do I really need this information and are my children the best source from which to get it?
We agreed going into the divorce that the worst thing about our own parents being divorced was the way they treated one another and how the tenseness of their relationships made our milestones difficult: graduations, weddings, baptisms. We wanted to avoid that, and we have. We celebrate the boys’ birthdays and Christmas morning together as well as any school or sports event.  It seems to be working pretty well.  It’s not perfect, but it is civilized. They know they can count on us and that we can be in the same room together, not only without tension, but also with humor and tenderness.
I have been the person on the other side of the table now, as a few women have sought my perspective on how to manage the process of divorce.  I am not, by the way, a divorce cheerleader.  More often than not I find myself shaking my head over a cup of cooling coffee and saying, “I don’t think you’re there. Keep trying.” But for someone for whom the issue is resolved I say, “There is a lot of change.” How you live, where you live, perhaps where or if you work and certainly, your friendships will change.  Many of these things, especially the friendships that will fade, will not be what you expected. 
But if you are careful and conscious, you can craft a life for yourself that is entirely authentic.  Starting over offers a clean slate in a lot of ways. I’ve lost friends whom I held very dear, but I find that now I only spend time with people who I like.  To a great extent I do only what I want to do.  And if I am sometimes anxious about how I will sort all of this out, I know that I am where I’m supposed to be.
Part of that place is drawing and painting and stitching.  I had put down my canvas during the separation and had not thought about it until I hung the bag in which it lives in my front hall closet of my new home.  The closet is in the very center of the house and holds the normal stuff of hall closets. It’s filled with coats and boots, leashes and balls, school supplies and gift-wrap.  Eventually, as I settled into a new routine, I began to take the peacocks from the bag and weave the yarn into the mesh.  The movement still soothes me and I liked the idea that this piece would be the first new one in this space.
As the canvas filled with rich color, I began to feel a rejuvenation of my passion for creating and I knew it was time to look again at launching my own line of needlepoint.  When I called Joanie, now three years from our original meeting, she did not hesitate to pick up the thread where I had dropped it and began coaching me again to get started. I call her with my worries.  “I don’t know if this will work.” “I don’t know how to manage.” “I don’t know what I will need.” All of these are versions of “I don’t know what to expect.”  She replies calmly with humor in her voice, “Right. You just have to keep going.” So I do.
I am going to keep going here, too, however irregularly.  I’ve gone back through the entire blog, from beginning to now, to do some cleaning up.  I’m shocked at how often I referred to myself as silly and dismissed my life or my talent or what I was doing.  I’m incredulous that I gave others the forum to criticize me so cruelly. I’m quite finished with that.
My life has changed, almost entirely.  What is certain, is that I am fifty today.  I am starting a line of needlepoint.  I am still blogging after eight years and still grateful that you stop to see what I have to say.  Thank you, as always, for reading.

The line of needlepoint will be called Mrs. Blandings as well.  I have eight designs with which I am satisfied and two that I’m still tweaking.  I’ll have at least two more to complete and all of them will be ready to go to market in January.  They will be available to retailers and for purchase here once I launch.  Feel free to email me with questions. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Black and Blue

I think I broke my toe.  Saturday I was unloading a dishwasher (not my own and not nearly as steamy as it sounds) and needed to put three wine glasses away on a high shelf.  I balanced the bowl of a glass on my three middle fingers and attempted to push the rim up and over the edge of the shelf, but the weight of the stem and the foot of the glass would not allow it to tip. Even in my four inch heels I could not quite reach.  I thought about leaving the glasses on the counter, but it seemed so lazy.

I slid out of my shoes, caramel leather stacked heel mules that became my everyday shoe in the spring, and swung my knee onto the counter.  It's funny how roomy counters seem until you're kneeling on one and find you need to hook your fingers under the edge of the cabinet to not fall off while you lean back to put something on the top shelf.  Wine glasses in place, I did another modified camel pose to close the cabinet door (noting, momentarily the wisdom of open shelves) and hopped, somewhat Mary Lou Retten-like, off of the counter and onto the heel of my shoe that I had so wisely removed to ensure that I would not injure myself while getting down.

It hurt like a son of a gun, though I used a much worse word to express my discomfort.  I walked tentatively, lightly pressing my foot into the cool wood, until I finally shrugged and thought, "What's a girl to do?" There's only so much time in a Saturday after all.  I slid my feet back into my mules and ran errands for an hour.

In hindsight, this might not have been the wisest decision.  When I stopped to pick up some art from the framer's, I told the owner, who is a friend, my story.  I pulled my foot from my shoe and set it, gratefully, on the cool concrete floor. "Holy cow!" he said.  I hope that he meant the swelling and not just the horror of my feet, which are, I can say without reservation, my least attractive part.  In every way, they embody my Irish peasant heritage.

I went home from there to change shoes and then (you didn't think I was just going to go home, did you?) and then to have an adventure with my friend whom I think of as my Auntie Mame. I promise you, time spent with her is always smart.  Finally, I did ice and elevate and tape.

I asked one friend what Louise Hay would say about accidentally breaking one's toe.  "Trouble in the foundation? Self-inflicting pain?" I wondered.  "Refusal to move?" she responded.  "Or maybe just an accident." Yes, most likely.  As the bruise began to bloom down my toe and across the top of my foot, another friend offered the most obvious advice.  "Wine glasses don't go on the top shelf." Truer words.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In the Nick of Time

I had friends to dinner last night which meant a fair amount of running around yesterday.  

I did keep it simple (which is a good idea considering my proficiency in the kitchen) and was happy that I am finally feeling that my house is starting to look like me.

It did from the start, I suppose, though now it is fuller.  More nuanced.  It's good to be at the point where I can worry about the music and whether or not I have enough tonic and not how to accommodate an evening with company when there's a big dark hole in the corner that has no lamp.

Does anyone but me notice when something isn't right? Probably not. But the energy is different and I can feel its shift.

Speaking of nuanced, these rooms designed by Nick Olsen are some of my favorites.  His site looks great and you're sure to find plenty of inspiration there by clicking here.  

Images, My Domaine, photography by Reid Rolls.  You can find the story here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

We Met On-Line

I actually don't remember how I met New York-based decorator, Nick Olsen.  I'm sure we were introduced through blogging, as his posts were a first-stop back in the day when my blog stops were many.

I know for certain that when we met, wherever it was, that I knew that he was the real deal.  His voice and aesthetic are as clear and honest in life as on-line.  Lucky for me, he likes my Leo-ness (it can overwhelm) and we became friends.  We became real friends, not just internet friends, for which I will always be grateful.

I have thick files stuffed with the work of a few of my favorite designers.  I like it when I have a copy of all of their published works.  Nick's was made thicker this month with his inclusion in Architectural Digest and I know there's loads more to come.  You can find the whole story - and a great deal of inspiration - here.

Images, Architectural Digest, August 2015.  Photography Pieter Estersohn; produced by (another favorite) Howard Christian.  (Fellas, that musta been a fun shoot.)

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Heart Wants What It Wants

I went to Christopher Filley's to find a lantern (as Christopher's is always the best place to start when looking for lanterns.) I did, find the lantern I mean - a pair in fact - and good company as well.  It would have been silly to be on the block and not stop in to see Barbara Farmer at Parrin & Co.  I cannot think of a shop in town that has more beautiful table top.  I marched on through the heat to Cindy Kincaid's where, in the back of the shop, a small Chinese dish painted with the most delicate pale pink flowers winked at me. There was nothing to do but bring her home.  (Pink! Who would have ever thought?)

It was in Pat Posten's where lightening struck.  It shouldn't have been a surprise, really, any more than one should be surprised at the flash in the sky and the boom of the thunder in the midst of a downpour.  Pat's shop is chocked full of magical things.  A stunning bronze ram's head, a wall of dog paintings, the most delightful black and white inlay box.  As charmed as I was by her selection, I wandered out thinking, "There's nothing I need here today."

But as I neared the door I glanced down under a bench and there she was.  This Chinese pottery doesn't pop up in Kansas City very often.  I have a very sophisticated friend who has said, "I like it that you're collecting.  I just wish you were collecting something a little... better." Perhaps it is because we have so much in common, the pottery and I.  Exuberance without pedigree.  (I'd like to claim cheerfulness, too, but in the middle of a very tiresome swim meet this week a good friend said, "You may need a prescription for medical marijuana.  You need to relax." Cheerfulness may not be on my list of best traits.)

I had left the house looking for a lantern.  I knew exactly what I wanted and needed. "Chinese jar" was not on the list.  I did not expect to find one that day, but how could I refuse her? The birds on most of the jars in my collection are red.  I like the black bird best as he resembles a crow, a species of which I am quite fond. But I had never seen a jar before where the bird was yellow.  I wouldn't have thought I wanted yellow, yet there it was and my heart said, "Yes."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Giving Designers Their Due

I have incredible respect for designers.  These men and women, for the most part, start with what is known as "a good eye" and educate themselves, either through school or experience or both, to create spaces that allow us to live our lives in beauty and comfort with a understanding of function and practicality.  My latest piece in Spaces Kansas City sheds some light on the design process and how to treat these professionals with respect.  You can find it here.

Image, above, Spaces Kansas City, June 2015; photography Aaron Leimkuehler, whom I think is pretty swell.