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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Roaming Charges

I have a horrible case of wanderlust. It's made worse by my Instagram feed which is filled with roaming photographers, fashion folks and friends who seem to be skipping all over the globe.

 "I need to get away," I said to my middle son yesterday.  He brought his sun-bleached eyebrows together over his freckled nose and studied my face.

"You do," he said, nodding, as if he could see inside my tumbling mind.  "Where are you going to go?"

 "I don't think I can really get away until I take your brother to school.  Maybe St. Louis for a couple of days."

He looked alarmed.  "Not St. Louis," he said firmly.

"I need to see something new.  There are good things and interesting people everywhere," I reminded him. "Then New York in August."

He nodded.  "New York in August will help."

Even St. Louis must wait a week or so at least.  In the meantime, I'm discovering new spots in town and clicking around on the web to bring the world to me.

I'm delighted each day on the aforementioned Instagram feed with images from Mela & Roam's founder Courtney Barton, who is a long-time blog friend.  She's following her passion for travel and textiles and we are the lucky recipients of her adventures.  

I can't keep my aesthetic from the keyboard, but not everything is of such saturated hues.  More muted tones, like the ones in this pillow, above, are equally plentiful on the site.  Mela & Roam's Instagram feed is here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Restrained Exuberance

I painted the floor of my oldest's nursery almost nineteen years ago.  It was white with a Wedgwoody blue border.  I have longed to paint another floor since and have measured and sketched meanders and hexagons, but have not again taken brush to wood.

The first thing I did to my current house was rescue her from the troubling orange cast of the light stain of her floors.  (Who thinks that color is a good idea? It should be illegal.) Having invested a good little bit in the no-red-not-too-black-just-rich-brown shade that runs throughout, I can't come to terms with painting over it.

But, oh, that blue in Christopher Spitzmiller's country house! Bold, yet grounding (no pun intended - okay, maybe a bit) this floor made my pulse jump and fingers itch for a brush the second I saw it.  This is one of those great rooms that if someone were to describe it to you - "Under the eave, snappy red and white chrysanthemum wallpaper, painted furniture, bright blue floor." - might make you say, "Hmmm." And yet, on sight, it's perfection.

I still can't cover my floors; there were too dear.  But my porch floor, she who was cracking and peeling not one but three layers of paint, was recently stripped.  The poor darling, I had planned on leaving her bare, to recover and breathe a little bit.  I'm not going to break it to her yet, but I have a colorful future planned.

Image, Christopher Spitzmiller's farmhouse in Architectural Digest, July 2015.  Photography William Waldron; produced by Anita Sarsidi.  Spitzmiller's spool bed once belonged to Albert Hadley.  If you can find one with similar pedigree, I say, do. But I run across these beds pretty regularly and they do look awfully swell painted.

This seems the perfect image to kick off the holiday weekend! Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Moving Forward

In the cool and quiet of Sunday morning before my boys are awake, I read the papers on the porch.  The dogs sit, tethered, at the top of the steps, their eyes following the paths of the rabbits.  If one is particularly audacious, nibbling its breakfast particularly close to the house, they whine quietly at their restraints.

I have a newspaper-reading ritual.  I slide both papers from their plastic sleeves and sort the sections from my most favorite to least.  I used to feel guilty that I did not read the front page first.  The hard stuff.   The meaty stuff.  The stuff that challenges both my brain and my tolerance for human behavior.  But last year as I toured a museum with a friend who is a designer, he snapped a picture of a painting and said, "Do you know who the artist is?"

"No," I replied. "But sometimes I take a take a picture of the label as well and look up the information later on-line."

"That's the difference," he said as he turned to me and smiled.  "You're curious about things.  I just need the visual."

He's curious about things, too, otherwise I wouldn't like him so well.  But the thing that struck me was how comfortable he was with taking what he wanted, in this case inspiration for a painted floor,  and not turning it into homework.  He was secure in his knowledge of himself and I admired that and wanted to adopt it.

So now, I begin each Sunday with the New York Times "Style" section without guilt. I spend more time here and with "Arts" and "Travel" than I do anything else. And it is only with the slightest bit of embarrassment that I read the "Vows" section.  I skim, really, looking for stories of people who are beginning again. I have an outward shell of practicality, but inside I am a gooey mess of a romantic.

This last week there was a story of a New York psychiatrist who fell in love with a man who took her on their first date to a church in the Bronx where he sings gospel music. They began going to church together, eating together, cooking together, traveling together.  They were equally delighted and devoted. Still, for more than three years he asked her to marry him and she demurred.

"What is it going to take to not be afraid?" he asked her.

"I have no idea," she replied.

This is the thing, isn't it? The fear of getting hurt is what trips us up. But all we are doing really is controlling who delivers the pain, as we are surely hurting ourselves. We create invisible tethers that keep us from the danger of the street, when usually there's nothing more than rabbits in the yard.

I particularly enjoyed the story of Jason Rand's apartment in Elle Decor, May 2015.  His home is a collaboration with designer, Alexandra Loew, who is a lifelong friend. Remarkably personal, I relish that he has bravely surrounded himself with all this good stuff in a moment where "edit" is on the upswing.  Living like this, I think, is like wearing a little bit of your soul on the outside of your body. 

Image, Elle Decor, May 2015.  Photography, Simon Upton; produced by Robert Rufino.

The story in the Times is here.  The bride wore raspberry.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hooray! KC Needlepoint Opens Today!

A few weeks ago I started seeing KC Needlepoint popping up on my Facebook feed.

"KC Needlepoint? What gives?"

I was thrilled to learn that two fringe friends of mine have teamed up to open a new needlepoint shop in town.

Clean, bright, fresh and well-stocked, I was there this week as they were wrapping up training their new associates.  (A few of whom I know to be veteran and prolific stitchers themselves.)

They open Friday, but have already had people dropping in to buy.  Their open house is Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m at 105 East Gregory in Waldo.

Stop in to see what's up.  Food, drink, prizes and giveaways make it a party.

Don't stitch? Don't fret! There are quick and easy projects - and lots of friendly and patient help - for beginners.

KC Needlepoint
105 East Gregory
Kansas City, Missouri

You can find them on Facebook here.