Monday, June 29, 2009

Recommended Reading: Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn



Very early this morning, somewhere around 1:30 a.m., I turned off my light. I had just finished reading Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn. I read it over a period of four days. And, I felt like a child again in that moment that I laid the book on my bedside table and curled onto my side into a fetal position with my hands under my head. I knew I needed to sleep; I had an early enough morning. But, I couldn't sleep immediately without prayers, which I don't do much anymore - once in awhile, maybe, when I need to get a few things off my mind. Last night, I needed to thank the powers that be for the people in my life. For my children, my husband, my healthy aging parents, my sister. I needed to ask for forgiveness for those quiet unknown hurts I have caused. This book touched me. It left me a little raw and open and exposed. And, in that dark hour of the night, I realized it has been awhile since I have even been in touch with that kind of emotional vulnerability. I spend my days in the material world, with funiture, paint chips and tile samples. I make people happy in that world. I have a good marriage (but this made me realize how much even more I need to appreciate it!), happy, healthy children and thriving parents who, at 80, are still married and cook three meals a day. I don't have much angst.

Laura Flynn has been living in Minneapolis - she attended the University of Minnesota MFA Writing Program, which, I know from limited experience seems quite good. I saw her at a local discusson on memoir writing, which is how I came to buy the book. (You have to buy those books if you go to these events! I had no idea if I would like the book.)

Laura grew up with an untreated schizophrenic mother in San Francisco in the late 1960's and 1970's and the book is a memoir which she pieced together from memory and from fact-checking with her father and two sisters. (She is certain her mother used to wrap herself in tin foil, then blankets and lie on the living room floor, but her older sister has no such memory of that.) From what I know about SF at that time, you might have thought her mother, Sally, would have disappeared in the throngs of alternative types, but for Laura, the disease was not only real - it implicated itself into every aspect of her life - from the kinds of clothing she could wear to foraging for their own meals while their mother locked herself in the bedroom for hours on end to the overwhelming sense that she needed to protect her mother and herself from the world.

It is a painful story, yet Laura manages to tell it with the innocence of the child. Alienation and bitterness are only occasional components in this tale - and compelling when the appear. Her detailed memories of doll games with her sisters and the handmade clothing that she was forced to wear bring the period to life and her way with the facts of the matter are disarming.

I finished the book feeling torn open emotionally - like I have no story so revealing, no story that strips me naked like this does. And, of course, I was grateful for that - and that is the point of the spontaneous prayer. But, I was reminded that it is useful to go to these places once in awhile, to leave the material world and dwell deeply in the emotional one, to remember that what we have today may be gone tomorrow.

Read it - and weep.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"End of the Innocence" - Praises for Jenny Sanford

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didnt have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by
When happily ever after fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales.
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly
But I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by man
Well sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence
---- Don Henley


Some of you don't know this, but I am a feminist. I have this odd feeling that it is a little passe to admit that, but I have really only become a feminist in the last 10 - 15 years. I'm a late bloomer. I think I was a feminist before but I didn't know it. I saw Gloria Steinem (she's almost 75 and still beautiful) in the Minneapolis airport last week and I was weak with gratitude in her presence. Fortunately, I am married to a feminist, too.

I am writing this to honor Jenny Sanford, the wife of the governor of South Carolina. She was NOT by his side today at the press conference when he admitted his affair with an Argentinian woman. Now, don't get me wrong. I really don't care that he had an affair. Maybe he had a lousy marriage and it's the best for both of them that they part ways. Maybe Ms. South America was the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe he loved her. Maybe she loved him. Maybe MRS. Mark Sanford is better off without him. I don't know and I don't care. I only hope they can figure it all out and, in the end, follow their hearts and find peace.

But, kudos to her for not appearing at this photo op like MRS. Elliot Spitzer, whose husband was fricking paying a prostitute, which is both illegal and sad. At least I might possibly believe that the slightly confused Sanford was experiencing his mid-life crisis and dealing with it as many men do. This is not a new story. Personally, I didn't need the details. Mr. Spitzer gets no such credit from me. (Although....my husband sees him regularly in New York on the corner of 79th and Madison with his daughters and Lee, the melancholic, feels incredible compassion for him. My husband's life's work is to help the suffering.)

I just want to say I am proud of a woman in the public realm who has the courage to hold her ground and let her philandering husband take the hit on his own (and make a bit of a fool of himself by revealing too much.) It is about time that we have role models for strong spouses who realize that, in the end, we are always really alone in this life, and ultimately free whether we are married or not. Marriage is no guarantee of security. There is death. There is divorce. There are women from Argentina. And no man can save me from the world or myself.

I am responsible for every moment of my life and experience and so is Jenny Sanford. A marriage where both parties understand the fragility of life and love and commitment, and that each person is whole and independent and free is the kind of marriage I want and work for, where the point of life is growth - and sometimes people need to grow in directions that aren't easy. Evey day with love is a gift. A good marriage / relationship is the frosting. And that is my lesson to my daughter. When we realize that marriage won't save us, it's the end of the innocence and the beginning of mature love because the self has found its center.

Wow...for a romantic, that could be construed as a really dark philosophy...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sabena's Powder Room



This is a powder room I completed recently for a client - Sabena and Jeff.
But, really, it is pure Sabena. She is mad for beautiful, slightly exotic forms. They had installed the walnut counter, sink and faucet, but it needed some juice. We found the incredible turquoise blue wallpaper with gold paisley pattern from Cole and Son. The mirror is 19th Century Italian gilt. The light? Not sure if it is available anymore - it was from DWR - a simple white porcelain teardrop- repeating the shapes of the paisleys. I love this room - I feel like I got this one right.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cool Today, Target Tomorrow.


Some of the amazing things NOLA HOME loaned us to prop the shoot.


More from NOLA HOME - in Minneapolis.
404 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55405, 612-374-4066
Antique blankets, rugs, linen print pillows. Fantastic!
So good, the homeowners kept several of the things we brought in from NOLA.
Tell Kelly that Alecia sent you!



Actual unretouched photo of my living room at this moment.
After a monumental photo shoot. When will I ever dig out?

"I'm tired as a meatball," is what my daughter, Isabelle, used to say when she was around three years old. Funny for someone who, at five, became a vegetarian. Perhaps she thought that would cure exhaustion. At this moment, I am as close to exhaustion as I've been in a long time. Too tired to forage for food.

I just finished maybe one of the biggest photo shoots I've ever done. It was a whole home near Stillwater. The family could not have been more photogenic and lovely. The couple. Kevin and Jodi Spearman, own an interior design firm based in Houston - Bellacasa Design. They have a stunningly successful business there and they bought a second home near Stillwater because they both grew up in the Midwest and wanted their 4 sons (ages 5 - 19!) to know the cousins and aunts and uncles and the whole Minnesota-running-barefoot-in-the-grass-go-out-and-play-kind-of-thing. (I learned you can't be barefoot on grass in Houston because of the red ants.) They were taking their family to Duluth for the weekend to run the 1/2 Grandma's Marathon with their 14 year old son, Nicholas. They are gorgeous, fit and extremely nice. I felt like a human slug around them.

But, here's the real story. It was bigger than usual because I have changed since I've been in New York. I see differently. I am a better stylist. I am also a better stylist because I have had some terrific design projects and one informs the other. But, now that I see more, I need more props.

And, with some wisdom from a guardian angel, I hired my friend Anna Hillegass to assist me. She's my "design buddy" from New York, originally from Minneapolis (really an organic farm in Wayzata.) Well, we were the perfect team. Well, she and I and her Audi station wagon, which I required because my little Mazda wasn't even close to big enough to schlep this amount of stuff. Some scientist could have done a documentary on the act of creativity by filming us. We would get stuck on a problem - like....what do we put on that shelf that works with everything around it? We wiggled, we wobbled, we tried this and that. We gave up for a moment and moved on. Then....BINGO! One of us had the perfect solution. Just like that. And, by the end of the two days, we knew that was our process, so we didn't worry when we didn't have the answer. We knew, by putting our heads (really, our eyes) together, we would find the solution! It was magic!

And the best part, is so much of the last two days made me laugh. At one point, we were looking at a prop - trying to decide if it was cool or not cool. And, Anna kind of thought it reminded her something of the nature of "scrapbooking" - sort of crafty - which totally made me laugh. So we kept exploring that idea - the idea of the thing that is cool now, but some knock off version of this crafty item will be all over and super popular in no time. So, I said, "Yeah, cool today, Target tomorrow." And, we knew we had just coined a phrase that would forever have meaning for us. When I am 75 and she is 47, we will still both know what that means. At another point, we noticed some neighborhood guy in the black Hummer with bluetooth in his ear driving by. I commented, "That is my kind of man." (Anna got the joke. She knows Lee.) She asked, "Did he have a golden Minnesota tan and highlighted hair, too?" She just gets me.

Plus, she is just raw talent. She brought flowers from her farm - fresh cut - and arranged them effortlessly. The peonies even took away the breath of the photographer, who is not easy to please. We are certain we have a future together. I can't do it alone anymore. I might have thought it was because the schlepping was too much, but, really, it is because creative collaboration rocks!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Scouting shots from John Reed Forsman - Stockholm, Wisconsin


The garden.


A peek into the bedroom.


The exquisite living room. I could drown in this color palette.

Little to say. A place like this is pure soul. Thanks to John's elegant eye, I get to enjoy them. Now, so do you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Random Notes


Looking across the Jackie Onassis Reservoir - toward the Upper West Side.


The assortment at Amy Perlin Antiques. Tres chic.


The perfect croissant at the perfect temperature. Just off the baking sheet.

I just read an article in the Times today about how few bloggers really stick with blogging. I've been at it since 2007 - with regularity, but haven't done a thing for a week. I've been working. Designing dining rooms and entries and selecting tile and wood and finishes. It's really fun, to be honest. I've had night time meetings - one that lasted until 11:30 and ended with wine - which made it seem much less like a meeting and more like a social event. I've had Saturday meetings. Not complaining. I love my work - but mostly, I love my clients.

But it's cutting into my blogging time, which is really best served when you have down time to think, to develop an idea, to allow that random thought to light and mature.So, instead of a mature, developed post - here are random notes from my last few days in New York.

1. I had the best croissant I've had in years. On Friday morning, I woke up to no coffee in the apartment, so I stumbled out to a rainy morning (without an umbrella.) So rather than go to my favorite coffee shop (Oren's Daily Roast) I went to Eli's because it is only a block away. At 7:45 in the morning, as someone carefully made my cappuccino, I saw a tray of fresh croissants come in, ready for display. I snatched one right off the baking tray - it was still warm. I went home and inhaled it - flaky, warm, melting, just slightly salty. Divine.

2. Later that day, I went to the Interior Design Building on East 61st. I've been looking for months for a few places - John Roselli Antiques, Amy Perlin, Lucca. Then, I learned they were all housed in this one building. It is a gold mine. Anna and I walked into John Roselli and just stood there in shock. "There is nothing I couldn't use - nothing I don't love," I said. Literally, everything I saw at John Roselli was incredible. I took a few notes, a couple of photos, some tear sheets and hoped for a client that would feel as passionate about these things I as I do. I went from Roselli to Amy Perlin. Where Roselli is more classic, Amy Perlin is more quirky. But I found a fantastic pair of vintage Maguire taborets for a client and the price was fair. I'm never happier than noodling around an antique store - and I've never seen better.

3. Lee discovered that the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park is exactly 2.75 miles around and, with the walk to and from our apartment, it takes precisely 1 hour. It is our "Lake Harriet walk" in NY. I like beginnings and endings. We walked today.

4. We continue to be surprised by how we are falling hopelessly in love with this city. Yesterday, we were given tickets to the ballet and we walked to and from Lincoln Center through the park and heard the musicians and saw the lovers and the babies and heard the German and the French and the Spanish and the languages we don't even know. And, then at the edge of the park, we emerged from the canopy of green only to see the majestic Metropolitan Museum of Art. And we strolled home, not quite believing this is our life. Then, we took a delicious nap.