Sunday, January 24, 2010

My LIfe

Lee's Gin and Tonic

My cooking mess.

Game Day Chili with Cilantro and Cheddar

Go, Brett!

There is a sweet Iris Dement song called "My Life." Here are the lyrics of the first verse and chorus:

My life, it don't count for nothing.
When I look at this world, I feel so small.
My life, it's only a season:
A passing September that no one will recall.

But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting.
And I can make it seem better for a while.

What I love about this song is how much it makes me appreciate the most simple moments. And tonight I was feeling that. Just back from a walk to my gorcery in NY, interacting with the stock boys who were dying to know how the Jets were doing in the playoff game, collecting my organic beef from the very cute, young, dark butcher - who becomes a butcher these days? "Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Ma'am."

"You, too. Thanks," I smiled.

Then I headed home in the 40-degree mist. I was thinking how much I love the dampness - how good my skin feels. I have spent time in Colorado where I need to embed myself in a tube of chapstick. I can't stand it! I love humidity. Have you ever seen a 70-year from South Carolina? They look fantastic!

Anyway, I came home and Lee was in his throne - the brown leather chair, watching the end of the Jets - Colts game. Well, sadly, the Jets lost. But, this was just foreplay. The real game was the Vikings vs. the Saints. So I hit the kitchen, opened my vino and got to cookin'. This being a football Sunday, what else could I make but chili?

So, I did and at one point, I turned to Lee and said, "I am in bliss. Cooking here in my little kitchen, everything at my fingertips. Walking to the store, the library, everything a walk. Here with you in this little apartment. I like this little life."

It is hard to describe. I am in my element, at home. I'm a cliche. But I am happy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We're on to you, Oilily

The whole thing - boiled wool jacket, skirt fabric has silver threads - eat your heart out,

Can you stand these shoes!? Sequins.
Early 20th Century Ukraine.

Love. Just love. Buttons, fluffy things. Little embroidered flowers. It must have been a sewing fest.

Wedding hat. It actually has little paper pom-poms on the top!


This is the cutest.

I have a new project, which is taking me in a whole new direction. A lovely couple from Minneapolis has hired me to write a book on Ukrainian style - especially the village life and the folk arts. Long story how this came about, but suffice it to say, it is a happy accident that we met.

Here in New York, where I will do most of the writing, I have discovered the Ukrainian Museum ( down on the Lower East Side -and decided to go yesterday to begin some of my research. The kinds of things I will be writing about include the beautiful embroideries, linens, pottery, painted eggs, block prints, textiles, food and holiday rituals.

The museum was a lovely surprise - as a Textiles and Design major in college, I was mesmerized by the delicate stitches, pleats and embroidery on the white linen shirts! And, my friend Anna (my Design Day compatriot) noticed, especially, the playful way the wedding costumes were decorated.

And...what do you know...we are pretty sure Oilily ( must have been hanging around Ukrainian wedding costumes when they started their look many years ago. See what you think!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to Design

Well, one of the reasons I haven't written this week is that I have been finishing a project I have been working on for a few months. My clients, a family with a set of adorable twins with a third on the way, renovated the front part of their home in an effort to return it to some sense of its farmhouse style roots. It was heinous! Someone had haphazardly (with an emphasis on the hazard part) done some handy work in the '70's including turning a porch into an extension of the Living Room, carpeting and all, and adding a picture window to this 1910 gem. Really, people who do this to architecture should be hung by their toenails for a few days, then made to write a billion times "Houses have feelings too."

Paul Udris of U+B Architecture ( was the architect who did a great job of keeping the architecture quiet, tasteful, and edited so that the space feels essentially modern. Choice Wood was the contractor - really beautiful work.

We suddenly had a deadline - she was giving a party tonight - and that seemed to motivate her, so ask if I could pull things together quickly. I got to work scouring local antique shops and our best little independent retail stores and found everything I needed, some of it for a song. She just got out of my way and let me do my thing! "Oh, just do whatever you think," she would say, while she went about her life. So, I did. And now I know I probably do my best work this way. Thank you, Rebecca.

Here's the result: It will be on my website in a week or so. I am really happy because it is so calm. I'm into calm these days. Not doing much with color. Ask my mother, who asked me recently, "Why do you only wear black, honey?"

Oh...and my favorite spots:

NOLA Home in Bryn Mawr for the great rugs and Chinese vase
The Guild on Excelsior for accessories
H & B Gallery on Hennepin for the rattan woven bench
Hunt & Gather on Xerxes (yes, for that amazing white bird lamp!)
Zachary at IMS - always my first stop for accessories including the great Chinese garden stool
CW Smith for the lovely Asian furniture - the Tibetan leather chest / table and Chinese chest
The beautiful 19th C. mirror is from Center 44 in NYC

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This, Just in....and Fear of Flying

"hi. in rome, heading to florence tomorrow. love love love rome. you
MUST come here.


I got this from Izzy today - this morning - and it honestly gave me goosebumps. (For anyone that might not know, my 20-year old daughter, Isabelle, a student at UW-Madison, is spending her Junior year in Madrid.) I know, a lot of kids travel today. And, I also know that most don't. Most aren't as lucky as Isabelle. But, this is so meaningful to me because I was 53 years old before I ever crossed the Atlantic. I went to a state school, the University of Iowa, and did not know a single person who did a study abroad. I'm sure they did, but I did not ever know one - not one of my friends from high school and not one of my college friends. It was a different time, partly, but more than that, it was a different way of thinking about what was possible.

I didn't fly on a commercial airplane until I was 23 - to New York, to a city I had only dreamed about at 17. At 23, I still lived in Iowa City and was being trained in as a buyer of a rather chic, progressive women's clothing shop and it was a trip I could have only dreamed of - fashion shows, awards banquets and buying appointments, dinners in New York and a little shopping on the side.

I only flew a few more times in my 20s - then became afraid of flying. I did it but only when I couldn't avoid it - like going to spend Christmas with my father in law in Charleston, SC with our young family - or in Virginia with my mother-in-law. Eventually, I avoided it altogether. I couldn't bear the turbulence. Take off? Landing? No problem. Up in the air in a trembling martini thank you.

I was also just afraid, in general. Of trying new things. From the outside, it may not have looked that way, but I recall desperately wanting to go to school in NY - FIT (to study fashion) or to study acting somewhere, but I was terrified and there was absolutely no support system that said, "Go. You can do that. Go." New York was the moon to a farm family from Iowa.

So, I shrunk my dreams to fit my fears.

Then, when I turned 51 and I had been married to Lee for about 7 years, he moved to LA while I stayed in Minneapolis. I knew that I would never see him again if I did not get over my fear of flying. I also knew that I would never get to Europe if I didn't tackle it. So, I just decided I would get over it. I had to see Paris before I died.

With a xanax at a time, I re-conditioned my thinking. Because the xanax prevented me from worrying when I was flying (in fact, you basically wouldn't even worry much if you were plummeting out of the sky...whatever!) I stopped associating turbulence with anxiety. And, now, after five years, I am 99% xanax free when I fly!

I now fly 2 times every month back and forth to NY. But, the real test was flying across the Atlantic in 1996 when Lee and I decided to spend one month in July of that year in Florence, Italy to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. We studied History of Renaissance Art at the British Institute of Florence, 5 days a week - 2 - 3 hours a day - for the month. Lee also took a life drawing class. It was the single most magical month of my life. (The first month of motherhood might tie that.) And it was magical, not just because it was Europe, but because I had transcended a boundary that held me captive for way too long, a mind-made boundary that my daughter does not share.

To be 53 and going to a foreign country - especially Florence, Italy! - for the first time must be like being a virgin at 40 and finding the love of your life! I was so grateful for the time there, for the circumstances in my life that we could go. So, when I see that Isabelle has a different life, one that is not afraid, at 20 years old, I almost want to cry with joy. She will be forever changed by this year in Europe, as I was forever changed by my time there even in my 50s. I know that she will have her own karmic boundaries, but fear of travel and new places and languages and people are not some of them. I have told her since she was young that she could do anything. She had to work for it, create it and be responsible for it....but she could do it.

She's doing it. I am really proud of her and I am tickled beyond words that she likes Italy. Now, I must go to Roma. Don't all roads lead there? Or something like that?

Ciao. Ciao. Arriverderci.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Start Spreadin' the News - I'm Leavin' Today....

New York, New York. Why am I so happy to be home? I feel like a stupid American traveler. I am just happy to be back where I can walk to my favorite mussels restaurant (Flex Mussels - 4 blocks), where I can go online and order groceries, where it is actually quiet at night except for the orchestra of pipes, and where I know how to use a public restroom without being locked inside without a light.

Oh, yes, that....suffice it to say that I commend Europe for working to save electricity, but they do it by having lights go off automatically at the most inopportune times, like when I was in a public restroom in the train station with a stainless steel door that self-locked when it shut with no visible handle. There is something entirely disheartening about feeling around for the way to flush in a dark, public bathroom knowing that a handsome family of four is waiting to use it next. Finally, one just gives up on the idea of flushing altogether and begins to work directly on just getting out of the stainless steel cell, feeling around for any kind of handle, knob, lock - or, god forbid, a light switch of some camouflaged design. But, such thing. Just blackness with my hands roving about. Finally, I start pounding on the door, "Ingles, Ingles." No one answered. But, then, they couldn't - the door was locked! Then panic sets in because after 5 - 10 minutes in there, I realized the train I was about to board for Monteserrat was leaving any minute and Lee, Isabelle and Natalie must be going nutty over my absence. We had missed the train one hour before because we were 1 minute late.

Before surrendering into a sobbing puddle on the tile floor, I both pushed on a button and on the door at the same time and it released. I had to apologize to the sad family who had been waiting with small children to use the bathroom. Isabelle stood nearby waving her arms madly (and madly) saying,
"what the .....? The train is ready to leave." I got in my seat and warned them not to say a word to me or I would break down right then and there on the train. Once I regained my composure, I told them the story, which they all seemed to enjoy way more than they should have. Natalie had the good grace to admit it has happened to her, too. So there.

A few days later, time to return to NY, we arrived 3 hours early at the airport, only to discover that really we didn't need to be that early. The heavy duty security was applied AFTER you handed the agent the boarding pass at the gate - ready to get on the plane. In Barcelona, you were then sent down an escalator 2 men and 2 women at a time to be patted down and have every square millimeter of your belongings searched. They made me take the lens cover off my camera and open the viewer on the back. They looked into my lipstick tube. They did this for almost 300 passengers. It took 2 hours and 15 minutes to board everyone, leaving 1.5 hours later than scheduled. But, the pilots just cranked and we got into JFK only 15 minutes late! THe passengers burst into spontaneous applause at touchdown. Rather sweet. Even at JFK, there was only one person ahead of us in the taxi line and it took only 30 minutes to get to our apartment. Like the parting of the Red Sea - there was no traffic in New York! Really easy.

But, after the public bathroom terror, I needed something easy.

Back in America with the Tournament of Roses parade on TV, which makes me feel about 80 years old. My son here with his girlfriend, Jessie, who is really a gem and I am ready to whip up some Juevos Rancheros for all. Happy to be home.