Saturday, April 24, 2010


She bent down the way a dancer would to pick up her small rumpled paper bag. She bent from the knees, her left leg going straight out and the right one doing the bending. Her right foot arched on its ball. I had just walked into the Starbucks on Park Avenue at Twenty-ninth Street. Most of the tables were full with people hanging over their computers, young twenty-something students and self-employed day dreamers. A few tables had businessmen in dark suits heads resting on poised hands engrossed in conversations you know revolved around money. I had my eye on the lady with the bag hoping she was on her way out so I could grab her table. She scooped up her bag and surveyed the room. Her body looked a little thicker than it did when she was bending over to retrieve her bag, that and the little grey ponytail peeking out from under her red velvet pillbox hat hinted that age had been creeping up on her. I had only seen her from the back but as soon as she straightened up I could see that youth was her history. There was a dichotomy between her self-perception and the reality of her true age. Looking at her was like looking at the image I used to see in magazines of a drawing of a beautiful Gibson girl sitting at her dressing table when looked at from one perspective but if looked at from a different angle the drawing turned into the face of a witch with a crooked warty nose. That was the lady at Starbucks. At first glance an agile member of the twenty-somethings gathered at Starbucks, but seen from the front she had that unfortunate other look, a withered face with a large protruding lower lip painted a faint shade of red. As she moved through the tables she held herself erect and with a regal flair took oversized steps, stopping every few feet to push a chair back under a table so she could continue her grand exit through the dining area. Just as soon as I saw her disappear behind a column she reappeared standing against a wall of windows her silhouette outlined by the light pouring in from Park Avenue. She stood there surrounded by other coffee sippers valiantly trying to ignore her presence. In addition to her red hat she wore a leather jacket with a huge flirty ruffled bottom that accentuated the width of her hips. A pair of tight fitting black leggings supported her short height and her exceptionally tall self-image. She stood there as if contemplating her exit making little starts but then retreating to her post against the window. As she stood she kept lifting her left hand in front of her mouth the way one does when your trying to check for halitosis. She was too far away for her scent to have made an impact on my olfactory sense. If her breath was coated with garlic, or if she carried the smell of urine so many homeless people possess, it wasn’t detectable by my nostrils. The people seated next to her didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she smelled of gardenias. I couldn’t tell. After her fourth attempt at making a complete exit she finally spun through the exit as if it were a revolving door when in fact it wasn’t. She quickly disappeared amongst the crowds of people beginning their lunch breaks. One regal figure navigating her royal walk through her subjects who all gave her a wide berth the way one would when royalty approached.

It doesn't matter who you are. It only matters who you think you are. That's what pulls you from today into tomorrow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Yesterday I opened my email to a long list of bookstore coupons, weight loss offers and special deals from a maze of interior design vendors. I’d been away from my computer for most of the day so the number of new entries had built to fifty-seven. I plopped onto the sofa, laptop in hand and began highlighting the "spamie" ones readying them for a quick click and delete when I noticed in the “from” column a name I recognized. I love seeing real correspondences. Although there are other entries I feel obligated to look at: the informational pieces sent out by bloggers I’m interested in or notifications of events back in New York I can pretend I will be attending, the most cherished entries are those pieces from people I know, friends. I save these pieces and assign them a hierarchy in my reading list. It’s what I’ve done since childhood with things I’m fond of. When I eat a meal if there are things on my plate I particularly like or don’t like I’ll eat the least desirable ones first and save my favorites until last so I can enjoy the anticipation of savoring their flavors on my palette. I want those tastes to be the ones lingering after the meal has ended.  The email I spotted from Marcia was going to be my dessert. I saved it until last, over a coupon from West Elm, an invoice I had to look at, and the most recent missives from Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy. I wanted to taste each word and enjoy a message meant solely for me. Even when it’s a few crumbs of idle gossip each scoop of a personal conversation is as delicious as a bite of a Krispy Kreme. Little did I know Marcia was serving up a deep chocolate soufflé.

“Lee: I would like you to check out this article on Design Milk, they are one of the biggies in the design blog community. They asked me to name my five current inspirations and you are one of them.
Enough said.”
Here’s the link:

Enough said, Marcia, enough said.

Never doubt the true nature of a friend

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Every Thursday behind the automatic doors at the local grocery stores, on wire racks outside neighborhood take-out pizza parlors or inside the Wisconsin State Journal are stacked, piled and folded copies of 77 Square, a flyer focusing on the art, cultural and entertainment scene in and around the Madison metropolitan area. Here you can find tucked on an outside column of the paper a feature they call “Mad City Stats”. What the column reports on are the top five selling items at local businesses. They’ll feature things like the top five selling beers at the Nitty Gritty, or the five most popular hamburgers at Dottie Dumpling’s Dowery, the five most popular bras at Victoria’s Secret or the top selling fragrances at Sephora which included Philosophy Amazing Grace at number five, Marc Jacobs Daisy at number four, Thierry Mugler Angel at number three, Dolce Gabbana Light Blue at number two and Kim Kardashian coming in at number one. This should hint at what flies in Madison, a political hotbed of liberalism but a conservative nest of very traditional homeowners. Here people will sit on the outer edges of political ideology but won’t even put their toes in the water of individualized home design. Last week 77 Square featured Sherwin-Williams top five paint colors. Here’s what the buyers in Madison chose; At number five we had Nomadic Dessert, a color clearly in the beige range. Number four breaks a little to the right with a designer staple, Navajo White. Coming in at number three we’re back to beige with Softer Tan. Moving up the color risk taking ladder is Latte, a little deeper beige but still beige. And at number one, hold your breath, it’s Kilim Beige. The spectrum of color is complete, all the way from “B” to “B”. This is the design mentality we’re up against here on the Isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It makes making a living here harder for us to figure out when most of the potential clients are stuck back in high school where no one wants to stand out. Everyone here seems to want to look like everyone else wrapped up in beige habitats. So here we are trying to figure out a way to slip a little chartreuse into this otherwise colorless milieu. Some day the rainbow will shine over this earth-toned land and we’ll find a couple of believers willing to trust two designers ready to splash a little periwinkle and tangerine over their fears of appearing to possess a touch of style.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The “Marvin Stewart” of our household was at it again on Saturday night doling out tasks for our annual Easter egg dying event. Rick had Emmy donate a couple of pairs of old panty hose from her underwear drawer while I had to scavenger around for a pair of scissors. 
Earlier in the day we made our way to the grocery store and stocked up on organic eggs, some herbs chosen for the graphic possibilities of their leaves, and then our dying agents: beets, onions and black berries. We already had a gallon jug of white vinegar and a collection of rubber bands. Other than some big pots, all our needs were accounted for in order to make some of the most beautiful eggs you’ll ever see.
Prep was pretty simple consisting of cutting panty hose into four inch squares, slicing up some beets, pinching some leaves off of our herbs and stripping the skins off of some yellow onions. In separate pots we dumped our onion skins, cut up beets and black berries with a mixture of water and vinegar in a ratio of three parts water to one part vinegar. Then it was on to the stove with our sloshing pots where we cranked up the heat to high until the mixtures came to a boil. While we were waiting for the water to boil we started placing some leaves on the squares of panty hose. We each had our own artistic touch but it was Emmy’s use of oregano spears that seemed to produce the best results. 
After the leaves were in place we gently laid the eggs down on the leaf and panty hose blankets, pulled the hose up tight around the eggs, and twisted and sealed the little Easter packages with a rubber band. 
Our next step in our egg bondage routine was to cut off the excess nylon leaving the eggs look like a band of comic bank robbers. The last act was to drop the eggs into the pots and let them sit for a couple of minutes in the bubbling mixture. Once Rick was assured that the process had been complete he turned the heat off and covered the pots of the newly tattooed eggs. 
We left the eggs sit over night and when we woke in the morning we fished out the eggs, cut off the hose and blotted the eggs dry. 
The result was some of the most beautiful Easter eggs Madison had ever seen. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The last time we took time for ourselves was over three years ago. We always made sure Emmy had a sense of vacation but it defined itself as a trip for her, instead of an escape to recapture the meaning of family. During those three years we almost drifted off on three separate boats at times in danger of sinking in some high seas.
This past week we were able to right our boats, tie them together and sail out on a calm sea for a two day vacation to Iowa City. It may seem like a very small victory but to us it was a memory moment we will always carry with us. Who knew Iowa City would hold such a capacity for making magic.
The whole idea for traveling to Iowa began with a random search on the internet for Breyer horses. Emmy has collected and played with these plastic equines since she first saw them stuffed in a trunk in my mother’s basement, mementos of my own childhood. I had collected Hartland horses; the ones modeled after old TV westerns with Roy Rogers, Annie Oakley and Tonto and their saddles, ten-gallon hats and six shooters. My neighborhood friends and I would spend many summer hours in our backyard creating stables and western villages out of found lumber and mowed grass. With Emmy the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with her imaginary play and choice of toys. Breyer horses have been around as long as Hartland but the demise of the western in lieu of the CSI franchises has pretty much put the Hartland brand out of business.
It was late one weekend while all three of us sat with our laptops perched appropriately on our laps that Emmy discovered the Triple B Ranch and Breyer horse store. Her eyes and mouth formed three big “O’s”, as if she was a model for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. On her computer were pictures of the largest collection of Breyer horses we had ever seen, case after case of vintage and new horses and accessories, a little girl’s wet dream if little girls can have wet dreams. We morphed into the three researching wizards as Emmy kept her curser on Breyer horses, I moved to maps to see how far away Iowa City was from Madison, and Rick began digging into amenities available in and around the Hawkeye campus. Within minutes we had an itinerary with a modern hotel, a map to the Triple B Ranch and appointments for facials for Rick and Emmy and a massage for me at a spa two blocks away from the hotel.
Rick had to work until six on the Wednesday evening we had booked as our departure time. We had all packed the day before so we would be prepared to leave the minute Rick could walk out the door at the Boston Store. We arrived in Iowa City in a little less time than we had allotted. This was good. The hotel was so not what one would expect in the middle of corn country. It was sleek, fashionable and ultra-cool, concrete floors, sliding sandblasted glass walls on metal rollers, and furniture courtesy of Bo Concepts. When one expects bland plaids on imitation Colonial wing chairs in the land of middle-of-the-road, the Hotel Vitro was a total surprise. We all sunk into our pillow-topped mattresses dreaming of our morning spa splurge and what a splurge it turned out to be, another hidden surprise. We’ve been to A Thousand Waves in Santa Fe, Clay in New York and the Trianon Palace in Versailles. None of these compared to what happened in Zenders on Linn Street in little ol’ Iowa City. Tracy’s hands worked me over for ninety minutes with lavender aroma-therapy and a hot oil treatment that felt like waves of total comfort pouring over my back; no attitude, no punishing pummeling only pure relaxation.
After floating out of Zenders it was into the car and off to the Triple B Ranch, what Triple B stood for we could only imagine. The Triple B Ranch was located in West Branch, Iowa about ten miles east of Iowa City. It was just like Iowa to locate a town called West Branch and then put if east of the city it’s an apparent branch of; West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover and the current ideology of the Republican party. The Triple B Ranch wasn’t on Main Street or even a side street but out on gravel road that changed to dirt just before you got to the farm. Pat and their fleet of dappled draft horses were there to meet us as we pulled into the ranch consisting of their home, their horse stable which also included two llamas and squeezed between the stable and house the Breyer barn, the first “B” in Triple B. Pat told us to excuse the dust as she pointed out her bandaged hand and told us she had a doctor’s note excusing her from any current cleaning and this included vacuuming. We liked her immediately.
“Anything in the cases along the wall or behind the plastic are part of my daughter’s collection and aren’t for sale. Most of the rest of the stuff is marked but if it has a price written in red it’s on ebay and you’d have to bid on it from there.”
This still left thousand’s of horses for sale. It would take Emmy hours of contemplation to figure out which of these horses were to become part of her collection. Pat guided us through the museum/store turning us on to all sorts of aspects of the Breyer world we weren’t aware of like Breyerfest, a get together of thousands of Breyer devotees in Lexington Kentucky, and how there were a whole slew of artists who repainted and re-sculpted horses to make one-of-a-kind pieces of art. They chop them apart and affixed new heads and tails on torso they weren’t meant for. It would be one of these that would steal Emmy’s heart and make it back to Wisconsin and into her collection. About two hours into the selection process we got to meet Norm, the patriarch of the Triple B Ranch. Norm was a big burly guy so I’m going to suppose him to be the second “B” in the Triple B.
“I see Pat’s still using that doctor’s excuse to keep that vacuum cleaner in hiding.” We liked Norm right away too.
“Aw, you’re just mad I can’t go back to work.”
“Those bodies are all on ice honey, they’ll wait ‘til you get back.” The final “B” cut itself in to the true definition of the Triple B, blood, bodies and butchering. It was Pat’s job to cut apart those donated bodies for the University of Iowa med school. Pat’s job of cutting up cadavers along with vacuuming would have to wait until her cutting hand healed. It put a whole new spin on the Triple B. and the people who carried on in the land of Herbert Hoover.