Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I hadn't made an effort to coordinate my last trip to New York with touring this season's New York Gift Fair. Our Wilson Street boutique has been closed since the beginning of the year. It seemed somewhat anti-climatic to contemplate touring the aisles of the Javits without the rush of the hunt for those baubles and trinkets that would make the shelves and display tables of our former store sizzle. It wasn't until Sunday that I even realized the fair was in progress. I needed to find some accessories for a current client. I had exhausted all my usual go-to places with no great results so I caught a cab and rode over to the piers. The show's management threw me a curve. The home section where I usually do most of my shopping had been moved from the piers back to the Javits and now designer resources and new product had taken over the pier, disappointing. I hitched a ride on one of the free buses. By this time in the day I was down to an hour and a half until the show closed its doors for the day. I had to psych myself up for a sprint through the part of the fair I thought would give me the most bang for the buck. Turns out many of the vendors whose booths I was looking forward to perusing had taken a pass on this new venue arrangement. This year's show was low on volume and high on ho-hum. Turns out my hour and a half was more than sufficient to hit the home section from front to back and not feel as if I had missed a thing.
I can't say all was bad. I did discover some finds. One was a discovery of an old friend we hadn't seen for years, Shades of Grey. Gorgeous accessories made from stonewashed linen with the delicate touch of mother-of-pearl buttons. We bought from them back when we had our store high in the Catskill Mountains and hadn't seen them at the show for almost six years. Good design often spawns from simplicity. Shades of Grey has that elegance of restraint.
One of our truest supporters has been Beth Dempsey and her PR company Images and Details. We knew Beth had taken on another company, Oomp,
an idea developed by a group of housewives who make beautiful painted furniture and accessories for a Transitional market.
Playing off of that same theme, Mr. Brown of London was one of the few vendors I hadn't seen before. They made a big splash from across the pond on the shores of New York with their quirky furniture and accessory line.
Clearly this was a company with sufficient financial backing. Their booth was a riot of color and pattern. They showcased a bloody delightful homage to mid-century design and I loved it.
I've seen Oggetti before. Their product can lean a little toward the predictable but they had this coffee table that made a real statement. Comprised of a walnut base and clear glass top it was like a mathematical spiral equation made out of wood.
Having a seventeen-year-old daughter I felt this booth was right on point for that young adult demographic. Those crazy hippie designs of mixed fabrics, sequins and flamboyant color are all the rage with our daughter and her friends. This vendor probably has a small window of popularity but for right now they have that market cornered in a good way.
I couldn't resist these Euro sized pillows form Marcel Miller. Made of the softest terrycloth and closed with over-sized pearl buttons these pillows would have been a must have for our store. Their color palette is minimal coming in an icy white, cool steel blue and a neutral taupe. This product is sophistication and comfort combined.
Another furniture manufacturer that caught my eye was Made Goods. I'd love to find a client who would have the hutzpah to use this black and white resin tabletop. It comes in rounds from 48" to 60". This top has drama written all over it.
I also loved this faux shagreen side table. I'm not so sure about the oval cap on the bottom but beyond that it's a very handsome table.
I tried to get Indigo Imports to sell me one of these bags off the floor but they wouldn't do it. They were all reasonably priced and beautifully constructed. Now I have to wait to find a retailer who is stocking them and pay double the price from wholesale to retail.
Plan on seeing these iron pyramid trellises in our garden come spring 2014. They come in a perfect rust finish. They are regal and sophisticated, much like the way I envision myself, just kidding.

Friday, August 23, 2013


My middle sister got her wish, a teaching position in Saudi Arabia. A coveted job with thousands of applicants but she scored the winning set of qualifications to teach four-year-olds how to play the triangle and do a forward summersault. This gave us the opportunity to call in all our relatives and her friends for an end of summer harvest dinner. Rick, of course, wore the hats of social director and top chef along with outdoor and landscape artistic director.
Until next spring when we hope to really tackle the backyard Rick put together some temporary improvements that spruced up a pretty depressing patio. I had snatched up a metal mesh table with a faded canvas umbrella at a yard sale down the street from our old office for ten bucks. It sometimes pays to live in a college town where students move in and out of cheap apartments on a regular basis selling off furniture too difficult to transport for ridiculously little money. We spray painted the table chartreuse and washed the canvas umbrella for a "Voila" moment.
With the aid of some wooden stacks, a heavy stone and a million miles of extension cords Rick draped string lights over the patio for that European touch. Earlier in the season he planted an herb garden in the sandstone terraces I built between my senior year of high school and my first year of college. At the time I had no idea I was taking on my first architectural project building a grand condo for a cadre of chipmunks. Half of the concrete patio floor had to be removed; it had cracked beyond repair. We covered that part of the patio with some outdoor carpet to try to hide the mud pad we had created once the concrete was gone. Rick edged the carpet with field rocks s to keep the grass out and to keep the edges from blowing up during a good windstorm. The look sounds very Honey Boo-Boo but the result was more bohemian chic
Everyone was to show up around six - six-thirty. We thought we had everything under control the night before. Never count on having everything under control the night before, it's way too cocky and never true. At six that evening I was racing to pick up Emmy from swim practice with a last minute stop at the liquor store for the forgotten bags of ice and I still had to make the watermelon salad and get the corn in the oven. When I got back our gracious guests were asking what they could do to help. I assume they saw the panic in our eyes and the manic behavior of two adults running around bumping into each other like Lucy and Ethel. With their help Rick was finally able to get into the bathroom to shower and I was able to fish the melon baller out of the utensil drawer and start scooping out little balls of watermelon into the carved out hull.
Still the evening turned out to be perfect. Wisconsin never ceases to delight me with an abundance of crystal clear nights hovering just below sweater weather. We had made a fire in our $20 Home Depot fire pit and set out extra pillows around the lawn for people to lounge on. Not exactly the image you'd find an Architectural Digest spread but somewhat appropriate for a DIY blog post.
Here's the menu:
Grilled chicken
Brined overnight in a big covered pot with Prosecco, onions, lemons, lemon rind, and black peppercorns then stored in the refrigerator until just before grilling. Patted dry and put on the grill for 25 minutes

Grilled zucchini
Purchased at the farmer's market. The smaller ones are always the best. Grilled with homemade basil olive oil, salt and pepper before hand and served room temperature

Tri-color sweet corn
Never remove the husks. Placed in the center of oven at 500-550 degrees for 20 minutes. This keeps the moisture and flavor in. Husk and serve immediately with Irish butter and salt to taste

Watermelon salad
I always use the shell as a serving basket. First cut a handle and then zigzag an edge with a long knife to form the rim of the basket. Scoop the melon out with a melon baller into a large dish. Mix with crumbled feta, a third of a Bermuda onion sliced and quartered and ground black pepper from whole peppercorns. You can also add small seasonal berries like blueberries for an added dash of color. Scoop it back into the basket and you're done. If kids are involved it's best to leave a little plain watermelon to the side for those with simpler palettes.

Tomato and cucumber salad
We purchased farm fresh red and yellow cherry tomatoes, cut them in half and mixed them with sliced cucumber. Add a little olive oil, chopped fresh dill, salt and pepper and you're done

Camel cake
Yellow cake from a mix with powder sugar frosting. We're lucky enough to have a niece who loves to bake and has a very creative touch. I have no idea of how she made that camel but it was the perfect topper to my sister's Saudi Arabian going away party.

Gray's root beer
A local brewery selling their family made beers, ales and sodas since 1856. This root beer is the best.

The flowers
We bought several bunches of these beautiful orange blooms on our trip to the farmer's market the day before the party. To keep them fresh Rick cut the ends and stored them in a French flower bucket filled with water. With all the fresh food produce set out in earthenware bowls came a small army of fruit flies. Rick sprayed the flowers with an insecticide to rid the kitchen of the flies. Never, never do this. By morning most of the blooms had shriveled and faded to a dull brown. A lesson learned the hard way. Several hours of prep time lost to finding a florist with the exact same flowers for sale at quadruple the price

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I was born in Wisconsin. I grew up knowing how to milk a cow and catch a lightening bug in a mason jar but my knowledge of the word didn't go much beyond what Dane County had to offer. I learned where Bruges was in my fifth grade geography book. My traveling was done by my index finger trailing over the pages of National Geographic. You could trace the exotic places I had seen on a map with a one-inch string tethered to Madison. Until I went off to college in Central Illinois I never made it much further than Wisconsin Dells or a trip or two to Chicago. Northern Wisconsin was a vacationland for a different echelon of traveler. Northern Wisconsin was to Chicago what the Adirondacks were to New York City. The roads to get there were not the interstates of today. Travel time involved a day on the road or a private propeller plane.
The leggy balsam trees that planted their stilettos in a chorus line along the shores of Cranberry Lake, Otter Lake or Catfish Lake were not for the son of bread deliveryman with two weeks paid summer vacation. It wasn't even on our radar. It was for families that summered as relief from their country club suburban homes plunging off rope swings into crystal clear lakes and having dinner served by tuxedoed waiters under paper lanterns as the dance band backed up a pompadoured crooner.
It took almost six decades but my invitation to the North woods finally arrived, a weekend at our furniture manufacturer's cottage on Catfish Lake in Eagle River. After more than a month of plane travel to Italy, Ireland and New York City a leisurely drive through the rolling landscape between Madison and the world's largest chain of fresh water lakes was an adventure I was too exhausted to think I could enjoy. I was so wrong.
The Sweeney cottage sits at the end of a dirt drive lined with a mix of homes most only open for the summer season when the lakes shimmer with the reflection of a warm summer sun.
Dating back to the twenties and thirties the clapboard main buildings with their detached guesthouses surrounded by magnificent pines and yards littered with beds of needles exude a bygone charm.
Stepping out of the car it was the crunch of those needles under foot that sent the fragrant message of the woods into my nostrils where the scent of balsam remained long after our leaving.
The season in Eagle River is short. It was the first week in August. We had a broken cloud cover that kept the temperature in the cool sixties, too cool to dive in to the Muskie rich water but perfect for sitting on the dock and watching the patterns the sun and clouds played on the lake.
It wasn't too late in season for all the flowers to be gone but their petals were beginning to fall.
Terry had a boy scout's knack for building fires. During the late afternoon we'd curl up with our books in front of the blazing logs and doze off before it was time to eat.
We grilled salmon and ate a blueberry crisp Rick had put together the morning before we left.
It was just as the sun was getting ready to fall below the tree line on the opposite shore, a time when the light deepens to a golden glow and the sky becomes an artist's palette of rich pastels going into electric shades of neon. I had pulled out my iphone to capture the sky when one of Eagle River's magnificent eagles spread its six-foot wing span and glided out from a canopy directly over my head.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


DAY 24, JULY 31, 2013
The last day has finally arrived. I told Emmy when we first started planning this trip to savor every day of the anticipation knowing that when the trip finally arrived it would be gone in the snap of your fingers. We didn't get up particularly early or late this morning. Knowing the final packing would be handled nowhere near as precisely or with the same deliberation that was required for the outward-bound part of a vacation. The neat way everything gets folded and stacked before you board your plane is replaced with dirty laundry and souvenirs squeezed into suitcases you hope won't explode as they are slung into the cargo bays of departing planes.
As a fitting good-bye today, Ireland shed tears of rain so we wouldn't be too disappointed about our departure. Leaving would have been more difficult if we had been faced with a day of sunshine and promise. 
Adrian was there promptly at twelve to shuttle us off to the airport. The road there was through a bleaker part of Dublin made drearier by the rain showers splattering our taxi's windshield.
It was a needed family vacation where each of us grew in our own ways. It was a time of reconnecting. It was a time of firsts, mostly for Emmy. It was a time of seeing a part of our past and recognizing it as a sign of our future. 
"Cin, cin"

Not to be outdone, upon arrival the skies of our Midwest home were no less magnificent than the ones we left across the Atlantic. There's no place like home and there's nothing more comforting than to know home occupies a space where the laughter and kindness of friends old and new are heard and felt under the same moon and stars no matter what part of the globe is echoing their cherished and repeated sound.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


DAY 23, JULY 30, 2013
Adrian, our driver and guide for the day, was waiting outside the hotel polishing his windshield at eight forty-five in the morning, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. He was clearly very proud of this assignment and delighted to be Tonto to our Lone Ranger. He wore a pressed white shirt, tie and sunglasses. We felt a little like celebrities and he our bodyguard. We had really wanted a day in the Irish countryside and when we started tabulating the cost of a car, gas and the inevitable accidents from trying to navigate from the wrong side of the street we decided Adrian was going to be a real bargain. He was a wealth of knowledge on Irish history and the hidden treasures of the counties Dublin and Wicklow.
Wicklow is the area directly south of Dublin and the quintessential image of the lush rolling hills of the Irish countryside. When in Dublin you can forget that the city is virtually a coastal town lying up east of the Irish Sea. It was this route Adrian chose to first take us on for some spectacular views of the water, its cliffs and beaches.
From there we meandered through winding roads getting deeper and deeper into rural Ireland.
We made a small stop in Enniskerry,
a quant village where we picked up a bite to eat and some medicine to quell Emmy's queasy stomach. Riding in the backseat on all those winding roads is enough to make anyone a little woozy.
From there our destination was Powerscourt, a beautiful estate with phenomenal gardens. From the back of the mansion the central garden rolled down the hill broken by a series of fountains and ending in an extensive lily pond.
Lanes led on either side to additional regions of the garden.
We headed to the Japanese garden first with its stone arches, pagodas and ponds.
Emmy was lost in her photography using her macro lens to capture the smallest of details.
From there we crossed the rhododendron trail way past blooming time but what we did see were decades old trees lining the walk where hundreds had carved their initials with hearts and arrows for visitors from future decades to see and wonder at the extent of true love.
The Dolphin fountain was placed at the end of the rhododendron walk. You walked around the fountain and into the walled formal gardens, a lane of flowering plants along both sides.
At the end of the walled garden you ended up at the burial monument to Julia, the Seventh Viscountess, by her son presumably the Eighth Viscount.
Inside the mansion were some of the most beautiful shops we had seen in Ireland. Loomed blankets and scarves from local wool along
with baked goods filled the labyrinth of rooms that let us know it was time to find some lunch.
Adrian took us to Lynham's of Larach for a lunch of beef stew, a chicken Caesar salad and a pint of Guinness ale. My guess is he'd been here before.
The stew was delicious and hearty and just the right thing for a day in the Irish countryside. Not being much of a drinker the ale surprisingly agreed with me.
It had a heavy head almost the consistency of cream and a smooth cool taste. I'd never have a Guinness in America; it wouldn't be the same. After all, everyone knows Guinness doesn' t travel well.
Just beyond the restaurant was a park with the remains of an old monastery dating back to the 600's. Not much remained except a tall tower, partial walls of the church and a graveyard littered with memorials. Our legs were getting a little weary. None of us were the hiking type and the gardens had been forty-seven acres of heavy up and down hill traveling. After eight hours we decided to turn around.
We had one last stop before we found home. Along the shore there were the partial remains of a castle perched on the very edge of a cliff with a forty-foot drop to the sea. Adrian had wouldn't let us go home without a whiff of sea air and the feel of salt wind on our cheeks. We couldn't say we had seen Ireland without a stop by the sea. The view from the castle's remains was spectacular. The sea crystal clear crashing over the jagged rocks that lined the shore below was unlike anything you could experience back in the states. There were no guard rails, no signs telling you to enter at your own risk, only the edge of Ireland before it feel into the sea.
As a parting gift Ireland turned its skies to a pot of brilliant rose with glimmers of lavender and glints of gold just as the leprechauns had predicted.