The Sound of Music – A Love Story

music of love

If music be the food of love, play on.  Shakespeare


Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. Victor Hugo


After all these years, the music brought back every memory of those tender moments, of first love, of being deeply loved.  A Walkman and a transistor radio, both vintage by today’s standards, but a reminder of the way that music once traveled with us.  Don was into one of his memory boxes, sifting and sorting, deciding what goes and what stays.  Both the Walkman and small radio caught his attention. After replacing the batteries, Chuck Berry’s Maybellene came from the hand-held transistor radio and he quickly returned to the days of his youth.


A cassette tape with a side A and side B was in the Walkman. SST-2 was scribbled on the white strip of paper stuck to the plastic.  Not enough information to give a recognizable clue as to what was on it. Curiosity prevailed. After new batteries were inserted, he pressed the play button.  Music began and Don knew exactly what this cassette was and for whom.  At that moment, I walked into the room.  Don handed me the Walkman.  He didn’t say a word.  His eyes said it all.


Putting on the earbuds, I listened, listened carefully, never letting my eyes leave his. My heart widened and remembered.  No longer was my breathing regular, but jerky and uncontrollable.  Tears spilled down my face.  Sobbing, I fell into his waiting arms. This was not just music.  This was a love story. Music that traveled back in time, before Simplicity, before Apartment 2B, before our move to Wisconsin, before we knew we would be together.


Once upon a time in my life, I was an interpretive dancer, using mixed styles of modern, jazz and ballet in my work.  Not only did I dance for organizations and conferences, I choreographed for groups of dancers.  Finding the perfect music for the occasion was always a challenge.  Don became a creative resource.  Periodically I would receive a cassette tape in the mail. His musical tastes were different from mine, shaking up my usual repertoire. Ethnic rhythms and genres found on the edges of culture arrived in my mailbox. I listened for the rhythm, the unique instruments, the flow of orchestration that invited multiple ways a body could express and move. Through it all I felt Don’s love, his presence.


On occasion, I heard the stop and start of the recording, knowing his fingers had pressed the button, his attention totally in the moment.  Missing him, wishing him nearby, this was one way our love grew across the miles that separated us.  “Music is a way to dream together and go to another dimension.”  Cecilia Bartoli’s words, but true for us.  Music, dance, and love took us there, to a place fully alive and together.


Listening to SST-2 as I type this blog, the words not only dance across the page, my body is in time travel, remembering those days of dancing with the music in its fullness within me, with Don nearby.  Tears are falling once again.  Beautiful, gentle tears of loving one so completely. Tears of being loved and known so deeply.  For all my demands to clean out those umpteen memory boxes stacked in the basement, this find was a gem and a keeper, just like you, Don Mendenhall.

More than a Junk Drawer

junk drawer

Every house needs a junk drawer.     Don Mendenhall


An innocent conversation over coffee is where it started.  About a seemingly insignificant part of the house.  Life suddenly revealed itself and I discovered the true contents of a small drawer in Simplicity’s kitchen.

When we moved into the house, my husband asked for a designated junk drawer.  While I do open this drawer, it feels like Don’s domain.  He is the sole proprietor and manager of its contents.

“My dad had a junk drawer,” Don randomly shares one morning.   “And my grandfather.  I remember as a child how I loved to look in them.  Felt like a treasure hunt, never knowing what I would find. Both were messy and chaotic.  That’s what made them a great junk drawer. Junk drawers are messy.”

“Really?” I inquired, as I thought of my childhood experience with a junk drawer. “My dad’s junk drawer wasn’t messy.  Seemed pretty organized. Dad labelled everything.  He had little jars and metal containers named paper clips, rubber bands, brads, tacks. There were boxes and plastic bins that organized all the other containers. I loved looking in the drawer. Fun pens, small screwdrivers, and measuring tapes with different advertising on them. I felt important, thinking of all the ways those things could be used.”

I paused, now giving further thought to this little drawer in Simplicity’s kitchen.  “What is a junk drawer for?” I asked the resident expert sitting across from me.

“I think the junk drawer is about efficiency, easy access to something you need at a moment’s notice,” Don’s thinking mind offered.  He paused and then added, “It keeps things safe.  Yes, this is the place of safe keeping for procrastinations.”

“Safe keeping for procrastinations?” I giggled and he did, too. Did this clever phrase just spill out of his mouth or had he been thinking about this whole junk drawer issue for quite some time?  “Explain that to me,” I encouraged him, still in amazement we were taking about a silly junk drawer. Talk about squeezing blood out of a turnip.  We were squeezing and having fun.  Now I wanted to know what he meant by ‘safe keeping for procrastinations’.

“Well, this is where I put things like the bolt that fell out of the dining room table.  I don’t want to lose it because it is important. This drawer keeps it safe.”

I looked over at him, all pleased with himself, and loved him even more.  It also crossed my mind that the bolt had been in safe keeping for a very long time. Admittedly, I wondered if the mere mention of this might move the bolt from safety into its rightful place in the table.

My mind was becoming intrigued with, of all things, this psyche around a junk drawer. I sipped my coffee and snuggled deeper into the comfy chair. Suddenly I felt uncomfortable. I thought more.  Yes, that was the truth.  The junk drawer made me feel anxious. Not the junk drawer alone, but Don and the junk drawer. There is a considerable amount of rummaging when Don opens the drawer. The desperation in the hunt is noisy and chaotic as the drawer’s contents get stirred, churned, mixed, and blended.  His rustling panic makes me anxious.

More coffee sipping, more thinking. A slippery thought is quickly grabbed before it can run away. There is a progression of this anxiety.  1)  Will he find whatever he is looking for? Swirling and mixing are heard. 2) If not, he will head downstairs to look in the workbench. More stirring. More rustling. 3) If not there, the jangle of car keys will be heard and he is off to the hardware store to purchase a new whatever it is. Each of these sequential steps involves panic and noise and a trail of disturbed drawers, bins, containers, and counter tops.  That is the source of my anxiety. The pandemonium of Don in the junk drawer.

“Do you think everyone has a junk drawer?” I ask, thinking it a reasonable question to keep the dialog going while also circumventing the recently identified anxiety that I was not quite ready to admit to myself, let alone Don.

“Of course,” he quickly responds.  “Every house needs one.”

“Are there standard items in a junk drawer?” I push along this curious conversation.

“Probably,” he adds.

We both began recalling the contents of Simplicity’s junk drawer.  Small tools like a screwdriver, hammer, and pliers.  Glue. Batteries.  Halogen bulbs for the light over the sink.  Stoppers of various kinds. Swiss army knives. Not junk at all, but necessary, efficient and accessible items for times when duty calls. This drawer was the first responder in a household crisis.

That same day I was having lunch with a friend and reached the restaurant early. With time on my hands, I pulled out a small notebook and pen that travel with me for those moments when I want to jot something down, catching an idea before it goes.

“Working on your book?” asked my friend, whose arrival found me deep in thought and scribbling away.

“This week’s blog on junk drawers.  Do you have one?” I asked.

Indeed, she did. We exchanged the what’s and why’s of each item purposefully selected for this honor to be included in such an esteemed location. Then she leaned in, as if preparing to share something very personal, private.

“You know, when my husband opens the junk drawer and I hear him rummaging around, I get anxious.”

“You do?” my surprise and selfish delight showed.  My secret anxiety had just been affirmed and confirmed.

She continued. “There is always a chance he won’t find what he is looking for and then he will call me to help.  Why I can easily find whatever it is in such a small space and he cannot, is a mystery to me.”

A knowing smile came across my face. Women of the world unite. Are we still talking about junk drawers?

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere


My early work is the result of going around that very territory where I lived and not seeing it.       Grant Wood


Listen, my children, and you shall hear, Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  These familiar words of Longfellow’s poem inspired a painting by artist, Grant Wood.  I own a print of this painting and it has hung in every house I have lived.  Now on the walls of Simplicity, it holds both a mystery and a love.


I see something new every time I look at it. This is a painting of a thousand happenings bringing a mythical story to life. I imagine what it would be like to live in that painting,” reflects my husband, Don. Currently this painting hangs over our kitchen table.  While having a bowl of cereal or eating a salad, this close location offers opportunities to identify a part of the painting not seen before.


Grant Wood’s style has been said to create a “tableau reminiscent of the model trains that wind through model villages under model trees.” *   I find it interesting that The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere hung in the basement of my childhood home over an extensive model train layout that included hills and dales, trees, a village and people.  The train layout ran the entire length of our house and was several feet deep.  To look at the painting up close was not possible.  Rather it seemed to be part of the backdrop for the model village created by my father and brothers.


Since inheriting the Midnight Ride, it has been a backdrop in each of my homes, usually residing in the living room. The colors suited my decorating palette. The multiple shades of green found a calm in me.  The earthy colors smelled like the dampness in a deep forest, reminding me of the ravine where I lived as a child. Brown tones warmed the road and made the homes feel cozy.  Not until it hung over the kitchen table here in Simplicity, was I to see so much more. Light, that comforts the village, is seen in the house windows and from a moon you cannot see, but know is there. A babbling brook travels through the village, a scene I did not notice for years, but now I hear its sounds. The people of the village are like finding Waldo. Where are they?  Some are in the road. Others leaning out from the windows.  The trees and houses are neat and tidy, clean and orderly. This is a mythic tale transcribed in fine, yet simple, detail.


The print has been glued onto Masonite. While it is framed, there is no glass.  Perhaps this is an attempt to replicate the original in oil that was also painted on Masonite. Both print and frame are worse for wear, yet I have no desire to refinish the frame or clean the print. The oldness feels authentic, like a found treasure, and I want to maintain that. I wish I knew how this came into my family.  A few years ago, I inherited another print by a well-known artist, also applied to Masonite. Originally this one hung in my grandparent’s home in the study.  Could both be from their home?   I have no recollection of the Midnight Ride other than in our basement hanging over the model train.


My father was a creative man and made many pieces of practical furniture for our family home. Desks, shelves, room dividers and cupboards were needed and he could make it happen. He made frames for six colorful prints of children’s stories that were on my bedroom wall.  The frames were similar in style to the Midnight Ride. Would he have made this frame, giving time to the details of dots and dashes that run along the interior edges?  His tools were nothing fancy which makes me think he did not, but it is possible.  How I wish I knew more. My father was a storyteller, loved a good story, and could certainly tell one.  The children’s stories that hung on my childhood bedroom wall and this one, were they because of his love of story? He is not alive to ask.  No one is alive who would know the answers.  My questions remain unanswered, unsolved, unknown, a mystery.


The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere was painted in 1931, a year after Wood became famous with American Gothic. “The general repertory of elements is one that appears frequently in Wood’s oeuvre. The slowly moving river, the gentle hills, the cornfields and corn shocks, the silo, the trees (some with autumnal foliage), the road running at a diagonal and then turning at a right angle—all form part of Wood’s fundamental grammar of expression, which he constantly rearranged, like a writer rearranging words in a sentence,” offers Henry Adams of the Smithsonian.  To describe or define Wood’s work as a language, excites me as a writer and a painter. He had a signature language, a signature look, a style readily acknowledged as his own.  As I struggle to find my signature as a writer and artist, I feel a closer connection and have a greater respect for his artwork, especially the Midnight Ride.


The stylized houses, geometric greenery, and high perspective give the painting an otherworldly or dreamlike dimension,” continues Henry Adams.  There is something both simple and intriguing about Grant Wood’s style.  What I know is that each time I walk into Simplicity’s kitchen, I delight in seeing The Midnight Ride once again.  The colors calm my mood.  The tidy houses inspire my painting. The words of poetry invite mine.  While the scene in the painting will always be the same, my imagination continues the journey and finds new stories to tell.


*M. Therese Southgate, MD and former Cover Editor of Journal of the American Medical Association, who selected this painting to grace the cover of the April 12, 2006 issue.

New Kid on the Wall


Enjoying art is a personal matter.  It’s made up by contemplation, silence, abstraction.  Renzo Piano, Architect

A good painting to me has always been like a friend.  It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.  Hedy Lamarr, Actress


There is a new piece of artwork on the walls of Simplicity.  His arrival into the house was in a cardboard sleeve held together with elastic ties.  Nothing about this humble beginning made any of the other wall art talk.  Then, he came out!  His unusual colors, different from Simplicity’s customary neutral palette, were noticed.  Turquoise blues, lilac purples, heather greens, soft grays and a block of orange made their debut. He stood out. Not just by the colors, but he was made of wood, lots of shapes of wood.  This piece was not under museum glass like the other artwork on the walls. He was more like a sculpture, stretching his lines and angles without a framed boundary. He exuded confidence in this expanded three-dimensional space, something the others on the wall knew nothing about. They were confined to their squared and one dimensional lives.


Instantly he became a he.  Perhaps because his artist was male.  Perhaps because he was made of wood which I associated with the men in my life who also work with wood. No name was given this creation to suggest a male or female identity.  All he had was his inventory code, K-8.  That sounded male to me.


Being one who loves to name things, I wondered what I would title this piece that had totally captured my imagination and sparked my ravenous curiosity. Variations of squares, circles, and triangles composed the piece.  His colors were harmonious and partnered well. Easy on the eyes. Happy colors. His lines intrigued me with their compelling simplicity.  So much so, that at first, I failed to see the deliberate and varied detail in each section of wood.  Dashes and dots, bits and bobs were cut into the wood or glued on top. Varied depths and kinds of woods were stacked on top of each other creating new shapes and interesting detail.


When I first met K-8, he invited me into a contemporary urban setting with unusual architecture. Skyscrapers rose from him at angles to each other. The curving arc of wood in the foreground reminded me of the Sydney Opera House. A large circular window looked out onto the imagined cityscape. Office buildings and apartments were given abstract balconies and supportive beams through grooves etched in the wood. There was a buzz of humanity moving before my eyes. Sounds of buses and taxis could be heard.  Conversations were happening in the elevators, coffee shops, and on park benches. The paint smudges of light and dark that scattered across K-8 were also experienced in the complex lives of the people in this make-believe city. This piece was alive.


K-8 currently hangs on the wall of our kitchen. It is likely he will move around, just as the others have.  We are constantly changing what is on our walls and have noticed that Simplicity tolerates these modifications with good spirit. This is how Don and I sit with our own work.  We hang a piece on the wall and live with it.  As artists, we ask of our work on the wall, are you complete?   Are you the vision we saw, heard, attempted to interpret? Did we do you justice?


The artwork we choose to have in Simplicity, ours and that of other artists,  must intrigue us, prompt good questions, tickle our creativity, and keep us interested day after day. Each piece of art is a friend with whom we have conversations about composition, metaphor, and life.  Each inspires us and grows not only our artistic learning, but the enjoyment of living here.  Now we have a new kid on the wall. Even with all this pondering and analysis, I was still no closer to a name.   Welcome, K-8.  We look forward to learning from you and in so doing, to discover ourselves anew.


Writer’s Note:   Grateful for artist, Jack Schwab, and his creative work.

More can be seen at his website:

The Porches of Simplicity

We need thresholds in our daily lives, so that we clearly move from one sphere of life to another.  The soul needs a variety of places where it can retreat and disappear from life.         David Whyte

 susan on porch

Porches are important rooms.  They open an interior room into the out of doors.  They snuggle up against a part of a house and offer shelter from the elements.  They invite another kind of living. While there are porches that are enclosed for year around living, it is the seasonal porches that I have experienced.


In my childhood home, there was great eagerness for that day in spring when the porch was prepared for use.  This involved cleaning the floor, putting up the screens, and setting up the room for family meals and enjoyment.  The door that had been closed all winter was now opened, welcoming a new room into use and activity.  I especially remember summer evenings snuggled into a chair, a reading lamp next to me, a book in my lap, and the sounds of a summer night as the backdrop.


Simplicity has three open porches.  One runs across the entire front of the house, one along the west side of the house, and the third is more of a balcony on the second floor. All three are similar with the same white railing, yet each has a specific use and intention.  The front porch welcomes our sociable natures.  The side porch supports our solitude. The upper porch has succumbed to being the best location to shake the rugs and airdry laundry.


Most of our outdoor living happens on the side porch, located off our kitchen entrance. A hanging swing and a table and chairs distinguish this porch from the others. Private enough, it allows us to sit in pajamas with our morning cup of coffee or have a quiet meal out of view.  Occasionally walkers going by the house in the mornings will wave or nod an acknowledgement of this woman in her bathrobe. You can almost hear their thoughts. Is it too intrusive to wave?  Is this a private moment not to be disturbed?


When Don and I wish to be more sociable we sit on the front porch.  We greet our neighbors and those who pass by. Conversations easily happen across the yard, the street, the driveway and frequently people stop to chat. They, too, feel more comfortable greeting us when we are on our more public porch.


Simplicity’s porches help us transition our lives.  They slow us down by physically opening us into the outside world, and mentally, by inviting us to dream, imagine, and remember. This simple appendage to a house has the power to introduce us to that space between two worlds, of being inside and outside at the same time.  A simple space that brings a sense of calm, rest, and the opportunity to think on life.


Here is where we live from early spring to late fall.  I am out there first thing each morning and multiple times during the day. This is the place that supports my thoughts, my questions, my daily grounding. I prefer the side porch because it feels more secluded, private, quiet. It suits my reflective activities.  Don prefers the front porch with the activity of the neighborhood and the birds that come to bathe in the garden birdbath.  It is not unusual to find each of us in our two worlds. Don sitting on the front porch, comfortable in one of our white Adirondack chairs, thinking and jotting down his internal landscape while I sit on the side porch, writing or sketching at the small round table.


Birds surround us. We are easily entertained by their movements as they dart and dive.  The squirrels add their gymnastics, jumping from limb to limb, tree to tree. Recently a Cooper’s hawk nested next door and the neighborhood wildlife is all a flutter. The screeching hawks keep everyone moving.  Birds do not linger. Squirrels and rabbits dart undercover.  Nature’s story is watched from our porch view of the world.


I have wondered how I would feel about Simplicity if she did not offer these very fine outdoor rooms which extend and expand our living, our lives.  It would not be the same. Sitting on the porch, I easily transport myself onto a still lake or nature preserve.  There is a stillness, a peace of mind. Here is where problems are solved, dreams are given wings, and quiet thoughts are nurtured.  For me, this is where my soul retreats.



Favorite ‘Place’ Quotations


A mind stretched L3.jpg2Words and quotations have always caught my attention. Something about a short number of words and the way they are partnered with others creates an exciting discovery for me.  Their arrangement wakes me up to see and hear things differently.   This has been true since I was a child.  As a lifetime collector of quotations, I delight in finding the next one that introduces me to a new way of thinking or confirms my own ideas communicated in a way that is beautifully succinct and equally powerful.


With my interest in buildings, I have gathered an extensive listing of quotations as they relate to place and space, house and home.  When I created my consulting business, Spatial Impact: Interpreting the Language of Space, I was on the search for those succinct comments that made a concept come alive.  With a clear focus of how our spaces do impact human behavior, quotations started showing up. Some were found in books and mysteries I was reading for pleasure.  Others were found in resources as I developed my business.


My art business, JazzArt, began by interpreting quotations using abstract watercolor paintings.  What fun to discover how words look in another artistic expression.    Knowing many of you also delight in words, I thought I would offer several favorite and insightful quotations for consideration. Hope this provides food for thought in the places you call home.


William Morris, Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.


Winston Churchill, We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.


Louise Penny, Still Life, Homes, Gamache knew, were a self-portrait.  A person’s choice of color, furnishing, pictures.  Every touch revealed the individual.  God, or the Devil, was in the details.  And so was the human.  Was it dirty, messy, obsessively clean?  Were the decorations chosen to impress, or were they a hodgepodge of personal history?  Was the space cluttered or clear?  He felt a thrill every time he entered a home during an investigation.


May Sarton, I had first to dream the house alive inside myself. 


Christopher Day, Places speak to us.  What they say affects us and influences our behaviour.  Their messages stem from the underlying attitudes with which places are planned, made, used, and maintained.  Few of us consciously acknowledge these messages, but subliminally we all experience them, are all affected by them.


Winifred Gallagher, The Power of Place,

Environmental cues teach us what to expect in different places.


After psychologist, Roger Barker (1960’s) recorded the entire days in the lives of children –  recording all their interactions not only with people but with places and things –  after examining his data, he came to a startling and most un-American conclusion:  their settings were more important determinants of his subjects’ behavior than their personalities.


Jose Ortega y Gasset, Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are.


Jacqueline Winspear, Birds of a Feather, A person speaks not only with the voice but with those objects she chooses to surround herself. That photographs tell a story is well accepted, but the way furniture is positioned in a room tells something about its occupant; the contents of the larder reveal desire and restraint, as most surely does the level of liquid in the decanter.


If you, too, are a collector of wise words, what quotations might be your favorites around house and home, place and space?

susan's book 24115a

susan's book 223114a


Rocks and Their Places in Simplicity

Geologists have a saying – rocks remember.         Neil Armstrong



I don’t know when it began.  It just did.  Suddenly I was seeing rocks and finding them ever so interesting.  Sometimes it was the color that caught my attention.  Sometimes it was the shape that made me pick it up and remove it from its place.    How it felt in my hand could be the invitation for a rock to join my beloved rock family.


Rocks decorate Simplicity on window ledges, in pottery bowls, in baskets and plants.  Fortunately, Don appreciates rocks as well.  On a trip to England, independent of the other, we were both picking up rocks from our homeland. In Dover, I requested time alone to stroll the beaches and sense the rocks beneath my feet.  Don stretched out on a bench. He knew this would take time, that finding rocks, being with rocks, is a form of meditation for me.  My eyes were glued to the textures and shapes that tantalized my curiosity. The Dover stones felt familiar, comfortable.  My fingers easily fit into the smooth impressions formed into the rock, much like putty. Holding each one in my hand reminded me of a place deeply known in my bones.


In the English Cotswold’s, we picked up a beautiful butterscotch colored stone used in so many of the buildings and homes in that part of the country. This is a worker stone, rough and angular. While not a stone you quickly notice by itself, it stands out beautifully in the finished building.


A trip to the Pacific Ocean found us fascinated by rocks that were round and smooth and flat.  Again, I spent hours walking the rugged coastline picking them up, then stacking them, one on top of the other.  I remembered the importance of stacked stones to the Inuits living in the frozen tundra.  Called inuksuk’s, the stacked stones are a means of communication.  In a land of snow and ice, this was how to know the path in finding food and shelter.


Our neighbors have a rather large inuksuk in their front yard.  So unusual  and most intriguing, I asked about its meaning. “We have moved so many times.  This place is home.  This is where we have decided to raise our children.”  Rocks were brought from previous places where they had lived.  Rocks found on vacation, in different states, in special locations filled with memories. Here stood a stack of rocks, an inuksuk, as a visible reminder of the importance of place.


On the southern edge of Lake Superior is a small bay with a unique rock called a concretion.  This word comes from the Latin con, meaning together, and cresco, to grow. According to the Wisconsin Geological Survey, these grown-together rocks began forming about 20,000 years ago in Lake Superior.   Water pressure and wind erosion have helped to create their interesting shapes.



To describe a concretion is somewhat difficult as they vary, but each one looks rather odd or interesting and reminds you of something else.  One might look like a crescent roll while another is very flat, resembling ripples in a lake. Regardless of their shape, the ones we found all have a smooth appearance with defining lines. To the Native Americans in this part of the country, concretions are deeply respected for the wisdom they are believed to hold.  Also called spirit stones or grandfather rocks, each rock honors a spirit whose message is gifted to the one who finds it.


Perhaps my yearning and fascination around rocks and stones is to find the spirit within.  Each holds the mysteries of how it was formed, why it landed in a certain place, and now, that it allows itself to be found by me.  When my daughter left for college, I searched for a rock that fit perfectly into the palm of my hand.  In giving it to her I said, “If you find yourself homesick, just wrap your fingers around this stone and know I am with you.”  A spirit stone for sure, infused with a mother’s love.


P.S. To each of my stones, rocks and pebbles now living in a new place, far away from where I found you, thank you for gifting me reminders of the places you once lived, of the spirit of place within you.