Obsessed With: Polished Pet Picks

I’m traveling this week for a fun project: my collaboration on the forthcoming Real Simple Home, which you can read more about here. But naturally, my kids don’t give a crap about why Mom’s out of town or all the cool designers she’s pumped to be working alongside in New York. What’s on their mind? THAT WE’RE GETTING A PUPPY IN AUGUST!! OHMYGOSH IT’S GOING TO BE SO AWESOME MOM CAN WE PLEASE GET THE GIRL PUPPY AND CAN WE NAME HER COOKIE OR FUZZBUTT AND WILL SHE SLEEP IN OUR ROOMS?? OMG OMG OMGGGGGG

Image credit:  Allie Sepanek

Image credit: Allie Sepanek

Yeah. They’re a little excited. Before now, the only canines in our home were two bronze whippets that previously lived my childhood home in California. My mom mailed them to me in Boston a few years ago, which must have cost her a fortune because they weigh ten thousand pounds. They even got a cameo in my book, as well as a highlight in June’s Rue Magazine feature (photo at right).

Our live pup, meanwhile, is going to be an Australian Labradoodle, owing to A) my allergies and B) our general aversion to dog-hair dust bunnies. Our neighborhood is also Doodle Central—families in our area really seem to like the breed for their size and temperament for city living, and because they’re particularly good around kids.

Our pup’s breeder is super-informative and completely dedicated to his dogs, so for the most part, I’m taking his advice on all things pet gear. There are some uber-practical items we’re going to need: a crate for training and sleeping, and something like this Porch Potty for quick let-outs when it’s freezing and we’re all still in PJs. (We have a limited patio area sans grass.) Mr. Breeder recommends leather dog leashes from Leerburg and something called a martingale collar for walking, and we’ll no doubt take his advice to buy those.

But there are also some opportunities to have some fun with the necessities we buy. Once our dog is crate-trained and walking well on a leash (i.e. not pulling), I’m totally going to accessorize—everything from pet beds to treat canisters. Because ME.

Here are a few things I’ve got my eye on.

1. Found My Animal ombre adjustable dog leash in Indigo, $62,  chewy.com . 2. The Foggy Dog navy pinstripe dog poop bag, $22,  Etsy . 3. Archie and Oscar herringbone dog bed, from $61,  Wayfair . 4. Clair blue three-piece lidded canister set, $63,  Joss & Main . 5. Waggo dipped ceramic dog bowl in Navy, from $22,  Food52 . 6. The Foggy Dog limited-edition Arroyo dog bandana, from $32,  Etsy.

1. Found My Animal ombre adjustable dog leash in Indigo, $62, chewy.com. 2. The Foggy Dog navy pinstripe dog poop bag, $22, Etsy. 3. Archie and Oscar herringbone dog bed, from $61, Wayfair. 4. Clair blue three-piece lidded canister set, $63, Joss & Main. 5. Waggo dipped ceramic dog bowl in Navy, from $22, Food52. 6. The Foggy Dog limited-edition Arroyo dog bandana, from $32, Etsy.

What am I missing? Any tips on maintaining sanity and style with a new pup in the home? Do dish in the comments or over on Instagram

On Heart and Home (or, How I Had a Stroke and Tried to Ignore It)

This is about as much red as I can usually handle.  Image via  Talk of the House

This is about as much red as I can usually handle. Image via Talk of the House

Red is not my favorite color—at least, not for the home. Red lipstick? I can rock it. Red shoes? Been known to wear ‘em. But it’s not a color I often utilize at home, mostly because it makes such a bold statement. Red says: “Look at me.” Red says: “Pay attention to me.” Chair, pillow, or piece of art, you cannot ignore red.

It’s no surprise, then, that the American Heart Association uses red as a tool for raising awareness about heart disease and stroke, especially in February (National Heart Month). Supporters wear red on February 3 to help raise awareness, and some retailers sell red merchandise to benefit heart health research.

Um, why am I writing about heart disease on a decor blog? Truth be told, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Here’s why.

Two years ago this Sunday, I woke around 6 a.m. as I normally do. When I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, a splitting headache set in: sharp, piercing, and entirely focused on the right side of my head. “Ugh,” I thought. “This is what I get for drinking sweet white wine.” (The previous night, friends had come over for fondue and Riesling.) I stood up and headed downstairs to the kitchen, where I began to prepare breakfast for my kids. As I attempted to slice a strawberry, my left hand kept slipping—I couldn’t seem to hold on to the fruit. I tried again and fumbled, tossing the strawberry onto the floor. I turned to my husband, who had come down to join me. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked him, rolling my eyes. “It’s like my left hand is asleep.” “Maybe you slept on it funny,” he suggested, “or maybe you were leaning on a nerve in your elbow.” He offered to finish making breakfast, and I headed up to get my son, who was just starting to stir.

Upstairs, I lifted my son from his crib and set him on the rug for a diaper change. He was just learning to speak, and as he laughed and babbled to me, I babbled back. Or at least I thought I did: While the syllables formed in my head, nothing was coming out of my mouth.

In the back of my mind, I knew something could be wrong. These are stroke symptoms, said a little voice in my head as I carried my son down two flights of stairs. But as a 35-year-old-woman in relatively good shape, I brushed off my hunches and continued toward the kitchen. I handed my son off to my husband and explained I wasn’t feeling well, and I headed up to my bathroom to shower and get ready for work.

As I ascended the stairs again, a recent Facebook post by a neighborhood acquaintance, Jessica, sprang to mind. An uber-healthy 36-year-old who teaches Pilates and barre at a local studio, Jessica had experienced similar symptoms, followed by her leg going numb in the shower. It was a stroke. After her recovery, she began working with the American Heart Association to spread the word about recognizing stroke symptoms in healthy young women, hence her story crossing my social media feed. I thought about Jessica as I glanced past my reflection in the medicine cabinet, and I stepped into the shower. The little voice got louder–Listen to your body!—but it still didn’t stop me from continuing my routine.

If she could have one, I could have one.  Image credit:  Jessica Diaz Wellness  via  Page 38

If she could have one, I could have one. Image credit: Jessica Diaz Wellness via Page 38

I stood under the running water, and that’s when I lost feeling in my left hand. I raised my arm to coax some shampoo through my hair, my fingertips touched, and everything was wrong.  It felt as if I was touching a stranger’s hand with my right, and my left hand felt like it was made of thick, dense rubber. “Holy shit,” I thought. “I’m having a stroke.”

I quickly rinsed off, wrapped myself in a towel, and looked at my face in the bathroom mirror. I lifted my brows—and the left one didn’t move. I smiled, and only the right side of my mouth showed a grin.

The crazy part is, I still doubted my instincts. I still thought to myself, “This can’t be happening,” even though it clearly was. I could still walk. I could still mostly talk. “I’m only 35,” I thought. But images of Jessica’s face and fit physique kept flashing through my head, and the voice got louder and louder. If that barre instructor can have a stroke, so can you, it said.

I yelled down to Dave. Thank God I could still yell. I told him what was happening, told him to get our au pair to take our son, and told him to take our older daughter, Sarah to school. “Don’t let them see me,” I thought. “This could get worse.” (This is how convoluted the motherly mind can be—you’re having a stroke, but you still want to get the kids to school.) And of course, since 70 percent of me wanted to deny what the rest of me knew was happening, I called not an ambulance, but a neighbor to take me to the ER. She arrived in a heartbeat, and I climbed into her car.

As we drove the ten minutes from my house over to Massachusetts General Hospital, I felt fine. My hand felt normal again, and I could speak. But as soon as I reported my symptoms—trouble speaking, weakness on one side, a drooping face—through tears at the front desk, a team mobilized. I was rushed through processing and into a wheelchair, then laid on a stretcher in the Acute section of the ER. Within minutes, I was screened by a neurologist and had a CAT scan, followed by an MRI and a few other procedures I can’t remember.

It was a stroke, they confirmed, in the right prefrontal cortex of my brain, which governs complex cognitive behavior, personality expression and decision-making, in addition to controlling parts of the left side of the body. I bawled, and I panicked, and I spent three days in the Neurology unit at MGH while they did test after test to uncover the cause. They didn’t find one—no high blood pressure, no clotting disorder. The only contributing factors they pinpointed were my history of migraines (a correlation, not a cause) and a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small hole in the heart that sounds a lot scarier than it is. Twenty-five percent of healthy adults have a PFO, and it doesn’t cause any issues for most people. But on the rare occasion that a blood clot forms and travels to the heart, the clot can slip through that little hole and make its way to the brain, blocking blood flow, and that’s exactly what happened to me. To keep it from happening again, I just have to take a daily dose of aspirin, which will thin my blood and reduce my annual risk of recurrence to just a few percent.

Over the next few months, things gradually returned to normal. I regained control of my facial muscles, and the fogginess, confusion, and exhaustion that often follows a stroke began to dissipate. Today I feel almost entirely normal, with the exception of days when I’m overtired from work and shooting my book—on those days, I still sometimes find it takes extra concentration to solve complex problems or take in complicated streams of information. I take 81mg of aspirin daily.

It’s possible I could have completely ignored my stroke on February 12, 2015. And given my relatively seamless, unaided recovery, I might not even have noticed that it had happened. But because I went to the hospital that day, I know to take that one tiny pill each day—a pill that could very well save my life. And the reason I went to the hospital was a woman named Jessica, who shared her story with the world and made me realize that a stroke could happen to me.

So today’s post is about awareness, and paying attention, and listening to your heart and your conscience when they speak. And since we all could use a little reminder once in awhile, I’m going to use it as an excuse to add a little red to my home and life. You can’t ignore these picks, now, can you? Pitter-patter.

1. Letha pillow in red, $52,  Joss & Main . 2. Alachua coral sculpture, $45,  Wayfair . 3. Brianne rattan barstool, $204,  Joss & Main . 4. Hailey table lamp, $166 for two,  Joss & Main . 5. Striped tribal kilim, $220,  Etsy . 6. Butterfly oval tray, $64,  Jayson Home .

1. Letha pillow in red, $52, Joss & Main. 2. Alachua coral sculpture, $45, Wayfair. 3. Brianne rattan barstool, $204, Joss & Main. 4. Hailey table lamp, $166 for two, Joss & Main. 5. Striped tribal kilim, $220, Etsy. 6. Butterfly oval tray, $64, Jayson Home.

For more information about the signs of a stroke, click here.

All in a (Half) Year's Work

As you can probably imagine, my big project for 2016—writing a book—almost completely took over the second half of the year. Sometimes it seems like that’s all I’ve done since selling the project to my publisher, Rizzoli, late last winter.

But looking back on the year as I tossed and turned in bed last night (thanks, champagne), I realized I haven’t stopped to take in—or share—some of the awesome projects and features I was able to take part in as part of my day job as style director for Joss & Main. It’s pretty crazy... and I’m pretty proud. Here’s a recap.

In late June, my Joss & Main team and I flew out to Salt Lake City to shoot the outdoor spaces of mega-bloggers (and sisters!) Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies and Emily Jackson of The Ivory Lane. These uber-stylish women picked out most of their own stuff with some input from me, and so it was mostly a matter of arranging their spreads so that photographer Nicole Gerulat could snap these gorgeous shots. The story was picked up by Architectural Digest online, and I just about lost my mind.

Rachel Parcell outdoor space
Rachel Parcell outdoor dining
Emily Jackson outdoor space
All photos credit  Nicole Gerulat  for Joss & Main

All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

Then, in July, I was asked to redecorate the showroom of NYC company BaubleBar. They wanted to spruce it up for meetings with external partners as well as the celebrity influencers who come in to preview and select products to wear. My team and I came in with a tornado of furnishings, and they threw a party to celebrate the showroom’s girly, glam new look.

Source: Baublebar

Source: Baublebar

In August I worked hand-in-hand with Lauren Bushnell, winner of The Bachelor, to completely redecorate the home she now shares with Ben Higgins. What. A. Blast. Working via phone, text, and email, we started with a few pieces she was obsessed with, like a beaded chandelier and some hand-painted watercolors a friend had gifted her, and went from there. We also took a few gambles, like putting an oversized Serge Mouille-inspired light fixture in a pretty tiny space. My colleagues and I flew to Denver in September, hired a crew of movers to help us unpack the zillions of products that Lauren and I had selected, and did a full install of new furnishings and decor in a single day before photographing it the next. I love how it all came together. Here’s a peek.

Lauren Bushnell home makeover
Lauren Bushnell and Ben Higgins home
All photos credit  Nicole Gerulat  for Joss & Main

All photos credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

These pics and more were featured in People, Huffington Post, Architectural Digest, Glamour, Real Simple, The Nest, US Magazine, Yahoo!, POPSUGAR, Martha Stewart, and Style Me Pretty. Wowza. Click here to watch an interview Ben & Lauren did just after we revealed the space, and here's a Q&A that we ran on the site

Next up was style blogger Amber Fillerup Clark, a.k.a The Barefoot Blonde. Though her cute NYC apartment was already full of great pieces, I helped fill it out with new bedroom furniture, rugs, pillows, wall art, and decor from Joss & Main. Her husband, David, and her two kids were all part of the shoot, and they were just adorable.  

Barefoot Blonde bedroom
Barefoot Blonde bedroom
Barefoot Blonde nursery
All images credit  Nicole Gerulat  for Joss & Main

All images credit Nicole Gerulat for Joss & Main

Other late 2016 highlights? A profile in Huffington Post, quotes in syndicated articles by Marni Jameson and Kim Cook, a mention in the Patch, and a Q&A with Haute Living Boston, who wanted to know where I like to shop and dine. (Wal-Mart and Applebee's, obvi.) It was an insanely busy second half of the year.

Heading into 2017, I’m working on interiors for a few well-known athletes and a bedroom revamp for a Canadian celebrity. Oh, and there’s the matter of getting the book shoots finished up, the edits done, and having the whole thing designed.

Who needs sleep? Here's to another year of adventures...

Why Throwing a Party is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your House

Mayhem. That's the best way I can think to describe my home life for the last three weeks. I’ve been riding a mounting wave of panic and chaos, culminating in hours of absolute madness last Saturday morning. People were running. People were yelling. There were cuts, and bruises, and heavy things being dragged across the floors. At one point people were wearing PROTECTIVE ARMOR.

And then…. a celebration.

Worth it. 

Worth it. 

You see, back in early April, my husband dropped me a line. An innocuous line: “Hey, honey! The folks at the Preservation Society are looking for houses for this year’s historic tour, and they asked if they could take a look at our place. That’d be fun, right?”  

Good lord, I thought. “It’s in September, right? Think we’ll have everything finished up by then?” I took a look around. Our petite patio had been half-excavated, and only a portion of the stone and brick had yet been replaced. We had a death-trap of a door leading out from our kitchen onto nothing—a safety hazard, to put it lightly. We hadn’t yet put up the balcony on the back of the house, or begun to design the railings and stairs that would lead down to the garden level. We had just swapped out our thermostats, leaving patches in need of spackle and paint in every room. Boxes of backsplash tile, bathroom wallpaper, and light fixtures were stacked in the hallways, waiting to be opened and dealt with. Rooms were full of furniture pieces I hadn't had time to replace.

We said yes. Because, number one, we are optimists. Number two, the event raises money for a really great organization that helps keep the history of our Boston neighborhood alive. But the third and most compelling reason was one I learned fairly early on in this renovation journey of ours: how important it is to have milestones along the way, and to give yourself reasons to celebrate your own hard work. It’s like buying yourself a new outfit when you're halfway to your weight-loss goal. You need to pause and appreciate how far you've come.

To that end, at several points in the past seven years of residential upgrades, we have sent invitations for parties that our under-construction home was in no way prepared to host. These deadlines gave us a reason to stop and declutter, to organize, to decorate what we did have, and to enjoy our space for one evening. For one blessed night, there would be no ladders to be seen, no drill bits on the dresser. We’d arrange flowers, light candles, get catering. It was always a scramble to tidy up, but it was always worth it.

This advice doesn’t just apply to renovators.  For anyone with a busy schedule and/or crazy little kid-monsters running around, it’s easy to just let things pile up in corners, or to say “What’s the point? We’re just going mess this up again.” It’s easy to put off hosting a grown-up get together because your home is “in transition.” I say: All the more reason to host a party.

Now, I’m not saying you MUST dress your house to have people over, or that you can’t have just invite your friends over for pizza amid the dust. You should do that. But when you take a bit of time to stage your own home so that you’re proud of it, you not only gift yourself with a few lovely weeks or months of not feeling like everything’s a mess, you also gain some perspective on what’s working and not working in your space. You can see what you actually have, and stop stressing about what you don’t. All you people pinning “dream house” pictures online while lamenting the fact that your space looks like crud? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you just need to invite all your friends over for cocktails, and spend two days rearranging your stuff so it looks nice. Maybe all you need to make your home feel welcoming is a new pillow or a new lamp, but you don’t know it because you’ve written off your current space off as a permanent mess. Why not give your house a chance to shine from time to time?

So… the house tour. We spent the last part of the summer marking off items on our gigantic punch list. We had our new fence built, joining forces with our neighbors who all wanted their fences replaced at the same time. We finally had the balcony installed, and we leaned on our stonemason to finish paving the patio. We ordered new furniture, a sectional that would make the space truly cozy.

Look, ma, no rails (yet).

Look, ma, no rails (yet).

Dave and I came up with our own design for the railings, and shortly after Labor Day, they went up, too.

When your husband geeks out with Google SketchUp.

When your husband geeks out with Google SketchUp.

Part of them, anyway.

It takes five (or more).

It takes five (or more).

As the day grew closer and we started to see our hard work coming together, Dave and I decided to turn House-Tour Day into Party Day, and we sent out invites to a bunch of the neighborhood parents in our kids’ classrooms to join us for cocktails after the tour. After all, why waste a clean house on a bunch of strangers?

The week before the tour, we combed through bins of old books, clothes, photos, and college notebooks, figuring out where we could consolidate and donate. We got rid of old kids’ toys, rusty paint cans, and catalogs. Dave touched up all of the walls and changed the window latches to brass. I had some vintage prints framed and hung in the hallways, hung art in our master bath, bought plants for the back patio, and put a new bistro set on our balcony.

Wee gallery wall.

Wee gallery wall.

It came down to the wire. Twenty-five minutes before tour guests began lining up outside our front door, tickets on hand, metalworkers were still scrambling to install the new railings on our new balcony stairs. A guy with a mask and blowtorch fused metal outside while I arranged flowers in the dining room.

The morning of the house tour.

The morning of the house tour.

The day was a smashing success. Over 600 ticket-holders came through the tour houses that day, and while house-sitters managed the crowd at my house, we got to spend a few hours snooping around other families’ quirky old abodes. After the visitors left, our kids ran circles around their suddenly spacious-seeming, clean bedrooms. In the evening, our friends filled the kitchen, drank cocktails under the patio string lights, and had a legitimate, ear-splitting dance party in the living room. I couldn’t have asked for a better reward.

Our gift for participating: A watercolor of our home.

Our gift for participating: A watercolor of our home.

My house is by no means finished yet. I still have a mud room that doesn't open to the outdoors. There's cracked plaster in the stairwells and skylight. There are closets we intend to build and fireplaces to restore. Heck, we want to bust through the ceiling and build a roof deck at some point way, way in the future.

But for now, I have a home I'm ready to push "pause" on and enjoy. The work we've done is looking its best. I love my home, and it's worth it to create that feeling every now and then, if only as an excuse to throw a dance party.