I am Jean Marie Johnson. I believe in every woman’s infinite capacity for self-awareness and self- expression. By tapping her knowledge, experience, and undeniable intuition, a woman accesses her personal story and her wisdom. Claiming them as her own, she is prepared to act with utter authenticity...and style.
‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’
I have long treasured this quote by William Morris, the brilliant 19th century textile designer and artist. It has served as a guidepost when deciding what to keep and what to toss; what to acquire and what to pass on. And yet the either-or juxtaposition, the “this OR that” option doesn’t sit well with me. I seek to create a home where useful objects are beautiful and where beautiful objects are useful. Okay, not all of the time, and not everything. But oh somany things can serve that dual purpose. Case in point: this gorgeous mirror, an estate find of some two decades ago, I will never part with it as my soul resonates with its subtlety.
Clearly “beautiful.” And now, also useful as it serves to accommodate several of my long necklaces, keeping them in plain sight.
Or take this cool booties-box from French designer Sonia Rykiel:
Beautiful…and useful. But since said booties reside on a rack in my closet, I’ve decided to store several of my favorite scarves under the red lid:
If you’d rather store your scarves as a decorative element, you might go with this option instead:
I admit, I had fun laying them out and then wrapping them in a makeshift bow. Too fussy for your taste? Okay, then why not use this decorative vintage stool as a landing space for your jeans collection, as in:
Now for a big reveal…consider this also vintage- piece:
My guess is that it is a circa 1930 – 1940 reproduction. At some point, someone retrofitted the back so that it could house a small TV. Now, that would have met the blended criteria of “useful and beautiful” but I had another idea in mind to meet that mark:
If this looks a lot like a display you might find at Victoria’s Secret, or Soma, you have clearly identified my inspiration.
There isn’t much in my way of thinking or being in the world that is black or white, either- or. And when it comes to the useful and the beautiful, the same holds true.
Where can you combine the useful and the beautiful in your world?
I have always loved the color black. There isn’t a room in my house that doesn’t feature a touch of black here or there. As for my wardrobe, I dally in a broader palate in the warmer months, but my base is always black. Some say it is the easy way. I say it is the elegant way. No matter. Today, as we headed out to a New Year’s Day house party brunch, I celebrated the color black in a:
White House Black Market sweater
Sam Edelman booties
A Dutch? German? asymmetrical coat I intend to wear in my wheelchair
A badass necklace I found at a local consignment shop
It’s me. You don’t need to understand it, although I love it when you do!
2020. The perfect expression, a shorthand for clarity. How will you express yours this year? Whatever you do, don’t leave it in the closet.
I stumbled upon the following poem two Christmases ago. I saved it to a file, printed it out and tucked it into a real folder. All of this so as not to forget. I have spent far too much time waiting, holding back, making deals with myself, with time, with karma, fate, the gods, and God. Always along the lines of “If this, then I will allow myself that.” Born of self discipline and some measure of self-denial, it’s a hard habit to break. But I continue to make progress, joyfully, whole-heartedly, and unabashedly engaging in life, knowing that each breath and each moment is the special occasion.
And so this is my Christmas gift to you…
Christmas at Midlife
I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days. I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred. I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star. I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived. I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now. I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held. I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called. I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out. I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough. I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle. I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.
Christmas 2016 was particularly difficult. We were weary and on the verge of despair. While we continued to hold out hope that “a change would come,” we were deeply dispirited. Hopelessness is a unique, quiet terror that sucks the spirit dry and we were beginning to feel it. That year, I climbed up to the attic, down to the basement, and out to the shed, repeating the practiced discipline of retrieving the holiday decorations in preparation for the season. To say that my heart wasn’t in it is a gross understatement. I railed at the gods, beseeched God, and wondered “Is this karma? Maybe my fate?” I screamed “THERE IS NOTHING MORE THAT I KNOW TO DO. then whispered thereisnothingmorethatIknowtodo.”
I sought an answer. Oh, we had pursued many, many pathways for solutions, none of which worked. I was beyond that. I was deep into the existential “Why?” The one word that persists after all others are exhausted.
That year, while I went through the motions of decorating our massive old country house/inn, played the seasonal music, and lit the candles, my spirit was depleted. I called my sister. Of course I called my sister. Many times. Just as many times, I said, “I think I need to cancel the family Christmas this year. I just don’t have it in me. I’m sorry. I just can’t.” All the while my eternal “Yes” was doing battle with my despair. I so wanted my “Yes” to prevail, in spite of everything.
“We can order pizza. It doesn’t matter. We will come. We will be there.”
I called my friend, collector, deep thinker, and utterly unique friend, Lynda.
“I will come. I will be there. With cookies.”
The circle of loving support grew. Everyone who possibly could, came to be there with us.
In the end, emboldened with love and the firecracker of hope it ignited, I didn’t order the pizza. I made the dishes I had made the previous 25 years for our family Christmas and we carried on. We put on our elf hats, sang The Twelve Days of Christmas, and rocked the Yankee Swap, a not-to-be-missed tradition, worthy of a post.
We carried on in spite of our despair.
We carried on because of our despair.
We carried on because as long as there is love, there is a light that can be rekindled.
If your 2019 Christmas is anything like my 2016 Christmas, know that I know. Your feelings are real and they are valid. Know also, that the simple act of reaching out from that rawness to those who love you no matter what may be all you need to keep that fire within lit. It doesn’t change the situation, provide a solution, or answer the eternal “Why?” but if it keeps your light alive, know this: you will carry on. Come what may.
Stark tree limbs, black lace fluttering against a magnificent orange sky. The contrast of stillness and force takes my breath away.
This angel has graced my life since 1992, when my sister gave it to me as a December wedding present. She has endured four moves over time and at some point, lost one of her wings. While we have attempted to reattach it numerous times, it simply won’t adhere. In truth, I prefer her this way, with one wing. She reminds me of our own strong, luminous, and yet-imperfect nature.
Enchantment is everywhere this season, but none is so moving as that which graces our own home.
My faux greenery festooned with silk roses “converse” with my blooming houseplant.
Over the years, those dear to me have gifted many a peacock, my favorite bird.
This sweet angel face has been with my husband since his childhood. She is a reminder that we don’t have to carry with us every last sentimental item; sometimes one symbolic beauty will do…
One year, I bought this angel for my sister, my sister-in-law, and for myself. Every awesome woman can use a fanciful cherub in her life.
From my home to yours, Happy December and Merry Christmas!