Hi there. You probably came to the blog today for a nice relaxing Labor Day post about “style,” or “design,” or “pillows,” or something (editor’s note from Arlyn: actually, we do The Link Up on Sundays…that’s still on the schedule, just for a little later this morning). Well, I’m sorry to say that I have officially hijacked Emily’s site today and am holding you all hostage to read the longest birthday card anyone has ever written. I hope you don’t mind.
Emily turns 40 years old today. That’s a big one. A lot of people wouldn’t like their age posted on social media, let alone a website for millions to see, but we all know that Emily is much too cool to care about stuff that. That’s a big part of why I love her. I think when someone is as open and transparent as Emily is on this blog, it inspires us to try to be more honest in our own lives. So that’s what I’m going to try to do here, for better or worse. I wasn’t quite sure if I should write this directly to Emily, like: “Hey, Emily, you thought your post about pillows was going up today, but here’s what I think about you…” But I know she doesn’t like being put on the spot, so I’m gonna talk about her like she’s not here. I was also thinking I’d do my own version of a “Round Up” post since people like those, but like an “Emily Round Up” about things I love about her, but it sounded too cutesy and to be honest kind of exhausting, I don’t know how she and her staff do it. Instead, I’m just going to take a lesson from Em and try to write as openly and honestly as I can about my beautiful birthday girl. Oh, and warning—I’m going to straight up brag about her here, sorry Em, you’re gonna have to deal with it. Okay, here goes:
As of today, I’ve been in love with Emily Henderson for pretty much half of her life (half of mine, too—I turned 40 last year), which is a rare thing I think. We met when were barely 21, up in the patchouli-soaked rain of Eugene, Oregon. Our mutual friend Ryan got hit by both sides from us asking “Who is that?” when we spotted each other at a cast party for a play I was in. He introduced us, and had to scramble to get out of our way. It was like we had waited our whole young lives to meet each other and had a lot of catching up to do. We shut the party down, stayed there all night into the dawn, and didn’t stop talking the whole time. Everything seemed to be moving in stop motion around us and we were too busy devouring each other’s discourse to notice that the sun had come up. And we didn’t even kiss! Barely even touched! As I dropped her off the next morning in my ‘93 Civic, I whispered to myself, “…sh*t.” Not because I didn’t attempt to kiss her that night, or because iPhones hadn’t been invented yet to get her number, but because I knew I was totally, and royally screwed.
See, I had spent the previous year and a half working to get out of the friend-zone with a girl I had a huge crush on, and a week or so before that fateful party, I had finally bridged the unbridgeable gap and started dating said other girl. Let me repeat, A YEAR AND A HALF. But it was all moot because I knew that I had fallen instantly and irreversibly in love with Emily that night. I knew it. More than that, I knew I was meant to be with her, like in a way that I have trouble putting into words. I have never in my life felt such a pure certainty of connection with another person and never have since, except for when my kids were born. It was cosmic, if you believe in that. Or predetermined, if you believe in that. Or divine, or primordial, or historic. I’m a skeptic through and through, but I still marvel at the feeling I had the night I met Emily.
I’ll save you the details, or you can go read Emily’s version, which is much funnier and better written, but suffice it to say within a couple weeks, Emily and I were together. And we’ve been together since. Well, except for that time I got all actor-y and dramatic and broke up with her because I wanted to be “free,” or that other time I got all actor-y and dramatic and we broke up to explore our youth in New York. But each time I came crawling back. One time, I came running back. Literally. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I once ran with scissors around her house until she took me back. I told you: actor-y and dramatic. But aside from those minor breaks, I think I can safely say that I’m the leading expert on the adult life of Emily Henderson, and that’s a pretty sweet field to be an expert in.
So, as the expert, here are a few things I’d like to share about Emily on her 40th birthday.
She’s been this way since I’ve known her.
For a lot of people, to say that they haven’t changed as they’ve grown up could be seen as a negative thing. It implies that they haven’t learned or matured in a way. Not Emily. That girl has not only been more mature than me our whole lives, but she has had the same un-extinguishable brightness in her since day one. It’s like the Olympic torch. In the almost 20 years that I’ve known Emily, she’s been the same optimistic, fun-loving, thoughtful, caring person that she is today. All those posts that make you feel hopeful or optimistic? She’s been talking like that since she was wearing cowboy pants and cheesy vintage tees. Not that she doesn’t have lows, we all do, but I’m in constant shock at her ability to pivot to positivity, no matter how much pressure she’s under or how many people are depending on her. And it’s not fake, or put on, or done for a selfish self-help kind of thing. It’s genuine and it changes the energy of every room she’s in. She’s been called a “cosmic bunny” by spiritual guides and a “dolphin” by her staff, both of which have tons of bright energy and are always playful and positive (editor’s note: we went with dolphin also because they’re crazy smart, Brian!!). I think that’s apt. I’m not sure what my spirit animal is, or if I have one, but I’m so grateful to have that this dolphin-bunny in my life to pull me out of my dark moods, or to remind me how lucky I am in life. Which brings me to my second share:
She saved my life.
I know, it’s a big statement, but it’s true, she did. She didn’t physically pull me off a cliff with her bulging biceps or anything, but she kinda did metaphorically. A few years after we moved to LA, I got very depressed. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t being creative, I wasn’t contributing, I felt stuck. More than stuck, I felt like the world owed me something and that it had reneged on a deal it wasn’t aware of. In New York, I had been riding high—great MFA program, great acting jobs, Broadway! But in LA, the big fish wasn’t so big and when things didn’t work out, I went dark. I was hard to be around; bitter, closed off, petty, and, worst of all, jealous. That’s what broke me. I was jealous of everyone else’s success, from my friends to strangers, and I hate to write this, but I was jealous of Emily.
Our professional tracts had taken polar opposite arcs in LA. Where mine was in a downward spiral, she had won Design Star, shot her own show, and was on a meteoric rise in her field. I should have been thrilled! I mean, what kind of a spouse isn’t over the moon for their partner in that scenario??? Ugh, I hate even thinking about that time in my life, the thick shadowy muck that kept me from being there for my wife. And even more gut-wrenching is to think of all the missed opportunities I had back then to say “Congratulations!” or “I’m so proud of you!” Instead, I would find little ways to be petty and pessimistic. I was the worst. I knew it, and Emily knew it.
So one day she pretty much threw it down. She told me that I wasn’t the man that she had married and that I had to make a change. She didn’t put it as an ultimatum, but I felt like I was about to lose my marriage, which shook me. And she didn’t mean it in a holier-than-thou way, she just wanted so badly for me to be happy. Because she knew that that was the only way we could be happy together. So, she suggested I see a therapist, which was such a foreign idea for me that I think I might have laughed at first. But it wasn’t a joke. And long story short (I may write a therapy post here soon) I saw someone who helped pull me out of the dark and showed me how to re-engage with my life in a better way, but more importantly re-engage with Emily in the way that she deserved. The therapy she suggested changed everything. I’m still working on it, and I still screw up by not appreciating her enough, but having Emily shake me out of my dark time reshaped me forever. I’m so, so grateful to Emily for that.
Whew, sorry to bring it down on a birthday post, so let’s get to something lighter:
Her roots are starting to show.
As many of you know, Emily was raised Mormon, in a small coastal town with open forest to roam in and family activities to come home to. A large family of 8, who would craft all day, cook family meals, and would even can their own tuna! I’ve never actually gotten the details of that, and now that I’m writing it, it sounds crazy. How does a family can tuna? Did they catch it themselves? They didn’t own a boat or a tuna farm as far as I know. Where did all the tuna come from?!? I’ll have to ask at the next Starke family dinner.
Anyway, in her 20s and 30s, I don’t think Emily could have told you what a spatula did. Which is totally fine! We lived in New York and ate out every meal, then in LA, we still ate out every meal. And I certainly didn’t care nor expected her to cook or be “domestic” in any way. Not my thing. Not her thing. Which is why the shift in the last year has been so fun to watch. It’s like the Mormon frontier woman got activated in her and started taking over her body. I’ve watched her go from almost slicing off her thumb every time she chopped veggies, to expertly concocting a delicious soup from scratch! With homemade bone broth! Like, she dissects a whole chicken and makes broth from its bones! Or she roasts a chicken with a bunch of delicious other stuff and we all sit down as a family for Sunday supper like we’re on the prairie! Who is this woman??
Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing, but I keep expecting to come home to a 6-foot tuna on our counter, a house full of jars, and Emily with a hatchet and a grin. She still almost cuts her thumb off while chopping, but it’s amazing how she can still find new things to become obsessed with. Oh, and did I mention she also fancies herself a vegetable farmer now, as well? Despite the fact that the only viable veggies to come out of our raised bed so far have been micro-carrots that resembled micro-something-elses, she will be the first to tell you that gardening is one of the more important things to her right now. Between that, the renewed interest in drying flowers, church, and nature hikes up in the mountains, I feel like the next chapter of Emily’s life may include a lot of prairie dresses and braids. And I’m not mad at that. Because:
She’s super hot.
Y’all, my wife does an excellent job at trying to hide it, or be super self-deprecating about it, but I am the luckiest husband on Earth, and I finally have a big ol’ megaphone to brag about it. She’s a straight up hottty! And no, you grammar freaks, that’s not a typo, I put an extra “t” on purpose! Screw it, I’ll put in four just to make the grammar police upset: She’s a hotttty! Sorry, I know it’s not great to objectify a woman, even your wife, so let me skip to the next one:
No one moms harder.
My kids are OBSESSED with Emily. To watch her with them brings that cosmic thing into my stomach again. To know your spouse is the best parent in the world, that’s what true safety feels like. She is so patient, kind, and fun that I sometimes just watch my kids watching her. Their smiles crush me and they never smile more than when they’re with her. I dare you to try to come between Birdie and a hug with her mama, she’ll scratch your eyes out. And Em is a natural at it. It could be that she came from a big family with kids all around, or her parents taught her well, or maybe it’s those 29 parenting books that she’s read, but I think she’s just naturally talented as a mom.
It’s like she’s able to slow down time when one of our kids is having a tantrum, or screaming at us like a dictator when one single fleck of pepper gets into their scrambled eggs— “I. SAID. NO. PEPPER!!!!”—and she somehow knows how to talk to them the way you’re supposed to. She’s constantly thinking about how we parent, not just how to get through the day. It’s super inspiring and makes me up my game on that front as well. Not that we don’t both have our breaking points or bad moments, we do. I’ve seen her get real scary. But after the kids are down and we’re having that post-bad-moment glass of wine, we talk about parenting and she is so thoughtful in trying to figure out what we can do better. I often wonder, how is there enough space up there in that brain of hers? She spends all day and late nights working on this blog, thinking of design, and style, and her business, and she has the space to be a good mom? I have a fraction of her workload, and I still have the urge to check out sometimes. I think she’s just one of those people who can appreciate things in real time and there’s nothing she appreciates more than our family, and we are ridiculously lucky to have that.
I warned you I was going to brag about her. Sorry. But here’s my last one, and kind of the thesis of this whole thing:
My wife is the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met.
That one is not me being actor-y dramatic, it’s not hyperbole, it’s the honest truth. As honest as I know how to be. I truly have never encountered anyone else who has as much capacity for life as Emily Henderson. Through this blog, you guys get a glimpse of who she is, a pretty large glimpse actually, because she’s so transparent about her life and work on here. And maybe the thought has crossed your mind a few times that it’s BS. Fake Instagram smiles. That no one could possibly do all that she does and still find time, like actual meaningful time to be with her family. No one is that positive. No one is that generous. But the thing is, she kind of is. And those smiles? They’re the most genuine smiles on Earth, because as her family, we know what it’s like to have her around.
She is never down. Or as close to never as I’ve ever seen a human being get. I mean of course she gets down, she’s not a robot, and she’s also not like overly positive, like those people you want to slap and say, “Come on. Really?” But she always tries her hardest to focus on the positive, and that inspires us to do the same. She cherishes her time with her family, even though she should be falling into bed or demanding some quiet time after work. She busts her ass all day running an empire, no joke, she’s someone who never wanted to be an entrepreneur or a boss or business owner, and she is managing 12 employees and a global company. Last month, I got to see her with dozens of fans up at the mountain house, not just engaging with everyone and answering questions, but leading a full-on style diagnostic and teaching people about design. And she never trained for any of this!
She didn’t go to business school or design school, she learned on her feet, working, fighting her way up through the styling world for years. She was just a girl who started a blog called The Brass Petal because she loved design, and now she’s the one everyone looks up to. It’s amazing. She scrambles and struggles and frets over her work, constantly feeling out of her comfort zone, but never giving up, and when five o’clock hits, she somehow changes all those gears and is the most engaged wife and mom you’ve ever seen. She wants to know how our days were, she snuggles and dances and draws and sings goofy songs and then bathes and reads and puts down, and then talks and laughs and smiles and loves. It’s easy to forget that she woke up at 6am to write next week’s post and was a super engaged boss for 12 employees all day. I honestly don’t know how she does it. And I don’t acknowledge it enough. I’m not hardwired to verbalize my inner life and sometimes I assume that what I’m feeling is being understood, or just a “given,” and the moment slips by. I need to be better at that. Which is part of the reason I’m putting it down here today. Just so she hears it:
Emily, I’m not talking directly to you. I am so unbelievably proud of you, and am so grateful for everything that you do for me and our family. I don’t know what force intervened and brought you to see me do a shirtless, feminist version of Hamlet in that professor’s backyard almost 20 years ago, but I am so thankful that you didn’t walk out at intermission. You work so hard, and love so tirelessly, you inspire everyone around you, you blow my mind. Happy 40th birthday my love. No one deserves it more than you. I love you.
p.s. You may want to go look in the kids’ attic, up the ladder…