Five Favorite Finds: A Visit with Mary Kris Nolte

Excerpt from a recent conversation with Mary Kris Nolte:

“What do you see up there?”

I’m sitting low while Mary Kris towers above me, comb in hand, gently lifting strands of hair atop my head.  “Well, it’s really red.”

My head is itching terribly—terribly!—and the comb, barely grazing my scalp, executes a cruel, endless tickle.  It’s all I can do to keep to my seat and not swat her hands away so I can just scratch and scratch.  “What you’re doing right now—it’s really itching me.”

“I’m sorry,” she says.  She feels bad.  I can hear it in her voice.  I also detect a hint of Sherlock Holmes-style determination to get to the bottom of this perplexing problem.  The game is on.  “And you say that this just started?  Is it every day?”

“Well, off and on.  Some days are worse than others.”

“What’s changed?” she asks, and we talk through a litany of potential root causes:  Am I using new hair products?  Is my home water softener malfunctioning?  Am I washing my pillow cases in a new detergent and fabric softener?   Do I need to run my humidifier?  Her intuition, honed through years of experience, is leading her toward environmental, rather than clinical, factors.  I’m relieved.

“You don’t see any bugs or anything up there?”

She laughs.  Again, I’m relieved.  “No.  I can tell you for sure you don’t have lice or anything.”  I’m not sure why my thoughts ran in that direction.  I do have lots of young nieces and nephews; you never know.

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my hair.  What about any balding? ”  I fear this possibility more than lice.


I’m watching her in the big wall mirror in front of us.  She’s still picking at individual strands of hair at the crown of my head, and now she’s bent over close, trying to get a better look.  “No, your hair looks fine.  But your scalp is really red.”  She’s quiet and thoughtful.  Then suddenly I see a change in her expression; the kernel of an idea is taking shape.  “I want to try something…”


Mary Kris Nolte
Mary Kris Nolte. We had a tasty lunch at my house before the holidays: spinach quiche, salad, and, for dessert, dark chocolate and toffee almond lace cookies. I wish I could say that I made this beautiful meal; I didn’t. Thanks, Hen House bakery! She’s modeling one of her finds for us: her mom’s beautiful earrings.

There are some conversations you can only have with your stylist.   A mysterious scalp itch is one, but there are many others as well.  Mary Kris has been my stylist for several years now, and in that time we’ve developed a friendship  based on hours and hours of talks about virtually every topic under the sun, from coping with varicose veins and the frustration of learning to do eyelash extensions to the trials associated with adult braces and the uncertainty of making a dramatic career change.   In the midst of a crazy, stressful week, I find comfort and solace in our routine:  Mary Kris, looking stylish and smiling (always), pulls up a seat as my color is processing.  Perched under the slick black tarp she drapes over my clothes, I look like a ghoul with my pale face and sticky, sculptural hair.   She doesn’t mind, though.  She’s seen it all before.   Like clockwork, she pulls out a container of salad with avocado and curious combinations of various twigs and berries.  She’s one of the healthiest eaters I know.  Every once in a while, in her kind way, she tries to coax me to try more vegetables and reminds me that drinking soda is akin to ingesting poison.   But as I start making faces, she doesn’t judge.  Hers is a gentle persuasion.

We talk and talk.    Mary Kris is an astute business woman.  Her clientele has grown to the point that her schedule affords her little time to relax.  She attracts people like magnets because she’s just so likeable.  She’s also really good at what she does.  If I ever have a great hair day, I know it’s because of her cut and because of my precise color, which she has perfected like no other stylist I’ve ever had.  But she’s a great mom, too.  Over the years I’ve followed the exciting adventures of her kids through the stories she tells.  Two of her kids have worked in the film industry; one was a coffee entrepreneur, and one is currently in law school in New York.   She’s seen me through some adventures, too.   When my dog was dying back in 2015, she’s the one who put me in touch with the most caring vet in the world to help my little Yorkie and I to the end.  When I had a really nasty employee several years ago, Mary Kris is the one who issued pep talks as needed.   So much life has been lived in that salon:  houses have been bought and sold, friends have passed away, trips have been taken.    If walls could talk. 

Mary Kris was among the first I told about my interest in starting a blog, and she has been supportive from the very beginning, reading posts and following my comings and goings.   She was, in fact, one of my first subscribers.  So, when she was over at my house for lunch around the holidays, it was only natural that our discussion turn to Circa19xx.  Did she have any favorite old finds?  Strange that we had never really talked about that before.  It turns out that yes, in fact, she did.  She gathered them up for me and let me do a photo shoot.  Here are her finds and their stories…

Old Curling Iron
Find #1: Old curling iron. This curling iron belonged to Mary Kris’s great aunt Lilly. Lilly was a hair dresser around 1900 who cut clients’ hair in her parlor. The iron was passed down to Mary Kris, who claims this as a prized possession because it’s so emblematic of her own career. In turn, Mary Kris uses it on her clients to this day. (No, I’m kidding about that. Mary Kris’s tool of choice is a modern-day flat iron).
Vintage earrings
Find #2: Vintage earrings. These beautiful iridescent blue earrings belonged to Mary Kris’s mom. Her mom passed away many years ago, but as Mary Kris told the story of these earrings, the memory of her sprung fresh to the surface as told by the catch in Mary Kris’s voice. “These earrings are my mom in a nutshell,” she explained. “She was a small woman, but had a big voice and a big personality. Most of her clothes were second-hand—and these earrings likely came from a garage sale—but she always had a great sense of style.”
Find #3: Cameo. This pretty piece (shown here with the same earrings pictured above) belonged to Mary Kris’s mother-in-law, and had been passed down to her from her great grandmother.
Crystal Basket
Find #4: Etched crystal basket. This basket also belonged to Mary Kris’s mother-in-law and is now displayed on a shelf in Mary Kris’s living room. Her mother-in-law had a collection of crystal pieces that her grandmother brought over from Europe. Mary Kris believes this is one of them. As an side, it’s much more difficult to photograph crystal than I imagined. I actually had to do two photo shoots: one at my house, where the lighting didn’t work, and one at the salon, where the lighting was better. Here it is at the salon. This darling little charmer has traveled afar!
Pickle castor
Find #5: Pickle castor. This is my favorite find—perhaps of all the finds I’ve featured on Circa19xx. I absolutely LOVE this. Mary Kris said her mom used to use this for candy, and was pretty sure the little glass jar was a replacement for the one that had originally come with the carrier. What’s a pickle castor, you ask? According to ” Castor jars for pickles are glass jars about six inches in height, held in special metal holders. Castor jars became more ornate each year, and by 1860, they were cathedral-like pieces. They were a popular dinner table accessory about 1890.” The tongs that hang from the side are fantastic in and of themselves. This, too, was harder to photograph than you would think, and required two photo shoots. The shot at left was in my house; the detail at right was taken at the salon.
Vaile Mansion Pickle Castor
By the way, I’ve encountered pickle castors before, but I didn’t know what they were. Here is one I photographed at Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri.

So, I know the suspense is probably killing you: What was Mary Kris’s solution to the itching scalp problem? A new hypoallergenic hair color. The itching has lessened substantially. Perhaps that really was the trick. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Special thanks to Mary Kris for sharing her finds with me, for her enduring patience as I took millions of pictures, and for the extra bother of transporting all of her beautiful things twice for two separate photo shoots!  

Until next time…

Jennifer Passariello

One Comment

  1. Mary Kris Nolte

    Jennifer you are a true gem, and one of my favorite finds! This was so much fun and I love the way you wrote this blog. I don’t know what I love most about my career; the challenge and creativity or the chance to get to know so many special people and develop friendships! Thanks for featuring me!

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