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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeping your Sanity Nov thru January

As I write this, my stomach is chock full of mini reese's cups leftover from the picked through Halloween candy, and I'm trying to remember if my last year's Thanksgiving table cloth is stained beyond all hope. I think it is. Well, now, let's add picking up a 96"long white linen table cloth to my list of things to do. Honestly, when I look at all that goes into any random week of my life, my head literally spins around on it's own axis. So, I really just try to break it down day by day, keeping the remaining 6 on my blurred radar.

While, I really do get the whole slow down and smell the roses concept, less is more, blah blah blah, every other time of the year, when it comes to holiday time, I just seem to loose all wisdom. It's like a 7 year old wetting the bed suddenly. It's humiliating, but I just can't seem to help myself. It starts now, planning for the perfect Thanksgiving for my family, neighbors and friends. Now, if you've grown to know me, you will probably guess, I don't just have a simple sit down dinner with my family. No, no, no. I have a small army to my cabin in WV every Thanksgiving. And, it's always so wonderful (more wonderful in retrospect then in the moment, and that's what gets me again and again). You can imagine the amount of work that requires. Last year, I had a sit down dinner for 22 people, with a cocktail party prior, and ten spent the weekend. Also add to that list: a dog, a guinnea pig, a bunny and a cat. This year is shaping up to be just slightly bigger. Here's how I imagine things will go. I'll arrive 2 days prior to begin the decorating, and preparations, and I'll stay back a day to put everything back in order, and then it will be a mad rush to get back into the office and do all the work I negated by having such a grand "holiday". I'll rush back to the office to do next year's forecasting, end of year financials, holiday specials, next year's catalogue finals, and to prepare for two trade shows in January, one in Dallas and one in Shanghi. I've never been there, but they tell me it sucks. Then, it's Christmas shopping, (yes I said Christmas shopping, not holiday shopping, because for me it's about the birth of Christ), getting a tree, decorating, trying to inflate that hideous giant snow globe that snows on a family of jolly penguins in scarfs (we do this for my son, Sebastian, who at 15 still adores "Mr. Pengins), cookie baking, card sending, and the time honored traditions the kids love like seeing the lights of 34th Street, strolling through some lighted up zoo or park, watching It's a Wonderful Life, going to church and preparing a box of love, and putting up our snow village. All of which are absolutely wonderful. Yes, it's busy, but I mean, really, what could I not do? If I failed to do any of these things, the children's childhood memories would be ruined, and now that they are getting older I have this sense of life as I know ending. I means Sebastian is in 10th grade, and soon will be in college, and then married to some girl with a life of his own, and well, there are really only 2 Christmas's left when he's still my little boy and Raiff isn't far behind. So, I work overtime to ensure we have our wonderful Christmas morning in our charming log cabin in the woods. Papa in his kerchief and I in my cap. Kids waking up, laughter, hearts overflowing, warm cocoa, all so beautiful. O.K., we've enjoyed that, now clean up, get ready, we have a Christmas open house at 1. Wear that new sweater, I don't care if it itches. Bing Crosby singing on the Ipod, happy faces stopping by, ahhh, so nice, so wholesome. Then, a great Christmas dinner. Maybe duck, or maybe a standing pork roast. Then, major clean up, and fall into bed, absolutely exhausted. Well, the next day is slower, everyone enjoying their presents, for the first couple of hours, but then you realize you have two restless teenagers, stuck in the middle of the woods in winter. A plan needs to be hatched. So, I plan snow tubing, and skiing for the days in between. And, then, we get our wonderful guests for New Years. Yes, I said it. We have our two favorite families to our place for New Year's each year. They arrive on the 30th, leave on the 1st or 2nd and it's a blast but so busy. Then, it's quickly put the house back together, and back to work as fast as you can. I feel so fat because I ate my body weight every single day, and I am so exhausted. But, I'm sure everyone had a great time, and I managed to pull of another memorable Christmas season complete with photographic evidence. See, everyone is smiling.

HOWEVER, I'm exhausted, bloated, overspent, and a little bit bitter. So, I'm vowing to make things a little different this year. I'm putting the boys in charge of the Christmas cards, while I look on with a glass of wine in one hand, and holding hands with Stephen with the other. I'm forgetting the "open house" idea for friends, and opting instead to spend the day doing whatever the kids want. I have a feeling we'll play poker and watch Jaws. I am having everyone over for Thanksgiving, but it's going to be a bit of a pot luck, and there will be jobs assigned, and I won't be on clean up. I'm shopping online a lot and buying a whole lot less. I'll get Stephen to bake with the boys for a change. And, I will not eat my body weight each day. Hey, it's a start. I'm wishing you all the best of the season, and reminding you, great memories are best had when you're laughing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Canning Tomatoes

This week, I stopped at a small roadside vegetable stand along route 522 in West Virginia. The lady manning the stand was so genuinely happy to see me. The offerings were wholesome; country butter made from a local Amish farm, vegetables, peaches, honey with a comb inside. I decided to buy two big boxes of tomatoes, each for a whopping $8. On the way to my cabin, I stopped at our little corner gas station, market, post office, hardware store and picked up some Mason jars. After a long day of sterilizing, skinning, packing and boiling I had 28 beautiful jars, 20 with tomatoes and 8 jars of homemade tomato basil spaghetti sauce, (basil courtesy of my neighbor who has the garden of Eden in her backyard.) I cannot explain to you how this simple act filled me with such satisfaction. I remember my mother canning in the late summers of my childhood. She was a daughter of the depression, and was constantly concerned with having enough provisions for her 5 kids. In this world where everything is moving at the speed of light, going back to the old ways is deeply rewarding. Spend a day. Put up a can or two and slow down.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parenting By Design

Parenting By Design

When you first learn you’re about to become a mother, time stops. It’s just a split second, but it’s a very clear, unforgettable quiet out of body experience. In that single moment, you realize you are no longer just you, you are carrying a life, another. It’s a bit dizzying. The feeling that you are different than you were before that moment is ever present, until one day you realize you can’t remember exactly who you were before the baby. I don’t think there is any single event in the human experience as life changing as becoming a parent.

B.C. (before children), I thought of myself as the quintessential twenty something, living a very happy, exciting life. I loved to dance, and travel, and eat dinner at 10, and felt absolutely no guilt whatsoever about lounging in my pajamas for an entire weekend, reading, and watching movies. I would eat cake for dinner, and pizza for breakfast, and fly off to Paris on a whim. I loved fashion, and would wear super sexy, low cut dresses at times, ridiculously high heels, and loved every minute of it. I drove a fast little sports car, and I would crank up the music and sing to the top of my lungs, especially on hot summer nights. My self-concept was one of a fun loving girl, figuring it out, and enjoying life to the fullest.

Then came the moment. The little pink plus sign on the stick. And time stopped.

I don’t remember exactly how long the moment lasted, but I do remember the shadow from the sun moved from one end of the bathroom to the other as I sat there on the floor, considering all that the little pink cross could mean.

Now, admittedly, I was less prepared to becoming a mommy than most. I wasn’t married. I wasn’t financially secure. I was “between opportunities” in my career. I had just moved cities and into a new apartment. I was so free, and the thought of a baby inside of my body, in that moment, was a bigger concept than my brain could handle. As I sat on that floor considering all of my options, I went to a very deep place within myself. The world became very quiet and very still. When I stood up, I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but I did fully understand that a change had come and I was different than I was before I entered that room.

The next few days were surreal. I didn’t stop praying, or considering or evaluating. I asked for and received signs. I spoke at length with my boyfriend. I soul searched in a way that I cannot explain. I wanted to do the right thing, but I just wasn’t clear on what that was. And, then one day, the answer, for me, became crystal clear. I was going to become a mommy. It was a brave decision, an act of faith. And, without giving too much away, let me say, it’s a decision I have never regretted for a single second.

So many miracles and gifts fell from that decision. My beautiful boyfriend became my beloved husband, and my bouncing baby boy was in attendance for the wedding. We started a company, where together, we did work we were proud of, and put goodness into the world. We had another baby. We’ve traveled, laughed so much along the way, created, and had a beautiful symphony that has been our life for over 15 years. The choice to become a mommy put me on a road I could not have possibly predicted. So many experiences, rich and beautiful were waiting for me as I walked along.

When you become a parent, you cannot help but go back to your own childhood. It happens to all of us. In some ways, I think its God’s little gift and opportunity to make things right that were wrong, for the next generation. It’s also a time to celebrate and forgive and give thanks to the enormous love and sacrifice of those who came before, knowing for the first time, how different the world looks from the perspective of mommy. It’s a time traveling mind trip.

I know you have 9 months to prepare for the baby, but honestly, that’s just not enough. The rate of change is immediate and never ending. Almost from the moment of inception, changes begin. You get cranky, tired, bloated, nauseous, and emotional. And, when that begins to subside, other changes roll in to take over, keeping you constantly confused. Your body grows in the weirdest ways, (my feet got bigger!), your boobs itch, your sex drive goes bizerk (again, not all change is bad), and everything leaks. Then, stage 3, nearing the end. O.K., you nest like some crazed Canadian goose, buying furniture, folding t-shirts, painting, preparing. You are sore and you can’t sleep. You hair and nails and skin become someone else’s. Your stomach explodes and suddenly those pictures of fully pregnant octomom make sense, sort of.

And, then, the baby arrives. And, again, time stops. Everything forever changed. Quiet. Nothing else matters. Tiny, pink life. Smell of heaven. Tears, joy, love indescribable. The rest of the world melts away. Beautiful miracle in your arms.

The high you get from seeing your baby for the first time, never completely leaves you. You’re transported back with a memory, a photograph, a sound or smell. But, life does normalize and you find yourself on a road, with no sign posts, and it’s all a little scary. You have to redefine everything. So many mommies don’t consciously think about the life they want to lead, they don’t make a plan with rules; they simply walk along aimlessly, making it up as they go. I can tell you, having a plan and a goal has made all the difference in the world for me and my family. I think the old saying is true, when you fail to make a plan, you plan to fail. Planning the life you want your family to lead is a great gift. Now, most of us plan some things. We plan the tangibles, school, day care, finances, etc. But, those are just the frameworks of the life, not the life. It’s the life you need to plan and consider, because if not, the tidal wave of parenthood will rush over you and sweep you away, and you could find yourself asking, “How did I get here?”

The moment I first realized I needed a plan was when my baby was about 6 months old. My husband and I decided to have a small Christmas party, to celebrate the season the baby, and life. Now, obviously, I didn’t drink at all during my pregnancy, or up until that moment, because I was breast-feeding. So, I told myself I’d have a glass of wine or two at the party, and really enjoy myself. Well, without all the gory details, let me say I had more than my system could handle, which was so much less than I could handle BC. And, then as the alcohol wore off, the guilt and shame came over me like nothing I had ever experienced. I just kept thinking, “I’m a mother, how can I behave like this?” It was a long, long night. I didn’t sleep at all. I sat up on the couch really thinking about just how much had changed and how unprepared I was for so much of it. I thought about the lack of security I so often felt as a child, because the adults around were so lost in so many ways, and I knew I wanted to do better. I thought about the general air of survival I lived in, not really thriving, just surviving. And, then I thought about my parents’ marriage, which was a true train wreck. Mommy was an Indian and daddy was a cowboy, and the fighting didn’t end until daddy left when I was 7. I knew I wanted to do things really differently for my son. And, I didn’t simply want to fake it, or settle, or compromise on our marriage. I wanted to remain madly in love with my husband, and be truly happy. I wanted my kids to see that and know it was possible. I realized I needed to find out who I was now, and what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I looked far down the road I was on, and imagined what my life would be like in 5 years, 10, and 15 and beyond, and I made a plan to get there.

Here’s the outline for my family life plan:
1. I wanted to be truly happily married, in love with and in like with my husband. I want to respect him as the years wear on, and have our love deepen, just like in the fairy tales. Although, I had never seen a love like that, I made a decision that would be my reality.
2. I wanted to be present and available for my kids, as they needed me to be. They were the most important things to me, and I didn’t want to forget that as life happened.
3. I wanted to laugh a lot, everyday; with the ones I loved most.
4. I wanted to stay fit, sexy, healthy, and interesting.
5. I wanted to give my children a safe, secure, loving home life.
6. I wanted to have a beautiful home.
7. I wanted kids of faith, with loving, compassionate hearts.
8. I wanted all of us to be close and able to talk about anything.
9. I wanted our family life to be full of the things I valued: God, nature, homemade dinners, art, music, books, healthy living, travel, balance, endless possibilities.
10. I wanted to know how beautiful my life was every day.

I’m sure that most people want most of the things on the list for themselves, but if you don’t take measures to ensure it, the likelihood of having it, decreases. It’s the awareness of the desire that brings about purpose and follow through. Think about the goal, and keep it present in your awareness, and it will dictate so much of your life, your decisions, your speech, your actions. It’s a truly lofty life, and it’s not easy to achieve, it requires so much sacrifice, maturity, humility, strength, and deep layers of unending love. But, you can have the family life you want; you just need to design it. Think, plan, prepare and execute.

As soon as you make a plan, life comes along to sabotage you and challenge your resolve. You must stay the course, and remember the reward is worth all the work. Every single goal that I set has been in serious threat of peril on many occasions, and I had to grow each time to achieve the goal in every situation. And, if you have a bad day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Remember, it’s a life is a journey. At the end of a very long, tiring day, when every single thing went wrong, and your husband was less than helpful, and your baby cried all through the night before, and you seem to actually be gaining weight instead of loosing it, believe me, it’s almost impossible to feel grateful, and loving to your husband and good about yourself. But, if you go deep within, deeper than the annoyances of the day, you will find a place where the sacred is and you will know that you are a blessed woman and that life is so perfect. Get beyond the dirty dishes and the unpaid bills. Get to the bliss. Know that you are full, beautiful and complete, and that your life is dripping with love from every corner. You are a mother and knowing the richness that is your life, will allow it to come forth and stand right in front of you. You will lead your whole family into joy. The true love and beauty of life is beyond our circumstances, it is deep within our souls, and we can get there in any given moment.

Design your family life. What do you want?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Monster Under The Bed

"Raiff turn your light off, and go to sleep. It's bedtime."
"No, mommy, I'm scared."
"Scared of what?"
"The monster under the bed."

I looked into those big brown eyes and saw fear, real and deep. No amount of softly spoken encouragements could convince my three year old that there was no monster under the bed. Where do kids get this idea? Finally, clinging tightly to my neck, together we crawled out of bed, and looked at the dark beneath. I shined the flashlight all around, and turned on every light, and with trepidation, he opened his eyes and saw that there really wasn't a monster lurking there, just a few legos, a pair or shoes, and a candy wrapper.

We all have that monster under the bed; that thing that frightens us beyond all reason. The thing we're simply too scared to even look at. For me, it was the thought of loosing my business. When we first started, the only goal was to be able to earn enough money to stay home with the kids. But, as the kids grew, so did the business, the business became our sole source of income. Everything we had was tied to the business, and the thought of all of those uncontrollable factors that could lead to the company's immediate demise, robbed me of my peace. I lay awake at night, wondering "what if". There are literally tens of thousands of ways I could loose everything and I'd be powerless to stop it. It was a thought so frightening, a pressure so great, I simply could not bare it. I ran myself ragged trying to control those uncontrollable things. Finally, I reached my breaking point, and realized I could not live with that level of fear and stress any longer. So, slowly, and with trepidation, I faced that big, scary thought. If I lost everything I owned, everything I worked for and sacrificed for, what then? I think it's a question every entrepreneur needs to ask themselves, and then be able to live with the answer. Because risk is everywhere. If I lost everything, what would be left? I'd still have my loving husband, and beautiful boys, and my good looks, so hey, we'd just do something else. Maybe we'd rent an old falling down barn somewhere, and lovingly bring it back to life. Maybe we'd home school and the kids and I will grow even closer. Maybe I'd create a garden and eat healthier than ever before. I couldn't see what our world would look like, but I could see that as long as I had my family, I couldn't really loose anything, because they were my everything. All else are simply details, and details can be re worked, new dreams dreamt. So, when I turned on the light, and looked under the bed, there was no monster after all.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


These are scary times. The world is changing so fast, that we are all struggling to keep up. Every day there is a no way of doing something, and old things become obsolete and if you blink, you'll miss it. Business, especially retail, has been on a crazy roller coaster, unlike anything I've ever seen in my 15 years of doing business. And, it doesn't really seem possible to create a secure future. Anyone, anytime, could find themselves broke, out of business, obsolete, at any moment. I was watching Oprah last week and I saw good people who were loosing their homes, through no fault of their own. I talk to great people that we've worked with for years, who are closing their doors because they just can't make it, and I think, "why, how?" How can I prevent it from happening to me, and sadly, I realize I don't know those answers. I think the best we can all do, is the best we can do, in each and every moment. I get up every morning, have my coffee, talk to my husband. I wake my kids, make their breakfast, pack their lunch. I drop them off, and come to work, and I think, what will I give the world today? I put the best that I have to offer into the world (and admittedly, sometimes it's not that much), through our work. I try and always learn, grow and get better. I try to be the voice of love, and sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I'm not. I go home, sit with my family, and realize, this is it. This is security. It's not ensuring my business will grow and my bank accounts to, keeping me from the "streets". It's security in knowing that I do the best I can. I have love in my life, copious, luscious, waves of love. That's enough.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

2010 ABC Spring Conference: Who and What We Love

Just got back from Louisville, KY for the 2010 Spring Conference for independent retailers in the baby and kids industry,and we had a blast. First of all, Louisville is a very charming city, clean, friendly and with a decidedly sophisticated edge. We loved the cool restaurants, and shops. The Museum Hotel was amazing, and was actually just written up in Conde Nast. Check it out, if you're going to Louisville. The show was small and exciting. We saw some of our wonderful store owners from around the country. We saw Debbie from Beautiful Beginnings in Chicago, who is doing great with the line. Spent some time with two of our favorite Left Coast Girls who own The Juvenile Shop in Sherman Oaks, California. If you're ever out there, stop in because the store is beautiful and the service is unparalleled. There was cool new products on the market that you may love. Little Castle has some really sophisticated new fabrics and chair designs. Renditions by Reesa has a new layette line, and some great new art. And, as always Nava thrilled and dazzled with silky new sensations in bedding. I think the new designs are better than ever, evolving with the times, and creating amazing new objects of desire. Sending you love from Louisville!.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How To Create A Functional Nursery

Setting up a nursery can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you do a bit of planning. Think about what purpose the room will serve. Most certainly, it will be a sleeping space, but beyond that, what are your goals? Will this room serve as a play room as well? Will this room be shared with another sibling or nanny? Once you determine the uses for the space, you create a frame for the work to begin.

There are a plethora of options today for creating a nursery that will meet all of your needs and your unique vision of style. Almost all nurseries, at least double as a bedroom and playroom, and with dual functions comes twice the stuff. So, you need to consider plenty of storage options and pieces that can serve double duty. For example, choose a changing table that doubles as a dresser instead of two bulky pieces of furniture. A great armoire can hide a myriad of sins, including dirty clothes, entertainment centers, clothes, shoes, books, and toys. It’s a great piece that will grow with your child and serve you well in the years to come. There are wall units that can serve as a display case, book shelf, and art gallery. There are a ton of toy boxes, but for safety’s sake choose one with no lid, or a lid with safety hinges to avoid pinched fingers. Also consider baskets, which can go anywhere, even under the crib, and are easy for a toddler to tote around and access. If floor space is an issue, consider the variety of wall shelves available. Several in a row can create a floating book case, and a great set of bookends guarantees all your books will stay in place.

When setting up a nursery, it’s also important to be safety minded. Often toddlers spend time alone in their rooms, so creating a safe space is essential. Floor length curtains can be a strangulation hazard for crawling babies and toddlers, so opt for cordless blinds, shades, or shorter curtains. Floor lamps can be pulled over, so use ceiling lights and table lamps, and take care that the cord is out of baby’s reach. Also, make sure all of your outlets are plugged. For larger case goods, make sure you’ve tethered them to the wall to avoid tipping. Many manufacturers provide anti tipping straps for this exact purpose.

As your baby grows, you will want to add a play space, but take heart, doing so doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take up a ton of space. Pick a corner, and pitch a colorful tent, (which could just be your mom’s old bedspread hung from a hook in the ceiling), add some throw pillows and a sleeping bag, and voila, you’ve got magic. If your child is more into building and creating, put a small child’s table in the corner, and add a bookshelf, filled with tantalizing colors, books, toys and shapes. It’s important to rotate the offerings often to keep their interest. Your nursery should be safe, functional, and fun.

This room will grow and change right along with your baby. No sooner you get the crib up, and it becomes a toddler bed. Before you know it, that changing tray is removed and a potty chair appears. The walker is replaced by a tricycle, and on and on it goes. The key is to match the contents of the room with the needs of your child and make sure it remains a place where they feel at home, intellectually and artistically challenged, and entertained.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Go Green In The Nursery

The biggest change I've noticed in the world over the last five years, would be the world wide awakening that has happened as far as our responsibility to this earth, and how we can evoke positive changes. I have to say, that I am thrilled with this new state of being. I am a nature lover, most peaceful in the mountains, and being half Lumbee Indian, I always felt a special connection to the earth, the forest, the rivers, the air . . . So, naturally I've tried to incorporate respect for the earth in all areas of my life, including my business. And, as more and more demand for eco friendly products emerge, so do the resources to create them. That is one of the reasons I love business, it will make available what we demand, and if our consciousness turns toward more responsible behavior, business will be right there to meet that desire. So many people ask me how they can make a "green" nursery, and the good news is, there's more choices now than ever before. Here is a list of a few easy things you can do to make the environment for your child even greener.

10 Great Tips for Going Green in the Nursery:

1. Buy furniture that will grow with your child, ensure the quality and the design will last. By keeping your furniture longer, you are decreasing waste and furniture turnover that eventually ends up in our land fills.

2. If purchasing wood products, ensure the wood has come from sustainable forests. What this means is the trees used in the wood products are harvested and then replanted which ensures a replenishments of the worlds trees.

3. Don't be afraid of "engineered" wood such as MDF. MDF is an environmentally responsible choice for production. Engineered wood products make far more efficient use of the available resource today than ever before and can be manufactured from fast growing, underutilized, and less expensive wood species grown in privately managed forests. That helps safeguard older forests that as a society we have chosen to preserve. Byproducts from other production processes—small chips or unusable bits of wood—can be recycled and reused in engineered wood products. Engineered wood also eliminates many of the defects found naturally in wood, thereby improving upon many of the material's inherent structural advantages. Simply put, manufacturing wood is energy efficient.

4. Consider wrought iron as a medium for your furnishings. Wrought iron is sustainable, long lasting and renewable by nature.

5. Consider organic and natural materials for your textiles: crib bedding, rugs, curtains.

6. Use only organic and natural/non toxic cleaning products. Babies mouths end up everywhere!

7. Cut down on plastic. Plastic is a major contributor of indoor air pollution. When available choose furnishings, fixtures and toys with little or no plastic.

8. Ensure only non toxic paint and finishes enters the room, weather its on furnishings, toys, or walls, it all needs to be non toxic. *Also, make sure room is painted well before baby arrives and has been completely ventilated to ensure all fumes are gone. Give mom a day at the spa when the room is being painted, she doesn't need the fumes when pregnant.

9. If you have wall to wall carpet, consider getting rid of it and opting for bare floors, wood, bamboo or even cork. Dangerous toxins are often found in new and old carpet alike, and no matter how much you clean your carpet, it can still be highly toxic and filled with germs.

10. Less is more. There's a tendency to fill up that nursery long before the baby arrives. Be conservative and thoughtful in your purchases cutting down on over consumption and waste.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reality Bites

From that moment on, we knew we were really in business. It wasn't just an idea floating around in our heads, it was real and taking up all the space my living room (I never realized how big 10 wrought iron cribs are). At one point in my pre Bratt career, I had a small marketing firm. I knew how to stage and sell a product, be it with words, photos or events. All of my clients were artists of one sort or another, so I felt confident I could sell this crib, because it was, after all, a work of art. The first thing I needed to do was take a decent photo. Second thing, find my market. Third thing, present the goods, and money would flow like the mighty Mississippi. So, I took a great photo. I bought a very expensive list consisting of affluent pregnant women in their second trimester and interior designers who had done high end nurseries in the past. Again, pre internet, so everything had to be snail mailed. Now, at this point, we were young parents with a fairly new mortgage, making ends meet, but not a lot more. Both Stephen and I had managed to save a little money, and we decided this was a good investment, so we blew almost our entire nest egg on the photography, printing, procurement of the list, and the mailing. We bought 10,000 names, and I personally addressed and mailed 10,000 postcards. The cribs cost us about $1000 each when it was all said and done, so we decided we sell them for $2000. If we only got 1% of our list (which is what statistics say you can count on), we'd make $100,000. Not bad. Not bad at all. And, after seeing the competition we felt sure we'd make that, and if not, at least we'd sell a few and make our money back and have enough to try again. We were so excited as we sent out those little postcards of promise. I remember eagerly sitting by the phone, imagining what our very first client would look like. How excited they'd be when they saw what we had done for them. How thankful they'd be when their ideal dream crib just showed up in the mail. And, I waited. Around the bottom of the first week, I remember feeling my first pang of what if .. . . But, ever the optimist, I was sure they were just deliberating. After all, one doesn't just plunk down 2G's without a bit of consideration, a purchase of that requires some thought. And, so I waited with a bit more understanding about the time, because of the magnitude of the decision my soon to be customers were faced with. And, I waited some more. I think it was week 3 when I began to realize we not become the overnight success I had envisioned. In the end, we never received one single phone call. Not one! I still can't believe that.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

And Baby Makes Three

We were so sure that our idea for a hip little designer baby furniture company was destined for billion dollar success, that we became paranoid that, should anyone find out, they would surely steal our idea. To protect the concept, we nicknamed the idea “The Cat”. We discussed “The Cat” all the way on the train.

The next few weeks every conversation included “The Cat”. We would lie in bed at night, with Stephen drawing and me adding my two cents. We came up with the name, "Bratt Decor" because Stephen, being South African, loved the American cheekiness of the word Brat (we added the extra "t" to soften the effect) and Decor, because we felt it added a bit of range. All in all it's proven to be a great name. People remember it. It's sort of sassy with a dash of elegance. We incorporated our business, copyrighted our name, and were ready to make our millions. Stephen did all of his homework with the Consumer Safety Products Commission, and made sure that the design was safe, so that limited our artistic freedom, to some extent. Once we knew our boundaries, we were off. We decided that the crib had to reflect our tastes and truly be a work of art that we both loved. I had some requirements. I wanted my beloved French wrought iron to be the medium, because Paris was still in my soul. I wanted to be taken back to the windy French streets where iron balconies reached the sky of the fanciest of facades, where four-poster iron beds graced huge, marbled rooms and where even the signposts for the metro were curly wrought iron and totally gorgeous. So, with that, we had a beginning, a four poster wrought iron crib. Stephen had to put some Africa in there, so he decided that the top of those four posters would be a perfect place to incorporate the exotic wilds of Africa. He called his father, who drove for miles to an ostrich farm in the Karoo and hand selected a beautiful display of white ostrich plumes. Once they arrived, he carefully inserted them into these beautiful hand turned wooden finials that he finished with linseed oil, and then wrapped with leather. They were stunning. He kept the design fairly simple so the feathers could sing. The wrought iron was slate gray with simple scrollwork along the bottom and finished with brass balls on the feet. He also insisted the bedding be stark white with a bit of movement, to counterbalance the lines of the crib, so he designed and sewed a beautiful white wave bumper. The look was completed with a bed skirt. It was the most beautiful sight. I felt sure that this was a winner, and that the entire world would definitely want this crib. I was so caught up in the loveliness of the object that I didn’t really think too much of the logistics of how actually turning that crib into a business would really play out. Because, let’s face it, Stephen couldn’t put this much time into every single crib, there would be manufacturing to consider, inventorying, procurement, government regulations and that was just the start. However, there would be plenty of time to think on those things. This was the time to focus on my husband, my nursery and my growing baby.

We had so much fun putting that room together. Stephen painted a romantic blue sky on the ceiling, and then went into the attic and drilled tiny holes throughout which he filled with soft, twinkling Christmas lights. The affect was pure magic, Paris at twilight. We placed the crib in the center of the room on a large sheep skin rug, and as far as I was concerned, we were done. However, that wasn’t entirely practical. We had an old walnut dresser refinished, and filled an antique book case with Curious George, Dr. Seuss, and Goodnight Gorilla. I put my mother’s old, armless, spindle rocker in the corner and recovered the seat cushion in white. We purchased a beautiful yellow animal mask from a street vendor on our last trip to Africa, and we hung that on his wall, then we were complete. The room was simple and dazzling.

In June of that year, Sebastian was born, and like every first time parent, we were all consumed with wonder over every single thing about our magnificent baby. We would put him in the bed between us, and gaze endlessly at the rise and fall of his little chest while he slept. A heavy sigh or sudden startle would fill us with joy indescribable. You know how it is. Those first few weeks you're walking in the midst of a miracle, and your mind really can't catch up with what your heart and your soul know in it's deepest most eternal secret places.

Needless to say, not much happened with Bratt Decor for the first few months following Sebastian's birth. We were just settling in, experiencing all the changes a baby brings to one's life. Stephen's illustration business was very successful, and he worked from home. So, the three of us had what I referred to as our Camelot year. It was the most perfect year. Money was not a worry. The baby was a constant source of joy and pride. Stephen worked, but not too much. I didn't really work at all. I don't recall one fight, not one moment of stress. Honestly, I was so grateful that God would see fit to give me so much love, I don't think I could have mustered an unkind word to anyone, let alone the two loves of my life. We had so much time together, and Stephen didn't miss one of all those amazing "firsts" of a new baby. I was still planning on making Bratt Decor a real business, but had no idea when or how that would happen. Until our fist day at Gymboree. Sebastian was six months old, and we decided to join a mommy and me gymnastics class. On the first day, all the proud mommies were sitting in a circle with their little fat cherubs, and the instructor asked us to go around the circle, introduce ourselves and our babies, and tell a little bit about who we were. There were doctors, lawyers, school teachers, stay at home moms, and just about every thing in between. When my time came, after introducing myself and Sebastian, I told the group how I was planning on creating a crib company, and producing wrought iron cribs. But, that I really wasn't sure how all of that was going to happen (this was before the internet), because I hadn't figured out manufacturing. We made the prototype locally, but the costs were prohibitive. Just the four sides of the crib cost us $800, and that was in the mid 90's. So, we knew we'd have to make the product somewhere besides the U.S. if we ever wanted to actually sell any. And, then, from the other side of the circle, this cute little mommy piped up and said, "Well, one of my best girlfriends, who was my maid of honor and who is little Isabell's godmother, represents iron manufacturers in South America. I bet she could help you find someone to produce your designs." As it turned out, she did. We worked with a small foundry in Nicaragua who was run by two sisters. They produced our designs for several years, and it was one of the most extraordinary coincidences I've had in this business. I mean, really, what are the chances? If you don't believe in God, start your own company, and soon you will.

That's when Bratt Decor actually started to take shape. Stephen worked with them, faxing our specifications, and working only over the phone and fax. In all the years we worked together, we never once met them. When our first cribs arrived, wrapped in Tide boxes and flown in, it was like Christmas morning. It's one thing to make yourself something that you love, it's quite another to communicate something you've dreamt of and imagined to people thousands of miles away, and then see it all come to life in your living room. When we assembled it and saw that it was good, I wept.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How It All Got Started

Probably, like many of you reading this, it all started when I first discovered I was going to be a mommy. I was 20 something, working as a marketing director for an architectural firm, and loving life as I knew it. Stephen and I weren't trying to have a child, he just sort of appeared. But, it was the single greatest change of direction I've ever had. My parents were gone, and Stephen's parents lived all the way in S. Africa, so we were sort of alone. I really wanted to stay home and raise my child myself, but I also wanted, and needed to work. I have worked steadily since I was 13 years old, I don't think I'd know how not to work. So, I began to think about starting a business that I could do while taking care of our child. Stephen had his own very successful illustration business, which would take care of us financially as I got another business up and running. I had businesses before, and I really wanted to start something of my own once more. So, the timing all worked out to be sort of serendipitous. At that time, I really had no idea what business I'd start, but I wanted something small and manageable, that I could do with a baby and from home. The pregnancy was picture perfect and we were breathless with anticipation for our little one to arrive. We dreamt of what he would look like (yes, we found out we were having a boy. I just couldn't wait), what our life would look like with him in it, and we began doing all the things that expectant parents do. We read the books, went to birthing classes, gave up coffee, and dreamt of the life that was to come. It was really a wonderful time. Nesting kicked in hard around month six, and I turned my designer's eye to the small room down the hall. It had beautiful light, warm worn, wooden floors, and an arched inset space, that was a perfect little reading nook. I couldn't wait to turn that blank canvas into a space overflowing with wonder and endless possibility. As a designer, I look for that one piece from which all other things will build, and for a nursery, it was the crib. It's the biggest piece in the room, and it will set the tone. So, I went shopping. We live in Baltimore, and when I had exhausted every single crib carrying store in the state and found nothing, I was not dismayed. I realized that not everyone needed great design to feel peaceful, and that I was a bit of a freak in that sense, so it wasn't surprising that there was nothing in Baltimore to suit me. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. It was your basic cherry, maple or white boring crib. So, we set off to New York to find the crib that was made just for us. I had my hit list of baby boutiques, and was quite encouraged when I entered the first one. There were gorgeous prams in the front window, and hand stitched linen layette. This place had potential! The cribs were in the back. There were three of them. The first one was an iron crib from France, but the design was heavy and uninspired, and the price tag was $8000, a little out of our range. The next one was a hand painted Beatrix Potter number, which was well done, but not my style, way too cutesy. The third one was an English sleigh crib, priced in the thousands, and simply too conventional. I saw many versions of the same throughout all of Manhattan, including the different versions of what I'd seen at home but with a steeper price tag. Hope began to receed like waves on the beach. We trudged on through the city streets, hitting everything on the list and many stores that weren’t. By the end of the day, we sat in a small cafĂ©, and discussed the depressing fact that what I wanted simply did not exist. I must have looked like a seriously sad sack, because my dear, sweet Stephen, simply couldn’t take it any longer after a moment’s thought, he said, “I’ll design a crib for you.” And with those six little words, hope renewed and I was overcome with the deepest joy. Anything Stephen designed was always perfect. He designed my wedding dress, and my wedding ring and even today, they are still the most beautiful of objects. He designed our kitchen, and our country house, which are both worthy of Architectural Digest. He’s even designed a green, radiant floor heating system and numerous computer programs and online systems. When the kids were into ugly dolls, he designed and sewed life size costumes that were exact replicas of Wage and Babo. His genius knows no ends. It’s as if within him is an innate sense of exactly how a thing is supposed to be in it’s most perfect sense. And, then he has the talent to make it so and bring it forth into this world. If he were to sign up to design our baby’s crib, I knew, without a doubt, that it would be perfection. We discussed details long into the night, at the quaint little New York restaurant. Then, suddenly it hit me. If I couldn’t find a crib that I liked, imagine the millions of other women out there in the same predicament, and I was pretty sure not all of them had a genius designer husbands that could help them with their dilemma. In that moment, our business was born.