Saturday, March 17, 2012

Have you ever smiled and cried at the same time?

A week from today is my Sam's twelfth birthday.  He will be just a year from being a teenager and I can't believe it!  Today when I was talking to Savannah on the phone and she was going through old pictures, I began to look at some too and came across some Cd's of old pictures of when Sam was a baby and Savannah was just two.  As I looked at the pictures I was caught in that web of feeling both happiness and sadness simultaneously. 

I remember each picture like I took it yesterday.  Each memory began to play like a home video in my mind.  I remember having my best friend Lauri over with her two boys and the kids playing in the pool and us trying to get a picture of the babies and them holding hands.  It was a hot Indiana summer day and the kids had a blast swimming in the blow-up pool in my front yard.  I remember how excited Lauri and I were when we found out we were both pregnant with boys, we were determined they were going to be best friends like her and I were.

There are several of Savannah and Sam and I in New Mexico.  I flew there with them and my baby sister Colleen.  I remember on our landing into Albuquerque our landing gear broke and we had to crash land.  I was holding Sam so hard and poor Colleen had Savannah in the seat in front of me.  It was scary and when we got off the plan my mom was having a cardiac arrest.  She saw our plan disappear and thought we were goners, poor mom.

I loved that trip.  My mom, sister's and I went on hikes in the desert and swam in my mom's pool.  I remember loving it when Sam would pass out on me at the end of the day.  Sam shared his first laughs with us and Savannah would crack us up with her two year old antics.  I won't forget the time that I had Savannah on my back in the carrier and Sam on my front.  I have a picture of it, but I was only wearing my nursing bra (when you hike in the desert in the summer, it's hot and you don't often see anyone else.) and I don't think anyone wants to see that. 

Sam was such a beautiful baby and so sweet.  He loved to be loved and eat and smile.  I don't ever remember him being fussy.  It was love at first sight when he was born, something you almost can't describe unless you have felt it yourself.  The fact that he is hundreds of miles away almost kills me sometimes.  I miss him and Savannah so much it hurts.

Savannah as a toddler was an adventure.  She didn't talk much but knew how to scale cabinets at an early age to get her hands on some peanut butter.  I remember the day I let her play in the mud.  She just had a ball and thought it was so much fun to play in the magical sandbox that appeared after a rainstorm. 

Savannah had a little friend that lived down the street and loved to play with her.  We used to go to the park and swing and take walks around the neighborhood to feed the geese and ducks. 

I didn't know what true love was until my children were born.  When Savannah first arrived I was introduced to a love that I never knew existed and then when Sam came I felt it all over again.  I remember a few days after Sam was born I was with him all day by myself.  A girlfriend had taken Savannah to play and I spent the whole day just looking at Sam.  As I was rocking him near the end of the day I took a mental picture, I knew that time would fly and this moment would be gone, but that moment and the immense love I feel for Sam has never left my heart. 

I had a similar moment with Savannah when she was just a few months old.  I was already realizing how fast the time was flying and how days were gone in a blur.  She was asleep on me, like a bug, her little butt up in the air.  I kissed her head and told myself I would never forget this moment.  The fact that she is going to be fourteen just blows me away.  As I sit here with tears in my eyes, how do I tell her how much I love her? How do I pass that on to her? 

My past catches up with me everyday.  Sometimes it is moments like this when I can relive the days of my oldest babies lives.  I could go on and discuss how I got from those moments to where we are today, but this post is not the place.  This post is another love letter to my Savannah and Sam, to let them know that I have never left them, wherever they are my love is there.  They always hold a wonderfully special place in my heart and a huge place in my life.  My heart and my love are always there for them.  I love you both so much. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Made in America

I walked in the little shop hesitantly.  The door was open, but the lights were out and behind the counter was a man closing up the register.  I asked him if he was closed, and he told me not yet and that we were welcome to look around.  Having just moved to New Mexico just months earlier I loved playing tourist and coming down to Old Town Albuquerque just to have a look around.  On this particular day I had a girlfriend with me who was visiting from out of town.  My family and I had been in the shop before, and loved their products.  I assured the man we would be quick and started showing my friend around "selling" her the product, "selling" her the fact that it was made right there in Albuquerque and everything was cut and made by hand.  Quickly finding a new critter of my own I proceeded to check out. 

Little did I know that ten minutes later I would have a new job.  The man was behind the counter was the artist and the owner, Gerald Naus and the store's name was Garden Critters.  Now almost ten years later I still work for "Jerry" and Julie, not in that little store anymore, but selling our critters wholesale across the country.  Jerry liked how I "sold" the product to my friend, asked if I wanted a job and that was it, a relationship and job was born.

The economy has hit us hard.  What was once a flourishing tourist mecca, Old Town Albuquerque has now become a ghost town.  Stores are closed, including ours.  In January Jerry and Julie decided to close up shop and solely concentrate on the Wholesale part of the business.  The sad fact is that small little mom and pops close all the time, in fact as I make calls to drum up new business I come across new disconnected numbers everyday.  Our store closing was different though, it was close to the heart and it felt similar to your parents selling your old house.  Garden Critters was like a home to me and I consider Jerry and Julie my family.

After all how many businesses let you bring a newborn to work or set up a playpen for a toddler because you don't have child care?  How many businesses let your little ones come to work with you?  When I started Garden Critters on May 22nd, 2002, Sage was exactly three months old.  (Sam was just two and Savannah four.)  I was still solely nursing her and she wouldn't take a bottle, so her dad would come down on the weekends or weeknights when I was working and I would feed her. 

In late 2002 I became pregnant again and my customers watched as my belly grew.  They would often stop in to check on me and my bosses would keep a constant supply of water so I wouldn't get dehydrated.  My fellow shopkeeping neighbors wouldn't close until I did so I wouldn't be left working alone.  I would rarely take a lunch or breaks as I was the only one working the store and would have to close to do so.  So instead often spent my lunches chatting with a customer. 

Our original store was old.  We were not sure exactly how old, but possible 200 plus years.  The floors were brick and uneven.  The plumbing was tentative and the cockroaches ruled the roost, the toilet, sink and everywhere.  One of my favorite stories happened when I was several months pregnant with Saxton.  I had just popped a bag of popcorn and set it on the counter.  It was around dinner time and I decided to keep the shop open late (this was often the case, we were supposed to close at 5 pm, but I would stay open as long as we had customers, I think my record was past ten o'clock.)  Anyway, I ran to the shop next door to let my friend know I was going to stay open longer and by the time I got back, just seconds later, there was a party in my pop-corn bag.  I didn't realize this until I reached my hand in and about a half dozen cock-roaches crawled all over it.  I screamed so loud that Saxton jumped in my belly and my neighbors came running.  Damn cock-roaches.

I loved my fellow shopkeepers.  There were about five stores all clustered together at the end of San Felipe.  We all kept watch over one another and each other company.  When my beloved dog Rockne died (I was also very pregnant during this time) my one neighbor brought me a candle.  Months later there was a creepy guy who made some scary advances on me.  My other neighbor, cowboy Tom came down and set him straight.  My children (all very little at the time) were welcome in their shops and often came out with some sort of prize.  Angel Town was right next to me and my friend Loraine kept a constant supply of fairy dust for my little ones.  They fed me, cheered me on and gave me the best advice, "all it takes is one good customer, to make one good sale, to make your day."

I had Saxton at the end of July and she came to work with me in August.  She was a big hit with the customers and many came just to see her.  After all they had gone through my whole pregnancy with me and they considered her one of their own.  As did my bosses.  They are my family. 

They supported me in sales and even my painting.  When Sage was just a baby I began getting plain shapes from Jerry, priming them and then painting on them.  I asked if I could sell them in the store and not only did he say yes, he was one of my biggest fans.  I remember the first thing I painted was this big kokopelli.  After I told him what I was thinking of selling it for, he doubled the price.  Thinking no one would pay that much I was shocked when just a few hours later this man from D.C. bought it.  Jerry was just as excited as I was when I called him to tell him of the sale.  From that point on I would often bring my paints to work and paint while it was slow.  It became common to see me outside on the curb painting and chatting with people as they passed by.  I got a lot of sales this way, getting people to stop and ask questions and then come in the store.  It was also a way to make a little extra money during slow times.  Thank you Jerry and Julie for not only making me a better sales person, but also an artist.

In July 2003 I went with them to my first wholesale show.  I remember walking up the booth at the convention center in Las Vegas and my boss Jerry saying to a customer, "here comes my A team."  For those of you reading this, who manage others, never underestimate the power of a compliment.  I have never forgotten this moment, nor any of the others where my bosses gave me encouragement, praise or compliments.  After all I was a mom of four small children most of the time, but at that moment I was someones "A team." 

I loved the shows.  We worked hard and had a lot of fun.  Often times people would ask if were family, and I began to say "yes, these are my adoptive parents."  We did shows in Vegas, L.A., Dallas and Sevierville TN (where Julie and I took on the tradition of a shot of Moonshine).  At the end of the day we would meet somewhere and chat about the shows and life.  They would worry about me when I went out on my own to explore L.A. or whatever city we were in and they would take care of me to make sure I had a nice place to stay and a full belly. 

We finished early setting up one time and headed to Venice beach.  What fun we had people watching at dinner and on the beach.  They even partook in my traditional feet-in-the-ocean-shot.  If I remember right, I  think Jerry even helped scare a bunch of seagulls so I could get a cool picture.

Funny enough, no matter how the show went, or how late we worked or how long, we always had fun.  Things at home were not always great, it was tough being a mom of four small babies and trying to make a marriage work.    But at the trade shows I was able to be me.  I had some independence and time to shine.  I was able to meet new people and gain experience in the art of a sale. 

I know not many businesses are like ours, I know not many bosses are like mine.  When I moved from New Mexico to Colorado and then to Washington, Garden Critters came with me.  I was able to continue sales and even some shows.  I was even able to come back and work at my beloved shop. 

Sage and Saxton were not the only newborns to come to work with mom.  So did Max.  In October 2010, at just a few months old, he helped me work Balloon Fiesta week and last August at just over a year, he hung out with me and brought the old playpen-at-work back to Garden Critters.  Julie and Jerry didn't care, they supported me.  Julie even saved the day during Balloon Fiesta and came in right as Max had a blow-out diaper that required an entire change and wipe down.  I think it even made it to the floor.  She didn't care, just helped clean it up. 

Jerry and Julie are good people.  They are fair and have always been an example of integrity in my eyes.  One of my favorite stories that exemplifies this is when one of my stores called me and told me they couldn't pay their bill.  The owner owed us several hundred dollars and was in tears because she couldn't pay it.  I listened as she vented about poor sales and a worsening economy (this was over five years ago and I could see the recession then.)  I called Julie and told her the story and instead of getting upset or telling me to get collections involved, she told me to see if she could pay $50 a month.  I called her back and presented this to her.  She was so grateful that she broke down in tears again and over time she paid back every dime.  People often said when I told them that story that they would have called a collection agency, but we didn't, in fact I don't think we ever have.  Now that same shop owner is back on her feet and back in business with us.  A little example of not burning bridges.

While I lived in New Mexico, I was also working for a non-profit, The Rio Rancho Education Foundation.  Every year we had a major fundraiser and Jerry and Julie helped support both my live and silent auction by both giving me plain steel to paint on and items from the store.  One year they even made several dozen chairs for our sponsorship gifts.  We aren't a big corporation with money to spare, but that never mattered, they always were willing to donate when asked.

I love Garden Critters.  I love our product and my bosses. They have been through a lot with me, new babies, moves, going to school and graduating college, a divorce and a new marriage.   Together we work as a team to make an outstanding product.  Things have been tough and we have been through a lot , but we are not giving up.  I believe we have something special and my dream is that someday our product is in shops in every state and every major city.  We have taken a break from shows, but we are jumping in feet first this August and doing the Seattle Gift Show.  I am very excited to show off our product to my new home state.  I am hopeful that the new push for American made products will help us have a successful show.  I am confident that give the chance, Garden Critter's A team will shine again!  And remember next time you are shopping for a gift or something for your home, think of us and all products that are "Made in America!"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Feed Just One

At least once a day I hear, "I'm hungry" or "I'm starving" or both.  As a mom it is my job to keep my little one's belly's full and I do.  However, I also remind them that they aren't starving, but there are children who are.  They have become used to hearing me say, "If you lived in a refugee camp in Africa you would be lucky to get one meal a day, so I think you can make it ten more minutes for your third." 

My life changed the day I stepped foot in Uganda.  I had studied Africa, I had seen hundreds of pictures and watched several documentaries and I had read several books.  But nothing prepared me for what I was about to see.  Nothing prepares you for the first time you see an orphan not even two years old wandering about by herself.  Nothing prepares you for talking with a new mom who hadn't eaten in four days even though she just gave birth.  Nothing prepares you for the distended belly's and skinny legs of all the children who are malnourished and battling parasites.

Hunger for these children is a daily occurrence.  They are truly starving.  However we can do something.  How many of you have seen one of those commercials that advertise starving children in Africa?  You wonder where will my money go?  Do these children really benefit from my donation?  Do these children even exist?

They do.  I promise.  And if you want to help I can tell you how. and are partnering to help get meals for the girls in our hostel in Hoima, Uganda.  There are currently 30 girls that live there and go to school and you can help provide them with meals.  I remember the first time I met them.  We were walking to their hostel and were still blocks away but we could already hear them.  They were singing and laughing and running towards us.  I remember they made it to Beth first, enveloping her in hugs and before I knew it I too was surrounded by love.  They didn't know me, but they greeted me as if I was a long lost sister.  They were crying and soon so was I.  It was love at first sight.  I will never forget them.  They are wonderful and beautiful!  They have been to hell and back but still smile. 

$20.  What costs $20 here?  A weeks worth of coffee?  Two movie tickets?  In Uganda $20 will by you thirty meals.  That is like feeding one girl for a month.  You are assuring her that she will eat at least one meal a day.  That is awesome!  That is a blessing and that is what you can provide by purchasing a t-shirt!  Come on!  Let's do this!!!  Let's start by at least feeding one!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dirty Rocks, pretty pebbles.

Sam, cousin Guiseppe and Savannah
seeing the Atlantic Ocean
for the first time.  FL 2004
I think for me one of the most important parts of the healing process is not forgetting the bad memories, it's letting go of them.  There is a difference.  It is a lot harder to let go of something.  When you forget something, you lose it.  You may happen upon it sometime later, maybe at an inopportune time or you may lose it completely. Yes, you would lose all the negative things associated with that item (I am referring to memories in case you are not following my random train of thought), but you will also lose all the good things as well.

When you let things go, you let go what you want, on your terms.  For instance, think of a dirty rock.  Have you ever picked through rocks at the beach?  They are often covered in slime, maybe sea-weed or dirt and sand, but when you wash the rock off you realize it is a beautiful pebble, round and sometimes colorful.  Although the pebble has been through some storms and tossed around, it still exists and those rough points and sharp edges are now gone. 

As I sort through all my memories from the time I was married with my ex, I take this analogy in mind.  I throw back the rough rocks, they aren't ready, I take the round pebbles however, clean them off and save them.  I store them in a container to occasionally look at and appreciate.

My ex and I were married for twelve years and we had some really rough times, however, I am not going to lie and say that everyday was miserable, because it wasn't.  I am not going to say all my memories are painful, because they aren't.  We raised four beautiful children together and they are my most beautiful pebbles. 

If I let go of everything, then I let go of the time Sam called a full Lobster, Chicken.  We were in Maine and eating fresh lobster, Sam turned to me and said, "mmmm, this Chicken is good."  The lobster, eyes, pincher's and all, was a bit offended, but I smiled.  During this same trip we were driving through the marine layer trying to find this beach.  Sam asked if we were under water, I said yes, we were.  When we found the beach Sam got out and ran through the fog that made it hard to distinguish the sky from the water.  He then yelled to Savannah and said, "Savannah, I can breath under water!" 

That same trip we were at a laundry mat.  We met a blood-worm farmer who the kids and I were just fascinated with.  Saxton, not quite two, also got the biggest kick out of watching her blanket go round and round.  She wouldn't take her eyes off of it for a second. We drove through and saw 22 states that trip and I am not going to throw those memories away. 

I would lose the memory of Savannah's sixth birthday, when we were in Florida with my Ex's family.  Grandma had the little ones and Sam was with his dad.  Just Savannah and I were walking the beach and looking for shells.  I remember finding some tide pools and just being fascinated with her at all the little creatures that lived there.  She was so cute and excited.  Later on in that same trip we went and visited a sea turtle rehabilitation center.  We learned how garbage hurts the sea turtles.  Savannah took this information, stored it away and several days later remembered it.  She saw some garbage on the beach and she put it in her bucket to throw away properly, she didn't want the sea turtles to get hurt.

That same trip we went to Disney World for the day.  Seven adults, a six year old, five year old, four year old,  three two year olds and a nine month old made for a long day.  But I will never forget Sage breaking away from me to go hug the monkey from Lion King.  She was this little minute, and innocent to the fact that you had to wait in line or have a special autograph book.  All she wanted was to hug the monkey.  I won't forget Savannah on Space Mountain, riding in the very first car and me sitting behind her holding her hands up the whole time.  I wouldn't forget those memories ever!

My ex and I took a lot of road trips.  We traveled to over thirty states with our littles.  I have hundreds of precious memories from those trips as my children saw some of our countries most amazing landmarks for the first time.  I don't want to ever forget those memories, so I will just wash off what I need to,  and find something that is beautiful.