The Reluctant Entrepreneurs

It was summer in the early 90’s. My dad did not want us sitting around, frittering our summer away watching mindless tv while waiting for our friends to come out and play. So he sat us down and presented us with an opportunity.

“I want you two to start a business. I will give you start-up money and it can be whatever you want.”

Now, there is a motto my dad had for us kids that you need to know: “You are free to make your own choices, but if you make the wrong choice, I will make it for you.” It was our safety net growing up. I see that now. At the time, we saw it as cruel mockery.

In other words, if Dad said to start a business, we were starting a business whether we wanted to or not.

My sister and I did not want to start a business.

Nevertheless, we dragged our feet and hemmed and hawed over what to do. Our “Shark” investor, aka Dad (Who will be known for the rest of this story as “Daddy Shark”. Just kidding.) pressed us until we finally committed to starting up a business making the most 90’s accessory out there- scrunchies.

The Proprietors years later…

Mom took us material shopping and got out the ol’ Kenmore sewing machine. Dad made scrunchie holders to present our wares. We even had a deal with our hair stylist to sell our product… it was a venture primed for success.

We were only missing a name. This was still extremely unexciting to us, but we had to come up with something. Anything. We both liked the hymn “Face to Face.” There is a line in the song that says, “Far beyond the starry skies…” Or was it because of the famous artwork of the notorious Vincent Van Gogh? I don’t exactly recall, but Starry Sky Scrunchies would forever be emblazoned in our memories.

So our days went like this: Wake up. Eat. Cut out and sew scrunchies while watching Matlock or Andy Griffith or Beverly Hillbillies. Eat lunch. Play with friends. Repeat.

The part of the day called “cut out and sew scrunchies” was not relished. Cutting material and elastic. Sewing and figuring out how to close the end. It was something we did because we had to- we had an investor and distributor to think of, after all. But we did it with the gusto of a toothless man trying to eat corn nuts.

I think I can safely say we hated it. We were so unenthusiastic about it that our production rate was maybe, MAYBE, 5 scrunchies a day. With my expanded knowledge of sewing, I know now we could have easily pumped out 4 to 5 times that amount in a morning.

Lack of motivation is all it takes to make a successful business model a complete failure. Our hearts weren’t in it. I don’t know how long that hairstylist left our scrunchies in her shop, but we didn’t sell many. They were really ugly.

Eventually my Dad let up on us. We should have been embarrassed or disappointed in ourselves, but we were only relieved. We were not entrepreneurs.

So let’s fast forward about 7ish years. My dad decided to start his own business- a sign company. We learned how to look at signs from an early age and were glad to help him get started.

We drove around picking up neon, looking for broken signage in need of repairs, mastering fear of heights in a bucket truck. I was once handed a book bigger than any college textbook I ever had, and told me to learn graphic design. Ha. Ha.

But I watched and learned as he worked so hard to provide for us and build this dream with God’s leading. He made it work when it looked like failure because he wanted it to succeed. He cared.

Dad always knows how to make us laugh.

My sister would eventually get married and move away, but I stayed. I remember telling my Dad before I got married, “I am done working for the family business.” I am no entrepreneur, remember? I’m pretty sure I even brought up Starry Sky Scrunchies.

But my husband caught the bug. He had the drive. He had the willingness to learn. So my Dad took a chance on a bike mechanic with a college degree in Health and Fitness.

This will be their 17th year together. It has had its ups and downs, but God has been so unbelievably good to us. And yes, I still play a part in this 20 year old venture, albeit small.

Those epic fails as a kid helped me for this life I live now. I now know if motivation wanes, business will fail. I now know that putting all of yourself into a project is a rewarding experience. I now know when an opportunity is handed to you, you owe it to the giver and yourself to give it your all.

This is just one lesson of many Dad has taught me over the years. Some lessons I had to learn over and over and some took right away. And right now, I am watching my Dad- our business partner, the Scrunchie Shark- fight for his life as cancer is trying incorporate his body. I am still learning from him.

While I am still no entrepreneur, I am willing to take what he has given to our family and give it my all. I may not be able to weld, or wire, or even operate a crane, but I can cheer and motivate and send invoices.

Who knows? Maybe I will start making scrunchies again… I hear they are back on trend.

I Got My Airplane Scene…

We hadn’t seen each other in seven months. And even when we were in each other’s company, I hadn’t really talked to him much. Here I was though, on Valentine’s Day, opening a package he sent me. It didn’t seem like something special to most people- a video of our missions trip to Ireland and a tape he made of some shows I could watch since my family didn’t have cable TV.

But I knew something was there because it was a thoughtful gesture. Most guys don’t put that much thought in a present for a girl they aren’t dating. I knew this guy was different.

So 16 years ago, I called a friend from college who lived near where Stephen went to school. Her family was gracious enough to let me stay with them (and of course visit my friend at the same time). So I bought a plane ticket and went to see this guy who sent me seashells from his home and emailed me everyday.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

When I told him I was coming, he was clearly excited. He wanted to plan my whole trip- meeting his grandparents and visiting him at school and going to soccer games and hiking and…. I had to remind him that I was visiting my college friend.

So I flew to South Carolina. Met him at a bagel shop and went hiking. We went on our first date at Macaroni Grill, where he just smiled at me the whole time. Ate with his grandparents, who he was living with at the time. Went to his soccer game. Walked in the park. Went shopping, even.

There’s just one thing about all this that was off- I had no idea where we stood as a couple. He never told me he liked me. Were we just friends or more than friends? Were we dating? Was there a future in all this? That is why I had come to visit. I didn’t feel these were things to discuss over the phone.

The night before returning home, my friend and I watched him play in a soccer game. After, we went to Steak n Shake for a snack, and then it was time to say goodbyes because my flight departed mid-morning and Stephen had classes.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Can I just say that goodbyes are always awkward for me? Do you hug or shake hands or just wave? Kick that feeling up a notch and that is where I was as we walked out to the parking lot. He opened his truck door and pulled out a gift and a card.

What?

“It’s just a thank you gift for coming to visit.”

At this point I wasn’t sure what to think. Either he liked me a lot and was too nervous to say anything, or this was a non-verbal declaration. I now know that since he is a man of few words, it was the latter.

In this pivotal moment, I was a little irked though.

“I don’t think I can accept this.”

Stephen’s face was in shock. I don’t know that I’ve seen him that shocked since then.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know under what pretense I am accepting this. You don’t normally give people a ‘thank you for visiting gift.’”

“I don’t know what you want me to say. I like you a lot.”

Hmmm. That made things slightly little clearer. He looked like a tortured soul who finally broke after water boarding. So what does this ridiculous redhead do?

“That’s what I needed to know. I like you too.”

And I got in my friend’s car and left him standing in the parking lot.

Yup.

That whole night, I barely slept a wink. I was leaving South Carolina in the morning with so many unknowns still. And I knew I had been an absolute jerk. Cell phones were still a luxury item at that point, so I couldn’t call him.

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

My friend dropped me at the airport and left. I had a little extra time before leaving, so I didn’t go through security right away, but I was heading in that direction.Then I heard a man say my name.

It was Stephen.

He came to say a better goodbye and to elaborate on his confession the night before. We sat down at the gate, and he told me that he really, really liked me. That he knew I was special and he was almost for certain we were going to get married someday.

I was pretty much flying before I even boarded the plane.

Awhile ago, I read an article telling women that airplane scenes do not happen. And while I agree with the sentiment, that sometimes we expect too much from our guys and they can’t live up to our lofty expectations, every now and then reality can be better than fiction. It’s okay to enjoy the moment when it happens.

So many people ask how we met, and while that is a great story, the account I just shared is my favorite. It shows just a glimpse of how our lives would be, 16 years and 7 kids later. Sharing his feelings can be like a tooth extraction on a shark, but when he does- he leaves no question as to his love. And sometimes my true redhead tendencies come out in cruel ways.

And I share this with you, dear readers, because I want you to know something this Valentine’s Day: Despite all the jaded nay-sayers who rail on about Hallmark holidays, romance is not dead. Sometimes it is just as awkward and funny and sweet as the rom-com’s make it out to be.

Too Big for My Britches… Literally.

I’m pretty sure I know where all the pregnant mamas in Wisconsin go during the winter to have a good time. I saw most of them, with their little ones and husbands, splashing around and keeping careful eyes on their children. They go to the Dells, with their massive indoor waterparks.

Obviously I can be counted among their number, and I truly felt among friends as we all enjoyed the water therapy without the body shaming that summer brings with the skinny minny beach bods. Pretty sure this summer will be me wondering when all the water weight will depart, let alone any meaningful weight loss at all. If I can conjure a coherent thought altogether, which might take a full year….

Well, even with all the unspoken cameraderie among these expectant mothers, I felt like… like a fish out of water. Or a beached whale, more like. I am clearly, above all, larger than the others. Twins will do that to you.


Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t bother me. I have been blessed with healthy pregnancies, and, for now, this is no exception. I don’t take that for granted and am incredibly thankful. I am aware that there are many moms out there who wish they were in my place. But that is another post for another time.

I look at myself and my life much like Lizzy and her father do in Pride and Prejudice.

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?

I have the gift of being able to not take myself seriously, and therefore can enjoy these funny moments without low self-image or insult. I mean, lines can be crossed, but it takes a lot.

So on with my story.

I’m starting to get used to the questions and responses to twins. I get it. It’s uncommon and interesting and emotion is difficult to conceal in the moment. The funny thing about this week, though, was that no one talked or asked questions. 

It was the looks that were amusing. The double-take was most common. I even got bulging eyes. Step asides, cause, you know, I take a lot of room up these days. Plus, it seemed to be contagious, with all the other expectant moms present. I did see some fear-as in afraid that I would give birth right then and there.


My favorite response was in a restaurant bathroom. 

This bathroom was not designed well at all. The sink was right next to the door. So, if you were washing your hands and another person wanted to leave, you had to either wait or ask permission from a perfect stranger to leave the facilities. 

An older woman noticed the poor layout while I was washing up and joked about how the owners must have been trying to save money. 

I laughed. Not a “hahaha” laugh, but a polite singular “ha”.

She jumped. “Are you going to be okay? Do I need to get someone?”

She mistook my demure chuckle for a labor groan.

“No, no, I’m fine.”

What’s the best way to laugh when you look like you are going to pop, but aren’t even close? I guess I’ll have to work on that. 

Some serious thought will have to be put into certain things I usually take for granted during gestation. The waddle came earlier. My love for tunics and comfortable clothes probably doesn’t help the big aspect. Maybe I need to reconsider the chair flop or foot prop. 

Or, perhaps, I will just sit back and enjoy the show… 

Nothing Comes Easy: The Road Trip

Ah, the road trip. If you could sum up my adult life with two words, I think they would be “road trip.” From moment I said “I do” to my tall, dark and handsome guy until this very moment, road trips have taken up a significant portion of my life.

And I am not complaining. These journeys have purpose. We see family. We explore new places. We visit friends. Hey, we even put up signs on road trips. I love traveling.

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But there is one scenario I am not particularly fond of… sleeping in a car. And yet, this situation keeps popping up in my life.

The first was on our honeymoon. That’s right. Our honeymoon. That time where we get to luxuriate. We had just finished up a busy day in Washington D.C. and were foolish enough to think that we could drive straight through to Wisconsin.

But we weren’t. And we were in The-Middle-of -Nothing, PA. So we found a truck stop to sleep at. Except, it wasn’t a Flying-J or a Loves or Road Ranger. Nope. It was a poorly lit weigh station miles off the highway. Like something you see in a horror movie. No, I am not exaggerating.

We put up towels in the windows and went to sleep. Well, Stephen slept. I was wide awake all night with the bright lights of the semis appearing every few minutes. And the fear that a murderous trucker would break the window and pull us out to our deaths at any moment. Like I said, Stephen slept well….

And that was just a glimmer into our future together…

Sleeping in a wayside is creepy. And uncomfortable. I am a light sleeper, and Stephen will sleep through the zombie apocalypse. So guess who gets NO BENEFIT from sleeping in a car? That’s right, me.

The catch-22 is neither of us is terrific at night time driving. I get blindness and Stephen just falls asleep… cause that’s what you do at night. If you are not a zombie.

So the privilege of sleeping in our vehicle has happened several times through the years. We do our best to book a hotel or whatever is necessary to avoid rest area slumber parties.

The next incident would come at another vulnerable time in our lives. I was two and a half weeks post-partum with our beautiful little Meredith, heading down to spend Christmas with the family. Excited to introduce our precious girl to her grandparents, aunts, uncles…

Stephen miscalculated again. So we stopped at this beautiful rest area in Tennessee. It really was lovely. Just not at 2 in the morning. With a newborn and a 2 year old. Okay, the nursing momma didn’t help either.

I nursed the baby after we stopped. Stephen fell asleep. Natalie was asleep. Meredith soon fell back to sleep. I thought, “This just might work!” Aaaannndd…. then Natalie awoke. Most of you know, a 2 year old in a car seat in a car going nowhere is akin to waterboarding. She was utterly awake and protesting the barbaric conditions she was being exposed to. I didn’t blame her.

Poor Stephen, knowing that he would get no sleep otherwise, drove to his grandparents in SC. I was asking him if he was still awake every 5 minutes.

We have grown wiser in these later years. Hotels are considered a necessity to our success in getting anywhere more than 10 hours away. We usually find something along the way, and in the age of Trip Advisor and Trivago, we have no problem finding decent places to rest.

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This year, we were going to celebrate Stephen’s grandpa’s 90th birthday. It’s a pretty big deal.

I checked into hotels a month out, just to see what we were dealing with, and noticed they were booking up fast.

“We might want to consider planning ahead this trip.” I said.

“I’m sure we will find something. We always do.” My dear husband said.

A month later, we are off. This route is a very common one, so we have favorite places to stay. I checked on my phone.

“ONE ROOM LEFT!!”

“5 ROOMS BOOKED THIS HOUR!!”

And the dreaded red line.

Prices were steep.

“Keep looking. There’s got to be something more reasonable.”

“There was… a month ago.”

Stephen kept driving like a trooper. Midnight rolled around. He was exhausted, as was I. We started calling any hotel available.

Nada. All booked up along the I75 corridor. And it’s 1 in the morning.

Guess what our next stop was? That’s right, our home away from home… The Tennessee Welcome Center Rest Stop.

Now, for those of you who are unaware, every last one of my children is very tall for their age. My 11 year old is the size of an adult, and my 9 year old is not far behind. This is very different than a newborn and a two year old. And even though we have the luxurious space of a Honda Odyssey, reclining is still a challenge. No, it is nigh impossible. Especially for children who have been stuck together in a car for ten hours.

“Get off my leg!”

“You are NOT sleeping there!!”

“That was my spot!”

“I have to go to the bathroom… who’s coming with me?”

“SHHH!!! You are going to wake up the baby.”

At this point I was informed by my free-spirited spouse that I had lost my sense of adventure. I informed him that it was removed over the course of five labor and deliveries.

And alas, like an alarm clock, the baby awoke. Because, that is what must happen. And now it is 2 in the morning.

She’s not tired in the least.

So out we go. Fortunately, there was a trooper in the welcome center all night long, so it was a relatively safe environment to let the little squirt get her wiggles out. At 3am, she was showing no signs of slowing down and the room of brochures was becoming a stumbling block.

And let’s be honest. My spiritual state at this time was not stellar.

Around 5 I was finally able to doze off and on for two hours. I awoke to a beautiful mountain sunrise and a happy husband.

“Isn’t this a beautiful view?”

Yeah. It was. But two hours of sleep do not make one inclined to gratitude. And Sophie had just turned 8 years old in a minivan. Happy Birthday!

We decided breakfast would improve our morale, so we entered IHOP. The waitress asked, “Did you travel all night?”

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I’m sure we looked like a hot mess with blood-shot eyes.

“In a sense….”

By the time we arrived at Grandpa’s party, we had found a place to sleep with real beds, gotten showered and resembled humans again. But most importantly, we were still able to laugh. And yes, once again, we sat around with loved ones we came specifically to see and shared our tale of another trip gone awry.

Because nothing comes easy? It passes through the generations…

Fist-Bumping Babies

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After parenting for over a decade, it is down right crazy how trends change. With my first baby, we bought our first digital camera. We thought we were so cool. Now, you are not really cool unless you have a DSLR… or something like that. Or else, our smartphones take quick shots for us. Funny thing is, my phone’s camera is waaaay better than my first digital camera ever was.

With my first baby, we were careful to follow every single unnecessary thing the experts said. By baby five, I have learned that a changing table just takes up space and shoes are just not worth it until they start walking.

No more normal strollers… we all have joggers. (I love mine by the way!!) Plastic is now the devil. Make your own food is in, and please, only muslin will do for my baby. (Just kidding. I buy soft material to make blankets and never get around to it. So they just get used as blankets with no hemming. Deconstructed blankets. Trend officially started.)

It’s funny how times have changed.

But the most profound difference to me is in what my baby learns. Granted, she has so so many “teachers” that love nothing more than to show her the ropes of life. When my first was born, my little brother would work on “high fives” with her. Now, my own kids teach their baby sister the “fist bump.”

I like the fist bump for many reasons. First, it’s hygenic. Much better than a full on hand of mud or boogers or gummed up graham crackers. I’m sure that many viruses have not been spread by implementing the fist bump.

I also like it for the lack of pain involved. Kids learn fast how to smack that hand hard. And theirs are so chubby it doesn’t phase them. As for me, my hands are the trimmest part of by body. Real bummer.

Then there’s the appearance. A baby looks so chill holding out their fist waiting for the bump. It’s like “Power to the People” in an adorable, non-menacing way.

As of church nursery yesterday, my Evie and her friend Elijah have started fist bumping each other. It is adorable watching two one-and-a-half year olds try to knock knuckles. I know it will invariably turn into punching, but we will cross that road when we get there. At least right now, they look chill.

I wonder what another decade will hold. Perhaps Evelyn will be teaching her nieces and nephews the “high one”. Or maybe they will just give a gangsta nod by that point. We may not really make any human contact at all by that time, with how addicted we all are to our screens. Anything is possible.

 

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