Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stroke of Midnight Design | Dad's story

My dad turns 58 today.

In my mind both of my parents are still young - Late 30s early 40s. Then I realize that later this year my older sister will turn 30. Her first child, my niece, will be born this August. And every now and then, when the light hits them a certain way, I realize that my parents aren't as young as they used to be.

Dad will always be young at heart and an old curmudgeon all at the same time. He always has been. But time is passing. Time has been a big theme for him as of late. For my entire life he's been a repair man. He's always been able to pull things apart and find what's broken. Recently, he's returned to his passion for fixing things and started a business fixing antique clocks. His hands are his life. But, one day about 8 years ago, the unthinkable happened. A massive stroke brought on by an aneurysm. Time stopped.

It was summer. I was a few months shy of 20 and working at Disneyland. My sister had just graduated from USC and was to be married in a little over a month. I still think of that summer as the year my childhood ended.

When he first called me I didn't think that anything was wrong. He sounded tired but he said he would see me on Monday for our usual father, daughter movie date. But then he called again a few hours later. Asking if I knew our family doctor's home phone number. And I knew something was very wrong. I won't go into the drama of that night. Trying to get someone, anyone, to tell me what had happened to my dad. Driving an hour and a half from Riverside to to Lakewood, praying that we would get there in time. Praying that there wasn't a need to get there "in time."

When I finally did see him, it was a complete shock. It seems like a cliche when people say that loved-ones look small in hospital beds. But it's true. He looked like a child. I'd never seen him look so vulnerable. He spoke slowly and deliberately. He tried to be brave, but he was terrified. I was terrified.

The stroke left him nearly paralyzed on his right side. His speech was terribly slurred. I had to repeat back everything he said to be so that I could be sure what I was hearing was what he was saying. And my father, the rock that I had only seen cry twice in my entire life until that point, was an emotional wreck. The aneurysm had occurred deep in the center of his brain. It effected the speech, coordination, comprehension and emotional centers of his brain. One minute he might be sobbing like his heart was breaking and the next he might start laughing so hard he would turn a scary shade of reddish, purple.

The day after the stroke was probably the worst. Over night the effects of his trauma set in to the fullest extent they ever would. He had walked into the hospital of his own accord. But by the next morning he couldn't even stand. His speech worsened. And his right hand curled up into a claw like shape that only now, 8 years later, is starting to regain it's former movement.

It was tempting for him to just sit back and let what had happened defeat him. But for one, very important, thing. He had six weeks to get up and start moving again so he could walk my sister down the aisle.

Those six weeks were a constant battle for him. He fought depression, family members who thought he was pushing himself to hard and his own tired body to take those first few steps. They hurt and they were slow and unsteady. But they came. First only out of bed. Then to the door. Then down the hallway. Always slowly. Always with help. But he did it.

On August 23rd, 2003 my sister walked down the aisle. Beautiful in a white dress with a bouquet of white roses and orchids in one hand and my father's elbow in the other. We decorated his cane with a bow tie and orchids, per his request. Many of us cried; he smiled, serenely content to know that he had conquered his challenge.

Later that day we asked him how he did it. I had been worried that he wouldn't be able to stop crying that day, but by the end of the night he was tired but had not shed one tear. When I asked him, he smiled mischievously and told me that anytime he'd been tempted to cry, in his mind he a had started singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."

It's been 8 years since that summer. He lives independently and takes very good care of his home. To walk into his apartment you wouldn't realize that it's the home of a bachelor. The one thing he's been missing all this time was a purpose. He just didn't know what to do with his life since his early retirement. Then, a few months ago, he got his hands on an old clock. He was nervous that his hands wouldn't be able to do what he needed them to do to get the "old girl" chiming again. But with time, patience and some work he fixed what was broken and he couldn't have been happier when those chimes rang out.

When I told Boyfriend that my dad was fixing clocks again a wide grin spread over his face. When I asked him why he looked so pleased with himself he said to me, "I know what he should call his business."

Intrigued I asked him what it was.

"Stroke of Midnight."

Dad has a weird sense of humor. So does Boyfriend. They click on that level. Dad was thrilled with the name.

Of course, now that he has a name he needs business cards. That's where I come in. I've been working on concepts for these for a few weeks now. For his birthday he gets to choose the design he likes. For Father's Day he'll have the cards in hand, ready to go.

These are the designs I came up with for him. I know which one I would want him to choose, but we'll see what happens.

Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you. 

- Nic

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Growing up, it was usually "just us girls."

My father is a wonderful man who has had an active and caring role in my life no matter what. But after the divorce my sister and I really spent the vast majority of our time with our Mom.

I often describe my mom as a little, blonde ball of sunshine. She is the sweetest, most caring and adorable woman I've ever met. She held us when we cried, cheered for our successes and taught us to be strong, independent women.

This is the woman that would rent old musicals and sit with me on the couch as we watched Gene Kelly dance across the screen. This is the woman who told me I could do anything I put my mind to so long as I applied myself. This is the woman who drove out to my apartment in the middle of the night to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay when I had an absolute melt down after breaking up with my boyfriend of six years. Even though I was 26 years old at  the time.

When my sister and I would fight she wouldn't take sides. When we got along she found ways to bring us closer together. She made sure we had the chance to travel. She made sure we appreciated the world around us at home. My mom took me to Balboa Park for the first time and when I fell in love with the place she kept driving me out there.

My mother is a strong enough woman to be strict when she needed to be. She made sacrifices to make sure that her two girls never went hungry or went to the first day of school without new shoes. She continues to keep watch over us and make sure we're taken care of even though we are edging towards 28 and 30.

She is the strongest, bravest, most creative and wonderful person I know. I am so lucky to have her.

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!

I love you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Etsy Marketing 101 | Service with a Smile

Some of you may have seen on my Etsy profile or elsewhere that I reside in beautiful, southern California.

Anaheim to be exact.

And while I do my best to make Anaheim even more awesome than it is, there's something here that makes the place "magical". A certain theme park known as "The Happiest Place on Earth."

Seeing as said theme park is one of the largest employers in southern California I may or may not have worked for them at some point. (Twice.)

First off I have to say that working at one of the most popular destinations in the United States will teach you a lot of lessons. You learn how to say no with a smile. You can take a child from screaming tantrum to blissed-out joy in under 6.5  seconds. And you may pick up a thing or two about customer service.

My years of serving the mouse were hard work, even though running around with the characters and helping them interact with the guests sounds like a walk in the park. And I learned a lot about how to turn a bad situation into a shining example of *ahem* Schmisney magic.

So what makes their service so great? What's the secret ingredient? And how can you make that work for you?

First off - Smile! Okay so clearly if you're interacting with people over the internet they aren't going to know if you're smiling or not. But don't be afraid to let a little bit of your personality show. Sure, you're selling a product and you want your customers to take you seriously. But if they have a great interaction with you and get to know you as a person they are so much more likely to come back. And bring friends even! Being friendly and personable never made any business transaction worse.

Be enthusiastic! This one rolls into the one above but takes it to the next step. If you're blase about receiving an order that doesn't make your customer feel very special. Thank them for their purchase. Ask them if there is anything else you can help them with. Maybe they have a special request for a minor change - be gracious and never treat a request as a burden.

While we would like our buyers to respect us, does it always cross our minds to respect the buyer? They've given us  their money (or are considering it) for an item that they are trusting us to deliver, intact and on time. Make sure to respect their time and offer timely responses to inquiries. If you don't have time to give an entire answer at least shoot them an email acknowledging that you got their note and you'll get back to them at a later time. And try to be specific about when you'll get back to them if you can. Nothing is more annoying than waiting to hear from someone with no idea when or if they'll ever respond.

The thing our friends in Anaheim are best known for are their efforts to go above and beyond. This is a lesson that has stayed with me since I first started working there as a freshly graduated senior from high school. Even if it's just something little like putting a hand written thank you note in a customer's shipment. It's all the little things that add up.

For my shop it's easy to go the extra mile. Every item is customized for the particular customer. I like to offer a little something extra for each person I work with. Whether it's a second version of the file with alternative color combinations or just some extra help getting their files printed.

Taking that time to treat each person as if they were your most important customer helps them to remember who you are and keeps them coming back for more.

Meanwhile I'll leave you with a statistic - the average person will tell 2 or 3 people if they have a good experience working with a seller. If they have a bad experience they'll tell 7-10. If you go out of your way to go the extra mile and show them how much you appreciate their business, that's when they can't stop talking about you. And for a small business, word of mouth is your best marketing strategy!

Until Next Time - Nic