Monday, February 26, 2007

The Oscars

Hooray! Little Miss Sunshine won Best Original Screenplay and Alan Arkin won Best Supporting Actor. And Ellen was just on fire.

I could go on and on. I don’t think there’s nearly enough post-Oscar analysis in the world.

I mean, how much real work gets done on the Monday after Superbowl, when men all across the country gather at water coolers, either reliving the glory of victory or helping each other get through the pain of defeat. As a woman in the working world, I found that I had to at least feign enough interest to know who was playing in the Superbowl, and who in the office was rooting for whom. As a woman married to a man, I find that I might have to sit through not only one, but sometimes two loops of ESPN to appropriately celebrate key victories.

And yet, on Oscar Monday, I often find myself in meeting after meeting with men who don’t even care whether I was excited or crushed that Helen Mirrin (looking fabulous!) edged out Meryl Streep and Penelope Cruz. Worst of all, they don't even know enough to ask.

Men of the working world, hear this: if you work in a mixed gender environment, it is your duty to educate yourself on the Oscars - at least enough to engage in polite post-awards-ceremony banter with your colleagues. Watch the Joan Rivers Red Carpet Show, and have a point of view about Camerion Diaz’s dress (we’ve seen worse). Or hair (we’ve seen better). Watch the Oprah post-Oscar show for highlights and juicy gossip about the Vanity Fair party. For bonus points, talk about how unfair it is that Kate Winslet has been nominated five times, and is still yet to win. In today’s internet era, ignorance of the awards is not a defense.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Executing a simple concept . . .

I started off with what I thought was a simple concept – I wanted to create a place where women could come together to hang out, gather and connect while engaging in the very best, customized manis and pedis.

But in order to enable friends to be able to talk to each other without yelling their most private secrets across the room, we had to custom design new chairs that could move to accommodate parties of 1, 2, 3 or more.

Then we had to custom design pedicure ottomans that worked with the chairs to provide comfortable seating and good ergonomics for our vernisseurs.

Because the ottomans needed to move with the chairs, we couldn’t tie them down to a faucet and drain. So we will have to put sinks on the service floor where our vernisseurs could fill pitchers of water for pedicures. To put the sinks on the floor, we will have to pay for “core drilling” and “structural x-rays”. We will also have to put a sanitizer in the back to sanitize our foot bath bowls.

With so many moving pieces of furniture on the floor (all to facilitate guest bonding), we needed to move the task lighting overhead (this also helped us to avoid tripping over floor lamp cords).

Now I’m trying to figure out an affordable task lighting solution that can move and bend to shine down wherever in our space our guest’s toes choose to be. All while keeping lighting levels a comfortable “living room” level (avoiding the “operating room” feel). And looking beautiful.

But it’s worth all this effort to create a place that I’d be excited about sharing with my mom, sisters, girlfriends, and colleagues.

And I’m just waiting for the lighting company to tell me that I need to ride an elephant across the jungle to find the right materials to build my swivel lighting, which will enable my flexible task lighting, which will enable guests to sit in any configuration they desire, which will enable friends to hang out and chat.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Caring about health care

Last week I started to delve into how I can provide health care benefits to Julep employees, and I am overwhelmed.

I knew the health care system was broken in this country, but having had the good fortune of working for large companies with good benefits, I have to admit that I have been sheltered from the extent of the damage.

I start with the basic premise that, in a country with our level of wealth, people who work hard should be able to see a doctor when they, or their children, are sick. Growing up in Canada, we were always able to see a doctor when we needed to, even though my parents worked hourly jobs and then ran a small business. We never had to choose between groceries and health care.

In a nutshell, it seems to me that we as a nation must be more vested in maintaining the illusion that we’re not paying for other people’s health care than in actually lowering health care costs. We are paying a premium to be able to pretend that problems don’t exist.

Because I know that the $275 per person per month I was quoted (to provide 80% coverage with a $200 deductible) includes the hidden cost of providing expensive emergency room health care for the 42.6 million Americans (10 million of whom are children) who do not have other alternatives.

As a business owner, I think I would feel better if this was broken out for me. How much of my premium actually goes to serving my employees? How much of it goes to support the maze of crazy administration? How much would it be to pay for a more open, rational system that covered more people?

I want to do my share. But I also want to understand what that share is, how it’s being allocated, and what it’s being used for.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Scissor Sisters - I Don't Feel Like Dancing

Skiing and dancing to Scissor Sisters

We just came back from a great ski trip to Colorado with some friends from law school, and I’m settling back into my basement (the heater is still taking a while to warm up, so I’m in my husband’s old Gap jacket that he hasn’t worn for a decade, the only warm thing I could find down here, since I don’t want to go back upstairs and upset the breakfast that my kids are having with my nanny).

I haven’t yet figured out how to enjoy a vacation while in this new role of starting up my own business. I actually talked to my father about it, thinking that he might have some words of wisdom for me since he used to work seven days a week in his convenience store without any vacation for years. His advice went something like, “Why you worried? No salary, right?” It wasn’t very helpful. (Any better advice would be most appreciated).

I’m used to checking e-mail and keeping things going while on vacation, but I’ve also been better at shutting down for most of the day and just enjoying the time with my family than I was during the first couple of days of this trip.

But I had planned to have a lease signed and just be waiting to start up construction when I first scheduled this time away.

Instead, I am still working through some issues with the space (namely, an unexpectedly large and ugly duct that appeared on the ceiling one day), and have some other hard decisions and conversations looming over me. Nothing that couldn’t wait a day or two, but also nothing that I could escape, even during late night card games after dancing to the Scissor Sisters’ most poorly named song, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing.”

When I left Starbucks, one of my mentors there told me that the toughest thing about this experience would be the inability to talk openly with my spouse about the worries on my mind. Because it is unfair to ask for the financial and emotional sacrifices you require while also burdening him with the concerns. Because the concerns, each taken individually, are rather small and unworthy of disrupting limited family time. But he neglected to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Scissor Sisters song without worrying about how my reception desk would look.

The last couple of days were better – perhaps because I’d had some time to decompress, perhaps because it was the weekend, and nothing more could get done anyway, and perhaps because my husband pointed out that I was being impatient with everyone, including my five-year old son who wanted nothing more than to impress me with his snowplow. Also in large part because of my wonderful, supportive friends, and several cases of great wine.

Thank you Renata and Nick! And Becky, Stu, Camy, Lisa, Jerry, Liza (and Mary Lee and Carter too). And my lovely family. Maybe I’ll do better next year . . . if I’m invited back.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hollywood (Toronto) Here We Come

I didn’t watch the Superbowl on Sunday because I spent the day taping an audition video for the HGTV show, “Opening Soon: By Design.” (But I probably wouldn’t have watched the Superbowl anyway).

I wrote about my obsession with “OSBD” (as they call it in the biz) a couple of weeks ago in my blog (it’s a reality show that tracks the exiting world of retail start-ups – from Day 1 of construction through opening day). The morning after I put up that posting, my architects, Tom and Rob, e-mailed me a link to the “casting call” page for the show.

They’ve got to pick us, right? How can anyone have a better story?
- I’m nice!
- My kids are darling. (On the audition video, they make charming suggestions like, “How about black Batman nails?” (my 5 year old son), and “How about Batman PRINCESS nails?” (my 2 year old daughter)).
- We’ve got a spectacular space design!
- We’ve got beautiful, custom designed furniture!
- We’ve got an amazing idea! (Reinventing the glamour and social ritual of the neighborhood beauty parlor)!
- We’ve got loads of dramatic tension! (Most of it being stored in my back until we can release it).
- And did I mention I’m nice?

My friend Shari and her husband Ben and their one year old daughter Caroline and I tooled about Seattle on Sunday, filming our story. Speaking into a video camera (even for a VERY limited audience!) was a lot more awkward than I’d anticipated. But, as awesome girlfriends do, Shari got me through it with her perceptive directing skills.

So we have our fingers crossed. If you know anyone at OSBD (at Red Apple Entertainment in Toronto), please put in a good word for us.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Exfoliation - Not Just For Your Face Anymore

Over the past year, I’ve been searching high and low for the most effective, highest quality lotions for Julep (my basement is a garden of different colored lotion bottles).

When I started out evaluating samples, all of the lotions felt more or less the same to me. Some were lighter than others, and some smelled better than others, but they all provided a temporary coat of slipperyness that made it difficult to pick up my afternoon martini safely.

Then I started evaluating exfoliating scrubs, and everything changed. After using a scrub like Uspa’s Bamboo Polish, I was able to tell the difference between lotions that just sat on the top of my skin versus the ones that penetrated and absorbed. My eyes, and pores, have been opened. My cuticles stopped peeling, and I could feel the effects of some of my samples hours after an application.

Now I exfoliate my hands daily. Karri and I are still in the process of working out our product line, but one thing I’m sure about is the need to offer a great exfoliator both in our services and in our “take-home” offerings.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Surviving nanny sick days

When the phone rings before 8am, my heart sinks to my stomach and tears start welling up in my eyes because I just know it’s my nanny calling in sick.

I love my nannies (I have the great fortune of having two wonderful women who job share and work alternating days for us - I'm always quick to add that explanation to ensure no mistaken impression of a full-fledged household staff). They are loving, smart, energetic, and endlessly patient. They are passionate and dedicated child-care professionals with creative problem-solving ideas. I have not a shadow of a doubt about my childrens’ well-being when I head out the door in the morning (or when I head into my basement, as the case might be at the moment).

Which is all the more reason why I’m a shriveled, deflated balloon, needing to be scraped off the floor on the days when I’m dressed and ready to run out to my first meeting - and the phone rings before 8am. For me, there is no harder test of putting the needs of another, suffering human being above my own. If God were a woman, this would be the test you would have to pass to get through the pearly gates. (My admission wouldn't be guaranteed).

Back when both my husband and I were working “outside the basement”, we did a better job of sharing the responsibility for nanny sick days. But now that I’m the one who’s physically at home, with the prospect of being the one who’s hardly at home at all just around the corner (when Julep opens), I’m usually the one picking up the phone. And the pieces to the day.

When I can struggle through it, getting done what I need to for work while keeping the children fed and alive, I feel utterly invincible. Like the time my friend Julie and I were both having sick nanny days at the same time. We called each other, and after drying our tears, we got it perfectly choreographed. I brought my two kids to her house, where they joined her two kids in breakfast while she went off to give her talk to an audience of psychiatry residents. During that time, I wiped up at least four different kinds of bodily fluids off the floor, trying not to get any on my blouse. Julie walked in, and I ran out to give a presentation on a new product launch to an audience that included my boss and the CEO of the company. By the time I got up to the podium, I had the confidence of someone who had waded through four different kinds of bodily fluid and emerged alive. There’s nothing like that feeling.

But then there are days when my daughter NEEDS her Piggy I SAID NOW NOW NOW! during a conference call, or my son NEEDS me to stop the car at the house down the street with the beads in the yard to pick a treasure or he’ll NEVER EVER EVER get out. And then I say, “Not now, sweetie” in a voice that is a little louder and more jagged than I intended, and on top of everything else I’ve got to squeeze in the time to process through my guilt.

On days like this, I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to remember that, on the other days, my life is full and rich. That I have the amazingly great fortune of being wildly engaged in my life. That everything worthwhile has a cost, and nanny sick days are part of the price of admission for the life I want. I just wish there were fewer of them.