Monday, November 7, 2011

Thank God For Kids!

I remember when my kids were little and they would go over to folk’s house while I worked. My mom hadn’t worked for several years and my dad decided to retire early. They would sit all day in the front yard while my kids had the opportunity just to be kids. They would play games, pick up leaves, and just got to enjoy being outside. Now I have little grandkids. Riley is five, Morgan is almost two and a half, and little Bodhi is about a year and a half old. I see my little ones quite a bit, but I’m not privileged to the carefree days that my folks use to enjoy with my kids. I work, and what even adds to my work is that I’m self employed. Owning a store like Country Roads that only closes three days a year, is at times like a ball and chain. Thankfully I enjoy that ball and chain but I do wish I had the freedom of down time. Those of you that are self employed  know what I’m saying. When I want to help my little ones build a Lego castle or spend time coloring with them, work is always in the back of my mind. There are always emails to answer, and paper work to do.

I do feel blessed that I manage to spend as much time as I do with my grandkids. I know many of you don’t have that privilege. We all live not far from each other. I missed Riley’s soccer games this past fall because her games were always on Saturdays and I have Country Roads to open at 10 am every Saturday. I was lucky enough last spring to catch her T-ball games because they started much earlier. Sometimes when I’m with my grandkids I just watch them play. The simplicity of them playing and pretending takes all of us to a different place in time. It makes me jealous, and reminds me of the carefree days as a little kid. One of my favorite moments several months ago was when all three of my little ones were at my house.  Riley was instrumental in putting together the “Woody-Jesse Parade”! I had bought them all little vintage cowboy boots, of course from Country Roads. Riley helped Morgan and Bodhi get their boots on. As the parade began, they circled around my family room and you could just hear the girl’s squeals of laughter. And you could see Bodhi, because of his age, definitely marching to his own drummer going in the opposite direction! When my daughter, Katie, works at Country Roads, I usually watch her two kids, Riley and Bodhi, a couple of days a week.  And because of that, I have the privilege of picking Riley up from school, meeting her friends, and her teachers and many other things. I got to rock Bodhi to sleep when he was smaller and Morgan lived with me & my son and his wife up until a couple of months ago.  I know not all Gramma’s get to spend so much time with their little ones! Riley and Bodhi’s dad has been off work for a few weeks because of his back. I haven’t had my little ones over at my house like I use to. And I can’t tell you how much I missed them. And Morgan? My son Bryce and his wife got their own place a few weeks ago. Morgan has been living with me since the first day she came home from the hospital. There has been a bit of an empty spot in my heart.

The past couple of weeks I’ve had some reminders that my little ones really do love me though. Riley will get on the phone and tell me that. She is at that chatty age, although I think she was born at the chatty age!  Morgan came over the other day and just ran to me and plopped herself in my lap. And the other night I had taken Katie home from work, but I only had minute and was getting ready to leave. Bodhi started running towards Katie and I crying. Of course I assumed because we had worked all day, that he wanted Katie to hold him. You know what? He wanted his Gramma! As I held my little boy very tightly, I knew how truly blessed I am to be able to have these experiences. I get to go to Disneyland with them, spend holidays with them, do just every day stuff with my grandkids and even be a part of the “Woody-Jesse” Parade! And no matter how tough life gets, or what is going on in our world, I know how blessed I am. I know in my heart what makes me happy, and how these little grandkids of mine are such a huge part of my life. I know some day they too will be working at Country Roads. I will teach them to work just like I did Katie and Bryce and Brande. And when this world of our gets a little tough, I always, without a doubt, thank God for kids!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Holiday Memories

One of my favorite holiday movies isn’t one of the classics. The one I love to watch each and every Christmas is “Home For the Holidays” with Robert Downey, Jr. and Holly Hunter. If you haven’t seen the movie (it’s been out for a long time), basically it is about a family, a bit dysfunctional, that all gather together at Christmas time. I think I enjoy this movie each and every year because in my eyes that’s what most families are, just a tad dysfunctional, you know? Some of us admit us, and some of us don’t. I remember one Christmas when I was in high school, that my Dad had accepted an invitation to have Christmas dinner over at a co-workers house. They were a younger couple that had moved out here from back East and didn’t have any family out here. Their names were Donna and Joe, and all day Donna spent cooking. There was turkey, ham, all the traditional side dishes, several desserts and more. While Donna was finishing cooking the Christmas dinner, my Dad had gone upstairs with Joe to play pool. My Dad wasn’t much of a drinker. He would have a beer here and there, but that was about it. Apparently, while upstairs playing he pool, he also was drinking whiskey. The next thing we knew, he sort of stumbled down the stairs. I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but he managed to trip and fall into the beautifully decorated Christmas tree that was placed in front of the bay window. Half of the tree crashed through the window into the front yard, while the remainder of the tree was inside of the house. And my Dad? He landed on his butt on the floor with Christmas lights wrapped around his head and part of his body asking, “did I do that”? I have to admit, I laughed as did Joe and Donna. After all it was pretty funny. But my poor Mom was so embarrassed I don’t think she ever recovered from my Dad being part of Joe and Donna’s Christmas d├ęcor with holiday lights wrapped around him!

My point of the little story above is this. The holidays really should be about “who” we spend the holidays with. It shouldn’t be about what food is on the table or how it is displayed, but “who” is sitting at our tables with us! As we all know the passage of time seems to go by faster and faster each year. Rather than spend all the time looking for the perfect holiday gifts, although Country Roads does have wonderful things as far as gift giving goes, or cooking the perfect Christmas dinner, we should just enjoy each other, you know? I wish you all a magical holiday season. And I hope you will find it in your hearts to reach out and help those that won’t have a table to sit around this Christmas. Our world isn’t like it use to be but that doesn’t mean that we have to change. When you are in a position to “give” to those less fortunate than yourself, you couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present ever! Happy Holidays!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Memories of Fall

I love this time of year. The days start to get shorter, and eventually the weather cools down a bit, and we find ourselves at home a little earlier than we use to make it home. For me, Fall is full of memories. Several years ago I use to notice an elderly lady that would take walks with her caretaker in my neighborhood. I never thought too much about it until one Fall day. The leaves the leaves had begun to turn color, and this lovely lady would have her caretaker equipped with a bag she would carry for her. The lady would take time to stop on her walks every now and then and pick up leaves. These weren’t just any old leaves. I would watch out my window as she would stop in front of my house and pick up one leaf and examine it. The lady would look at the colors on the leaf, the shape, the textures, truly examining it. If it was a leaf that met her approval, she would hand it to her caretaker to gently place in her bag. Even today, I marvel at how wonderful and touching it was to be able to secretly watch this woman sincerely enjoy the beauty and simplicity that nature has to offer us. I haven’t seen her for a few years now, and I’m sure she’s passed on, but I always think of her with a smile on my face during this time of year. And I have to admit, I now look at the leaves a bit differently than I use to.
The passage of time is something that I’m always keenly aware of. This Fall my oldest granddaughter, Riley, started kindergarten. It still hasn’t sunk in with me as I watched her wave good-bye to us her first day of school. I looked at her and wondered how she was already in kindergarten. This is the little girl I helped deliver when she was born! I also beat myself up a little bit thinking that there was so much more I wanted to do with my little Riley before she started school. I’m always so busy with Country Roads and just life. I do the best I can to juggle my time, but for me, I have to confess, it gets away from me. There is, however, something special about Fall. It feels like the beginning of not just a new school year, but a new year all together. I want to make more time for my little ones. I want to create more memories for them with me, especially this time in my life.

I look forward to spending time with not only Riley, but with my other grandbabies, Morgan (2) and Bodhi (1) this Fall. We always go to Disneyland for their Halloween event. And how can I forget how I smiled really big the other day while driving down PCH and seeing “Pa’s Pumpkin Patch” being set up for yet another Fall season. My whole family gathers here each and every year with all the little ones. Fall does make me remember the things like the beginnings of school years, and Disneyland and the Pumpkin Patch. But I think this Fall; I will create a new memory for my little grandkids. I think it’s time to grab a bag, and walk around my neighborhood and examine the leaves! And just like the lovely lady I wrote about above, I can have Riley, Morgan, and Bodhi decide which leaves are worthy enough for “our” bag! You know, the things we remember the most, the things we never forget, the things that touch are hearts the deepest are usually not the most expensive things in life. It’s the simple stuff, like collecting leaves and not only appreciating Mother Nature’s beauty in the Fall, but creating a memory that you will always carry in your heart.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back To School Memories

Riley just finished pre-school, and wanted to see where her kindergarden room would be back in June!

This time of year always takes me back to when I was a kid and after a carefree summer it was time to head back to school. Growing up in the fifties, was so very different than growing up today. There were no uniforms, there were no gangs, and life just seemed simpler. My folks didn’t have a lot of money. My Dad, after getting out of the Army, went to work for Southern California Edison. My Mom did what most moms did back then, she stayed home with me and my sister and took care of the house. I attended Patrick Henry elementary school here in Long Beach, CA. The school is still there today and my hopes were that my granddaughter, Riley, would go there since she is beginning kindergarten in a few weeks and lives in the house I grew up in. As we all know, things have changed a great deal since I was a kid. Patrick Henry is now Spanish immersion, so she will be attending nearby Bircham elementary.

It’s funny after all these years the things you remember. When it was almost time for school to start, my Mom would take my sister and I school shopping. Now most schools have uniforms and there isn’t a whole lot of variety to choose from. Back then, we got all of our clothes for the school year at once. And of course, I wanted to wear everything all at once. Here in sunny SoCal, our fall weather can bring on the heat before it begins to cool down. I know there were days I was just throwing a fit to wear one of my new sweaters, no matter how hot it was. And I also remember sweating to death as the school day dragged on! Then there were the dreadful “saddle shoes” my Mom insisted that I wear. A lot of my friends, I felt, were so lucky because they got to wear tennis shoes. My Mom always thought those were bad for your feet, thus I was stuck with the saddle shoes until one eventful day. I had a lot of “sass” in me as a kid. I think I was about in the third grade and I had popped off to my Mom about something. Back then it wasn’t a crime to spank your kid with a belt. I can still hear the sound of my Dad whippin’ that belt off. It was like the sound of pulling the cord on a lawn mower, and I use to run like hell to get away! So when my Mom threatened me three or four times more with the belt, as she chased me through our house, I finally stopped running and accidently (on purpose) stepped backwards on her foot. Yep, I broke her foot and off course when everyone asked her what happened, it was, “Susie kicked me”! Nice.

Everything changes as time marches on. I still like to remember all the fun I had growing up on Senasac Avenue. After school when we use to have a mean “Good Humor” ice cream man, whose truck would drive down our street daily, me and all of my neighborhood buddies would hide in the bushes, and yell that magic word, “STOP”! He would get out of his truck and find no one. Realizing he had been pranked again (you would have thought he would have learned after a few times) he would get out of the truck and look all over for us, but we were never caught! And how can I forget the smell of those glazed donuts when the Helm’s Bakery truck would stop across the street. The double back doors on the truck would open, and out would come that very special drawer that held the freshly baked glazed donuts!

Childhood friends from those days on Senasac and attending Patrick Henry still hold a place in my heart. My very bestfriend in those days, Donna Nagel, was my buddy I would always sit by me at lunch time! Of course that was unless my Mom had packed me an egg salad sandwich. She hated the smell so she wouldn’t sit by me on those days! I went to school with Donna all the way until we graduated from Millikan High school longer than I like to remember.
So, as I watch my oldest little granddaughter get ready to start kindergarten here pretty soon, I will also be there watching her walk away, on her own, to her first day of school. Yes, times have changed, and Riley’s memories won’t be like mine, but she will have her own special memories of her own. But, the one thing that will always be the same is when our little ones turn around and wave “good-bye” as they start the school year. Because in our hearts we all know how fast they grow in a blink of an eye!

Friday, June 24, 2011

"High Hopes"
"My Mom & Grandma in a field of Texas Bluebonnets"

When I was a kid growing up, my Mom never talked a lot about anything. The one story I do remember that she shared was her love of her Texas bluebonnets. This was one of her favorite memories of growing up in Texas. My Mom had kind of a rough time growing up in Texas. She has lost both of her parents by the time she was eighteen. Her Dad sadly committed suicide, and then her Mom passed away from cancer a couple of years after that. Occasionally she would talk to my sister and me about growing up in Texas and the Great Depression. In her stories she told, she would always mention that her family didn’t have much, and often people would come to their back door begging for food. And somehow, some way, her family managed to help by giving them whatever they could, even though they too were struggling. Those stories stuck with me my entire life, and I never thought we would be living through something very similar in today’s world. As I mentioned, my Mom had been through a lot of hardships, and even though she didn’t share much of herself with us, she would always sing songs as she worked around our house. One of her favorites being Frank Sinatra’s song, “High Hopes”!

I think for many of us, what use to be so depressing; empty houses with weeds growing in front lawns where children use to play, our favorite big chain stores closing, and the many people, not only living on the street, but that have been forced to ask for food and money on street corners, sidewalks, freeway off ramps, and more has become the norm. It does sadden me when I hear people say they don’t “give” because they can just tell that this person is pulling a scam. Maybe in some cases that is true, but wouldn’t you rather feel that you are putting food in someone’s stomach rather than letting them go hungry? Our country is always helping other countries that are in need. But how do we help our own citizens? People that have worked their entire lives for a pension and retirement, only to be told the company is closing or scaling down and there is no longer jobs for them. It’s a tough call, and if you haven’t been affected by any of this, as one of my good friends in Texas always says, “then bless your little heart”.

My daughter, Katie, was telling me a story about what one of the mom’s at Riley, my granddaughters pre-school, does to make a difference in others lives. She told Katie that she doesn’t hand out money, but instead has big baggies in her car for those in need. The baggies are filled with water, maybe some toothpaste and a toothbrush, some food, and dog food, stuff like that. As we all know, many of the homeless have nothing left but their pets. I was touched when I heard that this Mom puts pet food in these baggies that she makes for the homeless. When this Mom see’s someone in need with a sign asking for help, she has her daughter, who is Riley’s age, hand them the big baggie out the car window. Why? Because our own children, grandchildren are never too young to learn the importance of giving, paying it forward. My kids still talk about the times I would make them either walk up to someone in need, or roll down the car window and hand them a couple of dollars. They remember well how some of these people at the time seemed scary! Today, I still keep singles in my car so I too can make a small difference in someone’s life. And there are times that the rewards for me are ten times greater than my act of giving. To see someone’s face light up, or as I had happen on a freeway off ramp a year or so ago, grab my hand and say, “bless you child”, still touches my very soul. It doesn’t take much to make a difference in our world. A smile, just a simple smile and a dollar or two, can make someone’s whole day and their life just a bit better.

My favorite lyrics in that old song, High Hopes, that my Mom use to sing to us goes like this:

“Next time you’re found, with chin on the ground
There is a lot to be learned
Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant can’t
Move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes”.

I hope we can all carry a little of that “hope” in our hearts each and every day. It takes so very little to make a difference in others lives, especially if you have “high hopes”!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We've Grown Up Together!

Country Roads opened on a rainy day on January 2nd, 1993. I remember the day well. My good friend, Chris Nickoloff, was standing there in the rain waiting to come shop. Not too long after that she became a dealer in our store as well. And for those of you that personally knew Chris, we sadly lost her a few years ago to cancer. But I will always cherish the memory of her standing outside waiting to be the first customer to shop on our opening day. I have to confess, I had no idea what to expect of the future when it came to this little place, Country Roads, that I quickly fell in love with. I opened the store with my then husband and one of my bestfriends. His wife had passed away the prior year and I think that is what made me realize how quickly life can pass or sadly end. I knew then there was more that I wanted in my life. I loved, and still do, being a Mom, and now a Gramma, but there was a void inside of me that needed to be filled. That is when Country Roads and I became bestfriends.

A few years down the road, my bestfriend, Chris left the business. He left on not the best of terms and as those of us in this business know, there is always “drama” involved. That is the one thing I like least about the antique business, the drama and gossip that is always going on. About a year or so after my friend left, my husband took that same bus out of town. He left, and of course there is always a lot of emotion and more drama that goes with divorce. And through both of these personal issues I had, I knew that my bestfriend, Country Roads, would be there waiting for me. When you stand behind the counter, you have no idea who will walk through the door. You never know what is said about you or your business and in the early years it was tough. I took many things very personally when I should have just let them go. Slowly but surely I began to grow up with my business and we became even stronger and more secure together. We both began to grow up together and be what we were meant to me.

Over the years, there have been times that I’ve had to give dealers a thirty day notice to vacate their dealer spaces for one reason or another. Let me tell you, it is hard, very hard. But I have to make the decision what is best for myself, for my Country Roads family (my dealers) and my bestfriend, Country Roads. As the old saying goes, “you do what you have to do”. We always have people that inquire about dealer space at Country Roads. And to be honest, sometimes even if these people have “killer” stuff, but are high maintence and carrying a large ego as well, I’ve learned not to go there. Over the years, for some reason, the GOOD people find us and become part of our Country Roads family. Sometimes it is a gut instinct for me that they will fit in well, and other times, my heart gives me the answer that, yes they will fit in perfectly. For this I am very grateful and humbled.

There are so many memories that my bestfriend, Country Roads, has provided me. I hope to someday put these stories in a book. As we get nearer and nearer to our 20th anniversary, I am humbled by the goodness and character of my Country Roads family. And my customers have been the best. At the end of the day, it isn’t always about the mighty dollar, but about loving what you do and who you spend your time with doing it. I thank you all, my wonderful, caring Country Roads customers. And my Country Roads family? They are the best of the best!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let Your Heart Lead the Way

Often times I’ve been criticized for letting my heart, rather than my head, lead my way in life. I know a little of each would make a better combination, especially in business. But after living your life a certain way for so many years, as in listening to my heart rather than my head, change is often hard to come by. I have always felt, yes even in my business, that listening to my heart will lead me down the right path in regards to not only my personal life but my business life as well. I’m always for the underdog; I’m always willing to give someone a chance, especially when they need it. I believe that is what makes Country Roads so unique and so different than other stores. We are more than just a business, more than just a store; we are a family that cares about others.

At the end of this past February, I had been sick and off work for a couple of weeks. That in itself is something that is very rare for me. Country Roads is such a part of me, that I really did miss being there. For those of you that follow my blog ( you may be familiar with this story. My oldest daughter, Brande, was working that day and took the call. One of my customer’s sisters called the store. Her sister, Faith Seiber, has been shopping with me since day one. Over all these years, we have become very good friends. Her sister had called because she was concerned about Faith’s layaway that was due. And then her sister told Brande that she didn’t want to have it forfeited because Faith had died and Faith’s daughter wanted the last piece of furniture her mom had picked out. Brande kindly asked if she minded telling her what happened, how she died. Her sister said that her new husband had shot her in the head, the bullet passed through her head and hit Faith’s dog, who did survive. Even as I write these words, two months later, they still sting, they are fresh, like a new wound.

Faith would come in about once a month, and it was the same ritual. She would pick up a layaway, start a new one, and then buy something as well. And she always loved plants and spent a great deal of time out back in our Johnnye Merle Gardens & Nursery! When Faith came to the counter, it wasn’t a customer I was talking to, it was a friend. After all these years, after all the things we had shared, we had become such good friends. Her and I had a lot of catching up to do. We all loved her visits. The last time I saw Faith, she hadn’t been in for awhile. She told me she had gotten married and I thought it was to a guy she had been previously dating. But it was someone new. Apparently this new someone didn’t care much for antique and vintage items. After hearing what happened to Faith, I immediately paid off her layaway. There would be no way my heart would allow me not to do this. I wanted her daughter to have this piece of furniture. It was the right thing to do and I never thought twice about it.

A few weeks had passed and I had kind of forgotten about someone coming in to pick up the layaway. Then on a random Saturday, I saw this young woman, about the same age as my oldest daughter, Brande, walk up to the counter. I knew immediately who it was. It was Faith’s daughter, and she had brought a friend to help take the piece of furniture home. I wasn’t sure what to say, but my heart led the way. We started our walk to the last building of the store. I didn’t say much except that to tell Chloe I had no words to say, as she began to choke up and tell me that just being in her mom’s favorite store was so hard as I told her I understood. We got to where the piece of furniture was, and I walked with her and her friend as they carried it to the back gate, where they were parked. At times like this, you want to say something meaningful, profound and comforting all at once. I was at a loss for words. So, I let my heart lead the way once again. I walked up to Chloe, took her in my arms, and gave her a hug. At times like this, words aren’t really needed when you trust your heart to lead the way. You will be missed Faith!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Texas Roots and Cowboy Boots

One thing I always keep near and dear in my heart are all the stories my Mom told of growing up in Texas. Over the years I’ve shared some of these stories of mine that live on in my heart. And although my Mom is no longer with us, her stories of her childhood in Texas stay tucked close to my heart, just where she would have wanted them to be! Her parents married young, and lived in Lubbock, Texas. My Grandpa Hobson was a rancher, but I like to remember him as a cowboy. I’ve seen some pictures of him where he is riding a bronco and another where he is driving a tractor to herd the cattle. Their little family never had much, but my Mom always told the story about people coming to their back door during the Depression and giving people what food they could. I guess that was my first story, as I child, that I truly understood as a lesson learned about the importance of giving back, paying it forward whenever you were able to. Sadly, as much as my grandparents loved Lubbock, after the Depression and all, it was time to re-locate to Temple where more jobs were available. My Grandma Madge took a job as a waitress and my Grandpa Hobson drove an oil truck.

When I look back at old pictures, there are two things that stick out in my mind. In every picture of my Grandpa, no matter where he was, he had on cowboy boots! And usually, not always, he had a dog or cat in his lap as did my Mom. Funny how some traditions are picked up years later, as in rescuing and helping any cat or dog that needs help today. And my kids are just as bad about that as I am, and as their grandparents were. The life lesson I learned as a child, and that my kids learned as children, is about how it’s just not “right” to ignore people or animals that may need of a little help in life. That is something that has stuck with us all!

After having just a sister, then having my two daughters, when Bryce was born, the first boy in our family, excitement spread like a Texas tornado! I remember there was only one Western store nearby. It was in Bellflower, when the city use to be a Dutch community and downtown Bellflower was filled with little stores. My Mom knew exactly where to find my little baby boy, her first grandson, a pair of little cowboy boots. Funny how we hang on to those precious memories, just like they happened yesterday, rather than years ago.
Today I still have Bryce’s little cowboy boots in a little vignette in my home. I remember buying Riley, my first granddaughter, a pair of red cowboy boots. Hey, we have to carry on the family tradition! They are in her bedroom at home. I had kind of forgotten about all of that until recently. At Country Roads I saw a little pair of rattleskin cowboy boots. The toes on the boots are scuffed up a bit from, what I imagine, some little boy kicking rocks around while wearing them. They had my grandson Bodhi’s name written all over them. I had to bring those little boots home . And guess what comes in the store next? Another pair of little red cowboy boots that I can have at my house for Riley, and some little pink cowboy boots for Morgan! Along with Bodhi’s little boots, and Bryce’s childhood cowboy boots, I thought all the boots might make a sweet little vignette in my home. Remind me of the importance of family and memories that have been re-created many years later. One of the reasons I love what I do, having a store like Country Roads, is because of the memories it brings to mind all the time. In this disposal able world we live in, it warms my heart to be surrounded by things, items that have a story to be told. Just like my “Texas Roots and Cowboy Boots”!

Monday, January 17, 2011

When Boys Become Men

I only had a sister growing up, no brothers. And when I began my family, I had two daughters and then, my son, Bryce. Or as I call him these days, “My Boy Bryce”. My first introduction to “boys” was when I put Bryce down on my mom’s bed at ten days old. I mean, come on, ten days old, where is a newborn going to go? About ten minutes passed, and we heard a thud! I rushed into my mom’s room, and somehow, some way, Bryce had managed to fall off the bed! My mom was totally terrified. And my mom, being an only child growing up, had a hard enough time dealing with me and my sister. Now, she had three grandchildren and a boy for the first time! Bryce survived the fall well, and there were no injuries involved.

Growing up, Bryce did typical boy things to his sisters. A favorite being hiding rubber snakes and lizards under their pillows at night, or hiding in their closets and jumping out in the dark to scare them. He also found pleasure in torturing his sister’s friends as well. He was in his glory. Growing up, he also tortured me and made me just as crazy as his sisters. I remember one time taking him and his friend, Matt, to the beach. I settled in on the sand in my chair, headphones on, sunglasses and eyes closed. I was totally relaxed, but I kept feeling a “breeze” over me. When I opened my eyes, I discovered what felt like a hundred seagulls around me. Why? As I was relaxing, Bryce and Matt thought it would be funny to spread Fritos all around me. They put Fritos in the sand, on my towel, in front of me, behind me, everywhere! I don’t think I’ve been up close and personal with that many seagulls since that day!

As the boys began to grow-up they still did typical boy stuff. As they got older, they had their share of trouble they got into. Bryce always looked out for Matt. There was a time that Matt picked a fight with three guys, all bigger than him. And once again, Bryce went to his rescue. Those two boys put me through hell and back. But they finally grew-up, got married, and they each had baby girls. Matt’s daughter, Hannah, was three months older than Bryce’s daughter, Morgan. When Matt’s daughter was born, she had muscular dystrophy and the doctors didn’t think Hannah would live past two years old. I can only imagine how devastating that would be for anyone, especially for Matt, his wife, and Bryce knowing that he had a healthy baby girl only three months younger.

This past year, little Hannah passed away only a few days before Christmas. I remember when I received a text on my cell phone from Bryce telling me what happened. I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks, as I desperately tried to find the right words to say to my son. The funeral was held the day after Christmas. It was a beautiful and emotional service. There were pink balloons everywhere, large blown up photos of baby Hannah all over the stage. It began with a slide show of Hannah while the song by Roberta Flack played, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”. As my son sat next to me holding a pink rose, and I sadly watched Matt as he sat across from me, I knew these boys’ lives had been forever changed. As the service ended, the Pastor told us “God reached out his hand, and Hannah took it, and is no longer in pain”. He then gave us directions to exit the service and if we chose to pay our respects to little Hannah we could. Me, being “me”, didn’t realize that during the entire ceremony little Hannah was there in an open casket. As I passed little Hannah, I don’t think I will ever forget I saw, a tiny Christmas Angel lying there so peacefully.

That evening, I was sitting in the kitchen, talking to Justine, Bryce’s wife. I was holding Morgan in my lap and being very thankful for her. I looked up and saw the two “boys” walking up to the front door. I wasn’t sure how Matt would feel after losing his baby girl. He walked over to me, looking at Morgan with arms extended and said, “come to Uncle Matt”. And with that, he had Morgan in his arms, giving her hugs and kisses. As he left, he put Hannah back in my lap and told her that he promised she would be seeing more of her Uncle Matt. And with that, my boys walked out my front door all dressed in black. And I knew that those two boys had become men on that day and I couldn’t have been more proud. Sometimes life deals us some very difficult situations we must go through. But it gives us strength to survive and we all learn from it. My boys are now young men after going through one of the worse heartbreak anyone could go through at that age. But life’s lessons teach us to be better people because of that and to value each and every day! I know my son has grown up to be a great young man, but in my heart he will always be, “My Boy Bryce”!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Gift of Simple

Not too long about, I had written a blog post about Fall leaves. Several years ago, there was an elderly woman that lived in my neighborhood. Her care giver would take her on walks each and every day. I especially remember her during the Fall because her care giver would carry a little bag for her. This woman would stop at different points during her walks and carefully bend over a pick up a leaf. She would look at it closely, examining it and I’m guessing the ones that appealed to her most were the ones that she found to be unusual. Those were the special leaf’s that she would give her caretaker to put in her little bag. I haven’t seen this woman in several years, and I’m guessing she has sadly passed away. What this woman will never know is that she gave me, “the gift of simple”! Each morning in the Fall and Winter when I go outside to get my newspaper, I notice all the leaves. Some are of brilliant color, others may be shaped oddly, and I love when it rains and the leaf is gone, but the pattern of it is on the wet cement. I always hope that this very special woman, somehow knows that she graciously gave me the “gift of simple”!

Why do I bring this up now? It’s holiday season, and our economy is in such dandy shape, I know that it causes so many of us to freak out, wonder how we are going to afford all the gifts that are hearts want to give, but our wallets may be telling us a different story. I watch my four year old granddaughter, Riley; scrutinize the toy catalogs that come in the mail choosing what she wants for Christmas. My business is retail, so you have to know I understand why these catalogs are sent, why the commercials air daily and all that goes with this time of year. It puts a great deal of pressure on many to find the perfect gifts for those we love. As you probably know, I love antiques and vintage stuff. I have an old stepback cupboard that is filled with children’s antiques. Kind of funny how much life as changed for kids now with technology. But what draws me to these vintage toys is that they are “simple”, many handmade. I too will purchase a few toys for my little ones that I know they just have to have! But I also want to find the three of them vintage gifts that are simple and have meaning. Actually, I recently bought Bodhi’s vintage gift. It is an old, well loved, stuffed little dog, probably from the 1930’s. It’s missing its ribbon around its neck, but that can be replaced along with a heartfelt handwritten note to my grandson on his first Christmas!

I guess I just want to remind us all, that the gift of “simple” doesn’t have to be expensive and can also make a wonderful holiday gift. I remember last year putting together all our family photos from that year, and having them put together in a book. I added little sayings, poems and such. Not too long ago, I had a customer share a wonderful story with me about gift giving. This is the part I love about my job. He was buying an old vintage Stingray bike. Then he began telling me “why” he was buying it. His boss, as a child had a paper route. He saved all his money from delivering newspapers to buy a new Stingray bike. When the time came to buy the bike with the money he had saved, the cost of the bike had gone up in price so he couldn’t afford to get it and he was never able ever to buy the bike. My customer was buying the vintage stingray bike as a gift for his boss. He wanted to him to have the bike he wanted so badly as a child.

This holiday season, I hope you can de-stress yourself a little bit by staying away from the crazy malls. There are so many ways of buying meaningful gifts for those you love. We have so many old books at Country Roads, for example, that may have special meaning to someone you want to shop for. Vintage shopping is not only a unique way to purchase gifts but also a great way to recycle. I hope this holiday season you find peace and remember the importance of things in your life. And hey, there is nothing wrong with the gift of “simple”! Happy Holidays.

It’s Christmas, 365 Days a Year, Really, It Could Be!

Wouldn’t be awesome, wouldn’t it be wonderful, wouldn’t it be a dream come true if it was Christmas every day of the year for 365 days a year? Yes, I’m crazy, we all know that, but let me explain to you what I mean. Prior to December 25th, what happens? Everyone starts to decorate or buy decorations. Then by Thanksgiving (which often is overlooked), everyone is in a frenzy to start their gift buying. The Salvation Army bells are ringing in front of stores, volunteer groups are out everywhere soliciting donations for those in need. Family dinners are planned for the big holiday and everyone makes “nice” because its Christmas. People send out Christmas cards to their friends and family, often with holiday letters and family photos. They tell their friends they miss them, and promise to get together soon. And the next thing you know, it is another year later and it all starts over again.

The above things are the things that most people do. But what about the “other” people? Maybe dad lost his job this year, or someone is all alone, or others are on the streets, in shelters, Iraq, incarcerated, or in hospitals. My sister use to be a therapist. And I can’t even begin to tell how many calls she would get on Christmas day from her clients that were depressed because of all the above or they felt that one day, the day that is supposed to be baby Jesus’ birthday, didn’t live up to their expectations. I love Christmas, please don’t misunderstand my words. But often times than not, by the time the big day gets here, everyone is tired, burned out and glad for the day to be over, and Christmas loses its meaning along the way.

If we took the “reason for the season” theory and applied it daily to our lives and others lives, each and everyday, if we made it Christmas 365 days a year, wouldn’t the world be a little kinder? It would be great to get cards from friends throughout the year just to let us know they were thinking of us. It would be so special to receive a gift because someone just because they wanted to “give” one. There wouldn’t be that pressure that Christmas shopping sometimes brings on. And the best part, if we could all just continue to GIVE to the charties that do make it Christmas 365 Days a year, I personally believe the world would be a kinder more gentle place to live.

Last Christmas my daughter, Brande, gave me a goat! Yes, she gave me a goat, or I should say bought a goat in my name. There is a group called “World Vision. . . Building a Better World for Our Children” ( The goat is bought for a village in Africa where kids will learn to care for it, the milk will help feed them, and more. This is a gift that will keep on giving! I bring this up because so many times, so many of us never know what the perfect give is. Or how many times do you hear, “I don’t know what to get them, they have everything”. I just feel that sometimes we need to think outside of the box, the Christmas box, when it comes to giving!

I do wish all of you the merriest of Christmas’ and I’m hoping you all find the joy, peace and happiness you deserve. But my wish is not only for Christmas day, it is for the next 365 days of Christmas. Please remember as we begin 2007, that there are those around us that may need a helping hand. And if we are in the position to extend a hand, what a better place our world would be. “Practice Random Acts of Kindness”, give the homeless guy a couple of bucks even if he does look scarey, bring some shoes to our store to donate to Soul Purpose, or donate to one of our Animal Shelters we help, or My Sister’s Joanie’s Purse Project. Whatever it is, just remember to give of yourself and pay if forward.
Happy Holidays.

When a House is a Home

With the holidays around the corner, I know there is a lot of planning for out of town company, holiday parties and family dinners. Frantically, people are running around looking for the perfect crystal and table centerpieces. Unfortunately, I think many people believe that they have to have everything in their “houses” magazine perfect! But, if your house is truly a “home”, I think you find a different type of attitude. Just the other day while working at Country Roads, a customer spent almost an hour trying to decide if she wanted to buy two matching lamps. The price wasn’t her concern, but she was worried if she should have lamps that match on each of her nightstands, or should she have two different ones. She asked me, “do people do that now”. I looked at her and told her that I personally believe decorating with stuff that makes you happy is what’s important. I reminded her that in my opinion, only, there is no right or wrong when it comes to decorating if it makes you happy.

Many of us live in “houses”, but how many of us really live in “homes”? I remember when my husband and I were first married and bought our first house. As we began to paint it, as we began to fix it up and when we eventually had kids, it truly was our home. I was only able to buy antiques when I could afford them, but those antique pieces of furniture still fill my home today and are filled with such warm memories I wouldn’t trade for anything! Eventually my husband and I decided we wanted our kids in a better school district and wanted a bigger house. So, we moved and to this day that is one decision in my life I regret. We had a beautiful 4500 square foot home in a fancy neighborhood. But something was wrong, and at the time I couldn’t put my finger on it but that house was never a home, it was just house. Like a lot of us, I ended up getting a divorce and wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box when it came to divorce! The house went up for sale and it was now time for me, after almost twenty five years of marriage, to start over on my own. It really was a difficult time, but somehow, someway, I managed to pull together just enough funds for a down to buy a house of my own! And that house is my home today and I will always be grateful for my good friend and realtor at the time, Lisa Blanc, for helping me get what I wanted, a “home”!

By all means I’m not implying that you have to “own” a house for it to be your “home”.
Our homes are what we make them regards of size, location or anything else. A home is where your heart is! A home is where you create memories, it is where you surround yourself with not only your family but your friends as well. In my home we’ve all sat together and grieved over 9/11 as my friend Darcy brought a kitten over that day that has become a part of my home. I’ve had six Christmas dinners here, I’ve had a wedding reception, birthday parties, baby showers and this past year we celebrated my grandbaby Riley’s first birthday by having a pool party! For me it was the “full circle” of life. The pool party for Riley reminded me off all the pool parties I had for my own three kids as they grew-up. And just like when I had my kid’s parties, those antiques withstood the test of not only time but little hands as well!

My home now has its own memories. It’s still filled with the same antiques I’ve had over all these years. I still have that same harvest table I had in my first home. During the holidays we still have our holiday dinners on that table. The only difference is some of the people at the table are different. It’s the progression of life. My parents no longer are here to join us, but Riley now joins us. We also have an old Mission china cabinet that my parents had in their home that now sits next to my old harvest table. It keeps those holiday memories of the past with us. And so begins a holiday season which will be filled with yet more new memories as we remember the old. This is also the time of year to remember to give back, to pay it forward. When you see someone on the street corner holding a sign that says, “Homeless, Need Help”, help them, even if it is just by giving them a dollar! Reach into your heart and create a holiday memory for someone that desperately needs it. I always took my kids out Christmas Eve when they were small to “give back”. It was our part of our celebration of Christmas! Make your “house” a “home” this year. Remember it’s not about “what” you have or don’t have, or the perfect place settings or decor, it’s about the “people” you surround yourself with that make a “house” a “home”. Happy Holidays!

The Seasons of Life

As we celebrate the arrival of Fall, it reminds me how our lives have “seasons” as well. I’ve always been a big fan of summer. You know, our lifestyles are more causal, we bring out the flip flops and things seem to just move at a slower pace. But with Fall, it brings new beginnings. The days slowly begin to get shorter, the leaves change color, and the kids start back to school, and the holidays are just around the corner. I’ve always thought of Fall as the beginning of the “real” year, not the calendar year. There are so many things that change when Fall arrives.

Life is just like the seasons of the year. We experience change, growth, and if we are lucky we pass the time and witness the calendar months flying by, with those we love; friends and family. Recently I went to a baby shower. While we all do these things, this one was special to me. It was the daughter, and granddaughter of two of my dealers who are also my friends, Leslie and Margaret. They have been at the store since day one (16 years ago), and we have definitely gone through those seasons of life together. As my granddaughter Riley ran around the baby shower like the crazy little toddler she is, and I watched pregnant Emily open her baby gifts, it took me back. I remembered the days when Emily and her siblings and my three kids would spend afternoons in our swimming pool on those hot Fall days after elementary school let out for the day. I felt very grateful to be at the baby shower, and also to have been a part of this family for so long.

Speaking of crazy toddlers running around, my little Riley just turned two at the end of August. I wondered how she got to be two so quickly. I thought of everything that had happened in my own seasons of life over those past two years. I lost my mom, Riley’s great-gramma, four days after she was born. I lost my dad, little Riley’s great-grandpa, five months after that. But instead of mourning the sadness of the loss, I remind myself that is what life is about. I look to the good things, that my mom was able to hang on long enough until Riley was born and then was able to finally “let go”. And my dad was the lucky one that got to hold Riley in his arms, and as he said on our last Christmas together that year, “your mom would have loved this baby so much”.

We celebrated Riley’s second birthday at Disneyland. All of us: myself, Riley, Katie, Vinnie, Brande, Bryce and Justine, ALL my kids were there to make her birthday special. I sat at lunch that day, looking around the table and felt so very, very grateful to have what I did that day, my family, the life I’ve been blessed with. There have been seasons of my life in the past when we weren’t all able to be together like this. So we rode all the rides, watched Riley’s big blue eyes sparkle at the magic of Disneyland, and most of all, we just laughed. As corny as it sounds, you have to celebrate those moments, the simple things, the day, and remind yourself how fortunate and grateful we should be to have days like this.

Country Roads has truly been a gift to me. It’s so much more than “just” a store! I’ve been given so many unique opportunities to experience the seasons of life with family, friends, and strangers. I always look at each day as a story waiting to be told. I believe in finding the positive in my days, even the worst of days. As the holiday season approaches, keep positive and be grateful for those you have in your lives. Just as some family and friends may go, never forget to celebrate those that are still with you. Be grateful for those seasons of life! Happy Holidays

“The Kitchen Stove Warms More Than Just the Kitchen”

In a time when the kitchen stove was always working hard cooking something for breakfast, lunch, and supper, it didn’t just keep those old kitchens warm! It warmed the hearts of families all across our country as mealtimes were a time to bond, share, and spend time with family. Those traditions are our history and culture. Maybe that is why there is such an appeal for those old kitchen collectibles. It reminds us of simpler times, family, and memories that we carry with us from our childhood days.

People who have never really “collected” antique and vintage items because they thought it was too expensive, might be surprised. You may be interesting in getting started with kitchen collectibles. The prices can start from $3.00, for example, to start say a syrup pitcher collection or even kitchen utensils. You can start out learning and as your collection grows, you can expand on the more unusual syrup pitchers or utensils. I started my own collection of syrup pitchers years ago. When my kids were small, there wasn’t a lot left over for extras so I couldn’t really collect the antiques I desired. I started, though, with the syrup pitchers not only because of the affordability but because of the memories. I always remember my grandma making me pancakes and having what I thought as a kid, syrup in these “fancy glasses with handles”. I still have my syrup collection today but have been able to add nicer pitchers to the collection, some with bakelite handles, others with sterling silver tops.

Another one of my favorite kitchen collections was started because I’ve always loved country primitive furniture. The early butter churns, which were usually three gallon in size and made in the mid 1800’s, remind me daily how hard our families had to work in those days to make something as simple as butter! Maybe that’s why when we see the vintage dresses from the 1800’s they are in such tiny sizes. Those women had to work hard back then! In the early 1900’s, you found butter churns made out of stoneware, some stamped with the Red Wing mark. The same principal was used here, churning these three gallons crocks with a wood handle with both hands. From the early wooden churns, things got a little better when the churns were made from glass and you only had to crank a handle with one hand instead of both hands with a little hip action thrown in! Today those old wooden butter churns and crocks will cost you a bit of change. It is said back in the 1800’s you could purchase these for a couple of dollars according to the old Sears & Roebuck catalogs. Today, you are probably looking more like a couple of hundred dollars depending on the type and condition of the churn. The glass jar churns though, can be purchased from around $80 to $150 depending on the churn, whether the beaters are wood or metal.

Yelloware bowls are another good collection to invest in and fun to collect because there are so many varieties and differing prices to choose from. Between the 1830’s and 1940’s, yelloware was found in most kitchens across America. It was a ceramic made by firing yellow clay that was found in riverbeds in Ohio and the Northeast. The yellow colors vary because of the clay. These bowls were used a lot because back then they didn’t cost much, were pretty sturdy and at the time could even be used on the old kitchen stove, although I wouldn’t advise that today. I use my old yelloware bowls all the time, especially holiday dinners and special occasions. I love the way they look on my harvest table. I don’t advise putting them in the dishwasher though. The price of these bowls can range from a $20 bowl that may be chipped, to $1500 for stacking sets or earlier collections of these bowls.

The thing about collecting, especially kitchen collectibles, is to choose things you like.
You know, collecting is like decorating in my opinion, there are no rules. Surround yourself with what you like, or what brings back memories. Collecting is about what makes us happy, what warms our heart just like the old kitchen stoves that warmed the kitchens, this warmth helps keep our busy daily lives just a little more cozy.

The Gift of a Rose

Several years ago I gave my dear friend Ruthie Schmidt a bare root rose. I thought it was a great gift, something that would continue to grow and bloom just like our friendship that I so deeply cherished has grown and blossomed! Last year, Ruthie moved back to Florida and left her home and garden behind here in Old Towne Orange. The house belongs to her daughter, but Ruthie was the gardener. Her gardens were absolutely beautiful! She would bring us roses, fruit from her trees, and some of the vegetables she had grown to Country Roads. Her daughter has decided to sell her house and asked one of my dealers at Country Roads to hold an estate sale. Because Ruthie was so involved in Country Roads for so many years, Steve and Robin, who are doing the estate sale, wanted to do a preview night for just the Country Roads dealers. They wanted me to help be in charge of the event and I tried to explain to them “why” I couldn’t do it.

The house is no longer a “home” in my mind. And the “things” for sale have no meaning for me. I think I would be too heartbroken to step inside of the house. Over the past years, I have so many fond memories of Ruthie in that house. She use to host, what she called, “Operation Sell” once a month. She would invite a few people over from Country Roads that she felt would be good at contributing marketing ideas. Often Mike Escobedo attended a few meetings as well. Ruthie would sit at her desk, and the former school teacher that Ruthie once was, held our attention as we shared marketing ideas. Ruthie would have an agenda prepared for us and her daughter Susan would take notes. It was the best of times for me. Ruthie would cut out articles she found in trade publications about marketing that she felt were worthwhile and share them with us all.

After I had spoken to Steve and Robin about the estate sale and the Country Roads preview night I went home and emailed Ruthie. I told her there was no way I could go over to what was once her home, but now is just a house to me. The thought of people going through all of the things in the house and wanting better prices on them, well, that image just broke my heart. So, I sadly explained to Ruthie “why” I just couldn’t do it. I asked her for one big favor that would mean so very, very much to me. I asked her if I could have one of her rosebushes. I would have my son Bryce go over and dig it out, assuming it was okay with Susan since it is her house, and replace it with another one I would buy at a nursery. I so badly wanted my memory of Ruthie and the happy times in her garden to continue to be a reminder to me each time I saw her rosebush in my garden.

Ruthie’s reply was wonderful. She told me she knew the exact rose she wanted me to have. It is called the “Tuscan Sun”, it was the bare root rose I had given her years ago and forgotten about. That was the rose she wanted me to have and I immediately knew the exact place in my garden that I would plant it. I was very touched by the words from such a special person that Ruthie is. There aren’t many “Ruthie’s” in our world today unfortunately. We need more of them. And because of Ruthie’s gesture, each day I walk out my front door, I will see “our” rose and be reminded of the true meaning of love and friendship.

Thanksgiving. . .The Forgotten Holiday or What?

There are many reasons I wonder if Thanksgiving is truly the forgotten holiday, or maybe it is just the real meaning of Thanksgiving that seems to be overlooked. And to take that a step further, what actually is the “real” meaning of Thanksgiving? If you look up Thanksgiving Day in the dictionary, it gives you a few sentences about its history. “Thanksgiving originated in the autumn of 1621 when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited neighboring Indians to join the Pilgrims for a three-day festival of recreation and feasting in gratitude for the bounty of the season, which had been partly enabled by the Indian’s advice”. When you look at what Thanksgiving originally was, a simple festival, with no mention of turkey, pumpkin pie, football, after Thanksgiving day sales and more; what happened? And let’s not even mention what our grateful settlers and pioneers later ended up doing to the Indians.

In retail, as I watch the seasons change along with the store displays, somehow Thanksgiving slips through the cracks. By summers end, you see fall and Halloween merchandise everywhere, and even the beginnings of Christmas displays. But what about the turkeys? The poor turkeys, and I’m a vegetarian so I “really” feel sorry for the turkeys! Country Roads sells a few antique turkey candy containers, an occasional vintage turkey salt and pepper shaker, but that is about it. Could it be, not to be judgmental, that turkeys are not very attractive, and that the little Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim figurine set just doesn’t cut it as a centerpiece for your holiday dinner table? It is interesting to me personally that we, as a Nation, have created an entire holiday week-end around dead birds, too much food, football and Christmas shopping. Especially when billions of people in “our” world live in poverty, and a huge percentage of that number live on less than a dollar a day!

Okay, I hope all of you know me well enough by now to know that I think there is much more to Thanksgiving than above. But, I also wish the Thanksgivings of the future could change their priorities of our Nation a little bit as well. I personally am thankful for that fourth Thursday every November. Country Roads is closed for the day, so Thanksgiving is a day of rest and reflective thoughts on what I’m truly thankful for! I am personally grateful for how blessed I am to live the life I have. I make Thanksgiving a day of spending time with my family, but not sweating over a stove, or stressing out to make sure I have the “perfect” stuffing or roasted turkey on the dinner table. Actually, my family usually goes out to dinner instead to a restaurant that has other main courses available than the poor, big ugly bird! It is nice to relax and laugh and be able to “afford” to go out to dinner. Even though I can “afford” to go out for a holiday dinner, I also make sure that I can “afford” to give back to life as much as I can!

I am definitely not trying to make anyone feel guilty for eating poor, dead ugly birds. Nor am I trying to make you feel guilty about starting your Christmas shopping. Hey, I own a retail business! And please, don’t think for a second, that I’m trying to imply anyone should feel guilty for living a comfortable life. That is not my point. I just want to bring awareness of what a difference we can all make if we re-direct a small percentage of our energies and priorities, not just at the holidays, but daily. I want to remind myself and my customers, once again, about the importance of simply giving back to life and to those that need a helping hand. The holidays are the pits for those in need! And I believe in my heart, if we just take some time, even on Thanksgiving, to decide how we can make a difference in others lives this holiday season, next year and the years after that, things in the world will slowly start to change for those that need help the most! If we take the time to talk to our kids at our Thanksgiving dinners about the importance of helping others that have so little, maybe we can start to remember that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be the forgotten holiday. Maybe we can create a new Thanksgiving “tradition” for years to come. Thanksgiving can become a holiday of giving, especially with our hearts.

Summer, Little Friends, Gardening & Lots of Memories

It’s been almost two years now since my mom passed away. She was Johnnye Merle, as in Johnnye Merle Gardens and Nursery! After she died I wrote an article about her, mentioning that I wish she would have had a chance to have known or just held her great-granddaughter. Unfortunately, Riley was born four days before my mom died, and my mom never got to hold her, but she did get to see a picture. I knew in my heart though, that my mom would always be looking down at Johnnye Merle Gardens, which was named after her, and watching as Riley, Josalyn, Arianna, and now Adrian grew and learned about plants, gardening, and just the meaning of friendship, love and family. They would learn about putting back in the earth what you take. And now, two years later, I know my mom is pretty happy watching our “youngin’s” running around out back. They can all walk now, even Adrian is beginning to. I know that would make her smile.

There is just something magical about little kids during the summer months. They get to be just “kids” and I believe this is the time when their creativity is at its peak. Endless hours to play, use their imaginations or just hang out with their friends. Life is calmer, more fun and there is much more time for and gardening, playing, and enjoying the sunshine and water. The other day, Josalyn’s mom, Yesi, was out in JM gardens watering. It was just one of those beautiful SoCal summer days. Josalyn just happen to have her swimsuit with her, and Country Roads just happened to have a big, old washtub! And when you are a little kid that means having your own private swimming pool! That is my favorite part about little kids. It doesn’t take much to make them happy or to improvise. They use their imaginations in ways that we as adults have many times simply have forgotten we even have imaginations!

Someone once asked me if I thought it was “professional” to have little kids at the store, meaning Country Roads. I guess it would depend how you define professional. Country Roads is a family business. And being a family business, means there are kids involved. My own kids were about 7, 9, and 11 when I opened Country Roads. They’ve grown up in the store and learned to work, just as I imagine our new generation of little kids will. Sure, when one of them is screaming, it’s annoying, but rare. And after all, our little ones aren’t here all the time, just on special occasions or a babysitting crisis. I love how the little ones have learned to become friends and play together. Actually, the three little girls; Riley, Josalyn, and Arianna, will be flower girls this fall in Pam Richardson’s wedding. I’ve known Pam since she was five years old. These are the memories, the stories, the friendships and love that make Country Roads the store it is. We’ve got great stuff, good prices and an awesome garden out back named after my mom, Johnnye Merle! I know my mom is watching it all and knowing I did “good” with the little ones, just as she use to do herself. She taught my kids when they were little about gardening. It always made her smile. Little kids are great if you take the time to enjoy them. I hope summer gives you that extra time this year. One of my favorite quotes is: “While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about”. Angela Schwindt

Have a happy, relaxing summer, and just make some time to do nothing with your youngins!

Ruthie’s Chair Story

This story was written by my dear friend, my Ruthie!

This is the story of my chair.
The year was 1995.
The place was the annual July handmade craft show at Piecemakers-Costa Mesa, Ca.
While strolling by the many booths of wonderful things, I spied this marvelous vintage chair that had been lovingly recovered with an old, soft pastel floral chenille bedspread. It was love at first sight. It was, indeed, a must have for my bedroom. In order to make room for my new love, I discovered I would have to part with something else, which I decided would have to be an old desk.
I believe that for most things you can find an answer if you look for it. After pondering this for a time, I came up with the idea that maybe, just maybe, a local antique store where I had shopped many times could be the answer. I had never had a space in an antique store but the idea appealed to me. I gathered up my nerve and off I went to Country Roads Antiques and Gardens in Old Towne Orange to inquire about my idea of selling my old desk. All I would need would be just a tiny space. Of course, Country Roads is not just any antique store--it is simply the best and in my mind the only place worthy of my desk. Please remember, I loved my new chair but I needed to give my old desk the respect it deserved so I was willing to risk rejection at Country Roads.
I was cordially greeted by the owner, Sue Jackson, and began pleading my case about my new chair and I needed a small space to sell my desk. I realize now that I must have sounded like some wacko, but she was so kind and inquired what else I had to sell. OOPS, I had not thought of that! I assured her I had a few other small things that I could add-although, truth be known, I had no idea what that would be.
She showed me a very tiny spot at the top of the stairs that I could rent. I was thrilled beyond words--never mind the roof was slanted and you almost had to bend over to get in. What a happy day -yup, there I was--a proud "dealer" at Country Roads. I was ecstatic as I made the short trip home to get my desk! I had about 30 square feet of the more than 15,000 square feet at Country Roads. But to me, it was gigantic. Little did I know that on that day I was embarking on a 12 year love affair with CR-an experience that I have concluded was and is a hallmark of my life--all because I fell in love with
a chair!
If, by chance, you were looking for me you only needed to look 3 places--my garden, CR or my chair. Yup, I sat in my chair reading by the hour, writing, making hundreds of tickets for pricing merchandise, catalog shopping for new product, planning the stores budget and sometimes just reflecting . The beautiful chenille bedspread finally wore out, the seat was sagging, and I reluctantly had it replaced with a slipcover which she was proud to wear. You take care of things you love.
For me, I have found it best as I travel the road of life, to look out of the windshield. Sometimes things occur that cause you to take a glimpse in the rearview mirror wither you want to or not. That happened to me yesterday.
My chair is now living with Susan in her new home and she looks beautiful there--just like she belongs. Why she is living there is another story. But the fleeting glance I had in the rearview mirror,as I looked at a recent photo of her, caused me to pause and reminded me of all the times we shared. I wonder what she would say-- if chairs could talk?
Just like an old friend that is gone--for one reason or another, I miss her and all that she represents to me. Do I have other chairs? Of course I do and for this I am grateful because I am aware that some people have none. None the less, she is special to me because of all the positive gifts that she has given to me in ways that changed my life.


I sit at the red light, and I see her again. I had just left the bank to make a deposit before going to work. The bank is in a little shopping center near my house, the “Los Altos” area of Long Beach. I’ve seen this woman many times over the past few years. As I watch her cross the street in front of me, I wonder how she became homeless. She holds her head up high. Her appearance is immaculate! You would never suspect she was homeless except for the wagon she pulls. In it she has, what I’m guessing is her life. It’s packed neatly in a nice suitcase with a few other odds and ends. She has a little sheltie dog that is with her and wearing a little pink doggie jacket to keep her warm. She use to have two dogs, and I always feel bad knowing that something happened to the other one, meaning these dogs are her only family. There is a small local library in this neighborhood where the woman often goes and gets books to read in a small area, similar to a park by Bristol Farms. I see her at different times sitting outside of Bristol Farms with her dog, drinking coffee and reading. She is a proud woman, you can tell. Brande and I always would like to give her money, but are afraid as we wouldn’t want to offend her or make her feel less a person. Where does she sleep at night? Where does she bathe to look so neat and proud each day? This world of ours has put a different face on the people that have become homeless in today’s world. Why am I writing about this woman? She is always a reminder to me of “positivity” as she proudly walks down the street with her head held high. You can just tell that she takes life a day at a time with a positive attitude.

I've written about my mom before, and how her life wasn't always easy. She was born in Lubbock, Texas and lived there as a young child. Her life was simple, filled with challenges, and her family didn't have much. But she never looked back at her childhood negatively. As a young teenager, her family moved to Temple, Texas. Things were a little bit better for awhile. Her mom worked as a waitress and her dad drove and oil truck. But, like many things in life, stuff happens. Her dad committed suicide when my mom was fifteen and her mom died of breast cancer a few years later. My mom ended up moving to CA and marrying my dad. My life growing up was pretty simple. My dad worked for Edison, my mom worked part time for awhile when my sister and I were teenagers. But the one thing I always, always remember about my mom was that she was such a positive person! Living through everything she did, including the Depression, she was a positive person. As a child she would sing all the time, stupid little songs. She always sang the song, "High Hopes", think Frank Sinatra recorded it. Never did a day go by while growing up that she wasn't singing happy, positive little songs. My mom stayed positive her entire life, even right up to the time she died. Never complaining about her pain, she just accepted life. Her love of music was passed on to me, and I try to pass that on to Riley & Morgan as well. Music and those that perform and write it is the very best dose of positivity I could ever ask for. I'm a big fan of American Idol. There, I admitted it. I like it obviously because of the music. But also love to watch it because it is about young people working as “positively” as they can to make their dreams come true! As I watched ldol the other night, I was really thrilled to see Danny Gokey come back and perform his new song. For us "Idol" fans, I think you remember how Danny had lost his wife at a young age. But instead of choosing to let life pass him by, he turned it all around. His positivity took him on a new path in life. And his new song, “My Best Days Are Ahead”, is so uplifting and positive!

There is no doubt that life is tough right now. But if you get up each morning and swallow a good sized dose of positivity, you just might feel a whole lot better. And I think I will muster up some courage and positively walk over to the woman and her little dog and just smile and hand her an envelope with some money and say, “this is for you”. Sometimes just knowing that people care about you can make the biggest difference in others lives. Maybe I’ll now go see if I can download “High Hopes” on to my computer.

Making It Easy To “Give” Back

A few years ago, and I don’t remember the exact circumstances, I came across this awesome, little project that the Orange YWCA had been doing for several years. It was called, “My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project”. It was originally started by my favorite Councilwoman, Tita Smith’s mom, Joan Hoefs Smith. Basically, the concept is to collect purses that are “gently used” and fill them with stuff like personal hygiene products, or maybe a hankie or nail polish. These purses were and are distributed throughout the shelters in Orange County throughout the year, focusing mainly on Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. Since Christmas, this project has collected over 500 purses and put smiles on many grateful women’s faces!

As I started to write this article, I realized I didn’t know as much about My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project as I thought I did, and I wanted to learn more. So, as I seem to do a lot lately when I need help, I once again turned to Councilwoman Tita for more background on this wonderful project. Joan Hoefs Smith came to Orange in the 1920’s, went to West Orange School and then to Orange Union High School. That is when she learned not only about our Native Americans history, but also sadly learned about the poverty and deplorable conditions they lived in. Deeply concerned about this, Joan took it upon herself to make it her own personal charity to “give back”, to make a difference in the little Indian kids lives that were subjected to living in such poverty on these reservations. Joanie decided she would start collecting dolls at garage sales, wash ‘em up, refurbish them, re-do their hair and outfit each one of these gently loved dolls and box them up with a blanket and send them to the Indian reservations for Christmas gifts.

About fifty years ago, there a fellow named Danny Davey. And like Joanie, he too had the desire to make a difference in others lives. Danny was a UPS driver, but he had a heartfelt desire and passion to provide goods and gifts to our Native Americans. Thus, the Thunderbird Foundation was established. It all began that very first Christmas, when Danny decided to play Santa to all these little kids on the reservation. He loaded up a UPS truck with the dolls, gifts one Christmas and drove it to Arizona. The rest is pretty much history as his efforts grew and grew until there were many, many trucks following him to many of the Indian families every Christmas!

As this project grew and grew, somewhere along the way, Danny’s mom died. She left behind a number of handbags, personal belongings and more. Danny, being a giving man, filled those handbags with his mom’s things and trucked them right on over to the Indian women. These women were thrilled, and can you just imagine the smiles on their faces? Just the act of “giving” these specially packed purses not only made a difference in others lives, but as you can see, this is where it, being “My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project” began. Of course the Native American Indian women loved this SO much that they grew to expect these purses. Not wanting to let them down, and Danny knowing that Joanie Smith of Orange, Ca, had provided hundreds of dolls for the little Indian children all these years, Danny knew that Joanie could help him out. If she could get the purses filled, he could get them delivered

So, Joanie enlisted everyone she knew to help her out: friends, daughters, granddaughters and all of their friends as well. Purses began to pour in by the dozens! The purses had to reach Joanie by Halloween, purses that were new or gently used and filled with toiletries, hankies, pens, note cards and much more. And because these purses were going to the Native American women in Arizona where is cold, they also started collecting warm socks, scarves, gloves and other clothing items to keep the women warm. Over all those years, Joanie produced literally thousands of dolls and purses and Danny Davey and the Thunderbird Foundation, without ever hesitating, delivered these presents, gifts and more to all the delighted Native American women and children.

It’s “That” Time of Year Again

Whether you are a fan of the holidays or not, they’re unavoidable! For me, when I start to see the Salvation Army folks crazily ringing their bells for donations, I know we’re knee deep into the holiday season. When I see the cartons of eggnog popping up in the refrigerator section in the grocery store, I know we’re “loosening belt buckles” for the approaching holiday season! And lastly, and I really hate to admit this, when I start playing my Christmas CD’s in the car while driving, it’s over, the holidays are definitely here!! And I also see people slowly starting to go crazy. I’ve already seen it in some of the eyes of my customers! Scary.

Have fun this year. Yes, “you”, have fun this year! Forget the perfect gifts, forget the perfect dinners, forget the perfect parties and all the perfect stuff in general. After all, we all know life itself isn’t perfect! Why not take some time to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. Make things easy on yourself this year so you don’t walk around with those crazy eyes I mentioned above. When you look in the mirror, you may not see crazy eyes, but I guarantee others do, especially those of us that work retail! This idea of “perfection” never seizes to amaze me. During the week of the horrible wild fires here in SoCal, we had a customer obsessed with purchasing the perfect pillow! I’m serious. She was obsessed with a pillow while hundreds lost their homes in Southern California. I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.

This year make a difference in your life and others. Simplify and enjoy the company of others. After all, love and friendship is a gift itself. Go out to lunch or dinner with a friend or relative and pick up the tab. Let that be your gift to them. Just think how much less stressful that could be and how much more fun. You get to enjoy someone’s company while someone else cooks and serves you food. You get to engage in conversation in a relaxed environment and there are no dirty dishes to clean, no wrapping paper or boxes to recycle. It can be that easy if you think about it. And may I suggest, a shopping trip to Country Roads before that lunch or dinner would really make your celebration all that much more special! Celebrate the New Year by simply remembering there’s another 365 days ahead filled with endless opportunity to make a difference in the world.

I know the holidays are hard for some of you, and there are many people that get depressed over the holidays. Find that positive in your life. Remember what warms your heart and makes you smile. The holidays are much like life. . . we can focus on the negative, depressing things or we can look for the positive things that are good in our lives. You know, last Christmas I had just lost my mom a few months prior and my dad had come over for Christmas dinner. He was a mess. My dad missed my mom and his Alzheimer’s was really taking his mind over. When he left, he almost completely fell off my front porch but thankfully we caught him. He passed away less than two months after that. If I only think about “that” Christmas last year, I would be sad. But instead, I think of others things. For example, one Christmas when I was in college my family went over to some friends of my dad’s, to their house for Christmas dinner. My dad wasn’t much of a drinker, a few beers here and there. That particular Christmas, his friend, who was much younger, started pouring Irish Whiskey for him and my dad. Well, you can imagine the outcome. As my dad walked towards this family’s beautifully decorated Christmas tree in their living room that sat in front of a huge glass window in front of their house, my dad tripped. The tree, the lights, the ornaments AND my dad ended up on his friend’s front lawn! My dad got up, with Christmas lights and tinsel dangling from his body and simply said, “did I do that”? I still laugh when I think about that Christmas. So my wish to all of you is celebrate the love and joy of the holiday season with those that mean the most to you. Life is a continuous journey and there will be some bumps along the way. But that’s why we have helmets, right?
Happy Holidays to You All!

It’s “Not” About Need, It’s About Want

I don’t need to remind any of you that times are kind of tough right now. And being self-employed in retail, especially the antique business where many consider this type of shopping a non necessity, the economy can be frightening. After all, it has gotten so expensive to buy groceries and gas these days, so how do we justify buying something we may not necessarily “need” but we really “want”? And also, how do we justify buying the “extras” right now when so many people are losing homes and jobs? Those things are overwhelming to me at times.

The way I feel these days is, first, if you have any extra funds or resources to spare, please think about the people that really need help right now. Even if you give a homeless guy a few bucks and a smile, or contribute to a food bank, or even bring us (Country Roads) a gently used purse filled with personal hygiene items and some extras, you will have made a difference someone else’s life by such a simple gesture. Our purses are collected, as many of you know, for the Orange YWCA’s program called, “My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project”. They distribute these purses throughout the year to women in shelters in Orange County. And I know how much this means to these women and I also hope you will help us help the “Y” by donating some purses filled with goodies. It’s that simple to give back when we can.

It is, at times, difficult to buy for ourselves when we are aware of the things that are going on in the world around us. But the one thing about antiques is if you buy right, you have an investment in the future. If you need money to pay a bill, or you lose your job, you can always sell those treasures that are so dear to many of us. Those treasures hold their value even in the worst of times. Antiques are one of a kind, and as I said above, it’s usually not about “needing” them, but “wanting” them as you know if you don’t buy it when you see it, chances are it won’t still be there when you finally do decide to make your purchase.

The other awesome thing about antiques and vintage items is that we are reusing and recycling! No trees have been cut down, no furniture factories are polluting our air to mass produce new furniture, along with many, many other reasons to make antique and vintage merchandise a part of your daily lives. Not only do you have a piece of history, but you are using your antique dresser to hold your clothes, it has a necessary function in your life. Or if you into vintage clothing, that is probably cool and cheaper than a new stuff, you have your own sense of style. Try putting your books in an old shipping crate rather than buying a new book shelf, save some trees. Plus, by reusing and recycling, your own homes will show some decorating style that isn’t like everyone else’s. Be an individual, be unique and stand out in the crowd with your own style while at the same time helping save our world by recycling.

So, next time you out shopping for antiques & vintage stuff, don’t beat yourself up when you think you don’t really “need” that totally awesome chandelier but you really, really “want” it. Do what I do. You know, every time I soak in my old rescued, clawfoot bathtub, with my shelf above it that was made from the old Laguna Beach boardwalk we have in the store and held up by some vintage architectural pieces, I feel good. I’m happy to be able to look at my old pottery on that shelf, and my recycled vintage ceiling tins above my head on my bathroom ceiling. I’m thankful I made the decision to buy that old chippy white painted chandelier that hangs above my bathtub. I know that it will light up my little grandchild Riley’s life as much as it warms my own life. As Riley’s generation, I hope, will be the most aware of the importance of our earth, life and giving back to the world.

I'm Havin' A Dandy Time Re-Modeling

We’ve all been through it one time or another. It’s called re-modeling when a better description would be “my life in hell”. I’ve been in my house for about seven years now. This house means a lot to me. I bought it after my divorce and barely had enough money for the down payment since the other person involved in this divorce managed to come out much better financially than I did! But none the less, the house was mine, and mine alone! It’s just a track house in Long Beach (where I grew up) built in the 1950’s. I wanted a house that would still be a family house even though my kids were older. I wanted room for all of them to come back home if they needed to in the future. I also needed a house big enough for my stuff and a pool was important to me as well. When I found this house, the previous owners had put on some awesome additions and it was the size I needed, it had a pool and a few other extras. But it needed work.

So, for the past seven years myself and my son, son-in-law, and daughters have helped me with various projects. We took up all the nasty carpet, we painted, we had half the front yard taken out to make room for a garden, we ripped out ugly oak kitchen cabinets, and much more. I remember the time my son and I were building a “tiki bar” in the backyard. He was in the process of breaking up with a long time girlfriend and that bar became a daily head butting session. But now, actually, it looks pretty cool. I also had been saving money to have some “professionals” come in a do some things around the house that I wasn’t sure my family could help me with. So, I hired a contractor!

Okay, before I continue, this guy and “his guys” are awesome and if any of you are looking for a company that can do any and everything, get hold of me and I’ll give you their number. I had been saving some antique windows with old stained glass and chippy white paint, along with a couple of really old doors with the same look. I wanted to have two openings in the wall cut open for the windows an I have a huge great room in the back of the house with a darker, wood open beam ceiling. The room was always dark and needed some light. This was one of the rooms I wanted the professionals to do for me. The thing with country antiques is that not everyone gets “the look”. I was making a pile for the dumpster outside and very specifically had to tell these guys which pile was which since it all looked like trash to them!

Construction began, my cats were locked up in a room where they couldn’t escape as was the dog. Me and Riley (my baby granddaughter) hung out in my office. The dust and demo began as did the questions. I would scoop up Riley in my arms and join the crew to answer their questions. One of the guys told me that my house reminded him of his folks house in the poorer part of Mexico. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that comment but since he was so nice I just said “thanks” as I tried to explain to him what country primitive antiques were. When it came time to hang my awesome old doors, I wasn’t about to tell them how much I paid for the doors. I just watched hoping with all my heart that the original glass wouldn’t break. In the end, they did an awesome job and actually I had the same crew put siding on the outside of my house and paint it as well. We did have one moment when they were on my patio with the spray gun and started to paint my old, chippy white iron trellis’ that had palm trees on them and was shipped from Florida from an old house back there. They only freshly painted one tree, which I still need to sand, but everything else went well.

Remodeling is always a challenge, as we all know. I’ve learned to live with it since my house is always a work in progress. I like doing most of it myself, it is cheaper and rewarding. I’m always walking around with bruises from one project or another I’m doing around my house. No matter how tired or sore I am, when the projects are done it feels good and I “really” am having a dandy time remodeling!!

What A Wonderful World

One of my favorite songs of all times is by Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”. If you haven’t heard it before, you are missing out on hearing an awesome song. Even though the lyrics were written years ago, when I listen to the words, it reminds me today how fortunate I am to be doing what I do to make a living. Being able to have an antique business like Country Roads, work with people of all walks of life daily, and also work with different charities of my choice, reminds me each day how good life is to me! I really do live in a “wonderful world” in spite of everything that goes on in our world today.

I’ve always made it a point to leave my own personal political opinions out of my daily store operations. But I don’t think I’m over stepping any boundries when I say that our world is a big mess right now! The violence, the racial intolerance of others, the poverty is all very overwhelming and sad. You can’t turn on the news or pick up a newspaper without hearing or reading about the daily tragedies in life. I worry what kind of world my future grandchildren will live in. Will it all change, or will they too have to struggle to survive in a world that is filled with intolerance of others? Will it still be a world where a person can being shot by just making a bad lane change on a freeway, or simply by the color of their skin, or their choice of lifestyle? I can only hope things will change.

When people shop at Country Roads, they are my customers, some are my friends, and in my eyes they are ALL the same. I don’t see a gay man buying plants in our garden, or a black woman buying a rose painting, or a tattooed young girl buying a vintage dress, or a Latino little boy buying a vintage story book. They are just like me, people, families, that like to shop for antiques, vintage merchandise, plants for their gardens and more. We talk about what they buy, we talk about their kids, we talk about plants, music and more. They enjoy the atmosphere that Country Roads has provided, along with our great merchandise. I’m pretty sure that our customers enjoy being greeted with a smile and know how very much we appreciate them shopping with us. And the best part about selling antiques and vintage stuff is no one ever asks about what “kind” of person previously may have owned the antique they are buying. When it comes to antiques, they come in all colors, styles and sizes and no one cares.

With summer here, we hope you will stop by the store and spend some time. Country Roads front door is always open to everyone! One thing our customers often ask us is, “can you do any better”, which refers to the price of an antique they are interested in. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could ask the world the same thing, “can you do a little better? I know we can if we strive to make it the world that Louis Armstrong saw. Yes, I too “hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know” and I too think to myself “What a Wonderful World”.