Escape from Reality

We just got back from our annual beach vacation, and once again it was the perfect escape from reality. For one whole week I got to hang out with my extended family and my oldest and dearest friends, and do nothing but read books, swim, catch up, reminisce, eat, drink, stare at the stars, and sleep in. I write about it every year, and this year I debated on whether to write about it again, but today I decided I would. Because today I thought to myself is this really an escape from reality, or a microcosm of reality? Of my most fortunate reality? Because when I look at my life with my beach eyes on, I see so clearly the thing that matters most: spending time with people I love. And I see how lucky I am to have such amazing parents – really fun, funny, smart and confident nieces, nephews, and kids – friends who are truly family – a husband I love to be with – and a life that affords me this vacation. I don’t mean to be boastful, I just think that this is what summer vacation is all about, and I hope everyone, in their own way, is having a similar reality this summer.

The Beach

The Camper Van Harrisons

For the past year or so, Todd and I have been debating about what kind of car to get. One of our two Subarus was overheating regularly and we knew the end was near. We finally decided to find a nice used Toyota Sienna mini-van with all-wheel-drive, but those are pretty hard to come by, and our search was fruitless. Then recently I ran into our neighbor in the alley and he said, “I’m planning on selling my van. Do you think Todd might still be interested in buying it?” So Todd and I took it for a test drive and a few days later we were the proud owners of a 1987 VW Vanagon. I was skeptical, but the price was right, and I loved the idea of it – lots of space (seats seven), a table that pops up, and then seats that fold into a bed. Dreamy…

Todd worked his butt off getting the van into ship shape, and the day after the kids got out of school we loaded it up with camping gear, cooler, kids, Grandma, and the dog, and headed out for a ten day road-trip adventure through Montana and Canada. Even though it doesn’t go much more than 40 mph up a steep mountain pass, it is the perfect road trip machine. I love our “new” van! And I love camping with my family. We had the best trip.

And every night by the campfire, Nadine and I got out our notebooks and documented our vacation. For me, writing, drawing, and coloring was such a nice way to relax and reflect on my day. I draw like a ten year old, I don’t color very well inside the lines, nothing is ever to scale, and my handwriting can be hard to read, but I thought I’d post it anyway. So here it is. (Click on the image if you want to see a larger version.)

Road Trip Day 1 - Washington to Montana

Road Trip Day 2 - Montana

Road Trip - driving the model T in Montana

Road Trip - Boulder to Glacier

Road Trip - Red Rocks Canyon

Road Trip - Waterton canoeing and kayaking

Road Trip - Waterton - hike to Crypt Lake

Road Trip - Hwy 3 through Canada

Road Trip - Hwy 3 through Canada - from inside the Van

Road Trip - Harrison Hot Springs

Road Trip - There is No Place Like Home



Happy Fathers Day!

I intended to write about my dad today, but I didn’t plan my time well. On Friday I had a sudden urge to purge my laundry room, and I’m still recovering from having pulled out every last thing, trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss, and then putting it all back in there in an organized way. Crazy. (Sorry Dad!)

But I still wanted to write a quick post to say Happy Father’s Day!!! to my amazing father. I am so so lucky to have such an incredible role model for a dad – a tireless, generous, charming, funny, triple-kissing, organizational master. I love you dad!

My Dad


Investment Advice

Today I’ve decided to write a post about investing. Now you may be thinking to yourself, Investment advice from Suzanne? That’s crazy talk! Well believe me, I would never dream of giving advice on how to invest your money (although if you have some for me, I’d gladly take it.) No, today I’m going to write about investing in terms of time not money.

First, let’s turn to the dictionary for a definition of “invest.” Check it out:

Dictionary - Invest

Wow! I had no idea that the word ‘invest” had so many meanings! Gotta love the dictionary…

The thing is, or at least it seems to me, that investing your time is a lot like investing your money. The more you invest, the greater your return over time. Of course you must invest wisely! Yes, it will feel risky, especially at the beginning and through the dips, and there will be times when you may want to adjust your investment strategy, but it you are persistent, you will surely earn profitable returns.

Why am I writing about this? Well, because four years ago I changed my investment strategy. Four years ago, almost to the day, I got out of what I believed had become a bad investment. For too long I had been investing my time and energy in something that would probably never pay off. I was working my butt off for people who didn’t appreciate me, and for a company I no longer respected. I was getting a decent paycheck, but I was going nowhere. It was time to pull out.

It was scary, but I decided that I needed to invest in what I believed in, and what would probably give me the best returns: my family and myself. Has it paid off? Definitely. How so? Well, it’s not like I can put a dollar value on it, but I decided to try and chart it out:

Return On Investment Chart

Note: This is not a scientifically accurate chart.

Right now, being self-employed, I am not making as much money as I was back when I had my full-time job. Plus, insurance is complicated and expensive, taxes are also complicated and expensive, and so many things that were taken care of by “The Man” I have to take care of myself – I need to buy my own equipment and software, be my own tech support, do my own accounting, etc. But, knowing how to do these things myself are part of my investment in me! Not only am I increasing my skill set, but I’m understanding the “big picture” in a whole new way.

What’s also exciting (and scary!) is knowing that my success or failure is completely up to me. I’m not waiting for a lucky break or a big promotion or an awesome boss to help me out. Instead I’m trying to make the best choices possible, and become more and more competent at what I do. Over time, as my portfolio of work has grown, so has my skill-set and confidence. Even though I don’t know where the next client will come from, I never have to worry that I might get fired. And, looking back on my web work for the past four years, I’ve gone from having only a few clients and doing work for trade, to juggling three or four jobs at a time. Hooray!

Then there’s my family. I just want to be with them as much as possible. I’m realizing how this time with my kids is flying by, and I don’t want to miss out. Not only do I want to spend time with them, but I want them to eat healthy, get exercise, be creative, try new things, have fun with their friends, play with their puppy, and stay off those darn devices as much as possible. For me, I feel like that is easier when I’m around.

You know what they say: “Time is money,” which I totally agree with in terms of business, but in terms of flexibility, and freedom, and living your life to the fullest, time is a gift that becomes more precious with each passing day, and so I intend to invest my time as wisely as possible. Because this is was matters most:

My family

My Mom

Mom And Maureen And Me

Growing up my mom was, well, my mom. She was the constant in my life; my security. She was in charge. She took care of my sisters and me, dragged us along on her errands and to her tennis games, made us do our chores, took us to the pool, and helped us with our homework. She was what I knew, and I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed she was like everyone else’s moms. Except for the nights when she and my dad went out…

On those nights there’d be a tuna casserole in the oven, hot rollers heating up in the bathroom, and the smell of nail polish in the air. I would hope and pray that Anna Klein would be our babysitter, and not Mrs. Gluckler. Mrs. Gluckler would make us take a bath and scrub us with a washcloth until we were bright pink, then make us go to bed on time. Anna, on the other hand, let us make fudge and stay up late watching Rosemary’s Baby. Anyway, when our babysitter arrived, my mom would appear – all dressed up in the latest 70s fashion, with freshly polished nails, hair curled and sprayed, bright lipstick on. And I’d think to myself, Wow, she is the most beautiful and glamorous woman in the world! Then off they’d go. I wouldn’t see her until the next morning, and I couldn’t imagine what that version of my mom was like.

When I was a teenager, Mom was still Mom, but I acted like I didn’t need one. Like I didn’t need someone to make me wear snow pants instead of jeans when I went skiing, or make sure I was home by eleven o’clock.

Isn’t it funny though, how as time goes on, Mom stops being ‘just mom’, and becomes a real person? Yes she’s still mom, still always there for you, but you slowly realize how much she’s done for you, and how much you love and appreciate her. You realize how lucky you were to have a mom that was always there, who loved you so much, and always wanted the best for you. You realize that there is nothing more comfortable than spending time with your mom. At least that’s how it was for me.

But it wasn’t until I became a mom that I also really understood the kind of mom my mom was. Until I became a mom, I had NO idea how hard being a mom was. How much my kids would try my patience, push my buttons, ask me impossible questions, put me in uncomfortable situations, and force me make some really hard choices.

My mom had three little girls, three teenage girls (YIKES!), and three girls that went away to college and set off on their own. And through it all she remained trusting, kind, patient, wise, confident, and diplomatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was the boundary-pushing middle child that was always getting grounded and caused her plenty of grief, so she had her moments for sure, but through it all, those qualities rarely wavered.

Three girls on a canon with Mom

Now that I’m a mom, I believe that being a good role model is one of the best things you can do for you kids. I really hope that I’m living my life in a way that inspires my kids to pursue a happy life. Not by how I choose to make a living, but by how I approach each day, interact with other people, and how much I love being with my kids. My mom did that for me, and for that I am forever grateful.

Thanks Mom. I love you!  Happy Mother’s Day!!! I sure wish I had a picture of you from the 70s, all dolled up and ready to go out. Thankfully it remains vivid in my mind. xo

Mom and Me at the Beach

Gaining Momentum

Things have been really humming along lately. I have been working on three new websites and started back part-time at Nordstrom.  I ran out of Wizard of Oz pillows, so I spent two full days last week silk screening more. I sold pillows at a “Handmade Sale” on Sunday, and had some new ones in the collection. And I have been diligently working on my business plan and branding for Suzanne Harrison Home.  Whew!

Sounds crazy, but it’s actually perfect. Mostly. I remember back when Todd started his business, how it seemed like he was always either worried about getting enough work, or worried about how he was going to get all of the work done. And he still does sometimes. Maybe that never goes away.

I’m not really stressing about getting my work done, because I am fortunate right now to have clients with very loose deadlines. But I have put personal deadlines in place to help me manage my workload.

What’s happening to me is that I feel like I’m not making time for the other stuff that needs to get done – like working in the yard, getting our summer planned, putting the ski stuff away, and laundry! I love the work I’m doing right now, and there’s plenty of it, but I’m letting it consume all of my time, putting other things off, letting the little things slide, not meeting some of my personal goals and milestones for the year. But…

Who cares? Does it matter that much? It’s hard to say. I always want to do a thousand times more than is actually possible, but I still get a lot done, and I really try to be systematic about my priorities. Will there be more work after I complete these websites? When should I start looking? Should I block off some time to focus more on Suzanne Harrison Home? Plus, summer is right around the corner – what will this be like when the kids are out of school? I have no idea…

I’ve decided not to overthink it, and just keep plugging away at everything. Making sure I have some billable hours in every day. Making sure I do a little bit of pillow work and/or marketing every day. Making sure I spend only a little bit of time texting, emailing, scheduling, etc. Making sure I’m there for my family, and taking care of myself.

This image came through my email the other day from Tai Lopez, and while I wouldn’t exactly call myself an entrepreneur, I think it’s really great:

10 Habits

#8 makes me laugh because I don’t exactly have a team… Or do I? I am always telling my kids “Solve the problem – don’t make it worse!” Hmm…

 #9 sounds like something to strive for because I am constantly shifting gears between my various “business activities” throughout the day.

But… at the end of the day, I am happy, and hopeful that all of this effort will pay off. It may not be paying big right now, but it’s hard to put a dollar value on the freedom and flexibility I have. Plus I am learning so much about SO MUCH! I’m not sure where I’m going to land with all of this, but I’m excited, and feel like I’m headed in the right direction. Hooray!

Love to Eat Them Mousies…

Our new puppy Chester seems to be growing before our very eyes – getting bigger, bolder, more energetic and adventurous every day.  Which means he needs training!  He’s got ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ down pretty well, but we have a long way to go on everything else.

Last night, as I was saying goodnight to Miles, we were talking about how we needed to train Chester, and he asked, “Why don’t we train cats?” I laughed and said, “Because cats are cats! They have free will! They have no masters. They come and go as they please.” Then we started talking about how dogs and cats are so different, but similar in that they live with humans, wondering why those particular animals have become domesticated.

I told Miles that we should try to watch these documentaries that were on PBS a while back about cats and dogs, tracing their history and domestication, explaining how many of their traits aren’t that different from their wild counterparts. Like hunting. Domestic cats are hunters just like lions are. Our cat Oscar is a great hunter. Unfortunately he’s not much of a killer. He takes a catch and release approach, often releasing gross little rodents in our house. Good grief. Anyway…

Then I started reciting: “Love to eat them mousies. Mousies what I love to eat. Bite they little heads off. Nibble on they tiny feet.” He looked at me pretty funny, and then started laughing. Where did that come from?  I then proceeded to tell Miles about a famous cat cartoon from the seventies where the cat sits on a stool with a guitar, singing that.

I hadn’t thought about that cat in a million years. Isn’t it funny how things get triggered some times? But I loved that cat carton. I loved it so much that when I took Graphic Design as an elective in middle school, I chose that cartoon for my silkscreen project. And I silk-screened many many copies of that silly song-singing kitty. Where those are now, I have no idea, but here’s what they looked like:

Remember that cat? I think it’s so great when things you thought were gone from your memory bank get triggered like that.  Not only did I remember how much I loved that darn cat, but I remembered how much I loved to silk-screen it. And now, here I am, full circle, silk-screening images and words onto pillows.

Life is funny.

Holy Crap, We Got a Puppy!

For months, maybe years now, the kids have been begging for a puppy. In fact, the other day they said that if they could have a puppy and a trampoline, they would gladly give up their iPhones permanently. Well, we’re half way there!  Meet Chester:

Chester is part Boxer, part Beagle, part German Shepherd, part ?, pure cuteness. We got him three weekends ago through and I really didn’t expect it to feel so good to have a dog in the house again. We are all head-over-heals in love with him. Oh doggies, what you do to our hearts…

Our last dog, Sadie, died about four years ago. She was only eleven, but had stomach cancer, wouldn’t eat, and so we had to put her down. It was one of the hardest and saddest things I’ve ever had to do. I remember on her final day, just before Todd and I left for the vet, Todd was in the kitchen trying to get her to eat a piece of chicken. He said, “Sadie, just eat the chicken. If you’d just eat the chicken we wouldn’t have to go!” Our hearts were broken, but she was skin and bones and just couldn’t eat the chicken. Although later, when we walked into the vet’s office, she mustered up enough energy to growl and bark at the other dogs in the waiting room. A last hurrah for our feisty little beast. Then we said goodbye, went home, and the house felt so different.

The kids were six and eight years old back then, and they loved Sadie so much. We all did. Even though she was a handful at times. But after Sadie died, so many things changed. I didn’t have to shout “Keep the door closed!” a million times a day. In fact we could just leave the back door wide open all summer long. I didn’t have to clean up diarrhea every few days. There was no poop to clean up in the back yard, no expensive dog food to buy, no expensive boarding to arrange for vacations, no dog hair to vacuum up. Such freedom!

But I’m a dog person. I can’t resist them and I love having them around. Dogs and humans were just made to go together. So here we go, this is my fifth dog.

My first dog was Lola. Oh boy did I beg my parents for her, and I got her as a surprise for my tenth birthday. We got her from the ‘hippies’ across the street. Lola’s hippie owner was getting married and his fiancé was allergic, so he gave her to us. She was the best. She would follow me half way to school in the morning and then walk herself back home. Ah, the 70s…


Next came Libby. Again, I begged for a dog and found her listed in the classified ads. My parents agreed we could get a puppy if it was house trained. Libby fit the bill and was a cutie who grew into a very large, very furry, very stubborn dog who had a knack for getting sprayed by skunks.


Then in college when, for some strange reason, I was able to get myself a credit card, so I went straight to the pet store and bought the puppy in the window. I named her Wookie one night after watching Star Wars. She was also very furry. Then, in another stroke of genius, I decided to breed her and she had 10 puppies. Wookie was an amazing dog that I could take anywhere with me and she didn’t need a leash. Unfortunately I didn’t think I could take her out to Seattle with me, and so my sister and her husband became her new family. I think she traded up.

Wookie and her 10 puppies!

Then came Sadie, after I moved to Seattle, bought a house and got married. Todd never had had a dog, and he didn’t want a dog, and that made me sad. One night I told him that I didn’t think it was fair that just because I was married I couldn’t get a dog, and he said “Fine, we can get a dog.” So the next day I went to the pound and came home with Sadie. Todd was a little freaked out, especially since she was part pit-bull, but in no time he was completely nutty over her, and I often accused him of being a dog hog.


And now we have Chester! My first boy dog. He’s 12 weeks old and ridiculously cute. He’s close to being potty trained, follows the kids around everywhere, and is a completely unbiased snuggler. He’s a mutt, so no telling what he’ll grow up to be like, but I’m pretty confident he’s going to be an amazing member of our family. Although I think the cat would disagree.

Have Faith in the Timing of Your Life

Spring is near

Hopeful signs of Spring are popping up everywhere, but the month of March is in full swing and the weather seems to have gone mad. We’re getting a lot of rain, mixed in with a little hail, mixed in with crazy wind, mixed in with some sunny warm days, or a lot of days just seem to have it all. Is it just a coincidence that this crazy weather seems to totally match my frame of mind? I’m not so sure.

Ever since I decided to change my pillow business name to Suzanne Harrison Home I’ve been on a total high. I’ve been working on my branding, my business model, a new website, and new products. I’ve been cutting and sewing while listening to on-line marketing classes. On top of that, I’ve got two freelance web jobs with clients I love, and leads on some possible new clients. And it feels great. Usually.

Sometimes though, I just can’t sleep. I toss and turn and I’m full of self-doubt. I wonder where I might be in my career if I hadn’t quit my corporate job. I obsess about the web jobs I didn’t get. I feel poor. I feel jealous of my friends buying new cars, remodeling their homes, taking amazing vacations. I know it’s irrational, but it creeps in, usually at night, and drives me crazy.

In the morning though, I have a couple of cups of coffee (my ‘happy juice’), get the kids ready to go, then I walk to school with Miles, usually in the rain. Then, I’m back on track, full of confidence and enthusiasm for everything I’m doing. Sometimes I go for a quick run, and that’s when all kinds of ideas come into my brain, that I write down as soon as I get home. Never in my corporate career did I feel this type of excitement for the work I was doing. But I sure did love those steady paychecks, raises, healthcare, and paid vacations.

I don’t know who said it, or where I saw it, but somewhere I saw this quote:

Have faith in the timing of your life.

And it’s become kind of a mantra for me. I repeat it in my head when I’m running, or I say it to myself when I can’t sleep. It’s seems to help push out the jealousy and self-doubt, and bring in my appreciation for all I’ve done, and all I have: amazing kids, a hard-working and loving husband, healthy parents and in-laws, a great house, a beautiful city, fun vacations, etc, etc, blah blah blah. Because I truly believe in this quote I saw somewhere else:

Gratitude makes room for more blessings.

Jumping out of your regular old steady job to start something new is stressful – especially at mid-life, when it seems like everyone around you is reaping the rewards of sticking with their careers. I hate when jealousy and self-doubt creep in. But I’m so very excited about everything I’m working on.

Source: from a page in the Design Within Reach catalog.

Let’s hope that March goes out like a lamb. Because I will be more than ready to welcome the sun and warmth and all that amazing newness that comes with Spring.