Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doing Good

The idea of creating a business of one’s own appeals almost universally for many different reasons. For me the obvious reasons are part of it. The flexibility, the sense of control over one’s destiny, a more direct connection between effort and results, the opportunity to actually think and behave outside the box, the virtual freedom from panty hose and dry cleaning bills and traffic jams and office politics. Yep, all of those aspects are mighty enticing.

But aside from those common advantages, I relish the idea of creating a business that will do good – that will make the world a better place - through its existence. Here’s how I plan to do that.

The Nature Of The Business
Just the nature of the business alone lands me squarely within a great, good place. We all feel good when we’re all cleaned up, well polished, nicely dressed in something that looks good on us. As parents, we want our children to look good and feel good about themselves - and we feel good when they do. This company will make those situations easier to create than they are now, by producing clothes that properly fit your child with Down syndrome. Aside from the pleasure of seeing your kids in well-fitting clothes, parents will no longer have to worry about how to make a new clothing item workable. Pay for alternations? Hem the pants or sleeves yourself? Roll up the pants or sleeves again and again? Have your child struggle with a button closure? Do it yourself and worry about issues of independence, etc. etc.

My niece Helen, the inspiration for this company, is also – of course – my girl fit model. We recently had a fit session with a pair of jeans (which will be available in the Fall) and an adorable dress (Spring/Summer, I hope.) When we had the pants perfected, my sister exclaimed "Finally! A pair of pants that fits!" When Helen was in the dress, she floated around the room like a princess and smiled contentedly. To see her look so happy and feel so special made me happy too. It makes me smile broadly again, just recalling it. The nature of this business – creating those feelings of pleasure for many parents and many kids – that’s the beginning of how this company will do good.

5% Of Profits Will Be Donated to DS Support Organizations
That’s pretty self-explanatory. The support - practical, educational, emotional - available from local and national organizations is amazing. The good those groups do is immeasurable. As for which support organizations receive the contributions – you'll tell me. When you first order from us, you will define which organization(s) you would like to receive the contributions that result from your purchases. Once a year we’ll do the math and in October – Down Syndrome Awareness Month – we’ll distribute those donations.

The Hand-Me-Down Program
The idea for this company was born when I noticed Helen wearing clothes that I had handed down from my daughter, Blythe. Helen wore those clothes at a much younger age than Blythe had. That’s when I learned about the fit issues and challenges my sister has in finding clothes for Helen.

Hand-me-downs is a sensible, practical idea and - at least in my world - a tradition. So, this company will have a hand-me-down program. Parents whose children have outgrown an item can, if it is still in decent condition, send it back to us – postage prepaid by us – for a credit. The company will then donate those items to people or organizations of need.

Employing Parents of Children with Down Syndrome
There's no one better able to address the fit and function issues of clothing for children with Down syndrome than the parents who have struggled with those challenges themselves. So, when the company begins to hire customer service reps (as opposed to just Susie and me, who'll man the phones in the beginning) we will hire parents of children with DS in those jobs. And, because technology exists to allow people to do that work from home, that's where our parent-customer service reps will be based. That's a winning situation all around.

Employees’ Paid Volunteerism
When I worked in the corporate world, I volunteered as much as I could to work at my kids’ school. I’d work at the annual book fair, or as a party planning and throwing Room Mother, a bi-monthly library helper, a chaperone on field trips; you get the idea. Most such episodes of volunteerism were marked by dichotomy. There was the deep satisfaction of spending time – and creating a memory – with my child. That was balanced by the strain of taking time off of work. A friend once observed "There’s never a convenient time to take time off from work." Indeed, from a timing perspective, vacation weeks, days, half days are all dicey. The time I spent preparing to be gone and then catching up when I returned was always a scramble.

The first school year after I left the paid-work world, I spent a few hours every Friday in Evan’s classroom. It was bliss. I could write an entire posting on the satisfaction of spending time working in your child’s class. But, I’d only be preaching to the choir. Parents understand how wonderful and valuable that experience is – for the parent and the child and the teacher. Evan’s teacher this year didn’t utilize parent-helpers, so my participation in his class was limited to field trip chaperoning – still a great experience. On another front, this past winter/spring I served as the parent organizer, and raffle committee leader, for the Jazz Festival that Blythe’s high school music program presented. That was a huge time commitment, but satisfying in proportion to the time spent.

All of this background is to explain why, when this company is big enough to have employees – beyond Susie and me (who will be our Distribution / Order Fulfillment Center!) - we will pay employees for eight hours of monthly volunteerism, if they so wish. Employees who choose to can parcel out that time however they choose, working at whatever charitable purpose they choose. I can’t say that taking the time off won’t still require some juggling now and then, but I can say that this company will support, appreciate, and facilitate those volunteer efforts.

Those are the primary aspects of how this little company will do good as it makes its way in the world. There’s no space left to discuss other, smaller plans, but there are some. For a number of months, I did a good bit of reading about for-profit, yet values-based companies like Newman’s Own, The Body Shop, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s. It was satisfying to read proof that doing good can also be good business. This company will be one more example of that principle.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Seriously, It's Always Something

I was starting to think about what to blog next and came up with a few ideas, Sherry even gave me some ideas, I jinxed myself! My next blog fell right into my lap, not in a good way. Last Wednesday I spent the night at Children's Hospital with Noah, my youngest. Let me start by saying he was a trouper and is doing well and will be fine.

I left to pick up my four year old from preschool which is four minutes from my house. She was messing around being funny, typical behavior for her age, so we were gone ten, fifteen minutes tops. As I got closer to my house I saw a firetruck in front and thought something happened to the neighbors. When I was almost to my house the paramedics pulled up right before me and started to walk towards MY HOUSE. My mind started to think of every scenario that could have happened to my mom, I never imagined it was one of my kids. When I walked in the door my mom was sitting in one chair sobbing and Noah was in another, Grace was nowhere to be found so I thought it was her. I was taking in everything going on, it seemed like forever but it was actually just seconds. I heard my mom say he took two of one kind of pill and maybe four or five of another. It registered, Noah had gotten into her medicine and ingested some of it. I remained calm, my mom on the other hand did not, I didn't know who to go to first, my son or my mom. I went to my mom and told her Noah would be okay, the paramedics were there and they would take care of him. I told her accidents happen I know she didn't do anything on purpose, she is usually very careful when it comes to her medications. I then went to Noah and said a few words to him while answering the paramedics questions. It was clear we were going to the hospital so I grabbed his stuffed animal, blanket, and my purse. I told Katie I needed to go with Noah, at this time I finally saw Grace, she was so scared she was crying. I said a few things to her to try and calm her down and then called my friend to come over to stay with the girls because I knew my mom would be no good for them at that time. As I was leaving my neighbors came over to see what happened so I asked them if they could sit with my mom until my friend arrived, they said sure. Off we went to the local hospital via ambulance. I'm sitting on the bed with Noah in my lap everyone in and out of the room, finally the doctor comes in, she had no clue if Noah was a girl or a boy, and didn't even know the story. I then realized she was the same doctor who had seen my husband on Mother's Day last year and diagnosed his brain tumor. Peter didn't like her bedside manner, and in fact I called and complained to the hospital about it. She told my husband about his tumor without any support system there for him, life altering news and he had no one there for support. I was on my way to the hospital, they should have waited for me to arrive. Now I'm feeling very overwhelmed by my situation and I started to cry, thank goodness Noah couldn't see me. I spoke with the nurse about my situation and asked if there was another doctor who could take over the case, she was the only doctor on duty. I then asked if she had told her about my request, she did, I felt like I had just made things worse for Noah. The ER called poison control and were told to give him charcoal, he threw it up. They gave it to him again, he threw up again. By this time the physician's assistant called Noah's pediatrician and she said to send him to Children's he needed to be monitored over night. I absolutely love our pediatrician and can't sing her praises enough, even before this happened. As for the ER doctor, let's just say I hope I never have to make another trip to that ER again!

We are now on our way to Children's with the transport team, and I'm feeling much better with the care Noah is receiving. When we arrive we are sent to the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), so they can keep a close eye on him. The atmosphere is so much more relaxing, everyone was wonderful, they tended to our every need, yes, even me who needed some scrubs because I had throw up all over me. The doctors answered all of my questions and kept me well informed on everything going on around me. By the evening Noah was doing much better and was ready to eat, he ate his dinner and some of mine, poor guy was starving. My mom was in much better shape but still upset, Sherry had come over by this time and took care of my kids overnight. I don't think anyone of us got a good nights sleep that night. The next morning Noah was himself, I heard a very loud MOM! All of his labs looked normal and we were released, thank goodness it wasn't worse than it was.

The rest of the week was quiet which was fine by me. My friend and her family came over and pulled out my huge bushes in front of my house, I am going to replace them with something smaller. Helen's gunky nose turned out to be a sinus infection so she is on an antibiotic and already doing much better. We enjoyed the nice weather and celebrated Earth Day by cooking out for the first time with our new grill. I was very proud of myself for figuring it out without having to grab my neighbor. I am hoping for a quiet week, I will let you know how that goes!

Until next time-
Take Care,
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Monday, April 16, 2007

I Survived Spring Break!

I could not wait for school to start today, I was counting down the hours, mostly because I was running low on food. I am truly amazed at how much my kids ate this past week, I think it was mostly from boredom. We had terrible weather, it was rainy and way too cold to play outside, especially since Helen and Noah have gunky noses. I hope for a very nice summer or I will be making runs to the store every other day. The past couple of days have been nice, a little chilly, but at least the sun was out. I couldn't get Helen inside, she loves being outdoors, she must get that from Peter. She kept coming up to me all week, "Mommy, outside?" When she finally got to go she was elated! She loves to push everyone when they are on the swing whether they need it or not. At one point she even had Noah going, he of course was swinging with his tummy on the swing since he's still too little to fit his bottom on it. They were laughing and having a good time, those are the times when you know life is good. We are back to our regular school schedule although bedtime has been harder, but that too will get back to normal. Before we know it the cool days of summer will be upon us, Lord help me!!

I hope all of you had a Blessed Easter and were surrounded by family, like us. It was a nice holiday, my kids looked handsome and beautiful in their Easter outfits that my sister-in-law bought for them. The Easter Bunny hid so many eggs I lost count and we were still finding one here and there when company arrived, my brother almost sat on one!

Until next time-
Take Care,

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Short History of Blue Jeans

As promised yesterday, here’s a little bit of background on the development of blue jeans. I imagine that we all associate blue jeans with Levi Strauss; we all know the story to that extent. But how many of us know the name Jacob Davis – or his role in the history of jeans?

The story does begin with Levi Strauss. He was born in Germany in 1829. In 1847 his mother and sisters moved to New York City where Levi joined the dry goods business of his two brothers. A few years later, in 1853, Levi moved to San Francisco to open a branch of the business there. Since the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in January 1948, the population had boomed with a migration of miners, forty-niners, and their daughters Clementine. There were, assuredly, wives, and sons and others migrating but – oh my darlin’ – they didn’t make the final version of the song…

As the story goes, when Levi first showed up in California, a prospector asked him what he had to sell. Upon hearing that Levi was selling canvas for tents and wagon covers, the miner told him "You should have brought pants!" He couldn’t find pants that could stand up to the rugged demands of prospecting for gold. Levi converted the canvas to pants which were called "waist overalls" back then. They sold well but the fabric was not comfortable; it caused chaffing. Levi changed to denim fabric and Voila!

However, that’s not the end of the story. The dry goods business that Levi Strauss had established in San Francisco was quite successful beyond just denim waist overalls. Among other goods, Levi sold bolts of fabric. Jacob Davis, a tailor, bought such fabric from Levi. Jacob was also an immigrant. He was born in Latvia in 1834 and moved to the U.S. in 1854. Jacob made tents, horse blankets and clothing, including pants. He had one customer who was particularly hard on his pants (brings to mind my 9-year-old son…) and regularly ripped the pockets of his jeans by stuffing them with ore samples. Jacob noodled about ways to make the man’s work pants more durable and decided to borrow an idea from the reinforced horse blankets that he made: rivets! He placed rivets at the jeans’ stress points - including the pocket corners and the base of the fly.

The riveted work pants became quite popular among his customers and Jacob felt a need to protect his novel idea. Lacking the $68 patent filing fee, he proposed a patent partnership with Levi Strauss. Seeing a good opportunity in Jacob's idea, Levi agreed. Patent number 139,121, for "Fastening Pocket-Openings" and illustrated with a picture of a pickaxe-holding miner in riveted jeans, was issued on May 20, 1873. The patent was issued to Jacob Davis; Davis assigned one half of the patent to Levi Strauss.

After the patent was issued Levi hired Jacob to manage production of the riveted jeans at the Levi Strauss & Company manufacturing plant in San Francisco. Word of the great, durable, innovative pants spread and business flourished. With patent protection, Levi Strauss & Co. was the only producer of the riveted denim work pants for nearly 20 years.

Funny thing. In serving California gold prospectors in the late 1800’s, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis created something of a gold mine themselves. In 2004, annual global consumer spending for jeans was $49 billion. I’ve got to admire a man who saw the opportunities that a $68 investment could bring, nurtured that opportunity into huge financial success in his own lifetime – and a bona fide huge industry more than 100 years after his death, and used some of his financial resources for charitable purposes, beginning a tradition of philanthropy in his namesake company that continues to this day.

Speaking of philanthropy, doing good works through this company of mine is one of the tenets of its existence. That’s a good topic for my next posting. See you then.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007


OK, I’ve determined what the first "collection" of this business (which I’ve named but can’t share with you until I’ve filed a trademark application) will be. Yep, you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post that the centerpiece of the collection will be JEANS!

I have questions for you parents about your preferences for jeans for your children. I’ll share them below. I’ve also got – just for fun – the history of jeans, which we probably all know touches on Levi Strauss. I’ll share that even farther below. In the meantime, though, I’ll share what brought me to the decision to launch this company with a blue jeans offering.

Many of you parents talked about jeans in our electronic conversations. Jeans are ubiquitous. We all own at least a pair or two. In fact on average Americans each own 9 pairs of jeans! I had planned to write that 66% of my children wear jeans nearly exclusively – the 9-year-old boy and the 16-year-old girl, who’s fashion tastes, aside from jeans, are quite disparate. But, the remaining 34% of my children, the 17-year-old boy who wears a bow tie every day set me straight. He frequently wears jeans too! In my mind’s eye he’s a more formal dresser than that. But, in reality he wears jeans with bow ties. So, there’s an example of the flexibility of jeans. By the way, I am not a completely oblivious mother. My older son’s recent activities (e.g. school board meetings and DECA competitions) have required him to wear a suit or sports jacket. Hence, that’s the picture of him that most readily pops to mind lately.

Jeans are certainly practical, they’re comfortable (if they fit well), they’re durable; they’re nearly a playground uniform. In the United States, consumers spent $15.7 billion on jeans in the 12-month period ending September 2006. That translates to about 550 million pairs of jeans purchased in the U.S. on an annual basis. Jeans are the most widely manufactured apparel item in the U.S. So, this company will produce jeans for children with Down syndrome.

So, what does "jeans for children with Down syndrome" mean? I’ll tell you the basics that I have planned and you tell me the rest, OK? First, an adjustable waist - to provide optimum fit and room for growth – and, therefore, longer periods of wear and greater value for you parents. Second, the proper length – so that you won’t have to pay for tailoring or spend time or trouble altering the pants yourselves. Third, room in the legs and bottom – enough to provide a comfortable and attractive fit, but not so much that the jeans look oversized and sloppy. Last, the jeans will look like regular ole jeans. They’ll have the standard 2 pockets in the front, and 2 patch pockets in the back. There won’t be a fifth pocket. That’s a lot of trouble and additional cost and, in my estimation, provides no value. Really, who uses a watch pocket anymore?
Here’s what else I plan. But I could use some validation and further fine-tuning from you. So, please comment on this site or email me

For the younger children – approximately sizes 6, 7 and 8: I understand that snaps, buttons, zippers are not a learned skilled at this age and so present a dressing challenge to kids at the point. So, our jeans will an integral waistband with faux closures. So, there will be a snap, but it will be just for show. There will be stitching to imply presence of a zipper, but there will be no zipper. Lastly, there will be no yoke in the back. There will be belt loops.

For older children – sizes 8 (yes, there’s overlap in term of styles since this appears to be an age where snapping, zippering skills are being developed), 10, 12, and 14. Still an adjustable waist – for the same reasons described above. A working snap and zipper fly. There will be a yoke in the back and belt loops.

For girls – embroidery on the back pocket - probably. What do you think?

For boys – reinforced (with an extra layer of denim) knees – maybe. What do you think?

Those are my plans and thoughts on design requirements. Now I need to hear your thoughts. Please, please write or contact me with your ideas, comments, thoughts.

Two last items before I close. In addition to a jeans offering for each gender, I’ll offer one additional style of pants. For boys the second style will be chinos. You tell me what color they should be. Navy, putty, sand? For girls it will be pink pants – probably heavy twill or pinwale corduroy. Thoughts?

The last thing is the history of jeans that I mentioned. Given the length of this post, I’ve decided to post a quick history of jeans tomorrow. It’ll give me something to write about and a reason for you to visit again. I think you might be surprised at the real history of the "invention" of jeans; I was. So, come back tomorrow. But share your thoughts with me today!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's Always Something

I apologize for not keeping in touch, our mom has been staying with me for the past couple of weeks and then my computer crashed. It has been nice having another adult in the house, and I know the kids enjoy having her here. Noah went up to her tonight and hugged her leg, three times, I could see my mom's heart melt. She says she is ready to go home, I don't think so, I'm thinking maybe a couple of weeks more. My house is her alternative to rehab so she can't leave until the doctor says she can. She needs to be able to take care of herself, and she can't. She can take care of her hygiene, and personal things, but she can't cook for herself or do her laundry, it takes too much of her energy at this time. I figured it would be a long process, I don't think she did, she has been an independent woman for most of her life, she's not used to this. Her recovery is going to take time, and we have all the time in the world.

Helen had her annual cardiologist appointment today, it went well. The doctor has been keeping an eye on a membrane located by the aortic valve, it hasn't changed much in the past couple of years. She did inform me however that Helen will once again have to undergo open heart surgery to remove it, she just doesn't know when. If there is a significant change to that membrane, then it will be removed. I'm trying not to worry about it because this may not happen for years, and I don't want to make myself sick. I really miss Peter at times like these, my voice of reason. He would know exactly what to say to make me feel better and ease my mind. Her doctor was in shock over the news of Peter and in fact cried. She told me what a wonderful man he was and how good he was with Helen, and she would miss him.

Today was a tough day.
Until next time-
Take Care,