Saturday, October 31, 2009

let the wild rumpus begin!

Those words have been with me for 27 years, since the birth of my first son, Nick, as well as Cortney and Alex.  My book of choice to read to my kids was “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, which has been made into a movie by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggars. 


When I heard this book was being made into a movie, I worried the joy, the danger, the curiosity, the explorative nature of young Max would be harnessed, that it would be sanitized to something less powerful and less meaningful.

Instead, they used the book as a jumping off place, a point of reference, but staying true to the real heart of the book, while exploring very adult themes of anger, compassion, jealousy, cynicism, loss, and love.

Very similar to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, Max takes us through his mystical world with characters only seen in Max’s mind doing things only Max could think.  Where Dorothy’s journey comes through a dream sequence from a bump on the head, Max’s happens after biting his mother in a temper tantrum and running off to this secret world in his mind.

And, both stories end with both being drawn home, and to the love of family. After all, there is no place like home.    


My youngest son, Alex, had an idea for Halloween.

He decided he was going to be a scarecrow, sitting on the front porch with a plastic pumpkin on his head.  He wore gloves, exposed no skin and wore ratty clothes.

The idea was that as soon as he was alerted there were some trick or treaters coming by, he would sit motionless on a bench, as if he was part of the Halloween decorations.

When the unsuspecting would ring the doorbell, he would yell, BOO!!  Apparently, this worked very effectively, scaring the bejeezes out of almost everyone who came by.

Yup, that’s my son. 

26 miles, 385 yards

That's the distance my daughter Cortney ran for the first time in her life last Sunday morning at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Amazing!

It isn't so much the distance or the time or really any of that. It's about the distance she has traveled as a person, the dedication to reach this goal, the effort and now the joy. The bucket list has one less item.

I've written before about her, about how the walls around her are dismantled brick by brick, how they become victims of her tenacity, her diligence, her patience, and ultimately, her victory. She has the mentality of the tortoise in a world of hares.

I excused myself from a business dinner Sunday night in China for a much more important appointment, to track her progress on the internet through a series of checkpoints, watching her match identical times between the first 15 kilometers and the second 15 kilometers, mirroring the consistency of her life. Each time a new time came up I smiled the proudest smile a father could have from 8,000 miles away.

Cortney has never been about being the best, just the best she can be. And isn't that all a person can ask for? Way to go, Cortney!

a true partnership….

About a year ago, I was flipping channels on the TV. It was late and I couldn’t sleep. Flip, Flip, Flip, what was that? Was that my chair? Nah, it couldn’t be. Well, I thought I'd check anyway.

For the next twenty minutes, my eyes were glued to the TV, waiting for a paisley traditional chair to come back up. I was watching something called “Rate My Space”. I’d never seen it before, but it was interesting. And the designer/host, whatever his name is, was really good, connecting with the people he was working with.

Winnetka Club Chair Sienna Paisley - click to enlarge

There it was. It was my chair. It looked great. I never thought it looked that good at all. To me, it was something to sell. But, that night, it was something that made a difference in a room. I liked it.

And the designer, well, he was just as excited as the home owners, and they were excited. I loved the energy and the emotion. All I could think was how I wanted that type of emotion and talent associated with what I was doing. I wanted Angelo Surmelis to work with me on a furniture line.

I sent an email through HGTV to see if there was something we could do. A return email came back “What do you want?” “I don’t know,” I said. They said I should look at somebody else. I said no, I don’t want somebody else. Finally, persistence paid off and we arranged a meeting at our warehouse in Pomona.

I was waiting nervously, thinking this guy wouldn’t want to work with me. I really didn’t have anything to offer. At least, that’s what I thought.

He was on time. No big time. No entourage. Just a guy. We met and talked about furniture for about 10 minutes. For the next two hours after that, we talked about our families, our values, our interests, what’s important. We just talked. And, we found out we had a lot of common ground. We could work together. It’s as simple as that. No lawyers, no agents, no nothing. Just a couple of guys who decided they could work together with a common purpose; build furniture with style that almost anyone could afford. We were going to make furniture that was going to be inclusive, not exclusive.

Fast forward a year. We developed about 30 items for what we called a soft launch. We would take a limited amount of product and give it a dress rehearsal. You talk about nervous, we were both there. It sold out!


Now we’re about to go at this thing full bore. We’ve added another twenty plus items, with more in the pipeline. We’ve got thousands of pieces getting ready to roll. We’re realizing the potential of serving the masses with style and quality.

Thank you Angelo. It’s been a great year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I’ve written this blog before….

I’m in China.  It’s the middle of the night.  I’m in a hotel with one channel that has English.  It’s some sort of an On Demand thing with one show and 22 episodes.  I’m on Episode 15.  I watched the first 10 the last time I was here.  I only have eight to go.  I’m sort of rationing them now, saving them for when I really need them.

This is sort of the thought process a starving man has when he knows the end is near, savoring each insect, each opportunity to eat.  It’s not the quality of the food, but the fact that it is food, and it’s available.  

It’s “Everybody Loves Raymond”.  I never watch it when I’m in the States.  But, I also never eat insects.  I must be a desperate man. 


Thursday, October 22, 2009

a feast…..

Whenever I go to China, food is always something that I dread.  For some reason, when I encounter food outside of the “normal” American channels (KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc), there is always trepidation, and sometimes regurgitation.

It’s not that the food is bad in the sense of quality or safety, it just doesn’t fit well with my prodigious waistline.  It might be the smells, or seeing the food live before eating it, or the chicken foot propped up against the sidewall of the soup bowl.  Let’s just say the food doesn’t fit my eye.

Now, I’ve had plenty of good food in China.  And some of it was real Chinese.  I’ve had some pretty tasty street food as well.   But, I’m in Haining and my options are limited.

So, I decided to make sure I had a feast for at least one day.100_0612 

I’m just getting ready to devour some Klement’s Summer Sausage with some aged cheddar cheese and some Premium saltine crackers.  As you can see, this meal is elegantly presented on a Jack Links beef jerky bag.  I’ve decided to pair it with a sugar free raspberry flavored water.

I’m sure you’re jealous.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

on a mission…..

To look at her, you wouldn’t think this diminutive person could command an industry to change its ways.  If you thought differently, you would be wrong.

Susan Inglis has turned her passion of a “green” earth into a career of caring for our environment as executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. 

Yesterday, Angelo Surmelis and I spent about an hour listening and talking to a very reasonable person, not a whacko, but a real person committed to making us better, a person who, instead of dictating, nudges, smiles, nods and moves you closer to doing the right thing for the environment.


In this case, the messenger of saving the environment understands the little steps required to help manufacturers get to a place where they can be successful.  She spends time to understand the issues of the factory, and the very real solutions that are practical. 

So, as a result of knowing Susan, I am committed to at least thinking about the environment each time I design, engineer, or produce a furniture product.  For me, and many, that is the most important step.

the raspberry seed in the wisdom tooth….

“That man’s been the raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth for as long as I can remember.” When I think of Michael Moore, that line in “The Music Man” sort of sums up his career, and what many people think of him.

The befuddled looking man, overweight, bespectacled, and wearing a baseball cap is Michael Moore, sort of an everyman with lots of cholesterol. He’s not exactly what you think of when you’re looking for that one person who's going to save America. But, he’s trying. God, he’s trying.

I went to see “Capitalism: A Love Story” last week. In short, the movie’s about how our system of earning and living has been used and abused by an economic upper class that is raping our country and people of their dignity and ability to live a comfortable and fruitful life.

Moore’s style is to ambush unsuspecting targets with a single camera and ask pointed, simple questions to very complex issues. He has this ability to stand in front of his “victims” with this look, not a look of “gotcha” but a look of “huh?”, drives home the utter helplessness we all feel when confronted by things that are clearly unfair, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

His commentary rolls in the background, speaking of the hypocrisy of a system that allows people to be removed from their jobs and homes because of shell games being played by those in power at the banks, industry and the government.

His movies always go to the locked closet, the place where they hide Frieda, the crazy aunt the family’s been trying to hide for years. He opens doors and the vermin coming streaming out. He pulls on the scab of a wound that just won’t heal. Yes, he is the raspberry seed in the wisdom tooth of America.

Many people look at Michael Moore as a left-winger who’s out to destroy America with some sort of socialist agenda. If he looked differently, was taller, thinner, and could see better, we might see something else, a Jimmy Stewart sort of fellow determined to see the light and find the answer the rest of us can’t or won’t acknowledge.

So, you go Michael Moore. Keep knocking on those doors that are answered by servants and guards. Keep digging the dirt. Keep asking the questions. Keep doing the job that our newspapers and electronic media long ago stopped doing.

And, as long as you do, there’ll be at least one seat in the theater that is occupied.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

when pumpkins party…..


This pumpkin party got out of hand way too early.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

chew, chew, chew on this….

For years, our transportation system evolved and revolved around me.  I want to be there.  I want to drive my car.  And, I want to be there when I want to be there, not a minute before and not a minute after.

On Tuesday, I spent an hour and forty-five minutes going from suburban Chicago to downtown, maybe 25 minutes.  As I’m sitting there, in traffic, watching train after train go by me, I kept thinking “Why am I not on that train?”

As I got to my destination I circled and circled and circled, trying to find a parking spot.  Finally, one opened up.  Now, as I’m digging in my pockets for change, I have to figure out how much time and how much money I’ll need.  They’ve got these meters that print out a receipt you put on your dash to show you’ve paid.  But, you have to guess right, because you just can’t add money to the meter. 

I went to my stop, the Chinese Consulate.  I waited and waited and waited for my turn.  It’s coming close to when my meter time would run out.  But, if I leave, I’ll have to wait and wait and wait some more.  So, I risk it and leave about 10 minutes late.  As I get to my car, I notice a lovely parting gift from the City of Chicago.

I might be a slow learner, but this convenience of a car isn’t so convenient.  Take the train.  Save some time.  Save some money.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

dead end……

This image from video provided by WFLD Fox Chicago on Monday, ...

When I was in high school, there were a lot of times when the bullies would come up to me and let me know I was in trouble if I didn’t do this or that.    They always made it a little uncomfortable, but never to the point where I felt endangered.

After seeing this story about a 16 year-old Chicago boy being bludgeoned to death by alleged gang members for reportedly refusing to join a gang, I’ve got to wonder what’s going on in the world that I don’t understand.

As a parent, I would never advise my child get into a gang, because it leads to a dead end life.  But now, I might have to rethink that position.  Because, in this particular case, not joining a gang resulted in dead, not dead end.

Gang’s have always been about “turf”, about owning something when you didn’t own anything, about having status when you had none, about having safety when chaos was all around you.  But, they were always somewhere else.  Not anymore.

I used to feel insulated and isolated from gangs, living in my town of 12,000 people.  Now, I see the occasional gang writing on walls, although our city is quick to clean this stuff up.  I see it in the newspaper, with major drug busts happening in small towns, with tentacles reaching from all points of the continent.

The solution to this problem doesn’t lie in law and order, although that is an element of it; it lies in economic and social opportunity, where one of the choices is prosperity.  It lies in education, not ignorance.  It lies in making available all of the opportunities that most of us have.

We need to develop a culture of success in areas where the poverty is the highest.  We need to build the best schools with safety and security ensured when the student walks to and from the building and in the building.  We need to educate and offer opportunity.  We need to be tough, and vigilant.  In short, we need to be affirmative. 

The cost of developing a gang member, or career criminal, is way more expensive than developing a contributing member of society.  Gangsters don’t pay taxes.  They don’t create jobs, unless you’re thinking of prison jobs.   Gangsters don’t cure illnesses.  Gangsters don’t develop solutions to our energy problems.  Gangsters don’t put anything on the positive side of the ledger.  They could.   

There are examples of countries who have ignored the problem to their demise.  Somalia is ruled by gangs.  Mexico’s gangs are better armed than their military.  You might argue the Taliban is a gang in Afghanistan. 

This is no longer an inner city problem.  We can no longer think this is something “they” have to solve.  It’s our problem.  It’s time we deal with it.    

Friday, October 2, 2009

good design….

Before I start a project, I ask myself a lot of questions.  The biggest question is why.  Why should I make this thing?  Why would somebody want this thing?  What function does it serve?  What function does it replace?  Can I make it affordable?  How will it improve the life of the person who buys it?  And, will it be good enough?  That’s a lot of questions.

Below is a bed frame/foundation we’ve just introduced.  It’s simple, but it’s beautiful in my mind.  bed frame twin

The objective in making this was to maximize storage opportunities in existing space.  With storage room at a premium, how do we find more?  Instead of adding a closet, we thought we’d try another way.

Some of the greatest users of space in any house are beds.  They have these box springs that bring the bed off the ground to a height that is comfortable to the user.  Box springs really serve no purpose other than that, except to maybe knock a picture off the wall when you move it in.

In identifying this opportunity, we needed to find out how to maximize it.  We could make a very expensive thing that would have drawers or levers or something cool.  But, in study, we found that most people have bed skirts, or could have bed skirts that would cover up whatever we did.  So, vanity needed to take a back seat to utility. bed frame twin quarter with boxes and mattress

So, we came up with this, this simple frame with birch slats, with simple storage boxes, that can be moved in and out.  And, with it all covered up with your bed skirt, the utility screams at you.  Nothing fancy, nothing complex, just storage.  And, at a retail price of $129 for a twin size bed foundation with two boxes, it’s affordable.