I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about my past. I may or may not have spilled the beans once or twice about the fact that I lost everything I owned in a fire when I was 21. I had completely moved out of my parent’s home in 1994 and was living at college for four years.
It wasn’t a pretty scene.
I didn’t stay at my apartment the night before. I had decided to crash at my girlfriend’s house.
I got a call just before 6am from my roommate, Christy, telling me that the whole place was going up in flames and that I needed to get down there right away.
I hurried to get dressed and ripped my truck down the street. I pulled up and jumped out without even putting my 1985 Ford Ranger in gear as it rolled to a stop at the curb, watching in slow motion, as my roommate and our friends from adjoining apartments stood on the corner, cold and confused. I ran upstairs and keyed into our place.
I thought maybe I could do something. I thought I might be able to somehow save the day.
After opening our door, I was immediately leveled to my knees and couldn’t breathe. The smoke was that thick. As I attempted to crawl into the kitchen and get to the living room, I realized that I was on my face, next to an active gas line.
I flipped over, turned and ran out of the building. Minutes later, as we stood huddled together on the street, the windows exploded out onto to us. Panes of glass showered the air and nearly landed on our shoulders. The heat was that intense.
Shortly after, almost a dozen fire units from Pennsylvania and New York began to show up. It took them several hours to extinguish the blaze and later that day, they used a huge backhoe and bulldozer to raze our home.
This was the worst blaze that Mansfield, Pennsylvania had seen in over 100 years.
I’m glad that I got to be there, to hug and kiss my friends…but we lost everything and I was temporarily homeless.
I lost my famed t-shirt collection, my grandfather’s left-handed golf clubs that he gave me before he died, my dad’s power tools, our family computer, my clippings from the local newspaper about how I’d ranked at local track and cross-country meets. I’d lost every shoebox picture (this is before the digital age) of my childhood and adolescence that I’d held to close to my heart.
I lost everything but the clothes on my back. A baggy sweater, pair of corduroys and some Vans on my feet were all I had to my name.
But this wasn’t all a tragedy.
I learned a lot about myself during this time.
I learned that possessions don’t make the man. I don’t need to be defined by what I have.
I gained a huge amount of respect and felt the love for my circle. A ton of Phish heads. They lived a minimalistic lifestyle. They were crafty and positive, there were smart and huge advocates of making everything themselves.
I went on tour with those some of those friends off and on for almost 20 Phish shows during my awakening.
We learned how to love, hug and respect one another while we danced on an airfield in upstate New York or in the aisles at a college stadium in New England. We provided for one another. We relished in the homemade necklace, bracelet, grilled cheese or skirt that flew freely in the wind.
After a few weeks and with the support of wonderful friends helping me out along the way, I picked up and decided to start fresh.
I moved to Los Angeles with nothing more than a knapsack and started over.
I built myself up and found tragedy’s beautiful sister, comedy.
I worked and found success for almost 14 years, but then it bottomed out.
I guess it was a similar parallel rearing it’s ugly head after my contract wasn’t renewed and I found myself very suddenly out of a job, the father and primary caregiver of a four-month-old baby girl with absolutely no idea what I was going to do to fill my time – or hers.
I’ve come a long way through the last 5 1/2 years.
I’ve reinvented myself more than once and here I am again.
And because of those experiences, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people in my life that fight back when the chips are down. I have immense love for those who are artists, those who create, those who transcend their natural emotion into something tangible. I respect those who are able to stay at home with their children as a caregiver and are also able to keep the creative or entrepreneurial side of themselves alive.
My wife and I took this to heart when designing the nursery for our newest baby, Mason.
We decided that for many accessory pieces in his nursery, they were going to come from a small business owner or designer; someone with a story, maybe not like mine, but someone with a story. And with that I wanted to share with you some of my favorites that we came across in the process…
Jenny of Marjen Designs:
Each one of our kids’ nurseries started with a special centerpiece… Ava’s was bedding, Charlie’s was a lifesize jumbo Lego man and Mason’s was a mobile. That’s where we found MarJen Designs. Jenny makes incredible handmade mobiles that just blew us away. She and her mom worked with us to customize the colors of these folded paper airplanes that make up Mason’s mobile.
Jenny has two young daughters and a husband, who works his ass off in heating, air and plumbing. She started her business so that she could stay at home with her girls, and currently works alongside her mom to keep it going.
“It’s really hard to find somewhere to work that works around the schedule of two little ones!” Jenny tells me.
Holly of Mod(ified) Tot:
My wife started the search for baby boy bedding early on in her pregnancy – and she really disliked most of what she found. She
is incredibly can sometimes, very rarely, be picky. That’s where she met Holly – Holly designs custom bedding – any color, any pattern, she can create.
Holly started her business when they were pregnant with their first. She and her husband have two children, Jackson, 4, and Kenzie, who is 1.
“When I started looking into fabric options, I couldn’t settle on just one set and ended up making four sets from my son while I was pregnant. Of course, once we had Jackson I realized how crazy busy he kept me and there was no way I’d be switching out different sets in his nursery. My husband suggested that I try selling them and the response was crazy, within four months I had quit my job.” says Holly.
For her, it’s a dream come true to be able to work from home and be with her kids all day. Since then, her husband has actually been able to leave his job and stay with the kids during the day, caring for them, while Holly builds her brand.
“I love how I never have to miss anything I don’t want to. It’s been life changing for the whole family and we’re so grateful”, Holly tells me.
Robin of Zeppi Prints:
What to put on those white walls? Meet Robin.
She has a background in interior design and in the beginning, she owned a small decor shop with her mother. They advertised with a printed newsletter each month and began to expand, including design tips and ‘how-to’ projects. During the process, she learned how to use graphic design programs and fell in love with the work.
In their third year of business, she had a baby boy and used her new skills to create art prints for the nursery.
When she discovered Etsy, she began selling nursery art, which gave her the opportunity to work from home alongside her son. Her kids, now 5 and 2, serve as a constant source of optimism and inspiration.
“Over the years, I’ve found owning an Etsy shop extremely rewarding as I’ve been able to work with customers in all areas of the world. I’ve shared experiences that go well beyond the simple process of making a sale”, says Robin.
All three of these entrepreneurs can be found on Etsy and I strongly encourage you to support these small businesses. I hope you enjoy what these talented designers have created for Mason and encourage you to ENTER OUR RAFFLE BELOW to win your own amazing piece of decor for your little one’s room. This is a package deal for someone and once we pick a winner, I’ll put you in touch with the designers, so that you can tell them a little bit about your taste and how you see your son or daughter’s room coming together.
Please consider the idea that there are thousands of creative minds out there, working hard each day to support their families and share the gift of something brilliant for you to call your own. It’s people like these that I will always consider family.