Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflections Interior Design gives back to CJSTUF in July

In honor of Charlotte's birth month, our Board member Meredith Hayes is dedicating her business in July to CJSTUF. I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to Meredith's business: Reflections Interior Design.

Meredith has been working in interior design for over 15 years. She studied Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and holds licensed credentials from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Council for Interior Design. As an active professional, she serves as a member of the James River US Green Building Council and the American Society of Interior Designers.

She is skilled in working with both residential and commercial locations. Her designs won awards in both 2008 and 2009 from the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) juried competition. Her portfolio is diverse and extensive and her ability to transform a space speaks for itself.

Having worked with her personally on some small home design projects, I can tell you that Meredith offers practical and functional design that is also aesthetically pleasing and fun. If you have been looking for an opportunity to change around a room, a space, or your whole house, July would be a great time to contact Reflections Interior Design for a consultation. If you book a consultation in July, 20% of the consultation fee will go back to CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation. Don't have time to meet in July? Give her a call and book your appointment anyway! You can meet in August and CJSTUF will still get the credit.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Here comes July

It's hard to believe that July is right around the corner.

The Tupperware sale went well. No final total yet but a huge thanks to Dot Heffron and Jody Harmon, Tupperware consultants, for their help in raising funds for the Foundation. Thanks to everyone who placed orders this month as well.

Our next major event will be July 4th in Ashland. We are forming a Butterfly Brigade for the traditional Ashland 4th of July parade. If you are a resident of Ashland, you know that this annual event plays host to a fun, non-motorized parade that invites groups of all kinds to form "brigades" and march in the parade. Anyone can participate. We will meet at Henry Clay Elementary in Ashland about 1 PM and march to the Hanover Arts and Activities Center (less than a mile) for the rest of the day's festivities. Please wear butterfly wings, antennae, or whatever inspires you. We do need to create a banner to lead our brigade. If anyone is crafty and wants to help, please email me ASAP.

Of course, the date on the calendar also tells us that Charlotte's 5th birthday is only two weeks away. This is probably the first birthday that Roger and I have ever "dreaded" (and Roger is OLD!) We plan to honor her birth with a small family gathering this year. Not quite sure of the details yet but I'm sure that there will be much chocolate involved (and maybe a little alcohol).

In case you're looking for upcoming events and news, here are the highlights:

We will actually have TWO Home Based Businesses working for CJSTUF in July.

Stella & Dot is a beautiful jewelry line. Leigh Pace is the consultant that will be running the show and a portion of the proceeds will go to CJSTUF. You can go HERE to check out the jewelry and place an order. Please enter Susan Ferguson as the host so the sale will be credited accordingly. We will also have a Trunk Show at Susan's home in Ashland on July 15th from 7 PM-9 PM. RSVP to me if you would like to attend. Susan will be raffling off the hostess gifts so this is a great opportunity to check out the line, make your purchases, AND get some free goodies!

Meanwhile, our very own Board member Meredith Hayes is donating a portion of her fees for any Interior Design consultation booked in July. Meredith is the talented owner of Reflections Interior Design. We will use a future blog post to highlight her background and skills but feel free to contact her directly if you are interested in changing your space to help CJSTUF!

On the horizon for August:
Wine Down Wednesday at the Wine Loft in Short Pump will benefit CJSTUF on August 4th
Mary Kay Cosmetics will be the Home Based Business of the Month
Plus...Official CJSTUF Merchandise coming soon!

Stay cool and think happy thoughts!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moving on but not quite letting go

I think Roger's last post really set the tone for where we are right now. Every day is STILL a roller coaster. Time is strange too. January seems so far away. AGES ago. One of my projects this week was to pull out some of our pictures from the Make-A-Wish trip and put them in scrapbooks. We had a few wonderful donors/friends who made three scrapbooks for us with Disney themes. I printed up just a sampling of our favorite pictures and filled in some of the pages. Looking at those happy memories, it was hard to believe that less than a month after we took that trip, she would be gone. And it's so hard to believe that she's only been gone for 5 months. Sometimes it seems like years. Sometimes it seems like a dream (or a nightmare).

This is a week for projects because my Aunt Phyllis is here and we are getting some much-needed projects crossed off the to-do list. First on the agenda today was taking a carload of toys and other kid stuff to ASK. We had been given so many gifts: toys, books, dolls, coloring books, lotions and lip gloss. While we used and loved many things, there were other gifts that just sat in the packages because we were (gratefully) overwhelmed. Many things came in at Christmas time and by then, all Charlotte wanted to do was read and sleep. So we decided that we wanted these toys to be loved and I can't think of many causes better (or closer to our heart) than ASK. We also hauled some "gently used" stuff off to Goodwill and I have some more clothes to pass along to a little girl who loves the girly dress-up stuff almost as much as Charlotte. The good news is that passing along some of these things doesn't seem to hurt nearly as much as it did during the last round. We are taking our time with letting go and I know that is healthy.

Now that her room is being emptied of toys and clothes, we are going to fill it with CJSTUF materials. Her closet will now be home to many things for the foundation (which up until today were being stored in my dining room!) so it will be a used and usable space filled with memories of my girl! I will post pics when it's done.

The crazy thought that slammed me in the face this week (as my Facebook friends know) was that I actually found myself wishing for the hospital routine. I have often been thinking lately of our journey to Houston and the crazy experience of living in and out of hospitals for pretty much a full year. I never thought I would miss it but I kind of do. When I tried to figure out WHY I would miss something so draining and horrible I realized: at least she was there. She was sick and uncomfortable and subjected to procedures I couldn't even imagine but I could hug her and kiss her and talk to her and love on her. I spent the past year wishing that I could leave the hospital but I'd go back if I could see her again. I told you it was crazy.

Thank you to all our friends and family who continue to support us in so many ways. I really appreciate that so many people are looking out for us in both big ways and small.

Before I close, a few items of business:

  1. The Tupperware sale will end next week so please get your orders in. You can go to this link to place your order OR come to a Tupperware party at MY HOUSE next Thursday 6/24 at 7 PM. You can sample the products and talk to a REAL, LIVE, Tupperware consultant to find what you can't live without. 40% of sales go back to CJSTUF so this is a great opportunity to get a wedding gift, housewarming gift, or just a little something for yourself! Email me if you have any questions.
  2. LET'S ACTIVATE THE NETWORK: Please vote for our Romp n' Roll employee, Samantha Dickenson, to win a Dream Baby Shower from RichmondMom.com. You can go HERE to place your vote by June 20th (Sunday). We would love to see her win.

Roger is still training for the marathon and (literally) working his tail off. More news on that to come. More CJSTUF events in the embryonic stages so look for more coming soon this fall!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ready For A Novel

Oh, let's, shall we?

I have an afternoon where I don't have to run somewhere or work, I’m not exhausted, and there is much to write. Sit back.

First order of business, answering the running question: "How are you doing?" Both Rachel and I have been alternating between completely sucking to not sucking quite so much with the rare good day here and there. We've been under a great deal of stress with the Romp n' Roll move to Mechanicsville, facing some serious financial challenges, and now actually thinking what we're going to do for Charlotte's Birthday (yep, July 9 is less than a month away). And somewhere in there Father’s Day looms which really hasn’t bothered me that much yet. (I’m always going to be a father and I feel pretty honored to have been Charlotte’s daddy. I don’t think I will let it get me down too much. At least no more than I already am.)

So we're not so good these days. As usual, we keep ourselves busy and the kids of Romp n' Roll really help us cope but at best we're treading water.

It's not all gloom and doom. Only mostly.

I'll start with the business. As most of you know, we've been in a really bad recession the last few years and we're into year three of owning Romp n' Roll. We signed the papers on Nov 30, 2007 and the experts tell us the recession started in December. So we've been pretty much hemorrhaging money ever since. We've been fortunate in that we had a cushion to hold us for a while, a banker and franchisor genuinely interested in keeping us afloat, members very dedicated to the Romp n’ Roll idea, and very supportive families.

Then Charlotte was diagnosed and a deep layer of “awful” was added to our lives; the 50,000 ton boulder if you will. We had to take time off away from the business to attend to Charlotte and, although our staff was amazing as always, we weren’t there and it didn’t help. The recession kept going and it seemed people were waiting to register for classes until they heard whether or not we were going to keep the store.

Once we made it very clear we were keeping it, things actually started to improve. We started the year 2010 with a very good first quarter and with the recession seeming to ease just a little, it looked like we were finally on the way to getting a handle on things.

Then we announced the move from Virginia Center Marketplace to Mechanicsville.

The faucet simply shut off. Our rent at VCM was very high and we couldn’t continue to pay that and have any hope of staying in business. We found the space at Stonewall Square and the owners bent over backwards to accommodate us. Rent is lower, over half of our customers are from this area, the parking lot is vastly superior for our needs…I mean, how could we refuse?

So we didn’t, but we had no idea it would put many people in a summer planning holding pattern. It also didn’t help that the build-out cost almost twice as much as everyone assured us it would. The second quarter is going to end up looking very bad on paper. When we look back on it in a year or so, if we last that long, we’ll shudder. In 5 years, we’ll laugh nervously.

We opened the new Mechanicsville store on May 17th and it is beautiful. Everyone who worked in the new store really did great jobs. But boy, did things start out very slow. All the predictions of people banging down the door and full classes just as soon as we opened to doors never materialized. We have our core of loyal fans but we weren’t getting the word out like we wanted to new families. Turns out we weren’t just imagining it. It seems the postcard campaign for which we paid a lot of money went astray. Way astray. Like Virginia Beach astray. They were supposed to go to nearby homes. At least they re-sent them out to the correct zip codes but not until we went two full weeks wondering why no one was responding to our postcards (which usually get at least SOME response).

So that brings us to recent events, most of which are actually very positive. We have recently set up a Romp n’ Roll To Go type program at the American Family Fitness right across the street where parents can drop off their children while they work out. Last Tuesday I went in as an experiment and we had 30 kids. 26 on Wednesday. Hopefully we can keep it growing. That will be a very welcome and urgently needed financial shot in the arm.

We’re also developing relationships with merchants all around the area including Firehouse Subs, Primo’s Pizza, Battlefield [Auto] Service Center, Batteries Plus, CiCi’s Pizza, Ruby’s Nails and Spa, and there are others pending. I can’t believe how open everyone out here is to partnering. Over at VCM, it was always like pulling teeth to even get people to talk to you. Chick-fil-a was an exception and will always be a Romp n’ Roll-Mechanicsville partner. (By the way, the new spicy chicken sandwich is very good!)

We have several local preschools and daycares taking advantage of Rompy’s Monday Funhouse for field trips.

I’ve recently been asked to bring an RnR2Go type program out to a private kids party in August which should be very fun.

Our Grand Opening/Open House (pt. 1) was yesterday. It was very well attended and there were many faces I had never seen before. There were Hanover County Firefighters there with their trucks, “Big” Rompy playing with his friends, and arts & crafts for everyone. We didn’t do quite as many registrations as we had hoped but the Birthday Bash bookings are really starting to improve. We have the second part of the Open House today from 3:30-6:00pm and I’ll bet there will be more of the same, including another appearance by “Big” Rompy.

Although Romp n’ Roll is still struggling financially, things do seem to be improving ever so slowly. We just need to survive the backside of this storm. The classes are still completely awesome and I have no qualms about flaunting our Best Of Richmond Awards from the last year. We have the best staff, the best customers, and the best “product” around, bar none. If you disagree, let me know so we can fix whatever you don’t like. That’s definitely one thing we have not compromised. There’s no use. We’re pretty sure that as the word gets out even more, we’ll be doing very well. Just gotta’ survive the short-term. That’s kind of become our mantra. We are thinking of seeking out a partner to help with the short-term issues. Anyone interested?

To try to improve our income stream, I’ve had to take a part-time job in the finance dept. of King’s Dominion. Basically, I count money. I’ve worked there before and it was one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. The hours are flexible and convenient, I get work with very interesting (wacky?) people, and although it doesn’t pay a ton, it’s the best paying dept in the park. Oh, and Charlotte’s Devon is one of my bosses! Kinda’ cool. Mister Joe (Mattys), Devon’s dad, works in the park as well so there are good connections there.

One surreal thing is how money ceases to mean much when you’re staring at piles of it all night. One co-worker dropped a strapped wad of cash on the floor and I nonchalantly picked it up for her. It was a banded bunch of $100’s. It seemed so strange to me that I was holding $10,000 in cash in my hand like it was pack of gum or something.

We work in the evening, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, and the other night, I had a “moment” because of my music. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle and “A New Star In Heaven” by Johnatha Brooke came on. I’m sitting there, counting money, and trying to keep it together. A little while later, some “CJ Babble” came on. That’s stuff I recorded when Charlotte would come into the radio station with me. I so glad I did that because those almost never fail to make me smile and this time in Cash Control was no exception. You’d think THAT would set me off but no. It kind of offset the Johnatha Brook tune.

This new job also helps make me very aware of the petty little things people complain about. I seem to still have very little patience with those who do. I want to say, “REALLY? THAT makes you mad? THAT’S what bothers you?!? Let me REALLY ruin your day…” Of course I very rarely do. I’m just going to do what I’m there for and try not to screw up too much if I can help it.

As far as CJSTUF goes, the Foundation is jammin’. (Would that our personal finances were going so well.) Most of you know we sent out the first ten checks to families and will be sending out the next batch in the fall. We keep having meetings, making decisions, planning events, and waiting for word from the IRS about our non-profit status. We have a ton of folks wanting to help us and there’s no shortage of ideas for FUN-raisers and such.

The biggest and most immediate thing is the Double Marathon Challenge. We haven’t heard yet from anyone about the U of Miami and VA Tech pledge war so it’s anyone’s guess as to what colors I’ll be wearing for the Richmond Marathon. Feel free to drop us a line and let us know any amounts you have at your fingertips. Don’t forget my overall goal is $10,000. On measly little wad of strapped $100s. Pledge forms are available on the website.

If you want to train with me, I’m going to be starting at 6:00am in front of the Ashland Library near Charlotte’s Brick on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I’ll be going small distances at first but growing as time goes by.

I started official training last Saturday and I’ve been doing pretty well I think. I’ve enlisted the help of a real trainer to help keep me on track. Her name is Rachel Pustilnik and she runs her own franchise of Stroller Strides here in Richmond. She has set me up with a running schedule and a place to get my feet/stride analyzed. I need to get over there eventually. Not sure when. I’m trying to get AISICS to sponsor me but that’s a fat chance kind of thing.

Dr. Anna has also agreed to be TEAM CJ’s official chiropractor. Now I need an official ice cream sponsor, Lexus, BMW, or Audi sponsor, and super nice men’s clothing store sponsor. Still looking for those. 

When I started training for real last Saturday, I felt pretty good. The weather was so perfect on Monday, I just had to run even though it wasn’t on my schedule, Tuesday was the same again and I almost let myself start thinking about life being somewhat “normal” again. I’ve been running pretty fast (for me) and with little difficulty. Wednesday and Thursday brought me back down to the “new normal.” Nothing new. Just the same old extreme stress coming back out to bite us in the ass. Thursday’s run was still pretty good though.

I’m taking a grant writing class at VCU at the moment and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that halfway well by the time our non-profit status comes through.

CJ's Butterfly Bush is growing like crazy in spite of the bugs trying to eat it, other plants trying to crowd it out, and the heat trying to bake it. Check it out on its own Facebook site.

We have had several friends in the cancer world either pass away recently or, on the flip side, finish treatment and start their own dealing of whatever “normal” means to them. Reese is doing great as are Abbie, Lizzie, and the mountain of other names on the list. Others are still mourning their loved ones. “Zachary Zoogle” passed away on June 10th, 2009 and his family was dealing with that anniversary. All the stories are making me sad at the moment. Or more accurately, making that constant ache come up to the surface more often. I can’t not see/hear them. I’m drawn to them in fact. I sometimes wonder if I’m somehow addicted to that feeling.

So that’s kind of how we are. I’d love it if we were a bit more stable. I’ll take what I can get and try to do better.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Action Items for the NETWORK

Time to reach out to the NETWORK for some action.

First of all, one of our Romp n' Roll employees, "Miss Samantha" is expecting in October and she has been nominated to win a Dream Baby Shower. We REALLY want her to win!!! Sooooo go to RichmondMom.com and vote for Samantha Dickenson by June 20th. She received three nominations so we're not the only ones who love her.

Second, the Tupperware sale (our Home Based Biz of the Month) is active. Go to the link on our website and place your order by June 24th. 40% of sales will go to CJSTUF. We are really close to finding at least one date for a home party so stay tuned for that if you're local.

Finally, Roger mentioned the inauguration of the Double Marathon Challenge in his last post. We have updated the website so you can go there to read more about all the ways you can get involved. There is a pledge form for those who want to start fundraising (remember: it's U. Miami vs. Virginia Tech). As much as I would love the sight of my husband running in a funny costume there is NO WAY that he will be allowed to wear HOKIE COLORS. If you have any interest in running any of the races (either of the marathons or the 1/2 marathon or 8K on the day of the Richmond race), you can use that as an opportunity to join TEAM CJ as well.

It's been a very busy week and an even busier weekend. My "weekend" consisted of the time between about 6 PM and now when I caught up on old episodes of GLEE. Other than that, I've pretty much been working since we returned from Colorado. Gotta gear up for our Grand Opening Open House at Romp n' Roll this coming weekend. Tell everyone you know!

Roger started his job at King's Dominion today. We'll see what kind of excitement that brings our way.

Here's to another week...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mood Swings and The Double Marathon Challenge

Roger here,

Our trip to Colorado was really wonderful and I can't tell you how great it was to see my beautiful niece, Cerisa, walking down the aisle all grownup and stuff. She's a married woman now. Congrats C-Weed! It was an honor to sing at your wedding.

There were some very bittersweet parts, though for obvious reasons. CJ should have been there.

Coming back to Virginia was actually kind of tough on me for some reason and I'm still not completely over it. I've had quite a few "moments" the past few days and it's been harder than usual to think about Charlotte and what she had to go through. Tuesday was the worst day I've had in a long while. It all started when I was looking for a template of the CJSTUF letterhead and came across the letter I wrote to Disney. It was all downhill from there. I was loosing it at the drop of a hat and really feeling a distinct lack of self control. I had to sit in my car in front of Romp n' Roll for a few minutes and let it all out of my system before going in (probably feeling a little sorry for myself, I must confess).

The strange thing is, the moment I walked into Romp n' Roll, I started feeling better. Rachel was teaching my Babies! class because I had to come in late and it was so nice to see everyone laughing and playing. All the positive energy really bolstered me.

Another thing that doesn't help is that it popped into my head how we used to gauge Charlotte's pain level. The scale of 1-10 and the happy-to-sad face graph really didn't work for her but she would respond pretty accurately when we asked her if her pain level was "a little" (thumb and forefinger apart), "a lot" (hands spread several inches apart), or "alotalot" (hands spread wide apart). I so hate the fact that we had to use that system. Any system at all for that matter.

I've had a few more ups and downs since then but nothing like Tuesday. I'm sure it's just my every six month meltdown that comes about once a month or so now. I'm sure getting back into running will help that.

Hey I think I smell a segue!

Some of you may have heard about my "Double Marathon Challenge" (or "Double Marathon Madness" as Rachel calls it) where I will be running the Chicago Marathon in October and then the Richmond Marathon in November all to raise funds for CJSTUF. Well, training begins on Saturday! How would YOU like to be involved?

We'll need TEAM CJ members for spirit groups along the routes of both marathons and if anyone else wants to run in any of the races (there's also the McDonalds 1/2 Marathon, HCAVA 8K, and a Kids Fun Run in Richmond), let us know. Anyone raising $1,000 or more will get registration fees reimbursed!

I'm tweeking the pledge form to include a few extra choices. (More on that later but think "VT vs UM!")

It's a three day a week program that worked very well for me a couple of Richmond Marathons ago. Anyone is invited to come running with me. I will be running every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning bright and early Starting at 7am. Short runs to start off adding mileage as time goes by.

If anyone isn't part of an official training team, feel free to come out and mosey a while with me. I might be going slow but at least I'll be going.

I would love for some Richmonders to come with us up to Chicago and/or Chicagoans to come down to Richmond for the respective races. It'll be a heck of a party in both cities!

Did I mention my goal is $10,000? I really have no fear that we won't reach it.

Here's a great idea that I'm shamelessly stealing: PLEDGEWARS! I think most of you know that Rachel and I are both graduates of the University of Miami and when I'm not bleeding orange and blue for the Denver Broncos or green and yellow for the Packers, I'm mixing them and bleeding orange and green for the "U." For some strange reason, I have run into a certain amount of resistance from people in this part of the country; especially from those turkeys in Blacksburg. Well, to be fair, I want to give all you Virginia Tech fans the chance to show me who's boss, I'm throwing down the gauntlet. If VT fans raise more money than UM fans then during the Richmond Marathon, I will wear either a turkey outfit or neck-to-toe, including socks and underwear, Virginia Tech garb (I shudder at the thought!). The hat will be a pink or purple Charlotte hat no matter which side wins.

C'mon Canes! You must save me from this fate. We will be keeping a running tally going and we'll have to see what colors I wear on November 13th! Stay tuned.

Here's a GREAT memory we have of Charlotte: When we would say, "We've got some Canes over here," we taught Charlotte to say "Whoosh! Whoosh!" If that's not inspiration for you, I don't know what is.

Last but not least, Coco's Chocolate Dream Chocolatiers, the company letting us use "Chocolate Makes Everything Better," has begun making butterfly chocolates! I don't think I ever told her about the butterfly connection. Please go to her website and thank them or just say hi from a CJ fan. If anyone wants to do a "Chocolate Stand" as a FUN-raiser, let me know and we'll get it set up.

Thanks for letting me rant. I'll keep searching.