Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Women In Business

A few days ago I did some simple math, and I made a shocking discovery. I have spent just about half my life as an entrepreneur. When I look back at the trail I’ve blazed since starting Rosanna Inc., I see the hundreds of experiences, lessons, and people who have helped me pave my way. In reflecting, I also think about what the world looked like nearly thirty years ago when I began my business.  Back then, it was no small feat for women to find a job. And a woman becoming an entrepreneur? Nearly unheard of!
Photo compliments of
Shelly Oberman Photography

All of this musing wasn’t simply for the sake of taking stock. I was revisiting my memories for a reason. A few months ago, I became a finalist for a business award specifically for Northwest women entrepreneurs. The nomination presented me with a privilege and a challenge: to craft an inspirational speech addressed to my fellow women entrepreneurs.  

And so I was left to tackle the big question: What did I want to say?

I started by looking to my roots. I singled out the women in my family who inspire me, and identified exactly what it is about their characters and stories that I find so motivational. 

Once I answered those questions, my speech wasn’t difficult to compose. As the strength and clarity of the piece grew, so did my sense of urgency regarding my message.

I want to empower women. It is as important today as it was when I began my career. My goal was to remind the women I was addressing what we are made of. Whether we are frontierswomen, CEOs, or steel magnolias, all women have a special kind of strength that allows us to weather the storms of life.

What follows is an excerpted version of my speech. If you are a woman, I hope it prompts you to reflect on the unique strengths you possess.

. . . . . . 

My favorite word these days is GRIT. I keep the word as my touchstone for whenever life’s challenges come knocking at my door.

I started Rosanna Inc. shortly after I finished graduate school.  I couldn’t find my dream job, so I created it.  With a $15,000 home equity loan, I began my business in the small bungalow where I lived.  I have done everything in my business from washing my first shipment of 10,000 dishes by hand to hand-delivering orders to sitting in factories and painting prototype designs myself.  I have sold, shipped, packed, designed, promoted, acted as foreign agent, and managed the finances during the early years of the company.

The years since then have presented me with many different kinds of challenges. Every time a new one occurs, I remind myself of the resilience of women and of our amazing capacity for getting through crisis.  I say this because I know all of you women here understand what it means to have your back against the wall. 

In times of crisis, I call upon the legacy of the women I most admire, the tough and tenacious women of my family—my mother and grandmother. 

Their stories are timeless and enduring.  They survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the oppression of women in the 1950’s. Both went on to become successful career women in the 1970’s.

I envisioned them during each period of history and what they did to survive.  My grandmother plucked chickens for five cents a chicken during the Depression, and worked as a Rosie the Riveter for Boeing building airplanes for combat. 

In 1954, my grandmother was working at Fred Meyer when she lost her son in the Korean War.  She suffered greatly and returned to work only after when Fred Meyer himself came to her home pleading for her to return after a period of grieving.  

You see, in the 1950’s, there was no medicine for depression.  There was only one way that women got through tragedy—that was with their grit and guts and old-fashioned values of self-fortitude, ideals that have never been more relevant than today.

Both my mother and grandmother fought cancer.  One survived, the other did not.  Tenacity is the common character trait that both possessed.  I know this trait is in all of you too.  It is why you are here tonight.  It is why you have accomplished what you have.  Don’t forget who you are and what you are made of.

The resources we hold as women are limitless.  We can effect changes in the world. 

We are capable of moving, shifting, and creating new models for old ideas because we put our egos aside, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

I call upon all of you to take what is innate in your character and reinvent yourself.  I did it and so can you.

I went outside my comfort zone and decided to write a lifestyle book, Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions.  The book represents the heart and soul of who I am and who we are as a company. Our products are designed to be simple pleasures. They also serve as prescriptives to help people get back to the traditions they crave.  Authoring the book put this philosophy in writing. 

The book further defined the lifestyle associated with our products. No longer were our products just products; they became a way of life.

I went out on a limb as an author. If you want to reinvent yourself, go to a place you have never been before. Try on a new hat.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  If you do nothing, nothing will happen.

So, treat your life like a start-up business. Dig deep. Look to old-fashioned values and role models who give you the strength to move mountains.  Reinvent yourselves daily and try a new way of doing things. 

Effect change. The result will amaze you. You have it in you. 

You are women!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Diner En Blanc

As the last traces of summertime disappeared into the fast approaching autumn, a group gathered in historic Gasworks Park for a magical evening of food and friendship. The ingredients were unusual enough catch the attention of a few hundred Seattleites:  secrecy, creativity, synchronization, camaraderie, delicacies, and champagne. We were also instructed to dress a certain way: all in white.

I’m talking about Seattle’s very own, and very first, Dîner en Blanc (French for Dinner in White). The original Dîners began in France in 1988. Since then, Dîners have been happening all throughout Paris. Recently, food and performance art enthusiasts have orchestrated their own Dîners, far from the Seine and the clanging bells of Notre Dame Cathedral. The New York Times even ran an article about the event, “How 10,000 People Keep a Secret,” which came to Seattle, WA this summer.

Though the Dîners appear spontaneous to the uninitiated onlooker, this gastronomic flash mob in fact requires quite a bit of planning. In past blog posts and in my book, I’ve sung the praises of spontaneous dinner parties. However, a Dîner en Blanc is essentially the opposite of a spontaneous gathering. Unlike a spur-of-the-moment get together, a Dîner can’t happen without foresight and coordination. But all the planning gives the event a Byzantine, theatrical charm all its own.

The New York organizer Danile Laporte said it well: “Part of the event is the journey there.  To think ahead, to get ready, to get the table, to prepare your picnic, to choose your outfit.  Not making it easy is part of the allure.” 

These dinners, with their secret locations and semi-costumed festivity, unfurl much like a piece of theater. They create the same magical, exuberant, unexpected, co-created spectacle, both for the participants and the observers. The magic is the result of the preparation, born of the desire to set apart a space and time to create something extraordinary.

The scale of this Dîner was quite large. But that doesn’t mean you can’t arrange a similar type of “happening” in (or near) your home. All it takes is a little initiative and creativity, which becomes a reality with the collaboration of a group. A group, by the way, could be as tiny as three people. So, I encourage you to gather your friends to create your own Dîner en Blanc…or rouge (red,) vert (green), or bleu (blue)!

A little something out of the ordinary goes a long way. A special night like this creates not just a memorable evening, but a sense of wonder and a childlike delight that lasts long past the last guest vanishes into the night. 

Read about Seattle’s Dîner en Blanc in The Puget Sound Business Journal: “Elegant Flash Mob Dîner en Blanc a Success.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween Entertaining For Kids & Adults Alike

Many of you have already been introduced to our friends at Family Eats.  Today we’ve partnered with them to create blog entries about Halloween Entertaining.  Please make sure to read the Halloween Entertaining: Slow Sundays Goes Halloween post on their blog.  It has great tips for planning party food, setting the mood,  and getting your kids involved in the preparation.  There are some great food tips & recipes.  Look for us to partner together again in the near future.

Halloween Décor
There are so many ways to decorate for Halloween beyond putting a jack-o-lantern on the stoop.  The natural beauty of the fall season is plentiful and easy to infuse into your décor.  Select beautiful gourds, squash, and fall leaves to adorn your home.  Haystacks, kindly scarecrows, and lush fall wreaths can also be added into the warm earth tones of the season.

Calacas, from Mexico
Around my house we have a somewhat non-conventional Halloween tradition.  Years ago I started bringing back Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) decorations as presents for my daughters when returning from business trips to Mexico.  I have always enjoyed teaching them about different cultures and traditions.  On one visit I picked up a few small calacas (skeleton figurines).  They really liked the cute and decorated skeletons, and each time I have returned to Mexico I have brought home a few more. Over time our collection of calacas has grown, and each year we mingle them with our other Halloween décor.

Consider adding in a multi-cultural theme into your own Halloween celebration.  Whether it’s the Celtic All Hallows Eve, Christian All Saints’ Day, Mexican Day of the Dead, or any other, all humanity shares similar fascinations with the beyond.

Tricks & Treats For Snacking
After the fun-filled Pumpkin Carving Party you partook in following the tips by Family Eats, save some of the pumpkin seeds for roasting.  They make great snacks for children and adults alike and are easy to make.

I like to use extra-virgin olive oil and fine sea salt.  Here’s my recipe:

Preheat the over to 250° F.

Put the pumpkin seeds in a colander and rinse and use your hands to remove all the orange pulp from the seeds.  The seeds will be very slippery.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil.  Spread the pumpkin seeds out on the baking sheet and toss to coat them with oil.  The seeds should not be floating in oil, just covered lightly.

Season the seeds generously with sea salt.

Bake for 2 to 3 hours, until golden brown, turning them occasionally so that they brown evenly.  The seeds should roast very slowly.  Remove from the oven and taste for salt.  If needed, add another sprinkling of sea salt.  Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Owl Cookies from "Coming Home"
Another recipe that your children can help you with in the kitchen is Owl Cookies.  Growing up, my mother made these owl cookies every Halloween.  Charming and delicious, they were always a hit with my friends.  The dough is a basic refrigerator-cookie dough that is made ahead of time and can also be frozen.  Children love to assemble and decorate these cookies, which feature chocolate chips for eyes and a giant salted cashew for a nose to make up the perfect owl face.  The Owl Cookies are perfect for Halloween school parties or can be done at home with the childrens’ help as part of their festivities.  (The complete recipe is published in my book Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions.)

Halloween Isn’t Just For Kids
Whether you have children at home or not, consider staging an adult dinner party around Halloween that sets the produce and bounty of the autumn season as the centerpiece of the celebration.  Serve baked squash, hearty roast chicken with porcini mushrooms, wild rice, and a delicious red wine.

For a less formal get-together, invite your friends over on Halloween to watch a classic scary movie and enjoy great finger food while you greet the trick-or-treaters.  My favorites are the 1979 version of Dracula and the 1963 version of The Haunting.  Choose some classical music to play when you’re not viewing the movie.  The “Dies Irae” of Mozart’s Requiem is appropriately spooky, as is “O Fortuna” from the Carmina Burana by Carl Orff or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.  Serve a variety of foods that can be easily enjoyed during the movie.  Set out a selection of cheeses on a rustic cutting board.  Fill bowls with salted nuts, flatbreads, and olives.  (Family Eats also has some great snack food ideas including HomemadePretzels and Pumpkin Bread).  Drink a really great blood-red wine.  There is no better way to celebrate Halloween as an adult.

Whatever it is you decide to do, Halloween is a time of nostalgia.  Whether you’re continuing traditions of Trick-or-Treating started generations before, throwing an adult get-together or starting new traditions of your own, the magic and mystic of  Halloween has potential for spooktacular connections with loved ones.

For more tips on Halloween Entertaining for children's parties, as well as adult get-togethers, see Episode 3 of Rosanna TV, or listen to my recent Halloween radio interview with Amy Tobin, available on my YouTube Channel.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pasta Bowls & Healthy Foods Make Easy Entertaining

With fall comes cooler temperatures and a desire to prepare our nest for the cold winter months.  We have a natural tendency to want to stay inside more as the days get shorter. Being inside doesn't mean we need to feel isolated or away from the world.  In fact, now is the perfect time to have friends and family over for an informal gathering.

Rosanna Canvas Totes
As the summer growing season comes to an end, we must take advantage of our last opportunities to find local fresh fruits and vegetables.   Fall is a great time to head to the farmers market.  Recently I made a trip to my local farmers' market and filled my Rosanna Canvas Tote with delicious fresh tomatoes.  I like to prepare fresh tomato sauce for my pasta when local tomatoes are at their peak, then freeze it in individual containers for use during the winter months.  It makes a quick go-to meal for my family, and gives me the assurance that it is healthy too.

Pasta sauce is easy to make.  (In a previous blog entry I shared my basic tomato sauce recipe.)  Italians make their pasta sauce with whatever they have in the kitchen.  My basic tomato sauce allows me to add in meats, vegetables, or turn it into a vodka sauce, depending on what I currently have in my kitchen.  It makes an easy start to the tradition of a Family Pasta Night.   If you don't have a Family Pasta Night yet, starting one will give your family a ritual to look forward to, a way to create memories, and a chance to sit together around the table and connect.

Pasta Italiana Collection
You might decide to have friends over for Pasta Night.  This is one of the easiest ways to entertain.  You can make dinner at the last minute, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests.  It was this idea that inspired my Pasta Italiana Collection.  Each of the 4 pasta bowls features one of my pasta recipes you can use for an upcoming Pasta Night.  The Pasta Italiana serving bowl makes it easy to serve family style meals and allows guests to serve themselves a second helping of the delicious pasta.

Farmer's Market Collection

Pasta bowls are fun, unique, and great for casual entertaining.  They can bring a splash of color to  your table.  I've also made my pasta bowls instructional. The Farmer's Market Collection is a set of 4 pasta bowls that are also ideal for soups, salads, and vegetables.  Each of the four bowls features one of the four seasons--spring, summer, fall, and winter--and is adorned with colorful seasonal vegetables that can be found at their peak in the specific season, making them not only beautiful and utilitarian, but also instructional.  I use the large serving bowl nearly every day in my house.

An important part of living healthy is knowing what to eat.  Studies show that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets to follow.  (See previous post for details.)  Fill your table with healthy whole grain pastas, fresh salads, ripe tomato sauce, and don't forget the olive oil.  The Farmers' Market dipping dishes are perfect for dipping your bread in healthy olive oil.

Start a weekly tradition of Family Pasta Night or invite friends over this week for a Pasta Night.  The warmth you feel from the food will be matched only by the warmth you feel from connecting with others.

For more tips on Pasta Night, the collections in this post, and my tomato sauce recipe, watch Episode 2 of Rosanna TV, available on my YouTube Channel.