Contributor Archive

Choose Love, Not Fear

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Recently, I stayed at the house of some friends to take care of their animals while they were on vacation. I was working away when I heard their cat’s cries coming from the garage. The garage is Muffin’s private place where she can eat in peace and not have to worry about the family’s two dogs wanting to sample any of her feline fare. She was now signaling me that she wanted to rejoin ‘the family’ in the light and warmth of the house.

Of course, I happily came to her ‘rescue’ and opened the door for the now nearly frantic cat. Judging by her plaintive cries, I expected her to leap into the house the moment I opened the door. Instead, she stopped crying and just sat there in silence. ‘Come on, Muffin,’ I encouraged her. But it was a no go. So, I shut the door and returned to my work. Within minutes, the cries began again; this time, even more fervent. Once again, I stopped what I was doing and went to open the door. And, once again, Muffin just sat there, motionless, not making a sound. I began feeling annoyed, but not as annoyed as when we had done this dance perhaps another four times. There seemed to be no logic to the steps in this dance. Clearly, the cat wanted to be in the house instead of in the garage. Who wouldn’t? The garage was cold, dark, and musty smelling. The house was warm, cozily lit, and a virtual haven for any self-respecting cat in need of an honest catnap. After the third go-round, it became apparent that Muffin’s reticence was due to her fear of the dogs. Mind you, she lives with these dogs day in and day out; they have never harmed her in any way (well, except for their innocent curiosity regarding those little cans of Tasty Trout Dinner). But the point is these were not wild dogs from the Barrio — they were family.

Finally, Muffin made a run for it and settled down on an easy chair in the family room. The dogs hardly even acknowledged her entrance, and I thought, ‘All that time wasted on an irrational fear!’

I can’t tell you how many times I experienced the ‘Muffin Dance’ this past week. There was the woman in my support group who had been complaining about her job since I joined the group six months ago. The scenario seemed all too familiar to me: to remain in the cold garage and complain about it or to take some action that would enable her to experience light and warmth. Amazingly, like Muffin, this woman chose to stay in the garage. Her wild dogs came in the form of ‘not being able to deal with rejection right now,’ which might occur if she were to look for another job.

With the New Year approaching, I began exploring the musty garage experiences in my own life. What ‘wild dogs’ are holding me back in fear? And, more importantly, what choices will I make in response to my fears? What thoughts will I choose to enter my mind? What thoughts will I choose to release? And, more importantly, what action will I take in hopes of enhancing my life experience? I can choose to be a victim in the dark or I can choose to live abundantly in the light. One thing I know for sure is that when doors open before me in 2010, I’m leaping inside at the first opportunity.

Family Talk Conversation Cards

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I’ve used lots of conversation starter tools with children (and adults!), but these are my favorite. Maybe that’s why they’ve won more awards than I have room to list! Anything that gets families talking together these days deserves an award, don’t you think? Each of the durable conversation decks is attached to a cool carabineer clip, making them ultra portable. Whether you’re at the dinner table, in the car, or in a waiting room, just draw a card, read the question, and let the fun begin. Great for family get-togethers! I’ve used the Family Talk cards at the dinner table with kids from 5 to 55, and nobody wanted to leave the table! The deck includes 100 cards, and here’s a sample: ”If you could do any job in the world for one day, what would you choose and why?” (5+ yrs.)

#15365 - 100 3.5” x 2.25” cards
Our price $9.95

Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

Interview with Susan Magasamen

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Interview with Susan Magasamen, author of The 10 Best of Everything

When I read Susan Magasamen’s book The 10 Best of Everything, I found myself lusting after her job a little. Just as we at Chinaberry scour the nation for books and other treasures to enrich people’s lives, this woman has made it her mission to find destinations for families. While we’re searching for life-changing stuff, Susan’s out and about “testing” ice cream shops and campgrounds! (Sigh . . .) We just had to find out more about this woman and her amazing job, so we’d like to introduce to you Susan Magasamen!

Janet: What words of advice would you like to share with our readers for having the best family vacation of their lives?

Susan: Incorporate everyone into the planning!  This will make the trip something adults and kids are interested in and are looking forward to!  If you can start the planning early enough, it is great to introduce films, books, art, music and other aspects of the culture prior to the visit.  We also find that after the trip there is always a heightened interest in a new topic. For example, we just came back from a trip to Vienna and discovered our kids had a real interest in opera.  We are now renting operas!

Another tip is to allow for the unexpected and change your plans! No matter how much reading and research you do on a place, it is never the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand.  That is really the wonder of travel…the unexpected and the expected exceeding your expectations.

Janet: As I read your book, I wanted to dog-ear every page because all of your incredible “finds.” I especially loved reading about the “best road trips.” If you could only go on ONE of these road trips this summer, which one would you choose and why?

Susan: As you know, this book is a compilation of other people’s experiences!!! We have families sharing their favorite places in California, another exploring Boston, or a folklorist talking about Philadelphia. The “best road trips” are amazing and I would like to do all of them.  Hmmm, right now I think I would like to take my family to The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation. This is the trip from Deb Kirkland and her two boys.  They planned an adventure-packed, nature-filled week, from hand-feeding the rays to an alligator show.

Janet: Out of all your experiences, from checking out wilderness hikes to resorts in the Key West, which was the most memorable for you personally?

Susan: Throughout the book we share travel stories of famous folks — from scientists and artists to poets and explorers.  I loved hearing about the places and experiences that helped shape their lives. This was very inspiring to me and reminded me that as a parent you have an opportunity to expose your children to what they might become in their lives. Elizabeth Spires’ visits to authors’ homes was very moving to me. As a writer, I relate to the way she got to understand the writers by seeing where they wrote. Often we don’t get the biography or background of things. When you have the opportunity to see where someone wrote something, what inspired them, what their life circumstances were, it helps to understand yourself, the world and perhaps even your place in it a little bit more.

Janet: During the course of putting together this book, what surprised you the most?

Susan: How much people love ice cream! And also how important time spent together is for families. As we travel, visit and see new things together, we create memories that last a lifetime.  I come from a family of five girls. Whenever we get together we still talk about some of the crazy trips we have taken.  I remember once my sister and I took our young children to Colorado to what we thought was a dude ranch.  It ended up being a disaster of a place.  So our husbands and kids all banded together and we went on a road trip all the way to New Mexico.  We had the time of our lives!  Again, expect the unexpected.

Janet: What’s the biggest mistake you feel parents make when planning family vacations?

Susan: Overbooking and pushing kids to “learn.” When your kids are engaged, interested and active, they will have a great time.

Janet: What is #1 on your Wish List right now for your next vacation?

Susan: We want to see the Northern Lights!  We’re thinking about going to Norway to do that.  Interestingly, this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. At supper one night I said I really wanted to do this, not thinking anyone else would be interested. As it turned out everyone was! We’ve all done our homework now and have found a really cool website that reports on the Lights like a weather report!

Janet: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

Susan: The biggest and best piece of advice I can give is to take naps!  Usually when kids are bored they are tired.  If you can take a rest, eat a great snack, and get something to drink, you can get back in the groove.

Featured Chinaberry Employee - Tammy Nelson

Friday, June 26th, 2009

You never know what in the world you’re going to find employee Tammy Nelson doing in our warehouse – from driving around in a forklift to schlepping 40-lb. boxes that I can’t even begin to budge! As our Receiving Department Lead, she’s responsible for “receiving” every single item that arrives in our building. When asked about her job, Tammy replies, “One of the best parts of my job is being able to see every new item when it arrives. It’s like Christmas every day!” A stickler for detail, Tammy doesn’t merely open boxes, glance at the new merchandise, and approve them for inventory. She and her team go over EVERY single item with the care and attention of a mother bear with her cubs. Of course, this is good news for our customers. Unless something gets damaged en route, Tammy guarantees the books and products are in pristine condition.

I love hearing Tammy’s warehouse stories. My personal favorite is the one about a pallet of soaking wet boxes that arrived one day. When Tammy opened the boxes, she found them filled with burned books. Evidently, after the boxes caught on fire, they had been hosed down, but by golly, nobody can say they weren’t delivered on schedule! Such is a day in the life of Tammy Nelson.

Tammy herself arrived at Chinaberry in 1994. Her first job was in the shipping department during our busy holiday season. She loved it so much she decided to stay on. Tammy’s one of those people whose attitude is contagious, so first her sister joined her in working here in 1996, and then Tammy’s twin daughters started in 2000. Tammy’s nieces and nephews have worked here during various seasons as well, so when Tammy says, “We are more like family than fellow workers,” maybe that’s because so many are?!

It’s never a dull moment in Tammy’s life – from enjoying long-distance motorcycle rides with her wonderful husband of 29 years to camping in the desert and spending quality time with her beloved grandchildren and family. Tammy says, “I have never worked for a better company,” and I’m here to tell you we’re a great fan of hers as well!

Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don’t recall my parents ever going into a panic because school was out and they had to entertain me. Come to think of it, did any parents in that generation ”entertain” their kids?! Nonetheless, I don’t seem to recall many bouts of boredom. Somehow, I managed to find things to do without a pony, an inflatable bounce house, or anything requiring a microchip.

So why do we parents so often feel the need to be entertainment directors? And since when is ”boredom” a bad thing? Now I’m not condoning letting our kids fend for themselves all day long, but this summer, I’m hoping we parents and grandparents can all just chill a little and not fret so much about the details of what our children are going to do with their free time. It’s summer vacation — not a NASA mission! Let’s take some of the pressure off ourselves and give our children some credit for using their imaginations. Better yet, let’s help them to cultivate it by letting them figure out some of the details themselves!

Something recently happened at our summer photo shoot that serves as a perfect example of this. We had three children for models, and their parents were a little nervous because the children had never met and were supposed to play together and look like they were having the time of their lives with some fairy wands — items the adults had no clue what to ”do” with. Even the photographer asked, ”What will the kids do with these?” I told him I wanted to leave that up to the children. When they arrived, each child chose a wand, and with all of us adults hovering in eager anticipation, they stood in a row like brave little soldiers in front of the photographer. With forced smiles and stiffly held wands, the line-up looked like something from Fort Bragg, as in ”Yes, SIR! Reporting for duty, SIR!” Now I was nervous. One wise mom suggested we walk away and start talking amongst ourselves. Within minutes after the children were left to their own devices, they forgot about us and the photographer, and soon, irresistible peals of laughter began filling the studio. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw more joyous movement than a passel of puppies with chew toys (see photo above). The photographer laughingly said it was like photographing chaos. Two of the children actually began to cry when it was over. One of them (my grandson!) still asks his mom if he can play with the girls at the photography studio again.

That is the magic that can be found in stepping out of the way and allowing children spontaneous play with open-ended toys. Yes, we adults were close by and available, but we weren’t hovering and orchestrating their every move. Perhaps the ingredients for a really good summer might be to provide our children with playmates from time to time and let them figure out the rest. Give them a few well-chosen toys (cardboard boxes count!), plenty of outdoor time, lots of love, and knock off all the worrying about getting it ”right” as parents. Let’s give ourselves permission this summer to forget the bounce houses, microchips, and ponies and r-e-l-a-x — because isn’t that what summertime is really about?

The Show Must Go On?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

‘Never let ‘em see you sweat!’ was something I heard every day when I was in acting school. This phrase was so embedded in my psyche that when a heavy wooden ladder fell on my foot during a premature blackout on stage last year, I stifled a scream and ‘acted’ as if I wasn’t in the searing pain that made it very difficult to scurry offstage for the next scene change. After all, ‘the show must go on!’

Thinking the pain would go away on its own, I lived with an aching foot for months. Instead of getting better, though, the pain progressed to the point where I began developing a slight limp. After finally seeing an M.D., I learned that I had fractured my foot that night on stage, and because I never had it treated, I now have post-traumatic arthritis that will most likely be with me the rest of my life. Hey, I always thought ‘time heals all wounds.’ No?

I have a friend whose father abandoned her when she was 5. In the 25 years I’ve known her, she’s only mentioned it once, and when she brought it up, she acted as if it was no biggee. Nobody ever sees her sweat, by golly. Yet while her ’show’ goes on, I can’t help but visualize the emotional arthritis and stiffness setting in like protective walls around her heart. While the results of my untreated ‘wound’ can be seen in my walk, hers are seen in troubled relationships and compromised health.

When it comes to wounds both physical and emotional, oh, how we want that quick fix, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that the ’show’ doesn’t go on just because we stifle our screams and act like everything’s okay. Conversely, it seems that if we don’t grieve and don’t seek help when we’re hurting, we end up carrying around an unhealed wound that can be just as crippling as any fracture in our physical body, oftentimes leading to secondary complications down the road.

My hope is that each of us can identify what we’re truly feeling and express it–that we’ll uncover what needs to be uncovered, grieve what needs to be grieved, heal what needs to be healed, and move on to a new day! While we don’t need to let everybody see us ’sweat,’ may we all be blessed with those certain dear souls with whom we can share our pain. Wishing us all a year of deep healing and better times!

Let someone who needs comforting know how much you care with this lovely heart-shaped pillow designed to bring comfort and healing.

When you’re grieving a great loss, it can be such an isolating time. You’re too exhausted to read, you feel as if you’re too much of a killjoy to be around friends, and even the thought of leaving the house drains you. Still, you crave comfort and long to feel that someone knows what you’re going through.

That’s the beauty of giving or receiving one of these Healing Hearts, which are designed to bring emotional comfort and healing. The weight of the heart when placed on the chest is comforting, like the hand of a loved one placed on the heart to soothe or encourage. Made of sumptuously soft fabric with a delicately lavender-scented stuffing, they’re just as soothing to hold as to look at.

Years ago when we carried these, we heard from so many of you. One was the mother of a young man who died of AIDS who told us that her son kept the Heart with him to the end. His mother now has the Heart with her. Women have carried their hearts into surgery; sisters have mailed the heart back and forth across country whenever one needed it the most. I can’t think of a more comforting or tasteful gift to let a loved one know you care. (Semi-sheer crushed polyester with a lustrous sheen.)

Chinaberry Interviews Susan McKinley Ross

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!

Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker?  What DID you see yourself doing?  In other words, what were your aspirations?

Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.

As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.

In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.

Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?

Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.

Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?

Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.

My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.

Janet: You’re such a creative idea person!  What inspires you?

Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.

It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.

The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.

Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?

Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.

The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.

Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual.  I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo.  Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.

Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.

Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.

It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!

A Message of Hope

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

This post from Janet resulted from a comment regarding our “Making Connections”post.

Hi Polly,
Boy, do I ever agree with you regarding your word of caution! In fact, I was just thinking about this subject the other day when I overheard some elementary school teachers talking about some unruly kids in class. You can imagine how I felt when they chalked it all up to poor parenting! Nine years ago, when I was in the thick of some pretty tough (and that is so an understatement!) parenting times, I wrote a piece to offer comfort to other parents. (Really, I think I was writing it to comfort myself too since I had no idea what our future would bring. At that time, I could only hope for better days.) Anyway, I’d like to post what I wrote back in 2000 again in hopes that it might help other parents who feel that things aren’t turning out quite like they “planned.”

I’m ecstatic to report that while my daughter and I are two very different people, we’re very close today, and I’m proud of the young woman she has become — a wonderful mother of 5-year-old Tristin and a very talented, passionate and hard-working vet tech at an emergency clinic. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my parenting journey, it’s what you wrote, Polly — that kids are not “all about us!” They DO have a will of their own, and all we can do is set a good example, provide them with the best resources we can, and have faith that everything will turn out for the best. My heart aches for the parents of “prodigal” kids because I’ve been there, but I do want to encourage you to hang in there and know that there are plenty of other GOOD parents out there who can relate. Thanks for bringing this topic up, Polly. Wishing you all the best, Janet

Janet’s original article from 2000:

I’ve often wondered how certain memories wind up in my brain’s hard drive forever, while others seem only to be stored on a temporary disk. Take, for instance, an afternoon 16 years ago, when I intently studied every inch of my beyond-adorable baby girl, attempting to freeze frame that particular image of her in my mind’s eye forever. My hope was to always be able to conjure up all that cuteness in my mind - sort of a cerebral cryogenics, so to speak! Sadly, the only thing I can actually conjure up of that afternoon now is the memory of my intent. Any mental pictures of my beautiful girl on that day did not survive the test of time. On the other hand, plenty of other downright mundane memories have lodged themselves permanently in my fickle memory bank: the memory of a random yard sale, the face of my daughter’s first pediatrician, and the words of a stranger in the produce section of Larry’s Market in Federal Way, Washington in 1985.

Here’s what happened: Sitting in the basket of our grocery cart, my happy toddler was absorbed in figuring out how to open a package of toilet paper, when a middle-aged woman walked up to us. There was a soberness on her face as she spoke: “Savor these days. My daughter’s a teenager now, and I’d give anything to go back to the days when all it took was a roll of toliet paper to make her happy.” She then briefly shared with me how her daughter had become caught up in “the wrong crowd” and how drugs had taken over her life. We wished each other well, and went our separate ways, but our brief encounter has stayed with me all these years.

(more…)

Featured Chinaberry Employee - Karen Knight

Friday, March 27th, 2009


Janet: How long have you been working for Chinaberry?

Karen: I was first hired in April, 2000 to do payroll and some bookkeeping. When I was offered a job elsewhere in 2007, I took it, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that Chinaberry is the place for me. After two months, I returned to open arms. You just can’t leave a place like Chinaberry and be happy.

Janet: How would you describe what you do now?

Karen: I work in three departments: in Human Resources, my primary job is payroll; in the Website Department, I turn the ads on and off as inventory changes, copy ads to different websites, and keep an eye on other websites that have links to our website; and in Accounting, I do sales taxes and anything they need help with.

Janet: What has been your most memorable experience at Chinaberry?

Karen: One of the most memorable experiences was when Chinaberry was threatened by fire. Everyone immediately pulled together to get a rental truck loaded so we could keep the business running if the fire were to reach our building. No one had to ask anyone to help; everyone just pulled together and got busy. The next year the fire was even closer, and in the wee hours of the morning, employees who could get through to the building left their homes to come and make sure things were covered to keep smoke from the merchandise. Together, they stood at the back of the building as the fire approached, hoping it would not hop the roadway below.  No one called and asked anyone to come; they just showed up and got busy doing whatever they could to help. Some employees lost their homes and everything in them. Immediately, the Chinaberry family tried to find out what they could do to help.

I love how employees are quietly watched for their strengths and how management works together to find the perfect fit for employees. Every book and toy is read or tested by employees and their families to make sure it is a fit for Chinaberry kids. We have books you would never find in the mall bookstores.

Janet: What are your top two all-time favorite Chinaberry books?

Karen: Eat, Drink and Be Chinaberry is a cookbook I’ve given to all my children and friends. The recipes are simply wonderful, but more than that, you can find helpful hints like making your own diaper wipes. With five grandkids in and out of our home, we have used that one more than once. In this time of financial struggle for so many people, there are ways to save money and this is a great one. This cookbook is the favorite one in all our homes.  Also, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children is one that my grandchildren and I love to sit and read together.

Janet: What are your top two all-time favorite Chinaberry products?

Karen: The Marble Whacker is a game we really enjoy playing. It gets really noisy with the sound of the marbles clicking as you hit them, but the laughter is the greatest. Also, the Butter Bell Crock is sitting on my counter all the time and part of setting the table.

Janet: Want to share a little bit about your family and/or hobbies?

Karen: My husband and I have five children and five grandchildren with another on the way. We enjoy our Sunday family dinners, especially since all we have to provide is the house because they all do the cooking!

Watching the kids grow and mature and having the opportunity to play ball and go on family bike rides is the best, but never more fun than camping together. Of course our son-in-law claims he will never camp with us again because every time we’ve gone, we’ve run into a bear or two. The last time we went camping, it took us three hours to get to our campsite, but only 1-1/2 hours to load up and run back to the car after bears were headed toward our tents! We’re going camping locally in two weeks and hope to prove we don’t always have bears around. This time, we’ll be in mountain lion country! (We’ve never seen one there, but keep your fingers crossed!)