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Meeting Martha

I met Martha Stewart last week.

Let’s back up for a minute, because that is something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Meeting Martha was on my Lovely Life List. I admire her business acumen, her signature look and brand, and I’m grateful to her for being a pioneer and paving the way for what I and many of my blogging peers are able to do today.

Martha was in Chicago to appear at a Home Depot event. I received a casual email from her PR team, asking if I was interested in meeting with Martha and doing a quick interview. I resisted the urge to pepper my reply with OMGs and excessive exclamation marks (!!!), and instead said “yes, thank you.”

Nicole Balch and Martha Stewart

There were five of us there to interview Martha, but her plane was delayed and that threw her schedule off. Instead of one-on-one time, we went in as a group for twenty minutes. She greeted us with a smile and a grand sweep of her arms as she surveyed the surroundings. “Welcome… to the Home Depot break room.” Martha answered questions about her favorite designers (Kevin Sharkey for home, Vince for fashion) and recounted her biggest entertaining emergency (“It’s hard to have a true emergency when you’re prepared”), and then I was able to ask my question.

I was already familiar with the upcoming American Made Awards honoring creative entrepreneurs, and I wanted to know if Martha ever imagined having a brand with such reach and scope that she could do something like this. Here’s our very brief interview.

Nicole: I have this funny job of being a professional blogger, and I feel like a lot of the opportunities that exist for me today are the result of what people like you have done in leading the way. I loved this quote from Pilar [Guzmán] in her editor’s letter this month.

“We believe we are at a defining cultural moment, when so many people are making a go of their creative passions and, in doing so, fueling a new American economy.”

I know you have the American Made event coming up in New York, but looking back, way back to when you were catering, did you ever imagine that you would have a brand that would touch on so many of these things?”

Martha: I don’t know if I imagined it, but I certainly hoped it. Because I really feel very strongly that there are so many talented people in this country, and we’ve always made a point of introducing them to our audience. Our magazines have always been filled with people who were great growers, great artisans, great party-givers – whatever they do, we like to tell people about them. And this event is really bringing to the fore the importance and the need for Americans to start promoting “American made” again. It makes me very sad to go to North Carolina and not see a cotton mill anywhere. A weaving mill, a sheet factory — they’re all gone. And they shouldn’t be gone. We should still be making sheets and bedding in America. We grew all the cotton, and now we’re outsourcing it.

I just did a big piece on Toyota for American Made. Now Toyota, you think “oh, it’s a Japanese car,” but they have one of the largest car factories in America making half a million cars a year in Kentucky. I went and visited the factory, and we made a whole car. They make thousands of cars every single day, and it’s start to finish. So we showed the whole process and these are going to be a series of short videos that will be on their website and our website. We have the ability to do that. To show people a lot of the processes that go into various products, and it changes their business. It changes a lot of people’s businesses when you really show them to your big audience. And we’ve had a very big audience for a long time.


Thank you, Martha (and team) for taking time out of your schedule to meet with an admiring blogger.

Breadwinning

I’m the sole provider for our family now. Officially.

I posted a single political link out of a dozen cute and fluffy links in last Friday’s Honor Roll, and it got people all riled up. One person was so incensed that she tried to insult me personally, calling me out for enjoying my “fancy shopping trips” while Brandon was collecting unemployment. That’s not true, but I hadn’t realized the misconception I may have been fostering by not providing an update sooner. It’s hard stuff to write about and I’d been putting it off, but no longer. Here’s what’s going on with us.

Brandon and I met in 1999, when we each worked full-time at Barbara’s Bookstore in Oak Park (making just over $6/hour in the beginning — go us!). We began dating in 2001, moved in together a while after that, and were married in May of 2004. Just before we were married, Brandon left the bookstore for a job in printing that paid more. He was there until he lost his job in January.

I left the bookstore in late 2004. I had already been working a second job which was to continue for a little longer, and I took a seasonal retail job at the first west elm store. When that was over, I decided to pursue my dream of owning a stationery business and I started Pink Loves Brown. I also took on freelance web design projects as Smart & Lovely while the stationery business took off. I started this blog in 2007, and I realized that the blog would eclipse the stationery shop a couple of years into it. The money I made from advertising was a nice bonus at first, and eventually it became enough to call the blog “a job” with a straight face.

Brandon liked the work that he was doing (managing prepress), but the environment was a bad one. We’d always hoped that he could quit eventually, but it helped support our family and provided health insurance. When he unexpectedly lost his job earlier this year, he was on unemployment for a few months while he looked for work. As I took on more projects though, it became clear that we could make it work if he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. In July, he stopped collecting unemployment. We got rid of COBRA and bought our own health insurance (which was difficult and expensive). It’s scary to be the sole supporter since I have such a non-traditional job, but it’s working right now. If we need to reevaluate in the future, we will.

I make money in advertising and sponsored posts here on Making it Lovely, and I also write for Babble, Better Homes and Gardens, and Glidden. I’m saying yes to a lot more work than I would have before and I’m working a lot, but we’re doing well. Last year was the first year in which I earned more than my husband. This year I’ve been doing even better, and I hope to eventually be able to replace his lost income.

It wasn’t under ideal circumstances, but it seems I’ve managed to cross another item off of my Lovely Life List. A big one.

Life List Item: Make Enough Money to Support My Family

Thank you, everybody, for all of your support over the years. Especially recently. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you, and I’m humbled by you and grateful.

Keynote Speaker at BlogPodium

This has been a Lovely Life List kind of week. I was in Toronto (cross the Canadian border, check!) to give a keynote speech (check!) at BlogPodium, Canada’s first and only design conference series for bloggers. The event was created by Jennifer Flores and Lindsay Stephenson and focused on the business of blogging.

I’m shy and awkward in social situations, but I actually like public speaking. Giving the keynote at BlogPodium felt a lot like the online video courses I’ve been teaching for Alt Summit. I prepared in the same way, by structuring my talk around the presentation I created, and the hour-long format was the same. The big difference, obviously, was in being able to see my audience.

It was good though! You know, except for the part where I tried to leave the stage with the little remote for advancing the slide presentations. I was nervously fiddling with it throughout my speech, and I walked off with it. I only got a few feet away before I realized it, hence my expression in the photo below. (See the remote in my hands?)

The panel after me consisted of Cheryl Kozoriz, Laura Muirhead, Lindsay Stephenson, and Cheryl Dovey, and moderated by Leigh-Ann Allaire Perrault. They spoke further about the business of blogging, and touched on the differences between American and Canadian bloggers.

Toronto has an amazing blogging community (I wish we had something like it in Chicago), and I had a great time meeting and spending time with so many Canadian design bloggers. Thank you, BlogPodium, for having me!


All photos by Mango Studios

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