Sarena Breed

sarena8When Sarena unlocked the doors to the Frame Mill Artworks on the morning of March 22, 2017, she excited and nervous. The previous owner Robyn Koski had helped make the transition as smooth as possible, but there was so much Sarena didn’t know, like the flow of the business or the nuances of her employees. Her nerves were further rattled when a supply truck pulled up to make a big delivery.

Up to now, Sarena had shied away from taking risks. For 10 years she worked nights at the Stanford Inn while her husband Sean Barrett worked days at Family Tree Service. This schedule made one of them available to care for their daughter Holiday. A few years ago, Sarena began to yearn for more. “I needed to create a different idea for how to do life, to find a career that feeds my soul. A friend asked what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I realized I want her to see me as a business owner.”

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Patricia Breed

Sarena channeled the courage of her foremothers to fulfill this vision. Her great-grandmother divorced her husband when such a thing was unthinkable and supported her family by running boardinghouses. Her paternal grandmother emigrated from the Philippines, worked at the post office, lived frugally, and put her money into San Francisco rental properties. Her maternal grandmother was a professional photographer and actress who also invested in real estate. Sarena’s mother Patricia Breed managed to become an artist and poet while raising six children over a span of 42 years.

***

In 1985, Sarena’s family moved to Fort Bragg where she entered her senior year of high school. “It was uncommon for new families to come to the area, and I felt like an outsider. Before me, the newest kid in my class arrived in sixth grade. All the other kids had long established friendships. I couldn’t wait to finish high school and get out of here.” She left for college in 1986, and never dreamed she’d move back.

Sarena majored in studio art with a specialty in metal casting. After graduation, she stayed in Chico and spent 10 years working for a custom picture framing business and making her own art.

In 2002, she met future husband Sean at a party in Chico and reconnected with him a few weeks later. “He had no idea I was from Fort Bragg and out of the blue started talking about hosarena3w much he loved the area. I liked him, but wasn’t interested in a serious relationship. I was considering an MFA program at Mills College. Instead, I moved back to Fort Bragg in 2003 to live with my parents. I needed time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. Within six months, Sean also moved here and was hired by Western ACI as an arborist.”

One thing led to another—they got married and had daughter Holiday in 2006. “We lived in a cabin on my parents’ property. Holiday was able to run back and forth between the two houses. It was a very special time for her.” They eventually moved into their own home, but her parents remain a tremendous help with caring for their daughter.

***

sarena4The Frame Mill had been on the market for a few years. Sarena’s background in framing allowed her to imagine buying it. She spoke to friends who own businesses and they assured her becoming a business owner was one of the best things they’d ever done. She looks back on this now and chuckles. “It’s like talking to parents when you’re considering having a child. They tell you how wonderful it is, but leave out the part about sleepless nights.”

In September 2016, she contacted the realtor. Six months later, she was the owner. “I’ve realized it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside. There’s the bookkeeping, ordering, making employee schedules, banking—I’d underestimated how much time all of this takes. I’m working seven days a week and thinking about it all the time, but slowly finding my rhythm.”

SarenaSarena is pleased to discover her business is part of a little neighborhood hub. “People bring in family photos and art projects. It’s fun to help design a way to display them. I’ve been warmly welcomed by the downtown business community.” She plans to evolve the Frame Mill Artworks into a maker’s space. “So few places make what they sell. I want to eventually create affordable art that people can buy to furnish their walls.” In the meantime, she’s learning how to merchandise the store with items that appeal to locals and tourists. “It’s hard because people have a variety of tastes, some very different from mine.”

***

sarena10Returning to the town where she once felt like an outsider has been a positive experience for Sarena. “It used to be ‘What family are you from?’ Now many people live here who don’t have roots going back generations. New people are moving in and young ones are moving back, some bringing families with them. The more our town can do to be a place people are attracted to—like the opening of the coastline via the coastal trails—the more it will encourage young people to move here.”

Sarena is grateful to be able to use her creative energy to make a living. “In so many ways, this feels like a gift. Robyn spent decades building a great business that I could buy to fulfill the next logical step in my life.

”I’ve been evaluating what kind of business owner I want to be. The word that continues to come up is kindness. There’s a whole ripple effect to the smallest act of kindness. I strive to be the person who starts that ripple.”

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Aspen & Jeremy Logan

aspen4Aspen Logan did not grow up in Fort Bragg. Neither did her husband Jeremy. But she has roots here that extend back to the 1920s when her maternal great grandparents built a house on Perkins Way. In addition to having traveled the world, the couple has lived in Los Angeles, Scotland, and Canada. Self-proclaimed risk takers, with backgrounds in the video gaming industry, they never imagined one day they would buy Beckman Printing and Black Bear Press in Fort Bragg.

***

By 2006, when their son Elliot was born, Aspen and Jeremy had become weary Los Angeles urbanites who did not want their child growing up in day care. Jeremy cobbled together freelance animation work for companies like Sony and Google, which enabled them to move to the family’s ancestral home in Fort Bragg. Life was good.

In 2009, son Julian was born. That same year, Jeremy was offered a job in Dundee, Scotland as an animation director for a video game company. “It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” he said. “We loved living in Scotland. The people are good and friendly. Aspen was able to stay home with the boys. After a year, the company went out of business. With no work, we couldn’t get our visas renewed and had to leave the country.”

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They went to British Columbia, where Aspen had been raised. “My parents met in Berkeley and were part of the ‘back to the land’ movement in the seventies. They bought 120 acres in Clearwater, British Columbia, and lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water. My dad worked for the forest service, so we moved around a bit before settling in Victoria when I was sixteen years old.”

In Victoria, Aspen worked as a producer for a small video game company and Jeremy became a stay-at-home dad. In 2012, she was hired by Leap Frog, an education entertainment and electronics company. Jeremy took on freelance animation and illustration work. Their abilities to work remotely allowed them to choose where they wanted to live. They chose Fort Bragg.

In late 2014, Leap Frog was acquired by another company, which laid Aspen off. It turned out to be a good thing. “By then we’d been in Fort Bragg two years and wanted to stay,” she said. “I didn’t want to return to freelance work. It wasn’t stable and isolated us from being part of the community. We wanted to make a greater connection with the town and decided to buy a local business.”

aspen“Beckman Printing fit our skill set—mine as an animator and illustrator and Aspen’s as a project manager,” Jeremy said. “My mom has been in printing for 30 years. When I walked through Beckman’s doors the first time and smelled the ink, it felt familiar, I felt at home. It appealed to us to run a business that did work for other businesses. It would give us the chance to learn what was going on.”

Even though Jeremy grew up around printing, he and Aspen didn’t know anything about running a print shop, but were confident they could be successful and were willing to take the risk.

Buying Beckman in January 2015 has been a positive experience. “We’ve met a broad section of people and have a greater understanding of the community,” Jeremy said. “For example, our engineering printer is used by architects and builders. It seems there’s a surge in construction projects right now.”

aspenTheir business has grown, especially in the areas of design and branding. To reflect the broad spectrum of all they do—graphic design, web design and printing—they’ve changed the name to The Color Mill.

As a business owner in a small town, Aspen believes there’s a lot of opportunity to have an impact. “When you work for a corporation, your hands are tied. Running our own shop, we can make it what we want. We can be a positive force. Our actions make a difference.”

The Color Mill has recently been certified as a Benefit Corporation. “The goals of a B Corp are sustainability, worker rights and community service,” Jeremy said. “It sets a legal framework for evaluating a business based upon good works instead of only profits.” One example of this is their use of paper stock made from sugar cane. They also recycle nearly everything they use.

In addition to Aspen and Jeremy, the company employs four people. Aspen is active in Soroptimist and Jeremy in Rotary. Jeremy is also on the board the County’s Economic Development Financing Corporation. “We help people find financing for small businesses. It’s an amazing group of effective, smart people doing great things.” Aspen recently joined the KZYX Board.

They strive to create a climate where their success lifts the success of other businesses. They aim to strengthen and build relationships with people throughout and beyond the County. “We want to keep our shop local while creating a large design studio to attract talented designers who are paid a competitive wage. We want to position ourselves as a catalyst for growth in the local economy.”

What began for the Logans as a quest to escape big city life has transformed into a discovery of forging community connections, laying down roots, and using their talents to plan for future growth. “We can make a living and help others at the same time,” Jeremy said.

Like many young business people I’ve interviewed, the couple finds this an exciting time to live and work in Fort Bragg. “People are retiring and selling their businesses, younger people are buying those businesses or starting new ones,” Aspen said. During their relatively short time here, they have developed a deep connection to our town. They will continue to work towards creating more prosperity for the area, while preserving the quirkiness and charm, and increasing the feeling of pride in where we live.

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Myles Anderson

myles1Myles is a fourth generation logger who has loved being in the woods for as far back as he can remember. However, a decision made the year before he was born might have sent his life on a different course.

myles5“In 1975, my grandpa was a silent partner with Bud Eastman and they decided to liquidate part of their logging business and put some equipment up for auction. Grandpa wanted to invest in a hotel and bar, but my dad [Mike] had just graduated from Humboldt State and wanted to start a logging business with him. Dad convinced him to buy a truck and some equipment from that auction.” Thus, Anderson Logging was born.

“I learned how to drive a pickup on logging roads as soon as I was big enough to see over the steering wheel,” Myles said. “When I was about ten years old, my dad picked me up after school and took me to a job site. I got to ride into town in a logging truck. I thought that was the coolest thing.” His face lights up at the memory.

myles6While he was in high school, the guys in the shop taught Myles how to grease and maintain trucks. He did this after school and during summers. When he turned 18, he got to fulfill his dream of working in the woods. “I set a lot of chokers,” he said with a smile. A choker is a small piece of cable used to attach logs to cable systems, allowing trees to be harvested without dragging them along the ground. “I really liked it and would have kept at it, but Dad had me work all the jobs so I could learn what the business entailed.”

Anderson Logging September 2006Mike didn’t want Myles to jump right into the business. “It would have been easy for me to head straight into it after high school,” Myles said, “but Dad wanted me to see other places and learn other things before deciding how to spend my life. He knew how much work is involved in this and hoped I would find something easier, but every time I was away all I wanted was to get back to logging. I really enjoy being out in the woods working with the guys. However, I’ve learned there’s a lot more behind the scenes to keep the business going, and that part is not as much fun.”

After graduating from Fort Bragg High School in 1994, it was hard for Myles to leave for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I was not only leaving my family, but a larger logging family who had worked for Grandpa and Dad for 20 to 40 years. These were guys who taught me a lot, guys I looked up to.”

myles4Myles enjoyed college where he majored in Ag Engineering. When he was a senior, he and two friends wanted to build a tractor—from the ground up. “Each year, students in the department would build a sled to be used in tractor pulls. All prize money goes to student scholarships. The dean approved the tractor as long as we found sponsors to cover the cost.” Myles and his buddies were often in the machine shop until two or three in the morning. “We got to know all the campus cops. A woman cop sometimes brought us pizza.” Over the past 18 years, the tractor has been driven by 70 different people in 300 pulls.

After graduating from Cal Poly in 1999, Myles attended UC Davis where he earned a Master’s degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with an emphasis in Forestry Engineering. He returned to his logging family and went back to the woods.

“Dad let me do the jobs I wanted, but he also had me learn how to run the business. Much of our work is done through competitive bids, but sometimes we negotiate a job. Negotiations are when we work with a company to agree on a price. This is a lot harder than submitting a bid, but my education helped me understand our cost structure and how to do this successfully.”

myles2During the logging season, Myles routinely works 13-hour days. “The season used to be about seven months, but now it’s often eleven. Since the recession, logging capacity has shrunk. In order to fulfill the needs of the mills, our seasons have gotten longer. The ability to work during the winter has always been there, however regulation requires rocked roads. In the past, landowners haven’t wanted the additional cost that brings to the process.”

Road work is done alongside logging in the summer. Yarding (where logs are picked up and stacked) and loading (onto logging trucks) are done in the winter when rocked roads are available.

With 100 employees, Anderson Logging is one of the largest employers in our area. “In the past, we could count on our guys coming back each spring. Sometimes I’d pull up to the office to find strangers suited up in hard hats and boots ready to go to work.” This is no longer the case. “We’ve been shorthanded for the past five years. These are good jobs with benefits. I don’t understand why people don’t want to work.”

myles7Myles isn’t the only one in his family who works hard. He’s married to Stacey, a dynamic young woman who he knew in high school. They reconnected in 2003 when her son Wyatt (by a previous relationship) was two years old. Their son Lane was born in November 2006.

Four years ago, Stacey bought Makela’s Bootworks, a western outfitting store. She changed the name to Haywire and added apparel and accessories. “She loves people, clothing and horse stuff,” Myles said. “It’s worked out well for her.”

Having grown up a 4-H kid, animals are important to Stacey, and she’s passing this passion onto her sons. She’s been the community leader for 4-H over the past 10 years.

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Wyatt

“We call our place the Funny Farm,” Myles said with a chuckle. Stacey has two horses (she’s an accomplished horsewoman) and Lane has a miniature horse named

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Lane

Tinker (short for tinker toy); Wyatt and Lane are raising heifers and a steer for 4-H.; there are ducks, chickens, and lambs. Lane raises pigeons and call ducks that he takes to poultry shows. In addition to their school and sports activities (football, track, basketball and baseball), the boys feed the animals and muck out stalls daily.

 

In addition to his long work days and farm duties, Myles is on the board of the American Logger’s Council (he was president last year). “We’re a trade association made up of logging company owners from 32 states. Once a year, we go to Washington DC and spend three days meeting with members of congress to educate them on our sustainable logging practices. We’ve grown to the point where people call us to get information on the state of the logging industry.”

Educating people, especially lawmakers, is the one aspect of being in the logging business that Myles doesn’t enjoy. “We have to fight so hard politically. There are many misconceptions about logging practices. People think we’re ruining the environment. If they could see a logging operation and the rules under which we operate, it would change their minds.”

Myles loves his job, especially when he’s out in the woods. “I’m helping manage a renewable resource and it’s the right thing to do. This job, if managed correctly, can be sustained forever.”

***

Shell Rotella did a short documentary on Myles for its” Unsung: Hardworking Series.” You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUOZankXvoc

Laura Lee Celeri

laura5I met Laura Lee 24 years ago when she was 19 years old. I was captivated by her name—one that seems suited to a line of specialty dairy products—perhaps yogurts and cheeses—some type of creamery to reflect her wholesome sweetness. From our very first meeting, I could tell she is a person who leads from the heart.

Similar to my previous interviewees, Laura grew up here, but unlike them she never had the urge to leave. “I’m a small town kid and love it here.”

Our friendship grew along with my son’s obsession with shoes. Laura had recently graduated from high school and worked at Feet First on Main Street. By the age of seven Harrison was a dedicated Nike fan who could spend upwards of a half hour at that store examining the sports shoe inventory.

Whenever a Nike catalog came out, Laura would bring it from the back room. “Look what I have,” she’d say with a delighted grin. Harrison would stretch his arms towards her, hands trembling like a knight being gifted the Holy Grail. With the catalog in his possession, he’d stumble into a chair, savoring each page as if it contained a piece of the puzzle to the meaning of life. Laura stood aside, basking in the joy she bestowed upon him.

I silently groaned, knowing this meant at least an hour in the store. Laura would often encourage me to leave him while I ran a few errands.

Since then, Laura has married, had a son (who will graduate from high school this spring), and in 2007 purchased Feet First.

laura1Laura is sometimes astonished that she’s worked at Feet First for over 20 years. “It’s given me a chance to build cherished friendships. I’ve met a lot of people in our community and returning visitors. One of my favorite parts is watching the kids grow up. There are kids I’ve known since I helped tie their shoes who now bring their own children into the store.”

laura4Like most businesses, Feet First has changed over the years. “I remember when athletic shoes were mostly white with a little color pop. Now it’s all about the colors. Right now, leisure shoes are taking on a look inspired by athletic shoes. When the [Georgia Pacific] mill was open, work boot sales were steady. We still sell them, but hiking boots are more popular among men.”

The growth of internet shopping has affected Feet First, but hasn’t caused a major decline in sales. “I would like to think our personal, friendly service keeps customers coming back. People tend to want to try on shoes before buying. The other day a customer said, ‘I can’t remember the last time a salesperson brought shoes out for me.’ We often have tourists come in and each member of the family will find a shoe they like. You don’t find that in cities where stores tend to focus on a particular customer like women’s shoes or athletic shoes.”

Central to Laura’s life is sharing. She adores her husband and son and spends as much time with them as possible. She also loves cooking and posting recipes on Facebook. “For the longest time, I’d only share the healthy stuff, but I realized sometimes I don’t want to eat that. Sometimes I want to have cheese stuffed bacon burgers and share that with others.”

laura3Recently, she’s started calling friends and arranging gatherings. “You know how it is when you run into people and say ‘We have to get together soon’ and you never do? Well, I’m telling people, ‘Now’s the time.’ When the weather improves, I’m going to invite people to bonfires at the beach after work.”

Laura makes a conscious effort to create a good, satisfying life for herself and her family. She’s decided to make this the best year yet. “I’m adding healthier changes to my routine, like walking on my treadmill a half hour each day. A few weeks ago, I didn’t feel like doing it. When I got into bed that night, I felt guilty, got up and did it.

“I’ve stopped worrying about my weight—it’s just a number; it doesn’t define me. As a result, I’m enjoying life more. It’s not about what I don’t have, it’s about what I do I have. What do I want to keep? What do I want to get rid of?”

Helping her with this process is “Fly Lady,” an online program that offers tips on how to organize your home. Laura lights up with excitement when talking about this. “Fly Lady helps me realize I can do a little bit every day to organize my life and feel in control. For example, when I recently cleaned out a drawer in my bathroom, I found a bunch of lotion samples. Why was I keeping these when I never used them? Since then I’ve become a daily user of lotions.”

When asked why she’s making these changes now, she said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m 43. I love my life, but know I can do things to enjoy it more.”

Laura and Don work six days a week and make the most of their Sundays off. “We sometimes do short trips, but otherwise spend time with friends and family. We don’t mind only taking one day off each week because we feel our business and customers are part of our family, and we don’t feel the need to get away from them.”

Laura hopes Fort Bragg will continue to encourage and embrace tourism. “I’m proud that tourists choose my hometown as a place to celebrate a special event—to get engaged, married, go on a honeymoon, or take their family vacation.

“I love living here and love my customers. I hope Don and I are able to be part of our downtown business community for many years to come.”

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Son Justin was a member of the Timber Wolves championship team.

Justine Lemos

justine1I sat down with Justine Lemos, owner of at One yOga, intending to talk about how she returned home to open a sweet little yoga studio in Fort Bragg. I quickly learned that the studio is merely one of her many pursuits. As she described her involvement in academia, classical Indian dance, and explained such exotic terms as Ayurveda and Jyotish, I found myself mesmerized by her intelligence and drive.

Twenty-one years ago, this fifth-generation Mendocino native ventured into the world to garner a wealth of knowledge. Eventually, a twist of fate brought her home to share what she’d learned.

Justine was Valedictorian of her 1995 class. Along the way, she became an accomplished ballet artist, which led to a curiosity about the relationship between dance and ritual. She found Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts to be a place that would nurture this study.

“Hampshire College allows students to create their own majors, more along the lines of a graduate program. I met my Indian classical dance Guru Ranjanaa Devi there and continue to work with her.”

During her first year of college, Justine met future husband Grady Gauthier. After graduating in 1999, they stayed in Amherst and she worked at the Asian Art and Culture Program at the University of Massachusetts. Two years later, no longer able to tolerate the harsh winters and feeling the need for more education, she was accepted into a Master’s program in Dance Studies at Mills College in Oakland.

justine4Justine was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 2003 which allowed her and Grady to live in India for 10 months while she researched ancient forms of Indian dance. “We lived in remote village in the southwestern part of the country. In order to buy anything refrigerated, we had to travel an hour and a half by local bus.”

Despite the hardships, they loved it. “Grady met a young man who wanted to learn English. In India, children either go to English school or local language school. The former get white collar jobs, the latter blue collar jobs. As a result of Grady’s teaching, Shaheem established the ‘Speak Up Speak Out Academy of English’ and has become very successful.”

After the Fulbright ended, Justine entered the doctoral program in Cultural Anthropology at UC Riverside, and Grady started law school at Whittier College. Her focus was Dance Ethnography, specifically with an emphasis on embodiment in South Asian dance. In 2008, an Institute of India Studies grant paid for both of them to live in India for a year while Justine did research for her dissertation. They returned to Southern California in 2009. She started writing her dissertation and Grady began his last year of law school. During that time, she became pregnant.

“I gave birth to our son Ravel two weeks after I passed my oral exams. Grady had one more year of law school. When Ravel was two weeks old, I strapped him on me and stood in the front of a lecture hall filled with undergraduate students. I taught Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, and World Dance and Cultures.”

Grady worked as a paralegal. When he finished law school and passed the bar, he couldn’t find a job. “This was in 2010, during the economic fallout. No firms were hiring. I had a baby and couldn’t go back on the fulltime job market. I suggested we move to Mendocino temporarily. We could rent a small house on my parents’ property and aggressively apply for jobs.”

justine5Justine taught online classes—Cultural Anthropology, World Dance, Linguistic Anthropology, Anthropology of Art—through colleges in Southern California. She often worked on her laptop at The Company Store. When the flower shop in the building went of business, she thought, “That should be a yoga studio.”

In 2011, with a modest loan from her parents, Justine opened at One yOga. “In yogic subtle anatomy there are two main energy channels termed the ida and pingala—or ‘ha’ and ‘tha’—which are represented by the sun and the moon. We decided to use the two big Os to reflect this yogic principle.”

Grady started an immigration law practice in the back of the yoga studio. “I spent two years working all the time, with very small classes, before the business took off. Today, about 200 students a week pass through the studio. Grady’s business grew to the point where he needed a bigger office, which he found behind Taka’s Grill on Main Street. He’s the only immigration lawyer in Mendocino, Humboldt and Lake Counties.”

The growth of at One yOga allowed Justine to hire instructors to offer more classes. She’s been able to branch out into areas of related interest, such as Ayurveda and Jyotish, private yoga classes, and heart-based meditation. She continues to teach Cultural Anthropology online and write articles in academic journals.

justine3Justine has mixed feelings about being back home. “I was gone for fifteen years and never thought I’d return. But I compared everywhere I lived to here and those places always came up short.” She feels limited career-wise, but grateful to be able to raise her son near her parents. “I had a special relationship with my grandparents, and I’m happy Ravel is having the same experience.”

Justine does, of course, see changes to the Mendocino community. “When I grew up, I knew nearly every person in town. It’s now less a town and more a tourist destination. The people who bought my grandparent’s house live elsewhere and use it as a vacation home.”

On the other hand, Justine sees Fort Bragg at an exciting juncture. “There’s a lot of socioeconomic friction going on. The town doesn’t know what it wants to be. Mendocino is set—it’s a tourist town. What is Fort Bragg? Will we turn it over to corporations or will it be like Healdsburg and Sebastopol, which celebrate local businesses?”

Justine’s business is not tourist dependent. “I found something that fits a local need. I’ve created a community of students who love me and I love them.”

***

For more information on Justine, visit these websites:

at1yoga.com

mendoveda.com

justinelemos.com

natarajdancers.org

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Sheila Struckmeyer

sheila5Sheila was raised on an organic farm in Fort Bragg and learned to make soaps, facial scrubs, and lip balms. She never imagined this knowledge would allow her to earn a living. As so often happens in life, one thing led to another and here she is—the owner of Bella Mia, a petite treasure tucked into the back room of Understuff on Main Street.

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Born in 1976, Sheila grew up with a large extended family on the same property where her mother was raised. In addition to farming, her dad was a woodworker. “My family was self-sufficient. The attitude was if you want to do something, just do it. There were few limitations.”

Her mother had a passion for growing the unusual—like kohlrabi and currants. “In the early eighties these were novelties. Margaret Fox and Chris Kump (then owners of Café Beaujolais) were on the culinary edge and used uncommon ingredients in their dishes. Whenever I’d go on a delivery with my mom, Margaret would feed us something yummy.”

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The effervescent Sheila welcomes visitors to her beautiful store.

Sheila’s formal education was a mixture of private, public and home schooling. “For a while I went to a Hippie school where no outdoor shoes were allowed inside. We had to change into Chinese slippers, and call teachers by their first names.” As a teenager in the early nineties, she wanted to go to “normal” school and wear designer jeans. She went to Mendocino High for a year before enrolling herself in Fort Bragg High. “They asked, ‘Where are your parents?’ I said, ‘Why do they need to be here?’” She laughs. “I was taught to take charge of things on my own. I never asked them to come with me.”

After graduating from high school at age 16, Sheila drove to Washington State with a boyfriend and lived in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Sixteen?

She laughs. “My parents felt if that’s what I wanted, I should do it.”

After a year, the boyfriend and island living lost their appeal. She drove back to Fort Bragg.

Alone? At seventeen? Before cell phones?

Sheila employs a local soap maker to create these fabulous bars.

She laughs. “I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of rest stops along Interstate 5 that were clean and well-lit at night. When I got tired, I’d pull into one and sleep in my car. At each stop, there was a group of women volunteers—I think they were nuns— who handed out cookies.”

After a year of waitressing, she worked for the Village Toy Store in Mendocino. “The owners, Bill and Susie Carr, changed my life. They encouraged me to have a career, taught me bookkeeping, and how to run a business. I started saving for retirement at the age of 18. I consider them family and we remain close.”

The toy store job sparked a love of working retail. After the Carr’s sold their business, Sheila worked for a number of stores. A job at Sallie Mac nudged her to open her own business. “She carried an exclusive line of skin care products from a French company that required all sales people to go through extensive training in order to present them properly. I learned a lot about how these are made and why certain ingredients are chosen.”

Sheila combined her knowledge of organic skin care products with that of aromatherapist friend Melanie Knox and made gifts for friends and family. They eventually expanded their operation to sell at craft fairs.

“Our first craft fair was the opening day of the 2008 Whale Festival—the one that had the worst weather ever on that Saturday morning. There was thunder, lightning, hail, and torrential rain. We set up in the Company Store and I worried we wouldn’t sell a thing. But we sold out in five hours and made $1,000. We were so excited.”

sheilaWhile traveling the craft fair circuit and working for her mother (who owned a nursery), Sheila contemplated opening a store. Her husband Michael wasn’t sure it could be successful. They’ve been married 10 years and come from very different backgrounds. “I have a sense of no limitations while he’s more conservative.”

They met at the Tip Top one night when she was the sober driver for a young friend’s twenty-first birthday. He lived in Sacramento, but his family had a house on the coast that he’d been visiting most of his life. “We dated for a year. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, exactly a year after we met, he proposed to me in the place we had our first kiss—his parents’ house on Todd’s Point.” He moved to Fort Bragg and works for North Coast Plumbing.

Drawing on the can-do spirit in which she was raised, Sheila spotted a “For Rent” sign on Laurel Street in 2012 and 15 days later opened Bella Mia.

In 2013 her mom was diagnosed with ALS and died two years later. Helping her mom through her illness and mourning her death took a tremendous emotional toll on Sheila. “Creativity and grieving don’t go hand in hand. I felt like I couldn’t make anything or go to my shop and make chit chat. I had lost my mom, so what else mattered? My lease was coming up in April of this year. I wanted to close the store. Hilary [White] had lost her father six months before my mom died and knew how I felt, but was concerned that I’d regret that decision. She had an empty room in the back of Understuff and convinced me to move in. I’m so grateful to her.”

sheila2Like other business owners, Sheila works long hours, but enjoys being her own boss. “If I decide to do something, I do it. I don’t have to discuss it with anybody.” She makes her products daily. My personal favorite is her Mendo Rain soap. Imagine standing on the Mendocino Headlands on a crisp, clear morning after a storm. Take a deep breath. Sheila has captured this pure, clean aroma in her liquid soap. (If you live out of the area and can’t get to the headlands, order it and you’ll see what I mean.)

“I like the creative process of making things. I can be focused and completely present in the task—Zen.” This Zen quality is manifested in her store—it feels harmonious and, even though well stocked, has a minimalist feeling, allowing for a relaxed shopping experience. She’s proud that most of her customers are locals.

Sheila hopes someday Fort Bragg’s economy returns to a balance between business and tourism—where businesses are created to help young people stay here. In the meantime, she continues to do what she can to add to the economy while generously sharing her joyful spirit.sheila3

The Reluctant Spartan – Part I

I’ve never considered myself a competitive person—unless you count growing up with four siblings and competing for the attention of my overwhelmed parents. During my first five decades on the planet, I also never considered myself an athlete or remotely fond of physical activity.

earth dayOn Earth Day 1971, I was a junior in high school. My sister (a sophomore) and I decided to honor the day by walking instead of driving the five miles to school. We stopped for three cigarette breaks and once to smoke a joint. At the end of the day, we walked eight blocks, decided the trek home would be too arduous, and stuck out our thumbs to hitch a ride. Our Spanish teacher picked us up and gave a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking until he deposited us on the curb outside our house. We crept to the backyard to enjoy a smoke before going inside.

I smoked off and on for the next 30 years, entertaining myself during the off years with Dance Aerobics in the eighties and walking my dogs in the nineties. At the age of 50, my teenage son needed me to sign consent for him to join a gym. Before I knew it, I’d also signed up. I’ll admit I fell for the sales pitch of the family discount, but also hoped that exercise classes might help shed the 15 pounds menopause had piled on and make me feel less like a sausage packed into my clothing.

photo(1)My friend Kathleen and I took classes, worked out on our own, and eventually, with a personal trainer. We grew stronger and, I dare say, a little cocky. Six years into this regimen, she suggested we do a triathlon. I agreed before I fully knew what it meant (or how to spell it)—a half-mile swim, 22-mile bike ride, and 5k run. We worked out six days a week, and created a motto: To finish is to win.

We finished.

This race taught me: (1) I’m more physically capable than I think I am; and (2) I will never do it again (the open water swim was terrifying). But the experience was a tipping point—it made me yearn to challenge my body and expand my capabilities.

I started entering local 5k races. The year I turned 60, I won first place in my age category in two races—not because I’m fast, but because I was either the only woman in that category or the few others were a lot older. The year I turned 61, I ran five races, motivated by the fact that my friend Sandy would turn 60 the next year and she’s much faster than I am. That would be my last year to collect ribbons and medals. (I got four.)

spartan1This past January, a group of fellow gym rats—Beth, Yvette, and Jan—invited me to join their Spartan team for the May race at AT&T Park. My personal trainer Bethany had done a number of these and always came back battered and bruised, but high on accomplishment. I watched a YouTube video and told the group, “What kind of crazy would do such a thing? I’m 62 years old for God’s sake. I work out four times a week and run 5k races. Leave me alone.”

They kept me on their email thread. A few weeks later, I asked Bethany if she thought, with proper training, I was capable of the challenge. “You could do it today,” she said.

I signed up.

Fear of failure and letting my teammates down became major motivators. I was two, eight, and thirteen years older than the other three members of my group. I pushed myself—strength training and running six times a week. I won’t lie, training wasn’t easy. For example, I’d never run more than 3.10 miles (5k) in my life. Each quarter mile beyond that was exhausting, but I kept at it until four, four and a half, and five miles wasn’t so bad. Six point two miles (10k) was—and still is—a bitch, but I know I can do it and I’ll do it again.

I grew stronger, but no matter how hard I trained, I was the slowest and weakest of the team. In many areas of my life, I’ve excelled or been at least average. It pissed me off that I’d slipped to the lower end of the bell curve. I tried to avoid bitterness and accept my weaknesses. I succeeded about a quarter of the time. Many days I wanted to quit, but kept going. It felt good to be part of a group working toward a common goal.

Panic-in-Needle-Park-WinnI had four months to obsess on the Spartan Race. Each time I thought about it, a bolt of fear struck my heart, ricochet down to my stomach, and left me feeling nauseated.

This held true until the morning of the race as my team and I watched young hard-bodied competitors rush through the course while we waited for our 9:30 start time. We’d arrived early to watch Bethany run the competitive race. (We weren’t considered competitors—we were “fun” runners.)

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR PART IIspartan4