Inspirational Stories

Leap of Faith

Posted by at 18 April, 2011, 9:47 pm

Before having children, I had dreams – BIG, lofty dreams. I was going to do it all! Actually being a mom was never a part of this girl’s agenda. It was going to be me, a loft apartment, a big city view and a dream career.

I sit here now writing as my 6-year old plays in the bathtub. Me has turned into 3; the loft is a place in my home filled with dolls, dolls and more dolls; the view is of the beautiful Rocky Mountains and the career…..well it turns out that the dream career still made the cut but the path to get there was certainly not what I expected.

I had years of freedom and zero responsibility. Looking back, I wish I had taken more chances then but then again, I guess I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s not like I just sat and watched the world go by however I didn’t push myself to the limits I could have and should have done. It wasn’t until my girls were born that I began seeing myself through my Mother’s eyes. I realized the wishes I held for my own daughters were not unlike the wishes she held for me. She has always been my number one supporter while I questioned her sanity. I always felt she gave me way more credit than I deserved but it made sense once I became a mother myself. A mother sees the truth even if no one else can.

Our children learn by watching our actions, and reactions to the world. I did not want to pass my fears and limitations down to them. The thought crossed my mind when my first child was just days old that I can’t expect her to live to her fullest potential when I know I hadn’t lived up to mine. I embarked on my first toy, the Color Bug, without fear of failure even though part of me expected it. If anything, I could teach the girls that failure comes in not trying.

I am grateful to have a mother who always pushed me to be my best. I’m even more grateful that she never gave up on me even during the moments and years I gave up on myself. As mothers, we have the important task to help foster our children’s dreams into reality. Sometimes the best way to do that is by nurturing our own dreams. As the years go by, I continue to push myself to learn new things and take new risks. My children continue to inspire me to reach further. Originally I did it to be a good example for them but now I do it for me too.

Today I watched as my 6-year-old jumped off the diving board into the deep end of the pool for the first time. She looked down and said “wow, that’s deep”; then climbed up the ladder without any hesitation. She had faith in herself and she had faith that I would be there if she needed me. It is in these moments that I am reminded just how much joy can be achieved from trying something new. When is the last time you took a leap of faith into uncharted waters?

Category : Inspirational Stories | Toy Mom | Uncategorized


Posted by at 23 February, 2011, 8:52 am

I am always so inspired by the entrepreneurs I meet in my travels. Last time I visited Hawaii Island, I met a fit and fabulous businesswoman who has capitalized on her love for biking. I’ve chronicled her journey in Part III of my series, Working in Paradise.




The road that led Gwendolyn Hill to launch was a curvy one indeed.  Here’s how she turned her passion for pedaling into a dream-come-true business on Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island).

HeadshotThe journey: The Oahu native graduated with a business degree from University of Redlands, California in 1990. She was managing an art gallery on Maui and volunteering as a Humpback Whale Interpreter on the weekends, when she became interested in wild dolphin communication research. She’d heard about several pods that regularly visited beaches on Hawaii Island, and decided to move over in 1992. “There was not much work or industry on the Big Island, so that forced me to become creative and start my own business,” she says.  Her first was an adventure tour company, specializing in hiking, biking, camping and shore fishing, co- founded with her then-boyfriend in 1994. He financed the enterprise and Gwendolyn provided the business know-how, but after 2 years he decided to pursue other things. “I did not have the finances or the confidence to buy him out, so I closed the business down begrudgingly,” Gwendolyn says.

Exploring new directions: Instead, she researched and wrote a grant, and started a Hawaiian Koa Farm, planting 30,000 native Acacia Koa trees on her family’s land along the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii Island. It was a long-term project, and the trees took several years to plant and manage.  Meanwhile, Gwendolyn also studied and taught African Dance, another passion of hers.  She traveled to Africa to learn native dances and created a jewelry line inspired by African artwork.  “Once my trees were up and running, and basically taking care of themselves, I found myself at a crossroads,” Gwendolyn says. “I wanted to run one successful business, instead of several somewhat successful businesses. I always believed that my adventure tours company was a great idea and could be profitable, especially with the Internet allowing worldwide access,” she says. So, in 2006, she mustered up the courage to reopen the tour business, this time specializing in her favorite activity, biking. Since Volcanoes National Park is the top attraction on Hawaii Island, and was one of her most popular tours the first time around, Gwendolyn decided to focus on bike tours through the park. She’d name her enterprise

Fueling up for the ride: It took Gwendolyn about 9 months to write a business plan and obtain a $50,000 loan to purchase bikes, a van and trailer, and cover other costs. “I needed every type of insurance and license that you can think of,” she says. “The red tape for operating a bicycle tour business is quite intensive.  You have to be willing to jump through several hoops.” Her loan got rejected at first, but Gwendolyn was not discouraged. “I went in with a determined attitude that I was going to get a loan and do whatever it took to obtain it.”   She got some advice from her local Small Business Development Center, resubmitted her application with additional information, and was awarded the loan.

Putting the wheels in motion: She incorporated, and officially opened for business in 2007. A friend helped design and build the website, and Gwen methodically implemented the marketing goals she’d set for herself in her business plan.  The word spread, and customers came. At first it was just Gwen working as a guide, with her new (and current) boyfriend driving the van.  As the business began to build, she hired an additional driver. She now has 7 employees.  “I am having to hire even more staff to keep up with the demand,” she says.

Handling roadblocks: As Gwendolyn’s business became established, one of the biggest challenges was finding time to take a vacation herself. But “now that I have been in business for 3 1/2 years, I have been able to figure out the slower seasons and have timed my vacations accordingly,” she says. “I also give myself a break every day where I can go to the beach and swim, bike ride, take a yoga class, read, or even nap for a couple of hours.  This time adds up to a huge vacation, and helps me achieve a more balanced lifestyle.” Gwen is also learning to delegate more of her responsibilities.

On a roll: As continues to grow, Gwendolyn has stayed true to her original mission. “My formula is essentially the same, to provide a quality tour with professional guides and good customer service,” she says. now offers three tour courses:  Summit Tour Special (a half day tour, 10am to 1pm);  Bike Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with an optional Wine Tasting Session (full day tour, 10am to 3pm); and Bike to Pele – Kilauea’s East Rift Zone & Active Lava Flow Bike Adventure (1pm to 8pm). Business has grown so much that Gwendolyn is considering expanding even further.

Words of wisdom: What advice does Gwendolyn have for other businesswomen? Believe in yourself,” she says. “See your dream in your mind and hold on to the vision. If you receive a ‘No’ keep asking until you find a ‘Yes’.  The details will work themselves out and your dream will manifest, as long as you believe in it and know there is infinite abundance.”

Sounds like smokin’ hot advice to us!


Category : Inspirational Stories | Success Stories | Travel Writer Mom


Posted by at 7 February, 2011, 9:39 am

Ever dreamed of what it would be like to run a business on a tropical island? Here’s another inspirational woman who is doing just that, from my ongoing series about Working in Paradise.


In the 1990s, Jeanne Sunderland was a Spa Director at luxury hotels on Hawaii Island, where she founded the Spa Without Walls at the Ritz Carlton (now the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii), and revolutionized treatments by offering them outdoors. Today, she and her husband, Robert Watkins (who is also a physician on the island), run Hawaii Island Retreat, an eco-friendly, boutique-style hotel and spa, specializing in health and wellness. It took nearly 10 years to complete, but Jeanne & Robert persevered, believing that it was their mission to create this peaceful sanctuary on Hawaii Island’s North Kohala coast.

Here’s how they took their idea from vision to reality.

Noticing a need in the market. During the 13 years she worked in spa management, clients would often ask Jeanne if she knew of a place they could go for health and wellness retreats. “Though there were some, most were operating without proper permits, and lacked the grace and comforts of upscale hotels. “I realized there was a need for elegant facilities that could accommodate 30 – 50 guests for spa getaways, honeymoons, small weddings, and group or corporate events,” says Jeanne. “The existing hotels were too large for such intimate gatherings, and B&B’s were too small.” Jeanne imagined a refined place that would specialize in Hawaiian healing treatments for mind, body and spirit, and be completely sustainable, too. Hawaiians have great respect and love for the land; they call it aina, and believe it has sacred power. “We wanted our lodge to be in total balance with the earth, and show that it is possible to be green, while providing high-end accommodations,” says Jeanne. Her retreat would have 5-star amenities, as well as eco amenities for the earth. Electricity would be provided through solar energy cells and windmills, sparkling pools would catch rain water for resort use, meals would come from their organic fruit and vegetable gardens and the cattle, chickens and sheep raised in lodge pastures. “Our goal was to be as self-sustaining as possible,” Jeanne says.

Trusting her intuition. Though originally from Kansas, Jeanne found herself at home on Hawaii Island as a young adult, and fell in love with the Kohala Coast and settled there. She became interested in Hawaiian culture and therapies, and began studying with native healers. She recalls that over 30 years ago, her spiritual teacher, Uncle Tommy, brought her to the very land that Hawaii Island Retreat now sits on, but she didn’t know why. “He said he was told to bring me there,” remembers Jeanne. Years later, when she was searching for a tranquil setting to build the lodge on, a friend showed her that same piece of property, and she immediately recognized it. “I knew I was home,” she says. It was as if she was destined to start her venture there. Business owners are often surrounded by critics and naysayers, but “you have to trust your gut and listen to your inner voice,” Jeanne says. It turns out that the land has a very interesting and sacred history. It is believed that Hawaii’s famous King Kamehameha The First met with his advisors in the grassy outdoor ampitheater in the valley, and that the ancient boulders there have spiritual power. It was while meditating by the rocks that Jeanne heard the Hawaiian name for her retreat: Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia, which means place of the Sacred Peace-Giving Stones.


Building blocks. Jeanne and Robert bought the land with money borrowed by mortgaging their home and other properties purchased through years of living in Kohala. They applied for a Special Use Permit, which they obtained in August of 2001. Robert and their grown son, Daemion, an engineer and general contractor, began building the lodge and surrounding structures themselves, and Robert worked to cultivate the fields. But it took 9 long years before they received their Certificate of Occupancy and welcomed their first guests. One setback was the earthquake of 2006, which delayed things nearly 12 months. Stucco and drywall had just been completed and needed to be extensively repaired; finish work and painting had to be redone; and although the structure was sound, the couple chose to add more reinforcement. The rules, regulations, permit process and business taxes also slowed things down, and made the cost of doing business extremely high. During that time, Jeanne continued working for local hotels, and Robert, who is a doctor, kept practicing as a primary care physician and Director of Emergency Services at Kohala Hospital (a position he still holds). “It would be hard to view this state and island as business-friendly,” she says. “You need a lot of patience!”

Persistence pays off. Hawaii Island Retreat opened it doors on April 1, 2009 and built a buzz in the first few months by hosting non-profit fundraising events for community organizations, like Kohala Hospital, and Friends of the Library. Word of mouth referrals, a beautiful (and peaceful) website, a You Tube channel, Facebook Fan page, and partnerships with the Big Island Visitors Bureau help Jeanne reach more potential guests and get covered in many newspaper and magazine articles.

Pools catch rainwater for recycling.

Pools catch rainwater for recycling.

Guests dine in the open-air courtyard.

Guests dine in the open-air courtyard.

Room are decorated in classic Hawaiian style, and each one is different.

Rooms are decorated in classic Hawaiian style, and each one is different.

Serenity now! Today, “the grounds and facilities are even more beautiful than we dreamed,” says Jeanne. The main house has an open-air dining room and courtyard, and 9 guest rooms (including a penthouse honeymoon suite), all decorated in classic Hawaiian style. The spa has 2 yoga studios (with floors made from eco-friendly wood imported from South America), outdoor massage cabanas, and a saltwater infinity pool that seamlessly blends into the surrounding landscape of ocean, cliffs and sky. Jeanne was savvy enough to notice that travelers were looking for a retreat like this, and truly believed that if they built it, guests would come. She says her greatest reward is seeing the transformation of her visitors. “They come with the stress of their lives showing on their faces, and leave at ease, peace-filled and happy.”


For more success stories, read Working in Paradise, Part I: Slow Down and Smell the Coffee

Category : Inspirational Stories | Mompreneur Stories | Success Stories | Travel Writer Mom

WORKING IN PARADISE (part 1): Slow Down & Smell the Coffee

Posted by at 27 January, 2011, 8:15 am

HCM Mill Front

Ten years ago, Jeanette Baysa and Katherine Patton ditched careers in corporate America (they had both worked in project management in Honolulu) for a slower paced, rural lifestyle and more rewarding work on Hawaii’s Big Island. Since then, they’ve been running Hilo Coffee Mill on the island’s eastern side, where they now cultivate their own crops and process, package and market coffee grown by local farmers. No batch is too small. “Our primary goal is to support the small family farm and find a market for these artisanal coffees both locally and abroad,” says Jeanette.

While everyone associates Hawaii with Kona coffee (grown on the western end), the Big Island’s wetter, cooler eastern side produces some of the richest beans in the world. In fact, in the 1800s over 6,000 acres of coffee trees flourished there, until sugar took over as the state’s more profitable crop. Now that sugar production has declined, East Hawaii coffee is making a comeback. And Katherine and Jeanette are on a mission to help small, family-run plantations prosper once again.

Here’s how the coffee lovers brewed their business idea. 11Kathy_Patton_Jeanette_Baysa Founders

A vision percolates: Though they lived in the midst of “coffee heaven,” Katherine and Jeanette couldn’t find any good local coffee being served. They opened a small espresso cafe in a Hilo shopping center, but were sourcing the beans from the mainland. “Local farmers often asked us to buy their coffee,” says Katherine. “We really wanted to, cause it was delicious, but with coffee being our main business, we couldn’t rely on the farmer for our only supply.” Then they hit upon a solution, deciding to start Hilo Coffee Mill in February 2001, a business that could buy direct from farmers and also import coffee from many different countries, ensuring a consistent supply. They’d process and package local farmers’ custom coffees and market them to island restaurants, and globally as well.   HCM Roasted Coffee

Start-up steps: They leased a small storefront/warehouse space in an industrial park in Kea’au, and initially took the green coffee to a company in Kona—3 hours away—where it was roasted. But the trip was tiring and time-consuming, and when a friend’s sister in Washington State had a roaster for sale, they jumped at the chance to buy it. They started with one farmer, who is still with them today, and rounded up restaurant partners simply by approaching local places that served coffee. “Our first client was a restaurant we dined at often,” says Jeanette. “That restaurant, Don’s Grill, is still with us after all these years!” Jeanette and Katherine became known as the “coffee ladies.” They ran the business out of Kea’au for 4 years, during which time they acquired more equipment and warehouse space, funded by loans from relatives, friends and shareholders who believed in their dream. “We knew that we eventually wanted to move to a site on the highway, visible to tourists and locals, where we could have a small visitor center and grow a little coffee of our own,” says Jeanette.  HCM Coffee Trees HCM Coffee Cherries

How business grew: Katherine began investigating some vacant old sugarcane land and found that a 400-acre parcel in Mountain View, right along Volcano Highway on the way to the national park, was being subdivided into smaller lots. They were able to purchase 24 acres. It took 3 bulldozers and 6 months to prepare the land that Hilo Coffee Mill now occupies. The enterprise has morphed into a full-service coffee mill and plantation, with a retail shop, Latte Da coffee and tea bar, catering and marketing services, and a Saturday farmer’s market featuring eggs from their own chickens and other locally grown items. There are also educational tours showcasing the coffee production process—from plant to cup. They started with 500 seedlings, and now have 6,000 trees, this year yielding about 4,000 pounds of roasted coffee. And today the “coffee ladies” buy from over 15 farmers on Hawaii Island, plus many from Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Molokai. “The business has definitely taken on a life of its own,” says Katherine. “But our core mission is the same: Offering fresh roasted Hawaiian grown coffee, supporting our local farmers, and providing a great place for our local community to work, gather and have fun.”

HCM Latte Da Bar

From farm to table: One of the most challenging parts of the business is getting people to know what it stands for, admits Jeanette. “We support local agriculture, and those who have made the hard choice to grow our food responsibly. We live on an island, so it’s important to be in business not only for ourselves, but for our community. We depend on the small farmer, and they depend on us.” She adds that many people forget that Hawaiian coffee is a domestic product, the consumption of which affects a US farmer. “Our goal is to enlighten consumers to get as close to the producers of their food as possible. If they can see the environment where the food comes from, the more likely they are to support those enterprises. We hope to teach that sustainability is achievable, even in small ways.” HCM Rooster Cincinnati Red

Finding your own piece of paradise: Katherine and Jeanette urge aspiring entrepreneurs to “dream big.” Do what you love and do it with passion, they say. But also plan it out first and make every step count. “Don’t start something that you aren’t ready to completely handle,” Katherine cautions. And have fun. “When you love what you do, it almost doesn’t feel like ‘work.’ Paradise is what you make of where you are.”

HCM Coffee Flowers

Category : Inspirational Stories | Travel Writer Mom | Working From Home

Balance, balance, balance…

Posted by at 30 July, 2010, 3:43 pm

Ever feel like you are walking on the tightrope in the circus? I do – pretty much every day. Ever wonder how they keep from falling? Every time they step out, they walk that fine line. I have several buddies in the entertainment biz who have told me the secret is simply this – finding a good sense of balance …and a great safety net, but that’s a different blog entry ;)

I wish there were a clear cut daily schedule for everyone or a one-size-fits-all set of rules, when it comes to achieving balance. But there isn’t – what works best for one person, won’t work at all for the next. So it is up to us as individuals to know ourselves well, and to figure out what works best – for you, for your family, for your business, for your sanity. In my line of work as a musician, and for any entrepreneur, if we don’t literally schedule in some business time, some family time, and some “me” time, it isn’t going to happen and we will be drained in one area or another. By nature, most entrepreneurs are driven, creative people, who love what we do and know that we need to work our tooshies off to survive as entrepreneurs. But as Mompreneurs, we also have to figure family and ‘down time for me’ into the mix, which means a whole lot of giving and taking and balancing.

For me at least, finding time for the work part is easy. And hopefully, we take care of our families by nature, scheduling in the school plays, baseball games, swimming lessons, play time, because we are good Moms. It’s the taking-time-for-me part I have the hardest time with.

Ever wonder why on a plane if you ever need to use the oxygen masks you are instructed to put it on yourself first? It took me a long while to understand that if we don’t breathe in the oxygen first, we can’t function and help anyone else. Aha! So I have permission to take that time for me and to re-charge the “me” battery. A good massage… going for a walk…taking a nice hot bubble bath with a good book and a glass of cabernet… they all work. But I will be the first to confess I am the last one who schedules in that me time. Perfect example – I have a membership to Massage Envy. At last count, I had 18 pre-paid massages waiting for me, and I have yet to put them on my calendar.

I am writing this entry after having just returned from a week and a half vacation with my sweet hubby, child and family. I am well rested, and I wonder, ‘why don’t I do this more often?’ to which I answer, ‘well the trip has been on the calendar for several months.’ Yes, I’m so ready to get back to work. But maybe before I dive back in, I’ll call Massage Envy and get some me time scheduled on the calendar.

Category : Blogging Mom | Inspirational Stories | Mompreneur Stories

A brief year in review

Posted by at 22 January, 2010, 10:30 am

Hello folks!  I’ll get the “news” stuff and links out of the way then I think it’s time for a year in review don’t you?  (Radio interview will Heath, follow Shark Tank Alumni with Pork Barrel BBQ)–Regarding-Appearance-On-ABCs-Shark-Tank  (Radio interview with Steven Key)


To listen to behind the scenes commentary on Shark Tank about Grill Charms, hit play:  THIS IS REALLY COOL!  Daymond gives a total behind the scenes view of Shark Tank.  Video from @The_Grilldog


I’m not really sure what to say about 2009 other then… It was “Interesting”.  I feel like I not even remotely the same person I was 1 year ago in just about every aspect of my life.  My first year on the market (2008) I felt like I was really just dipping my toes in the entrepreneurial waters.  I made sales calls on stores, tried to build up my brand and gain some product awareness.  2009 I really jumped in with both feet.  I did my first tradeshow in January then a second (one of the largest in the housewares industry) in March.  I secured my biggest wholesale account and due them going into bankruptcy, lost that same biggest account. I more than tripled the amount of stores I was in and to my surprise actually turned a profit for 2009.  (which is almost unheard of 2nd year after launch!) I had the biggest triumph in my professional career with Shark Tank and was devastated by the worst personal tragedy of my life.  It has been a complete whirlwind of emotions, new experiences, excitement and grief all rolled into 1 little package called 2009.  Looking at where I started January 1st it seems like 2009 was MUCH longer than 365 days.  I’m more experienced, more jaded, more hopeful and more hopeless.  I’m more appreciative of the life I have and in the same breath a little bitter and hardened by the cold hard facts of it all.  If you were to ask me 1 word that best describes 2009, it’d say it was “growth”, in every sense of the word.


Leslie Haywood, Founder and President of Charmed Life Products, Inventor of Grill Charms™

Category : Growing Your Biz | Inspirational Stories | Inventing | The Journey of Grill Charms!

After the tank!

Posted by at 14 October, 2009, 7:54 am

The night of the show was one of the most exhilarating nights of my life. There was so much adrenaline, excitement and anxiety. I knew how it ended, but Pa was such a big part of the story and I didn’t know what they were going to show. There was a local film crew at my viewing party and I had no idea how the “Pa” part was going to turn out, so they got my sisters, mom and I boohooing on the couch!! We’ll…. if you’re gonna put yourself “out there” that’s what ya get! I didn’t mind. All of this media stuff is part of my healing in a weird weird way. Okay…enough mush and sad stuff…. WHAT A WILD RIDE HUH???!!! (in case you haven’t figured it out, I think I’m pushing a lot down and just don’t know it) A psychiatrist would have a field day with me right now I’m sure!) Here is the viewing party on the news:  I did a Skype interview called “after shark” on AOL wallet pop ( ) where I gave a shout out to The coolest part of the night was after my segment was over and it cut to commercial and my friends and family are all high 5ing and yelling and screaming and my phone rings….. IT WAS ROBERT!!! I totally put him on speaker phone and he talked to us all and said congrats again to my family and friends etc…. It was such a great night. Pa was watching and I’m sure got such a kick out of it.

(oh and if you missed the episode all together, here you go:

I also just want to say a BIG BIG thank you to everyone on the production side of Shark Tank. Now you all know that it was while I was there taping that the biggest tragedy of my life occurred. Now you can read this and know what was REALLY going on:

The Shark Tank crew was unbelievable. I can’t thank them all enough for everything they did for me. And as a side note, none of the sharks had any idea that it was my second time. Before you walk out to do your pitch, they know VERY little about you (on purpose). The premise of the show is to get reactions and real first impressions to businesses, people and products. When I walked out there finally (in August) they had no idea that I almost walked out there in July. It was only after it all happened that I wrote/emailed/and told them the whole story. Then we ALL watched it for the first time September 29. Not even the sharks see the episodes before they air.

Since the show, the sales have been wonderful. I more then doubled my monthly online sales average in the 5 days following the show, I received more wholesale inquires in 5 days then I had all year and the hits on my website were about 6000 in the hours following the show.

I was scheduled to go to Toronto this past weekend and film my follow up with Robert, but the trip was postponed. There are only a few weeks left in the season and the film crew was going to fly here to Charleston then follow me to Toronto etc… and get the whole thing on tape for my follow up. There aren’t enough episodes left in the season for it to air, so we are going to wait on the trip and the taping. Not to worry though… as the show states clearly on their website

“And our legal folks need us to tell you that Shark Tank depicts negotiations between entrepreneurs and investor ‘Sharks.’ The Sharks are investing their own money at their discretion”

Regardless of filming or no filming, things with Robert and I are EXACTLY as I had hoped for and I couldn’t be happier (accept for the little disappointment for not spending the weekend up there BUT apparently is was AWFUL weather. Bright side…it was 88 degrees and sunny down here.

Having said all this, I do however stand by my previous blog post of 9/22. Now that the show is a few weeks out, most folks have forgotten about the “charming housewife from Charleston” and it’s MY JOB to keep the momentum going. I do have some very exciting irons in the fire, but they are not things that just fell into my lap. Regardless of what happens in the media, it is not enough to make you millions all on it’s own. There are no short cuts. (Remember that newbie entrepreneurs!)

Thanks so much for riding along with me. I’ll keep the updates coming.

Leslie Haywood, Founder and President of Charmed Life Products, Inventor of Grill Charms™

Category : Inspirational Stories | Inventing | The Journey of Grill Charms!