I tell this story every year, and last year I think I finally got it right! I’m sharing it again this year because it is once again time for our Annual Next Designer Contest. Our 10th Annual Next Designer Contest, and that marks 10 years for me at The Studio. I cannot believe it’s been that long. What an amazing journey it has been.

I am a Dutch girl, raised primarily in California. I am a mom of six (Soren, Nick, Christian, Cole, Tess & Dane). I am the wife of an amazing soldier, Dave. I love to snowboard, swim, kayak (this is new!), garden, photograph and quilt. I am my families memory keeper, not just my little family, but for my extended family as well.

I used to have an, if not important, a well-paying career in the corporate world. I worked for Hewlett-Packard, US Bancorp and United Healthcare.  And then. Then we moved one time too many. I had one child too many. My resume fell apart. I moved into the discard pile and it turned my life upside down. A huge part of my identity came from my work “me”. A huge part of my self-worth came from financially contributing to my family.

I am blessed to have a wonderful husband. One who stood strong next to me and held me up when I felt weak, powerless, useless. I learned to make do with less, a lot less, and became a very creative cook, shopper, seamstress and I made every day trips into adventures (PetSmart entertained my crew for hours!).  Still, I missed work.

I scoured the internet looking for jobs, but back in 2007, with a newborn on my lap, it was close to impossible in rural North Carolina. I found solace in iVillage, in a new mom’s group. I found I wasn’t alone in missing work, the great debate over stay-at-home vs. working-moms was minor, we all loved & supported each other. And then. Then message boards changed.  Instead of just text,  you could add signatures. Pictures that automatically attached at the bottom of each post. I was enthralled.

I love taking photo’s! I spent hours taking the perfect photo of Dane and photoshopping it to be even cuter (as if that was needed!). I had photoshop skills thanks to my previous corporate marketing work, and our family business in New Mexico printing alien t-shirts for tourists. Soon the signatures became more than just pictures, they became works of art and I found a new message board on iVillage.  A Signature Maker board!

Suddenly I found myself sucked into creating beautiful signatures with moms & babies & photoshop.  Within seconds I found digital scrapbooking, and elements that would make those signatures shine. I was hooked.  Within a month I was lurking on Digital Scrapbooking sites, admiring Designers, layouts and all the things photoshop could do besides edit photo’s and create t-shirts.

I entered the second-ever Next Designer Contest at Stone Accents Studio in 2008.  And I struggled. It took every ounce of my being to create kits in the assigned color palettes, but I did it! And by a miracle, at the end, I placed third!  Good enough to become a really real Designer at The Studio! Sadly, soon after becoming a really, real Designer, the original owner of Stone Accents Studio (JulieO) needed to retire to care for her family. I could not let it close.  Not when I’d found my calling.

I offered to buy it, in installments of course, and I spent hours learning the ins & outs & errors of running a website and webstore. My dreams were filled with code, new software, hardware, retaining fleeing Designers, contracts, php, html… and the list goes on. I did learn. I made changes. The site grew. The team grew. And now, today, it is my baby: The Studio! I couldn’t be more proud, or more excited of what we have become and what we are becoming.