An Impossible Story, Epilogue... or is it just the beginning

July 30, 2014 7 Comments

I’m just not ready to let go. I don’t think you are either. 

let’s talk more about this. 

Really though, the more i think about the impossible story the more i see it like a spider web that is woven through every aspect of my life. It’s events are still unfurling, going forward into today, into this very moment and back into the deep recesses of my history. Where does anyone’s story stop and start? life is a tapestry! Every story is connected! 

I started Inslee By Design in 2006 and didn’t fully realize it until 2010.

For real. I remember calling my parents in 2010 late one night, while sitting in my bed in my town house in Georgetown, laptop strewn across my lap as I spiraled with realization and excitement. I’d spent the last 24 months wringing my hands and staying up nights worrying about why I didn’t have a “real” job like my other fellow recent college graduates. I’d had no idea what a gold mine I was sitting on top of. What a gold mine I had created actually. Until that moment. I called home and blurted out enthusiastically, 


and my parents were like, 

“…..umm yeah. We know” 

Similarly, it is not until just now that I realized how clever I am with this impossible story. There is an intrinsically important story line to add to the mix that just happens to need to be discussed RIGHT. NOW.




Just before the impossible story broke, I was in a full on battle with the polar vortex. I do not like being cold, to put it mildly. The polar vortex drove people to wild speculations about the end of the world and/or global warming. Similarly, it drove me to purchase a Vera Wang navy blue fur trimmed parka with leather sleeves and a detachable black fur vest lining that cost more than some mid-size sedans.  

Owning a piece of clothing this exquisite made me think I was the king of Spain. And then later only made the impossible story that much more humbling and degrading to live through. How could such tragedy befall the owner of a Vera Wang parka? 

Pride comes before the fall. And what a fall it was. 

At one point during the purging of Bed Bug contamination, I threw out our vacuum cleaner and ordered a new one called The Shark. So epic.  

And of course it arrived in a box the size of a canoe, shipped to my studio, and I’d have to figure out how to get it from the studio to the apartment in 13 degree weather and with the upper body strength of a muskrat with a torn disc. 

I unpacked the vacuum and decided it would be easier to carry it without it’s box. I headed out into the night carrying the vacuum like a double-handed great sword. I looked ridiculous but I felt like Scarlett O’Hara. Carrying The Shark home, donned in Vera Wang was the NYC Bed Bug equivalent to Scarlett scraping carrots from the rocky soil to save herself from starvation with memories of balls and suitors and paradise lost floating like vapor on the crimson Georgian sunset. 

Only it was a glacial blue New York sunset and it was fast approaching at 4:59pm.

Bizarre survival scenarios like this one had me fully distracted and wrapped up in self-pitty when I should have instead been focusing on creating my wedding invitation. 

The impossible story struck right when I should have been most focused on the wedding and the wedding invitation specifically. My attention was completely splintered by the impossible events. When I finally did manage to direct my focus to the invitation design we were gravely behind schedule which meant the dreaded word: COMPROMISE. In order to speed up this aspect of wedding planning, corners might need to be cut. 

But I was not ready to compromise on this aspect of wedding planning. The paper mattered more to me than almost anything else. And this thing I cared most about simply could not be marginalized. 

I began a frantic, chicken-with-head-cut-off search for the perfect wedding paper. I needed a very specific paper texture, paper weight, paper color, printing technique, envelope with a pointed flap at a very particular degree of pointedness that had a corresponding inner envelope with customizable lining and I needed a suite that had both wedding invitation, reception invitation and response cards all in complimenting styles. 

I had serious paper-tunnel-vision. If you had asked me at this point if the wedding could go on without an inner and outer envelope on the invitation, I probably would have told you NO, with a straight face. 

The design I had in mind was a tall order. And no one could accommodate it. The cocktail of ingredients I wanted seemingly couldn’t be mixed. And no one could do it fast enough. I’d find a beautiful textured weave but it only would come in ecru, or I’d find a perfect milky natural white paper that couldn’t be made with a deckled edge. Or I’d find a perfect empire sized envelope that didn’t have a corresponding inner envelope or that had a flat edged flap (shudder)… 

I continued to search and search, coming up empty handed at every turn. 

Until I found Dempsey & Carroll.

On particularly frigid afternoon I stepped into their beautiful show room on Lexington Avenue, out of the arctic wind, and found myself in the most accommodating mecca of paper possibilities.  

Remo, the wedding specialist, greeted me with the most debonair Italian accent you’ve ever heard as he said the magic words “Anything you want is possible. We will make it. We will make it right now. Time is no issue” 

With this over-arching benediction of willingness to make anything I wanted and to make it fast, Remo and I entered into a beautiful, conspiratorial, money-burning friendship. It was not unlike the bond between Annie and Frank in Father of the Bride. Nothing was too good for us. 

When I told Remo that I’d spoken to another vendor who told me that modern brides were no longer using inner and outer envelopes for their invites, he shuddered as if I’d just told him I had a venereal disease. 

“Please. It is out of the question. You have to have two envelopes” he told me with complete confidence. I knew we would be life-long confidants. 

At this point the How-Much-Is-All-This-Costing-Me conversation came up with my father.  And the stars aligned to answer this question. 

You see, during a particularly passionate, free-flowing idea session, Remo and my mother had arrived at the genius idea of using my botanical watercolors on a repeat as a floral lining to our vitally important inner envelope which led to a bigger conversation. 

A conversation about Inslee By Design and Dempsey & Carroll as business partners. 

Remo and his team had now seen and liked my art and I had clearly seen and liked what Remo and his team were capable of - which was giving me anything, everything, and the moon. We suspected it just might be a perfect match for a professional partnership. 

How could my dad, a worshiper at the alter of Entrepreneurial Spirit, say no to my wedding suite when it was merely the precursor to the start of a great business partnership? Working with D&C on our wedding suite was the act of good faith, the first step, the bottle of champagne crashing on the helm of our beautiful new virgin stationery vessel. I had him at hello. 

With my parents both on board, and with Remo steering the ship with his flair for the finer things in life, went into production on the wedding suite, and into more serious conversations about how we could partner our brands. We felt confident that combining their rich history in the bespoke paper industry with my whimsically illustrated vantage point would blend into a truly unique product.

And so, as my elegant, empire sized, 6-ply natural white invite with celery green, hand painted beveled edges and blue-black engraved custom calligraphed wedding cards came off the press, we turned our attention to Inslee By Design business.  

Doesn’t this just make the impossible story that much better? While I was laundering my entire life in loads of giant black trash bags and spraying pesticide all over my old apartment and dealing with jelly-donut spinal injuries and negotiating the lease on a new apartment, I was also in meetings with the design team of one of New York City’s finest stationers about creating some seriously fancy paper. 

Our branding session concluded in this - we would begin our brand partnership with the production of the 2015 calendar. 

The calendar is my most favorite thing to create each year. I spend months dedicated to it’s design. I think about each sketch very carefully, creating a story with the flow of images. I clear my commission schedule and let myself become completely wrapped up in painting this product. I was planning to devote the months of June and July to painting the calendar when I returned from my honeymoon. 

But here’s the kicker - in order for us to speed production on the calendar, which would be much more labor intensive than the way I’d produced it in the past, I’d need to get the art done much, much sooner. 

So while I was enduring epidural injections and moving apartments and watching the days tick closer and closer to my wedding day, I also painted the entire 2015 calendar.

I did the entire thing in roughly 2 weeks. 

I didn’t know it could be done. But turns out, bridal glory brought out the best in me and I rose to the occasion. 

The 2015 calendar is amazing. Just wait until you see it. 

But you don’t have to! 

It is READY! 

It will be unveiled any day now. After a long hot summer of design and research, we’ve created the most perfectly curated little product you can imagine. It is singing with the combined artistic taste and finesse of Remo and me. And it can’t wait to go home with you. 

I’ll be launching it next week most likely so stay tuned and have your credit card at the ready. These puppies are going to go faster than a neon nude with roller skates on.

Posted in an impossible story, NYC

An Impossible Story, Chapter 3

June 24, 2014 11 Comments


I realize I owe you a story about my mother. But first, it is important that I introduce another character in this impossible story.

The PackTite Unit...

Morning came, and with it an exterminator named Dante who was toting something called the PackTite Unit.

You see, in the midst of the FULL DUMP MODE hysteria the night before, I’d spoken briefly (screamed briefly) with the pest control company to schedule the next morning’s extermination appointment. The coordinator I’d talked to sensed my vulnerability toward making bad decisions and seized an opportunity to make a few bucks. (or 700)

“And have you ordered your Packtite Unit?” she asked condescendingly

I did not know what a packtite unit was.

She scoffed at my ignorance, as if this lack of ownership of a Packtite was the reason for my infestation. She explained that it is a large collapsable oven that would safely heat up fabric, paper, leather and electronics to 140 degrees, which is the lethal temperature for bedbugs and their eggs*

*Please just re-read that last sentence and marvel at how far down the rabbit hole I was at this point. A woman was selling me a collapsable oven to cook my personal effects over the phone.

She went on to say that upstanding citizens who own Packtite Units use these magical contraptions to cook their belongings regularly to insure that they do not bring bugs into their homes and that without it, I’d spend weeks, months maybe, disinfecting each of my belongings by hand with rubbing alcohol.

I asked how much it cost, already feeling like I would buy it no matter what she said. She told me it cost $700, and even though that is highway robbery, in my state of misery it seemed reasonable and I could barely spit out my credit card number fast enough.

Well… flash forward again to the arrival of Dante. He handed me the five foot tall box containing PackTite, eyeing the giant PATENT PENDING sticker on the top dubiously. He told me most people do not invest in this thing after all.

“What was it like $500 right? Do you know if it works?” he quipped. I was starting to feel like I’d just ordered a fake Birkin Bag off ebay.

“it was seven hundred” I said under my breath as I opened the box and discovered inside the motor of an antique lawn mower and a giant, human-sized suitcase. Both of which should have a combined MSRP of about $50. It also appeared that they would require about three hours of assembly before becoming functional.

Dante made quick work of spraying chemicals on all of our floor boards and remaining furniture, deftly stepping over the mountain of black trash bags that lined our hall. When he had finished poisoning our home I set to work on the Packtite assembly. Getting more and more excited with every moment about how it was going to be such a great, effective way to manage this catastrophe, in complete denial, blissfully putting Dante’s skepticism out of my mind.

Fast forward several painstakingly misused hours.

I am crying again. The @#$%*&%$# seven hundred dollar collapsable oven is a nightmare. I am not naturally gifted at reading directions or assembling things. Especially highly flammable patent-pending clothing ovens with very vague instruction manuals that send you to youtube instructional videos that play warning notices before they begin about how this product was RECALLED in 2011.

It took the anticipated 3 hours to assemble, and then some.

And then, turns out, that blowing warm air into an only partially airtight suitcase does not create a 140 degree environment in the blink of an eye. Try 6-8 hours under ideal conditions.

As soon as I’d finished the grueling assembly process, I had filled the unit with a load of our bedding, cranked her up, and sat back to watch the temperature dial with rapt attention wondering how many minutes it would take to reach 140….

71 degrees and holding strong after 45 minutes…

72 degrees after an hour and a half and the entire apartment had taken on the dizzying smell of burning plastic.

After two and a half hours I was loosing my mind. The temperature had only risen three degrees and I was pretty sure I was dying of asphyxiation. Keep in mind that this evil contraption is now full of our bedding and it is approaching 9 pm. At the rate of temperature increase we were working with, our bedding would be sterilized and ready to be put back on our bed in four days.

Most sane people would have packed up the damned Packtite and called the company and demanded a refund. But, being the stubborn, competitive person I am I put my head down and pressed forward determined that my 700 dollars had not been spent in vain.

I decided I would abort tonight’s cooking mission and any hope of sleeping in our sterilized bedding and check into a hotel again and revisit the cooking conundrum in the morning.

I wish you could have seen the performance I gave at the check-in desk upon arrival back at the hotel that night. Determined to throw her off the scent of a bedbug emergency, I told the poor receptionist an elaborate lie about how crazy it was that our bathroom renovation was still taking forever forcing us out of our beautiful imaginary three bedroom, loft apartment yet another night. Can you believe it takes three days to install a rain shower?! I think she bought it…

The next morning, I returned to our real apartment with a plan. I would wash every single bag of clothing. Anything that couldn’t be washed would be dry-cleaned or put into the packtite. I would man that God forsaken oven like a hawk and as soon as I could get it up to 140 degrees, I’d start cranking out loads of sterilized personal belongings like hot cakes. Good plan, right?

After several hours of trips up and down our four flights of stairs every 15 minutes to a neighboring laundromat to wash what felt like 100 lb bags of our clothing, I felt like I was really hitting my stride. Meanwhile, the packtite was humming along filled with books and frames, finally inching up past 90 degrees to 100 and then 110 - both inside and outside of the packtite unit - meaning that our entire apartment was quickly becoming much like a bikram studio.

I was on a roll. I do my best work in hot yoga scenarios. I had stripped down to a bra and workout pants and was zipping around the apartment, organizing and repacking up our belongings in labeled bags this time, possessed with a fiendish sense of purpose. I had it down to a system, I was making marked progress on the behemoth pile of trash bags, feeling empowered by finally fixing this disaster…

And that is when, on my 11th run to the laundromat, as I was heading back to my apartment feeling refreshed by the shock of 30 degree outdoor temperature compared with my tropical fourth floor battle zone, I bounded up to our apartment building door only to discover I had left my keys inside the apartment.

Inside the apartment whose door cleverly locks behind you every time you leave automatically...

Inside the apartment with the running, patent-pending, recalled in 2011 Packtite...

The very Packtite that had now just finally reached about 134 degrees and climbing when I had last checked…

{to be continued}

Posted in an impossible story, Inslee By Design, The Sketch Book