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The Great Wall experience in Beijing #250

The Great Wall experience in Beijing

Blog #249 I talked about when we meet up with Bing before we take some R&R. In this blog I want to talk about the Great Wall experience in Beijing.


Charles and I decided to experience China like some others did when they came out. We were always focused on work so much we missed out on some of the cool things China had to offer. It was a given we would start with the Great Wall and then the Forbidden Palace.


This time of year, a jacket was necessary, so I didn’t bring one for the trip. The person at the hotel desk suggested one because he said it got quite cold at the top of the wall. They gave me an extra the security guards wore but it was like wearing something 5 times too small. I decided to go to a mall before we headed out. Same thing my size was not to be found. I did find a long sleeve active shirt that would be better than nothing. The size was a 4XL which was still a little small but good enough, just in case.


Along the trip our driver got into an accident. All my years of traveling in China I’ve never been in an accident. I’ve seen people drive on the wrong side of the road too! One guy even told me it was faster lol. The two drivers talked for about 30 minutes back and forth and then finally got back in their cars. I asked the driver what was going on and he said it was better if drivers negotiated a fair price on the repair instead of going through government red tape.


 The weather was actually hot when we got there and as we hiked up the wall it was getting increasingly hotter. My long sleeve was soon peeled off and put in my backpack and I ended up just wearing a tank top. Along the way up there was an older guy dressed up like an Ancient Chinese warrior and asked for a few bucks to take a picture with him. We took a few pictures and continued our journey up. Linda and I took a few kissing pictures on the wall once we got there so Charles wanted a picture of him “smoking”on the wall. It was a pretty strenuous hike and we were all a little sweaty once we made it to the top.


Once up there it was amazing. The view was spectacular. I decided to call my dad from the top. He thought it was cool that I could talk to him from there and said he probably would never experience that. It was breathtaking. You could see for miles and just the site of the great wall going on and on for miles was just an incredible sight to see. 


The Great Wall has a lot of history. Most people think the wall was to keep the Monguls out but there is more to it than that. I pulled some of the following information from Wikipedia:


 Several walls were built from as early as the 7th century BC, The best-known sections of the wall were built by the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Apart from defense, other purposes of the Great Wall have included border control, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the silk road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration.


Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watchtowers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor. More info at this link:


It was pretty amazing to think how they built these massive structures back in those times. It was still solid too. I’m sure there were parts of the wall that didn’t stand the test of time but where we were, it was quite amazing. Definitely a bucket list experience.


We spent most of the afternoon there and decided to head back around midday. To get down, there was a “Sled Station”. There were slides you would ride the sled down and they twisted and turned to suit the terrain. It wasn’t scary but you went pretty fast on the way down. Next on the agenda we would see the Forbidden City, but we would go see this and more the next day.This would also take a good part of a day and we wanted to take it all in.


Our plan for dinner was to find authentic Peking Duck. We went into an area that had many different restaurants and asked around for the best peking Duck. With the help of my electronic translator we did okay. Sure could have used Richard right about now. We found the place and sat down for dinner. It was delicious. We found out that the way its served is just a little bit of the actual meat and mostly skin.


The whole duck would be rolled out on a cart and the chef would slice the meat/skin in front of us. There would be thin pancakes to roll the duck into and top it off with a sweet bean sauce.  The skin was crispy and was seasoned as well. There were also a variety of veggies you could roll into the pancake to offer different ways of eating it. The person who recommended this place was spot on. It was the best I ever had. 


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Meet up with Bing before we take some R&R #249

Meet up with Bing before we take some R&R

Blog #248 I talked about the Shanghai Factories with Rob and Michael. In this blog I want to talk about when we meet up with Bing before we take some R&R.


We stayed at an incredible resort in Shanghai. By American standards it would be 5 stars but only costs us about 60 dollars a night. Like most quality hotels in China, they had upscale rooms and fabulous restaurants to choose from. We would dine at one of them before we would all go for a nice foot massage to end the day. The next morning, we would meet Bing who was going to show us their capabilities for our wide calf boot program.


The idea came to me to expand our wide calf boot collection during my “Holiday Help” time. This is when everyone in the company will spend 10 hours during the holiday time to answer phones for our customers. The CLT team always had enough people around to help us navigate the phone system or difficult questions the customers may have. The past year I fielded several calls for wide calf boots. We only had 2 styles on the site, so I looked at this as an opportunity. The best thing about a private label business is to fill in the voids that the brands couldn’t fill, so this was perfect.


First stop was to check out a style we had made here in Shanghai. It was always cool to see your brand coming down the line in a factory. Linda thought it was neat too. She saw all the different steps it took to make one shoe. Most people do not realize this until they see the process first hand.


After this tour we were to meet up with Bing. We weren’t expecting a lot since most people weren’t high on this category. Bing was a friendly guy and super smart. I liked him right off the bat. He presented us with 25 different styles. Wow! We were going from 2 styles on the sight with branded to 25 more private label. We took them all. The quality was right in line with our branded styles, so it was going to be great. Regular calf boots usually have a circumference of 15” as a regular women’s calf is 14”. Wide calf boots usually start at a 16” circumference depending on the size of the boot.


We looked at the boots at the factory and Charles and I wrote the PO’s to get them in time for fall. We were there all day long. We figured out the colors and fabrications first then the size runs. It was going to be a big committment but we were sure this was going to be a homerun and when they hit several months later we were right. Ther sales were amazing. We had a delicious dinner to celebrate and some great foot massages afterwards.


Of course, Linda made friends with her massage gal. They were having a great time together laughing and taking pictures of each other. It was fun to watch. We said goodbye to Rob & Michael as we were heading out to Beijing for some time off. We planned to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden city.


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Shanghai Factories with Rob and Michael #248

Shanghai Factories with Rob and Michael

Blog #247 I talked about the FACE golf tournament for charity. In this blog I want to talk about the Shanghai Factories with Rob and Michael.


We met Rob and Michael the next morning in Shanghai, it was an early flight so it was going to be a long day. Our goal was to find some men’s shoes product and expand our wide with boot program. We were doing well with the Fitzwell brand and thought the gel pods would be great for some men’s dress and casual shoes. We also had plans to expand into the work category eventually.


We usually would use existing lasts that the factory could show us without infringing upon someone else’s product in the US. We would usually tweak the upper to make a difference. Men’s shoes did great in wide widths at Zappos so this was our goal. Rob and Michael lined up some great factories for us and we were excited for the product to hit our warehouse. Men’s for Fitzwell was going to be great now with these added styles.


Linda came with me on this trip as Charles and I were going to take some R&R after the trip and explore Beijing. Linda was also trying to source some Light bulbs for her Lamp line she just developed. They were battery operated table lamps that were upscale to fit in nicely in a backyard living space. Stanley helped her make a connection before we came out to Shanghai.


She had also never been to a shoe factory before so this would be a new experience in her vast travels. She had a good time of course and I was glad she could experience my side of the business.


The factory even let her do a few things to get the full experience. One part reminded me of Lucille Ball and the Candy factory. I’m sure the workers were wondering what was going on lol.


This factory also made their own lasts in the facility itself. Most other factories farmed out to a Last factory that specialized in making the lasts. With adding more sizes to our styles there had to be more lasts available as well. So, in a basic medium run, men’s size 7-12, 13 there are 12 different lasts for each size run. If you add W and WW you go from 12 to 36 different lasts. This is why so many department stores don’t carry a wide range of sizes. One, it takes up more space and two,it is more costly to make.


It was nice to have to Shoe pros help us in this endeavor. Michael had an enormous wealth of knowledge in sourcing and dealing with China factories. He knew what we were trying to accomplish and made it happen for us. From adding shoe bags and extra sizes he was a god send. “Retail Rob” as we affectionately called him, knew retail inside and out. He knew what would sell and how to maximize them. I learned this part of the business from him early in my Nordstrom career so it was great having him help us as well.


The second half of this trip would be to firm up our wide calf boot program. We would do that tomorrow. Tonight was going to be an early night as we were all pretty tired.


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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FACE golf tournament for charity #247

FACE golf tournament for charity

Blog #246 I talked about China trip starts off at the China office. In this blog I want to talk about the FACE golf tournament for charity.


We had one stop before the FACE (Footwear Association Charity Event) Golf Tournament. This was to meet up with Stanley who helped us with a lot of the factories we did business with. We were to go over the factory list and what we needed to do for each one. In the meeting we met Teddy, his mini-Poodle. This poodle was so well trained he could do just about anything. Stanley would give the commands in Chinese and Teddy was very obedient. While we had lunch Stanley put some food in front of Teddy and I assume he said wait. Then the ok command and Teddy started eating the food. It was incredible.


Fast forward to 2020 Linda and I decided to get a puppy and Teddy came to mind. We searched far and wide for a breeder and found Mystical Poodles in Las Vegas. I knew right away We were going to search for a mini poodle like Teddy of the 2008 trip. We found a chocolate one and after tossing around a few names decided Teddy was appropriate for our new puppy. He is a fast learner and hopefully he will be well trained one day too.


The tournament was in Zhongshan which was not too far from our usual area we spent most of our time in. We stayed at the Shangri-La hotel which the tournament people set us up with. It was a beautiful hotel. The shops and restaurants were all top notch. We picked up a beautiful dragon statue for our home in Las Vegas.


Charles and I represented Zappos along with Linda and Richard our Italian agent at the time. Richard was always good for some laughs, so we were anticipating a good time. Both Richard and Charles were excellent golfers, I was ok, and Linda was learning. The great thing about China is you get Caddies to help you decide which clubs to use and that was really helpful for Linda and I.


They started the tournament with a row of golfers teeing off and as they hit the balls they exploded in an array of colors. Kind of like the gender reveals of today but without the mishaps. We got into our carts with our caddies on the back and played a very beautiful 18-hole course. There were beautiful waterfalls, and the view was spectacular. One thing I haven’t seen before was the “Beware of Snake” signs scattered throughout the course. Any ball that went into a bush I let the bush have it lol.


It was a great day and for a good cause. That evening there was an amazing dinner and auction for the charity. It benefitted children and they had many stories of how the charity has helped children in need. Of course, there was the “Royalty robes” we had to don for a photo-op. They brought some of those children on stage as well. It definitely tugged on the heart strings.  It was a good feeling to be involved in this charity and Zappos was a main sponsor so definitely a proud moment.


After the amazing dinner we all went for a foot massage. Richard wasn’t used to the degree of firmness as he hadn’t been to China as much as the rest of us. His facial expressions said it all, so I asked the gal to lighten up a bit for him. We all had a great time and a nice ending for a very long day in the sun.


The following day we said goodbye to Richard and flew out to Shanghai where we were going to meet up with Michael and Rob in Shanghai. We were to meet with a factory that was doing our wide shaft boots and then Charles, Linda and I were going to take some Personal time to visit the Great Wall & Forbidden Palace in Bejiing.


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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China trip starts off at the China office #246

China trip starts of with a visit to the China office

Blog #245 I talked about my reflection of our year 2021.  In this blog I want to talk about China trip starts off at the China office.


I started collecting Starbuck mugs in my worldwide travels I have the following mugs from Starbucks around the globe & the US:






Can Cun





Dong Guan






Hong Kong

Kansas City


Las Vegas

Los Angeles

Los Cabos




New York City

North Carolina

Orange County

Palm Springs


Pike Place (First Starbucks)


San Francisco



St Louis




Washington DC



I had so many, I stopped after a while and started collecting shot glasses because they were so much smaller. That ended soon after as well lol. So back to 2008.


Linda and I were really enjoying each other, and she had a passion for travel as well. I had so many miles I used some of my points to bring her along so she could see what I do. Going to Dong Guan isn’t glamorous, it’s a lot of factories and long days but she was up for it.


Her father liked to go on trips every year and especially impoverished areas of the world to see different cultures and experience the locals. They had been all over the globe and my travels certainly didn’t match up with hers. I was excited to travel with a “pro”.


Richard didn’t fly out with us this time so it was Linda, Charles and I on the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong then the hour drive to Houjie, which was a town in Dong Guan.


First step in our journey this time would be to visit our office in China. It would be Charles, Richard, and I from Zappos this time. We met Taylor who was the office manager, and he gave us a tour of the facility. Richard and I had interviewed him awhile back and he was doing a great job of getting the office up and running.


He gave us a tour of the office and the living quarters of the office employees. Richard did a great job of adding Zappos culture to the China office. Everyone there was so friendly and excited to show us what they did in the office. One employee sat down with us and showed us how they do image corrections on the site. It was fascinating to see what they do there.


The living quarters were typical of China in that they had bunkbeds, An eating area, and a place for fun activities. They put on a mini show for us which was very entertaining.


We had dinner that night with some people from the office and a factory owner Tayler worked with to check quality control for us. The dinner was amazing and we had several courses of really tasty and authentic Chinese food.


We toured several factories and the common theme for me was to look up or I’d hit my head on something. Everything was made for people that “weren’t” 6’4” tall. It could be doorways or light fixtures. While we toured one factory in particular the owner was walking us through his facility and complaint on all the additional costs he was incurring due to benefits the factory workers were now asking for. He turned to me and said “Mike, this human rights thing is killing us”. I couldn’t believe he said that. I’ll never forget those word and was grateful even more so now that I lived in the US.


Rob met up with us and took us to a factory that specialized in large sizes. They had a model of a shoe that was enormous for display. Many years later Charles had them make up a display shoe for our office too. The trip was also going to include a golf tournament for charity that Zappos donated to. The charity helped children in need so we felt good about teaming up with this organization.


Richard couldn’t make the golf tournament so our agent who helped us in Italy who also was named Richard would join us there to make our foursome.


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Reflections of our year 2021 #245

Reflections of our year 2021

In Blog 244 I talked about My son James turns 21 so I take him out. In this blog I wanted to talk about Reflections of our year 2021


So, in 2019 I started my blog. I started the blog to share my life experiences and how the footwear industry helped shape me into the person I am today. The experiences in managing people and helping them to grow were certainly a big part of that. The other side of this is the people I’ve been close to in my family that also shaped me into who I am today. I am now 62 years old. I have lost most of my close family and have been reflecting this month on them and all the great times we had. In this post, I want to talk about them since the original post, Blog #18, was  published in 2019. It’s hard to capture the essence of all these wonderful people in a paragraph so hopefully I do them all justice.


Grandma Doris


Born in Mahaska, Kansas November 21, 1912

Died September 2, 1999 Fresno, California


My grandmother Doris taught me to enjoy life. My grandmother usually played second fiddle to my grandfather who was a master storyteller. She would sit in her recliner and give me a nod for truth or a shake of the head for “not so true”. Usually once a month she would call me up and ask me to go on a “date”. I was only 8 at the time this started but it went through my teenage years. We would go to lunch at a nice place like the Velvet Turtle and a movie.


My grandfather didn’t like to go to the movies, so this was her way to do something she enjoyed. I remember her taking me to the original True Grit at the Country Squire theater in Fresno. Another notable movie was Jaws which scared me and gave me second thoughts about swimming in the ocean. We would talk about life stuff and all her adventures since they travelled extensively.


She was the best cook too. Her pie crust is still one of the best I’ve ever had. She made them all too. Pumpkin, Apple, lemon meringue, peach, berry, pecan and even a grape pie once. We would go over during the holidays and she had a spread of amazing dishes including a pie or a cheesecake. She made this jello I still try to make even today. It had black cherries and topped with cream cheese and walnuts. I don’t remember anything she made that I didn’t like. She was always interested in my life experiences. In her earlier days she was a nurse and I still have one of the hats she wore.


Her health was failing around the age of 87 so we went to see her. It was like a scene from the notebook where she didn’t recognize me and all of a sudden, I had 5 minutes of grandmother again. It was a great 5 minutes. We remanence all the great times we had together. The kids and I were going to Disneyland for the weekend, and I told her we would stop by on the way back. She passed while we were still in Southern California.


Grandpa Bill “Doc” Osterholtz


Born in St. Louis Missouri, February 2, 1914

Died January 26, 2010 Fresno California


My Grandfather, William  “Doc” Osterholtz was born February 2, 1914 in St Louis Missouri. It was always easy to remember his birthday since it was on “groundhog day”. His parents were William Frederick and Johanna Maria Osterholtz. He had a brother Henry and a sister Norma. He always told stories of how affectionate his dad was and he would imitate how his father walked.  He had fond memories of helping his father out as a vet.


He learned to drive from his father in a Model T. He Was in the army from 1931 to 1935 only in the USA where he started veterinary school. He met my grandmother Doris Hamm in college at a 10 cent dance, My grandmother smoked, which he did not like, so he made it clear he wouldn’t marry a girl who smoked. She quit and they married 2 months later in the army base in Kansas. My grandmother was a wonderful cook but at first she didn’t know how so she learned from grandpa’s mother. She made the best pies I have ever tasted even to this day. He got tired of the army so he kept in veterinary school. His father was a vet as well as his brother. He graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Veterinary Medicine.


His first job was with the Texas Dept. of Agriculture where he tested cattle for TB. One funny story was my grandmother was with him while he tested the cattle, and someone told my grandmother to stay away from the bull. She stepped into the cows anyways and the bull started to chase her to the point she had to jump over the fence to get away.


To show appreciation for putting him through college he bought his father a 37 Chrysler which he kept until he died. He bought his mother a leather handbag too which she also kept until she died. Two years later he transferred to Michigan. Another two years passed and they moved to Vermont. My grandmother got pregnant in Vermont right before they were to move again to New York.  Their first child, my mother was born in Utica, New York April 12, 1937. They decided to name her Wilma. 2 more years passed and he moved to St. Luis as a meat inspector which he did not like. They moved to Oklahoma City where he started working for the Federal Govt. My Uncle Gary was born in 1942. He stayed there 5 years and then moved to Las Vegas in 1945.


He met Dean Martin in Las Vegas and told stories of when “Bugsy Siegel” got shot. He didn’t really want the kids to grow up in Las Vegas so they moved to Fresno, Calif. where my mom graduated from high school. My uncle Gary joined the Air Force which my grandfather was very proud of. They visited him while being stationed in Japan many years later.  He bought one of the first TV’s and commented in the early years the “tubes” kept blowing out.


Growing up as a kid, I remember how special the holidays were especially Christmas. Grandpa would dress in a red vest and each of his grandsons also had the same vest. I remember many years later I surprised him as an adult showing up in an adult version of the red vest and of course he was wearing his still. Grandpa loved telling stories every time we came over. He loved smoking a good cigar and working on cars.


I remember my first “fast” car, a 1973 Grand Torino he helped me fix up. We had the best time together in his garage and had some great talks about life and the future. We really bonded during those years. We would go to the auto store, and he’d be dressed in his oily overalls and say he was from “Holt motor company” to get a discount.


He liked to “nickname” people, my grandmothers name was “skip”, my uncle Gary’s nickname was “Bud” and my mom’s nickname was “Sis”. I remember when my kids came over one time he called my son James “Jimmy” and My daughter Jennifer “Jenny”. They were really young at the time and they both blurted out “that’s not my name”.


My brother Doug was getting into trouble as a teenager while my parents were going through a divorce, so he took my brother away to Texas for a year to straighten him out. I don’t think he liked the music my brother listened to because he commented “how many times can you listen to a song that just says “let the good times roll” over and over.


My grandfather was a very warm and loving man, we would go to the store, and he would be very friendly with all the clerks. And if they were young and cute, he would flirt with them in a harmless way. Always laughed and had a good time.


My grandfather retired from the Federal Government and began to work for the State of California. He retired again for good in 1976. He traveled to Europe and Asia with my grandmother. We lost my grandmother in 1999 which broke his heart, they were married for 66 years. Ten Years later my uncle would pass away, June 2009. He was always so proud of my uncle and loved visiting him at his ranch in Crawford Texas. My grandfather was pretty sharp up until the time he passed. I remember going out to dinner the last time I saw him and we had a great talk much like the ones in the garage. While we were waiting for our table he decided to sit on this curb. When it was our time, he stood straight up. I was amazed how nimble he still was. I miss those garage talks…


Uncle Gary & Aunt Brenda Osterholtz


My Uncle was a lifelong Air Force man. He lived in Texas so I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. He had many stories like my grandfather and his, were mostly around his travels in the Airforce and fast cars. He was a great guy and I looked up to him with awe, being a dedicated servant to our country. His wife was really easy to talk to and like my grandmother, let my uncle do most of the talking. I’m sure it was different at home. They had a daughter, Shauna who also lives in Texas today. Sadly my uncle passed away at an early age from MS and his wife from diabetes.


Grandpa Bill Normart


Born July 20, 1910 Fresno California

Died February 8, 2006


My Grandfather, William Normart was born on July 20, 1910. His father was Onig  Normart. My Grandfather would often tell stories of how when he was only 5 years old that he would go to the firehouse where his dad worked and he would get to slide down the pole to the first floor. When the fire alarm would go off the firemen would light the fire under the steam pumper and then drop the harnesses on the horses and off they would go. His father was the first assistant chief.


In 1917 his dad quit the fire department and bought a ranch in Madera so he actually did have to walk a mile to school! Christmases were very eventful and he recalled his Uncle Armen putting 5 dollar gold pieces inside the walnut shells that would hang on the tree and each child would get one. He went to elementary school at the Fresno Normal school which eventually became Fresno State College. In 1920 his father started taking him to the mountains, Yosemite, Sequoia and Huntington Lake. It would take them a day and a half to get there in the Model T they had (as compared to 1 1/2 hours now). He recalls times that they would have a tough time getting the car up the mountain and would have to push a ways then put a big rock behind the tires so they could rest a bit before they started up again. 4 cylinder Dodges would pass them by often so his dad eventually bought one and solved the car problem. They often camped at Will O’ the Wisp store (which I also remember as a child).


He held different jobs as a young man and working at a service station he joined a fraternity in which he met his future brother-in-law Mike Avakian. My Grandmother Sevart (Si) Avakian met my grandfather at her brother Mike’s service station where grandpa asked her to a dance.


Grandpa would go to plays my grandmother was in with Mike and soon they found themselves seeing each other more often. After a year of courtship they married November 9th, 1935. Mike Avakian was grandpa’s best man. They went to San Francisco for their honeymoon. My Dad was born October 19th, 1936 and Grandpa was so proud he named him after his name. On May 7, 1942 they had a daughter Linda. Grandpa was learning to become a machinist, so he worked 8 hours at one job then another 8 hours learning the trade. He did this until 1944 then having enough money he started his own shop. 6 months later he became the machinist for Sandstorm Mfg. Co. Grandpa would often make his own parts to fix peoples machines.


In 1970 the company sold, and grandpa retired a few years later. In 1958 My grandmother wanted a cabin at Huntington Lake, so they bought a shell of a cabin and the family pitched in and did all the work to get it ready. They travelled the mountains getting various rocks and made a retaining wall and BBQ pit. They travelled Europe, All over the USA and Hawaii. The fondest memories however were from the Cabin at Huntington Lake.


Like I mentioned earlier he was a machinist by trade which I always found fascinating because his hands were so big. Picture an old timers catchers mitt with the big fingers and that was his hand. Yet he could do the most intricate detail. He would always explain everything he did, he was an amazing teacher. Part of that also was he had a very gruff voice sometimes. Seriously he would scare the hell out of you when he raised his voice but he was also a gentle teddy bear. He taught me to clean a fish, bait a hook, split wood, use a jig saw to cut wooden fish and bears for his cabin. He also played a mean game of horseshoes.


I spent a lot of time with him every summer at their cabin at Huntington lake. I think fondly of those summers even now. Grandpa was a great role model for me, very hard working, and very loyal to my grandmother. I remember catching my first fish with him and he was so patient in teaching me what he knew. I miss him so much but feel very fortunate to have had him in my life for so long. Grandpa passed away February 2006.


Grandma “Si” Servart


Born January 4, 1914 Fresno California

Died September 28, 2008


Grandma Si made all her grand kids feel like they were the favorite, she was amazing. She was seriously the most incredible person I’ve ever met. She made the best Armenian food, from grape leaves to pilaf which I still try to replicate now. Like my Grandma Doris she was an incredible cook. Her specialty was Armenian food, and she did it well. The way she did it was an all day event because she did most everything from scratch even the yogurt or “Madzoon” as she called it in Armenian. She made this incredible dish called “Soo Berag”which basically was Armenian lasagna except instead of lasagna noodles she used phyllo dough. I was going to try to make it myself, but it was complicated so haven’t yet tried it. I loved watching her roll the grape leaves and hollow out the vegetables for dolma. I have done a pretty good job in making her famous pilaf which my daughter now makes as well.


She was always in a good mood except when grandpa would beat her at cribbage. She was gentle, kind and very attentive to listening to you no matter what age you were. When we went to the cabin my brothers and I would want to go fishing, my grandpa in a very gruff voice would say “ you can’t catch fish in this lake right now”. My grandma in the most calm and compassionate voice would say “oh Bill, take the boys fishing”, and he usually would.  She taught me the box step one afternoon ( which to this day is the only thing I’m confident of lol) and many years later I danced with her at a wedding and she asked me how I learned this step and I proudly told her “ you did grandma”. It made her proud.


My grandmother called me every Sunday at 10 am and would always start out with a “Michael…” in the most cheerful voice you could ever hear. We talked about life stuff, and she always gave great advice and told me how proud she was of me every time. She did this until she passed away at the amazing age of 95. I miss those talks.


My Dad,  William Normart jr.


Born October 19, 1936 Fresno California

Died October 10, 2015 Spokane, Washington


My Father, William “Bill” Normart Jr., died Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, he was 78. I remember Tamara calling me while I was at the gym. “Your dad is being rushed to ICU!”. my father had survived a triple by-pass three months earlier and the doctors thought he was strong and would be ok. “Do I need to fly out there?” I said? She said the Doctors thought he would be ok. 30 minutes later I get the call, “Michael, he’s gone…” I was crushed. How could this be. We had so much more to do together. Luckily I have no regrets as we were really close.


My dad’s parents were Sevart “Si” and William Normart and his sister is Linda Garvin who still lives in the Clovis area. He attended schools in Fresno and served in the U.S. Army, returned to Fresno and attended Fresno State College


In 1959, my parents were married and my dad went to work for Sears Roebuck and Co.  This was also the year that I was born December 18th.


He worked his way into management and was a loyal employee for 40 years. My parents divorced in 1979 and my dad moved to Idaho as manager of the two catalog stores, one in Lewiston and one in Clarkston. In 1987, Sears built a new retail store and he chose to stay with the Lewiston location and moved from catalog back to the retail division of Sears.


He married Roberta “Tamara” Rose in 1993. He retired in 1999.In 2006, my dad agreed to manage the Habitat Store that was opening in Lewiston. He planned to spend a year and loved it so much he worked until June 2010.


My dad loved tennis, having played with the 6 a.m. tennis group since the early 1980s. He was also an avid fisherman and golfer. My dad planted a garden every year and was always delighted at harvest time. He loved living in Lewiston because sports/fishing was only 10 minutes from home and tennis only seven minutes; plus there are multiple golf courses to choose from in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.


My dad shared his love of fishing, tennis and golfing with his family and friends. He also enjoyed spending time traveling with his wife, Tamara, visiting friends and family across the country as well as attending U.S. Open tennis tournaments. He would often “stop by” in Vegas on his way to Indian Wells tennis tournament as well.


I remember fondly all the fishing trips we had, he would often say at the beginning “we’re gonna murder em!” sometimes we did and other times not so much. The best part was just spending time with him all day. He loved black licorice and before his heart problems he would get a bucket of KFC mixed original recipe and crunchy.


When I was younger he would take me hunting, ducks, dove, pheasant were the main ones. We would get up at 4am, he would make piping hot tomato soup and put into a thermos and get the KFC he bought the day before and we were off. We had so much fun together and he was a great teacher on how to do things.


The fact is he was good at almost everything. He could fix anything, whenever he used to visit when I purchased my first home half the time he would help me install things like ceiling fans or fix the plumbing or electrical. Later on I would tell him what I needed as I just wanted to spend time with him.


My dad was super competitive too, when I was a young man in my twenties I was able to keep up with him and we shared beating each other equally. As time went on I didn’t play as much but he still continued playing in tournaments almost every year.


I started playing a little bit in my 50’s and I remember him calling me out one day while he was visiting from Idaho. He said “ I bet you won’t even get one game on me today”. Problem was I feared he would be right. I had been taking lessons to get my groove back but he knew how to run me around, dinking shots here and there to get me winded. It worked…It was 0-5 my serve, if he broke me again he would be right. I dug real deep. Imagine the deepest cavern in the ocean deep. I aced him with my power serve 3 times in a row. I knew I had him. He got the next point but I wanted to put him away so I did. I cant believe even to this day I was so happy to prove him wrong.


My dad was pretty frugal too. I remember one time I was coming up to visit with him and I bought him a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. He loved vodka drinks so I thought I’d treat him. I knew he was still drinking the cheap stuff so I told him I was going to bring some premium vodka for him. We get there and he tells me he has Premium vodka. I looked at him kind of bewildered like “since when?” he pulls out a plastic bottle that says “Premium vodka”, always the comedian.


While he was frugal with the vodka his wine choices were even more so. He would try to say “Pinot Noir” in a way it sounded fancier but it was still a $4 bottle. Everytime I went up there I’d send a case of good wines for us to enjoy together. One year for his birthday I bought him a 150 dollar bottle. I told him to save it for a special occasion. He says one night “tonight is special” after several bottles already. We open it up and decide only one glass each then he could enjoy the rest during the week.


One year later we come up again and go through the case I sent. And he gets up and says. “I think I still have a good bottle you sent me”. He brings out the corked $150 bottle we opened the year prior. “Dad that will be like vinegar now”. He drank it anyways which probably wasn’t too far off from his 4 dollar bottles lol.


My dad was pretty funny. I think I definitely took that trait on as did my younger brother David. He would often send me jokes by email and preface it by “who sends me this stuff?” he liked comedy records and I loved watching him crack up at the Pink Panther movies.


(click the link for a good laugh)That was the best.


I learned a lot from my dad early on as I stated in earlier blogs, teaching me the value of attention to detail. He also taught me to believe in myself and “if it’s to be it’s up to me”. My dad was my biggest cheer leader it made me happy when he was proud of me, I tried my best to make him proud often. I would often call my dad especially the last 5 years, on the way to work. We would talk retail and life stuff for twenty minutes each day. I miss those talks….


I often get choked up now when I think of him. He was such a strong force in my life, I think that’s why I try my best to do the same with my kids and my extended family at work. This usually happens when I have a drink outside and am barbequing something as he loved to BBQ.


Love you dad…


Uncle Joe Garvin


Born May 2, 1940 in Fresno County

Died December 20, 2021


My Uncle Joe was always someone I looked up to, mainly because he was huge, especially when I was a little guy. He was just a big muscular guy who loved the outdoors. Definitely a gentle giant and man could he bbq!


He would make the best tri-tip ever. He taught me how to use a “Pigs tail’ utensil which is a bbq tool with a little hook that resembles a pigs tail. Great for flipping steaks. He would press on the meat while he cooked to be able to tell how done it was. He gave me the run down using the thumb test which I use today and they always come out great.


I have fond memories of going to their house in the country part of Clovis, California which was right next door to Fresno. They raised livestock and he also was a beekeeper as a hobby. He was an avid hunter and always had venison on hand.  We would ride horses and shoot clay pigeons with our shotguns.


He never raised his voice except if there was a story going on he was passionate about. He made his career at PG&E and did well for himself. He had the mindset, work hard and it will pay off. It worked for him as he could do all the things he loved. I always admired him for that and think part of my work ethic I have now I learned from him too as well as my dad. Two great role models.


Sadly we lost my uncle this year. I went to go see him as we knew it was his time but he passed a few hours before I was able to say goodbye. My memories of him and that handlebar mustache he sported for so many years are still intact though.


Aunt Linda Garvin


My Aunt Linda is the nicest person I’ve ever met. She is always calm and has the personality that always makes you feel loved and welcomed. She was very close to my dad so we saw each other frequently growing up. She’s the type of person you immediately feel comfortable talking to, which is why she can talk to anyone with ease. I learned a lot from her on how you should treat people with kindness. She is always thoughtful of others especially around the holidays. She is an amazing cook as well, keeping with the traditional Armenian cuisine my grandmother would make. I love spending time with her and just wish we lived closer. She still lives in the Clovis area


My Mom Wilma  “Osterholtz” Normart


While my Father was my mentor as I explained in blog 14, I learned alot from my mom too. She was very artistic being a Teacher for art class in Fresno. Unfortunately she let her credentials expire but she still enjoyed painting.

She was also talented in making flower arrangements. Mom made all the decorations we had in our house. And they all looked amazing. My brother Dave and my son James must have recieved her Artistic gene as they both are artistic too.


Loyalty trait


My Mom was very loyal to my father and later was my brother Doug’s champion when he got into mischief. Always there for him no matter what. Probably some interesting stories she hasn’t told us yet and not certain I want to even know.


Enchiladas and Meatloaf were my favorites that my mom made. Her Enchilda casserole will end up on my website as part of the favorite recipes tab. It’s still one of my favorites.


She was a “Shoe Dog” for a minute. She finally worked as a shoe salesperson when my parents got divorced. She sold kid’s shoes at a Stride Rite store. Her stories were pretty comical because I lived them too in my own career.


Muttly was our family dog growing up and the bond between my mom and her was unbreakable. More than likely, it’s what kept that dog around for 16 years. Mutt had a comical personality just like my Mom so they were perfect for each other.


2021 & 2020


Covid has changed alot of things for everyone. it’s been a crazy few years. It doesn’t matter what side of politics you are on, we can all agree it hasn’t been easy for anyone. From wondering if we will have enough toilet paper or even food, to the ever on going mask and vaccine debate. It has torn families and friends apart.  I think reflection is a great tool to bring yourself back in. I know for myself I have changed over the years and maybe just maybe, people around me haven’t so much.



In closing


I still feel fortunate to have both my brothers, three couisins, my kids and and a really handsome grandson who carries my first name. My brother’s kids and my cousins kids, so our family is still quite large but just different generations now. Part of growing as a person is learning from the people you are close too.  Also friendships are important as well. I am blessed to have many amazing people I call my friends.


What I’ve shared about my Influencers growing up as a kid doesn’t do them justice. But I lived it and the memories are still fresh. Memories can be good or bad sometimes and fortunately for me, most of mine were good. I learned different things from all these great people and it has helped mold me into the person I am today.


The other piece of this as I’ve realized recently is it’s easy to get caught up in your own life especially if you move away. It’s important to let people know you are thinking of them and that they are special to you. Life seems long sometimes but is relatively short in the grand scheme of things, make sure the people who have made you feel special also know they are special too.


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career.

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My son James turns 21 So I take him out #244

My son James turns 21 So I take him out

In Blog 243 I talked about Personal Life gets better meeting Linda. In this blog I wanted to talk about My son James turns 21 so I take him out.


Linda and I were enjoying our relationship. She was getting a lot of press on her designs which was exciting. She was featured in a magazine this month, so we bought a bunch of copies.


My son James was turning 21 in a few days so I wanted to show him a good time. I asked him what he wanted to do and got the typical, “I don’t know response”. I’m sure he would have wanted to spend this day with his buddies in the Bay Area but here we were. I thought I’d take him to a few popular bars and knew he liked beer so I thought we’d get dinner first. He liked California Pizza Kitchen so we started there. Ordered a few pizzas and of course a beer to wash it down. It was great when he got carded and he whipped out his ID. The look on his face was priceless. I went through the same thing 28 years prior except by myself.


First stop would be the Yard House, they were known for having over 130 beers on tap. The place was super busy and he wasn’t having too much fun there so we had our beers and moved on to the next place.


I thought the Hard Rock Café might be fun plus he could get a T-Shirt there as a memento. Pretty much the same dynamic as the Yard House, Wall to wall people, really loud. He had been to a few concerts so I didn’t think it would be too much for him but oh well.


Third stop was going to be the final one, so I had to get this one right. I took him to the Hofbreau house of Las Vegas. It was loud too and pretty packed, but it was different. It was like an event. There were large tables and almost like being in Germany. The waitresses were dressed in German garb and the beers came out in big stein type mugs. It was great he loved it lol.


We ordered some appetizers and when I told the waitress it was his 21st birthday it was on. She was great. She came back with a wooden paddle that fit several shots in the wood. She had Jägermeister shots lined up for him. We toasted his birthday then she told him to bend over. He looked at me like WHAAAT? I was cracking up. She whacked him a good one too, I think I even felt that one. Good thing he was a little intoxicated. We both were laughing so hard it hurt. He said “That hurt”.


After a few more beers they called him up to the stage and he had to blow into the long giant Alphorn. Then everyone in the restaurant sang happy birthday to him. They started a contest on who could hold a full beer in the giant mugs the longest. He won so he got to keep the mug as a prize.


When we got back to the table he looked at me and said “You know I thought I wanted to be with my buddies tonight, but I couldn’t imagine a better time than I’m having and I’m with my own dad”. That really meant a lot to me. We both had a great time that night.


So back to work mode, we were planning our next China trip, so I bought James his first car for his birthday. It was a white Mustang. He had a good job at Levi’s so I wanted him to be able to get to work while I was gone. I was glad I could do that for him. I was going to be gone for two weeks but I knew between the long hours he was working and our comical dog Gonzo he’d be okay.


Gonzo was a good dog, always made us laugh because he was so silly. Between the funny looks he’d give us and him trying to run so fast his legs would slip so he would go anywhere it made for good comedy. He had a pretty good-sized backyard to run around. Good sized for him since he was so small.


We had a German Shepard before, and the dog tore up the entire backyard out of boredom because it was too small for him. We found a good home for him with a larger backyard.


Next stop China…


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Personal Life gets better meeting Linda #243

Personal Life gets better meeting Linda

Blog #242 I talked about the Private label team visits Ha Long Bay. In this blog I want to talk about how My personal life gets better meeting Linda


James had been living with me for a while now. He briefly went back to the Bay area to patch up his relationship with his mom but found his way back to Vegas. I talked to someone I knew at work and her husband was the Director at Levis so he interviewed James and hired him. It was a factory type job and James did quite well. He earned employee of the month a few times. He was working alot of overtime and earning good money. It was exhausting for him though and I rarely saw him as he was sleeping when he wasn’t working.


Jennifer was coming out for her monthly visit this month in June so we all decided to do the Hoover Dam tour. We did the big tour that explained the whole process and history. It was really interesting especially the engines that powered the whole thing at the bottom. I would always buy a bunch of dvd’s and we would have a movie fest when she came out. She was into the scary type movies at this point in her life as was James. We watched alot of movies I probably wouldn’t watch alone lol.At one point I had over 800 DVD’s. Most of them I bought dirt cheap though.


The next week at work we had our “Bald and Blue” event. You had your choice to shave your head bald or tint it blue. Tony would usually shave his head bald while Fred would just tint his. I did something in between, I buzzed my hair with a number 2 blade and tinted it blue afterwards. I had just broken up with someone I had been dating for 6 months so I didn’t care at this point lol.


We also were planning our skits for the next recognition meeting. We used to do the skits live but now we decided to do 3-5 minute videos and had to go along with a theme. This one was super heroes. We decided to do “The making of a super hero suit” to go along with the private label theme. It started off with me talking and showing everyone I was really superman in disguise. Next scene we had Charles in the suit we were testing. The buyers had things we were testing the suit on, bullet proof and fire proof. Neither one worked out too well for Charles, he was a good sport. The movie team even figured out how to make him look like he was on fire. Still one of my favorite skits and it was one of the first ones we did. We doused him with water, sprayed him with a fire extinguisher and put black marks all over him to look like he was burned in the process. He was a good sport.



This whole blog I’ve tried to keep to My work life and how experiences shaped me into who I am as a person and a leader. I feel compelled to open the window a little bit to share how I met a very important person in my life now. She has helped me grow even more in both aspects of my life and feel very fortunate to have her in my life.


I had been single now for 3 years. I could write another blog about my experiences trying the online dating sites but that could be an entire series of blogs as well. All in all it wasn’t bad but definitely a learning experience. The funny thing was how you would talk to someone on line and view their pictures then when you met them sometimes they would look completely different. This happened to me a few times. I had a few different girlfriends since my divorce but each of them lasted about 6 months to a year. I think part of it was me too because I would often compromise my wants to be in a relationship. I think I was in love with the idea of a relationship which can be dangerous. The other thing was I realize now I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship at that point in my life.


I was dating a girl in town that didn’t have many common interests with me and was talking to two people online that were from southern California.  I was ready to call it quits with the dating scene and just focus on career and my children. I had tried a few different sites but had the best success in matching up with people from E-Harmony. I met this person from LA named Linda and we really hit it off. We had so much in common it was amazing. She had this thing though that she wanted to actually meet me before we got too involved over the phone. So I decided to go to LA for the weekend.


She suggested the Standard hotel which was a hip place with live music and a cool bar. I decided to get a hair cut as I got into town really early. I had been dying my hair too, so I decided to do that as well. The guy made it way too red which I thought was comical and hopefully Linda wouldn’t think I was a weirdo who didn’t look like “his” picture. She suggested we meet at a place called the “Little Door” in Hollywood. Of course I was early and waited for her and when she arrived she looked fabulous. And like her picture! She thought it was a plus that I didn’t “order” for her and let her choose her own meal. The funny thing about us is we usually order the same thing and have to try to mix it up a bit. We had an amazing time at dinner and bar hopped a little afterwards. We we left each other for the evening we had a very nice kiss goodnight. The whole evening was something from a fairytale. We go back and forth today on who wanted to kiss who the most lol. I think it was a tie.


We decided to meet up the next day for breakfast. She suggested this place in Malibu overlooking the ocean. It was perfect. The place was called Geoffreys and everything was perfect. The breakfast was fabulous and we each laughed quite a bit that morning. We said our goodbyes and could hardly wait to see each other again.


She decided to come out to Vegas so I set her up at the Ritz Carleton at Lake Las Vegas. We had an amazing weekend going to Alize restaurant and the O show, which was a Cirque Du Solei show. The show was a little weird for me but she loved it.

We capped the weekend with a hike to Mount Charleston. She was very much into fitness and loved to hike. She lived near the Griffith Park Observatory and there were some great hiking trails going up to the Observatory so this seemed like a thing we could do in Vegas. 


She had her own Interior Design Business and was quite successsful at it. She was very well known in the design circles. She also was a Professional Figure Skater in her earlier life and skated in the Ice Capades in the early 80’s. (She arrives in the video at 3:59)She seemed too good to be true. I decided to just focus on this relationship and see where it may go. Turned out, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.


This is how our romance started and have many more great times to share. But back to work…


I Failed to mention around blog #233 that I was promoted to Director of Brand Development in 2006. Steve sent this email out to everyone in August about me moving up to Sr. Director which was a great honor:


[Posted Tuesday, August 12th, 2008]

[by Steven Hill]


  Please join me in congratulating Mike Normart on his promotion to Senior Director! 

  Mike has been a key member of Zappos for over 5 years and has spent the last three years building our Private Label business.  In addition to leading the private label team Mike has agreed to work with our juniors, moderate and bridge teams!  Awesome job Mike


It was a great honor, My life was pretty much perfect now. Work was great and so was my personal life.






…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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