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Care for a Dance?

July 7, 2014

Keeping track of all of the various Murco projects in their differing degrees of completion can be daunting. Luckily, my brain is comfortable in this self-made chaos. I call myself a mental cavorter, but I think the fancy-schmancy title is cognitive juggler – meaning that I naturally multi-task and drift from distraction to distraction.

My brain is not a one-way track; it’s a 6-lane highway, with thoughts hurtling in several directions at once. The inside of my head is full of traffic jams, u-turns, and high speed chases with the windows down. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s busy… and it used to drive Madelyn nuts. If Madelyn juggled, she would prefer to do it with one ball only; she’s the one-track mind of our crew. However, that’s not Murco’s style. This business can change course quickly, with many unscheduled pit stops along the way. It took her awhile, but she learned to adjust to the great Murco road trip.

My point is that my brain is perfectly in sync with my job and vice-versa.  Adroit of thought, nimble in action, incessantly incessant. However, sometimes it all has to shut down. To thoroughly exhaust my own metaphor, when I keep my pedal to the metal, I eventually run out of gas. Luckily, I know exactly what to do when my gears are fried: turn on the music and dance.

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Here’s a candid shot of my ballet class. I managed to sneak in a picture between pirouettes. 

I have been studying ballet for 20 years. Going to class has been the constant in my twirling lifelong spectacle of career, motherhood, sisterhood, friend-hood. At least once a week, I need to take the opportunity to stop the chatter in my head and let a ballet teacher chatter at me. In class, you have to strip down your thoughts to the most basic level. Tune into…then hone in on… the involuntary skills that keep you upright.  In ballet, simply standing up straight in preparation to dance is extremely difficult. It’s the curve of your arm, the arch of your foot, the extension of your neck. And that’s before you even try to bust a move! When I’m working to summon a graceful exterior, the deals racing around on the interior are put in park.

Ballet makes the traffic halt because it consumes my conscious.   I have to be aware of the tippy top of my head to the toppy tips of my toes. And just when I think I’m getting there, my instructor walks over with a quick correction to my torso, a nudge of my hips. Then she says, “Good, now pull up in your knees.” What? How does one actually do that?  Who thinks about pulling up in their knees when haggling, negotiating, coordinating, or other Murco related –ing verbs? My knees definitely do not pull up when I’m in the office or surveying a property. But they do in class, with the help of a leotard and intense concentration.

Ballet takes my frenzied thoughts and fuses them to fit a single lens. I must give everything over to the combinations of movements given to me.  There’s no room for mental cavorting. But surprisingly, instead of this environment being restrictive or stressful, it brings me clarity, absolute presence, and peace. You can’t master the movement unless you master the moment.

Ironically, even after 20 years, I am anything but a ballerina. Sometimes, when I catch myself in the mirror leaping across the floor, I burst out laughing because I look like such a crazy clodhopper. But I don’t care, I love it. I love the effort in spite of my suckitude.  I don’t have to be good at it to do it. I don’t have to be good at it to gain immensely from the discipline. I just have to show up, pay attention, and pull up my knees.

Then, I leave class and my mind bursts back into a thousand directions.  The Murco highway roars back to life, but now with a fresh tank. I’m ready for the trip. I buckle up and I smile.

 

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After a good session of ballet, I’m ready to bust a move in Murcoland!

Call Me Sentimental

June 20, 2014
This front porch has housed we Murphys for 23 years

This front porch has housed we Murphys for 23 years

Hey guys, this is Madelyn. Jodi graciously let me cover the blog this week. As of late I’ve been thinking about the concept of sentiment. We all have it, we are all moved by it, but often we are not so attuned to the sentiments and attachments of others. A few months ago, this realization struck me when I worked closely with a family leaving their North Shore home of 40 years. As Jodi and I hustled and bustled through the house, identifying this mantel and that pedestal sink, I ran into the owner’s wife. She had peered around the corner to watch our evaluation process, and on her face I saw an unmistakable flash of grief. The sudden outpouring of emotion stopped me in my tracks.

Murco is a fast-moving business, a whirling dervish of bids, deconstruction, and under-the-gun negotiations. Most of the time, we preview homes that are already uninhabited. All personal effects are gone, and so are the families who gave those walls their sanctity. Equally as common are the properties that the owner can’t wait to level. Their sentiment for the home expired long ago, and their anticipation of the demolition is like that of a kid waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to start. Working for Murco is like constantly wearing binoculars, trying to sort out the future purpose of used building materials. I see where stuff is going, not where it has been. That woman’s grief was a sober reminder of the fact that everything we redistribute has both a future and a past. Sure, the family enlisted Murco because they were moving on to greener pastures, and they wanted their former valuables to go towards reuse. But that doesn’t make the transition any easier for them. They were still leaving the haven that had been their childhood home, and that served as the home for their children. Where Jodi and I saw crown moulding and Thermopane windows, they saw the bedroom where they slept for more than 30 years, or the study where they practiced reading and writing, or the kitchen where the family gathered on a nightly basis. The magnitude of the history that Jodi and I casually traipsed through was astounding.

It is so easy to be consumed by the thrill of the sale, the deadlines, the networking. I forgot the value of sentiment. I forgot that in order to give something a new lease on life, something has to give in the first place. There is profound joy in salvaging, but in order to salvage something, something else must first be lost. This could entail the loss of usefulness, the loss of convenience, or far more despairing grievances like the loss of a home, the loss of a lifestyle. It is an honor to know that Murco brings happiness to families; this honor becomes all the more poignant when I remember that the home being torn apart raised families. The walls that we see as impending rubble used to be someone’s shelter, and when the wrecking ball charges in, that shelter will be gone forever. My job is to not ignore this fact, but to respect it.

I will not forget that remarkable grieving look for a long time to come. The memory often greets me when I go to new previews, acting as a gentle admonishment: before you go into work mode, first take a moment to appreciate that this was someone’s home, their most precious sanctuary. Only after I do that should I dive into the unsentimental practice of cataloging everything that can go toward reuse. I do this because I know that one day I will go through the same grief. I have been fortunate to have grown up in the same home since I was a baby. For 18 years, I wandered those halls. They guided me from my first unsteady steps in diapers to my first unsteady steps in heels, and then some. Even though I now live on my own in Chicago, I know every nook and cranny of our family house, and I love it. And not too far down the road, Jodi will sell it. The time will come when she wants to move on, and that house will be snatched off of the market. And eventually in my lifetime, that house will be knocked down. It’s over a hundred years old and the kitchen floor slants. The basement needs refinishing. It’s a 3-bedroom, but it could easily be made into a 5-bedroom given the lot space. I could list dozens of reasons to justify the destruction of my childhood sanctuary. And when the demolition date is carved into a calendar, I will grieve. And after I emerge from that pool of sentiment and fond attachment, I will then hopefully put on my silver Murco jumpsuit (we’ll have those in the future, right Jodi?) and proceed to document everything that we can salvage from my former home. Let’s see, there’s this mantel, and that pedestal sink…

Christmas at my childhood home, 2001. And rockin' a red velvet sweater, may I add..

Christmas at my childhood home, 2001. And rockin’ a red velvet sweater, may I add…

Another shot of house, this time celebrating Jodi's 40th! The history of the home reminds me of the power of salvage, and how hard it can be to part with your past

Another shot of the house in 2002, this time celebrating Jodi’s 40th! The history of the home reminds me of the power of salvage, and how hard it can be to part with your past

 

Less is More: the only thing eternal is transition

June 6, 2014

Why do we feel that if something doesn’t last forever, we’ve failed? Human beings have always been obsessed with permanence, and this attitude pervades our relationships with others and our own self-identity. We are terrified of the idea of transition, to the point where we dig in our heels and attempt the impossible: to somehow, someway, even at great personal expense, make a moment last.

But what if we could shed these delusions, the desperate expectation of permanence? What if we didn’t expect these intense, perfect moments/unions/constructs to last forever? For lack of a better explanation, moments are precious because they are momentary. Impermanent. The briefest taste. Moments are fleeting, exhilarating, powerful, breathtaking, educational, exceptional; they are wonderful flushes of feeling that zap us and just as quickly recede. They are shocking and discombobulating in their swift entrance in our lives, and even swifter departure. I think the common despair comes from the assumption that if a moment can be frozen in time, so will its effects. It’s a cheat code, we think, that can prolong joy and exclude pain. What is so difficult to grasp is that the brevity of the moment is what produces the rush, the power, and the emotion. If you could jump out of an airplane and free fall for days, I guarantee you would eventually get bored. After enough time the screaming and flailing would stop, the adrenaline wouldn’t pump. Hell, you would even get bored after awhile and start looking around for a book. Moments are not equipped to last forever, and neither are we equipped to participate in them forever.

So I ask you another question: why can’t we just savor these moments for what they added to our lives, instead of representing what we now do not have? The lens of permanence makes one view life through anything but rose-colored glasses. To try to relate your level of success to the duration of important moments/unions/constructs is insensible. I once ascribed my riding a 2-wheeler with training wheels as a benchmark of success, but I no longer cling to that. That accomplishment is not relevant to my current station in life. It was a great stepping stone among the thousands that have composed my path in life, and I leave it at that. This mindset, of course, is harder to apply to the bigger landmarks- our first loves, our promotions, our rejections. But in the end, they all boil down to moments, and like it or not, none can be suspended.

My life on several occasions has changed course because of a sentence spoken, a single look, a wrong turn. The lesson imparted in seconds left an eternal impact.

We are an accumulation of every experience. Nothing lasts forever, except for the impacts and collisions of our lives with fleeting experiences, good or bad. We are modified by moments. I like to consider a moment as a grain of sand. Sure, it’s small, but boy, can that sucker be grating. Get enough sand particles, and suddenly you have an amazing dune, or a deep cut through solid rock – every moment leaves its mark. Every moment is a means of building you up or breaking you down, and in the end, the final result is your full life.

The lens of permanence is a myth, and it is undoubtedly tempting. But it is also is a quick and easy way of creating unnecessary despair.  True living entails passing from moment to moment. Take in the moments, let them give you momentum, and keep on keepin’ on as you traverse your path. When you consciously stop fighting to keep one grain of sand in your palm, you’ll find that you have an entire beach waiting for you.

 

A lovely moment with my girls.

A lovely moment with my girls.

And Sow it Goes…

May 9, 2014

I am an avid gardener. Almost all of my plants came from Murco auctions, where the dig-and-dash approach was used to acquire many a tulip bulb, boxwood, and clump of pachysandra. Watching the emergence and awakening of green from my ragtag garden always invigorates me. Although we classify plants as being alive, we don’t often credit them for reactivity or strategy. They’re just “there.” Surely they pale in comparison to the accomplishments and innovation of mankind? We humans are awesome, right? We operate under the assumption that we can navigate and manipulate this world more so than any other living being.  Isn’t that why we are the top of the food chain, gods among the single-celled organisms that fart to propel themselves? We perceive our environment, we adapt strategies to pass on to our incoming generations, and we have the ability to react quickly if our existence is jeopardized.  Personally, my go-to survival tactic is to run. I can run really, really fast when need be.  Plants, on the other hand, cannot run. They may spread out and proliferate, but in times of duress, they can’t up and leaf (sorry, too easy.)  This human arrogance, I feel, is one of the greatest obstacles in our development. Just look around, people! Everything that one needs to know about survival, proliferation, and good living can be learned from plants. So what if they can’t run? Their roots extend deep, and when one is rooted, one can weather the storm.

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Huh, suddenly running doesn’t seem as cool…

I have several fascinating points to back me up on this. Did you know that plants, those “inert” green things, actively interact with the world? They do not merely exist; they are active participants in the evolution of the environment. They react, anticipate, and engage. Put this in your pipe and smoke it: wild tobacco plants have several weapons of defense against threats to their existence. One is to purposely ramp up the nicotine concentrations in their leaves. Nicotine is a paralytic toxin, and thus it can leave the bug trying to munch on its goodies in one hell of a compromising position. If that was not genius enough, tobacco plants have a means of identifying their attackers. By analyzing the enzymes secreted in the insect’s saliva, the plant can tell what species it is. If it happens to be a species impervious to nicotine, tobacco turns to Plan B. It releases a chemical into the atmosphere that specifically targets the natural enemy of its enemy. In other words, when tobacco is being bullied on the playground, it sends a message to the teacher to come take care of the problem. The bully is neutralized, and tobacco continues to thrive.

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You’d be a wacko to attack tobacco!

The name of the plant game is adaptability. Tobacco has two contingency plans in place. How many of us can say that? If your life, your business, your sanity were on the brink, are you sure that you have effective strategies to fall back on, to keep yourself going? It’s a scary thought, but plants face these trials every day, while looking gorgeous above it all! Try this on for size- some plants can switch pollinators. Think about that. That would be like me being able to change my physical appearance at will to attract whatever mate I deem useful. One day I could be a modelesque blonde with brown eyes and a love of Woody Allen movies, and the next I could be a curvaceous brunette with blue eyes who can cook, etc, etc, etc. You get the point. Flowers can initiate several crucial variations in their biochemistry to attract the pollinator that best aids their propagation. They can change the time of day that they bloom, the volume of sugar in their nectar, the shape of the petals, and beyond! And they can enact such wild transformations in a short amount of time. What a manifestation of evolution! What a wonderful example of the correlation between adaptation and resiliency.

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These biological defenses and offenses of nature can be directly applied to my business. In the past two years, Murco has been playing patty-cake with an evolving market. Sure, I don’t have to resort to toxins or disguises to expand my business, but I do have to roll with the natural punches, or Murco would eventually turn to dust. Onsite auctions, though still prevalent, are being matched by online services. So we have had to learn to utilize internet sales effectively. Murco was once a cash-only business, and now we rely just as heavily on electronic payments as we do on good old-fashioned moola. Why? Because our dispersal abilities no longer apply solely to face-to-face transactions. The internet has allowed our influence to expand geographically. Now, Susie McRecycle in Iowa has as good a shot at getting a Murco kitchen as does Local Larry.

Murco’s mantra is “One World, One Chance, Be Gentle.” The foundation of that belief is rooted in our ability to grow and interact with our community, our competitors, and our supporters. Like the tobacco plant, we have developed several Plan B’s to accommodate the market and give new and returning buyers alike a fair chance. Like the plants that can change pollinators, we have learned to bob and weave with flexibility and speed as new challenges come into the fray.

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You have to be berry flexible, and enjoy the ride!

Every spring, I eagerly anticipate the return of my garden plants. Their rebirth is inevitable. This year, the rejuvenation of my garden also coincides with a Murco “rebirth.” Our website is changing, our terms are changing, our methods of operation are changing. Murco’s garden is growing and adapting right along with my hydrangeas. And sow it goes…

Embracing Murco Mayhem

March 7, 2014

The beautiful, infuriating, invigorating, awful, addictive thing about Murco is the chaos of the job. On any given day, I find myself both exhilarated and exhausted by the trials of Murco mayhem.

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This is how I felt during my first month working for Murco

Let me explain.  Like any employee, I have numerous responsibilities that I must attend to during the average week. All working adults are familiar with this. But what makes Murco special is its particular, unflinching accountability factor. Murco is comprised of Jodi and me. That’s it: two people, one whole business. So when I mess up, I mess up. No one is checking over my shoulder to remind me of my typos before I present my report to the boss lady. Any blame accrued cannot be diffused and diluted by other employees around me. There is no cushion for mistakes. I feel the consequences of my mishaps 100%, and unfortunately, Jodi does too. Our partnership makes it so that the repercussions ripple to us both.

On the converse, however, when I do well, I get to revel in it. My sale is my sale. I made it, I know every ounce of effort poured into the project, and I know what it took for everything to come together just so. And Jodi’s sales benefit me as well. Like I said before, our partnership makes it so that the repercussions ripple to us both. This is because Jodi and I occupy the Murco universe, and we experience all of its ups and downs.

When I started working for Murco, I felt like I would never conquer the chaos. Every time I thought I had mastered one aspect of my job, another dimension would pop up and throw me off kilter again. Conversations with Jodi were almost incomprehensible. We would be talking about one project, only for her to switch conversations mid-stream and start on an entirely different tangent. I was not yet fluent in the Murco language, so this came across as complete jibberish. Here’s an example:

Me: “Hey Jodi, how are things at the Western Springs property?”

Jodi: “They’re great, the only thing left to do is- what’s up with the tub in Chicago?”

Me: “Wait, what do we have to finish in Western Springs?”

Jodi: “Talk to Dave yet?”

Me: “Who?”

Jodi: “Dave! The guy with the face in Countryside.”

Me: “What do we have to finish in Western Springs?!”

Jodi: “The kitchen is coming out of Yonkers on Tuesday.”

As you can see, Murco has numerous projects, people, and schedules at work simultaneously. We have to manage all of the various details at once, or things come to a standstill. I grew up on the fringe of Murcoland, but I never knew of the true insane nature of the biz until I tried to live within it.

After my first month of endless mistakes and herky-jerky work days, when I was sure I had failed, I finally found my way. The solution came by watching an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I’m a science geek, and chemistry and physics interest me. So when the show started to discuss the principle of entropy, it all clicked. Entropy is essentially the measure of disorder in the universe. Since there is an endless number of molecules, collisions, and energy transfers in the universe, naturally, there is always a degree of chaos to contend with. The same is true for the far smaller Murco universe. Entropy is the name of the game. It cannot be diminished because, like it or not, it is an essential component of the business’ system. So instead of making it my enemy, I learned to go with the messy flow. To quote any alien movie ever made (I think), “resistance is futile.” Deals will fall through, schedules will change, materials will suddenly become available, and then just as quickly become unavailable. Jodi will never finish a conversation without bouncing from topic to topic like a kid hopped up on pixie sticks. I can’t change the chaos; I can only accept it and work with it. And you what? When I adopted that attitude, my job became damn fun.

 So, to you, I have two bits of advice:

  1. Watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. No matter who you are, that stuff is fascinating. And entropy is a snappy word to throw around at parties.
  2. Embrace the Murco mayhem, folks. You’ll always be on your toes, and you’ll always be entertained. 
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We’ve got the whole Murco world in our hands!

Blowing Gender Bias Away

January 27, 2014

I can do anything I set my mind to. I know I can; I’ve proven I can. I’m a self-proclaimed “tough chick” who holds her own in a male dominated profession. Yet, when faced with certain household tasks, my normal “I’ve got this!” attitude suddenly gets all girly on me (I can say “girly” and it not be offensive because I am a girl). I hate to say it, but I was taught that some jobs like snow-blowing, grilling, gutter cleaning, furnace filter changing, and tire rotations are best left to those possessing a penis. I’m talking about straight up “dude work.”  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have harbored gender bias when it comes to the division of labor. Yep, “men’s jobs” and “women’s work”…who says that out loud these days? Me, apparently. What’s funny is that I uphold these arbitrary gender assignations when they are unfounded in my personal life. I am a single mother, and to make these distinctions is all well and good when there are two genders to share the load. But what if you don’t have a man around to do the “man work?” When there’s no guy in the picture and there are tasks to be done, then isn’t all of the work “women’s work,” right?

So, to you single ladies like me, we have two options to choose from when faced with difficult, traditionally male household chores: manipulate random neighbors to do it for us, or do it on our own.

Here’s a scenario that typifies my history: every winter, after snowfall, as every man on the block was gleefully snow-blowing their brains out,  the girls and I would go outside looking as pathetic as possible with our flimsy shovels and mismatched gloves. It was never long before a gassy-eyed neighbor would swoop in with snow-blower a-blazin’ to save the day. We’d faun, thank them profusely, and then go inside to get cozy and watch something dumb on TV.  God bless men everywhere! They may smell funny, but they sure come around handy!

However, I now know that my gender bias view has crippled me, not helped me.  My winter warrior neighbor, who for the past few years always made sure my sidewalks and driveway were clear, moved last summer. Knowing I would be needing help in the snowstorms to come, he kindly offered to sell me his snow-blower. This is no sissy-pants machine, folks; it’s massive. I had never even touched a snow-blower, let alone operate one, when I bought his. My neighbor tried to explain to me how it worked. He was met with a “Yeah, yeah, I got this.” Luckily, he saw right through my overconfidence and left me the operation manual. The manual. Who reads those? Men do, and with good reason it turns out. I recently realized their value when after coloring my own hair for 7 years, I finally got around to reading the application instructions. Turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong the entire time. Botched jobs for 7 years! All because I didn’t read the microscopic, yet extremely informative, text printed inside the box. Suddenly the attitude of “Yeah, yeah, I got this” became “No, no I do not.”

Then the big snow came, and I had to face my fears and break this monster snow-blower out. I could no longer feign my need to be rescued, and no sympathy was coming from my neighbor’s empty house. Moreover, I certainly couldn’t wallow and languish when I now owned the tool to rescue myself. So I fished out the manual and got down to studying. I read the booklet at least 3 times. Choke? What’s that? Auger what? Clearly, it took some time to cover the material, but I did. For most of my life, I thought that snow-blowing was a skill that required a penis. Then, with the help of a manual, a few pictures, and the belief that I could handle the job, that lifelong misguided idea was blown away for good, literally. It took a lot of trying, but when that machine finally sprung into life, I was out of my mind with joy. I’d done it! When I took my first walk behind it (more like it dragged me down the sidewalk) I cannot tell you how proud I was. It made me realize that I limit myself unnecessarily. With enough limitations imposed on women by the outside world, why on earth would I limit myself from within? I was an estrogen saboteur! Well, saboteur no mo’!

All in all, I didn’t just clear my driveway that day; I cleared my own path of faulty logic which restricted my effectiveness in my world.  I know it sounds dumb, but when I conquered that manual and the snow blower, I was empowered with new found confidence, and I exercised it immediately. After parking that beast in the garage, I marched inside and changed my furnace filter. Who knew you’re supposed to do that several times a year? I do now! I read about it.  And I now breathe a little easier because… you know…I got this!

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Hachacha!

 

Murco’s 25th Anniversary!

January 16, 2014

Murco has been in business for 25 years. A whole quarter of a century! That’s a big deal! It’s our silver anniversary!

But here’s the thing: I didn’t realize that this big milestone had arrived. The only silver bestowed upon me this year is in my teeth.  It was my LinkedIn account that gave the news. My daughter, Madelyn, operations coordinator for Murco, called and said, “Guess what day it is?”

“Tuesday?” I replied.

“Yeah…it’s Monday… but more importantly, it’s Murco’s 25th year of business!” My immediate thought was, holy shit! That’s a long time! I have 3 daughters who are all near 25.Through those years I have watched them crawl, walk, run, read, reason, play, study, laugh, cry, and fight their way into adulthood. Even after 25 years, when I think of Murco, I always inevitably think of my family too. The two are intertwined in my mind and my heart.

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A photo from one of Murco’s first auctions. My friends volunteered on weekends to help out. We had fun back then too!

Murco was conceived shortly after my first daughter was, and I treated the business like Cinderella. You know, all work, no play, and there solely for the purpose of making our lives easier. I marked my children’s progress, triumphs, bumps, and bruises meticulously; as for Cinder- Murco, she chugged on without motherly recognition. My business was my wing man throughout motherhood. It was what I did to support my family. In the quintessential juggling act of a single mother – business and family – I quickly found out I’m no expert juggler, and Murco was always dropped first.  In a toss-up for time, my three mini me’s trumped work every time.  So my praise, applause, and growth charts went to the girls, and Murco became the strong, silent type. It always forgave me for forgetting our yearly anniversaries. But my, oh my, how time flies! 25 years, to be exact.

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Me and Madelyn, all grown up! Family and work have come together.

Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard. I am proud of the accomplishments and recognition Murco has been awarded over the years.  I am proud of the improvements our materials have made in thousands  of homes.  I am proud that Murco has done all this while contributing positively to the most precious resource that we have – Earth.  With my girls all grown, they are busy chasing down their beautiful futures. This leaves me to now focus on my own Cinderella story. I can finally give Murco what it has so patiently waited for: my undivided attention, my gratitude for providing the platform that supported our lives, and the recognition it deserves. Murco began with a stumble, which led into a leap of faith, which led to my career, which led to who I am today. Murco is the only child still living at home, but on the upside, it doesn’t borrow my clothes without asking, which  is nice. 

To all who have participated in or benefited from Murco, I’d like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for not only helping my company grow, but for supporting me in my passions as well.  Thank you for giving me the challenge, courage, and fortitude to show up every day both as a mother and a businesswoman

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25 years later and still kickin’! We did it, Murco Warriors!

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