Families searching for ways to spend time together could find their answer in a mail-order catalog that stresses family games, books and puzzles and is distributed by an Ellicott City family.
Roy and Kathy Black hope their Hearthside Family Enterprises will reunite American families who are splintered by careers, school and extracurricular activities.
"We're too busy running here and there," said Mrs. Black, who markets the catalog. "We're not really sitting down and talking. We grow up without really knowing our families."
Tucked in an attractive folder depicting a grandfather with his granddaughter arranging flowers, the catalog features about 300 books, games, videotapes and other items that have all been selected by the Blacks for their wholesome appeal.
"We search out books, games, toys, anything we feel is really unique, family-oriented and good for the kids," said Roy Black, who manages the business' operations and finances.
The Blacks and their two children, Michelle, 18, and Dave, 15, started the mail-order catalog in March after Mr. Black lost his job as a manager at Bell Atlantic Corp.
After much thought, the family decided to enter the mail-order catalog business because it combines their skills and talents and enables them to stay at home.
"All of our lifelong loves and talents fell into place," Mrs. Black said.
As a former manager, Mr. Black not only oversees the finances, but organizes product shipments, handles incoming orders and deals with suppliers.
Mrs. Black, an artist, illustrated the catalog's inside cover and designed the catalog like a house with separate "rooms," such as "The Children's Library" where shoppers can find books like "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss and The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
Mrs. Black also selects the merchandise while Michelle reviews the books and games and recommends which items will appeal to certain age groups and interests. Dave helps assemble the catalogs, maintain inventory and ship items.
To select the merchandise, Mrs. Black and Michelle visit book fairs, toy conventions and peruse catalogs from game suppliers. Before offering a game in the catalog, the family plays it to determine if it stimulates interaction and teamwork.
For example, earlier this summer the Blacks attended a family reunion in Kansas where they played Table Talk, which requires participants to talk about past memories.
Their experiences result in such personable catalog descriptions: "We used this game with our teens and grandparents. The memories we exchanged gave us hours of enjoyable conversation."
For children's books, Michelle said she looks for stories that transcend generations, such as "Anne of Green Gables."
"I look for some of the timeless things like classics and newer authors," Michelle said. "We've taken books that draw the family back together."
During the past five months, the Blacks have sent orders to shoppers in 24 states and overseas, including California, Kansas, Wyoming and Hong Kong.
"We want them to be part of our bigger family," Mrs. Black said. "We're hoping to interconnect our family with other families."