So long, 2016

It’s difficult to believe that we’re standing at the cusp of another new year. It seems like only last week that I was wondering what the new year would bring, and what I’d be doing after being laid off from the job I’d held for the previous six years. Little did I know, expect or imagine that I would be where I am today. While others may not agree with me, I think that this year has been an amazing journey and a lot of fun, and I’m glad I’ve been able to shift gears and find something new to do that I truly enjoy.

I’ve learned a lot about how to run a business, and what I’m good at (the creativity of coming up with new products) and what I need to work on (dealing with people who ask questions designed to either stump me, make me feel or look stupid, or people who have ideas about handmade soaps that are incorrect). I’m better at talking to people than I thought I was, but Chris excels at it. Both of us being somewhat anti-social, that was a big concern for me, but we’ve both handled it quite well, and Chris exceptionally well. But to be honest, that man can do ANYTHING he sets his mind to, so I shouldn’t be so surprised at how well he does with salesmanship. I’ve also learned that I cannot please everyone – a difficult concept for me when I first started out, but less difficult as time goes on.

“Do you have Sandalwood soap?” (“Not right now, but I am thinking of adding it because I get asked for it a lot.”)

“I bought this soap from  you last year, but you don’t seem to have it now.” (“It wasn’t me, but maybe we can find something else you like even better.”)

“Are all of your soaps vegan?” (“No, I like the fluffy lather I get from using lard, but let me show you which soaps are vegan.”)

“I’m looking for all natural soap; is your soap all natural?” (“There is no such thing as ‘all natural’ soap, but here are some that don’t have fragrance oils in them.”)

And so forth and so on.

The single biggest issue I’ve had is running out of stock and not having some of my most popular fragrances all the time. In our defense, I’ve made about 50 or so different soaps over the last nine months, and I didn’t know starting out what was going to be a big seller and what wouldn’t be. We took half of July and the whole month of August off from shows, and set about making soaps for the fall. We had NO idea that we’d run out of all of that soap in September! I mean, we just did not expect that sort of response. I’ve tried cutting back the number of soaps we have in our “core line up” but the reality is, every time I take a soap off the table, we either get requests for it, or our sales slip. We never do as well when we’re out of our best selling soap, Pride & Joy, for example, as when we have it. But we see almost an equal slip when we’re out of Born to be Wild and In the Air Tonight. I am currently working on building up stock for all of our soaps, and it’s going to take a while. The plan is to make four batches of each soap, and when we start selling the third batch, to make another two to four batches, depending on how quickly it seems to be selling. I also think that a big reason why we do so well at most shows is because we do offer a large variety of soaps, so we’ve decided to have at least 20 different types of “core” soap at each show, as well as a few seasonal soaps. Start looking for some Valentine’s fragrances coming in the next couple of weeks, along with some St. Patrick’s and Easter soaps to follow very shortly. I am also expanding our regular line of lotions and creams, and I will be making them in larger batches so they’re always available.

But what about the embroidery side of the business, you may be wondering.

Well, I’ve learned a lot there, too. I need to get more items done and photographed well to put them on the website. In addition, I will be adding some new things like place mat sets, table runners, small quilts and the like (it is, after all FABRIC arts). It will take time to get all this stuff done, but as it’s completed, I’ll take photos and post them on the website. And don’t forget – this side of the business is completely customizable, so you can contact me at any time to request something and I can make it for you.

I’m learning about website design. Earlier this month, I transferred my hosting from eHost to Shopify. There are a couple of reasons for this, but most importantly was that I wanted the shopping experience to be fun and pleasant for my customers. I’m still working on it – I have photos that need to be taken and I’m not completely thrilled with the way the site looks right now. But I’m no webmaster, so I’m having to learn a little at a time, while trying to run the business, and do the books for both my business and Chris’s business. I could work 20 hours a day and still not get everything done I need to do, but I’m trying. If you know anyone who can do a killer website who might want to barter for soap or custom embroidery, let me know. 😉

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has purchased soap and/or embroidery from me over the last nine months. To be perfectly honest, I’ve put a LOT of applications/resumes out there to go back to work, and no one is beating down my door to hire me. This business HAS to be successful, and 2017 is the year it needs to be successful. So every time someone buys something from me, and every time they come back, or they tell me just how much they love something I made, it is just the most incredible feeling in the world. I never want that to change, because I enjoy it so much. So, head on over to the website and make me feel good by placing an order. 😉 If you do, I’ll give you a 15% discount off your $20 order; just use coupon code EOY15 at the checkout. At $50, you get free shipping, too! This offer is only good until Saturday, January 7, 2017, so don’t wait. Order now and make sure you get the items you really want.

Our first show for 2017 will be the Second Saturday show at Parkgate Community Church in Pasadena, so make plans to stop by and pick up some fabulous handmade soap!

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2017 be everything you want it to be!

Time to Start Thinking About Christmas Gifts

Christmas-Tree-008

This year, I’m going for a (mostly) handmade Christmas. I’m doing a quilt and some soft blocks for my new grandson (I mean really, does a five month old NEED a bunch of toys?), a quilt for my daughter and son-in-law (they already know about it, so I’m not spoiling the surprise), and some other stuff that folks DON’T know about. I know it seems early, but when you’re making gifts, you have to get an early start, and honestly, I probably should have started a long time ago.

I’ve been looking around for gift ideas, and I’ve come up with some things I think would be great. I have this sudden obsession with aprons, and I love the vintage inspired aprons that seem to be so popular lately. Ones like this, and this are perfect gifts for the ladies, I think.  And for someone who’s just starting out in their own place, how about some cute place mats? Feeling green? How about some cloth napkins that can be tossed in the wash instead of killing trees buying paper towels?

For the guys in your life, how about some homemade beef jerky? Or turkey jerky, if that’s his thing. There are dozens of different basket ideas you can do – BBQ baskets, snack baskets, toolbox baskets … really, depending on your guy’s interests, there are limitless ideas. Does he like beer? How about a beer making kit, where he can make his own? Ok, that’s not really a handmade gift, but it will be once he’s done with it. 😉  Also, you might consider putting together a car safety kit. This would also be great for a young driver.

Most years, I try to make at least some of my gifts, or give gifts that will inspire the recipient to make something themselves (last year, I gave my quilting mother a box full of fabric & thread). I think that when someone puts the time and effort into either making a gift or putting together a basket/kit for someone on their list rather than picking up a gift or card that the person may or may not use or like, it’s more personal and shows that some serious thought went in to the gift. I will admit that I still give my dad gift cards to the sporting goods store, but that’s what he WANTS, and he uses them throughout the year. I’m fortunate enough to have family members who DO give consideration to what they’re giving each other, and I’ve yet to have a gift I can’t use. But I hear from folks all the time about the gifts they received for Christmas that makes them wonder what the giver was thinking. One very memorable gift I remember hearing about involved a 12 year old bottle of Scotch given to a recovering alcoholic! While he really appreciated the gift, he had to give it to someone else, because clearly, he didn’t want to relapse!

I have a list of things I want to make this year, and I’ve already started on some of them, but I guess the best way to make progress is to actually get moving on getting them done, so I’m off. If you have anything on your list that you’ll be making, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Birthday Weekend Recap – Car Shopping Edition

So, I’ve been pretty quiet the last couple of days because it was the birthday weekend for both me and Travis. Our birthday was yesterday (isn’t it sweet that he was born on my birthday?), and this weekend was a bit more busy than I had expected. I had originally intended to do a little quilting, maybe take a drive with Chris … Sunday we had plans to have family over for a birthday dinner. But I thought I would spend a good bit of time in my studio. Turns out, I was wrong.

Friday was a pretty quiet day – we hung out a little bit, and took a drive. I even took my camera along in hopes of finding some good stuff to shoot. There was a decent sunset, so we pulled off the side of the road in cotton country so I could take a few shots. Got all set up and realized I’d left my SD card in the computer at home! D’oh!! So we just watched the sun set, and practiced taking panoramic shots with our cell phone cameras, then loaded up and got back on the road. As we were driving home, I told Chris, maybe we should consider trading in the truck. It’s a 2010 Ford F150 Super Crew and while we’ve only had it about 18 months, it’s approaching 70,000 miles (it was high mileage when we bought it) and the extended warranty would run out before too long. He said, “Funny you should say that. I was just thinking the same thing not ten minutes ago.”

We started talking about it, and we soon realized we weren’t exactly talking about the same thing, even though at first blush it seemed we were. When I said we should trade the truck in, I meant on another truck for him. When he said it, he meant we should trade it on something new for me. I was surprised because he really loves that truck. But we agreed to go look at cars on Saturday just to see what was available.

The next morning, we got up and pulled together everything we might need to trade in the truck – the title (we paid cash for it when we bought it, so it has a clear title), paycheck stubs to be financed, and other things that might be useful, and we set off. Now, before you get the wrong idea, we’d been looking at cars since last March, so this wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment sort of decision. We both knew we were going to need a new vehicle but we’d been planning to put it off until next year. Even with all this stuff in hand, I didn’t expect us to trade the truck in on Saturday.

We’d been to a couple of dealerships to look in the past, but every time, I wasn’t too impressed with the salesman. I like a salesman that will listen to what I want and what I need, and then work to find it for us. Do you know how difficult it can be to find someone like that, who won’t try to upsell you on features that might be really cool but that aren’t in your budget? Well, if you don’t, let me tell you that it’s nearly impossible. So we headed over to AutoNation Ford in Katy to look around. Our idea was to find something that wasn’t too expensive – we were considering the Focus – that if we did make a trade, we could get low payments for the balance. But our price range was decent enough that we could consider a fully loaded Focus – well, that and the fact that the Focus starts at around $16,000. We were helped by Larry, who was more than willing to look around the lot for us to locate a loaded Focus with automatic transmission. You’d be surprised how many of those cars were manual, and I don’t do manual! We located one pretty quickly and he retrieved the keys so we could take a test drive. First point for Larry – he listened to what we wanted, and helped find a car that fit the criteria. Second point for Larry – he let us take the car on a test drive without him sitting in the backseat extolling the virtues of the car as we drove it.

After a sort of quick drive around the freeway block (the traffic was MURDER), we decided that the Focus just isn’t for us. I have a friend who just bought one, which is why I looked at it in the first place, and while it was really nice, it just doesn’t fit our lifestyle. It was smaller than anything I’ve owned since I was a teenager, and since it was meant to replace the truck, I didn’t think it would do the job for us. Across the lot from the Focus’s (is that right? What exactly IS the plural of Focus?!) was the Fusion, which is bigger but of course has a bigger sticker price. Chris suggested we look at those, but I told him that if we were going to look at that, we might as well look at the Edge too. We’d looked at them before and they were about the same price as the Fusion, so why not?

We told Larry that we’d like to look at the Edge and the Fusion, so he led us over the Edge area after asking where we wanted to start. I was thinking that I probably couldn’t get a fully loaded Edge and keep the payments in the “reasonable” range (we wanted to keep them around $300), so I told him that as long as the vehicle had power locks, windows and the Sync, I would be happy. He said, “Ok, well you can start with the base model then, and that will save you a lot of money!” He went to work looking for an Edge that fit that criteria, and came up with a very nice blue Edge. Actually, Chris saw the blue from a distance and said, “I think you would like that color.” Larry responded, “That is a base model, so it should have what you want.” We went over to look at it and sure enough, it was exactly what I told him I wanted. He went to retrieve the keys, and we set off on a test drive. Third point for Larry – he listened to the changing game plan and responded accordingly. Fourth point – he didn’t try to upsell us on options we knew we didn’t need and didn’t want to keep the price down.

Of course we loved the Edge – it was pretty much everything we were looking for in a car. There wasn’t any reason at all for us to even drive the Fusion – it couldn’t have measured up. We did peak at prices on new trucks, but quickly rejected that idea as they were just too expensive at this point. The next obstacle was making a deal. We needed to get enough for the truck to feel like we weren’t being robbed, and a good enough deal on the car to feel like it was fair and we would be comfortable with the payments. That’s when I told Larry that I really HATE buying a car because I hate the back and forth haggling, the sales manager coming out to talk to us, etc, etc, ad nauseum. He promised to make it as painless as possible. He went to talk to the sales manager, because apparently salesmen don’t actually make the deals anymore – the sales manager does all the numbers, at least at AutoNation. Once he dropped that paperwork off, we went to get the truck appraised for trade in. Fifth point for Larry – he held to his promise not to haggle over price.

When the deal came back to us, figuring in the trade in value of the truck, and the rebates on the new car, Chris and I were pleasantly surprised. Sixth point for Larry – he delivered a good deal to us with the first try. It was actually a reasonable number, and one we felt we could live with – we made the deal after talking about it for just a few minutes. Before options or extended warranty, the payments were going to be less than $200! We did add a few things to the deal, like tinting the front windows, remote start and a tow package – the Edge will tow 3500 pounds, which made the sting of trading in the truck a little better (but not much, according to Chris). And we bought a package that added theft protection including a lo-jack, and total vehicle protection for 75,000 miles. We put some miles on our cars, so this was essential for us since the Ford regular warranty is only 35,000 miles. We were a bit concerned about getting financed because my credit is pretty bad due to a house that was financed through Bank of America that I lost in the wake of their dark days of taking over Countrywide Mortgage, and Chris has no credit at all. But we didn’t need to be concerned because with the trade in, we had no problem getting financed, though to be fair, the loan is at a higher interest rate than the average, but still one we can live with for the long term. And timely payments will help to rebuild my credit, and to build Chris some credit as well.

We drove away repeating, I can’t believe we just bought a new car! But if you’re in the market for a new car, I would highly recommend Larry over at AutoNation Ford in Katy.

 

Ford Edge

 

 

Sunday, we had my parents and the kids for a birthday dinner, and Monday we took a drive in the new car, and hung out at the house. All in all, it was a very satisfying weekend. I mean really, how many girls can say they got a new car for their birthday because their husband traded in his truck for her?! 🙂 I know Chris misses his truck, and I miss it too, but in the long run, this will work out for the best. And in a couple years, after we’ve made payments on the car and built some credit, we’ll be able to buy a new truck.

And in an interesting twist …

Kerstin & Joseph 2-1

On Wednesday, my daughter Kerstin sent me a text message saying she and Joseph, her fiance of the last several months, were going to come see us later that evening. Since we were headed out for dinner, we invited them to come along, knowing that if they were coming to see us, something big was on the horizon. Boy, were we right.

They told us that Joseph is joining the army, and that they want to get married before he leaves for boot camp. Since that date isn’t yet nailed down, they chose the somewhat inconvenient date of September 4th to be married. This year. Yes, they want to get married in three weeks. I managed to convince them to move the date back to the Friday of that week, since the fourth is a Wednesday, so the wedding date is now September 6th, 2013, a full 13 months ahead of the already set date in October 2014. Let the insanity begin!

Obviously, with just three weeks between now and the wedding date, we’re going for a smaller affair, less expensive, with some things that won’t be done either because of time constraints or budget constraints. Three weeks isn’t a lot of time to plan for an event like this, no matter how small it might be. But already we’ve found and bought her a dress, she’s registered at both Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond, and we’re looking at wedding invitations and cakes. We’ve settled on a menu for the reception – it’s the standard fare for us – BBQ (it’s a good thing our friends like BBQ because this will be the fourth (?) time this summer we’ll have a party and serve it). There aren’t any attendants, so there’s no need for gifts. They still need to look at rings, decide what the groom will wear, and a few other things. We need to work out a few logistics. But overall, I think things will work out just fine.

When it comes right down to it, the truth is, we’re not ceremonial people. We aren’t formal, so this works well for us. I’m sure that some people might think it’s too simple or whatever, but you know, the goal here is to be married, not to go into debt with an expensive wedding. Even if they’d waited until next year, there might have been a few more frills and trappings, but in the end, that isn’t the way Kerstin is, so they still would have been minimal.

All that truly matters is that they are happy in life.