It Took Over My Entire Life

In my last post, I revealed plans to move to primarily an online presence around mid-year, after the spring shows are done, and I talked about cutting back the product line I keep on hand. Neither of those were easy decisions to make. I have come to really enjoy getting out and meeting people at the shows, talking to them about my soaps, and being able to offer a wide product line. However, as my hope to make this a viable business started to wane, I began to resent certain aspects of running it. Between resentment and disappointment, the joy began to seep out of the entire process, and that’s where the depression started.

I am no stranger to depression; I’ve dealt with it off and on for a good portion of my life. And really, I think everyone deals with depression at some point in their lives, some of us becoming clinically depressed, and some of us dealing with just plain old depression. But regardless of how it’s classified, I almost always realize that I’m depressed when I lose interest in doing things. The one that usually gets my attention is when I have the desire to sew or quilt, but not the ability. I realized last week that I had a problem when I thought about making a quilt but then decided it was too much work to clean up the studio. It’s not really that bad to begin with; there are some things on the cutting table that I need to put away but it’s not like I’m walking hip deep in crap or anything. I thought at first that maybe I was tired, but it happened again. And again. And then yesterday, before I made the decisions about the business, I thought that sewing would be a great way to take my mind off of my troubles, but I realized that the business has sort of sucked the joy out of sewing, too. As I sat here thinking about it, I realized that what I really need to do is create boundaries with my business. Even a smaller scale operation will get out of hand if I let it – and I think that’s where my primary issue is in the first place. I try to do more than I can, and that stresses me out, which then begins to wear on me, and after a while I find myself where I am now – depressed and irritated and wishing I’d never started a business in the first place.

Chris and I were talking about this yesterday, and we agreed that it’s out of hand. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, my work space when I started this business was my office. My desk was in there, and I cut and stored the soap there, too. When I started with the embroidery business, I needed a place to store the blank products, so I installed three large plastic shelves (think garage storage) in our bedroom. Somewhere around September, I realized that there wasn’t really enough space in the office for everything, so I started to store some of my soap in the hallway between my studio and the garage, which leads to my studio. By the end of the year, I’d moved my “office” space to the studio, and started to turn the former office in to a storage room. But that wasn’t enough space, either, so now a good chunk of stuff is in my studio, and under the bar in our dining area, not to mention the wagon I have that holds my big pails of oil. Every time I turn around, I’m out of space, and the business has taken over half of the downstairs area, and moving up the stairs in to our bedroom. There is not a place anywhere in this house that I can get away from it, because everywhere I go, every place I look, there’s some bit of my business.

And because I require the use of a stove and sink (and sometimes the oven), my kitchen is always in use, either by my business, or to prepare meals. I don’t do both at the same time – one is done before the other begins – but it creates a LOT of dishes to be done, and sometimes I feel like I am NEVER done with cleaning the kitchen. There have been days when I have done dishes six times and still couldn’t keep up completely.

I want – I NEED – to claw back space that shouldn’t be used for business, and to create areas of my home where it’s just not acceptable to store business related items. I was so gung ho for a while there, I lost sight of the need to maintain a work-free zone for myself and my family. It’s going to take time to get to the point where I’ve “de-businessed” areas, because I’m not going to just throw that stuff away or donate it. But my current goal is to not add to the mess by buying more things I need to store. I will be doing some embroidery work on some t-shirts in the hopes that I can sell some of them at upcoming shows, in my Etsy shop and on my website, so keep your eyes open for them.

 

Sleep? What sleep?!

A few weeks ago, we bought a new mattress. Our old mattress cost us a small fortune, and just three years after we bought it, we started having problems with it. Unfortunately, the dealer who sold it to us went out of business, and we never got a response from the manufacturer, so we were a little leary of buying another expensive mattress. So instead, we bought a low priced yet very comfortable mattress, foregoing the box springs this time around. Our box springs are still in excellent condition, so we didn’t see a need to replace them. We waited for a week for the mattress to be delivered.

I wish I had my old mattress back.

This mattress has been terrible. The comfortable mattress we tried out in the store is not what we received when it was delivered two weeks ago. While the model is the same, the feel is vastly different. The day after the mattress was delivered, we went to the dealer and told them we wanted to exchange it because it was so uncomfortable. Our sales lady told us that normally, they want a customer to use the mattress for at least 30 days before exchanging it, but I told her that wasn’t going to happen; I’d gotten a grand total of about two hours’ sleep the night before because this mattress was a ROCK. We tried the mattress in the store again, and again, it was not comparable to what was delivered. They agreed to exchange it after we used it for a week. Last Thursday, we went back and picked out a new mattress, which is supposed to be delivered tomorrow. But the last two weeks have been excruciating. And we’re still not getting any sleep.

So that’s why I haven’t been really active lately. I’m just so far beyond tired, I’m not even sure what I’m doing anymore. The lack of sleep has cut the productivity levels for both of us, and I’m way behind on soap making. And making everything else as well. Over the weekend, I did actually order in some t-shirts for some Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter designs. I’m not even sure how many Valentine’s Day shirts I’m going to make this year, because we only have a couple of shows before the holiday. Instead, I might make myself one or two to wear to shows and then concentrate on the St. Patrick’s & Easter shirts. One thing I do know is that I seriously need to get more soap made, and fast!

I’m still working on re-organizing the studio/office and storage room. Today I finally got my Container Store order, and I began working on the storage room. It seems to be somewhat mindless work, which is what I need right now. It will take me a while to get it completely done, but it’s still being worked on, and eventually I’ll be finished.

The other thing I’m working on is a complete rebranding of my entire business venture. I’m combining the embroidery/fabric arts and soap/cosmetic businesses in to one entity, and I’m building an entirely new website, complete with new photos, a vintage/retro feel, and some new products. I am hoping to roll out the rebranded business the first of February, and I’m really very excited about it. I’m using WordPress for my website, so I’m learning a lot as I go along – this is the first website I’ve built that didn’t have some sort of pre-built “plug & play” template that guides me every step of the way. I did buy a skin for it, to give it the look I want, but I’m doing all the work myself. Fortunately, since I’ve used WordPress for my blog for years, using it for my website isn’t completely foreign to me. It feels a bit like a new pair of the comfy shoes you’ve had for years, but now need to get used to the new pair. Keep an ear to the ground to find out more about the relaunch/rebranding!

By the way, are you following me on Instagram? If you’re interested in finding out what I’m doing, head on over there and follow me. I post photos of fabric projects, soaps, embroidery … you know, whatever I happen to be doing that day. Maybe you’ll see me doing something you just can’t live without! 😉

And in closing, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t ask if you’ve signed up for the Soap of the Month Club yet. Each month, you’ll receive a new bar of themed soap. February’s soap has a Valentine’s theme, and I have to say, I can hardly wait for it! I already have March, April and May soaps planned out, and I assure you, they’re going to be super awesome. So don’t forget to sign up. Shipping fees are already included in the price, so if you buy the option that’s less than $50, just choose local pick up. Soaps will go out the first week of every month, and if you sign up now for the first shipment in February, you’ll receive a free gift with your first shipment! And don’t forget, shipping is free when you spend $50 or more in a single order.

Well, that’s pretty much it for now, but like I said, stay tuned; big things are in store for Old Fashion Soap Co., and Jill’s Fabric Arts!

And so the Soap Club was born

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When I was a kid, the Doubleday Book of the month club was really popular. As an avid reader, I was thrilled when I grew up and was able to join the book of the month club myself. I read many books that I received through that club, and it was magical. I haven’t seen anything about the book of the month club in a while, but it still exists (I had to Google it to be sure) and I bet it’s still magical.

Now that I’m older and more busy, I don’t have as much time to read. Back when I first met Chris, I made a comment about not being able to read as much as I would like, and he told me that he listened to a lot of audio books. And that’s how we now have some 300 or so books on Audible. If you haven’t ever tried Audible, and you love reading, I suggest you try them out. It’s also magical.

These days I subscribe to the Sew Sampler box from Fat Quarter Shop. Now, this is TRULY magical for me, because I never know what’s going to be in the box. I LOVE getting this box every month – there is always some cute fabric of some sort, often a tool, always a pattern or two … it’s one of those things that just makes me happy, every single time I open it. I tried out the Quilty Box, too, and I loved it, but after losing my job last year, I had to cut back to one box, and FQS won out because it was cheaper. To be fair, Quilty Box always had fat quarters, and the box from FQS often has charm packs, but the cost of the box from FQS is half the cost of the Quilty Box, and when you are trying to start a business, that’s important. 😀

A while back, I was thinking about how much I enjoy receiving those boxes from FQS, and how much I loved the book of the month club. I started thinking that it would be super awesome to offer a soap of the month club, and the seed was planted. I thought it would be so cool to make a special soap each month for the box, and as a “featured soap” for the shows that month. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I started checking in to ways to set it up. My original idea was to set it up as an ongoing subscription, but my old shopping cart couldn’t do that. For reasons completely unrelated to this idea, I decided to move my website to a new host provider, and thus a new shopping cart and I put the idea aside for a while. But once the website was up and running on the new host, I started thinking about the idea of the soap of the month. Now, this host does have the ability to use plug ins for the shopping cart, but the reality is that for what I want to do, the cost for this particular type of function isn’t feasible. I mean, maybe I’m the only one who likes surprise packages in the mail each month (I doubt that, but you just never know; people can be so ODD! 😉 ). Anyway, earlier this week, I mentioned the idea and my roadblock to Chris, who came up with a surprisingly easy and yet elegant solution.

Chris suggested I set up the club for a certain number of months. So we agreed that three, six, nine and twelve month subscriptions would be good. And then he suggested that I offer the option of receiving one bar of soap or two. If the customer wants two bars of soap each month, one bar will be the soap of the month, and the other soap will be another bar of my choice (for example, In the Air Tonight, Tiny Dancer or some other bar that we have in stock on a regular basis). My plan was to offer a single bar of soap; two never crossed my mind. I thought all of this was brilliant, and so the Soap of the Month Club was born!

The great thing about the Soap of the Month club is that you get a new bar of soap every month – something that no one else has tried, and that we think you’re going to love! And you’ll get it first – the packages will ship the first week of each month. We’re already working on the soap for the first month, which will be February. We’re not going to reveal what it is just yet, but we will give you a hint – February is the month for lovers!

If you sign up for the February soap, you will also receive a free gift with your first month’s shipment!

So head on over to the website now and sign up for the Soap of the Month Club, because you definitely do NOT want to miss out on this!

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!

The Downhill Slide

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Theoretically, the temperatures start to cool down, kids go back to school, and thoughts start to turn toward the Holiday Season. This year, it really hasn’t cooled down much in the Houston area. Quite to the contrary, I have been calling this the Summer That Never Ends. We’ve had few days where the temps stayed below 70 this Fall, and quite a few days where we got above 80. With weather like that, it can be difficult to get in to the Thanksgiving spirit, let alone Christmas spirit. But I’m doing my best. I’m listening to Christmas music as I work, and I’m thinking of all these great gifts going to people who are going to be surprised to get a custom item this year. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and I agreed that we would take Thanksgiving week off. No work, no social media presence. Just time to relax and unwind and enjoy a little bit of “me” time. Ha! Ha hahahahahahahaha. Well, for the most part, we did manage to take the week off. I embroidered a soft sided cooler to take photos for the Etsy shop.

Here, Fishy Fishy!!

Here, Fishy Fishy!!

I also posted it to Etsy (obviously).  And I did a couple of posts about Small Business Saturday and a Black Friday sale we’re having in each of the shops. But for the most part, I tried to put work out of my mind and enjoy the holiday. Well, as much as I ever enjoy a holiday in which I spend at least a full day baking.

Monday, Chris and I took a little drive. We were gone most of the day, and it was so nice to get out of the house and not try to remember which store we need to stop at next, or what we need to be sure to pick up before heading back home. Most of our excursions out of the house the last couple of months have been to the post office to drop off orders that are being shipped out, to pick up some item we need for one of the businesses, or to the grocery store so we don’t starve. But Monday, we just drove aimlessly around South Texas for a bit, and it was magical.

Tuesday, we spent most of the day cleaning. It’s amazing how bad a house can get when three adults live there, but are so busy, they are only doing the minimum needed to keep the house from being condemned by the Health Department. OK, it wasn’t THAT bad, but we really did have to do a fairly deep cleaning. Sadly, we didn’t finish, but we’re still working on it a little at a time each day. Wednesday, I baked. I baked a pumpkin cake, cheesecake, and a couple of pumpkin pies. Oh, and the cornbread for the dressing on Thursday night.

So, after all of that, and driving across town to my folks’ house and seeing family on Thursday, I was looking forward to doing a little sewing on Friday. NOPE! That didn’t happen either. I can’t recall what I did do, but it wasn’t sewing. In fact, now that I think about it, Friday and Saturday are a bit of a blur – I have no recollection of exactly what I did either day. I do know that I was bound and determined to get some sewing done yesterday, but alas, I woke up with a migraine. And thanks to all the medicine I had to take yesterday, that was full of caffeine, I got very little sleep last night. But today, I bounded out of bed and got right to work.

Of course, I wasn’t set up to get started right off this morning, because I was sick yesterday, so it was a bit of a slow start. But I did manage to get this King’s Towel on the machine this morning and get it completed.

The King's Towel

The King’s Towel

I just love this one! I still need to do a little clean up work on it, but tomorrow, it will be headed to Washington state. Washington state! (Note to self: Get a map of the US to keep track of where people are that order items). This one isn’t yet listed on the Etsy shop, but I will be adding it today or tomorrow. I will also be stitching out a Queen’s Towel that is just as cool as this one (but with a better crown LOL) to put up on the Etsy shop. These would make great gifts for those difficult to buy for folks on your holiday shopping list.

And then I had to make another fishy cooler this morning, this time in blue.

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In the soap shop, we have fresh batches of Pride & Joy, In the Air Tonight, Don’t Bring Me Down, and Boys of Summer! We have other great soaps as well, so check those out in the Old Fashion Soap Co. Etsy shop!

We have a lot of great gift ideas in both the Jill’s Fabric Arts and the Old Fashion Soap Co. Etsy shops, so get on over and place your order today to ensure delivery in time for Christmas. 🙂

It really isn’t possible …

For me to suck more at blog posting than I do, and for that, I apologize. It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly TWO MONTHS since my last post, but I guess it makes sense because I’ve been so freakin’ busy, I can’t even keep up with what’s going on lately. But that’s what I’m here for today – to get caught up, and hopefully, stay caught up, on blog posting. So, let’s get started. 😉

First, on a personal note, I signed up for three accounting classes this semester. I just finished one up last week, and in the first eight weeks of the semester I learned something that’s vitally important. I do NOT want to be an accountant. The only enjoyment I get from any of these classes is the human interaction I get twice a week from going to my intermediate accounting class. Beyond that, I hate every single minute of the classes I’m taking. So I dropped the class that was scheduled to begin this week, and I will finish up the class I’m taking now, but after that I’m done with accounting classes. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much if I didn’t feel like it sucks valuable time away from my businesses, but I feel torn between doing school work and working on the businesses. I think “resentful” is a better word than “hate” though. I am very resentful of the time I spend doing school work when I feel it’s  not going to be very helpful in the future.

Which brings me to business … We have been going like gang busters on the soap front. A new show every weekend, a lot of work going in to the business, but not the results we had hoped to see at this point. So last month, we sat down and took a long, hard look at what we’re doing and we realized that the biggest inhibitor to our success is the way I scheduled shows. I looked for allegedly big shows that would hopefully bring in a lot of sales volume, but we’ve found that the attendance numbers for the two biggest shows we signed up for were vastly overstated. Sadly, both of those shows were “traveling shows,” meaning that we traveled to them and stayed in motels. As such, we made NO profit off either of them. We’ve learned our lesson, though, and all of our future shows will be within distance to get home at night after the show is over. We’re really excited to be staying close to home over the next several weeks – most of our shows from now until Thanksgiving will be at the Cy-Fair Exhibit Center located at 11206 Telge Road. That’s the FFA complex at Telge and 290, if you’re familiar with the area, right across Telge from Cy-Fair High School. We will be out there this coming weekend, at the Cy-Woods FFA Booster Show, so be sure to look for us there!

One of the things I’ve come to realize with all the shows and the focus on soap is that I have not been able to get much done for the embroidery business, but I really want to focus on that. In fact, the concept is moving from straight embroidery to other fabric arts as well, but I haven’t had time to devote to any of it really. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad that we’ve decided to cut back on the road shows and stick close to home from now on – it should give me more time to work on the embroidery business and get it up and running. I mean, check out this adorable hoodie sample that I did last week.

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Now, maybe it’s just me, but I think this hoodie would make a great gift for any woman. It comes in sizes from XS to XXL, and it’s super comfy! Of course it can be customized with your initials (I guess people don’t want to run around with MY initials on their chest LOL). I’m working on the listing for my Etsy shop now and it should be active by the time this post is public. But if it isn’t, and you’re interested in ordering this hoodie, just send me a message and we can chat about it. Who knew setting up an Etsy listing could be so complex?!

Anyway, I guess that about brings you up to speed for now. There are other things in the works, but I’m not ready to share those just yet. So stay tuned and please don’t fault me for being out of touch the last couple of months. I know I always say this, but I’ll try to do better; I promise!

 

Trying to carve out time for me

When I worked outside the home, I thought I was busy. It seemed that I could never find enough time to do the things I wanted to do, and that I was always torn away from my favorite past times to do other things – work, mostly. I have come to realize, however, that I wasn’t nearly as busy as I thought I was, and I was, in fact, quite lazy. But to be honest, I’m still a little lazy, even though I’m busier now than I ever have been.

Or am I lazy at all?

I’ve always believed that if I wasn’t being productive, I was being lazy. Sat on the couch all day and watched tv? Lazy. Laid in bed and read a book for three hours? Lazy. Stared into space thinking about lint and aliens and dog fur? DEFINITELY being lazy.

I’ve realized over the last few weeks that it’s not laziness at all; I need that time to recharge my batteries, restart the creative juices, and push forward. OK, maybe it’s just laziness sometimes, but for the most part, I do those things when I have hit that brick wall we hear about so often, when my brain is over loaded and I just can’t deal with things anymore. I have also realized that I didn’t have these problems when my kids were young, because I actively sought out time for myself, and I don’t really do that anymore. You know, when the kids were young, I always thought I’d have more time when they were grown to do the things I want to do, and while that may be true, I’ve become worse at managing my time.

Over the last several months, in fact, I estimate that probably 80-90% of my waking hours are spent either making, thinking or planning something for my business. Another 5-10% of my time has been spent talking to Chris about his business, and the other 10-15% (depending on the day) is spent doing school work for my CPA program. I cannot recall the last time I sat down at the sewing machine just to sew for fun. Sure, I spent some time last month working on the Star Wars quilt, but that was when I was considering selling it at one of my shows. But the more I considered selling handmade fabric art items, the less I wanted to make them. So last week, I made a decision that my fabric art items will not be something I make for shows to sell. I may, from time to time, offer a piece that I’ve made but have no specific plans for, once it’s completed, but for the most part, I am choosing to keep my sewing & quilting activities out of the business. I make probably 10 batches of soap a week; I think that’s sufficient for the time I spend on making things for the business.

I have also decided that I need to set some business hours, because frankly, this “All work, all the time” thing isn’t making me too happy. My mom and Chris have been telling me for months I need to do this, and they’re right. Of course, now Chris has a fledgling business and he’s struggling with this as well. LOL At any rate, my new business hours are from 8 am until 5 pm – just like a regular office job. However, I will not be reachable before 9:30 am, so that I can spend some uninterrupted time on taking care of the books, advertising and other administrative duties. Whether or not I’m reachable until 5 pm will depend on the day, but if you need anything at all, please feel to contact me on Facebook or by email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Obviously, with the nature of the products I make, I’m not always able to stop and chat when someone pings me, but I always respond as soon as I can.

Jill