30 December 2011

Goal Setting Going into the New Year

Walt & Mickey
Image by Brian Wilkins via Flickr
A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. –Walt Disney

It's that time of year - the time for looking ahead to the New Year, setting personal and professional goals and putting plans in place to make them happen.  I've been working on personal goals for weeks now, letting ideas float around in the ether to see which ones stick and which ones don't.  I've got some great ideas for our home, which means my husband's resolutions are pretty much taken care of.  (Haha!)

I challenged my daughter and the VP for Marketing and Product Development to think about what goals she has for her line this year.  We're very determined to create a wholesale market for her Sun On The Go sets, which will mean a day trip to Atlantic Beach and another day trip (or half-day trip) to Kinston.  When setting our goals, we want to make sure we're setting SMART goals.  Her goal:  "Put this set into a children's boutique and into a small local chain of stores."  Is this a SMART goal?  This is how we figured it out.

Specific - Is this goal specific enough?  In this case, not exactly, because we didn't put a time frame to it.  So we went back and tacked on, "...in time for the Summer tourist season."  That means meeting with buyers in January and February.

Measurable - How are we going to measure our progress?  This one is pretty easy - by how many orders we receive and the quantities of those orders.

Attainable - Is this goal attainable as stated?  Yes, we can make this happen if we get out there and talk to buyers.

Realistic - How realistic is this goal?  Given our production set-up and the staff on hand, we can make this happen.  We'll actually have a few months to get the manufacturing done.

Timeable - Can we reach this goal in the timetable we have?  Of course, though this step of the process is the hardest, because the clock puts limits and schedules on us, but that's OK.  If we didn't have the calendar pages turning on meeting this goal, then we would not be motivated to crack the whip on ourselves to get her fantastic sets on store shelves.

Now, as Walt Disney himself said, "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."

What goals do you have going into 2012?  How do you plan to meet them?

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24 November 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend Coupon Codes

This Content of online shopping taken from htt...
Image via Wikipedia
Here they are...  The Thanksgiving weekend coupon codes for the Sara's Soaps 'n Such online shop.  Coupons are good all weekend, plus shipping is free all weekend, Friday-Monday.

Take 10% off any purchase - coupon code BlackFriday11

Take 25% off any purchase of $50 or more - coupon code SmBizSaturday11

Take 30% off any purchase of $75 or more - coupon code CyberMonday11
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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

What a great day!  It's still pretty early, but I woke up feeling grateful for the many wonderful people in my life. I woke up excited about seeing my family today, and I thought about how lucky I am to be 38 and to still have a set of grandparents alive.  I thought of how lucky my girls are - my older one especially - to have gotten to know three of their grandparents and how she'll have those awesome memories to treasure.

Then, I thought with a bit of sadness who won't be there today, namely my grandparents on my Mom's side.  My grandma's been dead for several years now, but I can still remember that first Thanksgiving without her - the sadness and the laughter.  This will be our second Thanksgiving without my maternal grandpa, and that spot at the table is still a bit fresh, and it's still a bit weird seeing my uncle sitting in that place.

I'm thankful for my wonderful customers, too.  We've been together in business for nine years now, and I couldn't have the success I do without each and every one of you.  Thank you so much!  May your Thanksgiving be filled with the love of family and friends and may you take the time to remember all the many blessings in your life.

Much love,
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10 November 2011

Helping Ourselves

God helps those who help themselvesImage by Tim Green aka atoach via Flickr"God helps those who help themselves."  Not really.  I will recant that if someone can point me to the verse in the Bible that says that, but I know it's not there.  So where did this popular saying come from?  Thanks to my Facebook and Twitter friend Shila Laing, it comes from a fable, which you can read here, but I've also included it below.

Aesop for Children (1919)

A Farmer was driving his wagon along a miry country road after a heavy rain. The horses could hardly drag the load through the deep mud, and at last came to a standstill when one of the wheels sank to the hub in a rut.

The farmer climbed down from his seat and stood beside the wagon looking at it but without making the least effort to get it out of the rut. All he did was to curse his bad luck and call loudly on Hercules to come to his aid. Then, it is said, Hercules really did appear, saying:
"Put your shoulder to the wheel, man, and urge on your horses. Do you think you can move the wagon by simply looking at it and whining about it? Hercules will not help unless you make some effort to help yourself."

And when the farmer put his shoulder to the wheel and urged on the horses, the wagon moved very readily, and soon the Farmer was riding along in great content and with a good lesson learned.

Self help is the best help.
Heaven helps those who help themselves.

Last weekend, I decided that I'd been working so hard and I needed help.  I was coming to the end of my endurance, the end of my ability to take care of everything on my own.  So...  I took matters into my own hands and "helped myself."  I hired my first employee to help take some tasks off of my hands.  

I don't have a picture of her, yet, but I'd like to introduce you to Nicole, my new personal assistant.  Nicole will begin by helping write soap and correspond with customers.  She's already enthusiastically asked about working shows with me, and as she grows into her position and responsibilities, I'm confident that she'll be able to take on more duties with that same enthusiasm and go-get-'em! attitude.

Have you been in a position to hire some help?  How did that work out for you?
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25 October 2011

Glam on the Run

The call came yesterday from my dearest online friend.  Although we'd been friends for over 6 years and live just 4 hours or so apart, our friendship had been restricted to emails, chats, text messages and phone calls.  He told me he had a business day trip to make to a city near us and could we meet for lunch.  With less than 24 hours' notice, I had to arrange for child care, figure out where we could meet for lunch and get as glammed as possible (being just friends doesn't make me less of a "girl").

First step...  Figure out the outfit.  Although it's late October, I'm still not ready to give up my sandals, so whatever I wore had to work with open-toe shoes.  My first outfit was going to be a white t-shirt and my favorite brown and white zebra-print skirt with my oh-so-sexy (and surprisingly comfortable) espadrilles.  However, I couldn't find the skirt and didn't want to take the time to tear our bedroom up looking for it, so I went for outfit #2 - hot pink long-sleeved t-shirt, black and hot pink skirt and black strappy heels.

Step two has to be the toes and feet - starting from the bottom here.  I last gave myself a pedicure ten days ago using some of my favorite colors from Sally's Beauty Supply.  These enamels are a bit more expensive, but my polish jobs last forever!  This pedicure started with China Glaze Base Coat, followed by two coats of Ultra Pro nail enamel in Hawaiian Flower, then a layer of OPI white shatter and all that topped off with China Glaze Top Coat.  My tootsies still look freshly pedicured and nice.

But then I looked at the bottoms of my feet, and they looked anything BUT sandal-ready!  Normally I'd soak my feet in a bubbling foot spa with some tea tree and lavender oil, then apply a moisturizer and wear white cotton socks to warm it and allow it to work in over the course of several hours.  There simply wasn't time for the foot soak, and I completely forgot about moisturizing with socks.  Oh, dear!  I happened to have a jar of body scrub in the bathroom that I'd made for my husband.  Whew!  Saved!  A thorough scrub in my shower got all the dead skin off, and I gave them a quick rub with Rub Me Right... There (in Patchouli).  I stood on a towel while I put my makeup on to help the massage oil's delectable goodness soak into my feet (and to keep me from slipping, falling and busting my butt on the linoleum).

This third step I normally wouldn't do, but my friend Ginger posted a recipe on her FB page this week about  DIY homemade lip scrub, and for the past week or so, I've been wanting to whip some up.  My lips get sooo dry and scaly during the harsh Winter months, so I thought this would be the perfect treatment for them.  But, alas!  Here I was, wanting to scrub my lips and not having any lip scrub made up (and, I mean, seriously, it'd have taken all of five minutes to make).  Time for a quick exfoliation.  After I finished brushing my teeth, I used my toothbrush to gently scrub my lips and the surrounding skin.  Oh my gosh, that peppermint toothpaste made them tingle and flushed them a nice, natural pink!  I gave them a swipe of Vaseline and put my makeup on.

The rest of getting ready was nothing out of the ordinary - hair, makeup and outfit.  When it came time to moisturize my legs, I grabbed the tube of Moisture to Go I keep in my purse (currently in Verbena scent).  I was scrubbed, scented and moisturized, and every bit of me was first-meet-with-a-friend ready.

Of course, my friend never really saw my legs, and I seriously doubt he paid any attention to my feet (though he did peek at my pedi).  The scrubbed smooth lips felt good and made my lip gloss (decided to go with their natural pink from the scrub) last so much longer than usual.  This lip gloss was one I'd made, just playing around, with ginger and cinnamon essential oils.  It goes on hot and tingly, making my lips flushed and slightly swollen.  None of this primping was for my friend; every bit of it was for me and enabled me to approach this meeting with style and confidence.  This evening, though, I'm definitely going to throw together some lip scrub, and I think I'll give it some tingle with some peppermint essential oil.  This will be just right for Winter!

What quick beauty and primping tips do you have for those last minute glam needs?  Share them here.

12 October 2011

Giving Life, Making a Difference

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past several years, then you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This is the month to promote saving those girls, because women use them to nurture life and men...  Well, men just like them.  As women, it's our responsibility to keep the girls healthy, so please remember to do your monthly self-exams.  I usually do mine on or around the 11th of each month, which is my mom's anniversary date.  Go on now...  Get naked to the waist and feel your boobies!

Yesterday was my mom's 11th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.  Because of her, I refuse to change anything about my products or labeling to exploit the consumers' tendency to "go pink" this time of year.  Usually, I send her pink carnations (her favorite flowers), but since she was on vacation, I decided to give a different gift.

Before I go further, let me say that I hate - passionately - getting sticks.  I'll tolerate shots and finger pricks, but anything involving a tourniquet and needing a vein, and I avoid it like the plague.  I've been known to pass out as soon as the nurse or phlebotomist even starts thumping my vein.  Yeah, I'm that much of a wimp about it.  So, that being said, I decided to donate blood in a Red Cross Blood Drive.

Time to make a difference for someone

A little O+, anyone?

Can't give blood without getting your orange juice and cookies afterward
To recap:  If I can get stuck with a very large needle without crying, passing out or whimpering through it, so can you.  It'll make a huge difference in the life of someone who needs a transfusion.  Feel your boobies.  See if you feel anything that shouldn't be there.  If you do, don't try to convince yourself it's normal.  Go to your doctor ASAP.  Get a mammogram.  A negative mammogram is better than an undiagnosed malignant tumor.  This goes for men, too.  I would wager that breast cancer in men is often more life-threatening than in women - not because the cancer is necessarily more malignant, but because it so seldom gets detected early enough.

What steps are you taking to protect your health?  What steps have you taken to help protect the health of others?
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27 September 2011


It all started on Twitter.  Doesn't a lot of stuff nowadays?

I started following this restaurant on Twitter - Chris' Cosmic Kitchen.  The owner's wife Kris was the social media person for this account, and on mine and Peter's 11th anniversary, we decided to eat brunch there before heading to the beach.

At the same time, I'd connected on Twitter with a local gentleman, Craig.  Craig is a sweet guy about my age, and he was looking for a church in the area.  My family had joined a church family with whom we love worshiping.  Craig and I agreed to meet at Cosmic Kitchen for brunch one Saturday.  It was a great experience!  Not only did I get to meet Kris, Chris' wife, but Craig and I enjoyed a nice meal and the opportunity to get to know each other's stories a bit better.  Oh, by the way, I also discovered that Craig is single.  (This will be important later.)

Two months later in September, yet another Twitter friend, Sarah, tweeted that she was setting up a challenge for herself.  She'd just come off a relationship and wanted to learn more about herself while at the same time avoiding falling into yet another relationship.  Her project was called "52 Squires," and her goal was to go on 52 first dates in a year.  The guys had to be willing to go on the dates, and she was only doing it by referral.  In other words, if a friend recommended a guy, then she'd go out with him.  She wasn't going to go pick up guys at bars or clubs, or even do the online thing.  We messaged a bit, then started emailing, and I recommended Craig to her.

In the midst of this emailing that started off with me talking Craig up to her (while at the same time nudging him in her direction), we started talking more and more about ourselves.  We met about a week later.  I wrote about it here.  I never expected to make a friend almost instantly, but it happened.  After walking the labyrinth, we talked over coffee for at least two hours.

[A little aside here...  Craig was Sarah's first scheduled date, and it went really well.  I was impressed both by his choice of restaurant and the fact that he took her to a comedy club.  It didn't go beyond the first date, but I'm glad it was a good experience for them.]

Sarah has connections that I don't have, and I have connections she doesn't have.  We promote each other's businesses and inform each other of business opportunities.  Crises?  We're each other's go-to friend.  Need re-energizing?  We meet for coffee and get recharged off each other.  Need quiet time?  We find that together, too.  I see in Sarah that same, "There's no such thing as failure" attitude my daughter has regarding her business, and it helps me keep perspective.  I value her for who she is and all that she brings to our friendship.  I am a more relaxed person and a better business woman because of her.

Who in your life gives you perspective, re-energizes you and helps you be the best business person you can be?
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19 September 2011

Random Musings

Last week was crazy here, dear readers, which is why I'm so far behind on the weekly blog post.  My weeks lately (in addition to the typical homeschooling) have included running some test batches of soap for Nature's Garden, potty training and putting together a large order for Duplin Winery.  It's almost Autumn.  I was thinking earlier today how it is that so many of my fellow Indies have time to keep it current on Facebook, Twitter and the Indie Beauty Social Network.  In fact, I'm feeling left behind, because I barely have time to read posts, let alone post a whole lot.  Then it dawned on me.  IT'S FALL!  That means... SILLY SEASON!!!  And, absolutely, the silly season is upon me.  My stockists want their Holiday merchandise and I have my own shows for which to prepare.

I have several random thoughts to toss out there for this week's blog post.  I apologize if they don't seem very cohesive.

First there was the bottle of Christmas red acrylic paint that my toddler spilled all over the living room.  My living room looked like a crime scene.  No kidding!  One of my friends said that the chalk outline was the only thing missing.
Really, Officer, it's NOT blood!
The soaps I've been making to test the Nature's Garden fragrances will be offered for a limited time.  If certain soaps go really well, then I'll introduce them to my regular inventory.  There will only be 2-3 bars of each soap available, so quantities will be limited and likely to go fast.  There are some delicious fragrances in the bunch, but I think the most fascinating one I'll be calling "Fizzy"; it smells exactly like Dr. Pepper.  I could even smell the carbonation bite.  I made this one with French green clay.  There are also two new beer soaps - one for men, one for women - on the rack, as well as several others.
Fierce Beer Soap - One of the best men's fragrances EVER
Orange Chiffon Cake Soap Cupcakes - Smell divine!

Two shops here in Burgaw will be carrying my soaps by the end of September.  The Nifty Place will be selling a selection of all-natural soaps, as well as Sub-Lime Sandalwood beer soap (just for something for the fellas).  Courthouse Coffee will be selling the following soaps:  Green Tea, Coffee Mocha, Goat's Milk & Coffee and Fresh-Brewed Coffee.  I'm honored and privileged to be working with these two awesome small businesses!
Fresh-Brewed Coffee Soap - What a wake-up call!
I don't like loud dogs early in the morning.  I mean, does anyone, really?  Yet we have these neighbors who let their dog out every morning at 7:00, and this dog barks at anything and everything.  Of course, he often wakes my baby, too - sometimes before she has the first interest in waking up.  I know that's random; just tossing it out there.

Last Wednesday, my firstborn was telling me about her handbells practice at church.  She said, "Two kids were playing incessantly, even when Mr. Clif was talking.  They got their handbells taken away."  Yes, I'm darn proud of her for knowing how to use "incessantly" correctly.  Or, that might come from all the times I tell her she's "talking incessantly."

In addition to last week's potty training, soap-wrapping, soapmaking and homeschooling mega-bonanza, I found out from one of my lovely Facebook fans that my site had been hacked.  I'm not talking the rather diminutive hack of two years ago where someone embedded a (bad) link for cheap ED drugs out of Mexico. Nooooo...  This was a full-out hack job that took over my entire site - in both English and Arabic and with music (in English).  It was ugly.  And just in case I didn't fully catch that my site had been hacked, under the red and black image of the grim reaper was the word "hacked," just to make sure I was fully aware.  So, here I am on Friday evening, texting my web guy who was in England working with an asphalt crew on the side of the road late that night (that's a five hour time difference), posting to the Zen Cart forums and initiating a chat with my host's tech support folks.  Donal texts back that he'd be done in two hours (gotta love that kind of dedication!), but in the meantime, the tech support guy at Hostmonster and I explore the hack.  One of the dates of the script changes was 9/11/11.  The significance of that wasn't lost on me, and it made me slightly sick.  In the end, though, the tech support guy got me debugged and unhacked in half an hour or so.  I could see where all the bad files were; I know my cpanel that well (that came up as my website on one of the hacked changes).

My web guy is going for the full deep-end dive, starting his own business thing.  His name's Donal, and he's fantastic. We've worked together for almost 2 1/2 years.  You've really got to appreciate a web guru who'll respond to a panicked text and be willing to work for however long it takes on top of working until the wee hours of the morning doing road work.  He's the best!  If you're interested in making your site work yourself (being able to add your products, add coupons, make script changes, etc.), then he'll also teach you that stuff, too.  He's completely trustworthy; I also have him man my site when I'm on vacation, hunkered down for hurricanes and so forth.  (Click his name; it'll take you to his FB page and you can message him.)

I'll stop blathering now.  Some of my friends and I are talking food!  Yum!

Feel free to post comments.  They don't have to apply to anything in particular since I was pretty all over the board on this week's post.
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08 September 2011

Always Remember, Never Forget

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...Image via WikipediaPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed 7 December 1941 as "a day which will live in infamy."  It's on the calendars - if you get the right calendar - as "Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day."  Seventy years after the fact, and we still remember when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  We tell our children of what happened on that fateful day and what consequences it had for us as a country.

There's another day that will live in infamy - 11 September 2001.  It was on this day that terrorists hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.  That last plane - United flight 93 - was meant for the U.S. Capitol Building.  However, brave, terrified passengers fought back and gave their lives to save unknown hundreds.  This is true heroism.  Thousands were killed on 9/11, and hundreds of others remain unidentified.

The president of the United States wants to make the tenth anniversary of this tragedy a day of service, asserting that we should move forward, that remembering 9/11 is "clinging to the past."  Now I have nothing against serving others, whether in my own community or in other parts of the world.  In fact, I believe service should be a regular part of our lives.  I do, however, have something against trying to block these events out of our minds.  Let's review what happened.  Extremist Muslims (those who are dangerously faithful to their faith) hijacked planes in our country filled with innocent people and used those planes to essentially fire bomb buildings where there were thousands of other innocent people.  These people were children.  Mothers.  Fathers.  Grandparents.  Sons.  Daughters.  Friends.  Beloved aunts and spoiling uncles.  Think for a moment of all the people who love you, those who would be sad if you died suddenly.  Now multiply that number by about 3,000.  That's how many lives were indelibly changed that day.  This doesn't include the bystanders and the rescue workers.  Nor does this include you or me.
Pentagon Building, Washington D.C. ~ The space circled in white is where a friend's office was.  He was called out to a last-minute meeting earlier in the morning.
Do you remember what it was like to fly before 9/11?  Do you remember going into government buildings or hospitals without having to pass through metal detectors?  Do you remember not having to have your bags searched when you went to concerts, theme parks or sporting events?  I do, but that memory is getting distant and faint.

ALWAYS remember.  NEVER forget.  Don't dishonor those who died for another group's jihad by NOT remembering the events of September 11th, ten years ago.  Serve others every day; remember these Americans at least once a year.
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30 August 2011

Non-Soapy Adventures

While I adore making soap (obviously), there are times when I simply must break away from soapmaking in order to be better at it.  My favorite non-soap craft endeavor is sewing.  I really like machine sewing pillows and gift bags, though I'll also cross-stitch on occasion as well.  I had three sewing projects in queue going into this week, and I'm proud to say that I've knocked out two of them.

The first project was a pillow for my husband - a late birthday present.  I found this fabric remnant on sale, the price was right, so I got what I needed to make a pillow for him.  I have to tell you, being an N.C. State fan, this pillow was painful to make.  I finally found the time to finish it late last week and am really pleased at how it turned out.
Peter's ECU pillow
My second project was a baby doll sleeping bag for my older daughter's baby dolls.  I'd bought some of the material for project #3 (which I can't disclose at this time) and had some left over.  My daughter jumped on it and was very excited to have something just for her dolls.  It also gave me a great chance to review how to sew in zippers, something I hadn't done in many, many years.  It was a success and one or two of her dolls sleep very snug and warm each night.

One of my daughter's favorite dolls tucked in all cozy
Today I was back over the soap pot.  I made a test batch of soap for a great supplier and prepped the lye mixture for a batch of green tea soap.  I was excited about soapmaking again, telling me that taking a break to sew was exactly what I needed.

What do you like to do to refresh your creative juices so you can work better and with more enthusiasm?  Share it below in the comments.
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26 August 2011

Hurricane Irene

NAGS HEAD, NC - AUGUST 25:  Fen Rascoe boards ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe sky is grey turning to black.  Rain's spitting on us, and the winds are quickly beginning to kick up.  Overhead, the variations of grey in the clouds show us how they're circular around us, moving counterclockwise.  Yes, folks, we're battening down for Hurricane Irene.  We've got nearly two cases of bottled water, we'll have more than a tank full of propane, our cars are filled up and we have enough food to last us for a few days.  Short of evacuating, I'm not sure we can be more prepared.

That being said, we realize that higher than our chances of being flooded or sustaining wind damage is the chance that we'll lose power.  Obviously, without electricity, I will not be able to respond to emails or process orders as usual.  I'll still be able to accept orders, and your credit card payment will go through just fine (that's all done automatically), but there may be some periods of silence.  I've asked my web guru Donal to monitor my site's admin for me, so if any issues come up, he'll be on top of them.

I'm hoping for the best, that we'll get some much-needed rain and we'll all stay safe.  My preparedness kit also includes a lot of books, and there might be some marathon Monopoly games going on, too, should we lose power and cable.  If you're on the East Coast, please stay safe.  If you're told to evacuate, then get the heck out of Dodge.  Prayers go out for all of us and the emergency crews already hard at work helping people.
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24 August 2011

Summer's End

It hardly seems believable that Summer vacation is drawing to a close.  We're doing a year-around schedule for homeschool this year, so we've already been back to school for a month.  Yet, my Facebook news feed is buzzing with tears and joy from parents whose children are going back to school this week or starting school this week.  Those moms I met in our kindergarten year are wondering how they suddenly have third graders.  I'm right there with them, remembering the excitement my daughter felt about her first day of school and then wiping tears with the moms of her classmates in the parking lot.

I have friends whose children are going back to school and who are delighted.  It's been a long summer, especially here in Pender County, with forest fires polluting the air to the degree that it's been unpleasant being out for long.  We endured weeks of 100+ degree temps and are chillin' with temps around 90 (cold front!).  Our neighbors have dismantled their pool and put it by the curb for trash pick-up, we battled the traffic around UNCW during freshman move-in weekend and amongst my colleagues - fellow soapmakers - the soap pots are brewing up warmer soap fragrances, those that are more autumnal.  Yes, Summer is well and truly coming to a close.

Sun On The Go Complete setImage by Sara's Soaps via FlickrA part of me is sad to see it come to a close, yet we'll be enjoying weeks more of summer temperatures.  After all, Summer doesn't officially end for almost another month, and with homeschooling, we have the freedom to hit the beach pretty much whenever we wish.  My own soap pot will soon be producing Christmas spice soap, in conjunction with festive Autumn and Winter lotions and lip balms.

If you want to carry a bit of Summer with you, why not grab a Sun On The Go set to take your mind back to that tropical paradise where you vacationed?  You could also pucker up with a delicious fruity lip balm in some awesome flavors!  To celebrate being back at school, pick up some Literary Lip Balms in such fun flavors as The Grape Gatsby, This Side of Paradise and Lip Balm on the Orient Express  Finally, for the parent who's dealt with Summer restlessness followed by Summer boredom followed by more restlessness, treat yourself to a mini-spa at home.  After all, you now have 6-7 hours a day all to yourself, and my Mediterranean Spa Collection is a great way to pamper your body and your senses.

Do you have children going back to school?  What's different for you in your home now?

Don't forget, Free Shipping Friday is happening in TWO DAYS!
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17 August 2011

Partying on the Cheap

My friend Ginger of Neos Creations challenged me over the weekend, after hearing about our plans for our firstborn's eighth birthday celebration, to write a blog post about how to do a kid's birthday party on the cheap.  Since I really didn't have anything better in mind to write about, I decided to take her up on her challenge.

In this day of large bouncy houses, local bands and everything else that goes into making birthday parties bigger and better than what the next door neighbors did, we opted for something more sedate and low-key.  In the past, we've done more expensive parties, but we usually favor more intimate parties, conveying our belief that it's not the extras that make a good party; it's the time spent with friends (and cake and ice cream, of course).  Last year, when she turned seven, we hosted a soapmaking party, allowing all her friends to make some bars of melt & pour soap they could take with them.  Our ice cream last year was homemade, and every girl took a turn at turning the crank on the ice cream freezer.  For our daughter's fifth birthday, we rented the clubhouse at our apartment complex (this was what jacked the price up so high).  However, it was much roomier than our townhouse, and we were able to use the pool.  We had a lot of space and just had a blast with our beach party!

This year, our daughter wanted a beach party.  "OK," I replied, mentally pondering how to convert our home into something with a beachy atmosphere and wishing momentarily that we were back in our townhouse with the clubhouse and the pool.  Then, before I could sink too deeply into "If onlies," she clarified, "At the beach."  Now that's a totally different ball of wax there!  I already had in mind who we'd invite, but I wasn't sure if their parents would be willing to make the drive.  It's only 30-35 minutes, but that's still more than everyone walking over to our house.

We created our plan and the other parents were on board with the idea.  After all, who doesn't love a day at the beach when you know you'll have other eyes on your children, right?  That part taken care of, I moved on to the food.  We'd eat lunch at the beach, then come back here for cake and ice cream.  My daughter prefers cupcakes to cake, and I discovered a local baker who makes the most incredible cake creations.  My daughter told me what she wanted her cupcakes to look like, and Monique at the Burgaw Bakery did a wonderful job of making the vision come to life.
Completely homemade cupcakes with fondant flip flops - totally delish!
While these artisan cupcakes were the best I've ever had, the other kids only wanted to eat the frosting, so I decided that next time, I'd buy my daughter the mondo cupcake and get the rest of them from the grocery store.  (No offense to Monique, but I have to work on a budget, and I've heard rumors about homemade cinnamon rolls in her bakery case, so I think she'll be getting plenty of money from us in the months to come.  Did you catch that?  Homemade cinnamon rolls.  In our little town of indie businesses.  Woohoo!)

OK, so how exactly did we do this party on the cheap?  Some of it was pure dumb luck.  My daughter picked out the flip flop decor she wanted - invitations, cups, plates, napkins - and with it being so late in the year, everything was half off, including the cool flip flop lights my husband picked up.  We drove to the beach and picnicked on take-out chicken when it was time.  The kids were able to play in the sand and water to their hearts' content, and the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  This way, everyone got to play, without us having to worry about party games and stuff like that.  We came home and showered, then all the kids reconvened at our house for cupcakes (sugar-spiked icing?), ice cream and gifts.  Our daughter played with her friends afterward until it was time for everyone to go home.

There seems to be a climate of near-bribery in childrens' birthday parties these days.  Children want and expect bigger and bigger gifts, so parents feel, in order to justify that - to soften that blow - they must provide flashier, more elaborate, more expensive birthday parties.  We're trying to emphasize to our daughter that it's mostly about the time together.  Sure, gifts are wonderful, and there's certainly an appeal in sugar-hyping children before sending them home, but time together is so valuable, and it's here where the memories are made - memories that'll last long after the last cupcake wrapper has been trashed and the toys have broken, worn out or been donated.  We tried to model this on Friday.  Two little girls - sisters - had been invited to our daughter's party, but they weren't able to make it.  The younger one, a little angel who's three, happened to be at her dad's (our neighbor) unexpectedly.  Obviously, she didn't have a present, and she asked if she could stay.  We had cupcakes for her sis and her, anyway, so I told her, "Of course, you can stay!"  It wasn't about if she could "buy" her way to the party with a present; it was about her presence as a friend of our daughter's.

What tips or hints do you have for throwing a child's birthday party without breaking the bank?
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07 August 2011

How Are You Marketing Your Brand?

A photo of a cup of coffee.Image via Wikipedia
I read a great book this past Spring called The Various Flavors of Coffee, a delightful book by Anthony Capella, about - what else? - that black liquid ambrosia that gets so many of us going in the mornings.  Coffee!  It's a fascinating, fun read with delightful characters and, as a person who lives by the nose, amazing descriptions of the nuances of scents and flavors in coffees.  There's one section where Pinker, the owner of the coffee warehouse that sells and distributes Castle Coffees, is in a meeting with two advertising men.  I loved this dialogue:

"How are you marketing your brand at present, Mr. Pinker?" he inquires genially.

"With methods you yourselves, I believe, pioneered in America," Pinker answer promptly.  "Every packet of Castle Coffee has a voucher on the wrapper, which can be redeemed for a ha'penny off the next purchase."

"That's all well and dandy, sir.  But I think you misunderstood my question.  I did not ask how you were selling your product - I asked how you were marketing your brand."

Her father looks confused.

"The product," Mr. Cairns explains, "is what you sell.  The brand is what people buy."

Mr. Cairn goes on to explain that the brand is the expectation people have of a seller's goods and the importance of creating an "expectation of superiority."  It all comes back to a psychology of marketing and doing business, wooing consumers with how wonderful the products are, not bribing them with coupons.

What do you think of these assertions?  Would you agree or disagree with Capella's summation of how to market and sell products?

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27 July 2011

Being Real

I can't remember where it was, but sometime last week, I saw a challenge issued in a blog.  This author's assertion is, those of us in business and with business blogs tend to blog almost exclusively about business.  He further challenged to take a day and write about yourself, opening yourself up and sharing parts of yourself that your public may never see.  This isn't a bad challenge, and although he was proposing that Monday of this week be that day, I simply ran out of time before now.  So, I'm making this week's blog post about the real me.

Technically speaking, the me in my blog posts is real.  I've blogged about vacations and vacation disappointments, soap production, recipes and day trips.  These are all me, all bits and pieces of my life and that of my family.  This week, I'll open up a bit more to you, make it less business.

Not only do I run my own business, but I also homeschool my older daughter and am the family's Minister of Finance.  That means I'm in charge of making sure what's supposed to go out goes out when it's supposed to, and holding people accountable for not spending recklessly.  Say my husband wants a brand new flat screen TV.  He can have a brand new flat screen TV - if he can show me how he'll be able to afford it without compromising the household finances.  It's up to me to keep things in balance, which I don't like more often than not, because I feel like the bad guy, always saying, "No, that's not in the budget."  (Why don't homeschool moms run the government?  We'd have the budget balanced and America out of this debt in under six months!)

I love to write, which presents a struggle with my math-lovin' daughter, who can't stand writing.  I have a few blogs besides my business one, and I enjoy writing stories with romance and passion - when the time allows for me to indulge my hobby.  It totally blows my mind that she can be my daughter and not LOVE to write.

So, I'm business owner and homeschoolin' mama and baby wrangler and minister of finance.  My friend Donna Maria said the other evening, "You multi-task like nobody's business!"  Another friend, Ginger, chimed in, "I want her to bottle that skill and send it to me."  I only make it look easy.  Truth is, this level of multitasking is draining.  They might admire my multitasking skills, but they don't see me in the wee, predawn hours of the morning, wide awake because my to-do list is running through my head.  They might see how well I finesse homeschooling and business, but not the heartbreak I feel when one of my girls wants to spend some quiet time with me as I'm scrambling to cook dinner, return emails and throw down just that one batch of soap.  The tension is how to do it all without staying up half the night.  I look at Saturdays and think, Woohoo!  A whole day with backup to get things done!  But then I think, A whole day of family time.  And, yes, there are days I work.  And then there are days - like a couple of weeks ago - when I say, "Let's go to the beach!"

This coming Sunday, my baby turns two.  Since my older daughter doesn't do so well with watching her sister getting all the attention, I'm toying with the idea of taking her to a movie on Saturday, just the two of us.  I don't know.  I've got 175 bars of soap to make for an order and some experiments I want to try.  And a party to put together.  It's hard sometimes.  OK, a lot of times.

As my older one gets older, we have to find new ways of getting along together.  I'll send her outside to play just to ensure that she gets time to be outside playing with her friends.  This is the same girl who'll ask me a hundred times a day if she can go outside to play with her friends.  This evening as we sat beside each other on the loveseat, she told me she doesn't always want to go outside.  I told her that sometimes I want her to go outside so she'll have a chance to play with her friends, and sometimes I just need a mommy time-out but have to get work done in the kitchen (meaning no hiding out in the bedroom for a bit).  We just have to keep the lines of communication open.

We had some good giggles today.  We decided that our language for this school year would be American sign language, something she's interested in and something we can learn together.  We were going over hand lettering, and she was looking at her hands as she formed the letters.  I instructed her to turn her hand around; she was talking to herself.  This is fun so far, because it's like translating English to English, and we both talk with our hands.  Besides, she could use this one day in church to minister to people, something she's seen done in our church.

I've probably rambled enough.  If you could ask me anything, what would it be?  I'm fine with answering almost all questions.

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24 July 2011

A Day at the Beach

Georgioupolis beachImage via WikipediaOne of the joys of being a small business owner is being able to take a full day off to play - go shopping, go to the beach or just bum around the house in my pajamas.  Last Thursday, despite the 100-degree temps, the girls and I headed down to the beach.  We love going to the one at Ft. Fisher - ample free parking and lifeguards, as well as showers and bathrooms.  Perfect, right?  And Thursday was topped off with just a little more perfection, as the risk warning was low, the water was the perfect temp and the waves were pretty mild.

Ft. Fisher tends to be a popular beach with locals, whether full-year or half-year locals, because there aren't any hotels at Ft. Fisher, it's way down the island and not many people know there's a beach there.  Since it's the preferred beach for locals, you also very seldom have to deal with those annoying tendencies that tourists display, like blasting music, getting drunk or feeding the seagulls on a crowded beach (for you readers who don't do the beach regularly, flying isn't the only thing seagulls do in the air - think about it).  We had gone to this same beach as a family the Saturday before, and there was a couple feeding the seagulls and taking pictures.  That might look cute in the vacation photos, but it's darn annoying to other beachcombers.

Even with the majority of beachgoers being locals, the occasion family of tourists finds their way to this peaceful stretch of beach.  It makes for some interesting people watching, one of my favorite pasttimes.

The girls and I set up our towels and cooler and headed to the water.  The waves were maybe knee-high to my older daughter and the seashells were ample.  They found some fascinating ones, including some lovely, unusual brown ones.  I'm going to dig out a corner shelf we have buried in the garage, hang it in the powder room and start placing the girls' beach finds in a squat glass jar on it (our powder room is done in shells).  And ya know, it doesn't matter if the shells are partials or whole, if I think they're beautiful or not, they think they're treasures, so they're special.

So... To the people watching...

There were your typical families, or typical 3/4 of families (figuring that those kids with only one parent with them probably have another parent working).  There were some military couples and families.  Way down the beach past the range of the lifeguard stations is a very open, not heavily populated section of beach where many of the dog fans hang out.  There's lots of room here to let pets run wild on leashes and play in the water without disturbing other beachgoers.  To me, this is a nice compromise.  Some beaches don't allow dogs on the beach during the tourist season; I'm glad this one does.  We saw quite a few attractive single guys with friendly dogs, and my youngest especially loved petting them - the dogs, not the guys.  I'm only adding this for any of you single folks who might be reading this.  If you want to pick up people at the beach, bring either a cute, friendly dog or a cute, friendly child.  No, I'm not renting out my youngest for this purpose.

There was one family that was remarkable because, well, they looked rather ridiculous.  Typical family - mom, dad, three kids.  The kids (the youngest older than my youngest and the oldest about the same age as my oldest) and the dad were all wearing life vests.  The mom was wearing a hat, as was the dad, and the dad was wearing his sunglasses.  People who go to the beach know, you don't wear hats or sunglasses in the water unless you want to lose them.  Then dad pulls out his cell phone to take some pictures.  That's not so unusual in this day and age.  Risky, and one I've taken myself, but not uncommon.  The girls and I played a bit more, then took a walk down the beach.  I was surprised that even my Wee One survived that hike on her little legs!  We came back to our section of beach for a little bit more play, and I noticed that this dad had his cell phone out again - and was talking on it while trying to hold on to his daughter in the increasingly rough water (tide change).  Seriously???  Is there anyone who's so important that they have to field phone calls at the beach... in the water... and while trying to protect your child?

We soon rinsed off and left for home.  The firstborn stayed awake the whole trip home; the Wee One never even made it off the island before she was sooouuuuuund asleep.  It was an awesome day, and we were just sorry that our plans to enjoy it with friends fell through.

Tomorrow we start third grade in homeschool, and our mid-week trips to the beach will have to wait nine weeks.  Maybe.  

What's the craziest thing you've seen at the beach?
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