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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