29 December 2013

Happy New Year!

We want to take a few moments to wish all our lovely followers, friends and customers a most joyful, prosperous and blessed New Year!  We look forward to serving you in the coming year with more of the great soaps and body products you've come to love, and maybe surprise you with some new treats throughout the year.

Warm wishes and much love from all of us here at Sara's Soaps 'n Such!

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11 December 2013

My Internal Yarn Barf

It's a mess.  A colorful, jumbled mess.  It looks impossible, useless and worthless, but it's not.  Well, right now it is, but just like any bag of yarn post-cat attack, my thoughts just need some patience and time for me to sort them out, strand by strand, color by color, fiber by fiber.
This is what my real yarn barf
looked like

Business is slow this holiday season, and I know it's not just mine.  My shows had lower results than in previous years.  My Black Friday through Cyber Monday sales were slower.  No, I'm not whining; it is what it is.  Black Friday sales nationwide in all retail markets were lower this year.  Colleagues are reporting lower sales in all markets, and I'm both seeing and hearing how small, independent businesses are struggling right now.  Knowing how much my family depends on my income, the economic slow-down is rather frustrating and discouraging.  After talking to a small business owner of whom I think highly this past Saturday and hearing her story, I thought, There's a reason it's called an economic depression.

Early Friday morning, my paternal grandpa died.  He was very old and had lived a rich, blessed life, ended by a good death with his wife of 67 years by his side.  It's still hard to believe that I won't see him at Christmas.  The travel home for the memorial service was a necessity, though I had work waiting for me when I came home.

My mind kept spinning with that incessant question many people face this time of year:  "How are we going to afford presents for everyone?"  Then some quiet time with my youngest daughter brought the answer to me:  We focus on Jesus as the real reason behind the season, and the rest will fall into place.  Now I'm not dreading buying gifts; I'm anticipating with excitement the celebrations and seeing my family.

Financial realities mean I won't be able to afford to buy gifts for some very dear people in my circle.  In fact, my bestie and I agreed just to give each other cards, because I'm a total card person.  I had been dreading that conversation, but he and I are on the same page, so it's all good.

Time is getting away from me to get presents made.  There are lessons to teach, a business to run, decorations to put out and a home to make company-ready.  Juggling all this stuff is hard, but my re-reading of Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend has shown me that I need to put boundaries on my own time, budgeting my 24 hours wisely each day.

If you've gotten this far in this article, thanks for hanging in there with me as I've attempted to untangle my internal yarn barf.  Support your local small business.  All of us small businesses rely on loyal customers to help us support our families and our local communities.

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30 October 2013

Why Integrity Matters

God hates cheating in the marketplace;
he loves it when business is aboveboard
Proverbs 11: 1, The Message
As a business owner who is a Christ follower, it's important to me that our business practices and ethics reflect my beliefs.  What does this look like?

First, this means we're open and honest in our product labeling.  Everything from the weight or volume on the front to the ingredients on the back is accurate to the best of our abilities.  (Sometimes, the listed weight might be less than what is actually there, but the FDA allows this.)  Our ingredients labels also reflect our commitment to honesty and full disclosure.  We list all our ingredients in our products, even those that may look "scary," like "sodium hydroxide" or various preservatives.

Second, doing business with integrity means being honest about our products.  We sell soaps and cosmetics,  not drugs.  We won't claim our products "heal" or "cure" or do anything else but get you clean, make you smell good and moisturize your skin.  The other thing we won't do is say our products are all natural if they are not.  Our products are artisan-made, but we sometimes use fragrance oils and preservatives that prevent them from being 100% natural.  We'll happily answer any questions about any of our ingredients.

Third, integrity means manufacturing safe products, even if it's not "trendy."  "All natural" is trendy, but all natural isn't always safe.  We'd rather forsake the trend in lieu of providing safe products.  Bottom line, death from sepsis from an improperly made product is not trendy.  Sure, we have all natural products, but we formulate those products to be completely safe, just as we do for our not all natural products.  We're open about which of our products fall into each category, and we will point you towards the products you're seeking.

How do you live out your faith in your business life?  What does that look like?

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09 October 2013

What's your luxury?

Another conversation with my best friend led to today's post.  He's so inspiring!  Anyway...  What do you consider a luxury for you?

Today was the book fair at his daughter's school, and, predictably so, she had a list.  I know how much Dad and daughter both love books, and I remember book fairs when I was in school.  It was a bibliophile's paradise!  Her mom had likely told her "No" to a request for books, considering them "luxuries," and further conversation revealed that she likely considers reading at all a "luxury," even with such delights as free e-books and these great places called libraries.

Some of my favorite books.  Love me some Fitzgerald!
For me, too, books are a luxury.  However, reading is a necessity.  (When we moved, the first thing I located was the closest public library.  Grocery store, pharmacy and government offices were secondary.)  There's not just the buying of books, but there's also storing them.  Then, eventually, I'd have to move them.  That seems like a lot of trouble.  At the same time, I'll be the first to admit that my love of books would keep me from taking a vow of poverty.

I will only buy books, though, if I feel that they will enrich and enhance my life in a significant way.  I'll buy books on being a better business person or books that will teach me something new, but I'll borrow chick lit and classics.  I have boxes of books on business, theology, soapmaking and responsible financials.  These are all things that are important to me.

Are these books my only luxury, though?  No.  Artisan-made soap also is a luxury for me.  (Thank goodness I know how to make my own!)  Just as I can't imagine living life without a source of reading material, I also can't imagine tormenting my skin with synthetic detergent bars like I used to.  These are little things, but they make life more enjoyable to me.

What luxuries can you not live without on a daily basis?
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13 August 2013

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Wheatberry refers to the entire kernel of whea...
Wheatberry refers to the entire kernel of wheat except for the hull (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was talking with my best friend yesterday, and as we discussed things going on in his life, he said, "I know there's a rock and a hard place, and I'm right in between them."

It came to me in a flash, and I said, "When wheat berries are between a rock and hard place, they become flour.  You can't do a whole lot with wheat berries, but you can do a whole lot with flour."

He shot back, "But it's a painful process."

Five years ago, I wrote about how soap becomes, so we also become.  In talking to Bobby, I remembered this.  Gentle oils get brutalized chemically to create lovely, skin-nourishing soaps.  At the same time, the lye itself loses part of its core chemical identity (its highly basic pH) in the presence of the oils.  The reaction produces heat - a significant amount of it.  It's a vicious process.

Being between a rock and a hard place is also vicious and, as Bobby said, painful.  It's a change, and once we make that change, allow our circumstances to change us, we then have the potential to be transformed into something new and even more useful.  Once we make that change, though, we can never go back to the way we were.  My soaps can never go back to being water, oils, lye and fragrances, just like flour cannot become wheat berries ever again.

In summary, life happens, sometimes good, sometimes bad.  These life events often change us, and we can choose for ourselves if we're going to use our new selves to be useful and good, or if we're just going to whine and complain that we'll never again be the way we once were.

What changes have happened to you in your life?  How did those changes make you a better person?
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02 July 2013

A Time to Breathe

All natural, 100% pure, vegan Snake Oil
It's done!  The insanity that was the month of June is behind me and now I can take a deep breath and relax for a little while, but only a little while.  Blueberry Fest was great, and this past weekend at ConTemporal was out of this world (many times, quite literally)!  What a fantastic event it was!

I had done everything I could to prepare myself ahead of time for ConTemporal, a three-day Steampunk convention in Raleigh.  I think I did pretty well.  I set small, manageable, consistent goals for myself for getting things done, and as long as I worked steadily and stuck to my to-do list, I was fine.  There was so much to do to prepare!  There were not only products to make, but there were displays to make and costumes to put together.  Whew!  Lots of hustle.

But now it's over.  I'll post pictures in another blog post.  For now, though, I'm giving attention to post-show recovery.  I've added all the new Steampunk products to my website and edited all the pictures I took at the show.  I have time to do housework again, catching up from last week.  I can now see the work that everyone else in the house is doing and appreciate it, because my eyes aren't clouded with my own tasks.  It all feels so great again!
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16 June 2013

Working a Show

NC Blueberry Festival Sign, Burgaw, NC
NC Blueberry Festival Sign, Burgaw, NC (Photo credit: Lesley Looper)
I love doing shows.  They're admittedly a lot of work, and I usually end up dealing with a lot of stress and sleepless nights for several days before, but there is just nothing like the energy of a bunch of artisans together displaying their unique wares for a hopefully adoring public.  There's the fun of meeting new people, talking to neighboring vendors and, since I'm a local, seeing familiar faces.  Even more of a joy is serving repeat customers.

Yesterday, I worked the 10th annual North Carolina Blueberry Festival for the fourth year running.  I met a bunch of great people.  There are two people who came by my booth who stood out for me.

There was a middle-aged couple who were browsing my wares and she was telling me about the soaps she has gotten and liked.  She commented, "There's this soap I get from Duplin Winery.  Queen Anne's Revenge.  My husband loves that soap!"

He chimed in, "Yeah!  I use it to wash my hands, and I just sit there and [motions sniffing his hands deeply]."

I smiled and said, "Those are mine, and that's one of my favorite scents."  I seldom run into what I call my "winery customers," and it's always exciting hearing the compliments on my soaps when they don't realize they're talking to the soap artisan herself.

Towards the end of the day, Peter and I were sitting and talking, watching the crowds die down and waiting for the end of the event while saying hi to festival guests going by.  A young man with Down's Syndrome came up to us.  He said, "Hi.  How are you?"

I said, "We're doing well, thanks.  How are you doing?"

"I'm doing good, thank you.  My name is Christopher," as he held his hand out to me to shake.  I shook his hand and introduced myself, and Peter did the same.  Then Christopher asked if I had any business cards.

I said, "Sure.  How many do you need?"  He only needed one.  I handed it to him.

Christopher thanked me and explained that he collects business cards.  He can go through them and remember the people they belong to and what they sell.  He wished us a nice day and moved on, leaving me totally charmed.

It's so tempting to measure a show by the numbers - how many units sold, dollar amount of sales, number of potential business contacts for wholesale or private label - but the real success of a show is in the interactions with my guests.

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29 April 2013

How am I going to handle this week?

Anyone who knows me, either personally or professionally, knows that I'm a Christ-follower, but I respectfully keep my thoughts on business and my thoughts on faith separate, as they are parts of the same whole.  This week, however, I'm not going to be able to separate those two parts as crisply as I usually do, and that's OK. 

Yesterday in church, the pastor's sermon challenged us to decide how we're going to handle spiritual fruit this week.  Are we going to let life so overwhelm us that we bear no spiritual fruit, or are we going to bear spiritual fruit for the sake of making ourselves look impressive and big? 

Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  So, I think about those and I think about how busy this week is as I prepare for my first show of the year, teaching my two girls, and the craziness that will be Friday and Saturday.  In the midst of all this, how am I going to manifest spiritual fruit even as I'm overwhelmed, stressed and tired?  That will be my question daily for my girls and myself, as well as our daily prayer:  "Lord, help us show love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control today" (because I'm only focusing on getting through today).

The beautiful thing about these fruits of the Spirit are, you don't have to be a Christ-follower to embrace and embody them, so please don't think these are just "Christian" ideals.  I have friends of different faiths (and no professed faith) who embody these character traits.

What qualities will you choose to exhibit this week?
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25 April 2013

Presenting... The Perfect Man (Soap)

I thought I'd found it - that most perfect specimen of man soap ever.  With its fresh, green, dreamy scent that the House of Creed designed especially for Cary Grant and which has graced the skin of Robert Redford, Richard Gere, Quincy Jones and Nicholas Cage, Green Irish Tweed (renamed Green Irish Fantasy in my line) has been my go-to fragrance for world-rockin' masculinity.  But after a years-long love affair with Green Irish Tweed (marked by me sneaking into my soap room just to sniff bars of this soap for a while), another scent has turned my head and my nose in a different direction.

It's...  The Perfect Man.  There are no words to describe this scent and do it justice.  It's incredible, and both of my girls agree.  Even my three-year-old will take a deeply appreciative sniff and exhale on a sigh as her eyes glaze over in olfactory bliss.  This scent encompasses all the qualities of these men.  With a blend of earthy, citrus and spicy notes, The Perfect Man makes every man smell just about perfect.

What's even better than that?  How about the fact that The Perfect Man can be all yours?  Now doesn't that just sweeten the deal a bit?  Check him out here.

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04 April 2013

The Perfect Man

How would you describe your perfect man?  I bet he'd have the soul of a romantic poet, like this guy. 

Robert Browning. That beard's a riot!
And the suave debonair manner of this guy (who's still handsome as sin!).

Sean Connery, like he needs a caption.
Since I like my men brilliantly smart, he'd have to have brains to match this fella.
Albert Einstein play electric guitar. Great pic!

And because I'm still relatively young, alive and have my eyesight, a body like this certainly wouldn't hurt at all.
Shemar Moore.
Really, I watch Criminal Minds for the story lines.
Who doesn't love a guy who can make you laugh and laugh with you?  So, my perfect man should make me laugh as much as this guy can.
Robin Williams.
Best.  Comedian.  Ever.
And finally, I'd top him off with smoldering dark sensuality, the kind that comes with just a bit of danger.

Johnny Depp.  Part of the reason my ideal man
tends to have dark hair and dark eyes.
Now, what if the essence of the combination of these men could come in a bar of soap?  I'm talking a luscious goat milk soap with a masculine scent that makes you want to get as close as you possibly can.  Doesn't it sound amazing?

Stay tuned...

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02 April 2013

Spring Home Improvement

This time of year is a time to clean and freshen up the home, and I love doing it as much as everyone.  I have a whole slew of projects lined up, and we took the long Easter weekend to work together as a family to get things done.  We're very excited about getting a new (to us) stand-up freezer, which necessitated my husband getting out in the garage and doing some major cleaning up and cleaning out.  How exciting that was!  I found some of my favorite stuffed animals, like this little fella.
Roadkill, the studly armadillo
(complete with CZ stud in his ear)
I found the gorgeous orange, green and yellow floral silk scarf that my parents gave me for my birthday four years ago.  I had given it up for totally lost, thinking it'd been thrown away in our move almost 4 years ago.  I was saddened by the prospect, because it's a beautiful scarf, and I'd wanted it to wear with this one white linen dress I have.

While Peter was kicking box-butt in the garage (more boxes emptied and crushed!!!  Woohoo!!!), I was in the dinette working on a long-anticipated project.  Our dinette is... utilitarian.  The vertical blinds are original to the house, I'd swear it, and a few of the slats are missing.  Eventually, those are coming down and a curtain and box valence are going up - hopefully before the Summer heat arrives.

Our dinette set was part of the package deal the hubster got with my cat and me.  I bought it in 1995, used, right before moving into my first apartment.  It's a lovely square, solid ash table with pull-out leaves, and the top has a laminate inset.  The chairs are also solid ash, and they came with nice, neutral, light tan seat cushions that had started looking quite the worse for wear after 17 years of life, cats, people and young children.  I'd decided to recover those chairs in a stripe print to coordinate with the tropical flower/flip flop/cocktail material I'd chosen for my curtains.

This became a major family project.  Peter unscrewed the seats from the chairs.  He and our older daughter pulled the seemingly millions of staples out of the existing upholstery, and I measured, marked and cut out the new upholstery.  While I had the cushions off, I decided it would be a great opportunity to take some Murphy's Oil Soap to the wood.  Oh my gosh!  Once the seventeen years of accumulated grime came off, the wood gleamed warmly and looked so pretty!  Then I saw the newly cleaned chairs next to the table.  Suffice it to say, I spent about an hour Saturday giving every inch of my table the same thorough cleaning.  On Sunday morning, I would just stop and admire how the morning sun came in through the back door, warming the clean, glowing wood, now completely clean.

The girls and I returned home from our Easter trip to my parents' home today, and my newly refurbished and clean dinette set greeted us with its vibrant, cheery appearance.  And now...  The before and after pics!

One of the advantages to this new material is its stain-resistance
To say I'm pleased is an understatement.  I'll be thrilled when this room is completely finished!
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