Negative Self Talk

So one thing that I notice is when I get sick and/or tired then that is when all the negative talk and thoughts begin.

I have to admit, 95% of the time I am a pretty positive person. I wasn't always this happy-go-lucky but since starting my own business I have just gotten into the habit of practicing positive thinking. I really do believe the universe sends back to you what you put out and if I can put out a little happy I sure seem to get it back so far.

But every day I have "those moments". You know the ones. Sometimes you have a conversation and then an hour later think of what you should have said. Then you run through the make believe conversation like 100 times wondering how it would have turned out f you has just changed one thing. Or just before bed you start thinking about things that worry you and the scenarios start, over and over, keeping sleep at bay. Sometimes in the car I think about a phone call I need to make, or a conversation I need to have, until I am so filled with anxiety I can barely pick up the telephone and dial.

For me stopping the cycle is the most important thing. It is like my brain is a record just playing over and over again. If I can get off of it, I rarely go back to the thought.  First I have to recognize when it is happening. This can be harder than it sounds. For me the thing that break it is usually giving myself something else to concentrate on. I tend to do well with audio stimulation: podcasts, audiobooks, music I like. These keep me focused on something else "in my head" rather than my own thoughts. Adding in something physical, like knitting, cooking, or cleaning and I have the right combo to get myself out of a negative place.

Three weekends into Chriskindlmarkt and only two weekends to go until the end of my season and I still had to get myself out of this last night before sleep. I think there is a certain amount of "never good enough" that a person has to have to be self employed, to stay motivated, to continue to strive for better, but it can be a cycle that takes a toll on you too. For me it makes me feel alone, like I could be the only person who thinks like this, that I am not "normal". But in the light of day, in sharing this with you, I know this is something we all go through at some point in time. So thanks for listening :)

Hope to see you soon!


Have we lost all etiquette?

There is something interesting about working retail, you sort of blend into the background and disappear. People will have conversations right in front of you, about you or your product, when you are less than two feet away. Working retail in a moveable store front as an artisan is even more interesting because your demographic changes from show to show and the culture changes from location to location.

When those conversations are happening right there, it is hard not to get angry when they are demoralizing. It is hard not to defend yourself, I have in the past and I only regret it later because I let that person drag me to a level that isn't the real me.

I have learned that income doesn't buy class, or etiquette. Some people can only feel better about themeseves when they try to make you look or feel bad. This has little do do with income and more to do with upbringing than most people like to admit. Not letting them tear you down is the only way to win, you can't feed the monsters.

We artisans need to wear many hats. For many of us we create five days a week in the peace and quiet and lonesomeness of our studios. We are then expected to come out on the weekends and turn on our retail personalities and interpersonal skills like a light switch. Some days this is easier than others.Some days we are great at it, make no mistakes, remember all the right words to describe our art, and let insults run down our backs like water. Other days we stumble for the right change, fight with getting the credit card machine to swipe, forget what we think are key points to something we have been doing for a decade or more, and bite back when bitten first.

I had a family member come help for the first time this weekend. She was amazed how much energy goes into s day, and the booth was already set up and didn't need to be torn down at the end of the day too. She likened it to a job where you work a whole week, and then only get paid if it doesn't rain on Saturday. How many "normal" people would work hard at a job if that was the way it worked everywhere?

So why is this post titled about etiquette? Just to remind us all during this time of year when lines are long, parking lots are packed, and tensions are high, that we are all human. We are all people. We all have loved ones, passions, cares, and troubles. Forgive a little, relax a little, and be nice. I try and remind myself that every day.

Also: if you are the woman who said my soap looked like dog food, I am sorry that when you realized I heard you and apologized I told you "It's OK, you are only insulting my livelihood". I should have just let it roll down my back like water. I am not proud of that one :(


Saying No

I find it impossible to say no most of the time. It is because I am afraid. I am afraid of hurting someones feelings, I am afraid of missed or lost opportunities, and I am afraid that I will be perceived as being rude.

Having this as part of my personality is bad enough, but when it leaks into my business, that is when it gets really bad. The stress mounts up, I loose sleep, I get behind in other obligations, and my family life suffers. Over the year's I have found a few tips and tricks on how to keep organized and how to know exactly when to say no.

1) Keep a schedule. I pt every special order into a calendar. That way when I get another I can work backwards from the due date, see what else I have scheduled and decide if I have time.

2) 100% or nothing. If I can't give a project or order the 100% energy it deserves then I need to say no to it. These things are representing me, often at weddings and showers, where many people are receiving my products for the first time as gifts. I have to put my best foot forward, or not at all.

3) Deadlines. I have a firm date that I will not change for special orders at the end of the year. I just know that I won't get things done in time if I try and start a project later than this. It is hard to stick firm but it is important to (see above #2)

4) I am not the best person to do something. Often I like to experiment and my customers like me to as well. They are patient and kind and understanding. But if I am under a short deadline for a product I have never made before, sometimes it is best to just turn it over to someone you trust. I can either contract out some of the work, or just give my customer the contact info and completely get out of the loop depending on what they need/want.Typically if I am making other things as well I act as a project manager and point person, if it is just one item, I will just pass on the customer to someone else I trust.

5) Say "not now" not "no". I do my best to put off projects when I can. I amazed how often if I just explain that I can't make something right now the customer is willing to wait (a short time) instead of going on to someone else. Just be honest and sincere. Explain how you want to do your best but you can't unless you wait two weeks. Even extend a small discount for waiting, or free upgraded shipping.

For me taking special orders is what keeps me creative. I constantly learn new techniques, new ingredients, and new spins on an old product. They are the heart of what I do, but I can't let them take over my life and the rest of my business either. Hope these things help you the way they have helped me in the past. Let me know if you have any tips of tricks to share :)


Thanful for the Veterans

Look, we could quickly digress into the whole conversation/argument about what wars (past and present) really were wars, and which ones were and were not necessary for our country to take part in in order to stay free or keep the majority of the world free, but this post is not about that, it is about the people who serve and who have served our country in the military.

Some countries have a mandatory time for everyone to spend in the armed services. We do not make everyone serve, and in fact there has been little need for us to even use the draft. Our armed services are completely filled with VOLUNTEERS. Yes, they get paid, but if you take a look at their income, really they don't get what they deserve to do what they do.

What I can say is that everyone I have ever met that is serving or has served in the military lives a life I can't even imagine. They lack so many freedoms the rest of America has: they most often can't decide where they live, sometimes what they are doing as their job, what days they can and can't take off, what to wear to work, and they often can't even just quit at a drop of a hat. I can't even fathom living without being able to make some of these basic choices that I make every day and take for granted.

Now think of the ones that put their lives at risk every day. Think of their loved ones. I stress when C drives to work on the highway for an hour in the morning, the thought of him in combat sends me into an anxiety attack instantaneously. The idea of having children while your loved one could be under attack makes me nauseous with fear. The strength of those who serve and those who love them is a strength that cannot be imagined until you live it.

So today I am thankful for all the people who have lived their lives without all the choices, so I can live mine any way I darn well please. I honor them by trying to live my life the best it can be lived: by enjoying every day of it, by loving my job and my family, and by being the best person I can be. This is how you honor solders everyday, not just by putting out a flag, or saluting them.

And today I am thankful for my stepfather, who married my mother and has taken care of her as well as both my grandparents (when they were alive), and cherished me as one of his own. He not only made sacrifices when he served allowing me to live the way I want in the grand scale of being an American, but he has always made sure I can live the way I want as his step daughter. Thanks Rad :)


Is art hype, or not?

Just recently the elusive artist Banksy set up a booth in central park and sold his artwork for a mere $60 each. Now what I find interesting, is if you don't known his name or his work, you probably would think of him as just another spray paint or graffiti artist, and probably just move along. If you know his work, you probably would have thought these images were fakes and just moved on (I would have). But in a day he made $420 dollars, and reportedly from people who had never heard of him. They were later appraised at $250,000 each.

In 2007 one of the world's best violinists, Joshua Bell preformed on his Stradivarius in the Washington subway.. In 43 minutes he made a mere $32.

Bansky didn't do too bad for setting up at a random location, and not being a part of an "Arts" show. I don't know how much the booth cost him to set up, but I know many artists who (if not happy) would be satisfied with that day's wages, because at least they had the opportunity to meet a new audience.  Compare Mr. Bell's take for 43 minutes and many buskers (street performers) would be very happy with that, and many artisans and crafters would be happy to be able to sustain that kind of income per hour over a day's vending as well.

So what can this teach me as an artisan?

A certain amount of art is hype. Good work, that speaks to people, will be recognized, however the better it is packaged the higher it will sell for, and the more people it will sell to. This "packaging" could be the level of art and craft show you are exhibiting at, the type of frame it is in, the display of the booth, or even the label on the bag it comes in. There is a certain amount of money that needs to be spent by the artisan in order to ask the highest prices possible for their work.

Good work will sell over and over. Bad work will sell once, maybe twice, and then the hype can't mask the low level of craftsmanship forever (regardless of the price). This should boost the confidence of artisans that have trouble commanding a fair price for their work when a cheap knockoff is present at the same event.

It is often the event, not the artisan. Just this past weekend, dad sat a a small event and made $40 all day. At a prestigious event I could make that every hour. Not every expensive event is right for me, but more often than not, I don't regret the decision to be there at all. There are events where people come in the mindset to buy, and those they come to just walk around. Like Joshua Bell that day, people were in the subway to get someplace, not to stop and listen. When they are in the mood to stop and listen they would pay a premium to listen to him. We need to find the places and events where people are in the mood to appreciate art.

Appreciate every sale. Joshua Bell was quoted as saying "At a music hall, I'll get upset if someone coughs or if someone's cellphone goes off, but here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change." Even the greats can put their work into context and be appreciative of what they get. Every contact that gives you a chance to share what you do with someone else is a blessing, and if they pay you on top of that, what a wonderful life we live!


Finding Inspriation

There are times where all artisans have trouble finding inspiration. Today I am having one of those days, so I have decided to write about it.

One thing about me is that on days I don't feel inspired, I also feel blue. Not depressed, not anxious, just a little blue, like some of the color has come out of the world. These are the days that I feel like I am just going through the motions and doing what has to be done. When this feeling extends for a long time, I think most people would call it burnout. I have been to that stage too, but today is just a blue day.

I need customers to keep me inspired. I don't think I could be an artisan that turns out work and uses a sales force to sell it. I need the interaction with the end user to help me come up with ideas and to help me keep pace with what is desired in the marketplace. This helps me always evolve my business each year. I already have 8 suggestions for new products/fragrances for next year and I am sure that list will be twice as long by the time I have the chance to start developing the 2014 line.

As for that, I do think of my products as a "line". I try and keep a cohesive feeling and story to everything. My best sellers in soap, you can also find in fizzys, and soaks, and lotion bars. New soaps for this year don't have any accompaniments as I test out the fragrance popularity. When a fragrance is discontinued, the entire line is dropped, so even if it is a wildly popular bath fizzy, if the soap doesn't sell well, it is dropped from the entire line. I am primarily a soapmaker, so it is soap that determines the rest of the product line. Popular soap = more products using that fragrance.

But inspiration hits from odd places if you look for it. Today we tried to save some time and make Dragon's Blood soap at the same time as Egyptian Cotton. The fragrance of those two mixed together instantly got me thinking about how to combine them. This will go on my list of things to research for sure. It also made me want to break out my case of fragrance samples, over 200 small vials filled with samples I have acquired over the years. Time to sniff them again and see where they lead me.

There isn't much time for all that fun right now as I head into my last few weeks of long hours getting ready for Chriskindlmarkt, but i have taken the note and I will get back to it later. Right now it is time to put my head down and work hard. I can enjoy my inspiration later.

Self Worth

It seems that in the past week or so there has been a recurring theme amongst people in my life about self worth.  So here are a few random thoughts I have on the topic.

When I stopped working my "real" job and became a soapmaker I had a hard time with my self worth. I felt as though if I wasn't bringing in a paycheck then I wasn't contributing to the home. It took almost a year of C constantly reminding me that it is "our" money no matter what, and that he was investing in our future by investing in me and my business, that it would all work out in the end. I still have my days, especially after a show that didn't go as well as planned, but mostly I feel like an equal contributor now.

This equal contribution isn't just financial in nature. I make sure the house stays relatively clean, I plan and cook most meals, in general I "hold down the fort". This allows C to travel for his work and have a solid foundation and strong safety net when he needs it. I know now if be both worked the way we did when we met, this probably wouldn't have lasted and built to be as strong of a relationship as it is. We both have our roles, they are separate roles, they are equal roles, and they have nothing to do with income or gender, they have to do with our passions in life and following them together as a partnership.

Passions in life. Someone recently told me that no one is passionate about their jobs. I disagree that no one is passionate. There are two many jobs that require some level of passion to obtain and keep. You can't be an ER Doctor without some passion for the practice of medicine and for the human race in general. You can't be an actor without passion for the craft. You can't be an artisan without passion for your medium. You may not like all aspects of your job, you may not like all the people you work with, but if you look there most likely will be one aspect that you can claim to be passionate about.

If you can't find passion at work, find it somewhere else. Volunteer, pick up a hobby, take classes, anything to help you find that spark.This can be hard with a full time job and a full time family but I think it can be done, even if just for 15 minutes a day. We are vessels and when we get empty we have nothing else to give those around us, we get refilled through things we are passionate about.

Everyone has to feel like they are worth something to someone. So be sure to tell the people around you what they mean to you. Also remeber as we are going through our day to thank the people who help us. This morning I had a wonderously helpful government worker help me accomplish something over the phone I thought I needed to do in person. I could tell by the sound in her voice that when I told her that "she rocked" that not enough people do that. Yes, we as customers should expect good service, but be willing to tip (even if just with words) when someone is extra special. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and tell your family and friends just how much they mean to you. It could be the exact moment they need a boost. 


Annual Free Shipping Sale!

All of October is FREE SHIPPING!

Who can benefit? Just about everyone! No minimum orders, just easy free shipping so tell your friends and family too (please).

What do I have to do? Nothing but place an order! There are no codes to use, every order ships free.

Where do I have to live? You need to be in the United States or a US Territory (like Puerto Rico).

When does this end? October 31, 2013, so you can order as many times as you wish until then.

Why do this? To help you stock up, and to help me prepare for my busiest time of the year.

How does this help? With the soaps curing for a minimum of four weeks before sale, I need to think ahead a month. These early sales help me figure out exactly what I need to make in early November so it is ready by Christmas.


I need a vacation from my vacation

So the three days before I left I worked some insane hours trying to get caught up, and maybe even a little ahead before I left.

Then I spent 12 days with family, always stressing about emails that were coming in, phone messages piling up, and my list of things to do when I got home getting longer and longer. I even tried to limit my online to just once a day. It was just enough to answer the most heated messages, make sure the shop hadn't inadvertently burned to the ground, answer any of Dad's questions or concerns, and generally write down more things to remember to take care of. That list was up to 42 things when I got home late Tuesday night.

Now I am working long and hard again to get caught up. I am blogging when I should be on the sofa knitting. Simultaneously I am cooking tomatoes for sauce since I came home to two complete refrigerator drawers full of them. I have been at that since 3 pm. Looks like a 3 gallon day, maybe a little more. At least I have some jet lag in my favor and can't get to sleep till midnight, yet still pop awake at 5 am as it starts to get light outside. Wondering how many days that will last.

I hope by tomorrow I can be back to normal. Then I have a show this weekend. Monday I start making soap again in order to have enough inventory for the rest of the year.

This is why most of America doesn't take enough vacation time. The stress isn't worth the rewards of the time off. And I have to be out of town again in just a few weeks.

I am thinking of throwing all my electronics in a lake, anyone joining me?



I will be on vacation from September 12-24, 2013.

  • Orders placed during this time will ship starting September 25th in the order in which they are received.
  • Dad will be at Farm Markets and other events as listed below during this time.
  • I will be answering email every few days.
  • Phone messages will be returned when I get back.

Thank you for your patience and see you at the Fine Arts & Crafts Festival in New Hope PA September 28-29!


Keeping Organized

Last week a friend of mine came over and saw the workshop for the first time. She was pretty amazed by my organization of everything and told me I should teach other people how I do it. I remarked that there was only two problems with that 1) every one's brain works different so what is good for me may not be good for you and 2) just because I teach you doesn't me you have the internal capacity to keep it organized, some of us are just born organized and some of us aren't.

But I will run down an few tips and tricks I think will work no matter what you make (almost).

1) Inventory. Figure out a level of inventory you want to keep, get there, keep it there. Sounds easy, but the execution is very hard. For example: I need to keep 200 bars of Oatmeal soap in stock to be able to meet demands at peak times of the year. I split these 200 bars into 4 boxes of 50. Every time I sell a box (50), I make a box (50). The theory is that by the time I sell all 200, the next ones will be ready for sale.

2) Everything in it's place. I have designated spots for soap, lotion bars, sachets, supplies, you name it. Everything is in boxes or cabinets, and neatly marked with what is in it. Basically I could blindfold you, stick you in my shop, remove the blindfold, and ask you to find something and it wouldn't take you more than 15 minutes to accomplish the task. I don't think I would even have to point you in a particular direction. Yes you see the labels, no it isn't like looking in a magazine, but yes anyone can help me without too much direction.

3) Supplies. Figure out what you need, who you get it from, and where else you can get it in an emergency. I keep a list of all my supplies and the top 3 or 4 places I can get it (price wise and geography wise). I hate to say it but in what has seemed like a constant stream of emergencies, this is becoming a necessary thing. I get most of my supplies near home or on the East Coast. Who expected Sandy? But with my handy emergency list I had places in the mid-west I could get Cocoa Butter from right away. and what if they have an emergency, not me. A warehouse fire could shut down a major supplier for years if not forever. That shouldn't mean I have to stop making a best seller.

4) Don't be afraid to reorganize, to make changes, to streamline, to take the time. Nothing is worse than getting bogged down in a system that doesn't work because you claim not to have the time to fix it. The time you spend now will be caught up on later because you will feel better and be better at what you do. Each year I take January to do this and pretty much take the entire month off. I inventory, clean, reorganize, re-evaluate my product line, rework the web site, do lots and lots of paperwork, and come out ready in February to hot the ground running and have a great new year.

Hope these tips and tricks help you. have any of your own??


It's been a busy year

August is almost gone, that leaves just 4 months left of the year to go. Usually these are the four busiest months and somehow I can't quite fathom how they can be more busy than the first 8 were.

We decided to really do a bunch this year and in between all the craft shows, the orders to mail, the soap (and other stuff) to make, the family also accomplished a bunch of things around the homestead. We finished off our attic and added some much needed insulation. The attic isn't a livable space, it isn't like it is painted or anything spiffy, but the upper region (the attic is split into two levels) now has a floor and lights, and can cold my many displays and bins of packing materials. It is clean, we added a fan that helps evacuate the hot air during the summer, and we organized everything as well.

The fence is almost complete. We have been wanting a fence since we moved in many years ago. I love out house, but the lot is surrounded by street on three sides so you always felt like there was no privacy. The side yard is done, the back yard is finished, there is just the other side that needs to be picketed in. The boys have been working on it diligently every weekend for at least a month now and they probably have three weekends left to go before its done.

Our closets were organized. It was the best money I have ever spent to have a company come in and design a shelf system for our closets. Everything has a place, they have almost doubled capacity just through the efficient use of space, and new doors have made everything accessible. It is actually a pleasure looking for shoes and belts now rather than going through an endless number of boxes on the floor of my closet.

And we have redesigned the spare bedroom into a spare room/craft room. There are two cabinets filled with yarn and books, and a third small one filled with other supplies. A new TV and a working DVD player with Netflix access have rounded out the room. Now our guests can enjoy some entertainment and I can sit and craft when no one else is sleeping there. This is especially important since I am not only knitting as a hobby now, but beginning to weave and to practice bobbin lace as well. My little corner of the living room was getting far too crowded. This has also resulted in my cleaning out of our bookshelves. I have gotten rid of about 10 bankers boxes full of books, all donated to a local charity. It has lightened things up around here for sure.

Then on the business side I finished out the web site finally. I am sure there are still some typos and I know I will need to make changes and additions come January, but the day to day upkeep is minimal, it is simple but functional, and I have seen an increase in orders since I got it all finished so it is doing what it is supposed to do. I am also starting some "sister sites" whee I can list my products in other places, I am hoping that this increases my visibility and my orders through them as well.

The workshop is in the process of being cleaned out. I have years and years worth of unused supplies. Some things I got just for a special project, some are left overs from items I made in the past. I am clearing them all out, getting them up in E Bay and giving myself room expand. I need room so I can start making new and different products and have the space to store them all!

So I was going to take this time and reflect on my 2013 resolutions and see what I have accomplished and what I could still work on. However, after looking at this list, I am pretty proud of what the family has accomplished this year so far. I know there will be much more to come in the next four months!


Why do craft shows charge an admission fee?

I have to admit I ask myself this all the time.

The internet is amazingly empty of good reasons why a show should or shouldn't charge an admission fee. Here are a few things I found, and a few hypothesis of my own.

1) To create the illusion of prestige. Yep. Seriously. To make you think that whatever is inside is so good and so exclusive that you need to pay for the privilege to spend more money once inside. There is an area of thought that believes that the physical act of paying an entrance fee changes our perception of the goods inside so much that we are willing to pay a higher price for them than if they were exhibited at a free event.

2) To raise money for charity. Often the entrance fee goes all or in part to a local charity. Sometimes the entrance fee is lowered or eliminated with a donation (like a canned good) that will go to a local food bank. Always check and see if this is 1) a cause you ultimately support and 2) what percentage of the fee is actually making it to the charity. Because it is hard for me to trust that money actually makes it where it is supposed to, I always bring things (like clothes or canned goods) when I have the opportunity. I believe they are much more likely to make it to where they are supposed to in the end.

3) To support the artists. These shows are expensive to do. Insurance is astronomical, rent for buildings or parks is skyrocketing, advertising costs more and more, infrastructure (like garbage cans & lights) must be paid for, and musicians/entertainment also get their fair share.  Rather than have high fees for the artists to attend, an entrance fee is used to make up the difference between what they pay, and what is needed to provide a good, safe, and fun environment for the show to take place in.

4) To make money. There always will be those places that cover the aforementioned costs with a high artisan fee. They make sure they break even before the show even begins. The entrance fee is their income, their pay for all the hard work they have put into the event. If they work hard and draw a big crowd, then they get a great payday. If they work hard and draw a big crowd, most likely the artisans will have a big payday as well, sales should reflect the gate attendance.

Often these reasons are intertwined. It can be difficult to decide if you want to pay and entrance fee into a show or not. Check the events web site for coupons, ask your friends if they have gone before, check with artisans you know who are exhibiting there and look for candid advice.

I also have to ask myself if I should participate in shows that charge a fee, at all, some of the time, or never. That is a question for another time...


Size doesn't matter...

At least when it comes to soap.

I get a kick out of it when I overhear "but the other bars are bigger" in reference to other soapmakers I am with at a show. Why? Because when it comes down to it, unless a bar is unusually big, how long a bar lasts has more to do with the recipe, the process used to make it, and how long it's cured than the overall size of the bar.

Lets start with the recipe. Each oil used to produce a bar of soap contains a different set of fatty acids. These fatty acids, when saponified, bring a certain set of characteristics to the final product. The softer the final bar, the quicker it will melt when used. Almond and apricot both produce a soft bar, where palm and coconut make for a very hard bar of soap. For me, developing a recipe is a balance of making a hard bar of soap, that still remains conditioning to the skin. I want my customers to get their money's worth from very bar, but not sacrifice overall quality in the process. 

There are three main ways soap is made: cold process, hot process, and hand milled (sometimes called rebatched). In cold process the oils are combined with the alkali at a low temperature, usually about 110 degrees, stirred vigorously usually with an immersion blender, and left to finish saponification over three days or more. 

With hot process, the oils and alkali are combined and then cooked over a much higher heat. Here the saponification takes places much more quickly, and the soap can be ready to use in hours rather than days.

Hand milled soaps (like I make) typically start with an unscented cold processed soap that is milled down to look a lot like mozzarella cheese, and remelted. This remelting process helps reduce the amount of air in the soap, allows you to add fragrances and colors when the total soap pH is at its lowest, and aligns the molecules in a way that ends with a very hard bar of soap. Basically making the soap twice allows me to use a very conditioning recipe, that would be too soft if made only using a cold process method, but then gain hardness through the hand milling process. 

Finally how long a soap is cured will greatly influence how long a soap will last with use. When I make a batch of unscented soap, I have to make a choice on how much water to use in the recipe. In mine, I can use anywhere from 64 to 96 ounces of water. The more water I use, the softer the initial bar, and the more shrinkage as the bars cure. Think of beef jerky, you can start with a full pound of meat, but a few hours in the dehydrator leaves you with just 3 or 4 ounces of jerky at the end. Soap is similar. Over time, almost all the water will eventually cure out of the bar, ultimately changing the shape of the bar over time. All my soaps are cured for at least 4 weeks, and typically closer to 8, in a room that is constantly under dehumidification. They have lost at least 30% of their water before they make it to your home and they continue to loose it until you start using the bar. This is why the bars often look cupped, they are changing shape as they dry. Unfortunately, using a high percentage of water in a recipe can be an easy way to increase a bars weight and to keep it looking pretty over a longer period of time. A heavy bar, depending on how it is made, can be as much soap as my smaller bars, just have more water in them.

As you can see, choosing a bar of soap is much more complex then just looking at the overall size or weight of the bar.


Yes, I have seen Fight Club...

So in 1999 a movie was made of the book Fight Club. The premise of the movie (according to IMBD.com) is that “An insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker and they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more...”

The soapmaking part is an intriguing social and economic statement about modern life. The premise is that they steal fat that has been liposuctioned from people, turn it into soap, and then sell it back to those same rich people through high end retail Macy’s –like stores. Essentially people pay to get rid of their fat, and then pay again to obtain it again. I personally like the macabre, almost Sweeney Todd-like references (and now that I think of it Helena Bonham Carter is in both movies). And if that isn’t enough the glycerin they siphon off of the soapmaking process is also used to build bombs.

So although this movie came out almost 15 yrs ago, I will have one person (usually a guy) ask me if I have ever seen the movie. I say yes and then explain this (in a shorter more compact way than I am explaining it now)…

According to the American Council on Exercise the average obese woman is 32% body fat, however the human body needs about 12% fat for daily living, so let us just assume that 20% of the overall weight could even be extracted. 

Thus, if you are a middle aged woman who weighs 200 lbs, 40lbs is fat.  Now the fat needs to be rendered to remove it’s water before it is made into soap. 

According to Dr. Jeffrey Utz, Neuroscience, pediatrics, Allegheny University, different people have different percentages of their bodies made up of water. In adult women, fat makes up more of the body than men, so they have about 55% of their bodies made of water. 

So 40 lbs of fat minus 55% water = 18 lbs of rendered fat to make soap with. Assuming a 6 oz bar of soap, that leaves you with just 48 bars from the average human obese woman who has had ALL of her excess fat extracted through liposuction. And if I remember the movie correctly, the bags they steal certainly don’t seem very heavy or numerous for that matter. 

Seems like a lot of work for a soapmaker so professional they can sell to the big box stores!
And for the bomb thing? According to soapmaker Kailer Westerman: In the simplest terms: you make soap out of fats and lye. The fats already contain glycerin as part of their chemical makeup (both animal and vegetable fats contain from 7% - 13% glycerine). When the fats and lye interact, soap is formed, and the glycerin is left out as a "byproduct". But, while it's chemically separate, it's still blended into the soap mix. While a cold process soapmaker would simply pour into the molds at this stage, a commercial soapmaker will add salt. The salt causes the soap to curdle and float to the top. After skimming off the soap, they are left with glycerin. They then separate the glycerin out by distilling it. (if you are keeping up with the math this is about 2 lbs of glycerin for every 40 lbs of fat they started with. 

Now glycerine itself is very stable and even good for you, nitroglycerine is commonly produced by treating glycerol with white fuming nitric acid under conditions appropriate to the formation of the nitric acid ester. It is dangerously sensitive and dropping or bumping a container may cause it to explode. This is the bombs are made of. This isn’t explained in the movie at all from what I recall and they use quite a few large barrels of this stuff.

I am pretty good with chemistry, and this is waaaaayy beyond me.  So this is my personal myth busting of the movie. I haven’t read the book, it may explain more, but the movie was too violent for me the first time and I have been told the book is worse, so I will skip it. 


Survival Mode

I have explained my life to people in terms of a roller coaster. January through April is the steady climb up the first hill. I am plugging along, making soap, filling orders, and getting ready for the inevitable drop. May through December is the rest of the coaster: there are twists and turns, hills and valleys, and even a few dark tunnels and slow spots, but mostly I am just hanging on for the ride. Once Christmas comes, I have pulled into the load off point, and slowly walk around to get back into the queue to ride again in just a few weeks.

But how do you survive as an artisan, with a family, during those time where you are just hanging on and the corkscrew of life is leaving you dizzy and nauseous? 

Two words: Survival Mode. This is where my abilities to triage my life comes into play. Here are some of my tips:

1) Don't worry about other people so much as you usually do. Let them take care of themselves. Trust that if they need you they will let you know. Explain to your family and friends that if they need you, you will be there, but your crystal ball is on the fritz, and you won't be able to "just tell" when they need you, they will need to speak up. 

2) Take time to chill: your way. Don't let anyone tell you how to relax. Want to read, then read. Want to go dance, then go dance. 

3) Your family is in this pressure cooker with you. I still wonder if my family tries to drive me nuts more during Musikfest because they miss me, or if they just drive me nuts easier because I am so tired and stressed. It is probably a combination of the two. Cut them some slack, don't say or do things you may regret later. 

4) Set small goals in order to feel accomplished. There are times of the year that taking a shower makes my list of things to do, and it feels good (in more ways than one), to cross that one off the list. 

5) Remember that what you are doing is hard, you are not a wimp. You are working crazy hours, in an emotionally draining environment, and you have a family to be a part of with all the ups and downs it brings on too.

6) Try not to think about your problem when you are tired. They seem much worse than they really are. Worry when you get up, not just before bed. 

7) Find grace. If this is through prayer, meditation, or something else. Don't stress about not making it to services, yoga class, or what have you. This is most likely a self imposed guilt and you don't need that right now on top of everything else too. My God listens if I just pray at night when in bed and the house is quiet, I hope yours does too, and can be pleased even with the most feeble prayers.

8) If you can't be consistent, be sure your shock and awe is memorable. I tend to believe that you teach the people around you how to treat you. This is best taught through consistency, but if a line is crossed, be sure it isn't crossed again. Get creative. When one of my favorite gluten free pizzas was eaten by someone other than me, I proclaimed that we never had to get regular pizza ever again just for them, since the family obviously liked mine just as much. They have never eaten my pizza again, they are never too lazy to dial the phone and order their own.

9) Don't go crazy with junk food, or alcohol for that matter. It will only make life harder in the long run. 

10) Exercise, but not to exhaustion. Anything that gets your blood pumping is good. No time to run? Park at the back of the parking lot. Don't be lazy, but don't be crazy either.

11) Set priorities with your spouse or family members. Approach housework together and errands too. Be a support network. Communicate needs to one another. Find solutions together. Don't just dictate.

12) Make good sleep a priority for everyone in the house.

Once this time of survival is over, then take a break, recharge, and thrive!


Packaging is for your eyes, not for your skin

I recently read that 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in developed nations can be attributed to the packaging sector. This would include anything that offers physical protection, containment, information transmission, marketing, or security for a product. You can also include convenience and portion control to this list as secondary results of a package.

The US GDP15684.80 billion US dollars in 2012.
This means we spent 313 billion dollars on packaging. 

How much of your purchase are based on the packaging of a product, and not what is inside the package? Do you think a pretty box means a good product? Is it disappointing when the packaging and the product quality don't match? Do you care less about the quality of  a gift, as long as it "looks pretty"? 

I have to admit, I fall prey to these marketing tactics too. It takes a while to learn that the ugly tomatoes at the farm market taste better than the pretty ones at the grocery store. It takes longer to learn that this fact most often translates to almost everything in life. 

This is one reason why so many small businesses and handcrafters struggle. We often don't have the knowledge, means, or time to put into something we often see as trivial: packaging. We think that because we have a superior product, the outside box shouldn't matter. But then we are outsold by the mediocre product with the fancy box. 

What should we do? I think there are two options: 1) raise your prices and have your customers pay for pretty packaging, or 2) work your tail off and succeed anyway.

I chose option #2. 

I will admit it. I am more of a farm market soapmaker than a boutique soapmaker. No pretty packaging, just what is legally needed. Simple, no fuss, little to throw away. It keeps the prices low. I splurge a little: teal paper bags rather than kraft brown, nice tubes for the shave brushes, pretty colored lip tube caps, but only when it is in a price range I can afford.

I have looked into opening a storefront. Rent, heat, lights, plus insurance will all equal $1 or more per bar price bump just to keep the place open. Nope, not gonna do it. 

For me it is about longevity. It is about making a product that I use, at a price that I would pay for it if I couldn't make it myself. It is about keeping things simple, not following trends, not getting rich fast (or at all for that matter). It is about keeping it real, and honest, and true. 

So no matter what you are buying, try to scrape the surface a little, find the truth, support the little guys, keep it real, keep it simple. Don't buy into the hype. That is my motto lately: don't try and sell hype, and don't buy into another's hype. The packaging is only for our eyes. 



It's all about the bonnets

Many. many moons ago, before becoming a Soapmaker I was a contract employee at a large theme park in Orlando Florida. You know the one, the one with the giant mice running around with their goofy dog friend :) Well when I was there I had the privilege of working with many people who has been there for eons. Some of these people had been there long enough that they personally knew the founder of that place, or had least had the opportunity to meet him while he was alive.

But the business was changing, there was a palatable feeling in the air of old vs new. The young guns, the bean counters, the newest technologies were taking things over. Most of the old timers didn't like it. They thought that there was a sacrifice in quality happening, and a change in how everyone was being treated, that the family was gone, and it was just a business now.

When I left that place, a few people got together and bought me a watch and a necklace with said mouse on it. I got a card that told me that I did things the old way, and that a certain person, if he were alive that day, would have been proud of me. I have all of those things still to this day. I cherish them and the people who gave them to me. I cherish their ideals, their work ethic, and all the things I learned from them. In a little way I try to honor them every day in the way I run my business, treat my customers, and make my products.

So now you are thinking...what's up with the bonnets?

Well, I am about halfway through a nine day show called the Kutztown Folk Festival. It has been here for over 60 years. It too has gone through it's changes. It has been run by different people, had its internal political issues, and is always trying to stay old, but still attract the youth and new customers. It is always a challenge, and some people like the changes, and some don't. Some think they are sacrificing the quality of the show, and some don't. No mater what, they can't make everyone happy, that is just the way life is.

But for the last 60+ years, Zion UCC Church has been a food vendor there. They came together as a community and worked for weeks serving old fashioned foods, made by hand at the festival site, and served with love and Christian goodwill. It was a fundraiser, it was community outreach, it was a way for them to come together for a common goal. But they too are undergoing change, and the battle between old versus new, young versus old seems to be raging in their ranks. Last year was their last at the festival. they cannot come back, their entire set up has been auctioned off, they have no resources to ever return.

Yes, they even auctioned off the bonnets. Three of my customers, UCC parishioners, people who I proudly call friends now, bid on, washed and fixed most of the bonnets that were available. I was presented with a bag of these bonnets on Friday before the show opened. This week I am wearing one every day of the festival. These items have a history all their own. Many are decades old, only seeing the light of day for a week each summer. I will bring them out each year and in my own little way continue the tradition. I am proud to have been given this gift. I will cherish them long past my time at this festival. To me this represents a little binding between old and new.


A Weeks Work

According to some preliminary research, most countries in the world work a 40-44 hour work week. 8 hours a day sounds pretty reasonable, you figure 8 to work, 8 to sleep, 8 to do everything else...but it never does work out that way does it?

 I watch C since he is the one with the "typical" job in the family (if you can imagine his constant travel as typical, ha!), and realize that this certainly doesn't work out at all. He gets up two hours before work to shower, have breakfast, and drive to work, then he works 8 hours (only 8 if he is lucky). Then there is the hour or so drive home. So that's 11 hours right there. Dinner is another hour or so, so this leave 4 hours before bed time. Add in house things like paying bills, fixing the computer, calling mom, and sneaking in a hour of TV, and the day is gone.On a good night, he doesn't have additional work he has taken home, and he will get a good night's sleep.

Compare this with my "typical days": Awake at 5 am, on the computer printing orders and answering emails by 6 am, in the workshop by 7 am, out by 2pm. (8 hour day). Then running, errands/housework, dinner, and 2-4 hours of whatever I want to do (typically knitting, gardening, or reading). In bed around 9, asleep by 10. This is not craft show season...(during season I TRY to take a day off each week, notice I said TRY)

During show season it adds on two days a week of crazy. If a show runs from 10am-6pm this is my day: Awake at 5 and on the computer and printing orders/answering emails as soon as I can clearly see the screen, in the shop filling mail orders and packing last minute pick up requests by 6. Leave by 7am, arrive by 8 am, set up and be ready to sell by 10am. Close the booth at 6 pm, home by 7 pm. Grab dinner, take a shower, pack inventory needed for the next day, crawl into bed by 10, fall immediately to sleep. Repeat on Sunday, except add an hour of tear down at the end of the day too.

If you are C, you come with me because this is your only chance this week to see me, and you still go to work Monday as usual. If you are a part time craftsperson, you do the same thing. At least I can sleep late Monday if I want.

Then there are the really crazy shows. Kutztown is 81 hours in 9 days (that is two regular work weeks) , Musikfest is 105 (2.5 work weeks!) in 10 days...add in drive hours, showers, eating, packing inventory, answering emails/orders, and keeping the house in working order, there isn't much time left for sleep. 

This is why I get defensive when I am asked if I "have a real job" besides making soap, chuckle when I am told "I would love to do something like this after I retire", and try not to scream when asked "why does this cost so much". I used to keep a time chart to see how many hours I worked a year and what my true hourly wage was, it was too depressing so I stopped.I do this because I love it, I can't imagine anything different. C said to me the other day that crafting "came with the package" when he met me. That there was nothing else he could see me doing, and asking me to give it up would take away the woman he fell in love with. I do this because it is a passion, an addiction, a calling. That is why every artisan does what he/she does...we really have no other option and be happy.


Lessions in Business I learned from Running

Yep, really, it is a post about running.

I am not a "real" runner, not by my definition of "real" anyway: I only long about 10 miles a week, I have a 12-13 minute mile pace (some people walk faster than I run), I am discouraged by heavy rain, am totally stopped by snow, and currently I am following the Running Mate "Fastest 5K" program (because I just can't motivate myself without a program of some sort).

What I can say is that when I started this journey about 4 years ago, 30 seconds was too far to run without stopping, and no matter how slow I am now, I was slower when sitting on my sofa. But I am glad I have been on this journey and here are a few things I have learned along the way, about running, and running a business.

1) Half of everything is mental. If you can get your brain focused on something, if you can see yourself doing it, and enjoying it, the body will follow without much question. Your brain often tires out and gives in before your body does. That is why some days at the computer feel like we have run a marathon, we have exhausted our brains.

2) If you fall behind, regroup, and try again, you often haven't fallen as far behind as you think. When working the 5k101 running plan, I would have to stop for many things: long shows, winter, etc. When I got back to the program, sometimes after three months, I would only have to go back two or three weeks in the workout (not restart), and I bounced back pretty fast. Same thing with work, if you fall behind, get going as soon as you can, and the bounce back will be more painless than you expect.

3) Following a plan is good. I started with the 5K101, have moved onto the Fastest 5K program and plan on moving onto a 10k program near the end of the year. Having a plan helps keep me motivated, I can see my progress in a tangible way. Same for business: make a plan, actually make two or three plans: daily, monthly, yearly. Follow them and make changes accordingly. Not all motivation comes from within, and we can be our own worst enemy. Having a plan can keep us on track when our brains and bodies want us to stop.

4) It's all about the shoes. It took me 4 pairs before I found what works for me. Now I am pain free almost all the time. Find out what makes a task painless for you. It may take a few tries, but once you find it, stick with it.

5) Hills hurt both on the way up, and on the way down. Growth hurts, change hurts, but when you start to go down, fighting it hurts too. In running you try not to fight the down hill (too much pressure on the knees) but in business you have to fight it. Try to stay as flat as possible, don't grow too fast, the downgrade on the flip side will be just as painful. Little steps, small but consistent growth is the key to the least amount of pain. Remember you are in this for the duration of a marathon, not a sprint.

6) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Eat right, drink water, go to the doctor, have your eyes checked and your teeth cleaned. Basically, take care of yourself. The better you feel the better you perform, in anything.

7) Ugly feet are a badge of honor. The worse my feet look, the harder I am training. Blisters, callouses, funky toe nails, all of it I have grown to love. What do you do that leaves an impression on you? Grow to like it, love it. Use it as a conversation starter, wear it with pride.

8) Competition makes you run harder, but find a pace you can handle and stick with it. It is tempting when new competition comes on the scene to try your best to keep up, or out pace them. But if that is too fast for you, you will burn out before the end of the race. You can speed up a little, push yourself to a personal record, but keep a pace you can finish with. My bet is you will pass some of those who just burst out of the gate before you finish. And even if you don't pas them, you will finish with your personal record, and aren't we really the only competition we have?

9) Add some fun sometimes. Not everything needs to be a competition. Do some things just because you like them. Color Run anyone?

10) Find your time of day for optimal performance. I like to run between 5:30-7:30 am. Some people prefer the afternoons. Same for work. When you are self employed, find the time you work best and stick to it the best you can. You get the most bang for your buck and work at your most efficient.

And at that, it is time for me to go for a run! Enjoy and hope to see you all soon!


Forest for the Trees

I have been banging around this concept in my head all weekend: do crafts fall in under the umbrella term "industry" and why would or wouldn't that matter?

According to Wikipedia the term industry is defined as "the production of an economic good or service within an economy." This sounds like crafts, yes? We produce goods within the economy. So much so that the Craft and Hobby Association says that the craft and hobby industry is worth a collective $30 billion dollars a year. (take note the craft section  of craft and hobby is just a portion of that number, and includes the business of craft supplies, not just the finished crafts themselves )

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport is actually trying to remove "Craft" as an industry! Why you ask? Because...
"Most crafts businesses are too small to identify in business survey data, so while there has been a crafts section in the former classification, we've not been able to provide GVA [gross value added] data.
"We recognize that high-end craft occupations contain a creative element, but the view is that in the main, that these roles are more concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process."
So how far behind is the US with this idea? It is always hard to be the "little guy", the independent designer, the one man operation, but then to be not seen as an industry? It tears at the very fabric of the camaraderie we feel with one another. It  attacks our very existence and our self esteem. It adds to the collective consciousness that the arts in general add no value to our society and are not to be regarded and valued in any way. In short, this viewpoint will be the downfall of our society as we know it. Yes, I really think it can be that extreme.

This post started out in my head as a lesson why we need to come together, artisan and show promoter. Why we need to work harder at taking care of one another, to give the customer a better experience, to stop the shows where manufactured products are allowed, where artisans stand in mud for days at a time trying to make a living, and where customers are hawked at and lied to by fly by night vendors. It was supposed to be a post about protecting each other and acting like an industry rather than a hobby. It was supposed to be about being proud of who we are and what we do. It was supposed to be about producing high quality small shows rather than ending up with the mundane large shows that seem to be so prevalent. But now I have seen the forest for the trees: we need to come together as an industry before the industry is taken away from us.


Hidden Gems

I am always on the lookout for what I call Hidden Gems. These are small shows, with small entrance fees, that give back a large return on the investment. They are few and far between, and if we are lucky, after trying a dozen or more new shows each year we may find one hidden gem, and the next year it still may not be as good as the first time. 

Let's run some hypothetical numbers: if I pay $200 for a space at a craft show (and this is not any expensive show by the way), I would have to sell considerably more than $200 to break even. If my cost to produce a bar of soap is 50% of each dollar I make, then a $200 show would need to have sales of above $400 in order to show a profit. This break even point is considerably lower for shows that cost less to enter, but there is much more of a gamble that the show will not be well attended, organized, or promoted. 

It is because so often these small shows are put on by inexperienced promoters, have a committee that turns over every few years (thus bringing new changes with it), and are operating on a shoe string budget, that they are such a gamble. I like to think of artisans as just one level above cattle. Promoters are most often just selling spaces. If the event is "juried" then there is a chance they at least care about the level of arts and crafts being displayed, but that still doesn't promise a balanced show, there could be 90 jewelers and 10 soapmakers out of 100 total vendors. We just don't know until the vendor list is published, or until we get there. 

I have tried going to shows as a consumer in order to check it out. This rarely works for me. It does seem to tip me off to the shows I should totally avoid, but it doesn't tell me a lick out how I would do selling at the event. So many shows now have a high vendor turn over so just because this year there isn't a soapmaker, that doesn't mean next year the promoter won't let in five. Now I just sign up and go. I figure if I can break even on a new show, it is at the very least advertisement,and I hope to see sales in the future from new contacts made at the event. If I stay home and research shows I am guaranteed to make no income that day, if I just guess and go, at least I have a chance at finding a hidden gem. You can't win if you don't play;)

Mostly I rely on customers and other artisans for what shows to try. If my customers like me and like a show, hopefully that shows brings in more people just like them, and I may do well. My fellow artisans can give me the low down on what shows are good for them, but this still never guarantees success. But once again, if I like their work, then hopefully going where they go will lead me to people who will like my work too. 

So that is why you see us at so many events each year...we are in a search for a hidden gem!


Always be Prepared

This should be the mantra of every crafts person and artisan out there because you never know what you are gonna get. lets take my last show, Mayfair Festival of the Arts as an example...

1) The show has been moved to a new venue. I brought a roll cart so I wouldn't have to lug each box individually into the venue. When I got there I thought I was lucky and could back right up to the roll door and started to unload. Then the electrician with the large forklift asked me to move. So I happily did. He pulled away, and before I could move back, someone else took my spot. How nice. So that roll cart got some good use as I pushed everything uphill into the building.

2) What kind of space do I have? I got there and had a corner space that I didn't expect. This gave me a minute of pause, and then I figured out how to maximize my display for the best performance and I set up at an angle. If I had set up like usual I would have had a less visually pleasing display for sure.

3) Know your technology. The very first day I had an artisan who I had never met before come ask me to show her how to use her phone to accept credit cards (10 minutes after the show had opened to the public). I explained I use Square and she was using PayPal and I don't know her system. Waiving her hands in the air and huffing away she explained "Well how to you expect me to make any money if I can't use this thing?"...because it was obviously all my fault that she was not prepared.

4) Tearing down early is a bad, bad thing. OK now I have torn down and left shows early, I will admit it, but I try so hard not too. I will do it when the weather is scary bad. I will do it when leaving can save me a night's hotel cost. I will do it when I am the last person standing anyway. But...we had at least two artisans leave on Sunday night after the show ended. I don't understand why...we were inside: warm and dry, the weather for Monday was supposed to be the best, the show ran to a "normal" hour so we could load out in the daylight.

What I am saying is to be prepared for a bad show, be prepared to stick it out too. You loose the respect of the promoter, your fellow artisans, and the public when they come look for you and your neighbors tell them you left early (I had it happen yesterday). A couple came up to me and asked me where a neighbor had gone, that they spoke to them on Saturday and went home to measure some things and decide on what to buy. Life got in the way and they didn't make it back Sunday, so they were now here to buy. I had to tell them that they left after the close of business Sunday and that honestly I wasn't sure why. The husband turned to the wife and said "Glad we didn't buy from them Saturday, who knows if we would have ever gotten this order we were going to place". I am sure if they ever see them again, they will not be placing that order.

5) Expect load out to be a dog-eat-dog world. I parked almost exactly where I did during load in. I figured it gave lots of space when so many people were trying to get out the same door at the same time. I also figured it was easier to roll my cart downhill full than it was to roll it in full at the beginning, let everyone with the heavy displays have a closer spot. I also did what I was told, I completely tore down my booth, then pulled in to load out. Yes, a big van pulled in right in front of the door, at an angle, blocking the whole thing, and then went and tore down his booth piece by piece. The rest of us had to go around. It sucked. But at least I knew I wasn't the jerk who did that first. Being nice at load out doesn't make it physically easier, but you can go home feeling good about yourself. I pretend my mom is with me every load out and never do or say anything I wouldn't do in front of her.

So there you have it...hope you are enjoying these posts if you are a fellow artisan, or a customer learning a little more about what goes on in our little world :)


Ballance vs. Shift

I got in a heated discussion the other day with my DH, C as he is commonly referred to throughout this blog, and he brought up a point that I have been thinking about a lot over the last three days: Balance versus Shift.
I said that I was adding more balance into my days, mixing business with pleasure, getting out more, going running, and enjoying myself more. He said that I haven’t balanced work with life, I have just shifted it. 

He believes I still do the same amount of work; I have just shifted the days and the hours I do it in order to be able to fit in some personal time, that this shifting has made my days ultimately longer, more stressful, and more plentiful. 

He also thinks my lists of things to do are bad for me, because ultimately, the lists are never ending, and I will push myself to complete a list sometime between waking and bed time, no matter what the personal cost. I believe since I have started putting personal things on these lists that I am striking a balance in my life because I am giving priority to things I would like to do, and that I can find stress reducing. 

I have always been a list person. It is the only way I can remember what I need to do. I find that writing things down keeps them from bouncing around my head like ping pong balls, and that if I download them onto paper, I can get some sleep at night. But until recently I never put personal things on the list for the day, so I only went to knit night of everything else was done. Now I consider knit night a thing to do, so I make time to do it.  The problem is, making time to go to knit night sometimes means getting up at 4 am, or missing lunch, or even getting home after and continuing to work for a few hours. Yes, shifting my work, not reducing it. 

Over time my lists have evolved and gotten shorter. I used to try and accomplish three things an hour, then it became 12 a day, and now 10 (with personal things too). But it isn’t that I have less to do, it is just that I am giving myself more time to do them, more time in a day for breaks (like to eat) and more time to do things I want to do (like go for a run). So again, I shift things onto other days. No more Monday’s off, now I am doing things while I am at craft shows, and getting up early even when I don’t want to. 

I think he may be right, I am shifting more than balancing, but I have more balance than I have in the past. I think the road to balance is about the journey as much as it is about the destination, and you can only truly enjoy balance when you find the right balance for you and can enjoy all the things you have learned about yourself along the way.  Like my friend Rebecca says “I am a work in progress”, I may have a ways to go, but I am better than I was before, and just that is an accomplishment to be recognized.