Monday, March 29, 2010


Well, the weekend was EXHAUSTING. Friday and Saturday I did the first live craft show I've done in years. And wow, are they tiring!

I did get to break out my new banner with the newly updated logo - here's a quick shot of the booth. I quite like it. Modern and funky, not as serious as the old one. I think it suits me more this way.

Now, I don't know what anybody else's sales technique is, but mine is talking. Talk talk talk talk talk. I talk to customers, other vendors, spectators, passersby, everybody. I don't even talk about soap, necessarily - this weekend I talked about finances, weather, bagpipes, Hawaiian music, dogs, belly dancing.... it was endless. I babble a whole lot. It's sort of stand up comedy crossed with street busking and a side of soap selling.

Bander went with me, since he's been having lots of anxiety and overreactions to noise - Jesse was busy and I couldn't leave the Bander-Boo by himself, so he hung out in the tent all weekend. As per usual, he was the most popular person at the festival. And he spent a good while barking at the bagpipe players, but by the end of it all he was taking everything in stride.

And we did pretty well sales wise, too - so overall a great success for both me and the dog. It's just that I'm out of small talk for the moment. I'll be back when I think of something important to say.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Homework, Lesson Three: Schedules Are Not Just For Trains

I think a lot of us who are working for ourselves, from home, are drawn to it partly because we all imagine that we'll be free as birds, able to do what we want to, when we want to do it.

Pardon me while I kill myself laughing.

Because here's what really happens; work is often erratic, especially in a growing business and a difficult economy. When the opportunities to work crop up, you'll grab them. For an online retail business, what this means is some days with no orders, where you bite your nails and wonder if you're doing everything wrong, and some days with so many orders that you work up a sweat trying to get the boxes packed.

If you're lucky, the cash flow averages out at a point where you can make the rent payment. It's likely to be some months a bit over and some a bit short, just to make life really really exciting.

Your workday will be at the mercy of the weather, the number and duration of walks the dog thinks he needs, the amount of laundry that's gotten backlogged, the incoming orders, the upcoming shows, and the availability of supplies. You will have moments of overwhelming success followed by crushing bouts of self-doubt and visions of living on the street.

There is only one way to maintain sanity in the middle of all this.

Make a schedule. I know, you quit so you didn't have to adhere to a schedule, but guess what? You now have the toughest boss on the planet, and it's YOU. You'll work harder for yourself than you ever have for another person. Want to cope with this terrible boss?

I know. It's awful. Make a schedule.

You need to have times that you work, and times that you don't. Your family and friends need to know what your working hours are, so they don't assume that "working from home" means "available for annoying errands and social engagements". You need to pay attention, too, so that you don't decide that your morning would be best spent eating leftover pizza and watching "Revenge of the Nerds".

And your time off needs to be time spent NOT working. Just sneaking in a few minutes of printing labels turns into hours of work if you're not careful. And off time is an important thing - it keeps the creative juices flowing, prevents burnout, and makes you a lot more fun to be around.

Time off does not mean eating leftover pizza and watching "Revenge of the Nerds", by the way. It means getting your ass OUT OF THE HOUSE. Go somewhere, do something! If you work at home, getting a change of scenery is absolutely vital. Even a walk around the block is a start.

Now, why are you sitting here reading this? You should either be working or playing. Go!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Build Your Own Log Splitter

Brace yourselves - I'm going to actually talk about soapmaking for a change. I happened to mention on a forum I belong to that I'd built my own log splitter, and several people asked me for pictures and a description. If you're not a soapmaker, this should bore the poo out of you. If you ARE a soapmaker, this is a great piece of equipment, and it was super dooper cheap.

Let me start by saying that I have very little in the way of power tools - if you have a full wood shop you can probably make a prettier version.

This thing is called a log splitter - it takes a slab of soap and turns it into logs that then get sliced into bars. Let me just apologize up front for the pics - the lighting in my workroom is not great for photos. Anyway, here's the beast:

This is built from a sheet of melamine, coated on both sides. I used it for a few reasons - it's easy to clean with a wet cloth, it's smooth and it slides on itself, and it was on sale because it's a partial sheet. Cost nearly nothing. The edges of the sheet are a little chipped, but I don't care. The top slider is roughly 30 inches long, to handle my standard soap slabs, which are 24 inches. The slit in the sliding sheet is roughly 26 inches - and going through the slit, from the overhead metal bar to the support underneath, is a guitar string (unwound E). The string is held at the top with a tuning key - I bought both the string and the key at Guitar Center, about $13 including a replacement set.

To make sure that the top slider stays absolutely straight when it slides back and forth, I made a channel in the support and attached a thin square molding strip.

This is the slab of soap I'm going to split into logs. It's a twenty pound slab of Raspberry Fizz, and it smells wonderful. It's going to be split into three logs, each 24 inches long and 3.5 inches wide.

I've brushed the top of the slab with some silver mica before cutting. Now the slab is in position on the top slider, just touching the guitar string.

The first log has been split from the slab and removed. I've repositioned the slab on the edge of the slider, again touching the guitar string. I'll just push the slider along, with slow even pressure, and let the wire make the cut for me.

Ignore the sound. I didn't realize our camera would record video, so I wasn't talking. Duh.

This is the log after splitting, turned onto it's side.

After a few hours for the logs to dry, I'm now cutting them into bars. This batch was made with coconut milk, which tends to add a blue tone to fresh soap - these will cure to be a violet shade with white swirls. It's on the curing rack, letting the dehumidifier do it's thing.

I estimate that this cost me about $23 to build, using nothing more complicated than a circular saw and a drill.

Questions? Feel free to ask!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fruit is Dangerous

From a new blog I tripped over, My Food Looks Funny. From people who have a lot more free time than I do.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Sky is Falling

Have I mentioned that the dog is afraid of thunder?

Well, welcome to springtime in the South.

Tuesday night we had some intense rain and thunder in small cells, which scared the bejeebers out of Bander-Boo. He generally reacts by huffing and pacing and panting and trying to get our attention. Jessie can sleep through the antics, but I'm a light sleeper and I can't. On the basis that at least one of the three family members should get a decent night's sleep, I always get up, take the dog into the living room, and close the bedroom door. The dog then proceeds to get on my very last nerve while keeping me awake until the weather clears.

Tuesday, that was bad, but not awful - I ended up going to bed at 10:30, getting up at 2:00, going back to bed at 4:30 and getting up again for the day at 6:00. Five hours, rocky but manageable.

Except that it rained and thundered again last night. Started at around 10 pm and didn't stop until 4 in the morning. So I fell asleep at 4 am and got up for the day at 6:30, a very short 2 1/2 hours later.

Guess what's predicted for tonight?

I can't be mad at the dog for being afraid. He's not doing it on purpose. And the most effective way, we've learned, to handle his fear is to ignore it. Not to comfort him or yell or do anything at all.

And I can't be mad at the dog today, either, because dogs don't go "ooo, I bet she's just cranky over last night, or that time I said mean things about her sister." Dogs are the ultimate Zen masters - they live in the NOW. This is why punishment in general doesn't work well as a training tool, because dogs just don't connect past actions to current reactions.

All Bander knows today, right this minute, is that he's tired, too. He didn't sleep any more than Mama did. He tried to find a quiet place in the yard but didn't get much farther than the back steps.

I am doing my very best to be patient. But god help people who cross my path. I will therefore stay home today, and prep for the coming storm. By napping, if I'm lucky.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Homework, Lesson Two: Oprah Is Not Research

I mentioned in my last post that I personally fall into the "work constantly" category. That's both a blessing and a curse. A lot of people find themselves in the "I'll get to it pretty soon" group.

I understand this, I really do. One of the big benefits of working from home is that you get to make your own schedule, and be your own boss. If you're not a morning person, and I most certainly am not one, you don't have to get started at 7 am. Heck, you don't have to start until 9 am. It's when you drift off to noonish that the trouble starts.

If you don't have a clear view of what the day entails and what the plan is, it's pretty easy to just check the television (or internet) before you start working. Since each television now has about a zillion channels, chances are high that you'll find something you'd rather be doing than recording your expense receipts for the fiscal quarter.

That leads to a day of watching old movies and eating bon bons with your feet up. We all need those days, once in a while. Pretty easy to take a second day, 'cause you're tired and you worked hard last week. Soon it's Thursday. Then the twentieth and you suddenly realize that you need to mail the rent check and you haven't done a damn thing all month. You can justify it all you want, but if you have to borrow cash to pay the landlord anything you say will sound like an excuse.

What you have to do, to be a success at this working from home gig, is to harness the power of inertia. It's pretty simple: bodies in motion tend to remain in motion. Bodies at rest tend to lay on the couch and eat Cheetos.

Try to plan ahead, to give yourself something to accomplish each working day. A scheduled task. You can watch TV after you finish, but you might find that once you've accomplished one thing, you're ready for a second thing. Just keep moving, and you're golden.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Homework, Lesson One; Jammies Are Not Sportswear

Well, not so much homework as working from home.

A lot more people are finding ways to work from home these days. I've done it more than once, in different jobs, so I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned.

There are a few different categories that your bad habits can fall into. The first one, my own personal trait, is the "working too much" slot. That's when you find yourself saying "oh, just one more package" and everyone else has gone to bed already because it's midnight.

First of all, I don't care how cute your jammies are. You'll need to take them off some time, and put on real clothes.

Sure, the mailbox is pretty close, but the neighbors will notice you running down the driveway in your onesie. And it does NOT look like a jogging suit, no matter what you've told yourself in the house. Yeah, it sucks up twenty valuable minutes. Get your butt into the shower and then put on some damn clothes. And comb your hair.

And like everything else I know, I learned this the hard way. It was years ago, and the details are way too mortifying, but when you meet the handsomest man EVER you don't want to be thinking "Did I shower this week? I don't think so. " and hoping to god that the wind doesn't shift.

I have soaping clothes now, and since I work with lots of oils and colorants they look like hell, but they're real daytime clothes. I look like hell, but they're not jammies.

We'll talk about schedules in another post. First, get dressed and have some coffee. And maybe some toast.

Have two cups. You're gonna be busy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fighting Boredom With Bacon

I spent most of the morning doing admin stuff for the business, while Jessie went on a job interview. Once we finished our respective tasks, I dragged him to the store with me so I could do a little shopping for photo props. That meant a trip to World Market.

I know you'll all be surprised to hear that I got distracted in the chocolate aisle. Not just distracted, but well and truly boggled. Mostly by this:Yep, you're reading the ingredients right.

There's no possible way I could pass up such a thing, of course. So I furtively shoved one into the basket and nonchalantly strolled up to the checkout line before Jessie could stop me.

It looked pretty normal when we peeled back the foil, so we each tried a small bite, and gave it an honest try.

Jessie carefully contemplated the flavor.

I'm not sure he enjoyed it all that much.

Anyway, here's our final analysis.

A tip if you try this candy: Keep something to cleanse your palate handy. Sandpaper works pretty well, especially with a nice Draino chaser. Bleck.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Please Stand By

So, we had some ongoing technical difficulties with our website. Until we get things fixed, we've changed everything over to the Etsy store for now. Which was a big pain in the butt because I have all the technical know-how of the average turnip.

This also gave me the chance to update the newsletter format - and it went out this morning. I think I managed to transfer all the subscribers over, but if I missed you, please let me know.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go break some stuff here at the house, too.

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