On How to Subtract

He’s a quiet man, unassuming, passionate in his love for God and God’s people.  His name is Mike Cogdill, and I’ve had the pleasure and honor of knowing Dr. Cogdill since I was a smart-mouthed sophmore in college.  Even with that less-than-stellar beginning, he still gave me his blessing as I prepared to enter Divinity School at Campbell University Divinity School, of which he was dean.

Upon entering Divinity School, Dr. Cogdill stresses, “You don’t add divinity school to your life.  You must subtract something.”  Over the course of 3 1/2 years, I subtracted a lot of extra activities, most of my TV watching and online forums.  Then somewhere in that mix I added something big – a baby.
As things get hectic in life and business, I haven’t forgotten Dr. Cogdill’s exhortation to subtract, not to pile more and more on an already full plate. 
I subtract products.  There are some things I make that I absolutely love.  I enjoy making them and using them, and I just know all my customers are going to clamor to have one of them.  Sometimes this works.  I see it in my Soaps of Milk & Honey (and Oatmeal!), which are good sellers, and I can see this in my goat’s milk lotions.  There are times, though, when I get a bit over enthused about my products and make tons of them, anticipating they’ll sell; then I have to clearance them eventually.
I subtract tasks.  With all that goes into running a business, I have had to decide for myself what I will and will not do in order to drive my business.  Weekly or monthly markets are the first thing that went.  While I love meeting my customers and interacting with them, doing markets and events requires a lot of work and a pretty big time commitment.  I opted to subtract those from my business itenerary, choosing instead to focus on wholesale and private label accounts.
What have you subtracted from your business, and how has this subtraction made it more successful?

What’s the Secret?

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary.  This past year has certainly been a wild one, what with moving into our first house, making our “big move” at the same time to a completely new part of the state, and having a new baby.  Our day began with brunch at Chris’s Cosmic Kitchen in Wilmington, traversed down to Kure Beach for a bit of water therapy and a walk on the beach, ultimately ending back in Wilmington with a fondue dinner at The Little Dipper.  Our server at dinner asked us, “What’s the secret to staying married that long?”

My first answer was “Forgiveness,” and Peter followed this up with, “Don’t go to bed angry.”  In all our years of marriage, as long as we’ve been under the same roof, we’ve slept in the same bed, with maybe the rare occasion of sickness.  (I had bad heartburn for a few days with my first pregnancy and slept sitting up on the sofa one night.)  We might sometimes sleep with a foot of space between us, yet at some point during the night, our bodies forget about the irritation and we end up in our usual yin-yang-esque position.  I’ve screwed up.  He’s screwed up.  We will both likely screw up again, but we can’t let that become a wedge between us.

I thought later, and the other thing that keeps us united and strong is laughter.  In any situation, we have a choice of how we’ll react.  Last night is a great example.  On the way to dinner, traveling down the interstate, I blew a tire on my car.  A little freaky, and somehow rather funny, given that I’d just asked him if the tire would survive my road trip today.  He’s changing the tire, and we’re exploring the levity of the situation.  One thing we try to do each anniversary is use the “traditional anniversary gift guide” for presents.  This actually makes us be creative in our gift-giving.  The 11th anniversary gift is steel.  Can ya see where I’m going with this?  After he got done changing my tire, Peter said, “Well, you’ll get a steel-belted radial for your anniversary gift.  I’m getting you steel after all!”  I laughed (really, a tire’s OK this year), and we hobbled on to dinner on the spare, getting smiles and waves when people read our back window.

What are your secrets to a long and happy marriage?

Being Looked Up To and Humbled

It happened twice this week, rather out of the blue.  The first time was Tuesday when a friend saw something I posted on Facebook.  I was venting about my older daughter’s teacher and used a description that she was afraid her daughter would see.  It caught me off-guard, but what she said was, “She looks up to you, and seeing that would crush her.”  Wow.  I absolutely adore this young lady.  She’s lovely, funny and bright, but she doesn’t see herself like her parents and I do.  I think of her as the niece I’ll never have (but have always wanted), and I later messaged my friend and said I’d never want to do anything to hurt her or make her stumble.

Then came Wednesday.  I was moderating and catching up on the WSP forums and saw a discussion thread on SoapMaker, the lye calculator I use.  One member said to me, “You’re my mentor.”  Again, a humble wow.  This lady is very sweet, we get along great and I think of her as a friend, but I had no idea she sees me as her mentor, someone from whom she can seek guidance and encouragement.

Both of these comments humbled me.  There’s something about knowing others are looking at what I do, what I say and what I think and have decided for themselves that it’s good.  Or not.  If Jesus himself refuses the title of “Good teacher,” when he alone is good, then certainly I should just hold the humble honor that’s in the title of “teacher,” “mentor” and “friend.”

Who’s your mentor?  What about that person makes them that for you?

The Hype of Social Media

Confession…  I’m a huge crime drama junkie – My week runs through all the CBS “howdunits” from Monday night with CSI: Miami to Thursday night and The Mentalist.  (Numb3rs is off the air and I gave up on Sunday nights – couldn’t stay up.)  Last night I was watching Criminal Minds, which is like a dark chocolate dream to this former Psych major, and was fascinated by the whole emphasis on social media.  There were a couple of comments that really stood out for me.

“Online time suck” – Garcia said this about all the social media networking sites – Twitter, Facebook (FB), MySpace and YouTube.  And it’s true.  I’m on Twitter and FB, and I can’t tell you how many of my connections spend all day in YoVille, Farmville, Mafia Wars and Cafe World.  I skim over those posts, because that’s not my thing.  I can see, though, how much time one can spend in a day just between Twitter and FB.  (Incidentally, one friend got away from FB because of all the games on his stream.)

“We all want an audience.” (Morgan) – Don’t we though?  One question that preceded this comment was, “Do they think anyone cares what they had for breakfast?”  Donna Maria Coles Johnson would argue, “Yes, they do,” because readers want to know they’re dealing with a person, not a huge, anonymous corporate entity.  I post tweets throughout the day about what I’m doing, irritations, something cute one of my children did, and so forth, but do I really think that all 240 of my followers are raptly staring at their Twitter steams, waiting for the latest from me?  Um, no.  My ego’s not nearly that big!

For me, the quality online networking experience comes from selectively choosing my audience and selectively choosing those for whom I will be the audience.  After all, it’s about making connections, not about being in the middle of the online equivalent of the Midway at the State Fair.

Question:  What’s the most rewarding part of your online social media experience?  How can you use that to improve your interactions?

Sixty-four a Day

Sixty-four… what?  Bars of soap?  Sometimes!  Bottles of lotion?  Possibly.  Tubes of lip balm?  Nope.

Sixty-four ounces of water daily.  This is my favorite and easiest fitness trick.  I start with 16 ounces when I take my morning pills – eight for my multivitamin, another eight for my Claritin.  This is a hard goal to reach when it’s 35 degrees and cloudy outside.  After all, who wants to put even tap cold water into a body already bundled up against the cold?  However, as the days get warmer and more humid, that 64 ounces is very attainable.

I use water to stave off cravings, too.  My family gave me a scrumptious Andes Mint Cheesecake for Mother’s Day, some of which is still in the fridge.  Last night I was thinking, “Hm, a slice of that sure would be good!”  Then I remembered something a friend told me one time:  “Hunger can also be your body’s way of telling you you’re dehydrated.”  That stuck with me, and often when I find myself really wanting a sweet something (like a slice of cheesecake), I instead bypass the fridge and pantry and refill my water cup.  Works almost every time (though I’m not opposed to grabbing a Kiss from the bowl, either).

Question…  What’s your favorite and easiest fitness trick?

Home Soapin’ Day

My six-year-old daughter was home from school this past Monday, getting over a stomach bug.  I’d given her a soapmaking kit I got at the HSMG Conference the previous week and told her that she could now fly almost-solo in making her first soap.  After the squeals and hugs and “Oh, Mommy, you’re the best!”s, she asked, “But not with lye, right?  Because I’m not old enough to do lye soap.”  Nope, she’s not; she’ll start out with melt-and-pour, just as I did.
I cut up the soap block for her and showed her how to melt it in the microwave.  First, she added the color, a gorgeous royal purple.  (Don’t ya just LOVE that tiny little pipette?)

Then she added the fragrance, which is a totally scrumptious Passionfruit Rose fragrance oil.  (I later found out that it’s also lip safe!  Woohoo!)  This scent reminds me of the rum punch my husband and I enjoyed on a sunset sail on our honeymoon.
Then she stirred it gently.
Then came the pouring.  The pots of colorants and glitter are testimony to her soapmaking ambitions for this day!
And after patiently waiting for them to set up, here’s the final result.  The purple one is the one she’s making here.  The pink one is the same scent and poured into a mould I’ve had for a while.
Question:  What’s a good sick day activity you’ve gotten to share with your child?
Soapmaking kit provided by Brambleberry.  The soap and colorant used in the heart soap came from Wholesale Supplies Plus.

What’s in Your Cell Phone?

A well-known Viking-heavy credit card commercial asks, “What’s in your wallet?”  I ask you, “What’s in your cell phone?”  I had the time and extreme boredom required to clean out my cell phone the other day.  There were text messages going back over two years that needed to be deleted or moved.  I did this partially because, with the number of texts I’m sending and receiving lately, it doesn’t take long for me to run out of memory, and really, I’d rather have the memory to snap that picture of one of my girls.  Also, I’ve been eyeing a new phone for a few months now and want to have my “must saves” squared away.

While I was cleaning out my text messages – and yes, that meant reading most of them – I started noticing what a treasure trove of daily life my texts were.

Daily Stuff – Texts from my husband asking if I knew of anything we needed at the grocery store or telling me he’ll pick up our daughter from day care.

Romantic Texts – Kisses flying through space to land in my phone.  Simply “I hope your day’s going well.  I love you.”  Sweet little moments of knowing my husband’s thinking of me at that moment during his work day.

Pictures – Pics from friends, one of whom seems to have a fascination with sending multiple camera phone self-portraits.  (Why???)  A picture showing a new haircut.  My aunt enjoying her second-best birthday celebration in recent years.  Christmas breakfast.  Things my husband spots while he’s out, like the house that had Halloween and Christmas decorations up at the same time – in early October!  Then there was this, arguably the best treasure of all these pictures, each pixel worth a thousand words and a million memories.

This is my recently departed Grandpa holding my then newborn baby last August.  It’s the only picture I have of them together.

Question:  What’s in your cell phone?

Chemistry Making Sense

While I was at the HSMG Conference last weekend, I took advantage of the opportunity to sit in on two sessions, both of which were very chemistry-rich.  Let me preface this by saying that just being in these sessions was a matter of extreme self-discipline and personal challenge.  You see, while chemistry is now pretty much my life, I did horrible at it in high school and college, earning C’s at both levels.  (I guess I should take some sort of solace in the fact that, while the work got harder, I didn’t get dumber.)

The first session was led by Dr. Cindy Jones of SageScript Institute (a Colorado company) and dealt with the Chemistry of Cosmetics.  The second session I attended was led by Dr. Kevin Dunn of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and was an hour-and-a-half on trace, which is one small part of the cold- and hot process soapmaking process.  I learned how emulsifiers work.  I learned the difference between the molecular structure of saturated and unsaturated fats.  I learned what it means when a fatty acid is referred to as an “Omega-3 fatty acid.”  And I learned that light trace in soap has a viscosity of 150 centipoise (my new favorite word that I try to find a way to use daily).

I’ll expound on these answers (because, really, doesn’t everyone want to know them?) this week.  I’m curious, though.  What’s the latest thing you’ve learned that helps make you better at what you do, be it a business or a hobby?

Having a Ball at #SoapConf10!!!

I am having a simply fantastic time at the Handscrafted Soapmakers Guild annual conference in Denver, Colorado!  I’m not sure where to start.  If any of you, my customers, live in Colorado, I must say that it’s a simply gorgeous place to visit and the people here are incredibly friendly.  I know you’re proud to live here.  This was my first trip to Colorado – shoot, it was my first trip west of the Mississippi River! – and it’s been very nice.

The conference is aMaZiNg!!!  I’m learning so many great things about how to do business even better, so be looking for those improvements in the next couple or few months – definitely by summer’s end.  Friday was Day 1, and it was mostly soapmaking techniques.  Two of our group went to the session on advanced melt-and-pour soapmaking (and these ladies already make fantastic soaps!), and my friend Ela and I attended a 2-part class on liquid soapmaking, which had been my nemesis.  In the first 15 minutes, I learned where I’d been messing up and in the remaining hour and 45 minutes, I learned how to make a (hopefully) fabulous bottle of homemade liquid soap.  Saturday was Day 2, and the sessions tended to focus primarily on branding, driving your business, eCommerce and so forth.  Today is Day 3, and our sessions cover the legalities of manufacturing and selling, as well as social media.  I return home to my lovely family tomorrow, much, much wiser and with a new great network of friends and colleagues.

I’ll be posting pictures when I get home to share on my Facebook fan page.  Not a fan, yet?  No problem!  The link is here.  Join up today.  When I get home, I’ll be setting up some great post-conference special just for my FB fans.