Taking Care of the First Order of Business

It’s crazy this time of year, isn’t it?  Some of us are cooking for Thanksgiving, and some of that bunch are planning on hosting these fabulous Thanksgiving dinners and looking forward to celebrating with family.  (We’re all just going to hope that the host home is a “politics-free” zone – yet one more thing that’d make us quite grateful.)  For small business owners, we’re gearing up for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, and as small business owners, we still have our own homes to prepare for the holidays.

A year ago tomorrow, my wish for “a more relaxed Advent season” took a turn I wasn’t expecting.  I was hoping that my family would willingly pitch in and help take some of the load off my plate so I could play games on NORADtracks and feel less stressed.  Well, my family did step up and help with cooking, decorating, and my business – after I took a spill that resulted in a dislocated knee and six weeks in a leg brace.  Not some place I want to go again!

The thing is, we absolutely must take care of ourselves as business owners and parents.  I started a weight-loss regime of toning, walking, and calorie monitoring in early October.  (The weight loss numbers have been disappointing, but I’ve got new muscle tone, and my pants are getting unattractively loose.)  With huge orders to wrap and ship, classes to teach, a home to take care of, and gifts to make, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to find the time I need each day to get my exercise in.  I need that exercise, though!  My knees are happier, I sleep better, and I feel better overall.

Yesterday was one of those challenges.  There literally aren’t enough hours of daylight these days to get everything done.  I’d taught both girls their lessons, planned dinner, and the soaps…  Well, we won’t mention those.  The sink was full of dirty dishes waiting to go into the dishwasher, but I only had about an hour of light left and really wanted to get a walk in.  What to do, what to do?  And the fact that it was pretty chilly outside really didn’t help much.  I donned sneakers and grabbed a windbreaker out of the closet and headed out for my walk.

It was a great walk, though my legs were cold by the time I got back.  I waved at neighbors and had one lady tell me that it was “a blessing to see [me].”  I watched Christmas lights going up on a house down the street and witnessed the little boy’s excitement as he watched and “helped” his parents.  In one section of our neighborhood, one house had wreaths on the windows while the house across from them has an inflatable turkey.  I saw the first star appear in the clear evening sky.

As I struck out to take my walk, I knew I had a lot of work to do for my business, my home, and my family.  I have a lot of work to do for me, too, though.  If I don’t find the balance that allows me to take care of my self, then I really won’t be able to take care of everything else.  My knees will become sore and stiff again, I’ll be sleep-deprived, and I’ll lose some of this new energy.

My business mentor insists that we all treat ourselves to a post-holiday sales rush spa day – or a massage at the very least.  This year is looking like a good time to add that to my self-care.  In the meantime, though, these steps I’m taking now are helping me combat the stress before it starts.

Going into what I call “the silly season” in retail, I encourage my colleagues to work some self-care into their daily routines.  (We cannot live on Christmas cookies alone!)  For you folks – mostly women, admittedly – who are trying to do everything and be everything to all people, pause!  Take the time to make some memories and simply be with the ones you love.  Not every walk I take is intensely therapeutic; tonight I’ll be walking with my little girl who will watch squirrels and marvel at the Christmas decorations that are going up downtown, so a slower pace.  And that’s OK, because I still get my walk, and she and I are making some lovely memories.

Hearty Autumn Cooking

Once all the soaps are on the rack and curing, and the 400+ tubes of lip balms have been labeled, banded, and portioned off to go to their respective customers, it’s time to whip up some edible concoctions as the nights turn chilly and we want heartier fare.  Yet, as I create soups and one-dish meals, I can’t quite give up the light, bright, fresh flavors of summer; I just warm them up a bit with certain herbs and spices.

We warmed up with tomato basil bisque this weekend, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches, because, really, can it get more comforting and warm than that?  I had a few parts of this recipe prepped already from last year’s canning extravaganza, which made it a bit easier to throw together.  It’s full of fresh or frozen veggies, basil fresh from my garden, and zesty Italian spices.

Tomato Basil Bisque
The soup happily bubbling and cooking down the excess liquid. Smells amazing!

I started with frozen tomatoes I had leftover from last year, sliced some fresh onion, and used fresh organic carrots (naturally much sweeter than conventional) that I sliced very thinly.  The tomatoes were very juicy, so I added some powdered dehydrated tomato peel to the liquid to thicken it and increase the tomato flavor with a POW!  At the end of all this, I hit the whole concoction with an immersion blender to make a lovely creamy soup with a little texture to it.


2 T. butter

1/2 cup onion

1 cup shredded carrot

2 T. flour

1 cup milk (or half-and-half)

Quart of chopped tomatoes, skinned

1/2 cup powdered dehydrated tomato skins

1/2 tsp. salt (add more as needed)

1/4 cup basil

1 T. Italian seasoning


Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add chopped onion and shredded carrots. Cook 3-4 minutes until soft. Add flour, a little at a time, stirring it in until it’s absorbed. Gradually stir in milk; let mixture cook for two minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, salt, and Italian seasoning. Let cook for 15 minutes. In small batches, blend soup using either an immersion blender or a conventional blender, processing until mostly smooth. Serve hot.  Makes 4 servings.

*My frozen tomatoes had a LOT of liquid when I thawed them, so I poured out a cup of the liquid (there were 1 1/2 cups total) and gradually added 1/2 cup of dehydrated, processed-to-powder tomato skins to the liquid, stirring after each addition. I let this sit for 3 minutes before adding it to the thickened mixture. This ratio made a good sauce and increased the rich tomato flavor.  You can dry tomato skins in a food dehydrator, oven, or microwave; there are some great instructions online.

Bowl of bisque
Bowl full of warm, comforting goodness! Mostly creamy with a bit of texture for bite.

Doesn’t that look amazing?  I was so pleased with this, and best yet, I have one more quart of tomatoes in the freezer, so I can make it one more time.  If you want the juicy nutrition deets on this soup, you can find them here.  (There is one little error in the recipe; it only makes 4 servings, where I’d put 5 in the one I submitted at Spark Recipes.)  It’s a bit of work, but so worth it!  Enjoy!