It sat on my bathroom counter for years, “it” being a large cork with a styrofoam hemisphere glued on top and seashells covering the styrofoam. I’d had it for years. Way back when Peter and I were dating or engaged – I honestly can’t remember which Christmas it was – his brother and his family had given me a glass jar filled with red and green m&m’s and topped with this seashell-covered lid. The majority of the shells were augers, a small spiral shell that is easy to find along the Crystal Coast. Once the m&m’s were history (my love of m&m’s is legendary among my friends and family members and was a running gag in grad school), that jar made a lovely addition to my bathroom counter, often filled with cotton balls.
A few years ago, my younger daughter accidentally knocked the jar off the counter, leaving me with just the lid. I’m pretty sure my husband’s sister-in-law had painstakingly glued all those shells onto the lid herself, had designed it from shells gathered over the course of numerous trips to the family’s beach house. Because of that, I couldn’t bring myself just to trash it, and as I was striving towards decluttering the counter top, I really didn’t feel replacing the jar was a high priority.
One morning over breakfast as I was staring out the window at the grapevine trellis edging its way to winter’s dormancy, it came to me. I could make grapevine wreaths! I wouldn’t even have to buy them; I could harvest my own grapevines and make them myself. A little later that morning, the shell-covered lid caught my eye, and the idea of making beach-themed wreaths for Christmas gelled.
I immediately set about twining the vines into wreaths. I think I got a bit overly ambitious in my harvesting. My husband, Peter, got into the action, too. After a little trimming and tucking, they looked great! (These are before the trimming and tucking.)
I made a video of the designing of these, complete with a view of the final results.
I hung these right beside the front door, and I am pleased with how they turned out and how they look. Although it looks like they’re strung together, I left them separate so I could hang them differently in other years. I’m also excited to be able to showcase the beautiful shells that were originally on the jar lid and give them new life.
Happy crafting, and please post your project pictures! I’d love to see them!
They’re he-ere! The absolutely adorable flip flop soaps are poured and nearly wrapped, all ready to deck your bathroom in coastal Christmas flair. I decided to take you behind the scenes and show you how I make these soaps. They’re a bit of work, but the results are so totally worth it! Check it out!
These charming soaps come in two festive scents: Sleigh Ride, a brisk fragrance that blends mint, vanilla, and pine; and Christmas Spice, a lovely spicy seasonal scent that has been a favorite among my customers for fifteen years. Not only would these look awesome in your bathroom, but they make unique stocking stuffers and thoughtful gifts for the beach lovers in your life. I invite you to pick yours up today. Quantities are very limited, and I don’t think these will be around for long.
It’s almost here! Soooo exciting! What’s the big deal? WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL!?!?! Free shipping day! That’s the big deal!
I’m not just talking this up for promotional purposes (though we are participating again). This truly is my favorite online shopping day of the year from a retailer’s standpoint.
So what makes Free Shipping Day such a highlight for me? Because I get to ship smiles. I’ve been participating in this one-day-a-year event for the past few years, and of all the orders I receive, most are going to other people, which means we’re shipping Christmas presents. The recipients open their packages, bust open the package, read the name on the tag, and they know someone was thinking of them. Then they open the wrapped goodies inside and get to experience our amazing products (if I do say so myself).
A little personal story… I was in graduate school the first time around back in the days when the internet was infantile and online shopping wasn’t really a thing. I certainly didn’t have internet or email myself. I’d get mail order catalogs and thumb through them at night while I was unwinding, choosing gifts for people that I thought they’d love, mailing my check and order form, and waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. Finally I’d get the little salmon slip in my mailbox announcing a package had arrived for me, and I’d schlep it back to my apartment, barely heeding the envious looks of other students (“Package! I like packages!” I felt the same way when someone else got one.). Once back in my apartment, I ripped into the box, rifled through all the packing material, and pulled out my order, oohing and ahhing over the items, imagining how much this person or that person would (hopefully) love this gift. Then, I’d wrap the gift and place it under the tree, delightedly expectant of the joy of giving it and watching the recipient unwrap it.
I feel that same sense of expectant joy when I’m wrapping these packages to ship on Free Shipping Day. While I don’t get to see the recipients’ faces, it still excites me knowing that I have some small part in the love they might feel in this holiday season.
Back in October, I pulled the troops together for a family meeting. The gist of this meeting went something like this: “I’m tired of being so busy during December, running my business, chauffeuring kids around, doing all the cooking, teaching, and keeping the house running. I never get a chance just to rest and relax. While y’all are playing games, watching specials, and reading, I end up worn to a frazzle. Things are going to change this year. We’re going to work as a team and get things done together so we can all enjoy the season.” And work we did. We started doing the Fly Lady thing every weekend, and with tremendous results. Fifteen, thirty minutes of cleaning as a family followed by standing back, admiring our work, and patting ourselves on the back.
Things were going along rather swimmingly. We were knocking out the cleaning and the cooking, preparing to decorate and for our trip to the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla. We had food in containers and food in bags in the freezer. Then a crisis hit.
It’d been a good day. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I’d taken the girls into the closest city to shop for their Christmas dresses and to return a certified pre-owned Nook to Barnes & Noble that the company had sent me by mistake. I guess it’s not nice to mess with the minds of low-wage retail workers (“You want to return this? I need to talk to my manager about this. I haven’t ever had a situation like this before.”), because doing so must’ve been bad karma or something. The girls and I returned home with our purchases, and as I was walking across the kitchen floor, I slid down and dislocated my knee. Oh, sweet heavens, was THAT a new and unique kind of pain!
The girls were amazing, I met some pretty nice EMTs and emergency room staff, and I finally came back home around 8:30 that night with a shiny pair of crutches and a referral for an ortho follow-up. The next day I went for the appointment and left with a sexy black peek-a-boo knee brace (the perfect accessory to all my holiday wardrobe essentials)
and instructions to wear it for the next 6 weeks, 23/7. When you dislocate the patella, there is damage to the soft tissue where it lands, and there’s also damage to the soft connective tissue that holds the patella in place. These tissues, the ligaments especially, take a long time to heal, but with proper care and attention, they heal fine. I’m about halfway through my healing process. Oh, plus there’s the addendum to those instructions regarding the brace: “Stay off of it as much as possible.”
Squee! That means being still and resting all through Advent! That means staying off my feet and letting people take care of me. So far I’ve gotten to play on NORAD every day with my youngest. I’ve knitted. A lot. I’ve done Christmas cards; blogged; and spent some very valuable time brainstorming, reading, and preparing for some amazing changes in my business in the New Year. This has been incredible! Sure, I’ve missed making soap and baking, but perhaps the Good Lord knew that I wouldn’t stop as planned without something major happening to me.
My family has been great about taking care of me and everything else. Mary has been grooving on the soapmaking, really coming into her own as a soap artisan. My best friend drove down last week to take the girls and me to finish our Christmas shopping. Thanksgiving was awesome, because we were home with my parents. I don’t care how old I am or how many boo-boos I’ve kissed myself; I’ve got a major boo-boo myself, and I needed my own Mom. Even just having Mom air around is somehow healing. My dad is a very well-respected physical therapist, so that just added another layer of incredible healing mojo to our visit. I was slightly amused – and touched – when my dad offered to help me navigate up the two steps to their porch. I’d been gimping up and down our stairs in our 2-story house for 3 days at that point. But he’ll always be my dad, and he’s a physical therapist even off the clock, so such is to be expected. I’m lucky as all get-out to have him, because he’s given me pointers, suggestions, exercises, and prayers for my patience. He’s done more to help my healing progress than my orthopedist has. When I go back to the doctor in a hair under three weeks, I’m hoping he’ll be wow’ed by my progress.
While a knee brace and crutches weren’t quite in my grand plan for this Advent season, I’m finding the blessing in being able to take it easy. The family is getting a great learning opportunity as they experience my duties and responsibilities. My best friend got the unusual opportunity to take care of me (generally, I’m doing the caretaking). While the boredom really gets to me sometimes, I’m looking for the silver lining, and I think I’ve found it.
How do you take it easy in the craziness? How do you make sure you get the rest and relaxation you need?
You just know it would work out this way. Three weeks of fall break, three weeks of fun, canning, movie watching, and not a peep out of my large order customers. We’re talking crickets, folks. Crick-ets! Days before it ended, orders started rolling in right and left. What??? Now?! And it’s not just that orders started rolling in, but they came in with announcements of preorders. Three weeks of “Oh my gosh, I’m so bored!” now has given way to some serious hustle, right as we’re resuming our second term of school.
This past weekend was especially busy as I worked to fulfill last week’s orders. The biggest thing is, though, I wanted to clean off the dinette table. Two batches of soap, lotion bars, and lip balms, and there wasn’t room for a dirty thought on that table, let alone room for a person or four to sit and dine. In the midst of all this, I really want to put forward with the great cleaning-before-decorating thrust, as well as begin our holiday cooking. My girls like helping me cook, but the younger one, especially, just wants to sit down with me and watch a movie, read, or snuggle. It’s so hard finding the time to do everything while still attending to the family as they need, but over the years, I’ve developed my own tricks for making this work for us.
Lists. Lists help me visualize what tasks I need to accomplish in what order. I’m a bit obsessive in my list making, thinking always in a linear fashion: A then B then C then D… And D can’t happen until C happens. Lists are a great way for anybody to square up their work priorities, but it seals the deal when I’m trying to balance work and family life.
Working ahead. When it’s at all possible, I take an hour or two at a time to knock out something ahead of time. Maybe it’s a batch of soap that’s that customer’s standard order. Or perhaps it’s 100 tubes of lip balm for this customer. Those tasks don’t take a huge amount of time, but doing them sooner rather than later can free up a huge amount of pressure and stress later.
Prioritizing my day. When it comes to my day, what’s most important to me? Usually it’s breakfast, shower, exercise, and the girls’ education. Then what comes next? Production, newsletters, blog posts, marketing, website work. Somewhere in the midst of this comes a huge pair of brown eyes and a sweet voice saying, “Mom, can we _____?” No, not right now… Wait. What. Is. Important. To. Me? Is it crucially, vitally necessary that I change my slider on my website right now, or can it wait til tonight after the girls are in bed? The point at which I start making my business more important than my family is the point where I need to give up the business. The business will be around a while, but my daughters won’t be little girls forever.
Taking time away from the business. This was probably the hardest decision for me to make. Once upon a time, I was all about doing everything possible for my business and my customers, regardless of the sacrifices I had to make. I started last Christmas when I shut down my business for two weeks. I still received large orders from customers, but all that was required of me at those times was a quick email assuring them I’ll process their orders when we reopen. Once I made this decision, I realized it was the best one I could have made for my stress level and my family.
No. Such a small word with such great power! Actually, I say “no” by saying “yes.” To the last-minute request to add soaps to an order… “Sure, and I will add two days to your order processing time.” “I’ll happily take care of that after my vacation.” “I’ll process your order when we reopen early in January.” These boundaries are my way of saying, “No, I won’t let you make further demands on my time.” Work Me ends here, and Family Me begins here, and Family Me wants to savor this time.
Family Me is now in high demand, so Work Me has to clock out for a while.
Hi! This month I am writing a series about our Christmas decorating. I am doing one blog post per week, each getting sent out on Fridays, with the last one coming the Friday before Christmas. Now we set up our village. It is magical! And it’s such a size that fairies could live in it. Our elf-on-the-shelf (Elfie) even sat on the Chapel on the hill.
Filled with excitement and fun, it seems like a simple night with a few people around. It is sooo calm and soothing. There are some folks deciding to have a midnight skate under a clear sky, while others decide to go for a stroll or sled down the hill.
We have a lot of decorating still to go, but we should still remember what Christmas is all about, too. I hope you don’t catch a cold! Bye for now!
Sometimes, life is feast or famine. A couple of months of ease have given way to a week of total insanity, as a wholesale order, a private label order, and a major show have all come together at one time. Mary has had to make a bunch of Reindeer Poo soaps and bags for the wholesale order and the event, and she’s feeling the stress. On
top of that, she needs to make a couple of more gift sets. And do school. And her chores. Yes, my sweet 11-year-old girl is in agony right now!
Well, guess what? I’m stressed, too. Can you imagine how awful and unproductive it’d be if both of us were stressed at the same time? So, I’ve decided to create teachable moments from the stressful moments. I can’t take the stress away from her. Oh, if only I could! The best I can do is give her tools to manage her stress.
As I type this, we’re both benefiting from one of my favorite ways to ease stress: We’re listening to classical music. She has heard me say dozens of times that I prefer classical when I’m strung, and this morning, Mary actually asked me to play classical today. This is the same child who cries, “Oh, no! Not classical again!” every time we’re in the car. It’s working; she told me not long ago that she’s feeling much less stressed this afternoon.
This morning she asked me why I’m don’t seem very stressed. I started to tell her, “I formulated a plan that I’m using to guide me,” but that just led to eye-rolling. So I said, “You’re already stressed. We can’t both be stressed. That’d just be disastrous, so I’m going to be zen.” My youngest piped up and said, “And if you get stressed, then I’ll be zen! And if I’m not zen, then Daddy can be zen. And if Daddy isn’t zen, then Grandpa can be. And if Grandpa…” I cut her off there with a smile and said, “Your Grandpa is always zen.”
Today, like every day this week, we’ve planned and executed. The trite but true response to “How will we get this all done?” is simply, “We just do it.” As we entered the last of the wrapping/labeling phase this morning, we have been able to see the fruits of our labors coming together as soaps have stacked up on the table to be transferred to bins for transporting or boxes for shipping. Just that – seeing all this work moving from the production stage into the pre-selling stage – has been more motivating than anything else so far this week.
Earlier in the week, Mary was making bags for the Reindeer Poo soaps using my sewing machine when it started to make this really unpleasant noise. We figured it was just struggling from lack of use. But then, the next afternoon, the noise got louder, and the machine stopped working altogether. Whee! Let’s shoot that stress level up another notch or two or twelve! Mary dug out her sewing machine, and as it fired up, a collective sigh of relief blew through the house – until that night, when it was being temperamental. She was in tears of fatigue and frustration. “It’ll be OK,” I told her. “Go to bed, and we’ll attack it fresh in the morning.” Sure enough, her sewing machine worked great the next day.
Along with all this, my youngest has been feeling left out. She’s used to having more attention from Mommy and big sister through the day than she’s been getting this week. There are some things she can do, but not many. This morning, she admitted that she has been misbehaving more to get more attention. I’ve had to be more attuned to her needsand wants, even when I’m labeling lip balms and wrapping soap and bottling Tahiti Kiss all at the same time. Today at nap time, she said, “I’ve tried to behave better.” She has.
While I’m used to this level of work and having to meet deadlines, Mary isn’t, so this has been a tremendous learning experience for her. She’s had to learn time management, stress management, and the importance of working smarter instead of harder. Those are all great lessons which will serve her well in life and business.
As we navigate through the coming months, you’re going to see and hear me use different words to refer to this time of the year. Already you’ve seen references to “holiday event” and “Holiday Shoppe.” Yet, those who know me know I’m a Christ-follower (it’s pretty much everywhere on my social media profiles) and are probably wondering why in the world I’m not referring to everything red and green as “Christmas this” and “Christmas that.”
Christmas is a holiday, a holy day. It’s a day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends. This is a beautiful thing. We observe our traditions, like attending a flotilla each year and watching Christmas specials together. We bake Christmas cookies, and we spend time with family and friends. The girls help me make the traditional family coconut cake for Christmas dinner with my family, and we attend a Christmas Eve Lovefeast service each year before driving around and looking at lights.
Holiday refers to this time of year marked by commercialism, secular trappings, sales, promotions, and Christmas-themeproducts. This doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with the true meaning of Christmas. Now, I know I’m a business owner, and I make and sell Christmas-themed products. I love these products because they’re fun products to make and sell.
But you want to know something? While I like making money from my business (otherwise, what’d be the point, ya know?), that’s not what drives me this time of year. My absolute favorite part of selling during the holiday season is sending smiles. It goes like this. I pull orders off my site’s admin section, then I start pulling products, usually with the help of someone in my family. We spread all these orders out on the table, I print off the packing slips, and we start packing these to ship.
My favorite thing is when I see the shipping address and billing address are different. That usually means someone is getting a gift. So I wrap their products in tissue, tie them with a bow, and attach a gift tag (this is just something we do). The person on the receiving end of the package gets a surprise, and who doesn’t love knowing that someone else is thinking of them? Or, if the buyer has me ship the package to them, then there’s the chance that they’re going to be wrapping those lovely goodies themselves to tuck under the tree or into stockings. Or, perhaps a soap and a lotion will grace a powder or guest room, all ready for visiting family and friends to enjoy.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s all about the giving. I might be the middle man in this lovely gift-fest, but I have the privilege every year of helping send smiles. And love. And fabulous soaps. And that’s just really several layers of awesome.