Monday, January 30, 2012

Its been a while my friend.....

Well the November craft fair and Christmas after that came and went and I got some great advice that led me to making some new products.  Firstly with the economy being so bad we did really well a the FCTHS Winter Arts & Crafts Fair *grin* I'm very pleased with how it went even if I was up 36 hours straight beforehand and paid for it physically for the next week.  We had fun and made enough to cover the booth fee times 2.  Not a lot but enough for me to say it was a success.

My back and hip have been hurting and hampering me since December and since it was too late to make any more soap for the holiday I took the advice of fellow soaper and learned how to make soy tarts.  I have had such a blast making them and using them here at home.  I hope to sell them at the Spring Fling Arts & Crafts Show on March 31, 2012.  I also took the time to start finding and pricing organic oils and butters so I can phase out my non-organics.  This is a change I think my buyers will appreciate and I want them to have the best ingredients. 

As for my back and hip, I'll be seeing my doctor in February and I'm hoping I can get my insurance company to agree to some slightly difference treatments, that aren't out in left field, that have been proven to make a big difference in Fibromyalgia patients like massage therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture.  I'm going to see if instead of paying my 20% if who ever I use would be willing to accept some of my products for they're own use or for office use.

I've started soaping with the Spring Fling event in mind and I'll be starting work on increasing my inventory on all products so I can start doing one of the local Farmers' Markets.  I still have it in the back of my head to remember to take some soaps over to the local health food store that is interested in testing my products with an eye towards potentially carrying them.  I was also hit this morning by a great idea that I'll be running by Regan that would benefit us both!  Her tea shop closed much to our sadness.  It was a great place and we miss it.

I think that's just about everything that was on my mind for now so TTFN!

Monday, November 7, 2011

To steal a phrase from a friend.....Oh my stars and garters!

I have discovered lotions and scrubs!  I have been reading, studying, researching and bouncing ideas off my soaping forum buddies for other things I can tackle with my limitations and they suggested I make lotion, creams, body butters, sugar scrubs and salt scrubs.  Not quite so easy with my limitations but doable with my loving husband's help.

As usual I picked up several books and talked to the folks that suggested these to me and its coming along nicely.  I have my first, after playing with formulas, unscented, whipped, body butter resting and I'm going to tackle more lotion crafting now.  I got in my orders for mango butter, avocado butter and sweet almond oil to add to the shea, cocoa butter, sunflower and olive oil I already have in stock.  And now I have cetyl alcohol to add to the other emulsifying and thickening ingredients I first ordered.

I'm set for creativity and fun and in the end, joy inducing products for all to try!  I'm also set for help *smile*  My awesome hubby steps in when can't do the physical parts and lets me guide him through the processes necessary to make a good, quality product.  Just the other night he got up every 5 mins to whip the body butter I'd made.  5 mins whipping, 5 mins in the freezer and he did this for over an hour.  I couldn't have done this alone at all.  He prefers, as do I, that I measure everything out and get it into their respective double boilers and do the heat and hold part.  Once that's done he pours it all together and starts mixing.  Hoping tonight we can make some lotion and cream together with some of the new ingredients tonight! 

How awesome is He to have put so wonderful a man into my life as my husband?!  He might get m.e.g.o. with all my chatter about new things to make but he's always got my back when my body lets me down and I say "Honey, I need help."  Thank the Lord for my husband.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ok I'm done beating my head against the wall. I'm back baby!

Been too long since I posted and I've made a lot of soap lol.  I've tried my hand at soaping with pureed pumpkin and got a gorgeous pumpkin pie soap but next time I'll keep the spices to the top so the soap stays looking like a slice of real pumpkin pie.

I also decided to take inventory to see just how much soap I had cured/curing.  A whopping 314!  And that was 2-3 weeks ago so the number has gone up some.  Not as much as it might have since I've been battling some really bad days with the Fibromyalgia messing with my brain/thinking/memory.  I had to give up trying to use an accounting program I'd used for years to set up my company records.  That left me so frustrated and in tears.  One more thing I was losing to the Fibro at least for now.

I talked with hubby and he was in agreement that buying SoapMaker3 Pro was a good move since it was made just for what I was doing.  I spent weeks banging my head against the wall trying to use Peachtree then spent 3 days entering every record I had, including my own recipes.  What a breeze it was and I was back to feeling confident again that I can do this.  You have to grab small victories instead of letting the down days drag at you constantly.

I've had one wood log mold come up cracked right where you screw in the post so I have to now use a clamp to hold the ends on tight so there's no leakage.  And one month after I started using some wonderful silicone molds, I love these things, one split 4" long when I pulled it out of the oven where it was preheating to 170F.  The supplier has already lied to me once about the phone number I gave him "not working".  It worked he just didn't leave a message.  I heard the phone ring but couldn't get to it and I heard the answering machine pick up and then the click of him hanging up.  So we're not off to a great start getting it replaced but they have it in stock and said they're sending me a replacement.

I also found a promising liner for my tube molds at my local cakes and chocolate supply business, Bryant's Candy Cake and Chocolate Supplies, and the folks helping me there were super nice and helpful.  My next great find locally was that Ace Hardware carries a 100% pure lye product.  I'm currently using one that is only 98.5% pure and I've had a few odd things pop up that always have me looking back at my lye amounts.  My scale is spot on and so is my measuring that means its time to look at the lye itself.  Easy fix to just start buying it 100% pure and local.

My hands say I'm done for now.  I just want to say to remember to look for one good thing for every one bad thing that happens and you're day will go soooo much better :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

And here I go!

So I'm now soaping and champing at the bit to just go nuts with more and more batches of soap I can share.  Problem is now is when I need to have patience.  Try one formulation at a time, let it cure, send it out, wait for survey results and in general pace a groove in the floor *grin*  This is not easy for me.  My excitement is is driving me to distraction.  I want to soap! lol  God spent 3 years teaching me patience for a reason so I sit on my hands, some days that means literally, and try to just research, let the computer crunch numbers since I can trust it more then my own brain and keep trying to find that balance between an inexpensive soap that doesn't feel like it.

I'm trying to sell off my HP soaps since I have quite a few in 2 "scents".  I use quotes because one has nothing added.  So many better looking soaps out there on Etsy and competition is tough, as it should be.  That is what drives us to make improvements all the time to improve our soaps.  This too will take time.  Again, patience Laura.

In the meantime I was asked to apply for my daughter's Seasons Greetings Arts and Crafts Fair.  125+ vendors and 2000+ foot traffic.  I'm stunned.  I'm scared.  And I'm worried its too soon.  I've only been soaping for 4 months and by then it will only be 8.  Not long enough by most experienced soapers' recommendations.  If I wait until the Spring Fling Show in March it will still be too soon since I'll only have been soaping for a year by then.  I'm so torn and I'm spending a lot of time praying on this while still making batches of soap.  I feel led to trust and participate but I am catching myself lost in doubt.  I want to trust experienced people telling it how it is and because its the safest way to go about it.  But God doesn't always like to send you down the safest path. *smile*  He likes to send you down the path that tests what you've learned.  That you can trust him completely.  So back to praying while making the next batch of soap.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To soap or quit

So I have a few batches under my belt and I've done both cold processed and hot processed soap.  I can see the benefits and the joys of doing both.  I'm just not sure I can make much money doing this even if all I do is make it for the pleasure it gives me and I'm worried how much this is costing when we have so little.  So I start to questioning if this is a good idea.  We really can't afford this so maybe its not a good idea and it's time to just quit before I get any more invested in this then I am.  I can just make a batch here and there for my family because to be good enough to sell? I don't think we can afford the expense for me to get there when it takes around 6 months to a year to be ready.

Here's where I lose some of you and make some of you say Amen!

I was up at my usual time and sat down with a cup of coffee to watch 700 Club while I read a soap making forum.  I'm no where near done reading all the posts since I last visited (which was just the day before) when 700 Club reaches towards the end of its time and has its prayer time where they pray for people and give words of knowledge.  Now I'm not unfamiliar with this.  I've been in prayer meetings and revivals where it happens so it doesn't phase me as I start listening in.  I sit back, mug in hand, I get that feeling that I need to pay attention so I do.  And on 7/05/2011 at around 55mins and 45secs I hear:

"There's a woman, your nickname is Charlie..."

I almost drop my coffee cup as I hear my high school nickname that has followed me into adulthood.  I wipe at drips of coffee absently paying attention now to the word of knowledge being shared.

"and you have been praying and praying and have just reached a place of such discouragement"

I listen as this prayer punches me in the gut with its accuracy, tears starting to flow as I know this is about me.  Once again He's delivered just the right words at just the right time and as I claim this word for me I am filled with resolve and determination that I Will Succeed.

Within two weeks the family decides "Let's go have lunch at Regan's tea shop!"  Its a 45 minute drive but we know she's been having a rough couple of weeks and going there to eat, while a bit expensive for us, will do nothing but help her out.  I toss a couple bars of my soap in my purse to give to her as a pick me up.  Once we're done eating Regan comes over to say hi and make sure everything was great and I give her a hug and offer her the soaps.  She looks at them and gets a "you know..." smile. "My supplier keeps telling me she's not going to stop selling here but she's not sent me any more stock in 6 months."  she points to the soap display that we'd looked at and I'd been disgusted to see what looked like less then a 3oz bar of soap selling for $5!  "If you decide to sell soap, you can have her space."  I take her up on that offer with the caution that it might be months from now.  She doesn't care.

I can barely contain myself as we head to the car and once we're all seated my hubby and I cheer and thank God for this door opening, this further confirmation that I'm supposed to be doing this and that I just need to keep trusting.  I vow right there to tithe at least 10% of gross sales or $1 per bar, which ever is more and I feel like I'm floating on air I'm so ridiculously happy.  We stop at the health food store I use to pick up some supplies and the cashier, hearing hubby and I talk about my soap making, pushes a card into my hand "When you're ready to sell bring several bars in for our Cosmetics buyer to sample.  We prefer to sell what is made locally and by our customers."

I almost can't breathe.  I sit in the car on the way home and cry instead.  Tears of joy but also from being overwhelmed by love.  By being overwhelmed by Him and his generosity towards me.  We get home and I start searching bulk prices on the oils and herbs I use and start re-working my recipe to make it better while keeping costs down.  I want to sell 5oz bars for $3-4.  I want people to smile with joy when they use my soap it makes them feel so good.

I'm.  Not.  Quitting. *grin*

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And then I learned to soap...

A simple phrase that those who are family to a "soaper" shiver or sigh heavily when they hear it.  It calls to mind a mountain of soap supplies, molds, soaps waiting for re-batching, soap waiting to sell or send as gifts, packing materials kept for reuse, recipes printed and notes all over those pieces of paper and did I mention the books?  Oh yes, book after glorious book bought and read and re-read.  Highlighted, bookmarked, dogeared, cover creased, oil splotched, smelling like 5 different kinds of essential and/or fragrance oils books.  We love them and keep them close at hand when we're learning the trade. 

Making soap isn't easy.  It can be dangerous no matter the method used to create soap.  I'm ridiculously careful so I can make it as slim a chance as possible of anything bad happening.  Did I mention I decided to learn this in the middle of the worst Summer in a really long time?  In Kentucky?  20 something days over 90 degrees in a row and still going strong!  This means my lye can clump in the container from humidity so I'm so hyper careful and don't let anyone handle my lye container except me and no one helps me while I soap until all the lye water solution and oils are in the crockpot.  Period.  All it takes is one grain of lye landing on a sweaty arm and it starts eating its way in as you panic and scramble to the sink for cold water to flush it with.  I take all the precautions I can and that are recommended when using lye I take it very seriously.  My hubby happily stirs once it's in the pot so I can sit and stave off the hip pain I still get if I over do it.  But the bug has bitten me and there's no denying it. 

Just ask my husband who now takes several bars of each kind of soap I make to work because they come to him for soap now even if just to see what's new. *grin*  My friends can't wait to see what I make next so they can test it out and I just can't wait to start selling it!  I can't wait to sniff the next sample scent my supplier drops in my box with each order!  It's like Christmas every month and I have thought about splitting up my orders so I can try out more samples but I think each supplier just sends the same single sample until they're all gone.  Which still works out well really.  I have enough of one sample to make a decent sized batch of soap.  And as a sign that I really need to make another batch of soap my new mold and oils order just arrived!  "Oh honey!"

Thank you Lord for making me useful again.  Thank you for the lessons I've learned these past 3 years and thank you for the chance to earn extra income even if it won't come near what I receive while on disability for the near future.  I believe in accountability so I'm stating here for the world to see that I am tithing 10% of my sales, official or not.  And for those of you who care to know that there really is someone out there that knows what doing the right thing is, Yes, I will be reporting every dime I make on a quarterly basis to the disability boards once it stops being a negative.

The next 3 years

3 years later we haven't lost the house and won't.  Our bills are covered and in those 3 years when we prayed, it was answered.  A way would open up for my husband to work extra hours on overtime.  A sudden refund check we weren't expecting.  Someone from church remembered how we were still struggling, it was Christmas and our in-laws were scrambling to help cover the cost of gas just so we could come out and see them for a week for the first time in over a year.  That someone put our name in for gift card worth $500.  We got to the church not knowing why the office needed to talk to us and broke down crying as they handed it to us and explained how we were being watched over and cared for even when we didn't know it.  The lights and heat wouldn't get turned off after all and we'd still have enough money to pay for gas to drive to Delaware to see family.  There would be no presents but we didn't care.  We had something a lot better.

Next, in February, we had our income taxes reviewed before sending them in and the tax professional found an extra $2,000 we were owed back.  The emergency payment fund for the mortgage and utilities went up by one more month.  We were starting to be able to breathe again.
It took 6 months to have my disability case assigned to someone to review and promptly deny.  We had hired a lawyer and 2 years later he said I had a slim chance of winning because of 2 things; I was only 40 and my medical records were not thick enough.  I hadn't had this kind of trouble before and now it was going against me.  We walked into the hearing room and the judge eyed my cane then looked at me like he'd already made up his mind.  I nearly cried right there.  You see he didn't know what it took for me to even get to his room.  My husband half carried me into the courthouse because the snow on the unshoveled sidewalks had turned icy in the early morning shadows and my cane couldn't get a grip.  I was on my 6th Vicodin and up to 1000mg of Motrin and it was only 9am.  I'd been up since 4am crying from the pain that chased me out of bed because laying down any longer then I already had hurt too much.  They had sent us to the wrong floor, we didn't know that yet, and we'd sat there in those hard plastic chairs that no one's butt really fits in well so you're always uncomfortable.  Me?  I was sitting there with the pain blooming bigger and bigger fighting off the strong desire to just break down and sob but I'd refused to take anymore meds so I'd be clear headed enough to answer questions.  Yeah I know.  6 Vicodin and I was still clear headed the pain ate it up so easily.  

After 2 hours of sitting there they inform us that "I'm sorry but someone should have told you that your hearing was moved to another floor."  I'm now looking at my husband and he's very much aware of how brittle I am from the pain all ready as I ask him to help me walk because my leg is acting up making the cane almost pointless.  We get to the new floor and new hearing room and my lawyer takes over helping me walk/hop into the room as I'm trying to use the cane and not fall on my face.  It doesn't take more then maybe 45 mins and the questions are over and the judge asks the court appointed doctor if there is any job that I can successfully perform for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week and she tells him "No, not one.  She needs too many requirements for any company to hire her and even with them she can't work more then 2-3 hours a day like this."  My heart leaps, maybe I stand a chance after all.  "I'm putting this hearing on hold until I have more information from your doctor.  I need to know how she came to the conclusions that you can't work." is what the judge says.  Even my lawyer's jaw drops a little at this nonsense.  3 weeks later I get a letter in the mail from the disability board. 

I won!  I wave the letter around and my husband and daughter join me crying.  Against very steep odds I won my case much to my lawyer's astonishment.  And the good news was that I was going to receive my back pay, two and half years worth, in the next few weeks.  Guess what was sitting in that same stack of mail?  Yup.  My back pay!  Everything that could be paid off in full, was.  Medical bills were paid off and we could finally get a few home repairs done that were very needed.  He had been watching over us is all I can say.  Every lawyer and Fibromyalgia sufferer that has seen the facts can only agree with that statement. We were being blessed and I could now get on the road to recovery and take back my life.

I'm 3 years into this journey and I'm on only the second drug ever approved to treat my condition and 9 months in on a maintenance dose has given us such hope that that I can only keep getting better.  My dosage was raised a few months after that and I've gone from heading for a wheelchair a year ago to no longer needing a cane or wheelchair except for outdoor outings where I can't stay on my feet with the uneven ground or the amount of walking needed to be done but I'm getting there.  At home I can finally "help" some with the chores, hubby still does most of them and even with my "help" I can't put a dent in the cleaning like I used to be able to.  Give me another year and I bet I can :D

And then I got this urge, for the second summer in a row, to make soap.....