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.....

How I got to here

I have Fibromyalgia.  I've had it close to 22 years now.  Its never been so bad that I couldn't work when I had to although I've had fun working around it sometimes.  3 years or so ago I was working at a job that I loved making a wage that was a dream come true for me.   I had just married my husband, my soul mate.  A giant of a man with a heart to match who believed in Christ like I do.  We viewed everything the same way, so much so that you'd think we'd been raised next door to each other and grew up in the same church when in fact there is an 11 year difference in our ages.  You can't tell when we're together except in looks that we're that far apart in ages and the best parts are the he loves the Lord and my daughter as much as I do.  I was on top of the world until the tornadoes hit at a time when my Fibromyalgia was acting up and I was having trouble with my right hip and leg giving out.  

I lost count of how many times I went up and down the basement stairs that night as tornado after tornado blew through Louisville I just know that by the time the night quieted, around 3:30am we went to go upstairs to catch a couple hours sleep before work and I couldn't stand up.  I could no longer walk on my right leg.  Each time I put weight on it pain in my hip flairs like someone thrust a red hot poker into the socket and my leg collapsed under me.  Out went calls to work and appointments were made daily with doctors that didn't do a lot to get me back to walking.  Finally on the 3rd day and now on steroids my doctor took me off work for 5 days.  I had him fax a doctor's note to my employer's office manager and cried my heart out.

As pain meds kicked in and I drifted into a semi-aware state where I could still feel the pain it registered that the phone rang and I could hear my husband trying to get a word in edgewise with the caller.  He walked into our bedroom where I was and he was holding the phone a good 4-6 inches from his ear and trying to interrupt my office manager who was screaming into the phone at him.  I even tried talking to her but long story short she stated she was going to lie about us calling in with updates.  I was fired and she was going to tell the owner, who we had talked to the day before, that I failed to show up to work and there for abandoned my job.  Oh and that doctor's note she had in her hands?  It was going into the shredder because she "never received it".

This set my health in a downward spiral that I'm still struggling up from.  Why?  Because this incident shook my faith and tarnished my opinion of Christian employers/business owners.  See the company I worked for was owned by one of my church elders who was also purported to be a rotating deacon.  I called and left him a voicemail because what the manager did was illegal.  The manager found out about it and while he was out, went in and erased the message.  I have these facts from a reliable source, the receptionist who transferred me to his voicemail.

So how in the world does a crises like this put me out of work for 3 years and counting?  Stress.  More stress then I ever had before.  We'd bought a house a month and a half before this and now 60% of our income was gone and in a few months I'd no longer have health insurance to battle back.  But there's a happy ending in all this I promise :D in the next post.