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To Market, to Market. Part 3 – 10 things to remember to take with you

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing to attend my first market (after a long break) but decided to wait until the market was over before completing it, so that I could share my experiences along with a check list.  What I have put together is a general list of things to take with you,  that you can use as a guide for your own market preparation.   And hopefully you will learn from my mistakes!

I can report that I really enjoyed the market.  I sold enough to make it financially worthwhile, got to test out my displays, my packing and my products, and I was able to talk to customers.  I even sold one of the tea cosies that my mum knitted (as well as a few of my own!)  Overall it was a great start on my journey back to markets.   I made a few mistakes but recovered from them, and learnt a lot at the same time.

  1. Shelter

Is your market indoors or outdoors?    If it is outdoors are you going to have shelter provided or will you need your own.  In my case I have a 3m x 3m portable gazebo that I can erect for outside markets, so that is on my checklist.   If you are attending an indoor market it pays to check whether you are allowed to set up gazebos inside as many markets will not allow it.

If you are outside remember to have something to secure your gazebo or marquee in case of strong winds.  (Yes – something I forgot to take with me).   You can buy weights for the legs or make them yourself – just remember them and remember to put them in place because it would be quite disastrous to have your shelter fly across the market ground if the wind picks up!

It also pays to think about whether you need walls for your structure.   I had two walls with me, but as I ended up on a corner site I only used one, as a backdrop.

My set up at an outdoor market with the back wall up.

2. Display furniture

How are you displaying your products? I will be taking a table, some shelves, a screen and some boxes that provide different heights for displays.   Doing a run through at home is always good so that you know how things will look on the day.  Make a list of all your props so that you can check them off in your packing.   Then be prepared for changes.   My stall was moved to a corner position on the night, so it would have been useful to have a second table – something I will definitely be taking next time.    I am also thinking about floor covering – it makes a difference!

The shelves worked well to display the tea cosies but I wasn’t happy with the rest of my display – tweaking is required!

3.  Cloths and props

A table cloth that reaches the ground is an important part of a good market set up. Apart from making your table look good it also gives you an excellent storage spot that is out of sight. I find it handy for hiding the storage boxes that my products are carried in so they are at hand for packing up at the end of the market.

If you are using props for your display these need to be on your list. Most of my props are teapots for displaying my tea cosies so I need to remember these otherwise there will be some floppy crocheted piles on my shelves!

It is a bonus when your props double as storage

4. Lighting

Lighting is important whether you are at an indoor or outdoor event.  Events indoors can sometimes be gloomy so having some lighting to brighten your display is a great way of attracting customers.   Outdoor events that go into the evening will definitely benefit from lighting, and even daytime outdoor events can be gloomy so some lighting to brighten your space will help.

The range of possibilities for lighting is wide.  If you don’t have access to power during your market then the range of solar lighting is large and affordable these days.  I have some rice-paper-style globes from Ikea that are solar powered that cost about $15 and add light in a nice way.  Another option is battery powered lights – rechargable or not.   I have a rechargable flourescent light that gives great lighting (from the auto section at a hardware shop) and fairy lights from Big W that run on two AA batteries.  All of these provide flexible lighting solutions……if you remember to pack them.  Ahem.   If the bright light is still plugged into it’s charger on the bench at home it isn’t much use when night falls…..

If you do remember to take your lights, make sure you know how you are going to attach them to your display and pack cable ties, bluetack, hooks etc, depending on your needs.

5. Signage

I have a banner with a stand lets people know who I am and what I am selling.  One of the best responses I had to my banner was from a man who said ‘I know that name, ‘a little bird made me’.   Let me think – your mother is Elizabeth, and you are Theresa and you live out in Bywong.’   It turns out he is the local courier who delivers my parcels – that my mother always signs for.

6. Bags and packaging

When people buy your products it pays to be able to package them so that they will travel home from the market safely.   Paper bags with handles suit most items, but have a think about the size of your products and make sure you have bags that suit those items best.  I have carry bags that will accommodate cups and saucers, and tea cosies but a pair of earring would be lost in them, so I will have smaller bags for those small items.    If you have a fragile product it is good to be able to wrap it in tissue paper or bubble wrap to cushion it on it’s trip home.   Having your packaging branded is good to do before hand too – in my case I use a stamp with my logo to mark the bags as being from my business.

7.  Admin Box.

This is the box that holds all the things that you will need for each market, so that you don’t have to find and pack them everytime.  The admin box is where you put:

     (a)  Business cards or fliers

People like to take a card so that they can look you up when they next want a product like yours, so having a pile of cards or fliers is an easy way to ensure return custom.   They also provide a great discussion point with customers who are asking whether you sell on line etc.

     (b) Float

You need to be ready to give change to the first customer who comes along!   And it helps if you remember the KEY to your cash box and don’t leave it sitting on the bench at home, 20 kms away.   Ahem.   Luckily my parents willingly drove home, found the key and returned it to me.  After all of that I didn’t have to make change for any customer – they all had the right money or used my card facilities!

    (c) Credit card facility

Again – if you have the facility for people to pay by card they are more likely to purchase from you.  Make sure you have any connecting hardware, that you have tested it and that you know how to operate it.   If your eftpos facility gives paper receipts carry a spare roll.

   (d) Notebook and pen

For taking orders, fo writing reminders to yourself about what has worked and what hasn’t, for writing out notes for customers, or taking down phone numbers, this is important to have.

    (e) Repair kit

Accidents happen, both to your products and to your display.   Having a small kit with sticky tape and duct tape, a screwdriver, scissors, pins, and whatever else you might need for your set up is sensible.

    (f) Chargers

Because there is nothing worse than running out of battery on your phone, your eftpos facility, your lights etc.   Having the right charger cords and plugs, plus a power bank if there is no power provided, takes a lot of stress out of managing your stall.

8. Price tags

The best way to ensure sales is to have the prices for your products clearly marked.  If people have to interrupt you serving another customer to ask how much something is they will often walk away instead of asking. If you can’t put a price on each item, make sure that you have clear and easily visible signs that announce the prices.   Ikea picture frames are handy for making your signs look professional without breaking the bank.

9. Drink bottle and a snack

Keeping hydrated helps you to maintain your energy levels while you serve customers. A low mess snack to help keep your energy levels up is important. High protein snacks like nuts are a good option here.

10. Product!

No point going to a market if you have nothing to sell!    Make a list of your products and then tick them off as you pack them, so that nothing is missed out and left behind,   Then check that you have packed all your boxes in the car so that you haven’t left one behind either (not my mistake but a very common one for other people I know!)

Having a box for each product category helps keep track of what you are packing

 

If you have other ideas that you think should be added to the list do let me know!

Lambs!

It has been a busy couple of weeks on the farm and in the studio.  The school holidays have ended, the weather has been steadily improving (in other words getting warmer) and I have been continuing to prepare for my first market.

The return to school was not as smooth as I would have liked with one child struggling to get there at all and another excluded for two weeks on the first day, which means that I have spent a fair bit of time in conversation with various professionals, providers and support people, looking for yet another new strategy.  The search for the strategy isn’t over yet but some ideas are starting to come together and some further meetings this week should help to finalise a new plan.   Until the next crisis hits and we need another plan.   The life of a special needs parent – constantly looking for the next plan, idea, strategy or support. Sigh.

Of course this all eats into my ‘making’ time but I have still been able to work on a few new products over the last couple of weeks.   I decided that attending markets means that I need a broader range of price points (because, you know, I am taking my own advice!) so I have produced a range of earrings that are all centred on teacups and tea pots!   They have been really well received and I have some further ideas in the pipeline so that is a bit exciting.

 

I also decided that I needed to express my support for the LBGTIQ community while the same sex marriage survey is going on here in Australia.  I have a number of friends who are part of this community and am conscious that the conversations being held in the media and online are hurting people that I love.   One of my friends shared a picture of her family making the word ‘yes’ from stones on a beach, as a positive way of expressing how they were feeling.   It got me to thinking, and the end result is a rainbow ‘yes’ tea cosy, because that is my way of sharing my feelings.

I managed to get some more candles made, using some new tea scents – chai latte and a rooibus and mango fragrance.  The house still smells good!

Then we hit Tuesday.   Tuesday was my birthday and I had quietly thought I might take the kids out for a treat, get a bit of time to myself and then go out to dinner with my parents and the children.   A gentle, slightly self-indulgent, plan.  But nature had something different in mind, so when I woke early on Tuesday it was to my Dad telling me that there were two new sets of twin lambs born.   We all rushed down to the paddock and could see one set with their mum , very obviously only just delivered.

The brown and white lamb is a boy while the black and white twin is a girl. We think her spots look like constellations!

Then there were two other babies wandering around amongst all the ewes, being headbutted out of the way quite roughly.   Some investigation showed me which ewe was their mother but she was very disinterested in looking after her babies, so we settled in to watch for a while.   After a few hours it became obvious that she wasn’t letting them feed – each time they tried to attach to her ginormous teats and udders she kicked them away.   This set the pace for the rest of the day – we had to separate her and the twins from the rest of the flock, to pen them and see if she would feed, then to try and help the babies to attach (which involved Dad holding the ewe in a headlock, me holding her back legs, and my mum holding the lamb to the teat.  When she continued to push them off we resorted to milking her to get some colostrum for them, and had to make the decision to take the babies and bottle feed them.   I second guessed and questioned every decision I needed to make, rang the vet, took advice from others and worried and worried and worried.  But we got there in the end – two baby lambs who were tired and hungry were warm and snug in a crate in our house.  It took two days before they could attach to the bottle teat themselves – we had to pry their mouths open to get the teat in, but on day 4 I can report that they are happily drinking without aid, and are full of beans, bouncing around on the grass in the outside run and sleeping in the crate inside at night.    It has been a little stressful, with middle of the night feeds and worry about their health but we seem to be through the worst of it.  Although their mother still has a giant udder she doesn’t seem to have developed mastitis and is wandering around the paddock with the others quite happily.   Now to wait for the rest of them to have their lambs!   I am quite glad that they didn’t all arrive at once – four was quite enough for one day!

These are our poddy lambs, who are being bottle fed. The brown and white one is a girl, while the black and white is a boy – the opposite of the other set of twins!

My birthday was sort of lost in all of the lamb care and we didn’t go out anywhere but the day ended quite nicely.   I had a gin and tonic with my parents, sitting outside enjoying the evening air, then defrosted a curry from the freezer and the children and I sat and talked and laughed while we ate it, then played cards together and went for a walk.   That hour together was magical and was the best gift I could have hoped for!

Since then we have had the middle chick’s birthday – she is a teenager now!   I finally gave in a bought her a horse for her birthday.   The fact that it is plastic and stands about 20 cm high doesn’t seem to have bothered her too much!

I had another cake fail/rescue for her birthday when I discovered that the cream that I had planned to whip for her birthday pavlova was ‘non-whipping’ cream.  Gulp!   So a batch of thick vanilla custard was made, and cooled down in an ice bath, and served very well as a substitute.   It would be nice to make a birthday cake that doesn’t require custard to save it though!

As so often is the case, my week looked nothing like I thought it would, but it has had some lovely moments of joy even though it was completely off script!   I hope that your week has had moments of peace and joy too.

 

To market, to market. Part two – 7 things to do in preparation for a market.

Thanks for all the lovely feedback on my earlier post about things to think about before attending a market.   I have had some great conversations with people as a result of this!  Today I am going to focus on the things that you should be doing in preparation for attending a market.   These are all things that take a bit of time and organisation and need to be done in the weeks leading up to the market – not the day before. The stuff you are doing the day before is a whole other list!!

  1. Organise some great product shots.

What?   Why do I need good photos of my products for a market – the customers at the market will be able to see them in the flesh (so to speak!).   Hypothetical narrators questions aside, the answer is that having great product shots means that the promoters of the market are going to be able to share your images on social media, and on their advertisements, so that people are enticed to attend the market. If you have some dodgy shots taken on your old iPhone3 in dim lighting and with a cluttered background the organisers are not going to want to use your images, so you miss out on attracting a whole bunch of potential customers.   I have seen some shocking product photos provided by designers – one set was of some beautiful handmade knitwear displayed on a glass topped table that was covered in greasy hand prints and dust – which definitely did not induce me to look further at the products.

Tips for good product shots include natural lighting ( I personally love taking photos outside in spring in the middle of the day but that is not always possible or convenient!), a flattering background that doesn’t overpower the product, and if the product is an unusual one, having it presented so that it’s purpose is obvious.   For example a scarf will have more impact draped over a form than folded flat on a table.  Backgrounds don’t have to be elaborate – I have friends who have had great success with some patterned wallpaper that gave the look of wooden boards or bricks.    Once again, making sure that your photos reflect your brand is important.  You don’t have to have a professional photographer take shots for you (especially if all of your products are one of a kind) but it can be a good idea so that you have a nice set of professional images to use in your marketing.

A designer I know has a great eye for matching objects and creating stories.  She has helped out a few other designers I know by taking flat lay photos of their products paired with accessories that enhance them. Those photos really pop on social media!   (Hmmmm……maybe I need to give her a call myself!)  Remember – you don’t have to do everything yourself – you might know someone who is happy to help with making sure you have great photos.

2.  Make sure you have a way of letting people know who you are.

I get really frustrated when I attend a market and see a stall that I like, but I can’t see the name of the stall or business so I can’t make a note about ordering from them, etc.   Letting people know who you are is really important.   Getting a banner made up doesn’t cost a lot these days – a vinyl banner with your own design from Vistaprint starts at about $20.  If you want to do something different to match your brand there are lots of options for handmade signage, from painted fabric banners, to bunting, painted wooden signs, light boxes and more.   It just needs to be something that can be identified by someone who is a few metres away from your stall. Hanging it below your table may look cute but can’t be seen by someone the next row over. Hanging signage above your stall or on a stand that stretches above eye level is much more effective.

The second thing you need to have organised in this regard before you attend a market is business cards or flyers.  Customers will often take a card so that they can remember you for a custom order, or to come back to at the next market, or for them to follow you online and purchase from you in the future.   If you don’t have an easy piece of paper for them to pick up they aren’t going to remember you.   What should be on your business card or flyer?   Your business name, your tag line (you know – the bit that tells people what your business does), your email, social media addresses and website.   I used to keep mine really anonymous until a marketing expert told me that if she is given a business card that doesn’t have a name on it she throws them out.  As a result I now have my name and phone number on there too – in case someone wants to place an order that way.

3.  Be ready to take people’s money.

After all, that is the name of the game. You aren’t there to take names, you are there to take money in exchange for your wonderful products.  (Actually you might also want to take names but we will talk about that later. Right now we are focused on the moola, the cash, the big bucks. Alright – I will stop now.)    What does that mean for preparation?   You need to think about how to look after the cash that you receive in a safe manner, and you need to decide if you want to be able to offer credit card facilities.

Dealing with cash first, there are two main options that I think work for a market – a cash box or a cash apron.  A cash box is useful because you can separate the notes and coins out and therefore give change easily.   It can be locked and you can keep the key on yourself for added security during the market.    An apron has several advantages – you can have a zipped pocket to hold the money so it is on your person at all times and less easily stolen by dodgy thieves, and you can use the apron pockets to hold your phone and credit card reader.    I have previously used an apron that I made myself so it had pockets for everything, plus a copy of my old logo printed onto fabric so it marked me as the stall holder.   I am undecided about which option to go with this time, but will need to make the decision soon so that I can buy or make what I need.

With regard to taking payments from bank cards it is worth thinking about because many markets don’t have ATMs and once people run out of cash they stop buying if they can’t use their cards.  The options for taking money via card are broad these days.  Paypal offers a facility that connects to your Paypal business account, many banks offer a facility that connects to your bank accounts, and there are card readers such as Square which allow you to take payments without belonging to a certain bank.   Each of these methods will charge a fee for transactions, so you need to be aware of how this affects your prices, but with the ability to buy a unit like these starting at $60 it is a good investment to make if you are going to be attending a number of markets.

4.  Know how you are going to display your products

In Part One I talked about designing your display to enhance your product, etc.  In the lead up to a market you need to know what props, tables, screens, marquees, etc you are going to use so that you can buy parts you don’t have, repair any that have been damaged, or make what you need.  A few things to consider here are the size of your furniture and props, and how you are going to transport them to the venue of the market.   For example I have a great set of shelves that would be really attractive as part of my display in a stall, but they can only go in a trailer, not in my car.  Taking a trailer will work well for some venues but not for others, so making sure you know what you are taking and HOW you are taking it is good to work out well in advance so that changes can be made if necessary.

If you are going to use a table cloth (cannot recommend this enough) you need to make sure that you have one that fits your table/s, and check whether it needs cleaning, ironing, etc.  Again – not something you want to be doing the night before a market if you can help it.

Having a trial run of your set up a few days prior to the market is a good plan as it allows you to check that you will fit into your allocated space, that you have all the pieces you need, and that nothing needs repair or replacing.  If you are relying on the venue to provide a table, display board, or chair, make sure that you know the dimensions so that you can measure and check your equipment at home and know that it will fit.

5. Know how much product you have and what you need to make before the market.

I know I sound like Captain Obvious but you might be surprised by the number of times designers ask a few days before a big market how much stock they should bring.   If you are going to have a successful market then you need to have this worked out a few weeks in advance.   It is a good idea to make a list of all the products that you already have, and how many of each item you have, then to make a list of what your target amount to take to market is.    This then allows you to map out how much you need to make before the market.   In determining how much product to take things to think about are what sort of traffic the market is expected to get, how long it goes for, what have been your best sellers previously, etc.   One designer I know who attends a quarterly market keeps records of each market so she can predict how much stock to bring for different times of the year.  When you are starting out it is definitely a bit of trial and error so it is important to have a plan and then you can assess after the market what worked and what didn’t.

I recently read a comment in a forum I belong to by a woman who explained that in deciding whether to attend a market she looks whether she can make 10 times the cost of the stall hire. If she can’t then she doesn’t apply.   This is useful to think about when determining your stock levels.    If you are paying $20 for a stall then on this formula you need to sell $200 worth.  If you have paid $50 you need to sell $500 worth. How much do your products cost – do you have enough to sell to make that sort of money?   Do you have a good level of stock at the price point that you think will sell best? For example a school fair will probably see a high turnover at the low price point with kids spending their pocket money and parents supporting the local school.  At a design market touting itself as high quality, exclusive, etc, customers are going to be willing to spend larger amounts of money on big purchases so you would be short changing yourself if you only take a small number of high price point pieces.

6.   Tell people that you are going to be at this market

Social media promotion of an event that you are attending is a free but effective way of drawing customers to your market.   Most markets will have some graphics that you can use, or you can use your own images and set out the location, date and time of the market.   Creating a Facebook event and inviting all your friends is another great way to make sure that people know that it is on.  And don’t just tell them once – remind people in the lead up to the market that you will be attending and share some images of what you are bringing with you to the market.  Build a campaign so that they can’t avoid knowing that there is a market on next Saturday and that you will be there, and that there are lots of other great things to do in the area.

7.  Read the stallholder information

When I was working on the administrative side of a market it was incredibly frustrating to have repeated frantic phone calls from stallholders asking questions that had already been answered multiple times.   It was equally frustrating to arrive at the market to hear stallholders say things like ‘If I had known there was this event on at the same time as the market I would have brought different products’ when the details had been provided and advice given on this very issue a number of times.   So many of the designers would then say ‘Oh I don’t have time to read that material’.    Really???  This is your business and you don’t have time to read the information that will help you to have a really successful market experience, not get fined for breaking local bylaws, be promoted as a designer to watch, etc?

If you are serious about getting the most out of your market experience, do yourself a favour and read the material provided.    Know what time you can bump in and what time you have to bump out by.   Know what the rules are about whether you can set up a marquee inside a building, whether you need to have your electrical cords tagged and tested, whether you will be allowed to drive into the venue or not.    Know whether you need to provide your own tables and chairs, what size your allocated space is, whether there is free wi-fi, and what will get you banned from the market!  Because when you don’t know these things and are confronted with them during your set up, or in the middle of selling your products it causes nothing but stress!!

 

If you are on top of these 7 things in the weeks leading up to the market you are attending then you are well on your way to a successful market experience!    My next post will be the list of things that you need to take with you to a market – the checklist of what to pack the day before.   If you have any suggestions to add to the list of pre-market preparation I would love to hear from you!

Public lives and behind the scene

I have spoken before about the public face and private face of social media and how very few of us (including me) share the ugly stuff of life in all its rawness when we post. Every now and then I break the rules and share some of the gritty stuff, not as a cry for help and attention but as a way of letting other people who are also going through a hard time know that they are not alone. I have a safe space on Facebook in a group of parents who have kids on the spectrum, or with ADHD, or the myriad of acronyms our children are diagnosed with. It is wonderful to talk about school refusal, medication side effects, the latest broken appliance or hole in the wall (none for a while luckily!) with people who don’t judge or offer advice like ‘you need to be stricter’, or ‘you need to stop them manipulating you’ or ‘have you tried changing his diet’. But I don’t tend to post that stuff in the open.

Sometimes it is because I just don’t want people to know how hard life is, other times I don’t want to deal with their pity. Because one of the absolutely hardest things in the life of a single parent of kids with special needs is that there actually isn’t anything anyone can do to make it better. It is my responsibility and my joy and my burden. And it is exhausting and rewarding and draining and bloody hard work. And even though I really just want to run away and hide some days, I don’t. Because where would I go, and how much worse would things be when I got back?

So my reality for today is that while I am feeling particularly broken today there is always something to keep me going. Today I managed to get my boy to school for the first time this week and as I sat outside the school after dropping him off, waiting to see if he would run away in the first 15 minutes, so I would know whether it was safe to drive away I felt like crying. But then I decided to drive past Spotlight to see if they had any new colours of t-shirt yarn and found they had a sale on all yarn! A full basket later I was back to counting my blessings and remembering how privileged I am compared to so many others. Because shopping therapy had brightened my day. (Well – lifted it a bit anyway.). Then I then popped into an op shop and heard a well dressed young woman with three kids in tow explaining that she was there for the food bank because her husband had left and she had no money to feed her children. I would put money on the fact that she wasn’t advertising that on social media. And yet there she was, being brave and resilient for her children. Getting on with life.

My message in all this? You know that saying about not judging people because you don’t know what they are battling? It is a good one to hold on to and to practice. It doesn’t matter how people are dressed or where you see them shopping. You don’t know their story and you don’t know how much kindness they need in their life. Be kind, always.

As for me? Creating is my therapy of choice as you know, so I have been busy making things and trying to ignore housework. And drinking tea.

The return of Friday Finds – a list of 7 free patterns for crocheted baskets

With my renewed enthusiasm for creating it is probably time to start sharing some of the useful things I find on the internet with you all too.   This week it is free patterns for crocheted baskets. I love working with thick repurposed t-shirt yarn – it works up so quickly so you get almost instant satisfaction for your efforts.  I have to admit that so far my attempts at making my own yarn haven’t been great, but I will keep persevering, and in the meantime have found some great commercially produced yarn to practise with.   I made these two baskets (without a pattern) to hold all the wool that was accumulating around my lounge room!  I also have crocheted baskets that hang in the mudroom to hold hats and gloves, in bedrooms to hold assorted things on desks, and have a small basket made of left over pieces of yarn that I use to collect eggs in each morning!   These baskets are really versatile!


I also have crocheted baskets that hang in the mudroom to hold hats and gloves, in bedrooms to hold assorted things on desks, and have a small basket made of left over pieces of yarn that I use to collect eggs in each morning!   These baskets are really versatile!

 

Here are links to a great range of patterns I found in my searching on the internet for inspiration:

Ombre Basket by Crochet in Colour

82-62-63-64-baskets by Fil Katia on Ravelry

How to make crochet fabric bakets and make your own fabric yarn

Tutorial for beginners crochet make a fabric basket by the Red Thread

Chunky Crochet Basket Pattern from Crochet in Colour

Final product image

Crochet a gorgeous set of rainbow nesting baskets

Mega Bulky Crochet Baskets

Mega Bulky Crochet Baskets by All Free Crochet

crochet basket pattern by poppyandbliss.com

Crochet Basket by Poppy and Bliss

I hope that you find something in the list to inspire you to make your own basket!

January and a Golden Wedding

Hey – we survived Christmas, New Year and most of the school holidays!  Cause for celebration!  Of course there is one more week of the holidays before the children return to school, so anything can happen (and probably will).    How was your Christmas celebration?  Ours had an interesting and slightly traumatic start when the new dog (Buddy) discovered and ate most of the contents of the Christmas stockings.  Luckily there was only white chocolate in them, but he also found a wrapped gift with chocolate and tried to eat that, along with adding teeth marks to a few other boxes. Between that and Dottie (the small and crazy dog) depositing a poo on the floor just inside the back door that my parents stepped in as they came in to say Merry Christmas it was not an auspicious start!    Buddy was then put outside to reflect on his misdeeds, and took himself for a wander, was found by a passing car and deposited at the local vet clinic, 15 minutes away.   We located him through the powers of Facebook and eventually had our Christmas meal at about 3pm.   In between all the dog drama we shared some lovely family time, and enjoyed watching as each one of us opened our presents.   My efforts in making presents was worth it – the children all loved their new pyjamas, my eldest chick is extremely excited by her new quilt, and my mother liked the table runner that I embroidered for her. I was also sent a photo of my very excited niece wearing the pjs that I had made her, so they were also a success!

I stitched this traditional sashiko pattern onto a table runner as a gift for my mother.   I will share my tips on how to do this soon.

The big focus for us throughout the holiday period was actually an event after New Year.   On 10 January my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.   We couldn’t let such an occasion pass unmarked, so we held a party and invited family and friends.    The best thing about having family who live so far away from us (or is it that we live so far away from them?) is that when they come to visit they don’t just come for a couple of hours – they come for a few days so we get to spend time with them doing ‘normal’ things!    This was definitely the case on this occasion.  My father has 9 siblings and 6 of them were able to attend.  My mother’s siblings all sent their best wishes as did those of my father’s siblings who couldn’t join us.  Two sets of aunt and uncles stayed with us for a few days, along with my sister and niece and my brother.   My brother’s attendance was a surprise for my parents – and it was a true surprise with lots of joy!   Time spent talking to family over breakfast or while working in the kitchen was a real treat and made the whole week very special.

Photos of their wedding day, a delicious croquembouche cake and a blessing tree.   (And just quietly – how good does the dresser that I renovated last year look?)

For the party itself my aunts helped with cooking, my brother and uncle tackled the grass cutting, everyone chipped in to tidy the garden, and one of my uncles braved Costco with me for shopping!   My sister helped with all the decorations, which were lovely, and my sister and brother stepped in to keep the kitchen running and food appearing throughout the evening.  It really was a lovely party – kids running around in the garden, adults catching up with old friends and new, and some great family traditions played out, including the family tradition of singing a song written about the couple (in this case to the tune of ‘A bicycle built for two’), signs being held up during the speeches to encourage the audience to clap, cheer or hiss, and lovely memories shared of a wonderful life together.

I am so very fortunate to have parents who have been married for this long.  They are the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy, and that they have had to work to maintain their relationship, but their commitment to each other is tangible and their love for each other continues to keep them strong, and it really does serve to show that great relationships exist.

6 Tips for celebrating a Golden Wedding Anniversary

After it was all over I realised that we had learnt some great tips to share with our friends who might also be hosting a party for their parents in a similar way, so I put together a few of them to share with you all.   They are a bit Australian centric, but the ideas can be used in other countries even if the names change!

My parents renewed their marriage vows, 50 years after the original vows, in a mass said at home. It was emotional, happy and a true celebration.

1. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has a protocol section that will arrange for the Prime Minister to send a letter to the couple to commemorate the occasion.   (I found this out after the fact!)


2. If you are Catholic you can arrange to have a papal blessing certificate sent to them to commemorate the occasion by speaking to the admin staff at your local church office.  (The certificate is, as you can imagine, quite ornate!)


3. To create poster sized reprints of the original wedding photos I scanned them onto a USB stick then went to Officeworks and had them print the black and white photos on plain paper at A2 size.  Cost per print?  $4.     A colour photo on thicker paper but still at A2 size was $10.    I used Ikea frames that I already owned to hang them and they looked great!


4. We had a croquembouche cake as the ‘wedding cake’.   These delightful piles of choux pasty filled with custard and drizzled with caramel toffee and spun sugar with gold leaf were made by a fantastic pastry chef here in Canberra.  Natalie van den Bosch of the soon-to-open patisserie Le Bon Melange created this beautiful dessert that had everyone lining up for seconds!   (The fact that she had been part of a youth group that my parents ran many years ago in another part of the country was a nice personal twist!)


5. My sister created a blessing tree.   This was a ‘tree’ of gold twigs with tiny lights that she arranged in a vase, with tags for the guests to write their blessings for the couple.   It was lovely to read the messages after the party.


6. I designed the invitations to the party, and to the house mass that was held on the day of their anniversary, using www.canva.com.   This awesome site allows you to design for free, or a for a small charge, using elements that graphic designers use.  The invitations looked professional (if I do say so myself!)

I hope that the holiday season has been kind to you.  I have been using the time to do some painting – walls, furniture etc, so stand by for some further updates.  (Although the photo from the anniversary party does show a newly painted wall, so that can count as a sneak preview!)

 

So this is Christmas….

I was listening to the iconic John Lennon song ‘Happy Xmas – War is Over’ while celebrating Christmas Eve with my chicks and my parents here in our rural nest, and realised that, in answer to the question ‘And what have you done?’ I have a long list on some topics and a very short and bare one on others.     Maintaining this blog would fall on the latter list and yet I am still loathe to let it go. (In fact I just paid all the invoices to renew my web-hosting for another year just this evening!)

So what have I done?    This year has been a year of consolidation with life in the country. Our little flock of 5 sheep grew to 17, and we have enjoyed some lovely lamb meals as a result.  Our flock of chickens shrank from 14 to 6 and our egg production increased as a result!   Go figure!   We started the year with two dogs and ended with two dogs, but sadly not the same two.  Dottie the crazy terrier has survived to deafen us with her barks but after a couple of unusual and serious illnesses we lost Milo the Labrador in November.     In December we welcomed Buddy the kelpie and he is settling in well, but has not replaced Milo in my boy’s affections.

We adopted a resuce dog, Buddy the Kelpie, in December 2016.

We adopted a resuce dog, Buddy the Kelpie, in December 2016.

On a business level the year started well with me doing lots of sewing for the Shop Handmade, and lots of consulting for a new business venture.  By the end of the year the sewing was non-existent and I had to pull back from all the consulting as I was facing burn out again and didn’t want to head back down that path.   I live in hope that I will return to consulting and sewing in 2017, but we will see.

Our flock of sheep includes two sets of twin lambs born in late October.

Our flock of sheep includes two sets of twin lambs born in late October.

The family front is where the hardest work has been focused.   My boy has continued to struggle with mainstream schooling, and with his frustrations turning into aggression and violence. As we end the year I still don’t have answers on the school question but am comfortable that, after 4 separate hospital admissions I am on top of managing his behaviour, and that he is on the right combination of medications.   He is 10 now (I know – where did that baby boy go?) and is incredibly articulate, intelligent and compassionate, but also demanding and exhausting.    My girls have also had a rough year with the constant stress of living with this stress taking it’s toll on them.  I have found an excellent team of professionals to help support them and am sure we will get through this but the combination of all their needs saw me stepping away from the small amount of work I was doing and trying to be as present as possible for all three of them.  My artist-in-residence finished primary school with her art chosen for the cover of the yearbook, and my eldest chick has found her groove and her tribe at school and brought home some great feedback on her school report.

2016 has been tough.  In our home and in many other homes across the world.  I don’t think that there is any particular magic in a new year changing social attitudes, or the way an autistic child’s brain works, but I am hopeful that the 6 week school holiday break will give us all a chance to recharge, refocus and rebuild some of our battered resilience.   In the meantime I have gone back to the basics.  I have been sewing for the love of creating, not for work.   There are handmade pyjamas appearing under several family Christmas trees this year, there is a queen sized patchwork quilt that is almost, but not quite, finished for my eldest chick to receive in the morning under the tree, and there is hand embroidery on another gift after my discovery of the joys of sashiko (Japanese embroidery) earlier in the year.  My plan is to work on small personal projects for a while, then to get back to designing and making on a business level when I am ready.

My gorgeous mother helping me to pin the quilt sandwich together before tackled machine quilting it - perhaps choosing a queen size quilt for my first self-quilted quilt was a tad ambitious!

My gorgeous mother helping me to pin the quilt sandwich together before tackled machine quilting it – perhaps choosing a queen size quilt for my first self-quilted quilt was a tad ambitious!

I hope that your Christmas and New Year is spent with people you love, who cherish you for who you are, and that you have a chance to recharge and rebuild before the next year sweeps us away into everyday life again.  From my nest to yours, Merry Christmas. xx

An end of year wrap up

I have been very quiet here over the last few months, although still using Instagram and Facebook.  I think social media goes in cycles – sometimes it is about the story, sometimes it is about the image and sometimes it is about the conversation.   It seems timely, then, when the year is about to roll over, to capture a bit of the last 12 months in story, image and conversation!  (All this without sending anyone to sleep. Hmmm….can I rise to the challenge?!)

This year was a big year for my little family with our move to a new nest and rural life.  At this point (days away from the 12 month mark) I can honestly say that I do not regret the move at all.  There are days when yet another drive into town makes my heart sink, but for the most part even the commute (20 minutes to most places I need to get to) is extremely civilised!  We now have 12 hens, 5 sheep, 2 dogs and 4 goldfish.

We bottle fed Poh Poh from when she was about 6 hours old and all fell in love with her.

We bottle fed Poh Poh from when she was about 6 hours old and all fell in love with her.

We welcomed Milo into the household to join Dottie the crazy terrier. He gets a lot of cuddles.

We welcomed Milo into the household to join Dottie the crazy terrier. He gets a lot of cuddles.

We leased one of our paddocks to the neighbours so we also get to enjoy their horses.  The gardens are beautiful and my parents do a lot of work to maintain them (I say guiltily!)  We named the property as a birthday gift for my Dad (who is a Deacon) and the same friend who made the sign also made a custom ordered signpost for the garden as a gift for both of them.

The sign for our property made of jarrah from Western Australia by the very talented Michael from Wood and Wax Studios.

The sign for our property made of jarrah from Western Australia by the very talented Michael from Wood and Wax Studios.

The garden signpost with a few of the places my parents have lived marked on it!

The garden signpost with a few of the places my parents have lived marked on it!

Also on the family front we had a wonderful family gathering in September to celebrate my parents’ 70th birthdays – with two of my siblings, and 6 of their siblings, plus partners, along with lovely friends, joining us for about 4 days.  We have now established that the house can accomodate 9 extra people, and cope with two camper vans. It was a huge highlight for all of us.

In October we went camping after a (much too long) haitus.  It was perfect!

My favourite spot to camp. With this view from the kitchen, there is little to complain about!

My favourite spot to camp. With this view from the kitchen, there is little to complain about!

Big changes in the house included replacing the very, very, very busy carpet with something a little more neutral, and starting the mammoth task of painting.  With the newly opened Ikea store in town light fittings are next on the list!!

Before and after with the carpet replacement!

Before and after with the carpet replacement!

On the sewing front I have been busy. I had a two month break when I injured myself in an altercation with my boy, but returned and have been busy ever since.  For a woman who was intent on being a bag designer I seem to make an awful lot of baby products now – but they sell well, so I am not complaining!  After putting my on-line shop on vacation mode about a year ago, thinking it would be for a month or so, it is still not open.  The upcoming holiday period is a great opportunity for me to sit down and plan what the next year is going to look like – and how I am going to run my business is a big part of that.  I have developed a pile of new products over the last few months, including gift sets, teething blankies (with really soft bamboo velour backing), bibs that can have a dummy clipped to them, fabric covered journals, and a pile of Christmas decorations!  They have mainly been sold through Shop Handmade, with a few custom orders here and there.

A boxed gift set with blanket, bib and teething ring toy - part of my new product range.

A boxed gift set with blanket, bib and teething ring toy – part of my new product range.

Teething Ring Blankets with soft bamboo velour and cotton - they feel sooo nice!

Teething Ring Blankets with soft bamboo velour and cotton – they feel sooo nice!

Fabric covered journals for keeping all your notes looking good!

Fabric covered journals for keeping all your notes looking good!

I have also completed two very special custom orders for people who wanted cushion covers made using clothing that was special to a deceased grandparent, as gifts for their family.  It is a privilege to be entrusted with cutting up these garments that hold so many memories, in order to create a lasting momento.

These cushion covers were made from two shirts that my customer has kept of her grandmothers. I was able to keep the button detail of one shirt, and to add a strip of the fabric on each back too.

These cushion covers were made from two shirts that my customer has kept of her grandmothers. I was able to keep the button detail of one shirt, and to add a strip of the fabric on each back too.

Life with my chicks has had it’s ups and downs – as it always does, but as the year draws to a close there is a feeling that we might be making headway with some of my boy’s issues.  We had to change doctors and counsellors during the year when his both left town, and although it has been a drawn out process to get everyone up to speed we seem to be there now, and to be gaining extra support to assist in supporting him.   The girls have both grown a lot this year, in size and maturity, with the eldest chick even doing household chores without complaining!  Wonders will never cease!

I will spend the next few weeks thinking about what is next for this little bird, and my business and my family, and hopefully will appear here with a little more frequency than I have been!

I hope that this year has treated you kindly, that you have been loved and supported, and that the New Year brings joy, creativity and peace to you.

 

Teaching an old dog new tricks (or 3 things my son has taught me)

I have a low tolerance level for many things in life, and apparently am not shy about expressing this.  In share houses over the years, before I married, there were many running jokes about my scathing statements of disbelief at the actions of others (normally my friends or flatmates), and while I still maintain that many of my comments were warranted (particularly about the infamous exploding dish of sausages incident) most of the time it just served to remind me that I can have a short fuse and a cutting tongue (and, of course, to try and temper it).  For a long time this amused me (I was young and arrogant). Then I became a parent, and it worried me.  I have clear memories of sitting with a neighbour (who seemed to have her life together) and confessing that I felt that all I did was yell at my children.  She sensibly questioned whether that was in fact true, and helped me to see that I wasn’t operating in a state of constant anger, but I certainly worried about it all the time.

Fast forward 7 years or so, and I have realised that I have changed.  On Monday, whilst my son was having a meltdown, I ended up with an injury to my hand that required a trip to the emergency department. (Nothing broken, just sprained.)  In conversation with an acquaintance she asked how I managed to keep my cool, and not punish my son for his actions, and I realised that at no point during this incident had I yelled at him.  This old dog (purely in the sense of abusing the clichéd phrase) has learnt new tricks.

Raising my children has helped me to mature and grow in many ways, but I think the most valuable lessons have come from facing the challenges that raising my boy brings.    He has helped me to learn some important lessons, and change my behaviour.  At the moment I am most conscious of three gifts he has given me:

1.  Controlling my temper and emotions.

Anger Quotes | http://noblequotes.com/When dealing with a child having a meltdown, punishment is not the answer. Angry words used to a child who is already in sufficient pain to be raging against the world will cause more damage than they solve.  Reacting in anger is just throwing fuel on an already well burning fire. Providing reassurance, security and support, and looking for the source of their pain has better short and long term effects, and leaves you feeling better about yourself (win, win!)  None of this is rocket science, but so many of our reactions as humans, formed through our own life experiences, are habitual, so changing those habits is tricky.  Having a child who doesn’t respond to your habitual responses either makes or breaks you I think!  In my case I had to learn new responses.

2.  Knowing what my priorities are.

DON'T QUITIf you have your priorities clear, decision making becomes easy.  (Yes, I know that is obvious but it has taken me a long time to get that sorted in my own head.) Today a former colleague (and still friend) asked if I wanted a job with a great organisation doing work I would enjoy.  After two seconds of thinking ‘that would be great’ I calmly explained that I can’t do that, as my boy needs me, my girls need me, and I can’t ask my parents to take on the level of responsibility that being a full time carer to my boy requires.   And it was okay to say that. I didn’t have to fake being calm about that decision.  (Ginormous step forward!  No furiously planning which strategies could be put in place to make it all happen, whilst juggling 5000 balls in the air. Just acceptance that this is not the right time.)

3.  Patience.

Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.This last discovery will shock my old friends. It appears that I have learnt to be patient. Well, more of the time than I used to.  This week I can’t sew, can’t paint, can’t crochet, and can’t attend to a whole list of things I want to be doing because of my injured hand.  Instead of fretting, feeling frustrated, or whinging about it, I have accepted that my plans have to be on hold for a while.  This is a big change for me!  I have chosen to see it as time to do other things, and for the most part that is working out.

Raising a child who sees the world in a different way, and who wears his emotions outside his skin so he feels raw and bruised much of the time is hard, and it wears me down. But honestly, it has been the making of me.  A number of people have told me that he is lucky to have me as his mum, but they have it wrong.  I am lucky to have him as my son.  He has made me a better person, and definitely a better parent.

As a final note, and in keeping with the theme of teaching old dogs new tricks, we are currently minding a friend’s Labrador for a month, and Dottie, our insane and aging terrier, who was so traumatized by our last attempt to bring a new dog into the home, is coping!  I have long thought that giving my boy his own dog to care for and play with would be great therapy – and so far that is proving true.  I see another dog on our horizon!

I hope that you are well, and finding good in the rough patches of life.

Un-jumbling my thoughts

This morning my car and camper trailer are being inspected so that I can transfer their registration to the State we moved to earlier this year. This means I am sitting in a very cold waiting room in a mechanics yard for an hour. After the chaos of getting all three children out the door this morning I am enjoying the peace (although not the cold so much!)

Peace means time to sit and reflect, and organise my thoughts. (If only I had bought a thermos of tea life would be perfect!). My thoughts are a bit jumbled and if course I need to work out why! I rarely air my dirty laundry on this blog, but today those stinky jeans and smelly tops might get a bit of airing as I share some of my thoughts on parenting and divorce.

I have had some challenging interactions with my ex-husband and his current girlfriend over the last couple of days and I think that is the cause of the ‘jumbling’. I have realised that I resent having to form a new relationship with her because he has started a new relationship. I didn’t choose to have her in my life, but because of his choices, I have to start the whole dance of explaining the background of why my children behave the way they do, interact (or don’t) with their father the way they do, are triggered by certain behaviours (no matter how illogical they are), and why even though he may be an awesome father in her eyes, there are aspects of our children’s care where we have very different views. It is one of those side effects of divorce that you don’t factor in (if you factor anything in.)  Whether she is a lovely woman or not, having to tiptoe through the awkwardness of not criticising this man she is ‘very serious about’ and not screaming  ‘open your eyes woman – do you honestly think it was all my fault, and all the fault of his next partner’ down the phone takes it out of you!

And there is the ongoing conversation with him about why I am being so selfish as to not be working full time in a public service job. If only I would do that ‘everyone’s lives would be easier’. The repetition of the same conversation, with no new understanding or recogition on his part about my role in supporting our son, and his bizarre accusations that he would be happy to pay child support to my father, but not to me as he knows that I ‘spend it all on fabric’ (yes – truly – he said that) are exhausting.  While the advice to ‘just not engage with him’ is sage, there are occasions (like last night) where talking to him about what is happening for our kids is in the children’s best interests.  Until he asks when I am returning to work because he is sick of giving me money.  (Of course he isn’t giving me money – he is contributing to the support of our children who live with me the majority of the time.)

This all makes me look back and wonder how I ended up here. How did I fall in love and marry someone who has such different views on life from me?  How did I hide the truth from myself for so long?  Why do my children have to suffer because of decisions that are beyond their control?   And there you have it – a jumbled mind.  Sigh.  Life is complex.  And the grief for the loss of what could have been is deep.

As always I need to balance all of this out with the good things in life. On Mother’s Day my boy, who had a bit of a rough morning before he came home to me, curled up on my knee and fell asleep for over an hour.  Honestly, it was the best gift!  None of my kids have done this for more years than I can remember.  To just sit and hold my usually wriggly, jiggly son, breathe in his soft boy scent, feel his warm skin and his gentle heart beat, was a gift that I cannot measure.  My girls made me cups of tea, gave me big hugs and spent time talking to me. I am truly a lucky parent.  The simple things in life bring so much joy.enjoy the simplethingsinlife|a little bird made me

Now my car and trailer have the all clear, I am heading home for a warm cup of tea and to sit in front of the fire to defrost while I catch up on bookwork, and, although I have no answers to my rhetorical questions, my mind is less jumbled.  Thanks for listening to my brain dump.  I hope that your week is not full of jumbled thoughts, and that you have moments for quiet reflection on the good things in life.