Tag Archives: life lessons

Being business like

A few weeks ago a recent acquaintance asked me if my ‘making ‘ was a business or a hobby. I have been pondering this ever since. A couple of years ago the answer was straightforward- business. I had a plan, I made enough profit that I had to pay tax and there was regular money making activity going on.

Then I had a break for over a year. Little income, no regular activity and no plan. Until 3 months ago when something clicked and I started making again. At first it was just making for making’s sake but it has grown again and while I don’t yet have a fully laid out business plan I do have some vague mental ideas about where I am going! Some of it is instinctual from my earlier time in business and some of it is aspirational because I continue to daydream that my life will magically change to create space for me to have time to be successful. A lot of it is held back by my pessimism/reality checks that my plans are so often undone by family life and my resultant mental health. So I ask myself, like a mantra, ‘hobby or business , hobby or business?’

Where does the line cross from one to another? For me I think it comes with making decisions about ‘making’ in a profitable, repeatable way. My crazy crocheted tea cosies where I create a whole new pattern for each piece? Hobby. I don’t recover the cost of time spent in making each piece if I apply a business model. But do I love making them? Yes!!!! Reusable tea bags? Business. Now that testing has finished I have a repeatable process for making, marketing and selling them.

All the things in between? Some land on the side of hobby, some cross the line to business. What to do with all of that? At this stage my approach is that it is all business. The unique, one of a kind, time intensive creations are attention getters that have a marketing function. The repeatable patterns that can be made in batches cover the costs of making the one off pieces. It all works together to fund materials, marketing and growth.

I also think that for me, thinking of what I am doing as a business helps to add a piece of self esteem back into a life where I previously self-identified as successful through my career achievements – a business is something that is about me, something that other people admire, something I can succeed at. (Because let’s face it, any judgement on my success as a parent and carer won’t really be known until they are grown and leading happy healthy lives!!)

The next hurdle is a mental one. I have products that are ready to wholesale so I can, in theory, start marketing them to retailers to stock. Gulp. But I haven’t. It remains on my ‘to do’ list. Why? Because the last few years have been so much like a roller coaster ride I have an ingrained fear that I won’t be able to keep any commitments that I make. Which begs the next question – why am I worried about letting others down? Do they really have high expectations of me or am I just setting my own bar too high and then self sabotaging so that I don’t reach it? Hmmmm…. self-analysis via writing this post indicates that I am, as usual, my own worst enemy!!

To shift myself fully into that business mindset it is probably time to write the plan down, instead of having vague aspirational thoughts and wandering around making stuff. Time to be a grown up, do the analysis and make a clear decision on business vs hobby. Wish me luck!

(In the background I have been playing with fabric combinations to make fabric insulated tea cosies- getting back to my happy place combining colours and patterns!! I have also been perfecting the cactus teacosy pattern!)

If you also ponder the line between hobby and business I would love to hear your thoughts !

Hello 2015!!

Can you believe that it is February already?  I knew that January was going to be busy for me this year, with the house move, but I really didn’t anticipate just how busy!  Although moving house is meant to be stressful, in fact it was just busy.  I seemed to be short of time to do anything, for days on end, and yet when I got to the end of each day I couldn’t report what I had achieved.  However, the good news is that we are in, the house is now in our names (my parents and I) and we are settling in nicely.  The danger is that those few boxes that haven’t been unpacked might never get unpacked…….  but I am sure that one day I will remember something I need is in one of them and they will be emptied!

A photo by the artist-in-residence of the boy at our dam.

A photo by the artist-in-residence of the boy at our dam.

There are many wonderful things about our new home.  There is room to spread out, for the kids to have adventures, for us to consider what animals we might get to fatten up in the paddocks, or which crops we might plant to generate some income in the future.  There is room to ride bikes, find frogs and grasshoppers, to entertain friends, and to make new discoveries.   The kids decided that swimming in the dam was a pretty awesome summer activity.  Until a visitor spotted a tiger snake (extremely venomous) swimming across the top of the water towards them!!  After that they returned to skipping stones across the water from the bank, after doing a full snake check first!

Looking across the biggest paddock towards the boundary

Looking across the biggest paddock towards the boundary

bywong sunset | a little bird made me

We can see the most beautiful sunsets from our property, but they are especially good when I climb to the top of our property.

The artist-in-residence has been enjoying taking photos of all the gorgeous roses in our garden

The artist-in-residence has been enjoying taking photos of all the gorgeous roses in our garden

 

However there is one drawback in the midst of all this bucolic bliss.  We are currently restricted to using mobile broadband modems as we can’t get cable broadband.  12GB a month for the four of us.  Eek!   Such a first world problem, but such a chore to work out!  It has been quite good for all of us and forced us to change our internet habits, but sometimes it is just plain annoying!

I had already identified that I wouldn’t be doing any of my ‘work’ in January.  I have managed to set up my sewing room (in what was formerly the formal dining room), and have made a laptop bag for my boy to use for going to school.  But that is about it so far!  As usual I have so many ideas, and plans, but the reality of being time poor means that I have to learn to be patient!

A lap top bag for the boy - waterproof of course, with a hint of Minecraft about it!

A lap top bag for the boy – waterproof of course, with a hint of Minecraft about it!

I have been learning a bit more than patience during the last few months too.  I have discovered that I am very like my father in many ways.  Once we moved house the first thing that was required was a new home for our chickens.  Torrential, and unseasonal, rain put paid to the original plan to build something by recycling our swing set on the weekend we moved.  (Okay – I was a tad ambitious in hindsight.)  So a hurried purchase of a ridiculously small and even more ridiculously priced chook shed occurred and we moved the girls.  Then Dad set to work, using completely recycled materials (bar the sheet of plywood we had to buy to build the nesting box).  As he planned, built, measured, and interacted with the rest of us I saw myself reflected in many of his words and actions.  (And not just the good ones!)  After all these years of thinking that I take after my mother so much it has been quite an eye opener to discover that I have inherited so many traits from him!

The emergency purchase chicken coop - far too small for chickens, but pretty good for rabbits!

The emergency purchase chicken coop – far too small for chickens, but pretty good for rabbits!

The first stage of the new chicken palace.  Next steps include a fenced run, and an internal wall to provide shelter from the elements.

The first stage of the new chicken palace. Next steps include a fenced run, and an internal wall to provide shelter from the elements.

I have also had lots of reminders about why we have made this move, and that I can’t plan to do things with gay abandon as I used to, as my children don’t cope with it.  I can’t say that this is a lesson that I have learnt as I seem to keep forgetting it.  I thought that I could swan off the day after we moved, to clean the house we were selling.  in hindsight that was a ridiculous plan but it took three phone calls from crying family members for me to realise that I needed to abandon that plan and return to the farm to support everyone through this massive change. (And I paid someone else to finish the cleaning!)  I had also thought I could head off to the other side of the country for four days to attend the wedding of a dear friend.  A few days before the trip I realised (after a particularly drastic action by my boy) that he was in no state for me to leave him for even a few hours, let alone a few days. So the trip was cancelled too.  It is exhausting being ‘needed’ so much, but I am extremely lucky that I am able to be available so much.  The generosity and support of my parents in helping us to move house has meant that while money has been tight over January, we could keep moving forward.

What else have I learnt?  That my impatience stretches to myself!  I have spent the last week setting up a book-keeping system that will (hopefully) save time and improve processes for the Shop that I support in an admin role.  I kept wanting it to be perfect instantly, and wanting to fix everything that is associated with it instantly, and finally had to realised that I have to switch off, make a plan, and return to that dance of balancing family, work, obligations, fun, and time to let go.  So – more life lessons for this old duck.

The final lesson?  Purple hair die does not last!  So now I have returned to blue, and added turquoise.

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Other big news?  My eldest has started high school and is relishing every moment of it!  The two girls have been catching the bus home in the afternoon, and enjoying that new independence too.  The children were given pet rabbits by their paternal grandparents at Christmas, and the bunnies very happily inherited the chicken coop.  Unfortunately two of them died suddenly of unknown causes a few days ago, so there has been a fair amount of grief as a result.  (And I had to dig two holes because the first one cut some buried irrigation pipe. The ground here is very rocky – more lessons learnt there!)

Three pet bunnies the day before the two grey ones, Pixie and Carrots, died.  Mittens (white) is very lonely now.

Three pet bunnies the day before the two grey ones, Pixie and Carrots, died. Mittens (white) is very lonely now.

I can also report a very positive start to the year for my boy. I am cautiously optimistic, as last year started well too, but he has grown a lot and is constantly learning how to manage himself, and he has made it through the first week remarkably well.  His autism traits are becoming more obvious in his social interactions, so that will be a big focus to support him with over the next few months, but his other behaviours are responding well to his medication and allowing him to control his emotions much better.  Phew!

There you have it – an update on the family news.  Hopefully the next posts will have news on sewing, making, and farming!

One of the Campine chickens having a scratch around the new yard - so many juicy bugs to be found!

One of the Campine chickens having a scratch around the new yard – so many juicy bugs to be found!

Why you should be kind to yourself

I am sure you have seen various versions of the quote that is variously attributed to Plato, Ian MacLaren and John Watson “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  I have been reminded many times recently of how true this is.  Life is complex.  What might be trivial for one person is the world for another. If you can treat every one you meet with respect and without judgement, their lives may be lightened and brightened without you even realising it.

a little bird made me

So why then is it so hard to be kind to ourselves?  As a mother I put my children first.  Their needs before mine.  I have written before about the ‘burnt chop syndrome‘ and how I needed to change my behaviour to stop always eating the burnt chop.  Looking back over the months since I wrote that post I can see some of the little ways that I have changed, in order to look after myself a bit more.  But I can also see that I still haven’t been kind to myself.

Other people praise me for something I have done as a parent, and I can immediately list, even if just mentally, all the things that I haven’t done so well.  I don’t celebrate myself very much, yet I celebrate each step that my children take.  I expect myself to fail at so many things, yet I expect my children to believe that they will succeed at everything if they try hard and practise enough.

Tonight my daughter was feeling miserable and sorry for herself, and I heard myself giving her advice that was good advice, and is advice that I apply in my daily life.  I realised that I need to be proud of my ability to see the silver lining in clouds, the positives in a bad day, and the achievements I have made as a result.  If I am not kind to myself, how can I expect my children to be kind to themselves?

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What do I think is the answer to ‘why we need to be kind to ourselves’?  I believe that if we don’t think we are worthy of kindness, who will?  Remember that you are also fighting a hard battle.  You have a right to kindness.  Look after yourself.  Be gentle with your soul.  Forgive yourself.  Learn from your mistakes instead of wallowing in them.  And celebrate the things that make you special.

As for me?  I have started a 12 week health and fitness program.  I am being kind to myself when I skip a day of exercise, or eat a few extra calories, because I am in this for the marathon, not the sprint!  (And I have lost several kilos in the couple of weeks since I started, and that needs to be celebrated !)

I hope that your week is going well, and that you are able to be kind to yourself.  Today!!

Catching Up – and my lessons

Between moving the website, writing my business plan, re-installing my website, and various other necessary evils like sleep I feel that I haven’t had a chance to sit and write a proper post for weeks!  (That would be my overly dramatic side showing through again.)  So many little things have happened that I would normally share with you that I thought it was time for a catching up post!

First of all I hope that you all had a peaceful holiday period.  I certainly did!  The chicks were off visiting their grandparents with their father and I had this quiet, clean (except for my mess) house where I didn’t have to be responsible for anything or anyone except the animals and myself.  It was just what I needed after the turmoil of the weeks/months/year before Christmas and just what my health needed.  I didn’t do any sewing until about the 4th of January!  Then I made this bag which was a custom order left over from last year.  I love the colours that she chose!  I also made myself a new cushion cover, given that all my sewing recently has been for other people.  I love this fabric!

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I did however set up a new sewing room.  I have commandeered the spare room that had been occupied by the eldest chick earlier in the year, and then by the au pair, and then my mother when she came to our rescue.  Although it would be nice to give the chicks a room of their own each, I have decided that I need to start putting myself first a little more (one of my recent learnings) and that most of us survived sharing a room with our siblings until we left home, so the two chicks who are sharing a room will be just fine!  I have a little tweaking to go with the set up, but so far am really enjoying the space.  It also has the best light in the house – especially in winter when it becomes a sun trap.

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I also spent a few days focussed on working on my business plan.  You know – the one I started back in July and then kept meaning to work on?  I am still not finished, but I do now have a clear vision of what I want to achieve with my making and selling, and how I need to think about overheads and pricing.  The Right Brain business course that I did encourages you to make collages to capture things like your competition, perfect customer, brand values, etc.  I enjoyed that much more than I thought I would!  It also helped when I was writing an application for a Handmade Market – I just had to turn my pictures into words!  Another good lesson learnt!

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Part of the planning process is looking at your money.   Hmmmm…..at worst depressing and at best thought provoking.  That process prompted me to also look at setting up accounting software etc….. but after a day or so of trying to do that I realised that I am not ready for any of that.  My buying, making and selling can be accommodated in a simple excel spreadsheet.  When I become a mega-industrial mogul with warehouse sites etc maybe I will need to use the software products I was exploring but until then keeping it simple is just perfect!  Phew – one less thing to worry about, and another lesson to add to my list.

One of the ideas that I have been playing with for a long time and that I am putting into action soon, involves developing some graphics that are precise (like pattern pieces for example).  So I downloaded a trial copy of Adobe Illustrator and did some tutorials to see what I could do.  Many, many hours/days later I finally came to the realisation that I am not a graphic designer and that I need to outsource that to someone who is!  The upside of all of those hours?  I now understand what is needed to give really good instructions to the graphic designer!  Yep – another useful lesson!

In the midst of all of this I realised that I wanted to move the site to be self hosted.  In hindsight I could have taken a different approach to that and made it easier on myself, but after learning all sorts of new jargon and processes it seems to be up and running!

I also did a bit of assessing my stock.  I took an inventory of my fabric (boy was that hard – trying not to get distracted by pieces I had forgotten I had!), and of my bits and bobs – zips, slide buckles, etc.  A bit of time on Ebay saw most of that addressed, so the parcel man has been a regular at the front door and will be for another week or so!

All of that really did take up a lot of time and headspace!  I was a hermit for most of the holiday period, with the exception of a lovely dinner with friends on Boxing Day, and visits from Ms C, one of my dear friends who also helps me to brainstorm and problem solve.  I was feeling great and thinking that perhaps I didn’t need to be on leave for long while recovering from all the events of last year.  I got a bit cocky, forgot that I have limitations on what I can and can’t do, and organised a bit of socialising.  I caught up with the MIML, and a couple of really good friends, and that turned into eating three meals out in one day.  Mmmm…fun but very, very foolish.  A good reminder that I can’t run around like I used to, and need to pace myself and do only one thing at a time.  Really.  Timely really, as the chicks are returning this week and I need to be able to look after them properly, on my own.  So my mantra is two edged.  Keep it simple.  One thing at a time.  Wish me luck!

All of this means that my sewing, despite my very best of intentions, has been slow.  However the small bits that I have done have also helped me to look at my processes, assess them and think of ways to refine them.  Two more purchases have resulted.  (And probably the last for a while given that there is a lot of spending going on and not a lot of making/selling!).  The first is a photographic light cube tent – a white polyester box that pops up and is used to take product shots with even light etc.  After having my professional shots done I realised that my own photography is very inconsistent, so this is the first step towards addressing that, and reducing the time spent trying to get it right!  (I just keep learning don’t I?)

The second investment?  A steam press.  One of those gadgets that irons your clothes/fabric etc between two surfaces.  I am hoping that it will dramatically cut the time I spend attaching fusible interfacing and fleece!

Oh – and a third purchase as a result of a request by a friend to make up a particular product for her (that I will share if it works) is a cast iron press for attaching plastic snaps to fabric.  The potential for replacing hook and loop was enough to make me think that it is a good long term investment!

Now that the bank balance is so drastically reduced it is probably time for me to simply knuckle down and get back to the stuff that I actually love – sewing!

Oh – I had another lesson during this time.  It is VERY difficult to give chickens oral medicine.  The ridiculous antics that I got up to in trying to achieve this were worthy of a comedy sketch, but completely hopeless at actually treating my poor chooks who have been infested with lice.  However today the vet set me up with syringes with needles to inject them and that took seconds to administer, required no antics, ridiculous or otherwise, and will hopefully see them healthy and well again very soon.

I also had to break it to the boy that his favourite climbing tree is a little less than it was following a big storm.  Think we will be off to the garden waste place with a trailer this weekend!

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You might have seen that I have started a newsletter subscription thingy.  My plan is a monthly newsletter with links, tips, some giveaways, etc.  I am gathering together all my ideas for the first one, so do sign up so that you can enjoy the things I am finding for you!

Now it is time to go and sew.  I hope that your week is going well and that any lessons you are learning are positive, affirming ones!

Keeping it simple

A few posts ago I commented that I was aiming to keep Christmas simple this year. I almost forgot that decision and for a couple of days there was beginning to revert to my usual practice of saying yes to everything and over committing myself. I was imagining piles of homemade gifts for teachers and teaching staff, for friends, neighbours, family, etc. I was thinking I could squeeze in a bit more sewing for other people, to offer to have other people’s children over so that they could have some time to themselves, to be creating Christmas treats by the trayful, and to be putting on the most wonderful Christmas festivities we had ever seen.

Then reality hit, I began to get overwhelmed, and I was forced to remember that this year I can’t do all the things I normally do – and that it won’t matter. So teachers received bought gifts, (with two exceptions that I will come to in a minute), I have made a donation to my charity of choice instead of making/buying gifts for my girlfriends, I have accepted that the kids don’t count their gifts and it won’t matter if one is getting one more than the others as they receive so much anyway, that a pile of fresh stone fruit (including mangoes) is better than plates of fudge, and that instead of sitting at the sewing machine I can sit at the table or on the couch with my chicks and give them the best gift of all – time. I had a practical conversation with the chicks about whether they wanted to participate in the Christmas eve mass or just attend this year (participating involves two rehearsals) and quietly cheered when they all decided to simply attend. I asked their Dad to take the eldest chick to a birthday party being held within a very busy shopping complex so that I didn’t have to navigate the other two through the crowds, and also asked him to take the chicks to see the Christmas lights at a house that has broken a world record for the most number of bulbs, so that I don’t have to try and deal with a crowd and three chicks on my own, and I reminded myself that the only person who expects all of this from me, is me.

The results? During the week I had time to sit with the middle chick and make an origami dress Christmas ornament. (We both agreed that if it was a real dress we would want to wear it!)

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I finished the last of my Christmas orders today with pleasure instead of pressure.

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I had an afternoon of craft with the middle chick and the boy, experimenting with embedding objects in resin to make Christmas ornaments (and will hopefully have results to show you in a day or two!) The eldest chick and the boy and I played Monopoly for over an hour before it got too much for the 7 year old boy.

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(Yes that is his piece sitting on one of my railway stations….about the time he realised that I had become a slum lord and started to go off the game!  Must remember not to be so competitive when playing against someone soooooo much younger than me!)

The situation was saved though when three chicks had a water fight to cool off after the heat of the day and I was in charge of the hose, with instructions that I wasn’t to be a target! (Still can’t believe that I got away with that one!!) In other words – by keeping it simple I have had a wonderful day with my chicks with no anxiety attacks, no yelling, and no crying. (And that was from all four of us!!!)

My body is giving me clear signals when I have pushed too hard, or taken on too much. I can’t pretend for more than a few hours that I will be able to juggle lots of balls as I normally do. It just won’t let me anymore. Initially I was resenting this restriction, and feeling constrained, inadequate and that I was a failure. Now, however, I am starting to accept that there are benefits to keeping things simple, and stripping Christmas back to the things that are important – family, love and joy. Time to just enjoy my chicks instead of being worried about tackling the next thing on my list. Time to have them cuddle up to me on the couch while we watch a dodgy Christmas DVD with Danny de Vito in it. Making little things for each other instead of going out and buying more and more and more.

With that sense of simplicity I can share an image of the only handmade gifts that I presented to teachers this year.  The middle chick’s fruitastic design on the linen-cotton canvas from Spoonflower made into tea-towels.  I might have to make some more!!

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I have learnt a lot this year, about my passion for creating things, about my need to find a proper balance in my life, about the challenges of raising a child with special needs, about the fact that superwomen run out of puff after a while, and about the importance of family.  This lesson about stopping to enjoy time with my family instead of feeling the need to do everything, and do it well, is possibly the most important lesson I have learnt.  As we go into Christmas it is my fervent hope that this is a lesson that I remember, and apply, every day from now on.

I hope that you are able to find the simple joys in your Christmas or holiday celebrations, and that you are able to feel the joy that it is meant to bring, instead of the pressure that so often accompanies it.