Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Awww, shucks

I got the sweetest little note this morning in my email box from a customer. It certainly perked up my day, so I'm sharing it.

C.H. wrote:

I'm ordering six of your Lavender Pear soaps.

My grand daughter just turned seven and is beginning to read and likes to nose around in my soap basket. She saw your Lavender Pear, smelled it and hugged it to her chest begging me to let her have it...........hence my order for six more. She also likes the Roses & Violets.

I just couldn't refuse her "birthday wish". Of all the gifts she got, I think the simple little Lavender Pear Soap was her favorite. She was singing in the bath so happy that night and when I helped her out of the tub she said, "Oh Grammie, thank you I smell so nice! I really like that soap".

I also note that the next morning, she was very meticulous in making sure "her soap" was packed up carefully to take back home with her.

She sent me a photo too, and she's the cutest little gal ever, with a smile that lights up a room. So glad I could give that little sweet pea a birthday gift she could treasure :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's everything

The rising costs, the shortages, the crises. It's been a barrage of bad news daily, which for the most part seemed mostly inconvenient (to me personally), but dealable. Gas prices are high so I drive less. Food prices are high so I'm more careful and cut back on the extras. But now it's everything.

"What's that got to do with the price of rice?" I don't know. It's all connected. I headed over to my supplier to buy the usual buckets of coconut and palm oils that I use as the base of my soap. I was there just a month and a half ago, and it was just like it always is. The prices had gone up just a few dollars here and there over the last decade, but mostly stayed pretty even. Nothing to worry about, it raised the cost per bar just a few cents over time, still doable.

Yesterday the cost of each of those oils jumped 30%. For today. By the next time I need to buy them - another couple months - they will be a LOT higher they all assured me. Nobody knows how much, just a LOT. Rising costs of processing, rising costs of transporting, and now they are being used to produce bio-diesel so there is a shortage and that costs more too.

Gah! How can you anticipate these things? How can I possibly plan ahead if I don't know whether the costs will double next time around or just 10 percent? That's my bottom line, and I've scrimped and cut back and whittled it all to the bone already. Obviously I can raise prices at some point. There's probably no way to avoid that this year. But I was waiting until the summer got under way, and I had a chance to evaluate the postage increases that happen mid-May too. I just wasn't expecting this. At all. I guess that was dumb. Everything is going up, and fast this year. Except spending. That's going DOWN, and fast.

I stopped by the Spring retail show over the weekend at Pacific Market Center and retailers are really crying. They seem to want to blame internet sales as much as the economy, but that's splitting hairs. It's pretty much lack of money and fear of the future that's hurting everyone. Doesn't matter what you do, or what kind of business, or where.

Anyway, I didn't want to post another hand-wringing, the sky is falling, post again today. I'm tired of thinking about the whole thing. I'm depressed, worried and confused about how it all happened so fast without any signs that the world was about to self-combust on us. Well, there were probably lots of signs, but we weren't paying attention. I was watching Dancing with the Stars instead, or who knows what.

I'm going to enjoy the sunshine today. And carry on as usual with what I had planned for this week, and next month. And later, when I've got a clearer picture, hustle up some new schemes or new plans to make it all work. Because that's all we can do, really.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Apple Blossom Explosion

After the snow and storms of the previous week, it's amazing to see what a few short days of "normal" temperatures and one nice, sunny day on Saturday brings. My garden has exploded with blooms. All the plants seem to have doubled in size since Thursday. The lilac bush completely opened up over night. And the tight little apple blossom buds on the tree next door have exploded into huge, pink and white flowers. So much prettiness is hard to take in. I have to keep looking out the windows, from room to room, just to see it from another angle.

The summer newsletter is almost here. I just got it back from the printer, am stuffing and sticking, and it should head out Wednesday. I'll post it here too, and I'll be working on all the web site updates in the next couple of days. So if you see something wonky on the site, it's me. Everything happens live, and I'll be monkeying around with it off and on the next day or so. Pay no attention to the wild swings in colors and mumbo jumbo.

Other bits:

I got word that I'm accepted into the Bellevue 6th Street Fair again this year. Yippee!

I am re-starting an email mailing list. I had one long, long ago and it wasn't that great. This time around I'm working with Constant Contact and it should be super whiz-bang. Professional web site looking newsletters. And I've got big plans for special offers, coupon type thingies and discounts, all kinds of bait to get people to join and keep coming back. Stay tuned - the announcement is in the newsletter and you can already sign up HERE now. I'm doing a little crash course in how to work their programs, but it isn't that hard now that I'm a pro in the web site workings and blogger :) I'll be sending out email updates monthly and will do a welcome one in May for the first folks who join in the fun.

Next week - Monday through Friday each day - I'll be setting up my own little shop at the Group Health campus on Capitol Hill. It will be my own little version of a Spring/Mother's Day style gift shop, with mostly my full line of products, but some plants, flowers, vases, greeting cards and things too. I really hope it's a success and more than just a couple of nurse on their lunch break stop by. Here are the details if you can get a minute to duck in and say hello:

Spring Fling Gift Boutique

Thursday, April 24, 2008

If only

If only these dark, grey clouds would go away. Not only is it cold, windy and dreary, but we're missing the big Songbird's Nocturnal Migration. Huh? Yep, I'd never heard of it either, but Bird Note had a story about it on the radio the other morning and I've been trying to catch a glimpse of it.

In the brightness of the full moon, you may be able to witness flocks of songbirds migrating across the sky. They fly at night when there are less predators around, using the daylight hours to feed and rest. Plus, nighttime air is cooler and denser, making it easier for lift. And scientists even believe that the birds use the stars to navigate and find their way. Nature continues to amaze me. I've been wanting to see the birds at night, or catch a few chirps or warbles floating down from the sky.

Unfortunately, it's cloudy, the wind is blowing hard, and it's darn cold in the evenings. Plus the planes overhead, the normal city and traffic noise - I've missed it all.

I think I've been anxious to just get on with it. This semi-winter thing is going on too long and I need warmer weather and Spring to finally turn the corner. The political primary is going on too long. The recession, which some are saying may be as bad as the Depression of the 30's is going on too long. Gas prices, food crises, shortages, war, rationing of rice, global warming catastrophes, it's all so scary, so depressing. If only. If only things were different. If only life wasn't so hard for everyone. If only.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Conscious living

Today is Earth Day. I'm not doing anything special today, mostly because it feels like every day is Earth Day lately. So many decisions about what to buy, what to eat, what to do more or less of. I guess I'm even more caught up in it because it's saving my pocketbook as well - trying to get by with all the higher prices for everything, from gas to food to energy bills.

So here's my plan in a nutshell:

Use less.
Go as natural as possible.
But make sure the natural is also sustainable.
And try to make it all as local as possible too.

If I can achieve all of them, yippee. But if I can only achieve 1 or 2 for any given item, I go that route and keep looking. Of course budget is an issue too, and I won't break the bank to buy something - I'll just do without usually. The necessities are covered. Simplicity - often involuntary, often by design.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Sorry for the unannounced blog break. It actually wasn't intentional. I just got so caught up in the doing-ness of last week - the prep for the shows, working on the summer mailing, and all it's accompanying tasks like the products ready and the website etc. I got a little overwhelmed.

Just got back from tearing down the Puyallup spring fair, which went surprisingly well even with all the bad weather this weekend. If my calender didn't say "April" I would think it was January - driving rain, blustery winds, hail storms, sleet and snow. I even ended up in another little sleet squall again this morning on the way home. What's up with this? It's supposed to be spring, dammit.

So maybe you were paying attention, maybe not. But I was scheduled to do the Mt Vernon tulip festival fair this past weekend too. I was going to swing both shows at the same time. I set up Puyallup early Thursday morning and then worked my 12 hour shift until 10pm. Already dragging, I headed straight for bed, knowing that I needed to be up and loading the car about 5 hours later to head up to Mount Vernon. I woke up at 4am to pouring rain and just couldn't do it. I chickened out. The forecast was already so scary with snow, rain, and wind for all 3 days. And I just couldn't stomach the suffering. An outdoor show in those conditions is pretty useless. Not only would I not make much, but I would probably get sick, lose tons of inventory to wet and cold, and just plain have the most miserable weekend ever. Plus pay a ton more in gas money driving back and forth. I just decided not to do it. Chicken, I know. Maybe I should have toughed it out. On second thought, nah. I don't regret it for a second.

But everyone this morning had been worrying about me all weekend, wondering how I was surviving and what happened. I was kind of hoping to just hide out and slink away from my chicken-y move, but I had to fess up. Not one person thought I made the wrong decision. So I decided to fess up here too - just in case anyone else is checking in and wondering what happened.

Anyhow, it's Monday. And cleaning up, organizing, putting away, getting it all back together. I'm going to just put it all behind me and look forward to this week. Moving on.

Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck, buck.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The bad stuff

Major gaps in public health laws allow cosmetics companies to use almost any ingredient they choose in everything from sunscreen and mascara to deodorant and baby shampoo, with no restrictions and no requirement for safety testing. Some of the stuff they put in commercial personal care and cosmetic products is pretty bad stuff. The Environmental Working Group has researched practically every single thing out there, and has put together a list of the 9 worst ingredients, some of which are pretty hard to find on a label. They have also put together a huge database of products broken out by category so you can check out what you've already got. The following is excerpted from their site - the 9 worst things report, and what to look out for. You can read it all in more detail at their own website.

Placenta: Extracts from human and cow placenta can condition skin and hair. Vital to a growing baby in the womb, these same extracts in cosmetics give the body a slug of hormones that may be enough to spur breast growth in toddlers according to a few recent case studies.

Mercury: Given everything we've learned over the past 30 years about mercury's ability to damage brain function at low levels, it's hard to believe it's still used in cosmetics. But it is. We found it in (designer name) mascara listed as the mercury preservative "thimerosal." If you get a little bit of mascara in your eyes or face when it clumps or as you wash it off, you may also be getting a little dose of mercury.

Lead: When scientists recognized that lead harms the developing brain of a child, the government demanded its removal from gasoline and house paint — but not hair dye. This pernicious neurotoxin is in Grecian Formula 16 and other black hair dyes for men. It's hard to keep all the lead on your hair — studies find residues on door knobs and cabinets. Don't expose yourself or your children to this one.

Animal Parts: If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink and emu isn't something you'd like to smear on your skin, you may want to avoid mink and emu oil, conditioning agents in sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray and more. These are just two of many ingredients made from animal parts

Hydroquinone Skin Lightener: On a quest for lighter skin? Take a cue from FDA's recent warning, and avoid skin lighteners with hydroquinone. This skin bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with "disfiguring and irreversible" blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent, intensively black bumps the size of caviar all over the skin.

Nanoparticles: These tiny little inventions are touted as the next green revolution, but we don't find much sexy or green about untested ingredients that can slide up the optic nerve to the brain or burrow inside red blood cells. They're found in cosmetics in forms ranging from tiny wire cages called "buckeyballs" to miniscule bits of metals used as sunscreens. Good luck finding them, though — companies don't have to tell us that they're in our products, though we found that more than one-third of all products contain ingredients now commercially available in nano forms. And we did find them listed outright on the labels of some sunscreens (nano metals) and skin creams (buckeyballs).

Petroleum By Products: Surprised to learn that the same factories making gas for your car also make emollients for your face cream? Meet the workhorse chemicals of the cosmetics industry — petroleum byproducts, and the cancer-causing impurities that often contaminate them. These ingredients include carcinogens in baby shampoo and petrochemical waste called coal tar in scalp treatment shampoos.

Phthalates: Pronounced "tha'-lates," these little plasticizer chemicals pack a punch to male sex organs. Whether it's sperm damage, feminization of baby boys, or infertility, a growing number of studies link phthalates to problems in men and boys. Pregnant women should avoid it in nail polish ("dibutyl phathalate") and everyone should avoid products with "fragrance" on the label, chemical mixtures where phthalates often hide.

Fragrances: It may smell great, but do you know what's in it? Fragrances are the great secrets of the cosmetics industry, in everything from shampoo to deodorant to lotion, and falling straight into a giant loophole in federal law that doesn't require companies to list on product labels any of the potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's secret fragrance mixture. Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top 5 allergens in the world.

Okay, that's all good. But what about Soapworks Studio products? Well you'll never find the first 7 things in any of my products. And the last two are a bit more complicated. As hard as I've tried to distinguish the phthalate bits from the few fragrances I use, I've been continually told that it's a trade secret or proprietary information. So obviously I should just skip those, right? Well, that's a bit harder. People expect their products to smell good, and they want their bodies to smell good after using it. The list of natural essential oils used for fragrance is a bit limited. And lots of people are very attached and attracted to things that don't fall into that list. So I've cut back where I can. I'm designing mostly all-natural fragrances going forward, while still utilizing fragrance oil supplies that I have on hand (hey, I still have to make buck here and use up what I've got).

What's important is that I'm super conscious of the fragrance oil issue. I've tried to make the distinction of which are all natural and which have a synthetic component much more obvious for those who are paying attention to that. I have always had full disclosure of the ingredients in all of my products, and I never use artificial anything else (colors, preservatives, fillers, etc.) The only synthetic hoo-hah in any one of my products ever is that pesky fragrance - and I've worked hard at buying the highest quality ones when they are used, so that the risk of possible junk is less.

ETA: Sorry for the triple post - couldn't get the links to work!

A quick cuppa

In between the lip balms setting up and the next round, I've got a minute for a quick cup of tea and a few quick sentences on the blog. I'm making some special cupcake lip balms for the Puyallup Fair next week, and I'll have more of them at the Spring Fling shop at Group Health just before Mother's Day. They are in the little round tins that I used at Christmas, so it's a bit more goop in the tin, and scrumptious smelling. It's making me so darn hungry - the house is filled with vanilla and sugar.

Ooooh the flowering trees are so pretty right now. The magnolias, cherry blossoms, pear and plum trees are all in full bloom and absolutely gorgeous. The official dates of the Tulip Festival in Skagit county have already begun, and I'm guessing the fields are already blooming, or bloomed out. I've seen garden tulips already fully exploded in the neighborhood, although my own are tall and happy, but have not opened up yet. It's so much warmer and sunnier in the fields there - they have to be farther along than mine. And it seems like by the time the Mt Vernon show happens (also next week) everything but the little display gardens are usually done. It's such a bummer to miss the full bloom - the tourist folks have already come and gone. The busloads are dwindling down and the crowd is mostly locals.

Cupcakes call, gotta run.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ooops - Paypal

Dang. I'm a dork. Yesterday I was all hyped about adding Paypal as a payment option because it's more secure for the customer. And today I blabbed about it in the previous blog entry, making a biggie deal about it.

Aaaaaaand, later today, somebody tried to order using Paypal. Ooooooops. I forgot. I don't have taxes and shipping included in my shopping cart. For a bunch o' reasons, but the short story is that I use a flat rate chart instead of calculating shipping on each order by weight. It's a lot cheaper for the buyers, a lot easier for me, but not possible with the shopping cart. And taxes are a' gonna change, as I mentioned a few days back. Starting in July, Washington purchasers will pay the tax rate from where they live, instead of where I do business. The shopping cart on the website cannot work that way either. I only get to put in one tax rate. It won't think up all those other rates from every city and burg in the whole state. So again, I manually add those charges in as I process the order, and it doesn't appear when you check out.

So the Paypal idea is a bust. I wouldn't get the correct payment for those orders. I took it down.

But I've got my thinking cap on. I just don't know how to swing it yet.

More Summer Shows

I just got accepted to a couple more shows for the summer schedule. I've updated the calendar on the web site too, but just wanted to mention them here in case folks were starting to think ahead.

West Seattle Summer Festival

The West Seattle Summer Festival Festival is a FREE event, hosted by the West Seattle Junction Association, an organization of local merchants, and held in conjunction with the West Seattle Junction Merchants' Sidewalk Sale. The family-oriented festival, now in its 26th year, has regularly attracted more than 30,000 attendees to the three-day weekend event and continues to be one of the most popular street festivals in the region. It is a family-oriented event with community ties that are even stronger than ever. Unique arts & crafts booths, a selection of vendors representing a cross-section of cultures, two stages with on-going live entertainment, and a welcoming beer & wine garden make every Festival day special.

Dates: July 11, 12 and 13
Times: Friday and Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 10am-6pm
Location: The West Seattle Junction on California Ave SW, between SW Edmunds and North of SW Oregon Street to the Post Office; and on Alaska Street, between 42nd Ave SW and 44th Ave SW

Link: West Seattle Summer Festival

La Conner Summer Street Festival

The La Conner Summer Street Festival, in downtown La Conner in the heart of the Skagit Valley. This fifth annual two-day event will take place June 28th & 29th and will be a Welcome to summertime and a community celebration of regional art. The hours of the Summer Street Festival are Saturday, June 28th 10 am - 6 pm and Sunday, June 29th 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission is free. Artists from throughout the Pacific Northwest will showcase their handmade, unique wares along the street that leads to La Conner’s historic waterfront district. Merchants will join in with sidewalk sales & events. This family-oriented event will feature activities for children throughout the weekend. Musical entertainment and food specials for lunch, snacks and dinner offered by local restaurants. Whether it is art, designer fashion, footwear, fabulous food and wine, flowers or that special gift you have been looking for … you can find it in the Village of La Conner. Locally owned boutiques, galleries, & Inns. Stroll the Village!

This is a newer show, I think it's 5 years old. I participated the first two years, and wasn't able to get back there again until now. So I'm looking forward to seeing my friends in that neck of the woods that I've been missing!

Dates: June 28 and 29, 2008
Hours: Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm
Location: La Conner, Washington

Link: La Conner Chamber


One more piece of business: a customer contacted me over the weekend to request the option of paying for orders online by using Paypal. I did a little research, a little poking around the shopping cart functions, and it's possible. Actually, it's probably a good idea, because you can pay for things online without having to share your credit card information. Paypal handles the whole transaction, moving money from your account into mine seamlessly to pay for the goods. It's just one extra level of security with online transactions. So I've added that option to my website. Not everyone has a Paypal account set up, but for those who do, it is now another way to pay for your order instead of submitting your credit card.

Hope your weekend was restful - or else full of fun and adventure. Anyway, welcome to Monday and the back to work groans.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Spring Fling Gift Boutique

I guess that's what I'm calling it. I am "renting" a storefront for the week before Mother's Day on Capitol Hill, here in Seattle. I'm not sure if you call it renting, maybe more like borrowing it. It's a tiny little jewel box shop space which belongs to Group Health, on their Central Group Health Campus. They loan it out to folks from time to time, and a percentage of the sales go towards their TLC Guild, which helps with patient's needs, buying them necessary items etc.

We have finalized the details, and I'm ready to make the big announcement. It's kind of exciting, because I've never had a store to myself. Of course, it's really no bigger than my tent at any outdoor show, but it's a corner space with windows, and I can decorate it all myself.

Dates: Monday through Friday, May 5 through 9.
Times: 9:30am - 4:30pm
Location: Group Health Central Campus on Capitol Hill
Address: 108 - 15th Ave E, Seattle

I haven't even seen the spot yet, though it's been described to me in great detail. I'm going over next week to scope it out and begin planning my display. The plan is to make it a gift shop for any and all spring celebrations, although the focus will be Mother's Day items since that's happening that week. I'll have all my usual products, plus I'm brainstorming some other stuff to have a more complete selection of gifts. I'll have some cards, some planted floral pots, vases and flowers, and who knows what else I can cram in there. I will obviously update you all on the details as we get closer and I get it all worked out.

Everyone is welcome to stop by - it's open to the public, though it will be advertised all over Group Health for the employees too. A fun new adventure!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Dance of the little white lights"

Send a little white light, or say a prayer for Kathi Goertzen today. She's back in the hospital this morning for surgery on her brain tumor - for the third time. Let's hope it's a speedy recovery and that's it's finally over for her.

May 12 the postage goes up again. A first-class stamp will be 42 cents, and shipping rates are changing too. Dang. The summer mailing is happening at the end of this month. I won't increase rates for anything right now, but I'll have to see how much my shipping rates are affected during the summer. I adjusted all my shipping rates last year, with the hope that it would cover another increase this year. But it's always an ongoing struggle - to keep my costs as low as I can while not losing my entire profit margin either.

I'd been a little lazy the last year or so with costing out my "basic" stuff. I try to do it a least once a year (or if there is some sort of sky-rocketing hike) - just to make sure that I'm charging enough for a bar of soap to cover all the costs. Now that I've added all the groovy new oils to my recipe, the luscious shea butter and hemp oil, I needed to make sure that the $4.00 per bar is not going to make me broke. Luckily, it still works out. The olive oil has gotten a tad cheaper lately, and the other ingredients have stayed almost the same in the last few years, amazingly. Everything else of course has gone up. But not like gas and food prices, which are insane.

I know it's not just me that is starting to re-think everything and change my basic lifestyle. Sometimes I feel like a shut-in, because I'm choosing not to drive or go places I would otherwise not even think twice about. But if the choice is 25 miles to a swanky nursery or cool shop, I'll choose no. Instead I'll wait until I have to be in that vicinity for something else, or bunch up a whole bunch of errands in some area and carefully plan a route that hits everything without making extra trips. I'm sad that the joy of the spontaneous road trip are gone.

And the grocery store is getting spendy too. Lots of little treats are just not happening. I suppose it's healthy to have more rice and bean dinners. This time of year - late March to April is my scariest time. The surplus I had after the holidays has all gone to supplies, taxes, show fees, bill paying. More going out than coming in. Mail order is smaller now that the spring newsletter is a couple months old and the summer announcements don't happen until May. The shows don't start until May either - just a couple of small things towards the end of April. So it's penny pinching time for me.

Ah, that's the violins I hear playing. My cue to stop rambling. No pity parties allowed. It's a super sunny, gorgeous day today. And tomorrow it's over, back to clouds and rain. So I'm off to do some work away from the computer screen, where I can look out the window, and have lunch on the patio.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fools

Does anybody even prank any more? Apparently Pizza Hut has changed it's name to "Pasta Hut" today. And Google announced their new "custom time" feature which allows you to send emails to the past. Snork, snork.

Yesterday was Opening Day for baseball, and I got a FREE ticket to go to the Mariner's game. Whoo Hoo! I got a little teary-eyed several times during the whole opening ceremonies - the music, the fireworks, the little guy with cancer who ran the bases, the thundering announcements, Dave Niehaus holding his pants up with one hand while throwing out the first pitch. Too bad we had to close the roof because it was flipping snowing! Brrrr it was cold out there. Sorta tough on the "boys of summer" but they pulled through and gave us a win, and a fine time.

Just to follow up on that whole sales tax discussion: "Anonymous" commented that out of state sales aren't affected by the new rules. And by jove, that's absolutely right. I had been going by earlier announcements that I got in the mail, and tried to read all the fine print in the legalize, somehow missing that part. Since the whole point of the new rule is to join some federal program, and even up the internet taxes across the board, I guess I just assumed it meant all the sales, wherever they are. But it is, in fact, only applicable to sales within Washington state (just shipped or delivered, not stores). Yee haw. Here's the offical-ese in easy to understand language, for anyone else who is interested or might be affected. I'm going to one of the workshops next month to learn all the ins and outs of how it's going to work. Sounds like a blast? Umm hmm.

I have so many little tasks on my lists today, it's no joke. Gotta get crackin'!