Friday, December 28, 2007

Closing Thoughts

This post is about nothing in particular. This post is about everything. This post will probably be my farewell to 2007.

1 - I need a laptop and almost was on my way to claiming one in February - this one in yellow, unless purple comes out soon - until my business partner and I talked about our finances and plans. Any bonus I get needs to go to us this time around, with a few hundred going to credit cards so I can get that mess back down again. Guess my laptop will have to wait a little longer but as long as I get my computer operating at full capacity and buy more memory to boot for the sake of all of us using it, then I suppose I can last a little longer without it.

2 - I want a green bookcase. Actually I realized if I take all the crap out of my office that can't live there anyway, I'll have room for two. The challenge in getting my office as it should be is that I have to think about what I have that needs storage and then consider what kind of storage will do so I won't end up buying something I can't really use. I went on the hunt again and I am giving up after about a year of searching for the right color green and the right look. And no, I don't want to paint a darn thing, Kerri! That's ok. Black is beautiful and Ikea is still the only place that has the right thing so I think black it is. The baskets can be green. Ikea has that too along with orange and yellow which I wanted to use in the room. They may be a tad too low but it's an option. Black will create grounding in the room anyway since the floor is a light wood and so is my desk and my beloved 2-drawer chest with the wonderful green and orange stripes, which is the cause of all this case confusion in the first place. And when I get that sweet lamp I saw at the gallery earlier this month, I am going to get it a black table to light upon because it too is a semi-light wood. (Ahhh, dreaming of that lamp.) I drew myself a floorplan of my room, hearkening back to my interior design days in college. I need a worktable because my partner and I realized we're going to have to take on some of the manufacturing of our puzzles ourselves - the packaging more than anything - but as we thought about what we'd need, I realized my office is truly going to be all about Village Works, which is good news tax wise. You can't claim a home office if the whole space isn't used that way and you can't claim more than one office either. (Now, I'm sure there is SOME way around all that if you try hard enough but we're going to just follow the advice of our accountant. Yay baby! We got one of those. So professional of us!) So you see, my office has been greatly on my mind lately again. Because of the new addition I'm going to need in there, I can finally envision the whole space when I couldn't before. Time to get cracking.

3 - One of the things I have to do is get my blog posts organized. When I started this blogging nonsense, the labels weren't an option. Now they are and I have to go back and add them to about a year's worth of posts now so I can find stuff when I want to link to it again. Plus I feel out of sorts when stuff is half organized so it simply must be done.

4 - Speaking of the business 2 items ago, my partner and I met with a new marketing person. We're keeping the old one for the fundraising projects and maybe she can help us find some local opportunities. However, the man we met with recently was a volcano of ideas and two hours flew by as we told him our thoughts and plans. I love to watch people develop a love for our product. It's truly lovable but it needs to be able to sell itself without us around and that is the issue we are tackling next year. We've got Chris, our new guy, working on a sales kit plan - and cost - and hopefully with his help, we'll land a few more stores next year. We're very excited and this is part of why my laptop now has to wait a little longer. He has a plethora of experience and has worked with oh so many people with oh so many talents and of varying business sizes. This man was there when the local edible fruit bouquet business was a baby. It's a booming enterprise now. 2008 is looking great! We've got one more vending event to do tonight and we can finally focus on next year. Oh, the plans for the website. The plans for the stores. The plans for selling. I'm itching to get going!

5 - Let's see. Anything else? I have to work on Monday so I don't even have another 4-day weekend to look forward to, but that's OK too. It'll be quiet and the highway will be a lovely span of gray concrete that I can navigate all by my lonesome at 80 mph. (Just kidding, mommy! Sorta) Both kids will be home and I will be looking forward to reading my latest Sophie Kinsella. (Hmm. Better update my booklist while I'm here.) I'll probably ring in the new year at church since my choir is recording a CD that night and I haven't been to church on New Year's Eve in about 3 or 4 years now. Also, I need my hair done before birds set up residence but we've been busy vending these past few weekends I just haven't had time. (That was just a little something extra for you.)

6 - I was contemplating calendars today with a coworker and I asked her if it meant something that picking a calendar is really a serious undertaking. If I am going to look at the same picture for a whole month, I need it to be visually invigorating for me. It takes a while to find that but I think I found something interesting for this coming year. Clean lines, lots of colors, exaggerations. This has me thinking back to the conversation I had with that gallery manager and The Artist's Way. I need to do that little exercise just to see what comes of it. If you know not of what I speak, the exercise is to go through magazines and the like and cut out pictures of anything and everything that draws you. Apparently when you put them all together, you get this visual representation of yourself and you find cohesion in all the odd things that attract you. When I think of my beautiful dresser and the lamp I am pining for and even this calendar, I can imagine there is something to it all. I told the woman I had a thing for balance and geometric shapes and bold colors but never in an overwhelming way. The shapes and colors are always offset by neutral tones or set against some kind of quiet background. And now that I think of that, I think a little of my marriage and how we balance each other in that same way. We each have boldness to our style in different ways but for every bold trait I have, Mr. T's is the understated opposite and vice versa. There is probably some personality epiphany I should be having here but it's eluding me at the moment because my bladder is calling.

Later gators!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I tried to post a holiday message on time but darn it, it wasn't happening. Christmas Eve was my chance to do not one darn thing. Christmas Day is always hectic from beginning to end.

Since our living room and kitchen are on the same level as the bedrooms, I had to cover the door with a sheet and write a threatening message to the kids. Something to effect of "Stay Out! This Means You!"

They didn't go to sleep until about 11 so Mr. T and I had to wait another hour to get the stuff set up. But we did it and here is the before picture Christmas morning:

Yes, it's a tiny tree. We've had it since Son was born. I think we'll get a big one next year. No, the Dora kitchen wasn't a Christmas gift. It was a birthday gift that hangs out in the living room because furniture does not currently reside there so the kids do what they want there.

Christmas Day, for more years then I can remember now, has consisted of going to one sister-in-law's house for breakfast for a few hours, talking to family and, since kids came into the picture, watching them open the gifts their aunt and uncle got them.

Then we head over to Nana's where dinner is waiting and either eat or make plates to take home. Then the kids open more gifts from Nana and the other aunt and whomever else was giving enough to buy for them that year.

Usually this means getting home after dark, even though that only means it has to be about 4:30 or so. But this year we made it home while it was still light out. Even with the countless gifts from the family, there is apparently nothing like opening whatever you have under your own tree. So the kiddies tore into it and here are the after pictures:

The living room, which is not as bad as it could have been because this isn't all the paper. I have to clean as they go, you know.

And here's some spillage into the kitchen.

"This was a perfect, Christmas," says Son. He got his DS Lite with about 4 games PLUS a Wii (for the family) AND Pokemon cards, among the rest of his humongous haul, and that's all he ever wanted. He actually hugged Mr. T. He hasn't been that grateful since he was too young to care what he got.

It went by too fast but as usual, it was just great to sit around doing nothing, laughing with family members who are just insane and watching the joy the kids get out of their new stuff.

Hope you had the same joy.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Big Squeeze

One hour until The Appointment. Been too busy this week to be nervous about it, but I have an event to vend for tonight so I moved it up an hour. Told Mr. T. this morning I had to go. "Uh oh," was his response. Even men know to squirm. If I can breathe later, I'll be happy to share most of the blessed event!


If you've NEVER had a mammogram, allow me to share!

So I got there a little late because I left work a little late. The woman at the desk kept apologizing for her fumbling but she was fine to me. I sat down in the waiting room to fill out a sheet asking who in my family has had breast cancer if anyone. After all these years, I still need my mother to remind me of the kind of illness that claimed her mother and if it was just benign lumps my aunt experienced a long time ago. I called her right quick but she was not home.

There is no mention of the males in my family but men get breast cancer too so I wonder why they don't ask about that. Does that not count for female relatives?

Anyway, I sit and I wait, so glad I was able to move up my appointment so I wouldn't be too late for the vending I had to do that night.

It doesn't take long for Nurse 1 to call me. (For the sake of writing, I'm calling her a nurse but I doubt that's what she is.) She calls a waiting man as well and shows him to this upright coffin - I mean, tiny changing room and then leads me around the corner and down the hall to a small area where I can have a coffin of my own. I took a couple of pictures inside my little room. If I had stood outside of it, I could have gotten the whole thing in one frame.

A plastic-wrapped gown greets me atop a brown padded bench. There is one hook on the wall and practically no room to maneuver. She sweetly tells me to lose the top half of my clothes (not in those words, of course) and put on the gown, then closes the accordion door to await....what? She didn't say. I can only assume someone will come claim me one day. So I wait. And wait. And wait a little more. I look around outside the room where I see signs thanking me for turning off my cell phone. Oops.

Before long, here comes Nurse 2. She looks at me and and ponders the snaps on the shoulder of my gown.

"Is that the gown they gave you. Ohhhh, snaps. I don't know." She thinks. She decides it's OK. Off we go.

"We're going to do the mammogram first," she tells me.

"OK." I point to my things. "Should I leave my stuff here," I ask. I'd like to think they aren't THAT lackadaisical about security.

"Oh, you can bring your pocket ook if you want."

She takes me around the corner to a room that reminds me of the eye doctor's office. Cozy, dim light and ohhhh, yes. There it is. If you haven't seen this contraption yet, I obviously could not take a picture of it but I Googled it and this is what it is:

Not as ominous as I thought but one would expect a person to process film in that thing not press people.

"OK," I tell her. "I need you to know that I have eczema and I have since I was 21. I am 37. I've been using steroids all these years and my skin no longer has the elasticity it once did."

"Well, I'm glad you told me but I'm gentle. At least I've been told I am. Still, it's good you told me so I'll be gentle. Don't worry!"

I can't really describe the woman-handling because it's just too weird. I felt like taffy, I can tell you that. One of the good things about having children is you lose your inhibitions and all the touching these people do just never tops the exposure you feel the day you have that child. So I deal with it. She "arranges me" for the first shot and that plastic piece came down and I'm praying it knows when to stop. It does!

"Hold your breath," Nurse 2 says. Not bad.

"Hey," I tell Nurse 2. "This isn't so horrible! I'll be back!"

She laughs. "Not so fast," she warns me. "We're not done yet."

She switches me up. More arranging and taffy pulling. I roll my eyes at the whole thing.

"Hold your breath," she says.

The first 2 pictures were cake. The next 4? Ah well, that's where the fabled pain comes in. Truly, it's just serious discomfort, lots of twisting, turning, odd angles, - I wish I were exaggerating - me hugging the stupid machine more than I hug my own husband. NOW I see - and feel.

"Oh, OK," I tell Nurse 2. "THIS is not fun. But, I can tolerate it and that's good."

"Good! Hold your breath." Zap. Zap. Zap.

The party is over. I still needed to get my X-rays of my abdomen for my doc to make sure I don't have bone growing where it shouldn't, but the worst is done and now I don't have to go back until I am 40, unless they find something. I can't imagine they will but I suppose you never know.

All I know is I survived The Mangler with only a little residual soreness the next day. So minor I only realize it when I think about it. And I bruise VERY easily but I have no black, blue or purple marks. I guess Nurse 2 was gentle after all.

So if you're new to all this like I was and if you have a low threshold for pain, like I do, and, if you have any skin issues at all, I am here to tell you that it is possible to get through this with your breasts, if not your dignity, intact.

I am happy to have finally added one more preventive medical necessity to my repertoire that is going to keep me healthy and happy and hopefully living a long time. (I am VERY good about seeing all my docs, I am proud to say.)

But if you think I am going back there BEFORE I am 40, well, don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Secret Santa Strikes!

It's Secret Santa time at work. Has been all month. I would have written on it sooner but I could not risk anyone reading and finding out who I have. You see, I have told NO ONE because I think it's fun that way, and I have been listening to all the chatter surrounding the various gifts people have been discovering in their cubes and offices.

For a while I thought I had a guy SS because he/she had not made his/her presence known for a while. But one early morning I arrived at work about 7:40 a.m. (schools were closed due to snow. I can leave my house in one hour when that happens. Whoopee!) and discovered this on my portable drawer thingie:

(The leaves were a little more alive then but I never professed to having a green thumb. Or a red one either.) It had Christmas lights on it and a note to turn on the switch. OK. I was at work until well after 6 the night before and got in 2nd only after the Big Boss the next day, so when did this person strike? Crafty, SS. Very crafty.

Now yesterday, I came in to find this little hand-made treat sitting on my desk. At that time it was devoid of ornaments and presents. I sat it on the wall so everyone could see it. This morning I came in to find it back on my desk with ornaments and presents! SS is crafty indeed!

Today is the lunch and the big reveal. I don't know how we'll all get through the next 2 days with no more Secret Santa. It's going to be like staring at an empty Christmas tree. But for now, the giddy anticipation is giving everyone the shakes, sending us all back to childhood, no doubt. The holiday music WAS blaring from one of the TVs but it was turned down so we could, you know, work!

So back to it. I'll tell you the results later.

UPDATE: So what did I get? This:

and a whole lotta confusion. See I was handed the gift to open but the MC for the lunch said not to reveal our Secret Santas until the very end. He said this while I was in the midst of asking who mine was. (ALERT: REAL NAMES ABOUT TO BE USED! GASP!) Well one guy, Chris, was way to obliging about not telling so I said, "It's YOU! Thanks Chris!" He neither confirmed nor denied. By the end of the present-handing-outs, I was given a second, plainly-wrapped box that bore no resemblance to the nicely wrapped gift I received before. Chris said to open it. I was perplexed. Befuddled. Confused. "Everyone thought I had you so I got you this."


So I opened it and it was a gift for his REAL recipient which was NOT me. I was meant to pass it on. OK. What's the deal? Turns out it was Mark who had Chris make the Christmas tree for me because he can do origami. But he arranged the flower and candies himself. Ohhhh! So the gift is from Mark. Thanks, Mark!

We use these at my house so it's perfect but Mark doesn't know how much because I've been thinking about where this should live - at work or at home. I'll tell him pretty soon. There is a lamp I saw at a gallery last week at a holiday party and this gift reminded me of that. I LOVED that funky lamp with it's square shape and colored glass. I can't get it out of my mind. Much like that banana art print in Barbados that I let get away. So I emailed the woman from the gallery who I was talking to and we'll see if I can find that baby. It was at the gallery to be artistic but it wasn't for sale. Hopefully, the artist makes them for sale. What a coup that would be. I think that lamp needs to live with me.

I'll tell you more about where this conversation led me in another post. For now, I'm signing off and wishing you all happy holidays! (In case I don't get back here soon.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Christmas List

Just a quick break from work to add an equally quick message to update my semi-neglected blog.

Life is going on and December is as sweet (and cold) as always.

1 - Today I celebrate the completion of my 37th year of life. (The flowers are from my Teddy Bear.) Ever since, years and years ago, I learned that the Chinese start counting from the day of birth, I've had it stuck in my head that each birthday is a completion as well as a beginning so I also see this day as the start of my 38th year. I think the Chinese would say that I am 38. Too strange to say because I still feel 18, 21 or whatever. I'm just happy to feel good because I know what feeling really, really bad is like. I like the good.

2 - My puzzles have FINALLY come in from my manufacturer as of this past Monday and the fundraiser is complete. Hallelujah! We have learned our lesson about what NOT to do next time and I just want to focus on next year but we have 2 more events to go and hopefully we'll make some sales. We did pretty good at the 2 other events we had this month. There is a ton of planning to do for next year and much, MUCH organization to do on both my partner's and my part. Ah but the potential. So much to do and so much to gain. With both she and I talking about needing extra money but having no extra time at all, there is equal incentive on both our parts to MAKE THIS WORK.

3 - I went to see my financial adviser this past Saturday. She is the best investment ever and I highly recommend getting one if you care about your money even the slightest bit but really don't care to stay in the financial market loop and make all the necessary moves on your own. I always leave there knowing I am falling way short of what I need to be where I really want to be but it's not depressing. At least I know what is happening and what the ideal is and - in the words of the Superfriends - knowing is half the battle! (NOTE: MY BROTHER CORRECTED ME. APPARENTLY IT WAS G.I. JOE WHO CLOSED HIS SHOW WITH THIS MEMORABLE SAYING. EITHER WAY, WE CLEARLY WATCHED TOO MUCH T.V. GROWING UP.)

4 - There is one week before Christmas and I think I won't buy one more thing for one more person right now. I Christmas shop with cash and that does not spring eternal so before I see red in my bank account, I must stop. I still want to get something for my co-workers, however, because I adore them but I want to give it some thought too so they will get to celebrate Christmas all over again in January. I am hoping to be really good next year and either start Christmas shopping in January, buying one or two gifts per month for one person or put aside a small amount until I see something I like for someone. I do so love to watch people opening gifts and when you manage to get something really fitting and/or unique, it's the star on the Christmas tree. So glad I was born in such a fun and giving month.

Back to work.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Business Lessons 101

One of the risks you run into when you are a small business working with other businesses of any size is not getting things done as a result of someone else. The smaller the other company, the greater the likelihood that unexpected issues will arise. This is why we no longer seek to work with one-man (or woman) operations. We are in the midst of an unexpected issue right now with our puzzle manufacturer and it is frustrating enough to make us take a hard look at exactly how much we can do ourselves and how much (or when) we delegate to others.

Doing it ourselves would be not only time-consuming but the machine is costly and then who would run it? Maybe my retired parents would like to help out. It's a possible plan but too expensive for now. So I am thinking about what we CAN afford to control and we are taking a little more of the process into our own hands.

We have a 3-year, maybe a little older, relationship with our current manufacturer. We ADORE them. We love the owners and have highly recommended the company to other people wr know who need their services. They have been beyond patient with our questions and ideas. They have been excited by what we do and have been creative in their solutions to our problems. They have been, until now, faster then we expected, delivering earlier than we anticipated. Their professionalism has helped give us a good and growing reputation.

This is the year we did our first fund-raiser, small as it was. This is the year we got into a store. This is the year we did and are doing more vending than ever before. This is the year they disappointed us and, indirectly, our potential customers.

The product - the materials for which were long ago given to them - is STILL not in our hands for delivery to the people who ordered them and we are about ready to refund their money. Some have been gracious about the situation and want to give to the kids anyway. Others are confused about what's happening and we can only say, "Please hold on a little longer." What we cannot say is, "It's not our fault. Our manufacturer is coming up short and while we built in some time, we didn't anticipate the amount of time needed to this extent." Our reputation, though nurtured by our manufacturer, is our own and we cannot pull back the curtain to expose anyone else.

The tough call is what to do about what's happening now. Again, we cannot heap enough praise on the company's past performance and attention to our needs and wants. In addition, there was a medical crisis in the owner's family and we know that has impacted this situation because I believe we are considered his client. My partner and I are believers in doing right by people, forget what the world says we should do. But we can't put our name at risk anymore. So we remain frustrated but patient. I will line up a 2nd and a 3rd manufacturing option and we have decided that we will do our best to cut off the printing we need at a certain time in the year in order to keep things flowing on time.

So what do we take away from this? When you are in business for yourself, you must delegate sometimes in order to get the job done but make sure the person/people you delegate to are as conscientious as you are. If someone fails you, consider their value to you and look at their record of performance before writing them off. People/companies make mistakes and have things happen. Loyalty is a valuable asset for both parties. Blanket decisions won't work. This has to be looked at on an individual basis. But then after looking at all the facts sans emotional attachment, for the sake of your company's health, you can't be afraid to walk away.

We push on because 2008 has a huge amount of potential for us and I'm not about to let this little setback stop us. As a matter of fact, the storm gets roughest right before it ends, right? We are about to enter our season of harvest. We must keep sowing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

One Brave Step

It only took me 1 year, 3 months, 1 week and 6 days but I finally did it. I've had the prescription sitting on my desk since I went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago. It's been daring me to do it. So I finally did. I scheduled the dreaded mammogram/x-rays for Dec. 20th. It's my 37th birthday gift to myself - not. They had an opening on my birthday but that would be masochistic.

This should be torture - I mean interesting!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

We're Live!

My husband thought I had fallen off the face of the earth but my partner and I could not start working on our labels and such until after church was over. It is her job after all.

I got some displays we needed, she printed labels, her cousin helped and it took much longer than we thought it would but with a little less than an hour until the store closed, we ran out of the church and off to set up our product.

It's beautiful. This is our whole section top to bottom. The wall with the window is right next to those black shelves next to ours.

And this is us a little closer up and clearer.

Our new holiday cards should be ready this week. We'll go back in and replace all the more generic cards with those, add our updated business cards (which are currently being held hostage by UPS) and add a table underneath to put our business information - thus freeing up a shelf - and we're set until close to Kwanzaa when we'll go back in and swap out for those. Hopefully we'll sell out of the holiday cards before that happens but as long as we sell a certain amount to make the tiniest of profit, we're happy and can work to improve sales.

This gives us a chance to do some things we needed to be in a store to do like test a new product, change our packaging, etc. I can't exude in writing the excitement I feel right now because frankly I'm too busy thinking about what our gameplan will be next year.

This golden opportunity is just so perfect and today God confirmed it in His message through our pastor. I've said it before to countless people and I'll say it again here, in case someone didn't know this already. Seven is the number of completion. So for us, 2007 ends 10 years of working toward where we are right now. The number 8 means new beginnings. What was the sermon about today? You guessed it. New beginnings and being open to God birthing in you whatever it is He has for your life.

We expected 2008 to be a year of new beginnings for us and by faith, it started December 1st.

To my partner: We made it to the top of the mountain. Before we set out for that promised land, let's enjoy the view for a moment, shall we?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What's in Store for Village Works?

I can't tell you what's in store for us right now. It remains to be seen. But I can tell you that as of tonight, we are in a store. And it's the right store in the right location. The owners are two women partners who know what they are doing because they each own successful stores separately and have gone into this place together. My partner and I are taking an unexpected leap of faith.

This is the kind of place where a variety of vendors rent space to put their product in the store and I had heard of the concept before but I was skeptical. Where was the place? Who was going to watch our puzzles? What's their cut supposed to be? How are they going to sell it since it's not their product? Is this consignment because we hate consignment.

We visited the place and liked the answers to our questions. The place is cohesive, organized and fun to walk around in. It's a high traffic area that borders 3 towns that span the range of economic classes. These women are going that extra mile to treat our stuff like it's their own. We feel like we found the home we were looking for.

We are excited but the work is tremendous right now because we weren't looking for this yet. So now that I've shared this with you, I have inventory to count, price labels I must design and an informational sign to work on with my mother who is sick right now but sacrificing rest so we can have what we need. (Both our families have been above and beyond encouraging and supportive. I can't wait until we can start paying them back.)

So, we have to go to the store tomorrow after church and stock our shelves!

Oh, and did I tell you our space (which is floor to ceiling) is right next to a front picture window?

Oh yes! It's an exciting way to end a year.