Monday, June 27, 2011

Tackling the Classics

A few years ago someone posted a book list on Facebook and I realized how few "classics" I had read since high school. I'm always interested in becoming a better writer and I think reading better writing is part of that. So I decided to tackle the list and read as many classics as I could manage.


Do you remember what Mark Twain famously said about classics? “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” I don't know if it's the choice of words that makes classic literature more challenging to read, but pretty early on I realized it was gonna be hard to make much of a dent in that list. Most of the time I'd rather read vampire books, to be perfectly honest. I had to make a plan. The plan for tackling the classics? Location, location, location. As in, three locations:

1st Location: The purse. How often are you stuck in a doctor's office or waiting room? Do you have kids with tons of activities and find yourself killing time until they're finished? I tuck a tiny paperback into my purse and read a bit while I'm waiting. I got through Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in a few short weeks simply by reading in waiting rooms. (This play is totally hilarious; I love Kenneth Branagh's movie adaptation, too.) Tip: check out Dover Publications Thrift Editions for classic literature at ridiculously low prices. As in, $2 - $5 books. And these books are just the right size for purses.

2nd Location: The kitchen. A watched pot never boils, so don't watch it. I've found that you can easily read for 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there while something simmers or bakes. Right now I'm reading Oscar Wilde's short stories while I make dinner, and I think Ralph Waldo Emerson is up next. Remember, the unwatched pot often boils over, so the egg timer is your friend.

3rd Location: Bedside table. Insomnia? Nothing cures it better than William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. And yes, I did finish it. There were moments I wasn't sure I'd make it, but I did. Willa Cather's O Pioneers! kept me awake and eager to read more, so I was lucky it was such a short book! Bedtime (and late night) reading has helped me tackle more classics than reading in any other location, probably because the wheels in my head don't stop turning at night and reading is a great way to slow them down.

Why bother to read old books by dead authors? Lawrence Clark Powell said, “What makes a book great, a so-called classic, it its quality of always being modern, of its author, though he be long dead, continuing to speak to each new generation.” What strikes me when I'm reading books like Vanity Fair or O Pioneers! is that once you get past the differences in phraseology and vocabulary, the characters seem remarkably similar. People have always been the way they are now, and books that do a good job of sharing something universal about the human condition will always speak to us.

As long as I remember to keep my classics in at least these three locations, I'll eventually make it through my reading list. What about you? Do you like reading the classics? What's your favorite place to read?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Winner of the Layered Balms...

I'm excited to announce that the winner of the layered lip balms is number 3, Small Footprints! Thank you all so much for participating by sharing your comments.

As always, my favorite part was reading about your memories. I just love the stories we all have about our summer favorites! Reading about yours made me think about mine: the fresh blackberries and juicy melons (and spitting the seeds). Or picking strawberries as a kid, and how we'd eat them for supper afterward (usually with shortcake). I guess dessert for supper is always memorable for a kid!

Watermelon seems to be the most frequently mentioned flavor. I'll be adding a Watermelon balm next month along with a new Limited Edition fruity drink flavor. And maybe one final layered balm. (I just like the idea of getting more than one flavor in a tube! Have you tried one yet? I'd love to know what you think, too.)

Right now, I'd have to say that my favorite flavor is peach. We have had the most incredible Eastern peaches lately, the kind that you have to eat over the sink because they are so ripe and juicy. But in a few weeks my raspberries will be ready to pick and THAT will be my favorite flavor! The sweet tea, strawberries from the CSA, and maybe even some lavender lemonade will also make an appearance. I love summer!

Thank you all for sharing your memories! I'd love to do a giveaway in August, too...if you could choose anything to win, what would it be?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad's Example

For the past week I've read lots of advice from other bloggers' dads. Of course I planned to share my own father's words of wisdom, but if you know my dad, you know how hard that is. It's not that he isn't wise, because he certainly is. And it's not that he didn't teach me lots of things. But until fairly recently, my father wasn't much of a talker. He's always been a thinker, a listener, a doer, but not ever someone who made small talk. While my mom had encouraging words, my dad encouraged me by what he did.

My father is a structural engineer, but he knows how to do a lot of other things. Growing up I watched the care and attention he put into everything. Whether he was designing and building our house or baking a loaf of bread, he clearly felt it was always worthwhile to do things properly. That attention to detail was even more important in his work; I know I feel safe crossing the bridges that he designed! It also made a big impression on me, as I try to take the same care with my work, too.

In 1984, Apple introduced their Macintosh computer. My dad bought one of the original Macs, which meant that as a young teenager I got to work (and play) with the first popular personal computer. I know it doesn't sound like a big deal now, but at the time that was really rare. While other people were shying away from new technologies, put off by the learning curve or the expense, or simply misunderstanding their potential, my dad was excited about them. He always has embraced these new tools and instead of being afraid of what he didn't know, he's approached new challenges with enthusiasm. Early exposure to the tools AND the enthusiasm for them have defined my whole work life. Without the example of someone embracing the new and different, I'm not sure I would have dared to do some of the things I've done.

In fact, without Dad's example, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have become an entrepreneur. When he was in his late 30s he left a job to start his own company. While going out on your own is risky at any time, he had two teenagers rapidly approaching college. Last year I read this article about how "Dads empower kids to take chances." One of the dads talked about the things he did with his kids, and how there were "life lessons" in them: "if you take a little risk," he noted, "there will be rewards.” I watched my father leave a less-than-perfect job situation to create a better life for himself and all of us; I don't think it's a coincidence that my brother and I both have our own businesses.

I don't really remember my dad sitting me down with words of wisdom, or literally giving me advice for how to live. But I learned from him that if you're going to do something, it's worth doing it right. I learned that you should embrace new things without being afraid of what you don't know. And I learned that there's a lot to be gained by taking even small risks. I'm grateful for all of that and so much more today.

What did you learn from your dad? If you are a dad, what are you trying to teach your kids? Are you telling them, or showing them by your example?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summertime Flavors Giveaway

If you're a friend on Facebook, you already know about our new layered balms! (And if you're not a friend on Facebook...what's up with that? You're missing all the fun!)

Back in January we created a layered balm with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors all in one tube. And of course, we called that the Neapolitan balm. Several people suggested great ideas for other layered balms, so I knew that eventually we'd add more. Well, "eventually" is now!

Our first-ever layered balm was called Balm on the Fourth of July, and was in a clear jar. Every June we bring it back for a limited run, and this year it's in a tube! With layers of cherry, lemon ice, and blueberry, the stars and stripes never tasted so yummy! Topped with an assortment of caps in (what else) red, white, and blue.

Another summer favorite is Rainbow Sherbet. Orange, lime, and raspberry sherbet flavors are layered in this sweet treat. If you have a hard time choosing just one flavor, this balm is for you! Assorted caps of magenta, green, and orange top these colorful moisturizers.

I'm so excited about these new flavors that I'd love to give some away! For a chance to win one of each of these balms (three balms, and a total of nine different flavors!), leave your comment below sharing some of your favorite summertime flavors. Are you a fan of watermelon? Or strawberry shortcake on the Fourth of July? Maybe a fruity daiquiri is your favorite taste treat in the summer. Let us know about it! A winner will be chosen at random on June 24th at noon EST (U.S. residents 18 and older, please).

So what's YOUR favorite Summertime flavor?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Up on the Roof Farm

Every so often at Facebook I invite people to share their favorite business pages (including their own). I love to find out about other businesses that I can "like" (and order from). One of my own favorites is Up on the Roof Farm. I just recently placed my first order with them, and I'm excited to share more about this business and its owner (and her fabulous products)!

Tammy Goughnour, formerly of Maryland, makes beautiful candles and soaps in her new home in Vermont. I ordered some of her candles for a gift; when they arrived, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to part with them! (See the photo above.) The Tropical Delight and Pomegranate/Orange/Vanilla soy candles have delectable fragrances but they aren't overpowering. They're beautiful pastel colors, and the apothecary jars are really unique (these are the 5 ounce size). Tammy is also a customer, so I know her a bit from email and Facebook, but I'm so glad that she agreed to answer some of my questions to share with you.

What is your background?
I grew up in rural Maryland and always had a strong passion for gardening and the environment.

When did you first start making candles? How did that come about?
I starting making candles about a year ago. I have always been one to stop and smell the roses—making fragrant gardens—and loved how smells evoke a good mood!

What sets your products apart from other similar products and companies?
My products are a little different in that I painstakingly search for all of the earth-friendly products that I can. I insist on cruelty-free scents and colors. As soon as I found out all the chemicals and soot that paraffin candles release as well as that they are basically a petro-chemical by-product, I knew soy was my choice!!


Where do your ideas come from? Any new products to share?
I am a homeschool mom and this is something we can do together (and we do!) and earn some income. We recently moved to Northern VT after a long process and are elated!! We live overlooking Mt. Washington full of nature and beauty. I am in the process of making a series of New England inspired scents including Maple Creemee, Nantucket Hydrangea and North County Blueberry as well as Chocolate Moose!

Where do you think (or hope!) your company will be in 5 years?
I am still refining my line but starting to settle into my products. I found an awesome supplier for U.S. made jars in 3 sizes with metal lids that are fantastic. I also do votives and a couple specialty shapes! I hope to continue to grow my company and have fun!! I also give back to my favorite VT charities and will continue that.

Can you please let us know where to find you online?
I am at www.upontherooffarm.etsy.com
and www.facebook.com/upontherooffarmvt
I can also be reached at www.upontherooffarmvt @ gmail.com (remove spaces)

----
Though I wanted to keep them, I was good and gifted the candles. That means I can't report on the fragrance throw or burn time, but I'll let you know what the recipient says! The candles were just lovely, and I'm sure I'll be placing more orders in the future.
(Please note that the items reviewed were purchased and the opinions expressed here are my own. Photos copyright Up on the Roof Farm.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Opinion

I ran across this quote the other day on Twitter: "What you think of me is none of my business." ~Larry Winget

This is interesting to consider in a world that seems to require our opinions and feedback everywhere. Whether we're on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or blogs, people are asking, "What do YOU think?"

Do we feel obligated to share? Or are we relieved that someone finally wants to know our opinions? Is all of this sharing for our benefit, or the benefit of those we're talking about?

A few years ago I wrote a brief post about "mindful speech." The quote I shared in that post stated that "To be mindful, speech must be true, timely, useful, and said gently and with compassion." How much of what we're adding to the conversation is actually mindful? How much of it needs to be said?

Sometimes I think we protect ourselves from speech that is NOT mindful by thinking what Larry Winget said: it's none of my business. "You're entitled to your own opinion," we'll say. The truth is that we feel that it is our business. We want those thumbs-up, "likes" from friends and family. Many of us are in the business of maximizing those approvals, trying to provide products and services that earn positive reviews. In some situations, it quite literally IS our business what others think of us. Our jobs depend on it.

Do you feel more encouraged to share your opinions online? Do you think people take your opinion seriously? Are people mostly being mindful when they talk, or are they just saying what comes to mind in the moment and not concerned about being compassionate or gentle? What do YOU think?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Mimosa Whoopie Pies

I have been making so many Mimosa Lip Balms lately for bridal shower favors and bachelorette parties that I have Mimosas on the brain! Last week I was wondering what a Mimosa cupcake would taste like, and then I realized it would be much more fun to see what a Mimosa Whoopie Pie tasted like.


Whoopie pies have been in our news lately here in Maine. Earlier this year our legislature considered naming them the official state dessert, which started a "food fight" with Pennsylvania. It seems that both states claim to have invented this dessert, and Pennsylvanians were appalled that Maine would claim the dessert as our own. Of course my husband (who grew up in Philly) votes for PA, and as a Mainer, I'm...staying right out of it! (They decided to make it the official "state treat" instead.)

Wherever it originated, the whoopie pie's appeal is universal. Its flexibility is also impressive: the original chocolate-cakes-sandwiching-vanilla-filling recipe can be easily modified for some interesting flavor combinations. Chocolate and peanut butter. Pumpkin and cream cheese. Or how about orange and champagne? Sounds like Mimosa! Here's what you'll need:

Whoopie Pie Cakes
2/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp orange oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice
orange zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 °. Cream the butter and beat in eggs, sugar, and orange oil. Sift flour and dry ingredients into a separate bowl, then beat half of dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Follow with the milk, then remaining dry ingredients, then juice. Stir in orange zest, if desired. (I added about 3/4 tsp of zest). You can also add a bit of red and yellow food coloring if you wish for a darker orange color.

I made mini whoopies which ended up being 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Drop batter by the teaspoon onto an ungreased nonstick pan. Leave a few inches between cakes, since the batter will spread as it cooks. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until edges are barely browned and cake top bounces back when touched. Transfer to cooling racks. Once cakes are cooled, pair them up, choosing cakes that "fit" the best with each other.

Whoopie Pie Filling
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 to 1/4 tsp Champagne flavoring (LorAnn makes a champagne flavor; Nature's Flavors is another option)
orange zest (optional)

2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup orange juice

Cream butter and shortening and add sugar. In a small saucepan heat orange juice and flour, stirring constantly until it thickens. (I didn't boil this, just heated gently with constant stirring.) Allow this mixture to cool, then add to the sugar mixture and beat until fluffy. Stir in flavoring to taste (start with a small amount of champagne flavoring and add more if needed), and zest if desired.

You may want to chill this filling before spreading; I found it "thicker" when it was a bit cooler. Spread a generous amount on one cake, then top with its match. Wrap pies individually to avoid "sticking" (or for freezing—they taste even better straight from the freezer) or place in layers with wax paper between.

This recipe makes 30 to 32 tiny sandwiches. I LOVE the idea of serving these at a bridal shower! The tiny size is just right to be added to a dessert table.

What do you think? Do you like whoopie pies? What flavor combinations do you enjoy?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Simplify

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein

Sounds like sensible advice, but how do you know when things are as simple as they should be? Especially when it comes to my work, I usually start with a simple plan, but add in a generous dose of enthusiasm and things get complicated pretty quickly. My product line in 2005 included lip balm, sugar scrub, and bath salts. Now it has expanded to include moisturizers, bath gels, shaving soaps, fragrances, facial cleanser...have I forgotten anything? The handful of flavors and fragrances has become dozens and dozens. Whew!

The truth is, some of these products are popular and some...aren't. So to make things as "simple as possible" I'll be discontinuing several products over the next few months. I've been putting this off for a while now, but after I read Tony Hsieh's book "Delivering Happiness" (I've written a few times about what I've learned) I realized I couldn't put it off anymore.

One of the core values at Zappos is "Embrace and drive change." In the book Hsieh says, "We must all learn not only not to fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically and, perhaps even more important, encourage and drive it. We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change." I wish this was easier for me, but I know that there are people who will be disappointed by the choices I'm making. And I don't want to upset people! Ultimately I know that focusing energy and time on products that don't sell is taking away from the products that most of you enjoy. I want to have more time to expand the options for the most popular products. I hope that you'll stick around to see the new things in store!

The first items we'll be discontinuing are some of our men's products: shaving sets, shower gels, and lotions in Spiced Orange. They're now 25% off, and limited to quantities in stock. Order within the next week for Dad gifts to be delivered by Father's Day.

I want you to know that it's difficult to make these choices, and that I'm definitely keeping your opinions in mind. I really do care what you think. Are there any products that you can't live without? Please share your thoughts!

Friday, June 03, 2011

"The key to this business is personal relationships"

A few days ago I got an email from a customer. I've known her for several years now, and have made gifts and favors for a few of her parties and showers. In this email she shared that she was expecting her first baby in the fall! I was so excited for her (squee!).

Later when I was telling my husband, I asked, "Is that weird? I know she's a customer, but it almost feels like she's a friend, too."

He said, "No, it's not weird, it's Jerry Maguire!"


I had to laugh. And then I had to watch it again. I know it's sappy ("you had me at hello") but there's something so sweet about it, too. And I do love the business messages, especially the brilliant, motivational moments with Jerry's mentor, Dicky Fox. "Roll with the punches. Tomorrow is another day," he says. And, "I LOVE getting up in the morning. I clap my hands and say 'This is going to be a great day!'"

But my favorite is, "The key to this business is personal relationships." I think lots of businesses are realizing that these days; it's definitely true for my business, which is all about personalization. So I guess it's not so strange that I feel this way about my customers...particularly ones I've known for years. You really do feel more like friends.

What do you think? Do you enjoy the personal interactions with companies that happen these days on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other places? (Did you know that you could visit my page at Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn? I really like chatting with friends there.)

(You can read Jerry's "mission statement" online, too. You can see why such a document would cause a stir in his company!)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The 20th Kiva Loan

Today I made my 20th Kiva loan. This loan was to Maria Juana Canas Saquil De Morales, a Guatamalan mother of one who sells natural medicines and raises animals. Kiva shares that Maria "...is applying for this loan to purchase natural medicine products, because she needs more capital to work efficiently. During her free moments, Maria works taking care of her animals -- she has chickens and turkeys, which she buys as hatchlings and sells when they are grown. Little by little, she is able to get out ahead."

Some of my first loans have been repaid, so I have these funds back in my account to re-loan to other women entrepreneurs all over the world. The same money gets loaned over and over again--isn't that cool? (Of course I'm also adding more to my account every so often, too, so I can make more loans!)

You can learn more about Kiva here. I've also blogged about Kiva a couple of times. Oh, and here's another. I'm averaging about one loan every six weeks or so. Are you still interested in reading about them? Let me know what you think!

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