Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

As the end of the year approaches, I have to tell you that I'm not sad to see it go. It has been a very difficult year. It had a lot to live up to...2012 was a year where I was quite the happy camper. Probably the happiest camper I'd ever been, in fact. My business was going well and I was feeling good about my future and where I was. Then came nasty old 2013...

The year started with my father's newest battle with cancer. I had no doubt he was going to beat it once more. 

February brought a flood in my kitchen due to a faulty water line in my refrigerator. Terrible, yes, but I was looking on the bright side - I got to replace my much-hated flooring. February also brought the Unglued Craft Fest in Fargo which was a true highlight for b.haven.

March was bad for Dad. I had been making frequent trips to Missouri from North Dakota, despite the weather since the year had started. I was worried and distracted which caused an interesting side effect - my dogs. They were becoming increasingly agitated around me. They were wondering where their stable den mother was, I'm sure. Two of them had an argument which I tried to break up with my hands. Dumb. My first finger caught on the canine tooth of my pretty white girl, puncturing my tendon sheath causing swelling and infection. I spent two nights and three days in the hospital and had two surgeries. Geez. Bit by my own sweet dog. While recovering on my last day (I insisted) in the hospital, I got the call - I needed to get to Missouri and now. A blizzard was in full force, keeping me in town for another day after I was released from the hospital. It was the first of April.

I spent the month of April in Canton, Missouri, helping my father to die. I fed the horse, mowed the yard, planted flowers, held his hand and rubbed his legs and talked and talked to him. Dad passed away April 30.

I barely remember the rest of May and June. My stepson, C, who lived in North Dakota near us, decided that he was going to move back to Missouri and wanted to get his house ready for sale. It needed a lot of work. We poured a sidewalk and patio, repaired walls and painted, painted, painted. I replaced flooring and fixtures, built raised flower beds, and generally dressed things up. It was a good distraction. I was busy. Busy is good. Tired is good.

July saw the sale of Dad's house and the dreaded "going through" of his things. His workshop was exactly as he had left it, with projects left unfinished and his organization of stuff all too familiar. His death was becoming really real. My heart ached. 

August brought sickness to my beloved chocolate lab Rufus. Little did I know how serious he was about to become. Glen and I also decided to move back to Missouri around this time. We found a house we liked and started planning our big move south. Finally getting C's house on the market at the end of the month was a relief, I now had my own house to get ready to list.

September began with my maternal grandmother's death. She was 99 and the cornerstone of my connection with the rest of my mother's family. Our last words had not been ideal and I honestly don't think I ever considered that she wouldn't live forever. Would her funeral be the last time I saw my aunts, uncles and cousins in one place again? Maintaining a connection would now be work.

October brought our big move back to Missouri. A big, beautiful house just waiting to be filled with all of our crap and my decorating. I spent a good part of October sleeping on the floor of one house or the other while furniture was being loaded, transported and unloaded. Juggling schedules and dogs and timeframes was totally exhausting. By the time we all got to one place, I didn't care that my house was beautiful and big or that I was even in Missouri. I just wanted to sleep. 

November came with serious health issues for two of my uncles. I had JUST seen them at my Grandmother's funeral. It was all quite scary there for a while. My closer proximity allowed a good visit, thankfully. November was also the beginning of the steep decline of my poor Rufus. Say what you will about pets, some have a way of becoming more than just a dog to you. Our first dog as a family, Rufus is a special boy. I made every mistake a new dog owner can make. But he forgave me, taught me, and opened my eyes to a whole new world. Ruf can go anywhere, meet anybody or any dog, and just wants to be a good boy. He's a simple boy with simple needs and does his best all the time. We began to realize that his health issue was not going to be fixable, no matter what we tried, how little sense it made, or how many vets we saw. Thanksgiving came and I tried really, really hard to be grateful, thankful, gracious.

And now it's December. My dog is dying. My Christmas tree is up. My house is still not unpacked or "put together." I have not made a single gift, ornament, or effort towards the holidays (other than the tree). And I'm just waiting. Waiting until this year is over. Waiting until this terrible black cloud lifts just a little bit. Waiting for a break.

I sound terribly depressed, and maybe I am. But there were some bright spots this year.  Number one being that I saw pretty much everyone I had ever known growing up at some point this year. Old family friends and relatives paying their respects. I reconnected with cousins and extended family. People showed up. I was surrounded by love. I got to see my stepson A's beautiful wedding and once again was surrounded by beginning love, a family in the making. I learned how to do a number of home repairs and developed an interest in renovating houses (we got an offer on C's house within a week of listing it). My brother-in-law opened his own doggie day care and boarding facility, which I'm proud to be a part of in a little way. 

And then there were the tiny moments. There was the one summer night, after a long hard day of house stuff, me and my hubby grilled steaks, drank beer, and listened to one of our favorite albums until long after dark. There was the one frosty morning when a brilliant red cardinal caught the sun just right, creating absolutely stunning sight. Hugs from friends at the right moment. Grandbaby Emery giggles. A perfect email from someone who cares but barely knew me. That one full moon back in October. A glorious sunset at my new house.

I know that some years just suck. I also know that time keeps going, life keeps happening, choices will always need to be made, and attitude is everything. 

B.haven is on sabbatical. Ms.b.haven will be back at some point. Promise.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Petunias, paint and inspiration

Hubby and I stayed in North Dakota this year for the July 4th holiday. I'm not complaining, the Fourth is something to behold in ND! We were both just terribly homesick. Used to being with lots of family, spending the summer's holiday with just of the two of us was a unique experience for us both and we were a little on the gloomy side. Our moods dictated a road trip!

Canada is only about four hours away and sadly, I had yet to go. We took highway 83 north and then headed east to Lake Metigoshe and then the International Peace Garden. The garden sits on the border of Manitoba and North Dakota and is dedicated to world peace. What a lovely idea.

The border is right there, naturally so after a little geography lesson and some slightly bizarre questioning by the border guard, we were in Canada. How exciting! I'm an international traveler! The first town we came to was Boissevain. 

Ah, Boissevain! I found this tiny town of 1,500 people inspiring. There were flower baskets filled with brightly colored petunias hanging from all the light posts and in these man-made "trees" at pivotal spots around town. The town is a railroad and farming town with few claims to fame. But, the people of Boissevain loved their small town and had worked hard to make it special.

There was the Art Park that was well-loved and vibrant with native plants all blooming in spectacular color. The sides of the buildings were painted with murals depicting the history of the town and area. This was a place whose residents loved their corner of the world and wanted others to see how special it was too. The town had a sincerity about it that had me a little embarrassed at my too-often cynical outlook of the world and its' people. This town had made an effort, a real effort. And that, to me, was super impressive. 

Boissevain was a reminder that you can make anyplace and anything special with love, hard work and a little imagination. 

Just look around a little, inspiration is everywhere,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Full brains and busy work

Yeowza, time passes! It's the beginning of July, for Heaven's sake. Now is the time I start ramping up production for Christmas items. Or, should I say, I SHOULD be ramping up for Christmas.

As you know from previous posts, I've been struggling. I have had to let some things go for my sanity's sake. My brain is full and I spend a lot of time in there. The problem is, it hasn't been filled with my business stuff as is normally the case.

In June, I poured concrete, build two large flower beds, repaired my deck - and then re-repaired my deck. I have laid carpet and painted, painted, painted. I mowed, dug holes and filled in holes. You get the idea. I'm "helping" my stepson get his house ready for market and attending to some much-needed upkeep on my own place. In other words, I've been as busy and tired as possible without actually working on b.haven.

Guilt has crept in. The list of things to feel guilty about is long and entirely unrealistic. But nonetheless, She's (I'm calling guilt "she" for no particular reason) there. I have been grieving and keeping it all to myself. Guilt and grief tend to go hand-in-hand, I've noticed. I've not called my wonderful friends and family to whine about how sad I am. I have not gone back home to help my stepmom with getting Dad's place ready for sale or to help her pack and sort. I've not kept up with the business end of things at b.haven or produced those promised new items for my vendors. I've canceled shows. I'm wallowing in my grief alone and by choice. I'm taking advantage of the understanding of others, knowing full well that there is a limit to their good will, as there should be. I tell myself it is ok, that we each deal with life's trials in our own way. I know that time will pass and I will have more good days than bad at some point. But I'm not there yet.

Soooo, what's the point? Well, then, that is a good question. I guess my thought is that by admitting to struggling publicly, it would somehow be cathartic to me.

Yes, it IS all about me, didn't you know?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things end, things begin...

So my Daddy is gone. He passed away the last day of April. People ask me how I'm doing, and I don't know what to say exactly. How do I say that I'm a bit lost, overwhelmed, and very sad but also so filled with love and peace in one or two words? I settle for, "I'm ok." 

I made it to his side a couple of weeks before and watched the painful decline. I tried to help in the only way I knew how. I fed the horse, cat, and birds. I planted flowers, took out the trash and mowed and mowed and mowed... Keeping busy was my therapy. And the people came! So many friends, family, former coworkers and neighbors came that our refrigerator was overflowing with goodies and we never lacked for food to feed everyone. It distressed him that he was not "being a good host" but pleased him to be able to tell each one how much they meant to him.

Time went quickly and painfully slow at the same time. He realized that his time was near and it pained him to see those that cared about him suffer at the thought. His pain was great but his smile was still there, even through all the heavy drugs. 

Once he had passed, it hit me very hard that it had really happened. I still have a hard time believing it, even though I had known for months that it was inevitable. It surprised me more that I was still living. I know that's weird, but for whatever reason, I had thought that I would cease to exist without him.

The visitation, funeral, and "party" (his term) afterwards are kind of a blur. I saw so many folks I had not seen since I was a little girl. The love and support offered by so many still astounds me. 

The next day after the funeral I attended the wedding of my stepson. I got to witness such love all over again! It seemed fitting somehow. Things end, things begin...

Now I'm home in North Dakota. I feel fundamentally changed. I have not re-opened my online store. I have not gone through the stacks of paper. I have not cleaned my house. I have not created anything new. I haven't called the doctor about my still ailing hand. I haven't returned phone calls or written thank you notes. I haven't explained to the good people who have inquired about carrying my products that I'm...um, unavailable and why.

I have done everything wrong the last six weeks concerning getting a new business going. And it is ok. I feel every single thing more acutely. Good, bad, sorrow, happiness, love, guilt and joy, all are felt to my core. And I am not ready to let that go. Time will ease me back into myself. But for now, I'm slowing down, crying every day for happy reasons and sad, and letting myself simply feel... 

...eternally grateful,

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

B.haven has her first birthday!

My little, tiny shop turned one earlier this month and I almost didn't notice! I'd like to say that it was because I was sooooo busy filling orders and creating artwork, but that simply isn't the case. No one wants to read about sadness and heartbreak over and over, so I'll spare you. Let's just say, my mind has been elsewhere. (click here if you REALLY want to know - WARNING: it's kind of heartbreaking)

The idea behind b.haven seemed simple: create fun stuff in my head, buy materials, make the stuff, sell the stuff and rejoice in being one of the lucky ones who gets to what she loves and make a living. I would use eco-responsible materials, never buy fabric from China, purchase as many things from local businesses as possible, make EVERYTHING by hand, and donate a good percentage of my profits to a different charity every month. I would work harder than anyone else ever has at something like this, and get better with every print. I would have wholesalers lining up for my splendid ideas and do a fair amount of custom work. I would make people smile...

Yes, I was naive. Yes, I knew that I was being naive, but until proven otherwise, I saw no reason to worry about what I didn't know. What I didn't know...wow, it was/is a crazy long list! I am not feeling sorry for myself here (usually a signal that one is about to feel sorry for themselves), but I do believe there are things you may want to know if you are contemplating doing something like this. Here's what I've learned:

  • Taxes kill me. Of the money coming in, about 40% of that goes just for local, state and federal taxes. For example, I pay sales tax on the materials I need to make the things I sell. I sell those things, and then I pay sales tax on the things I've sold. Hmmm, that kind of sucks. 

  • My prices are too low. Geez. I really wanted to make my work accessible to folks who may not have "extra" cash to spend on items that make them happy. While great in theory, I'm now struggling with low cash flow. Low cash flow (i.e. I have no money until I sell something) means I cannot afford to buy materials enough to solicit wholesalers, who typically buy in larger quantities. Plus, I am hard pressed to offer much in the way of a wholesale discount, because I'm at bare bones pricing as it is. (Insert the action of my slapping my forehead with my palm here.) I will never be able to sell my items for the same price as those items that are mass-produced or made in China. Why did I think I had to compete in that market, you ask? Because that is what you buy, silly pants! Think about it.

  • I underestimated shipping costs. I HATE paying shipping when I purchase things online so I wanted to keep my shipping costs low. While yes, the shipping costs are accurate, they do not reflect the box, packing material, tape, and the time it takes for me to trek to the post office. I lose "profit" on nearly everything I ship. Especially if I send it overseas.

  • I am the only one. Kind of funny that this was some big revelation, but you don't realize what that truly means until you are living it. If I don't do something, it does not get done. Things fall through the cracks (like buying toilet paper for the studio), and end up accumulating into a seemingly insurmountable mass of menial tasks. No, I would not rather take out the trash than draw, print, experiment, and produce, but who else will do it? If I forget a follow-up call, there is no one else to blame (geez, I hate that).

I still love creating the things I do. I love the fairs I've attended and the shops I've sold in. I do not love the business of the business. If I had my way, I would give away everything I make to anyone who likes it. Why, do I have so little value for my things, you ask? No, absolutely not. If I can brighten your day with what comes out of my head and hands, I'm crazy happy! 

So, a balance is needed. I've gone over my budget with a fine-toothed comb...uh, make that a fine-tipped pen, and it looks like I will have raise my prices a smidge. The only other major place I can trim costs is in taxes. I think I will request an itemized list of items that my tax dollars go for, and then cross off the things I don't want to contribute too. Think that will work?

Always learning the hard way,

p.s. And yes, I am now grooming dogs a couple of days a week to make end's meet. There's no place for ego in entrepreneurship. :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Worst That Can Happen - a sad post


So you go about your day, paying bills, making dinner, worrying about things, etc. Then something happens. When "something" happens, I always envision the very worst, mentally prepare for it, and let it go, knowing I can handle it...with a few exceptions.

To me, the absolute Worst That Can Possibly Happen is seeing one of my loved ones struggle or in pain, knowing there is nothing I can do. This scrapes away all the daily b.s. and hits me right at my core. 

My daddy's cancer is trying to kill him, painfully and without any mercy. And there is nothing I can do about it. 

Those that know me well, know what my daddy means to me. He's a good man, a hard worker, pure of heart, and simple in his needs. If he can, he will help those that need it, and sometimes those that don't. He's a strong-willed man, but not overbearing in the slightest. He brings light and joy to those that have the pleasure to know him. The sheer amount of people that love him is overwhelming. He's been my model and mentor on how to live a good life -- one of strength, love, goodwill, and happiness. 

Now this evil thing, Cancer, is taking him away. Slowly, painfully, and without any consideration of how good he is. I'm helpless and heartbroken. Watching him struggle with the pain and realization that he may not be able to conquer this thing, is about to break me into little, tiny pieces, and causes me to wonder if I am truly as strong as I believed I was. I go back and forth between being overwhelmingly inspired at how many people truly love him -- a testament to a well-lived life -- and bitter with the thought that to Cancer, it simply doesn't matter. I struggle to find any measure of comfort and go from wanting to collect people that love me together and hear their kind words, and wanting to wall myself off in a dark, little hole and speak to absolutely no one. 

He sent me home and I know why. He doesn't want to be the cause of my pain, and knows that I need to get back to my daily routine in order to prove to myself that my life will go on, regardless. I'm not sure how I feel about it -- guilty or relieved? There IS nothing I can do but look at him and ask, "can I do anything?" if I were there, both of us knowing there isn't. Who wants to be looked at with eyes filled with pain all the time? I understand. 

My love for my father goes beyond blood. It's an honest respect, an admiration, a deeply felt gratitude that he has made me a better person, a stronger person, and one with instinctual and practiced goodness. 

It's insulting to me that life goes on, that bills have to be paid, that my young business needs attention to grow. I'm really trying to get past this resentment and care. Really. But you will have to forgive me if I'm lax in this area. I'm struggling in the most basic of ways. I'm simply heartbroken. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Training for Spring

Surprise Stadium, Kansas City Royals Spring Training, Surprise, AZ, 03/02/2013.
 And what's a game without peanut shells in your flipflops?

The Budweiser Clydesdales
were at the game!
They always make me happy.

My New Year's resolution of blogging more often has fallen away and I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it. Sorry. I know I should, but geez, with the way things have been going lately, something had to give!

I went to Arizona this weekend. My hubby's job took him there last week. C (my beloved stepson) and I joined him on Friday to stay the weekend. A more perfect weekend could not have been planned. The weather was gorgeous, the actual trip there uneventful. And as those of you who have traveled to/from North Dakota in the winter, that was a true miracle! 

We only had two days but we managed to do most of my all-time favorite springtime things - spring training with the KC Royals (they won) and going to the racetrack (I won). A bunch of hubby's family from Kansas, Missouri, Washington, and California were there too, making the trip even better. 

And then it was over. Landing in Bismarck did not disappoint by being the polar (ha!) opposite of Phoenix - snow, wind, and cold. All the issues I had left here, were STILL here and my crankiness returned. And then I looked around with the same eyes I had viewed the newness and beauty of the desert with. And saw beauty.

Not the same beauty, but beauty, nonetheless. The issues I had left now have fresh eyes, and my heart KNOWS the sun still exists and will show up when she's ready. My feet still know how to wear flipflops, my eyes can still see when the sun is out for the entire day. I can still function with a single layer of clothing. My lethargy and depression can be wiped away simply by changing my outlook and refocusing on the beauty and good of my life, rather than the seemingly insurmountable problems that I tend to create in my head. 

Some say that a spring trip can make the winter seem longer. I say that whatever you need to do to recharge yourself, should be done whenever and wherever possible. 

Spring is coming, people! I feel it!