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!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Square glasses and side ponytails

My name is Sharon Higley, and I am not a hipster.

There, I said it. It's out there. Everyone knows. I've come clean. I should feel better. But...

So, I've been dealing with chronic self-doubt, anxiety, and general malaise. This happens to all creative types from time to time. For me, it is usually triggered by things totally unrelated to creativity. Tax time seems to be my trigger. The sheer amount of effort involved in my being financially organized is enough to totally defeat me. It starts there and begins a downward spiral into self-pity ending in the realization that I'm not a hipster. Let me explain.

I went to a gathering recently of hipsters, in a similar business as me. I look around and immediately start comparing myself to them. I do not wear square glasses or dress in super-cool vintage clothing. I do not, or will not, wear a side ponytail with artfully blunted bangs. I do not carry a self-created/embellished handbag, nor do I use hipster language, of which I would provide an example but I am so unfamiliar with the slang, I can not. 

Comparing oneself to others is always a bad idea. One cannot know the life of another with enough familiarity to be able to judge them against oneself with any sort of accuracy. I know this. Yet, it is entirely human to do so. These feelings are all too familiar as I have done this my entire life, resulting in making myself acutely aware of...well, myself. 

In high school, I was not particularly athletic, popular, or good at much. I thought drastically differently than pretty much everyone I knew, and it was unsettling. I faded into the background by choice, 'knowing' that I was not really worthy of attention. In college, my artistic ability wasn't particularly outstanding, and my finances would not allow me to dress as I wanted, or dye my hair interesting colors, or go to shows of bands with names no one had ever heard of. As art students, we were required to show EVERYTHING to EVERYBODY and provide ourselves to be ripped up by peer critique. You were constantly compared to your peers as a way of inciting improvement. Right out of school in my chosen profession, it was standard procedure to be compared to and compete with others for the "right" to be able to produce your ideas. That required that you possess a certain flair, naturally or faked, for talking yourself and your ideas up. You HAD to stand out in order to be considered worthy. Always 'knowing' in the back of your mind that you did quite measure up -- someone was ALWAYS better. I believe that is why most graphic designers are in their 20s-30s. You get tired after a while and move into management. Ha.

I made the decision in my later 30s that I was done with that whole thing. I was me, and that was fine. I stopped trying so hard to be different and relaxed in who I was. It was a freeing choice. I stopped this constant comparing of where I was in my career, how my artwork measured up, and whether I was presenting a hipster-enough outward appearance. I became happy with me. I stopped trying to put a label on who I was or what I did. I focused on being a good person, bringing happiness if it was in my power to do so, and making decisions that were responsible, fun, and right for me.

But, every now and then, that old habit comes back. Kind of like when you stopped smoking years ago and decided that one wouldn't hurt, just this once. That first inhale is familiar, a bit comforting, and then disgusting. You make a choice after that first puff -- take up the nasty habit again, or stop and be healthy.

So, I've taken these last few weeks to restart. To stop and be healthy. To remember that I am me and that is ok. My creativity is slowly coming back, not nearly fast enough, but still, I feel the progress. 

Still not a hipster but ok with that,

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

the butterfly and the tsunami

Originally posted January 16, 2012

I take my responsibility to my fellow (wo)man pretty seriously. I would never harm another simply because it is within my power to do so. I also trust my fellow (wo)men to do the same. When passing oncoming traffic, I expect that the other person will not cross the center line. I expect that there will not be razor blades in my pizza or arsenic in my latte. We all have an awesome responsibility to each other, not because it's required by law, but because it is the right thing to do. 

Think about how many interactions you have on a daily basis. Like the ones I've mentioned above or others. Hundreds, thousands, millions even, when you are out and about. How many of those have resulted in personal harm? Very few, I would imagine. It's because we trust each other. We fundamentally know what is right and what is wrong, despite differing viewpoints. Yes, there are exceptions. Human nature is not perfect and occasional abnormalities, psychosis, and/or accidents happen. Also, I believe our awareness of how we are interrelated is diminishing. 

I take issue with those telling me that I'm not responsible enough to make my own personal choices. I know what is best for me, and make my decisions accordingly. It has nothing to do with what is legal, in most cases. For (a bad) example, as a teenager, I knew it was against the law to consume alcohol. That did not stop me from drinking nearly every weekend. It did not make the alcohol harder to get in most cases. I made my decision to do it and did it. Now, I'm not saying that underage drinking is right, it isn't. I'm merely illustrating a point. If there is something we desire badly enough, the law and its penalties tend to fade in importance (especially when you are an angst-ridden teen).

I respect others enough to make their own decisions as well. For example, I'll see someone in the grocery store who is unhealthy (by my own standards) putting Cheetos and Mountain Dew in her cart. Do I say anything to her? Hell, no! I am not arrogant enough to judge someone else's choices. She is not harming me by her decisions. Personal choice - I'm a big fan. Do what you want, as long as you understand how your decisions are affecting, or not affecting,  me.

I do not own a gun. Meaning, I do not have one registered in my name. My husband does and I like to shoot them. It's an awesome stress reliever and I like trying to hit targets of increasing difficulty. I like to hunt, but I just can't kill anything - personal choice. I enjoy being outdoors, watching my dog work, and seeing nature in all her glory. I have never been around or known any irresponsible gun owners and I've known a LOT of gun owners. I believe most people respect the power and responsibility they have when they have a gun in their possession. 

Recent events in Connecticut and other places have everyone horrified, and rightly so. Human nature is to DO SOMETHING to prevent something so unfathomable from happening again. We want action! I wish it were as simple as passing more laws saying you can't do this or that. I wish we could guarantee the safety of our children and everyone else in the world by simply signing pieces of paper. The truth is, no matter how many laws we pass or how many speeches we give, it will not matter. What does make a difference is teaching our children right from wrong and our power to cause harm or keep each other safe. The guns are not the issue, it is the lack of awareness of how we fit in with the rest of the world. Of how our choices ripple through the world. Sort of the butterfly and tsunami effect (look it up).

Personal choice rocks,

are you crazy?

Originally published August 22, 2012

I was recently asked what advice I would give to youngsters wanting to start their own business. Ok, this is funny to me. I'm six months in to starting my own business. I should be asking for advice. But as I am never one to shy away from any opportunity to give advice, I gave it a shot. I don't necessarily think the things I've learned the hard way qualifies me as an expert on everything, but I do believe that I can offer you some food for thought. Or at the very least, entertainment. 

Things you should consider before starting your own business, as learned by Ms.b.haven:
1. Seriously evaluate if you are crazy. Ask around, people will tell you. Sometimes we make decisions based on emotional events or serious hatred of our current situation. While it's not necessarily wrong to do this, it can color our judgement a bit. If you hate your job sooooo much you would do anything to get out it and decide to start a business without proper consideration of how it will impact your life, you will suffer more than is necessary. Starting a business out of desperation is dangerous. 

2. Believe in yourself. This was the toughest one for me in several ways. Believing in yourself is different from arrogance. Arrogance implies that you know it all. Believing in yourself means knowing who you are -- talents, faults and all. Accepting all of these aspects of who you are is imperative to life as well as business. BELIEVE that you can do this. But be honest with yourself as to your limitations (does not mean they are insurmountable).

3. Work hard. Like really hard. Like really, really hard. When you love what you are doing, this is easier than it sounds. You will/should work harder than you ever thought you could. I'm talking mental work, physical work, creative work (even if you are not thinking of a creative product/business), and social work. When you believe in what you are doing, you will be motivated to do all that is necessary for your business. Shortcuts do not exist, or if they do, proceed with caution.

4. Step outside your comfort zone. If you are uncomfortable doing something, that means that you haven't done it before or that there is some fear of failure. Embrace these opportunities! You will learn from them, I promise. The worst that can happen often doesn't. And if it does, you will come out of it a lot smarter.

5. Listen. People love to deal in worst-case scenarios. It is human nature. Listen, but understand that most folks do not know what your end goals are. On the other hand, a solid support network can be invaluable when those doubts creep up. They also might not know what your end goals are, but trust that you know what you are doing (even if you don't). Ask for help when you need it. There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you need assistance. Misplaced pride will do you more harm than anything.

6. Plan. There are a ton of resources on this topic that say things a lot better than me. PLEASE do not underestimate the importance of having a plan. Write it down. Refer to it. 

7. Love it. You have to be emotionally involved in starting any business. You have to love the hard work, the heartache and the triumphs of owning your own business. But, you also have to remember than it IS a business and may not love you back at times (refer to support network at these times).

8. Give yourself no choice but success. If you have an "escape plan" you will be tempted to use it. What-if's have no place here. You can't plan for everything, but you can plan on succeeding no matter what the circumstances. That's all part of the believing in yourself thing.

There are probably a dozen more things I could add to this list -- flexibility, fearlessness, resourcefulness, etc. While I used these things as advice for newbies, I actually try to apply this list to everything in life. Well, except for the plan part. Ha! Even if you aren't starting a business, think about how you live your life. Do you do everything you can to make yourself happy? If you aren't, why not? 

Crazy like a fox,

six months in

Originally posted August 20, 2012

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the opening of b.haven's online store. In those six months, I've made 62 sales, had one fire, four stitches, and had my stuff in three stores in Fargo, Baltimore and New Zealand. I've used every single thing I have ever learned and acquired lots of new knowledge. I've been elated, depressed, productive, not-so-productive, simultaneously hated and loved the post office, and bought more packing tape than I knew even existed (it comes in colors now!).

I have not bought a new pair of shoes in over six months. No new clothes or purses adorn my previously over-stuffed closet, and shopping actually seems like an ordeal these days. Wow, things have changed. While working for the feds, I could be counted on to shop at least once every couple of weeks and new clothes, shoes and purses were borderline obsessions. Now while you may think this is due to the fact that I have less money these days, which is certainly true, that is not the reason my shopping has taken a drastic downturn. 

When you are doing something you aren't in love with (i.e. you are miserable), you over compensate in other areas to make your life happier. Shopping was that for me. I loved the instant gratification and power that comes with buying new things. I felt better in control and it was an easy high to get. The shiny newness of new things were a distraction from what was really bothering me. I bought an Audi. I loved the fact that I had one and no one else did. I liked the prettiness of it and what its uniqueness implied....that I was different. 

Now I have no such inclinations. I'm deliriously happy with this crazy decision to start my own deal and all the chaos and worry that comes with it. My Audi is a paid-off vehicle that gets me from place to place, whose maintenance is always an issue. Clothes and shoes have a more utilitarian role for me now. They need to be able to get dirty, and dry quickly. They need to allow me to move around comfortably and have outstanding durability. My shoe choices are the same. Are they comfortable while I'm on my feet for hours and hours during the day? Can they get wet and dusty and still provide me with enough traction to navigate my often treacherous studio floor? These are the things I think about now, its not simply a "oooohhh pretty" reaction that gets my cash. 

The thing is, I'm happy. I need fewer distractions from my own life. I'm DOING what I've always wanted, I'm actually doing it! Every day is not paradise, mind you, but honestly I would not change my life, and the people in it, for the world. Do you feel this way about your life? I really, really, really hope so. If you don't, do something about it. There is no better feeling, I promise.

Now get to work, you are probably late for something,

neurosis in september

Originally posted September 10, 2012

September! I love September. This month has always felt special to me in a number of ways. It's my birthday month (which was a lot more fun pre-40). I love the dramatic season changes that happen during this time of the year. Especially here in North Dakota. You could have a 90-degree day at the beginning of the month and snow by the end. The landscape here is beautiful this time of year and the sunlight in the late afternoon/evenings is extraordinary in how it colors everything so warmly. North Dakota is blessed with constant breezes making the haze seen other parts of the country virtually non-existant. So pretty.

September is also a time of great activity here at b.haven studios. This is my first full season of shows and art fairs and I'm super busy preparing. It forces me to think much more pragmatically than I really enjoy doing. I'm always working up to the last minute, no matter how well I've planned. I worry about whether I'll have enough inventory. I worry about how I will get from place to place and if maybe I should purchase or rent a trailer. I worry about whether the costs of a hotel room are appropriate and whether I will make that money back during the show. I worry that my stuff will not sell well, or sell too well, and I'll have to schlep all the stuff home or race back and produce a ton more items for the next show. I guess what I'm saying is that my neurosis kicks into high gear in this month of change. 

This worry is all a result of my inexperience, I realize. I have to go through all of this in order to know what I'm doing. This is the worst part for me. I'm one of those people that hates not knowing. I badger my poor husband to death when he has a gift for me, and try to talk him into giving it to me early. I ask invasive questions relentlessly of my kids so I know what is going on. I research my father's cancer diagnosis until I can read research papers with medical terminology and understand what it means. I want to all the options for everything all the time...it's exhausting.

In contrast, I love surprises and delight in learning something new, regardless of the subject. I am fully aware that my need to understand and "know" is all part of a desire to control. Control the situation, control the outcome, prepare for worst-cases and best-cases, know exactly what I will do given any situation...simply put, control. I've had to learn to enjoy surprises and appreciate what they mean. The reality of life is that we control nothing except our actions and reactions. We have to trust ourselves to be able to handle whatever comes our way, good and bad.

This is a constant theme for me, if you haven't noticed. I struggle with trusting myself, so I admit it publically as a sort of therapy. We should all admit our weaknesses more often. It's cleansing and shows everyone around us that we are all the same and not afraid to face our issues. And we all have issues. Now, I'm not talking about complaining here, simply admitting to those we love and ourselves that we are not perfect but expect perfection of ourselves....just like everyone else. There is something comforting about realizing that we are not alone in our self expectations, and they are often unrealistic. Letting go of that perceived control lets us enjoy the unexpected, or at least handle it in a more reasonable manner. The fear of "what if" is lessened and our knowledge of ourselves increased. The more we know about ourselves, the better we are able to trust that we can handle anything.

If you struggle with letting go, get a dog. Preferably one with behavior problems that you work out together (like Belle, pictured above). 

There is no better mirror, trust me.

hand made is the new handmade

originally posted September 24, 2012

As many of you know, I had a couple of shows a week or so ago. My dear friend and college roommate, Shelly (pictured above), came up to assist me. She has a weird calming affect on me, always has. She is a talented artist in her own right, and always has great ideas. I am very grateful for her friendship, smarts, talents, and loyalty. That girl has stuck by me through a LOT of stuff over the years. It was delightful having her share this whole new adventure with me. 

The Pride of Dakota day at the ND Capitol was a bunch of fun. I met several people I had only come to know online, and it was nice to have a real, live face to go with the names. I loved the setting and our space and was quite pleased with the sales. The Dickinson Harvest Showcase was just two days later. Saturday was a decent day. The crowd was mixed and it was nice talking with folks from the local area as well as new transplants to North Dakota. Sales were good, I was encouraged. And then came Sunday. Lots of people, but it was like pulling teeth to get people to break the threshold into my booth. Made a couple of sales, but it made for a loooooong day. But that is just how it goes sometimes (from what I hear).

I heard a ton of interesting comments -- good, bad, strange, and what...?! I loved it. I also realized that we have all become strangely detached from the handmade process. I heard, "can you do this same thing in a different color?" more times than I can count. Why, yes I can, but it is just not as simple as that. The things look the way they do for a reason. So, in the interest of education, here's a VERY brief description of my process:

Serigraphy ("silk" screen printing) is a printmaking process that a lot people rarely give thought too. Most people know it as how t-shirts are made and that is true. What I do though, it a bit more...um, hands-on than your typical t-shirt shop.
  • Each color requires one screen -- essentially a screen stretched over a frame. Think of your window at home. That screen has to be prepared, often taking a day or so depending on the humidity, and then coated with emulsion. Emulsion is light-sensitive, and a prepared screen must be kept in the dark until it is ready to use.
  • The artwork I use is hand-drawn by me. I do use some computer-generated type, but try to customize everything "manufactured" as much as possible in order to truly make it original. I separate that artwork into the individual colors and make those colors black.
  • I then transfer each color to a clear plastic sheet, called a "positive." So if I have a piece of art that has three colors, I have three positives with black where the color will be.  
  • I take the positives and adhere them to the emulsified screen backwards, usually with clear tape, in a dark room illuminated with a photo-sensitve light bulb.  
  • The screen with the positive attached is then exposed to a light source. I use a light table with bulbs on the bottom and a black rubber blanket on the top. I expose the screen to this light source for 2-5 minutes, depending on the type of finshed product (paper or fabric).
  • Once the exposure has taken place, the screen is no longer light-sensitve. The emulsion that has been exposed to the light has hardened, the areas "blocked" by the positive have not. I remove the positive from the screen and wash it. The water will remove the areas blocked by the positive and leave the areas hardened by the exposure to the light solid, so it's essentially a reversed image of what was on the positive. Pretty nifty, huh?
  • Once the screen dries (usually a half day or so), it can be used for printing. The screen is attached to a table or flat surface using hinge clamps. The back of the screen is facing up. I pour ink onto this side and use my squeegee to drag the ink across the screen. It passes through the open areas onto the fabric/paper underneath. Ta-dah! One color is printed! 
  • The second (and third, etc.) color can be printed as soon as the first color dries. If I'm printing paper, usually a few hours to a half day, depending on the humidity. For fabric, I use a heat source to dry the ink and make it washable. Plus, I let it "cure" for a day or two. 

Like I said, that is a very brief description of my process. My point in explaining this is that I do not simply hit a "print" button to produce my work. Every item is hand made and so every item is just a little bit different, making every item an original. Please do not mistake my intentions here, I am not offended or mad at any of the comments made to me about my work. I love hearing what you have to say. I simply wanted to explain how what I do is considered hand made and that each item goes through an involved process for production. I also realize that they are tea towels, and not intended to be hung in an art gallery or taken terribly seriously. :)

I've been printing for just over a year now, so I am not an expert by any means. But if you have any questions or want to see the process, please let me know.

We're all hand made in some way,

thinking like a business person gives me a headache

Originally posted October 1, 2012

October? October! Man, time really travels quickly when you are behind. 

Last week was a hard one for me. I was plagued with a migraine that lasted waaaay too long and I wasted almost three whole days trying to recover. For all of you migraine sufferers, wearing sunglasses while working on the computer does not help all that much, just so you know. My migraine frequency has lessened as I've gotten older. So much so that I've let my prescription medication expire. Which is good, except when one strikes without much warning. I do believe I brought it on myself with a couple of poor decisions -- eating badly and over-committing to some custom work.

While I LOVE doing custom work, it often is not financially smart. Meaning, people will ask for a single print of something they want but also expect to pay the same price as my other works. I totally understand this, and often I can make the custom piece work for other things and justify the "loss." Let me explain. I told you about my "process" in last week's post. Thinking like a business person, I need to factor in my time and materials into the cost of each item. By producing multiple prints, I can bring the cost per piece down significantly. That is how I figure my pricing. By only printing one item, but using the same amount of time and materials as I would printing multiple items, I SHOULD charge nearly three to four times the cost of my other pieces in order to break even. Like I said, sometimes this loss is excusable as I can use the work for something else. Often times though, the custom piece is so specific that it just not possible, which is exactly where I'm at.

I am a pleaser by nature. I do not enjoy saying no and my first reaction is always to say "of course! I'd be happy to!" Then I get back to the shop and cuss myself for not thinking through what I've committed to do. So how do I fix it? Do I bite the bullet and tell the requester, "you are going to have to pay three times what you expected to pay," or "upon further reflection, I am going to have to say no, I can't do this thing I've committed to...?" OR, do I do what I usually do and honor my committment and take the loss as my penance? The last one puts me even farther behind in my holiday production schedule and stresses me out way more than it should. It will mean not only will I lose money on this item, but potentially lose future revenue because I will not be able to produce the amount of items I need for upcoming shows. While this sounds like I'm over-reacting (I probably am), it does have a significant ripple effect on everything else. The main issue is that I've done this "of course, I'd be happy to" thing my WHOLE LIFE and never seem to learn. I'm so frustrating. 

The whole point of my choosing to screen print was to produce my work in quantities. I chose this rather than painting because of the opportunity to share one piece with several people. Now I am rethinking. May be I should go back to painting and sell a single item for a lot of $$ making it more precious and available to only one person. Goodness knows, my painting skills are a lot more sophisticated than my printing skills. Or maybe I should just generate everything through my computer and printer and sell a whole lot more for a whole lot cheaper, like a number of other artists do. Or maybe I should just stop feeling sorry for myself and learn my lesson for once. Yep, that last one works for me. 

Walking the line between precious and mass-production,