Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Gift That Gives Twice

Justin is in his twenties.  Justin is married with 2 very young children.  Justin is battling Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of lymph tissue found in lymph glands, spleen, liver and bone marrow.  Justin needs help.

Justins's symptoms were first noticed in January 2010 -- a knot in his neck he thought was muscular.  But other symptoms began popping up and in July he went to a doctor who diagnosed him as having poor posture and prescribed muscle relaxing drugs.  Justin felt it was something more and insisted on a scan, which the doctor finally agreed to.  Only hours after the scan, Justin was contacted -- he said "his heart sank instantly".  Cancer was found on 4 spots on his spine, all but one rib, his jaw, stomach, neck and right leg.  Then began doctors appointments and tests -- LOTS of them.  He had 7 biopsies and started chemotherapy in September, ending in February.  The chemo was supposed to be 95% effective in curing or keeping a patient in remission -- Justin was one of the 5%.  Only 4 weeks after his last chemo treatment, he found a lump under his arm.  

Since the chemo had been ineffective, Justin's only treatment option was a stem cell transplant.  He would have to spend 100 days in the hospital and have someone with him 24 hours a day.  Justin's wife, Sarah, is a registered nurse and took an unpaid leave of absence from her job to stay by his side.  Sarah's sister moved across country to care for their children. 

The process began in August with 6 days of chemotherapy.  In September, Justin was declared to be in remission and his stem cells were harvested.  In October, he had 4 days of full body radiation, twice a day, followed by 2 days of high-dose chemotherapy, a treatment intended to kill all rapidly producing cells (bad and good).  The treatment resulted in severe side effects.  On October 26, Justin's stem cells were returned to his body to re-grow into his bone marrow.  There have been some ups and downs, but Justin is doing amazingly well!

This experience has been a journey of faith for Justin and for those around him watching.  But it's also been a journey marked by many needs.  Obviously Justin hasn't been able to work and Sarah hasn't been drawing a check.  It was necessary for them to continue to pay for health insurance (at $1400 per month - without the insurance, there couldn't have been a transplant) and of course, they have living expenses.  God has provided in many ways for them, but they still have needs.  $60,000 worth of needs.

On November 18, Justin's aunt (my close friend since Jr High) hosted a fundraiser.  There was a lasagne dinner along with a bake sale, craft sale and silent auction.  I was one of many who helped in some way (wanna know the power of networking?) and several thousand dollars were raised.  I invested all I could for the fundraiser -- several hundred dollars worth of my handmade jewelry, baked goods and other crafts.  But there is so much more needed and I still want to help.  

So today, I want to share an offer.  Nope, no special prices for my customers -- but 50% of all my Etsy sales from now until Dec 10 will go to help Justin.  If my customers are generous in their buying, together we can be generous in our giving.  The gifts they buy for others will give twice!  On Dec 12, I'll report back here to let you know what we were able to raise.  Thank you in advance for anything you can do!!!

Justin and Sarah have expressed their gratitude to the many who have helped:  "We had no income and no savings.  Everything we needed, God had to provide.  It was only due to other people's generosity that we were able to survive the last few months.  We were in an impossible situation.  It's very hard for me to put into words how much this benefit means to our family -- to see our friends, family, church and community support us is something that I haven't found appropriate words for.  Knowing that people are sacrificing their hard earned money in times like this to support my family is so humbling.   I could never have imagined being in a position where my livelihood was dependent on the generosity of others.  It is truly amazing to see how selfless, even complete strangers, have been during this time. We are truly blessed by everyone involved."

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm ba-a-a-a-ck!

It's been a crazy busy summer!   The days whizzed past at blinding speed ... as did a little highway!

Our youngest daughter got married -- we'll be blogging about that experience in the days and weeks ahead.  I did a LOT of the work for it -- flowers, decorations, food, cake, and the flower girl's dress.  We needed to do so much for budget reasons -- I wanted to make the whole affair as nice as possible but spend as little as possible.   There's a lot of "handmade" in this wedding, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that I learned a lot.  Just didn't have time to share some of my adventures!

We've spent a lot of time on the road too.  I love America!
We've also done some awesome craft shows!!

So, with the crisp days of autumn coming on, my life isn't really slowing down much -- but I should be able to find a few spare minutes to drop some thoughts.  Y'all have an awesome day!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Photos for Craft Show Applications

I try to do 15-20 craft shows per year.  I also try to stay within an hour of home or within an hour of where my kids live (they get a visit from Mom!) -- that combination gives me a broad area to choose my shows from.

Most juried applications ask for photos of my work -- I try to show a variety of my items.  The third photo is one that we print and give to customers at craft shows, especially those who indicate that they are or know prospective brides.

 I usually have to provide a photo or two of my display -- it can be tricky because my display changes from show to show. It was specifically designed to be very flexible, allowing me to modify the arrangement to best suit my space.  All the main elements are shown in these photos -- my tables are skirted with tablecloths and earrings hang on the racks.  I also offer necklaces and within the next month, hope to begin offering bracelets.  The flowers in my display are changed to fit the season.

Some applications also request photos of my work in progress -- we came up with this:

Sometimes applying to craft shows can be a real adventure -- enjoy the ride!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Holland Tulip Time!

Yep!  It's that time of year!  Spring is here and the tulips were gorgeous in Holland, Michigan this past weekend!  It's "Tulip Time" in Holland -- and I enjoyed my first successful craft show of the season.

I really wasn't quite sure what to expect.  For starters, I've never done a 2-day show before.  We like to reserve our Sundays for worship and family so I generally don't apply to do craft shows that encompass Sundays.  After lengthy discussion with my husband, we decided to try a couple Saturday-Sunday shows this year -- but I only wanted to do the best.  The Tulip Time Festival has been a local event for decades and draws visitors from all over the world -- it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a full weekend.  The craft show is held in Centennial Park and is probably the most beautiful venue that we've ever had for a craft show!  It didn't hurt that the weather was generously cooperative -- cool but sunny -- the perfect spring days!

Because I've never done this show before, I don't have a baseline for how sales may have been affected by the economy (rising gas and food prices and the still high unemployment in Michigan).  I was very satisfied with my sales, although I know that several vendors had a rough weekend.  On Saturday evening, my husband spoke to a couple vendors who hadn't even made their booth fee and I know a couple vendors left early on Sunday afternoon due to lack of sales.  As a jewelry vendor, I don't expect to do a really huge business -- there's always a lot of competition for those jewelry dollars--although I also have to say that at this particular show, I didn't see anyone else who's work is very close to mine.  There are several different "flavors" of jewelry crafters and artisans and no one else offered my flavor. It was a delight to know that several buyers were purchasing for their weddings -- I just LOVE that!  Also had a few sales for late-season proms. 

Some of the shows I have scheduled this year will be repeat shows for me -- and I'm curious to see how they will go.  Several shows are in areas with lots of tourists -- it will be interesting to see how gas prices affect the tourist industry.  In talking to long-time vendors at Tulip Time, they felt that the numbers were down this year.  Last year, it was my feeling that, although unemployment was high, those who were still working had spendable cash -- not so sure this year in the light of the prices of gas and food.  

No matter what the future shows may hold, I was very pleased with my results at Tulip Time!  Awesome weekend!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silver Gone Crazy!

Nope.  I don't get to write a great blog about terrific new designs -- this one is about the price of silver and what it may mean for my business.  Like many other jewelry designers, I'm feeling the pinch. 

Winter is my "slow time" -- I'm not doing craft shows and because I don't need to replace my supply as quickly, I haven't been buying silver lately.  I bought some silver at the end of January to do a couple weddings and now that I'm preparing for my first craft show (in May), I'm checking my stock and browsing at my favorite sterling supplier.  Needless to say, I was SHOCKED to see how the price had risen!!  When I last purchased silver, the price per ounce was hovering around $27.  Today it's over $45.  This is going to necessitate some price increases -- I wonder if my customers are going to understand?

I have an excel spread sheet that I've devised to track the costs of making each jewelry design I offer.   There is a list of the supplies I use and in the next column the individual cost of each item.  Because most of my designs use multiples of some supplies, I also have columns that multiply the individual cost by certain quantities -- x2, x4, x6, x8 and so on with a few larger quantities to allow for making necklaces which use larger amounts of some components.  (This may seem a bit complicated, but when I was setting it up, I couldn't figure out how to multiply a single component within the formulas I was going to use.)  In this sheet, there is also a list of the designs I make and in the column next to that, each design has a "cost formula" -- a list of the components needed using the cost of each.  For instance, if a pair of earrings uses a 6mm pearl, I'll need 2 (1 for each earring) -- in the formula, I list the box number (column letter and line number) for the cost of 2 pearls.  Each component is listed using the cost for the quantity used and all the component costs are added using the "sum" function to give me the actual cost of making each individual design.   I hope this is making sense -- it sounds a lot more complicated than it is.  This system becomes very effective when I need to change the price of a component.  Today, when I changed the cost of a sterling silver headpin, the cost of every piece of jewelry using headpins was appropriately adjusted.  I can now determine what price I should charge for each design, with the full knowledge of exactly how much the design will cost me to make. 

Unfortunately, today, I had to change a lot of silver prices.  From here, there are different thoughts on how and when to change the prices of my jewelry -- and maybe I can get some feedback from you. 
1.  Even though I haven't purchased silver at the higher price, I should raise prices now to accommodate the new costs.  While on the surface, this may not seem quite fair, it should be noted that I like to keep my prices the same throughout the entire craft show season -- if I raise prices now, I probably won't raise them again this year.  Because I suspect that silver prices are going to continue to increase (the prices are tied to the value of the dollar and as long our government continues it's current course of printing more money and huge spending, the dollar is going to continue to decline), later I will be absorbing additional increases without raising my prices. 
2.  I can raise prices as I purchase new silver.  The upside is that customers buying from my old supply would be paying my old prices.  The downside is that it will also cost me time and money to re-label every time I use more expensive silver.  My craft shows all fall into a certain geographical area so it's entirely possible for a customer to see me at more than one show -- if prices rise between shows on an item they were considering, will they really understand?  Or will it deter them from making the purchase?  
Anyone have any thoughts?  

I've been reading some forums .. it sounds like a lot of jewelry makers are going to increase their use of copper.  I haven't decided how I feel about making such a change for myself ... and maybe we'll explore that on another day.  I also have some concerns about even doing craft shows this summer -- we'll save those thoughts for another day too.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Back to work!!

I've been gone for awhile ... not just from blogging but from home.  My husband and I are in a ministry and our income relies on financial support from churches and individuals who believe in the importance of what we do (constructing buildings for very small congregations).  We're taking some time off our regularly scheduled work for a break we call "furlough".  Make no mistake ... furlough is NOT a vacation!  We plan to visit our supporting churches, make some major repairs on our RV (which we live in full time, any weather), try to raise some additional financial support and get caught up on a few things that are difficult to do when we're building.  We'll get a little time for family and fun too and our youngest daughter is getting married in June.  Our last couple projects have had some extra challenges -- so a little rest is in order as well.

So, for our first trip, we had to go to Florida to speak to a couple of our churches ... not that we minded!  When we left home in February, the snow was up to our thighs -- the sun was a welcome change!!  We were several weeks in the sunny south, then headed to New Mexico to spend a few days with our niece and her family.  From there, we made our way to Denver where we spent a couple weeks with our daughter and her family.  We got to celebrate our granddaughter's 7th birthday and had a blast with the grandkids!  Our granddaughter returned to Michigan with us for her 2011 Grandma Tour (she got to see 3 of her 4 grandmas) and we met the kids in Omaha to return our granddaughter to her parents.  We're finally back home, settling in to some routine and trying to get some things picked off the "to do" list.  

Hopefully, in the weeks ahead, I'll be sharing some of the business changes and updates we're making and I'll throw in a few tidbits about the wedding plans.  May will see us traveling to visit several more churches and the season's first craft show is coming up.  I may be looking for input from some of you too -- how is the economy changing your business?  Are you doing anything differently?  I think our creativity is going to be put to the test -- not our artistic creativity, but the business side of doing what we do.  Gonna be an interesting ride!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Fingerprints of God

I know.  I know.  It's been a while since I've been here.  My life has been wildly busy these past few months and something had to give somewhere!  I had a full slate of craft shows through the fall, most of which went very well.  Then I moved -- one Saturday I had a craft show in Green Bay, WI ... on Monday and Tuesday I moved .. Thursday was Thanksgiving with my family and Friday and Saturday were another craft show in mid-western Michigan.  I got to spend 3 weeks out and about for the holidays visiting my children and grandchildren --- had a blast!!  Totally passed on making any New Year's resolutions.  Now it's time to get back to work.  I'm in a new state, which means finding all new craft shows for the year.  I know a few I'd like to apply for but am hoping for input on some of them.   Doing some research.  

Over the New Years weekend, we were visiting family in Grand Rapids MI.  We saw billboards for a wedding show this weekend -- my husband suggested that I find out about it.  We have felt for some time that my jewelry would be fabulous for brides -- I have LOTS of Swarovski crystal colors and can match ALMOST any bridal party.  For a couple years now, I've been hearing the same comment from customers at craft shows -- "I wish I'd seen your jewelry before I got married!".  A while back I formulated this plan ... I'd do a small local bridal show just to see how it went and figure out what to expect.  Then I'd work my way up to try some of the larger shows ... like the one in Grand Rapids.  If you've never checked out the vendor pricing, I gotta tell you that the big show are PRICEY ... a whole lot more expensive than booth fees for a craft show. 

So early this week, I finally got around to inquiring.  I expected the show to be full.  I expected it to be expensive.  I really didn't expect to do it this year.  But I'd check.  The contract was emailed to me, and as expected, it was way out of my budget.  On Wednesday, I replied with a polite note, declining for this year but asking to be contacted for next year.  I figured it was a done deal.  Not so much!  On Thursday morning, I found that I had another email with an offer -- they didn't normally allow vendors to share a booth, but they had someone who wanted to and would make an exception if I was interested.  The booth fee was nearly half off.  My heart lept into my throat!  It was tempting, but even at half off, it was out of my budget right now.  I hit the reply button to decline ... but I'd lost my internet connection .. and couldn't seem to get it back.  Ok .. email later.  My husband and I needed to run a couple errands .. I wasn't even going to mention the email but "just happened" to ... he was instantly excited and ready to go!  But I protested ... didn't have the money.  We talked about it -- he was so confidant that it would be a good opportunity for me that he was willing to borrow the money!  I wouldn't -- just didn't feel right about that.  Being in a ministry, we occasionally get special gifts -- although I thought that we had probably received all our Christmas gifts, I said that if there was something we hadn't been credited yet, we'd do the show.  He checked ... all the money we needed was available!   SO .. I called the organizer of the show and told her that I would do the show!  At 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, I found out that I was "IN" .. for a show that was 2 hours drive time and started on Friday afternoon!  So much for dipping my toes in and starting out slowly -- I was about to cannonball into the deep end!!

Fortunately, in my long range planning, I've given some thought about the differences between a craft show and a bridal show.    At a craft show, customer are there to buy on the spot ... at a bridal show, customers are there to browse for specific needs.  The craft show fee is much lower and I recover that expense on the day of the show.  A bridal show fee is much larger and is an "investment" -- sales will likely come later.  The potential for sales success is huge .. but the risk is also huge.  This was a very scary proposition for me!

My husband has been a real cheerleader this week!  He was totally confidant -- I've been scared to death.  But we began to consider all the unique aspects of doing this show ... what were the odds that they would have an open space?  This is the biggest bridal show in our side of the state and getting in to the show is very competitive.  What were the chances that I'd ever be allowed a discount?  What were the chances we'd come up with the fee?  And as hectic as our lives have been, what were the chances that we'd be available at the right time?  How weird was it that I lost my internet connection and couldn't get it back to refuse the offer?  There were several other small details that all fell into place ... what were the chances?  When we took it all in, it suddenly became so obvious ... God's fingerprints were all over this situation!!  Oh, and the final stamp?  When I got to the show to set up, the person I was supposed to be sharing a booth with never followed through -- we had the whole booth to ourselves ... and our location at the show had been moved from a far back corner to a very high traffic spot.  What are the chances?  I'm thinkin' that when God has His fingerprints on it, it's all going to work out!!