This is difficult. As I sit here and write this, it seems nearly impossible to see the light. But I will keep searching, for I know it is there...
Being a small business owner, or any kind of business owner absolutely has its rewards, but in kind also has massive challenges. One of those incredible challenges is managing a personal life outside of your business. Because let's face it, we are human. We are susceptible to human mistakes, human humility, and human emotions. There's really no avoiding it. Things in our lives will happen that seem impossibly out of control. It won't always go the way we want or expect, and almost certainly never according to our own timeline.
The past three years have seemed to truly encompass such circumstances. My husband and I have suffered devastating blows with infertility, depression, and more familial death than I'd care to disclose. It seems to have been a never ending river of sadness and defeat, leaving a wake of wreckage in our path. We've spent hours upon hours discussing and analyzing, reevaluating, and confronting trauma from years past. We've unearthed the ugliness of our anger, the helplessness of our grief, and finally the moxi to carry on. It's a cycle I'm none-to0-happy to be so familiar with.
Despite all of this, one thing remains. One thing I can come back to time and again. My skincare business. While owning a small business may seem overwhelming during such times, I have found it not to be an oppressor, rather a comfort. My business is my constant. I look to her for reprieve. She requires me to adjust my way of thinking from victim to creator. I have ultimate control in this world. I can make decisions and change my mind as often as I need to. She has become my unfailing rock amidst the treacherous sea of life.
But of course, that doesn't change that this is still hard. Realistically, some days I would like nothing better than to curl up or wither away. Overcoming grief and processing emotions takes ages, sometimes an entire lifetime. It's not often you can lock it up and walk away. It begs for attention, pleads for your time. So how does one cope with real world problems yet still learn to function in the effervescent world of entrepreneurship? I'm not entirely sure I have the answer, but like most things, it requires balance.
I mean, here's the thing...I can do both. I can be sad AND also run a successful business. I can take time to feel my losses AND keep my creative pursuits fed. It comes down to giving permission for both of these things to exist simultaneously. They need to. For without dark, there is no light, and without light there can be no dark. Balance.
So later today, as the tears roll down my hot cheeks from yet another loss, I will try and recall my own words. I can cry AND make soap. They certainly aren't mutually exclusive. There is both comfort and healing to be found in work. And somewhere in between the hopeless messes, the light will find its way through. It always does.
Maybe you've noticed it yourself. That slow and hot, drawn out pace summer days tend to bring. The nostalgia for lackadaisical vacations ripe with dips in the river, melted ice cream cones, and hours spent lounging around on your best friend's sofa. It's itchy knees from tumbling down grassy knolls and windswept hair from long bike rides along the backroads of town. It's morning cartoons and and at least 37 lectures from your grandma reminding you to be home for dinner at 5pm sharp. It's all this and so much more. And although we've grown up and adopted careers and families, that feeling- that longing seems to linger well into adulthood. Those memories of brighter days and livelier moments entice us as we meander through the sweltering days of summer.
I used to despise this time of the year. Here in the valley of Northern California, June through September means intolerable heatwaves, massive wildfires with noxious air quality, and overall grumpier populations of folks trying to make it through. In fact, some days, I still find myself with a scorned expression uttering under my breath those three acidic words: "I. Hate. Summer."
This year, I thought I might try something a little different.
Instead of spending four months engulfed by overheated tempers and ridiculously frigid hours of air conditioning, I decided I needed to find a way to reconnect with that part of me that DID love summer. But where was she? How far down under the rubble of angst and bitterness was she buried? How would I ever attempt a rescue mission? I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew I had to start somewhere, so I started in the most unlikely of places: social media.
I will admit. It was challenging in the beginning. The feeling of resistance is always jarring at first. But with persistence, I gently started easing off my exposure to Facebook and all of its blatantly angry and distracting conversations. Did I really need to see the millionth baby announcement, when I myself, have struggled for years with searingly painful infertility? Nope. I sure didn't. I also didn't need the relentless, political finger pointing and accompanying rage. Or more guilt about how another species is becoming endangered due to the willful ignorance of humankind. Simply because I already carry enough guilt and education in my own life about my and everyone else's actions. (The plight of an overly sensitive, emotional introvert and daughter of a wildlife biologist and game warden.) No need to pile on.
The second bit came when I stopped posting regularly on Instagram. This proved tougher than I would've imagined. Small businesses such as mine tend to use Instagram as our main marketing platform and to drive traffic to our websites. Instagram itself, in the past five years has become part of the lifeblood that envelops the maker community. But for some it seems, the daily posting and neverending interactions are becoming like any other addiction. People have forgotten how to survive without it.
I, at this point, needed to take a giant step back and reevaluate. What was really happening here? Was I, like so many others, falling victim to the machine that has become social media? Perhaps. However, this really wasn't the majorly impervious dilemma I was making it out to be. It really wasn't. This was actually quite simple. If it's making me miserable...STOP and walk away.
So I stopped. And absolutely walked away.
Did my engagement drop? Of course.
Have my follower numbers stalled out? Absolutely.
Am I losing any sleep over it? Hell no.
The interesting thing about quitting social media (save for the once or twice a week I check in), is that life becomes clearer. Your purpose is drawn back to reality. You interact with people face to face. You inhale the richness and fullness that you had forgotten existed. New experiences present themselves and you're almost always one hundred percent more willing to jump up and offer, "Count me in!" You become a more willing participant in the human experience. And in my humble little opinion, this value far surpasses any dollar amount I might make from a million screen hours sunk into an incessant online presence.
It's time to take back those nostalgic feels and reclaim the joy we've lost. Find the moments, the people, the places, the foods that make your heart sing. Let your inner child compel you into making the best of a crummy situation.
So I propose one simple question:
There's still a smidge left of summer--how will you spend your remaining days and what brilliantly amazing stories will come from them?
In our latest Instagram post, we mention how drinking tea is a cathartic expression for transitioning between life's roughest moments. Along this same thread, it could be argued that if DRINKING tea can reap amazing benefits, then surely STEEPING in herbs could possibly have similar effects.
It's springtime. Rosebushes are bursting forth with brilliant hues, stalks of lavender are endlessly enticing bees, and dandelions dot our backyards with dots of vibrant yellow. But did you know these common plants lead a double life? Roses, for example, warm our hearts with romance, but also have anti-aging properties. Lavender while soft, grey, and lovely, calms the mind and restores emotional restitution. Dandelion makes an excellent support herb due to its high magnesium and zinc containment.
Herbal allies are everywhere. Walk down the block or to the nearest park and you'll be passing some highly valuable, yet humble plants. Want to make use of some of these plants to aid in your own wellness journey? See below for a list of commonly found herbs and their folkloric uses. (Just ensure you've correctly identified your herbs, have permission to responsibly harvest, and that they haven't been treated with pesticides or grown too near a roadside.) While these herbs are safe for adult use in bathing, please note this list ONLY references dried or fresh herbs and NOT essential oils. These same plants in essential oil form can burn and damage skin.
Basil - said to bring good luck with money and love
Bay Leaves - protection from evil, ensuring an unwanted guest not return
Chamomile - washing with this herb is said to bring luck with gambling and fortune
Calendula - help in moving stagnant energy away, reclaiming boundaries
Chickweed - draw attention of a loved one, ensure fidelity of a mate
Comfrey - protection from theft and unfaithfulness, safe journeys
Dandelion - symbolizes love, welcome, bitterness, the sun, and divination
Horehound - promote mental clarity and acumen, thought to produce healing vibrations
Lavender - talisman for love, sharpen mind, encourages fertility
Mallow - greater emotional flexibility, invoke fertility and lust
Mint Leaves - cleanse, protect, fortitude, overcoming difficulties
Plantain - healing, protection, charm against snakes or snakebites
Rose - symbolizes heart, beauty, fertility, lust
Common Sage - alleviate sadness, sorrow, or death of a loved one, immortality, longevity
An easy way to enjoy a few of these herbs is to grab a handful and throw them into a warm bath. But if that's too daunting, an easy place to start is with herbs you already know and love. Pull a few rose petals to adorn your water. Or perhaps a few cooking basil leaves in a muslin bag to enhance your aromatic experience. There's no right or wrong way to incorporate the beneficial uses of herbs. Simply choose a plant that intrigues you, do a little Googling, and see what you find. You may be surprised by the wealth of healing you unearth!
Everybody likes pretty. Those things which please the eye, catch our breath, or inspire beautiful memories. This is evident even in the animal kingdom, where male peacocks strut their plumage to impress the ladies or where Japanese puffer fish use a unique method of sand art, complete with seashell accents, to attract a mate. The same can be said for us humans. We adore beauty, whether exhibited openly or hidden beneath layers of complicated emotions. Everybody likes pretty.
Which brings us to the topic of packaging. There is an excitement and an itch that comes when an individual purchases a product or good. It's a signal to our reward system that we have successfully sought and gained the thing in which we desired. What's more is a package that is prettily wrapped, nestled gently amidst shaved paper, wood, or glittering tinsel. Our eyes rest upon the beautiful accoutrements and our heart pounds a little quicker. This is desire. This is lust. This is love.
While small businesses such as ours cannot afford to spend hefty change on advertising or brand streamlining, we can ensure that our packages have appeal. Reminiscent of a song from The Sound of Music, we spend a great deal of time with brown paper packages tied up with string. We often add dried botanicals from our family garden and a handwritten thank you note. (Rosebuds, lavender springs, and sage leaves are some of our all-time favorites.) We try to avoid packing peanuts and instead invest mainly in recycled content, shaven wood. Taking the time to wrap our packages with care shows not only our dedication to our customers, but also the pride we have in our craft.
We believe packaging matters and will be one of the things that bring customers back time and again.
Some days I awake feeling as though the world around me may in fact implode. The seemingly endless stories of hatred, constant fear, and tragic loss become too much for a sensitive soul such as myself. These days particularly, take every ounce of willpower to not dive back under my pillow and sleep away the nightmarish reality we've come to inhabit. In these disastrous times, I turn to the one thing I know I can count on: my handwork. In a letter sent out to its artists, two of our local market directors describe it best:
[We know there's a crazy amount of turmoil happening in our country right now. You may be feeling angry, hurt, confused, exhausted, numb, or perfectly okay. No matter what your stance is, we sincerely hope there is this one thing we can all agree on: Art matters. Your creative expression matters. Your business' contribution to the community matters.
The world needs art, your art, now more than ever. You may think that, as one person, there is only so much impact you can make -- But we urge you to remember that all forms of creativity have the bold potential to inspire and to uplift. And when a collective community of individual, empowered, creative voices sing out, the world as a whole grows more beautiful because of it.]
-Ana Manzano and Mindy Jovanovic
And so we trudge on, keeping a bright star burning deep inside somewhere amidst all of the emotional trauma. I urge you to remain diligent in YOUR work, whatever it may be, and find a bit of time to stoke that little creative flame before it sputters out. Right now, the world needs your contribution, your art.
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
Additional quotes written by Ana Manzano and Mindy Jovanovic, River City Marketplace Directors
When I set out to build a brand that I could be exceptionally proud of last April, the most important goal seemed to be our message. I simply had to get it right. After many late nights of Instagram stalking and infinite chats in various Sacramento coffee shops, it was decided. We would proudly banner the tagline, "Inspired by Nature." After all, we were and I wanted everyone to know it.
We (myself and hubby) had collaboratively decided long before this moment, the goods we would produce would contain only the best, natural ingredients. We would draw our inspiration from the beauty that Mother Nature had laid out before us. I began to hashtag every product with every version of the word, "Natural" I could devise. I spent months and months, perfecting these social media posts, boldly making claims left and right about just how natural we really were... However, after nearly a year of pushing this #allnatural agenda, I began to notice a strange trend...everyone else (or so it seemed) in my industry had the same idea. This thing I had been so proud to present to the world, was not only unoriginal, it was quickly becoming distant, background noise.
As I took a closer look, I slowly began to realize that this word that I had so revered, was saturating our every outlet. Big companies used it, little gals such as myself, used it, and all the folks in between did as well. It seemed impossibly ironic! And as I dug a bit deeper, a dark sense of dread began to wash over me...this word was being used by just about anyone to describe nearly anything.
Strangely, it didn't matter if the products were handmade or not. It didn't matter if the products were manufactured by large, multimillion dollar conglomerates or not. It didn't even matter if the products being advertised were neon pink with a million specks of plastic glitter embedded within. They all made the exact same claim: "All Natural." At first it was rather shocking...they were all using MY word. The word that so eloquently described my lovingly, handcrafted, synthetic-free goods. How dare they!
Ultimately however, I realized, no one is keeping tabs. No one is policing the state of these claims, because no one really has a right to...yet. This is the new world we live in, where just about anybody can say anything about...well, anything! It has taken me some downtrodden heartache to now fully comprehend and appreciate the idea that it's really only a word and that people will often choose to believe whatever best fits their agenda. It only has power when we give it power. So alas, while I am still amazingly proud of what we craft and offer to our customers, we shan't rely solely on this word that has come to mean so little in our modern times. We shall absolutely hang tight to our truths, and spread our message; however, it will no longer be the primary wagon we hitch ourselves to. And while it may come along for the ride, it will no longer dictate our path.
And so we diverge, off onto another adventure, guiding our own way without the necessity of such common, and overrated vernacular.
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
We all have one of those friends. You know the one I'm referring to...the one that obsessively tries their hardest to live a healthful lifestyle. They exercise regularly and implore their family to do the same. They watch what they eat, perhaps cutting calories, cleansing with raw juices, shopping for only the highest quality, local, and organic produce. Perhaps they meditate, attend weekly yoga sessions, journal their emotions while forcing down that morning lemon juice and cayenne. Maybe they attend regular outings with friends or spend time on social media boasting about the amazingly healthful meal they just prepared in less than an hour. No matter what, they find the time to make themselves feel whole. And don't misread me here, these are all amazing things that one can incorporate into their lifestyle. I praise these folks highly! However, there may be a dirty little secret hiding quietly in there somewhere....
One morning your friend hops into the shower after that five a.m. spin class, only to slather themselves with bright pink shower gel or big brand bar soap (which isn't really soap, but more on that later...). They step out of the steaming shower to pile on the products. Perhaps some heavily perfumed body lotion from a chain store that can be found in any suburban mall. Or maybe they douse their locks with chemically-concentrated goop meant to control the frizz. Running late? Maybe some spray-on shampoo out of an aerosol can will do the trick!
But here's the thing, your friend may be living a double life. While they eat all of the right things and nourish their body from the inside, they may be doing catastrophic damage to the outside (which ultimately impacts the inside as well.) Our bodies really weren't meant to process so much toxicity. Ancestrally speaking, our fore-mothers never used anything with sulfates (found in body wash AND industrial cleaners), parabens (found in shampoos and conditioners), pthlalates (found in nail polish, hairspray, and plastic), or petroleum (found in lip balm). It has only been in recent times (1920's and later) that Americans have adopted this love affair with hygiene and chemically-enhanced personal care products. (Ever hear the old DuPont tagline, "Better living through chemistry?") Prior to this time, folks only bathed as necessary. But over time, irregular bathing became associated with lower-socioeconomic classes and poor morals. Thus it became essential for Americans to not only remain clean, but to erase many of the characteristics that make us mammalian (hair removal, etc). And of course in perfect timing, the big brand corporations (such as Colgate and Johnson and Johnson) swept in with mass advertising campaigns and discounted products, constantly reminding citizens of what it meant to be a good, clean, American. Unfortunately as time has progressed forward, we really haven't altered our thinking that drastically. Many people still believe that scrubbing down once or even twice a day using the most toxic and harsh chemicals is the best way to keep healthy. (Which has been proven unhealthy in itself.) They wash their clothes in nasty detergents that smell of artificial rain storms and grassy meadows. They brush their teeth with blue toothpaste (blue!), and paint their nails with formaldehyde.
So what about all of those products? The stuff we drench ourselves with daily because we are paranoid of smelling funny, or looking too natural, or even to fight off germs? Just know that we aren't doing anyone any favors save for the giant conglomerate we are helping to keep in business.
Our skin is amazing! It really doesn't need any of that extra stuff! Plain soap made the old fashioned way, with real ingredients can work magic and wonders. If we truly do advocate for a healthy lifestyle, politely enlighten that friend...Their body will thank you for it!
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
Being a self-made soapmaker, I've learned a tremendous amount from my 10 years of kitchen experimentation. I've learned to use proper safety equipment (not ahem, shorts and flip flops), I've learned to always expect a mess (that sometimes takes days to clean up), and most importantly, I've learned the value of products made from scratch. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, and will, just like so many other things in life. And let's be real for a few minutes: it is not cheap either. For those of you who assume you throw a few oils in a bowl and mix 'em up, eventually slapping a hefty price tag on a bar of soap...you're wrong. You're wrong in so many ways. But, that's okay! My objective is not to berrate anyone; I simply want to tell you a bit about what really goes on.
It all begins with an inspiring idea, maybe it's a scent wafting through the air on a breezy summer day or perhaps another crafter's amazing work. You decide that today is a soapmaking day (part of you cheers, while the other half dreads the clean up to come later). You go home, spend a good portion of time figuring out your recipe using math. Yes, math! Many folks use new technologies and soap calculators to get the job done nowadays. I do this from time to time myself; however, many of my soaps came from recipes that I developed on my own using some tried and true mathematical formulas. This is all step one, mind you. Step two is making sure you have all of the necessary equipment and ingredients (just as in baking). This will include safety equipment (for dealing with lye), carrier oils and essential oils, scales, pots and pans that have been designated "SOAP ONLY," molds, and of course, time. Then begins the soapmaking journey; knowing in the end you will have succeeded greatly or miserably failed. Though we all know failure, is an unfortunate side effect of any DIYer...
But again, let me reiterate...it is not cheap. Especially for those of us who choose to use primarily organic oils, or more locally sourced ingredients. Sure, I can get coconut oil from a big box store for a relatively inexpensive price; however, our organic, virgin coconut oil comes from a smaller distributor local to us. The quality surely surpasses anything else I might be able to find. We also only scent our products with essential oils. This is another hefty price-point in comparison to synthetic fragrances. We often choose small essential oil distillers; some located here in our amazing state of California. Supporting local businesses is one of our proudest virtues. We want our products to contain only the highest quality ingredients, and be almost completely plant-based (save for the local beeswax and honey we use). We use only food-grade vegetable oils, and our coloring always comes from mother nature's bounty. It is because of these ideals, we are able to craft wonderful products that are safe, non-toxic, and absolutely all natural.
As a last little note...there is magic in soapmaking--it's the perfect balance between art and chemistry. It allows us to make something beautiful (or on occasion, catastrophic). It can reflect our mood, our style, our passions. It tells a story of creativity and joy. It can be an outlet for sadness, grief, or an aide as we trudge through life's hardships. Please know, it is not a simple bar of soap you are buying; it is a piece of someone's heart and soul, perhaps even their livelihood. It really is a wonder.
You might consider this the next time you pass over a lovely little bar at your local farmer's market because the price seems too steep. What is a piece of your heart worth?
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm