It’s Saturday. I wake before dawn. The air quality here in Carmichael is hovering around an Air Quality Index of 291 (anything over 300 is considered hazardous). A thick haze anyone could mistake for crisp autumn fog hangs around the ancient redwoods in our backyard. It’s beyond surreal.
With one of the most blistering summers on record (hello 8 days of 110+ in August alone), we here in California have been experiencing life as close to the bowels of hell as I can imagine. Hot air paired with choking smoke that seeps in through the cracks of our 60 year old house. We tape filters to fans and desperately seek HEPA filters for our big gray purifying machines (but good luck since everyone else has the same need). We boil water with fresh herbs and read up on foods for lung health. We languish in the afternoons with our smoke headaches, ever-grogginess, and the subtle asthmatic wheeze my lungs sing to me. We try to get work done but feel as though we’ve unwittingly been drugged most days. We consistently run sprinklers on our half acre just to try and temporarily remove some of the particulate at ground level and provide some relief for the wildlife.
We certainly count ourselves lucky to have a home and safety, though our worries for our outside animals persists. Our horses live outside on 5 acres and while they have run-in sheds, it is uncommon for many folks in our part of Northern California to have fully enclosed barns since it doesn’t snow here. So there they stand out in the haze with very little reprieve from the harshness of it all.
A little later in the day, my brother calls me from Southern Oregon, exhausted from helping friends and strangers alike evacuate their homes, their property, their livestock. He fills me in on what it's like to watch families flee with nothing more than the clothes on their back. I cannot find the words. He confides in me that he's depleted and drained, both physcially and financially. I opt to send him a bit of cash to fill up an old generator to loan to family in desperate need.
Honestly, parts of me can’t believe this is where we are; while the other half thinks this is par for the course of 2020. Apparently it can always get worse.
At the date of this writing, a total of 7,718 fires have burned 3.4 million acres (roughly the size of Connecticut), more than 3% of the state's roughly 100 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California history, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And 6 of 20 record shattering fires have all occurred within 2020.
The debates over California’s forest (mis)management has been a hot topic (no pun intended) for decades. With a treacherous combination of factors such as devastating bark beetles, ongoing droughts, the introduction of non-native plant species, climate change, and the unwillingness to listen to indigenous voices that have lived and tended this land for centuries, here we are. California is meant to burn to a certain degree; only it is now managed by bureaucrats, lobbyists, and greedy politicians. Those who have very at little stake. Those whose homes would never face the risk being lost.
It's like an old apple sitting by the side of the road--rotten all the way through.
I do not have any advice. My heart is heavy and sad. Each day seems to bring new terror and great birthing pains like no other. My only advice is to allow ourselves the grace to empathize. Sit with the grief and cope with it in any means necessary.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mary Good, LMFTA, @the_splendor_and_travail:
“These unprecedented fires of the west are difficult to metabolize after many months of a reality already hard to take on, and my animal body doesn’t know what to make of dark and smokey skies and I feel scared. And my loves, of course you do.”
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
Here we are.
It's nearly June and most of my golden state is still currently shut down. While we have entered Phase 2 of reopening, it really hasn't provided much light for those of us managing a very small business. Sure, restaurants will reopen, stores will resume normal-ish hours, and government buildings will start to flutter with new activity. But for the rest of us? For those who can't get SBA loans, assistance, or rent reprieve, it's a much longer road ahead.
One of the most challenging things I'm personally facing as a business owner comes in the form of scarcity. You see, when folks heard there was a pandemic coming, the first thing they did was hoard massive amounts of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The second thing they did was Google, "How to make hand sanitizer and resell PPE." And then having become overnight experts in immunology, virology, and microbiology, they set to work. How does one make money off of other people's fears, you might wonder? Simple. Buy up every seemingly last bottle available on the internet and sell your homemade concoctions with a side of nitrile gloves. I mean, really?? (And don't get me started on the hundreds of incorrectly crafted/obsolete hand sanitizer solutions on the market...)
And so, just as many other apothecary businesses, we are currently bearing the brunt of a supply chain shortage. I use glass bottles and jars regularly for my goods, just as I have for the past 7 years. But what happens when there are no bottles or jars to be found?
Several problems will result from this kind of shortage, one of them being devastating mark ups from companies that still have inventory. This then trickles down to us, the purchasers, and then finally on to our customers and retailers. If you're noticing an upward trend with product pricing, this may be the root cause. It's a nasty business and something I am none-too-thrilled to be a participant in.
As I sit here and write this, I'm currently waiting on 3 orders from companies who claim they may not even have access to new stock until October. OCTOBER. Let that sink in. We will be unable to access our regular bottles and jars for nearly 5 months. OUCH.
So now what?
It's simple, though ugly...
For us, this may mean less pretties in bottles, but most likely more soap variety. It may mean discontinued products but also paving the way for refocus and newness. It may mean longer shipping times, but also allowing the possibility of in-person pick ups.
As I told my best friend today, I'm all about the pivot. Flexibility is key in times of crisis, and so we forge on making way for what's yet to come. I don't know what that looks like, but take comfort in knowing I'm here to keep fighting the good fight.
How you can personally make a difference...
Let's spread love like wildfire. And try to remember that patience is most certainly a virtue.
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
It has been ages since I last wrote anything longer than a text message. And wow, does time really fly.
The older I get, the more it feels as though life is fleeting, passing by at an exponentially quickening rate. It's strange really. When you're young, time seems to move at a snail's pace. And frankly, I can't even count how many times I wished, as a mopey, emo teen to be the age I am now. To have my life settled and plotted. To be married with children. Because it seemed superior than the dramatic landscape within which I was currently residing. Yet here I am at forty and almost none of these expectations has been met.
In December, I unwittingly dragged myself into my fourth decade on this earth. It was a sight. As my loved ones gathered around to shower me in birthday wishes, all I could feel was dread. How was it that I had gotten here? I don't remember the journey being quite as long as it has actually been. It's as if one day you blink and the next moment, throngs of years have passed.
And I know what you're thinking...that it's normal. That loads of people go through this. That I'm not alone. For the most part, you're probably correct. However, there's one, jagged, mismatched piece of this that immensely complicates things--
It's turning forty and being childless.
In the fertility community, I am considered geriatric. That's right. The same definition used to describe senior citizens living in the local Del Webb community apply to me. And sadly, it's at this age you are forced to finally begin to let go of any residual hope you once had for starting a family. Your mind instead begins to wander.
Thoughts of running away to foreign lands drift by.
You constantly make jokes to your best friend about finding a baby on a doorstep one day.
You tell yourself you'll change your entire world just to feel in control.
You briefly consider adoption. (Because sadly, that's what every well-intentioned person tells you to do anyhow...as if us infertile folks haven't ever considered this emotionally treacherous and expensive option.)
Things distort, change shape, ideas flit in and out like a tiny Oak Titmouse (that's a bird if you weren't sure). But in the end it all comes back to wondering how you got to this age and why the hell life has become far more complex than it was when you were 17.
Some days it's impossible. I look around at my young, thirty-something friends having babies and think they really have no concept. A few closer friends might have a mingling idea of the struggle. They might sometimes feel shameful to share news or updates. They don't want to hurt us anymore than we already are. But most often, I use this opportunity to explain that it isn't that I'm not happy for them, it's that I'm sad for me. They are very different intentions. That may mean I need a little extra time to warm up, or that I may miss a baby shower or two, or perhaps texts may go response-less. I kindly remind them that it's all part of the process.
A brilliant friend will be cautiously kind and patient, give space if it's needed, and keep reminding me they love me. They will not expect me to jump for joy at the news, pick out registry gifts with them, or tell me to, 'just get over it.'
So I ask you, as we head into National Infertility Awareness Week (April 19 -25, 2020), and as an infertile wife of nearly ten years...check in on your friends wrestling with this, both women AND men. Don't dance around the topic if they seem like they want to open up. Don't pry, but show your interest. Get over your own insecurities and be a supportive beam in their infrastructure. Ask questions. Get involved. Do non-children activities together (which as of now might involve Skype or Zoom). Break the stigma that infertility or miscarriage are bad words and keep on. talking. about it. The work in this particular community is far from over. The more it is discussed, the closer to solutions we can become. I would l like to remind us that for decades breast cancer was a hush hush topic. But not now. It is extremely known, highly researched, and well funded in comparison to lesser known cancers. With discussion comes breakthroughs, not only on a scientific level but also personally.
And as for me, it's hard to say what's next. Simply getting this post up took a lot. Letting folks see a glimpse into your personal struggles is daunting as hell. But hey, I'm here and ready to talk whenever you are.
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
Yesterday was rough. Ripe with confusion and chaos, news stations across the United States proclaim "America Shuts Down." Disneyland closes. The stock market plunges. People too afraid to leave their houses, secretly horde toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Conspiracy theories abound amidst everyday conversations. Friends of friends diagnosed with that dreaded thing we hope to not contract. It's almost like living in a dream, or rather some dystopian nightmare from which we can't seem to wake. Is this real? Is this even happening?
But sadly, yes. It's real. Very real. This is quite the time to be alive. Never in my forty years (yes, I'm THAT old) have I witnessed such confusion, emotional fraught, and uncertainty. Even worse, amidst all of this, there's something else coming to light. I've been watching it slowly creep out of the fog these past few weeks. Things that may have been hidden behind a seemingly roaring economy. And it's this:
SOME SMALL BUSINESSES WILL DROWN AS A RESULT OF THE TURMOIL.
As frightening as it is to say this, I don't feel it's far from our reality.
Now, will the market correct?
It always does.
But that takes time. Many small businesses don't have the luxury of time. They survive on a measly margin and rarely even pay themselves what they ought to. It can be a very challenging way of life, to put it sweetly.
To prove my point, on a personal note, it has been an exceptionally slow month for me and my business. Shops that owe me money from months ago, have been lagging. Customers aren't purchasing with the vigor of years previous. My business bank account has been stalled and slowly declining over the past few weeks. And I'm certainly not alone. Reading through Etsy forums are masses of individuals complaining about how stagnant business has become. Restaurateurs are losing money hand over fist due to dwindling customers and the sheer number of people choosing to eat in. Small local brick and mortars spend hours watching an empty store, waiting patiently for that little bell on the door to ring.
I posted in my Instagram story recently that I believe some of this can be repaired before it becomes too damaged. Even if you don't have money. Even if you don't want to leave the house. There are ways to support your favorite small brands and businesses that require very little effort. Below I've listed a few just to get us started:
But whatever you choose to do, this all revolves around getting involved. Here's the thing: Amazon and Costco, well, they're gonna be okay. Your favorite local eatery? Maybe not. Your friend who makes candles as her side hustle? Maybe not. Your sister that cuts and styles hair? Maybe not. Don't we want to show our community we can do this? That we can bond together to make this long and treacherous haul together? I think we do. This is how we start.
Have ideas not listed? Please share in the comments below!
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
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