Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Charles Darwin, in 'The Origin of Species', wrote "Nature, if I may be allowed to personify the natural preservation of survival of the fittest, cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they are useful to any being. ... Man selects only for his own good: Nature only for that of the being which she tends."

As you enjoy the beautiful abundance of spring, take a moment to reflect on and find comfort in your place in the natural world. We, like the blossoming trees and the singing birds, are Mother Nature's children.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

As we move through the cycle of the seasons, each seems to have its own message for us. With its fragile and short-lived indications of the warmer weather to come, spring is a yearly reminder to seize the day.

Here in the Washington, DC region, flowering cherry trees are the undisputed celebrities of spring. The first crocuses might be more eagerly anticipated and the flowering plums put on a more colorful show, but the cherry blossoms best represent the fleeting nature of the season.

My neighborhood is full of cherry trees, so I have a front row seat for their annual performance. This year, heavy rain the day after the buds fully opened littered the ground with pale pink. For three perfect days, blue skies framed the blossoms. Then, high winds knocked down more of the flowers. Thunderstorms predicted for today will also take their toll, and soon the blossoms will be gone for another year.

A good friend recently sent me a copy of Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. Thanks to her, for the first time I noticed that some trees show a fleeting touch of gold at their crowns just before bursting into green leaf. Like the cherry blossoms, this ephemeral sign of spring won’t wait for us to find a convenient time in our busy schedules. It’s up to us to stop whatever we’re doing, if only for a moment, to appreciate the beauty of the world around us. The wheel of the year keeps turning, and this particular part of the annual journey is fleeting.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I’m going to go take one more look at the blossoms, because I can hear the thunder rolling in.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Birds and the Bees (and Butterflies and Bats)

I’m the undisputed queen of procrastination. If something doesn’t interest me, I can find hundreds of ways to avoid it. It’s been more than a month since my last blog post, and I know why. I just don’t care very much about the things I’m “supposed” to blog about to market my shop. If I don’t care about what I’m writing, why should you care enough to spend your time reading it? So, from now on I’ll be blogging about whatever interests me at the moment. I can live with being a failure at on-line promotion, but I just can’t accept being boring!

Today’s topic is the birds and the bees. Spring has finally sprung in my little corner of Maryland, as you can see from the exuberance of my crocuses. Today, the first bee of spring bumped against the window where I’m working and reminded me of the terrible problem with the honeybees. In short they’re dying. Or, at least, they’re disappearing. In comparison to other issues the country is facing, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, high unemployment, home foreclosures, etc., why should we worry about some missing bees? Well, let me tell you …

Many, if not most, of the crops raised in the U.S. are pollinated by so-called “managed bees”. Beekeepers, usually running small family businesses, load their hives onto tractor trailers each spring and travel the country pollinating crops. This has become necessary because, in many areas, intensive agriculture has virtually eliminated the natural habitat needed to sustain local populations of bees and other pollinators.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), first noticed in 2006, is decimating the managed beehives. The bees don’t return home to the hive. The cost to beekeepers has been enormous, with many forced to leave the business. Fewer managed bees result in a higher cost for pollination – a cost which trickles down to us in the form of higher prices at the grocery store. You can Google “Colony Collapse Disorder” for more information on the race to discover the cause of CCD, as well as insights into the human and financial impact of this problem.

For a variety of reasons, including the economy, the green movement, and a general desire to eat more healthy and nutritious foods, many of us will be planting vegetable gardens this year. Our crops will also need to be pollinated, but many of our native pollinators (mainly bees, bats, butterflies, and birds) are suffering from habitat loss and the increased use of toxins in the landscape. Here are some tips for how to make your little piece of the world pollinator friendly and increase the yield of your garden, whether it’s a farm, in your back yard, or on a balcony:

1. Plant a three-season butterfly and bee garden, making sure that there will be some flowering food for pollinators whenever they’re active – those of you in more tropical climates may need to work on a four-season garden.

2. Learn to live with your native pollinators, foregoing bug “zappers”, pesticides, and other means of controlling insects – any measures you take to get rid of pests will also eliminate the many friendly insects that are beneficial to plants and your plants.

3. Encourage pollinators by providing habitat – this can be in the form of some land left to revert to native ground cover and wildflowers, or you can provide shelter and nesting areas designed specifically for the pollinators you want to attract. You can find directions for making your own online, but some wonderful, eco-friendly mason bee boxes, bat houses, and butterfly houses are available at or

4. Think about becoming a bee keeper – beekeeping is a “graying” hobby that few younger people are interested in, but it is possible to keep a hive in your suburban backyard (not recommended for apartment dwellers, lol). The bees require some work to maintain, but it can be satisfying to know that your hobby is helping you and your neighbors achieve better producing and more beautiful gardens.

So, that’s what is on my mind today. I hope I've encouraged you to do something this spring to help the bees and other pollinators sharing your little piece of the planet.

And, just so I don’t feel like a complete marketing failure, if you have the time and inclination, take a look at my stuff :-) ( or

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Virtual Renovation Part I - The Background

This is the first in a series of blogs about my journey through the world of online sales, focusing on the creation and almost immediate renovation of my online shops. I can’t promise much in the way of thrills, but it’s highly likely you’ll get to see me take some spills as I make mistakes, try to correct them, and end up making even worse mistakes. Like most of my journeys, this one began with me looking at my husband and saying, “You know, I’ve been thinking …”

It’s important to understand that when I say, “You know, I’ve been thinking …”, the color drains from my husband’s face. He’s learned that, “You know, I’ve been thinking …”, might be followed by something trivial (“… we should have couscous instead of rice for dinner”), something major (“… we should look for a new house”), or something bizarre (“… we should adopt an aardvark and name her Mabel”). I think it’s the wide range of possibilities that makes him shudder. Anyway, this particular time it was, “… I think I should try selling my jewelry online”. At the time I had no idea that this particular journey would require so much of my time and energy. It might have been easier to find and rear an orphaned aardvark.

I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn. But, according to my quick calculations, from kindergarten through grad work, I was in school for about – um, plus 4, carry the two – a gazillion years. So, if I’ve proven anything, it’s that I can learn. Then I figured out that the number of other people selling jewelry online is – hmmm, 6 take away 2 – oddly enough, also a gazillion. To make this work, I would have to learn a LOT. Luckily, there has been an entire welcoming army of other online merchants who have posted helpful information, answered newbie questions, and provided constructive feedback. All of you have my eternal gratitude.

In my next (extremely brief) post, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about graphics. Right now, though, it’s time for Mabel’s bottle.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Timing is Everything

My timing has always been a little off. I was born on December 4th, and the condition for starting kindergarten in my town was turning five by the end of November. That meant I was always the oldest in my class, since anyone born just a few days earlier was a grade ahead.

Although I can’t really be blamed for the timing of my birth, many of the choices I’ve made as an adult have that same “close, but not quite” quality to them. The past two years, in particular, have been fraught with near misses, mainly related to the economy. First, my husband and I decided to buy another house so some family members could move closer to us. We found a nice little house at a great price, snapped it right up, and began some much-needed renovations – less than a year before the housing market collapsed. Next, I decided last summer that it was time for me to transition from a 15-year career in academic administration back to being a full-time college professor. I did some careful calculations, since this decision meant a pretty substantial salary reduction. My calculations included the annual raise promised for last fall. I finalized all of the arrangements, then sat back and watched the economy tank, taking that last salary increase along with it. As if not getting the anticipated increase isn’t bad enough, now the university is talking about the possibility of furloughs. Last, but not least, after years of making jewelry for family and friends and selling it on a small scale, last December I decided to get serious about selling online. That was not long before the news organizations began to report a sharp decrease in consumer spending. This was like pulling off the hat trick of poor economic timing!

Well, there is a good side and a bad side to almost everything, and timing is no exception. While I got tired of having to explain why my age and grade level didn’t seem to match up, my ill-timed birthday paid off in popularity when I became the first in my class to get a driver’s license and the first who was able to legally purchase alcohol (this was back in the days before the national drinking age, so for me that was the tender age of 18).

What about my economic timing? If my timing were better, I would have kept things exactly the way they were. My relatives wouldn’t be planning their move, happily talking about the things we can all do together when they live close by. I would be planning to stay in a soul-crushing administrative job for the rest of my career, instead of eagerly returning to doing what I love. And, I would keep making jewelry for those close to me, never taking the chance to see if I could turn my creativity into a small family business. I don’t regret making any of those leaps of faith when I did, because I know that waiting would have meant never leaping. Maybe bad timing is better than no timing at all.

Do I worry? Of course! We’ve cut back on most of the little luxuries we used to take for granted, and bigger luxuries are out of the question. But, the biggest luxury in this economic climate is the ability to make choices. This terrible recession has stripped many Americans of their jobs, their homes, and their ability to make choices for themselves and their families. My family is fortunate. I chose to return to a position with lower pay, but I have a secure job that I can feel good about. We are choosing to turn down the thermostats, but we have homes with heat and warm sweaters to wear. We’ll choose to plant more vegetables than flowers this year, but we have a garden to help feed us. We even have a little something left over each month that we can choose to give to help those who are less fortunate. We are truly blessed.

For all of you, I wish many choices, many blessings, and just a tiny bit of bad timing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Positively Magical

Last Wednesday I went to sleep completely unaware of my magical powers. But, before the next day was done, I made things happen in the world around me with just my intentions. That’s magic, right?

I’ve been offering my jewelry creations online for just over a month, and the learning curve has been really steep. There’s so much to do that it’s almost overwhelming. Although I understand it will take a while to get established, the lack of sales in my two new shops has been a bit discouraging. I woke up last Thursday determined to stay positive and keep moving forward, focusing on my long-term goals, rather than the lack of the immediate gratification I craved. “Today is the day for a sale”, I thought as I got ready to face the day, pumping myself up for the work ahead.

So, I visited the Forums to learn more about tagging my merchandise and, at the same time, to improve name recognition for my shops among other sellers. I uploaded some new pictures to perk up a Facebook page I set up for my business. Both shops received some attention from me in the form of new listings and general improvements. I conquered the intimidation factor and wrote and posted my first blog. I finished up a couple of pieces, and worked on perfecting a new bracelet design that’s been bouncing around in my head. Then, it was back to the Forums to learn more about my newest sales venue at 1000Markets ( – I ‘m learning about marketing, too).

Late that night, I visited my shops one last time to review the changes, and discovered that I had made some sort of mistake. Again. Things were missing. I searched around for over 10 minutes trying to figure out what I had done wrong, when I realized that the items weren’t missing, they had been SOLD! My first online sales!! I, quite literally, could not believe my eyes.

Now, my day job is as a college professor in one of the social sciences, with an emphasis on the science end of the spectrum. I really like to understand how things work, and I believe that everything, even magic, can be explained. So, how do I explain my magic? Deciding to stay positive affected my behavior in important ways, energizing me to improve my shops, implement some marketing strategies, create some new designs, and work on increasing my knowledge about the best ways to approach online sales. I believe that it also helped me to interact more effectively with the fans of my Facebook page and other shop owners in the Forums, encouraging them to see me, and by association my shops, in a positive light.

Do I really think that my intentions that morning directly caused the sales later in the day? Well, I believe that *all* the mornings I chose to be positive set up the conditions necessary for success. Day after day of positive thinking, despite setbacks and frustration, is what it takes to succeed in business, in relationships, and in life.

In terms of “real” magic, we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve always been an “Instant Karma” kind of gal (any Lennon fans out there?). My friends know that the universe has a very concrete and immediate way of responding to my behavior. The best example is a time when I was riding an escalator and made a snarky remark about someone – I immediately got a pretty substantial shock from the handrail that no one else felt.

Not wanting to be greedy, I haven’t used the “Today is the day” mantra again. I also haven’t had any more sales. Sooner or later I’ll give in, and I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, give your magic a chance to work by putting your positive intentions out into the world.

Oh, and I promise to only use my magical powers for good. I’ve learned my lesson. The universe doesn’t have to shock me twice!

Saturday, January 31, 2009


It seems like just yesterday. I was happy with my simple and uncluttered life, not realizing that everything was about to change. Then, out of the blue, someone I considered to be a close friend came to me and said “Look what I have. It’s great! You should try this stuff. It will be fun. We’ll do it together”. We went out and got more. A desperate looking woman tried to warn us that we would never be able to stop, told us she had already spent hundreds of dollars. In private, we laughed. That would never happen to us. We were just recreational users. Spending hundreds of dollar? That was just a sign that she was weak. We knew what we were doing. We could control this. Or, so we thought …

Now, years later, I can admit that I’m an addict. Weekends and evenings are spent hunting for more of the stuff. I always crave more. My oh-so-patient husband has spent hours in the car, waiting for me to get my fix. My house is cluttered and filled with paraphernalia. Every spare moment I have is devoted to this terrible, insidious obsession. And the money I’ve spent, oh, the money.

I hope that sharing the tale of my descent into addiction will help others avoid the same fate. This is my story. This is my brain on beads.