On Grey Hair #NaBloPoMo

I quite liked being a kid, but I don’t now wish I still was. And with each ‘big’ birthday it feels like I’m more ‘me’ than I ever have been.

But then there’s the grey hairs…

I’ve dyed my hair almost continually since I was about 15. My natural hair colour is a kind of dull brown with random shades of red in it, and those pesky grey ones. The grey ones aren’t new, and they’ve never bothered me really, it’s a novelty to be under 30 and have grey hairs, right?

Under 30…

I’m approaching 40. It’s more normal for people my age to have grey hairs, and it feels like a sign I might be almost a real grown up…

And I’m not ready to be a grown up. We don’t (and never will) have a mortgage, or a car (equally as unlikely), and we don’t have ‘grown up’ jobs (I do most of my work in my PJs whilst fussing cats, that’s not a grown up job. And O goes to work in his jeans, that’s not a real grown up thing), and we don’t have kids (and never will, barring horrible accidents and some insane person entrusting their kids to us. Though, do warn us if you’re doing this in your wills, yes??). The absence of all these means I can kid myself that I’m still young-young.

And then those grey hairs reappear…

I’ve recently totally revamped and rediscovered my hair, finally finding out that I’m a curly! The upsides to this are numerous. The downside is that the hair dye I’ve used for as long as I can remember is no longer an option…

But, those grey hairs…

I tried to embrace it, I tried to grow out the dye (henna that time), I did really try to be a grown up…

But they stare at me in the mirror, taunting me.

A 93 year old once told me she still didn’t feel like a grown up, I want to be like her in many ways. So, if you’re aware of a nice hippy (red) hair dye… ?

Meal planning #NaBloPoMo

I’ve yet to get into my stride with meals in the new place. I keep going to reach for items, then finding we used them up in preparation for the move…

The last flat only had (once our now-dead beautiful side by side departed) a small freezer, so I was always playing a balancing game between empty and full.

But, rejoice! A normal sized fridge freezer! (if not slightly bigger? My perception is shot, having one tiny and one huge means I’ve no idea now)

So, cue today. After about a week of planning and researching I finally had a collection of meals that I could collate, bag and label before throwing into the freezer.

I’d like to say it was a breeze, but standing chopping and bagging for about 6-7 hours took its toll on my back and hips (thanks there to Hubs for the massage this eve!), but it does mean we have a good few weeks worth of homemade meals, from fresh ingredients, with the ease of a ready meal (they’re all either slow cooker or “cook meat, add sauce”).

I’ll try and work out the actual cost over the next few days, but almost all the ingredients (and lots of the ‘pantry items’ I had to replace) came in under £100. That’s (once the remaining 5 are done) 14 meals for 2, carb to be added later (veg was in the order too!), and 7 sauces (needing meat, veg and carb).

What’s that? Yes, that’s the sound of a smug housewife :p

Pinterest board for recipes

ETA: having done the maths, the actual cost of things I used was under £50. There’s quite a bit of ‘pantry’ stuff left over, but none will go to waste. Including the leftover stuff it’s still only £62, so about £4.50 a meal!! (not taking into account the extra sauces)

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On Procrastination #NaBloPoMo

This tab has been sitting open for about 3 hours now

There’s a pile of ‘stuff’ next to my desk, waiting to be parceled up

The thank you notes for our wedding presents have been waiting for so long that it’d be strange to send them now

My physical photos are over flowing and my digital ones are full of out of focus or otherwise unwanted ones

I wouldn’t claim to be a procrastinator, certainly I’m not the worst at it of the people I know. But I am quite a perfectionist. This can be useful (nothing goes out work-related unless it’s as flawless as I can make it), but it can also mean that I don’t actually start a project I think I might not do ‘right’.

To-do lists have never really worked for me, I do use Habit RPG, but only for daily tasks (clean the cat trays, do my physio stretches). My longer term items on there stay, and go amber… then red…

I’ve tried to take part in 6 week project-a-longs, but trying to think of the projects at the beginning of the time doesn’t happen, my brain suddenly forgets about what I’ve planned.

This also extends to replying to emails. I was trying to work this out earlier this evening and I think my brain associates emails with letter writing. I should be sat quiet, at the table, and concentrating just on the correspondence. This actually worked quite well when I was 10, and writing to my nan, but it’s less helpful when it’s someone waiting for a reply to “are you meeting me in 10 minutes”. I hope that, in identifying what I’m doing, it’ll help resolve this a little…

I’m also hoping that daily blogging will help with putting off the posts I’ve been meaning to write

But know, if you’re waiting on a reply, it’s not you, it’s very much me.

On feeling invincible #NaBloPoMo

I never thought I’d want to run. Actually want, not feel like I have to, but feel the craving to.

I don’t yet run, but I’m about to start, and I’m looking forward to it. You may have noticed over the past 6 months that I’ve started long distance walking, and I’m loving it. But I’m impatient, and I like to do things efficiently, so the next natural step (pun alert) seems like it’s running.

There’s a great comic by The Oatmeal that describes the feeling of a ‘running high’ (it applies to walking too) very well. For me the high starts at about 2-3 miles. For that first mile in particular I wonder what the hell I’m doing. “Do I really want to get fit? Why am I outside? I look like a prat! I should just go home… “, but I know this will pass. My mood can be artificially lifted by music at the right BPM, and just waiting for time and distance to pass.

2-3 miles and the world starts to slot into place. “I’m doing this for the right reasons, I can feel my legs are strong and my lungs are more efficient. This isn’t so bad after all”

7 miles: “I CAN TAKE ON THE WORLD I WILL NEVER STOP”

Yeah, that’s the bit there, that’s the reason I like walking long distances. It’s a legal high (and there’s a reason it’s ravers and walkers/runners that listen to hyper dance music), and one I’ve not found (solo) outside of alcohol/drugs.

There is, obviously a down for every high, that tends to happen at about mile 11-12, when my back/hips/arse decide they don’t want this any more, they’re done, they just want me to lay on the ground and never move again. These are tough times, these are the times I want to call Owen or my mum and get them to come take me home (ignoring the impracticalities of this, obviously)

I’m hoping by upgrading to running I’ll gain this high earlier, and therefore quicker, and not have to dedicate entire days to walking, the main thing I’m still struggling to adjust to is giving myself permission to spend a day walking, it feels too selfish to do that too often (despite no-one else pressuring me this way)

Well see… first step, buying a sports bra

NaBloPoMo..?

I love to write. I tend to get decent responses when I do.

I’m terrible at *actually* writing. Finding the time, putting actual words down.

I don’t have a full length novel in me, as much as my brain tries to tell me I do, but I would like to write (and make public!) much ore than I do.

So, November, the month where all the people do all the things, right?

Do feel free to throw ideas/topics at me, else we might end up with some days me writing about how there’s nothing to write about…

Katy Perry is my Spirit Animal

I’m on my way to meet new people.

Last year I travelled alone for 3 weeks, meeting up with online friends en route, some physically meeting for the first time.

This month I spent 8 days in Edinburgh, most of it alone.

Exciting, no?

No. Terrifying.

So why do I do it? Why put myself through what can sometimes result in needing to hide from the world for a few days, mentally hugging myself in foetal position?

Because it terrifies me.

One of the annoying side effects of damaging my back, and therefore not going anywhere for a year or so, was it allowed my internal anxieties to come to the surface. I could no longer just randomly go somewhere without a mass of planning. Obviously some of this was more to do with my mobility than my emotional state. But it quickly become apparent, once my body started to heal, that damaging my back had left behind other scars…

I try not to make too much of a fuss, generally in life I mean, but having to explain my physical limitations seems to have meant that my subconscious realised it could ask for other special conditions, and people would meet them.

The result of this is my social anxieties blossomed.

Oddly, the more I talk to people about them, the more I realise that others have similar issues, to greater and lesser degrees. The amount of my friends that don’t like to go into a place first is amusing, if a little troublesome when we’re all in the same group…

The realisation that being open and honest about my anxieties made them grow was a useful thing. Using logic, and why not, this means that ignoring them would make them go away, right?

Actually, kinda

So hence I found myself half way up a volcano, wondering if I’d ever managed to either get down, or manage the final third of the climb. And hence I made friends with a “trash disposal man from New Jersey” and a retired cowboy in the middle of nowheresville USA (I’m still reasonably sure the trash guy was actually a member of the mob), and the lady at the airport who kept invoking random saints whilst telling about her pastor. Or chatting with the, at first, creepy older guy, who turned out to be an ex-professor with some fascinating stories.

It doesn’t always work, which means I’ve also let down some friends and had to pull out of social arrangements at the last minute, and that annoys me. Not because the friends I’m cancelling on are crappy, the opposite in fact, they’re incredibly understanding. But annoyed at myself, because I know I can do it, just sometimes there just aren’t enough spoons.

This isn’t a conclusion, there isn’t one, because when there is I’ll be dead, that’s kind of how real life works. We’re all a work in progress after all.

*awkward ending, where the audience aren’t sure if they’re meant to clap and leave or not…*

On Why I Don’t Blog More Often

A friend who blogs little and often wrote a piece, about why we should all be writing more. It hit home, but particularly one point…

“It’s dangerous for me to have a public presence due to race/gender/sexuality/etc.”

‘Dangerous’ is too strong a word for my main reason, but exposing my own views and thoughts somewhere where people can comment (I moderate comments, this still means I get to see them though) utterly terrifies me.

So often recently, when saying things scare me, I keep getting told (often from other women) that I’m being silly, or that I shouldn’t be and I should just do stuff. Which is bullshit. I’ve spent 37 years finding that when I don’t take the precautions that I do, bad things happen. I don’t mean things that are reportable, but I do mean things that undermine my confidence and emotional state.

I’m an emotionally sensitive person. I’ve stopped apologising for that (thanks to the support of people close to me), but that also means I’ve had to develop strategies to deal with people and things that upset me. And, when it comes to writing, that means not putting it out there for criticism. If you’ve ever had more than a short conversation with me in person, you’ll know that I’m not short on opinions, but putting them online means opening up oneself to criticism, ridicule, and abuse. And ‘ignore it’ doesn’t cut it for me, it stays in my head for days/weeks and my everyday life suffers as a result.

I’m collecting topics to write about. I’m willing to turn off comments if needs be (really hoping not to though), and for that I won’t apologise, I’ll merely link back to this post. This is essentially a call for the opposite of ‘man up’ as a response.

And a very deep breath.

 

Medical Update

If you even slightly know me (and if not, hi..?) you’ll know almost all my medical issues are centred around what ‘polite company’ would refer to as “women’s issues”.

I, however, am not ‘polite company’. I refer to them lots, and often in more detail than people are used to. I’m firm on this, women put up with all sort of issues related to periods that can actually be resolved really easily. For decades we’ve been socialised into putting up with the discomfort and pain, and not saying anything, not even to our closest family and friends.

One of the many reasons I no longer work is that every month I’d need to take off 2-3 days because of my period. Sounds like I’m being over dramatic, right? Those 2-3 days would be usually in bed, scrabbling to find any pain killers that might work, and that I wasn’t allergic to.

Any time I mentioned it to a GP I’d get a brush off, a “that’s how things are”. Over the years I’ve had various things diagnosed, PCOS being the main one here, and any issues I’ve had tend to be put down to that. Add in an almost non-functioning thyroid and the inability to absorb various vitamins and you have lots of reasons for painful and heavy periods.

But no solutions…

(I interject here that there *are* solutions for most people, but all bar one were things I’m either allergic or sensitive to and created worse issues than they were trying to resolve)

The nearest thing I’ve come to a reasonable solution so far has been the contraceptive implant. It didn’t resolve the issues, but it did level out my hormones and, when combined with a blood thickener, slowed the release down which meant week long, but much less painful, periods.

This lasted about 18 months.

Then my body deciding that 2 weeks on/2 weeks off was the new normal. Now, these weren’t painful, but I know from my family history that this was just the beginning of 15-20 years of unpredictable bleeding (this came to a head when I was away in the US. I had to grab towels of a brand I dislike, and never use, which I reacted badly to, ending in chemical burns of my labia. This is as much fun as it sounds…).

I spoke to my GP about longer term solutions. She was accepting of my “I don’t want kids”, but didn’t think that  a consultant would do anything long term, because of my age (I’m 37, which I guess is still young, but is certainly too old to get IVF help on the NHS, and late to be trying to adopt). With great reluctance, I agreed to a hormonal coil being fitted, but under local anesthetic, so it would be done at our local hospital (which is next to the GP practice, so hardly a chore).

Cue appointment with consultant. He quickly picked up on my reluctance to have a coil, simply asked if I wanted kids, accepted my ‘no’ without question, and suggested the uterine ablation my GP had said said would be impossible to get.

After picking my jaw up off the floor, and managing not to hug him, it was all agreed.

I live in an affluent area, this is reflected in the healthcare we get, so within days I had my surgery appointment (in 4 weeks) and my pre-op appointment. I’ve no idea if this is because of the PCT, or if this timeline is likely in other areas.

(the pre-op appointment went without any real excitement, despite my size/medical issues I’m textbook healthy)

So, the op itself? It was somewhat of a none event really. The most traumatic issues so far have been getting there/back (downside to Surrey, they assume everyone drives, or has easy access to someone who does) and the after effects of the antibiotics and codeine (which is now added to my allergies list). There was a small amount of discomfort the day of and after but certainly much less than my usual period cramps. Before the codeine crap kicked in I happily did a training walk on Monday with no real issues. I’m very lightly bleeding (but was on before/during the op anyway) and the watery discharge is annoying (think the clear stuff you get from a burn/scald, my uterus is essentially recovering from 3rd degree burns), I’m also peeing lots (though that might be related to all the tea I’m drinking…).

Longer term obviously I’ll have to wait and see. It should lighten, hopefully stop, my periods (about half women find it stops them altogether). There’s a small chance the uterus lining will grow back, and I’ll have to do it again, but that tends to take about 5-6 years if it does, and so 2 ops should last me until menopause. This isn’t a contraceptive though, that’s worth pointing out, and a pregnancy now would be dangerous for me (I’d say “and the baby”, but it has nowhere to implant), so I’m keeping the implant.

All in all, 8/10, would do this medical procedure again (loses 2 extra points for the codeine and anti-biotic knock on effects)

On Etsy shops, and how to get started

I’ll start this by saying I’m not an expert. I run a vaguely successful Etsy shop, it’s been going for a short time, yet gets me a few orders each week. This feels like a good thing, in a quick time, and so people have been asking me for advice.

Read.

Read before you put ‘pen to paper’. Etsy itself has a wealth of information, on the help pages and on the forums.

That said, the main things I’d suggest are:

Setup

Firstly, do some basic things before you launch your shop. Launching with no logo banner, no policies and 1 item in your shop will mean people think you’re a casual hobbyist, and less likely to trust you. The main response I want to give people when they ask why they’re not selling/getting views is “it looks like you spent 5 minutes on it”. I don’t generally say this, it’s too harsh, but why should someone buy from an online shop that’s been set up hastily, when they’d not do so for a physical shop/stall that did that either? If this is your new business, take some time and make it look professional. If it’s a casual hobby, don’t expect the traffic/sales that will net you an income, even a part time one.

Policies

Fill them out, before you launch your shop. They give customers an outline of what to expect from you, and answers to questions you’ll not want to respond to over and over again. Look at a few shops, ones you like the look of and want to be like. Read their policies, their about section, their general descriptions. Having policies set out also makes you seem more professional, and gives customers confidence that, if they buy from you, they’ll not get screwed over.

Photos

As I recently advised a friend: “people are simple, shiny photos and decent descriptions go a long way!”. I cannot emphasise this enough. The majority of my (and I’d therefore assume most people’s) traffic comes via Etsy’s search or browse features. If you have unappealing photos, why would anyone click on your items? You could be selling the best made X, but if another person can photograph their slightly inferior X better, then why would anyone click on yours? You don’t need an expensive camera, I use my smartphone, but read up about lighting, about backgrounds, about staging. Again, look at other sellers you want to be like and see how they pose their items.

Descriptions

This is a tricky one for me to advise on, mine tend to be quite factual. But do try and make sure you cover things like size (quite difficult to tell online sometimes), or does the colour vary in the photos? Tell the customer which one is the nearest representation. I also include a brief description of posting details. You can also add here any custom options that are available.

Posting

Know the postage rules, they’ve changed recently and things like alcohol are in the ‘restricted’ category now. They’re available on the Royal Mail’s site, where you can also buy postage to print at home (and, if you’re handy with a graphics editor, can add your logo to). Are you in the UK? Post to the US. Don’t lie about the price, gather the stuff you’ll use, shove it on the scales, and work out on the Royal Mail’s site how much it will cost you. Add on the cost of the things you’re using to parcel it up. Charge at least that.

I charge £5 for US postage (my items all come under the lowest price band), because that’s what it costs me (if you can, keep your parcel under ‘large letter’ size, for ease of posting/receiving and for lower costs). Do I still get people paying for it? Oh yes! About half my orders are from the US. If you’re selling something people want, they’ll pay the right postage. Postage is expensive, the type of people buying handmade goods are willing to pay for what they’re getting. Which brings me onto…

Pricing

How much to charge? There are various formulas, and some of them can come up with scarily expensive prices. The standard is “twice the cost of materials, plus your time”. This is generally a good formula, but can make your finished item prohibitively expensive. If I used this for my knitted hats, using minimum wage, they’d come out at about £60.

Now I should be charging that; creative people are notoriously undervalued when it comes to paying for our time. Except the reality is I’d never sell one. So, I take a deep breath, look around at mid/high end retail outlets (Next, Diesel and John Lewis are good places to start) and see how they compare. The people buying on Etsy know they’re paying for handmade, and quality, they’re the consumers who will pay more for this.

Do not look at Primark etc, it will only make you cry. Do not massively under-price yourself; you’ll sell loads, but you’ll be working frantically for very little (if any) profit. You’ll also be throwing your fellow creatives under the bus, as they’ll have to lower their prices to compete. Related to that, when you’re trying to find the right price level do look around on Etsy for examples of other similar things for sale. See the badly photographed ones? Ignore their prices, even if they’re really low, you’ve already got better photographs and descriptions right? Then yours will sell regardless.

Stock

Don’t launch with 1 item in your shop, wait a week, get no sales, and quit. Would you trust a seller with no sales and 1 item? Then don’t expect your potential customers to! (I believe Etsy requires 8 items, but you get the idea). Make sure you’ve got a reasonable amount of stock. The forums are full of people asking how to get more views/sales, and the answer is always (after ‘better photographs’) “you need more stock”. Aim for at least 10–15 items before you open, then add more, and more, and more. More experienced people than me suggest 80–100 items is about the tipping point from “a few sales” to “looking like a professional business”.

Try and keep to a theme, even a vague one. The more professional looking shops have a theme and tend to stick to it. People will ‘get’ who you are. You might find your ‘hook’ is different than you thought… I started wanting to sell knitted items and patterns, but quickly found my sewn items sell much faster. And the sewn + geek items I can barely keep in stock. My best seller is something I only made for a custom request, but was quickly requested but 3 other people. I made a few more for the shop, and they sold. Be prepared to adapt, but ensure it’s still something you want to make!

Stock II

A slight aside, but did you know you can’t just use someone else’s pattern and sell the items you make from it? This does vary from country to country of course, but etiquette-wise it’s also true. If you’re creating patterns you’d be a bit pissy if someone else was using them to make cash, right? It’s rude, at the very least ask if you can, and accept it graciously if they say no. There’re many free-to-sell-from patterns out there, either use your own brain or pay the fee. They’re trying to make a living from their creativity also.  (If you’re selling patterns then you have to get them tested. For knitting patterns there are a few groups on Ravelry that will do so, some of them for free. You can also sell knitting patterns on Rav.)

Getting noticed

I do pay for advertising on Etsy, I find that it pays for itself after selling 1 item from it. YMMV. I’d say it’s not worth thinking about until you’ve got a reasonable amount of stock, about 30ish items, though.

Social media

You’re reading this, so you’re already reasonably IT literate. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a learning curve. You can’t set up an online shop and sit back. You might get a few sales, but in order to grow you need to let people know you’re out there. There are many, many blogs about online marketing, and in all honestly most of them will make you cry. So let’s start simple.

Set up a Facebook page (same rules as above, don’t launch it until it’s finished. It’ll look crappy and unprofessional). Get friends and family on board to like and share posts. They have people linked that you don’t, and they may also then share your work. FB is also a good place to post trial items, or custom orders, or for getting feedback. My first 10 or so customers were people I, or my family, know. Sure sometimes it’s just my mum (thanks mum!), but other times things will get shared more widely.

I’ve also set up a Twitter account, though it is mainly a repeat of the FB page, it’s worth reserving the username if it’s still available. It’s also worth following people on Etsy itself, either shops you like, or friends, it will give you some idea of what’s popular. If I have time, I peek at what people who’ve followed me also like.

Anyway…

Do feel free to add stuff in the comments. I do not know everything! I’ve only been going since Feb and am no-where near a real wage yet (oh, yeah, keep accounts, seriously, if you tip into needing to pay NI/tax, you’ll weep for weeks if you’ve not!), but I am near breaking even (ish, it depends on the sale/expenditure ratio that week!). Also, I might pick up some tips from you guys, which’d be ace 😉

Finally, if you want to see what I’ve done or buy my things, here are some links:

Adventures in Bread Making – Soda Bread

I have tried this one before, and it was an utter fail. I didn’t blog about it because of two very good reasons… 1) I faked buttermilk (milk and lemon juice) 2) my baking powder was 9 months out of date… I felt that even though it failed, it probably wasn’t the recipe’s fault, and it deserved a 2nd chance. So…

The only slight alteration I made was 100g of flour being wholemeal (we’re not keen on 100% white bread), it might make it a little tougher, but not considerably so

Ingredients

I tend to use oil in my bread, we don’t really keep butter in, but I happened to have butter on the side, nicely softened.

The dough was quite solid, similar to how my usual wholemeal breads (so, likely to turn out like a brick!). But, with the promise to myself that I’d follow the instructions, I persisted.

(As an aside, I don’t tend to line or grease my trays, I use polenta. I’d prefer to use fine cornmeal, but course/polenta is all I can really get hold of easily, so I make do. Such a hard life. Though it does make for a pretty bottom, and I do love a pretty bottom)

Pretty bottom

Like I say, the dough was tough, and I didn’t hold out much hope that it would rise much…

This is before resting:

And, erm… after…

Yeah, not holding out much hope at all at this point. My plan is that when the brick comes out I’ll chop it into chunks and suggest soup for dinner… (soup in our house generally means I’ve screwed up the bread)

Cue anxious time waiting for it to bake…

Well, that looks like bread!

You can just about see the lovely cracked surface where it’s expanded (the slashes are meant to prevent that a little bit)

Those little cracks gave me a bit of hope that this might actually work…

Another wait (you can eat it almost fresh from the oven, but it’s better if you leave it to cool for a while, the steam helps it keep moisture in)

A reasonable crumb! Hurrah!

It was in fact a little too crumbly, and we did have soup that night anyway. I do like soup, and soda bread does go really quite well with it

Just don’t put it in the toaster. I should’ve realised this when cutting it and this happened…

I do, however, now have a toaster that’s immaculate inside…

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