Oct 24, 2011

We're home!

It took five months, but finally, no more twice-daily drives to milk the goats! At first, I would find myself picking up my keys at chore time, only to have to remind myself that I'm already there, that I can simply walk outside, as it's supposed to be.

And I got my dog back! Since the night of the fire, he'd been living in the nice, big yard at my sister's house. I would visit him each evening after chores, but that's not the same as having him follow me around the house, sleep beside my bed, or insist I rub his belly with my feet while I sit at my desk.

An independent expert (i.e. my mom) confirmed that five months is the longest I have ever lived without a dog - ever! Thank goodness I was albe to take my indoor cats to the apartment with me or I would've gone stark raving berzerk.

But enough about all that. What does the move home mean for the business? It means I can resume production of all of my products, as soon as I get all the boxes unpacked, of course. One silver lining of the fire was that it gave me the chance to completely overhaul the organization of my soap factory. Only a few weeks before the fire, I had annexed a second room in the house for soapmaking, just in time to have to move the whole shebang into the living room of a one bedroom apartment. The new layout should help to make me more efficient, allowing me to make more soap and products with the same limited number of hours each day.

Now there may still be some shortages as far as the soap goes. Production interruptions, such as moving your business into a building the contractor hasn't finished repairing, don't manifest for about a month (the soaps need four weeks to cure; that's why they last so long). I am fully confident, however, that I'll be able to keep the tables full of product for the last two months of this year and beyond.

Sep 26, 2011

Can you believe it?

Ten years.

As of this month, the 15th to be specific, Wild Heaven Farm has been selling soap for ten years. Ever since that first sunny autumn morning at Rockwood Park, where I laid out six fragrances of soap and corresponding bath bombs and waited with baited breath. The soaps were in plain rectangles and were priced individually as they varied wildly in weight. The bath bombs would disintegrate if you looked at them too hard, let alone did anything complicated like put them in the customer's bag. Our display was an old rust-dusted metal shoe rack we found in a shed, covered with a scrap yard of crushed velvet. We probably only had one or two stuffed goats to bring out the theme. I don't even remember if we had a sign. If memory serves, and it only barely did even before the lightning, we made $135 that day and I was over the moon.

Nowadays, we have over two dozen fragrances in the soap, as well as lotion, body butter, lip balm, brown sugar scrub, shaving products and baby products. It wasn't a straight shot between there and here, of course. In the last decade, we've been through two house fires, an additional major renovation, four spinal surgeries (my husband), chronic pain in both hands (me), mysterious animal plagues, and other tales of woe. (This year alone saw snow in April, a tornado, and a hurricane.) Of course, we've also hired our first sales associate, put together a really respectable and goat-y display, gotten into bigger and better shows, been interviewed for radio, tv, and print, and seen our product find a special place in the lives of our loyal customers (or as I like to call you all, “my constituency,” though I like to pronounce it like this).

By lucky hap, through the fires and moves, a few old pictures of our erstwhile displays have surfaced and by an absolute miracle, I managed not to lose them a second time. Check it out.

This was 2002 or 2003, at Clover Hill High. My sister Johanna made the signs for me.

Here you can see the beginnings of our current display. This was probably 2006 at the Pungo Strawberry Festival. It's almost embarrassing to look back on now, but I was pretty proud of what I'd put together at that point.

Now, of course, the display goes a little somethin' like this.

Speaking of bigger and better, keep your eyes on our website for a fresh new look courtesy of the best techie I could ever hope to work with. Alan Francis really is the small business person's web developer. I urge all my business-owner readers to engage his services for establishing your internet presence or finally getting a website that properly represents you to your customers.

Jul 19, 2011

Our New Logo!

Be on the look-out for our stylish new logo, designed by Alan Francis, tech genius.

It's a simplified version of the logo we've used for half the life of the business. It will work better in both large applications, like banners, and very small applications, like labels, than the old logo. The new design will infiltrate slowly, mostly as we use up stuff with the old logo on it.

If this image looks familiar, that's because it's also the basis of our custom-made soap molds and their resultant new soap shapes.

In case you missed it...

It was kind of a big deal. I got struck by lightning and my house burnt up. If you haven't heard me run at the mouth with all the details, jump over here for the whole story.

Things are pretty good in my little flat down the road. The executive decision had to be made, though, to only produce soaps until I'm back at the farm where I belong. If you need any skin care or baby products, I have a few on hand, but I won't be making any batches of anything until probably mid-September. Many of those products don't ship in the summer anyway because of their meltiness.

Now for some good news: The website is back in action (apart from products I never ship in the summer), so you can order individual bars again, and the Mixed Bags will still be there.

Jun 5, 2011

File this under "R"...

for "Are you kidding me with this nonsense?"

Saturday May 14th started out swimmingly; had a bonzer day at Williamsburg Farmers Market, then went straight to my nephew Rieley's (of Life of Rieley fame) eighth birthday party, where there were spiders and lizards and snakes, oh my. With a friend over visiting, I was fifteen minutes late getting outside to do evening chores. What a difference a few minutes can make. You'll see why as our story of woe and bloody great annoyance unfolds.

After milking goat two of six, it began to rain, and hard. Whether I try to get outside before the storm and wait as late as I can to let it pass, I will invariably be doing evening chores in the heaviest part of the rain, so I've long since given up trying to time it just right.

As I was closing the metal gate latch behind the fourth goat, there was a tremendous, colossal CRACK. In nearly the same instance, a strong feeling of uninvited electricity went through my body. As I fell back into the mud (perhaps from voltage-type shock, perhaps simply from surprise-type shock), three thoughts occurred to me in rapid succession: 1) "Stupid electric fence!" 2) "The electric fence isn't on." 3) "I've been struck by lightning."

You heard it here first -- your friendly neighborhood goat lady was on the receiving end of wee dram of Nature's fury. (Wanna hear me say it outloud? Check out the news clip.) It took a minute for my hand to obey me again, at which point, with immeasurable trepidation, I latched the gate and milked Cyan, one of our Alpines. I didn't even want to touch the gate to put her back, but there were still two more to do. Trouble was, those last two goats wouldn't come out of their barn. After a minute or two of unsuccessful calling in a rain heavy enough to soak through my Carhardt coat, I decided to pop into the house and check out the weather radar - if there would be a break in the clouds shortly, I could just wait.

It was as I was approaching the laundry room door, the windows of which are covered with paper to exclude sunlight in an effort to keep the house cool, that I saw light within. My first response was "He [my husband, Kevin] can never turn off that light behind himself." Then I saw that the light was all orange and wavy-like. Throwing open the door, I found the wall and floor of our laundry room aflame, fueled in part by the piles of stuff perpetually waiting to be sorted and put away properly. It's the wall abutting the kitchen, my favorite room in the house.

I hollered for Kevin, who had been outside closing the car windows when the lightning struck, to call 911 but he had seen the fire and was hustling the dogs out to his woodshop for safety. Unfortunately, the rain, which came all at once instead of off-and-on throughout the day as predicted, had soaked through his jeans double-time and rendered his phone inoperable.

Grabbing the garden hose, I tried to suppress the fire, as did Kevin was an industrial-sized fire extinguisher, the origin of which was never clear to me, but it would reignite almost as soon as we got it out. The fire was in the wall, where the blown-in cellulose insulation smolders like a cigar, deviously allowing you to think you've gotten it under control.

Kevin braved the thick, stinging smoke to get my phone off my desk while I threw open doors and windows to provide escape routes for our two housecats, who I could only assume were upstairs, beyond my reach no matter how much I squinted or held the collar of my t-shirt over my mouth and nose. Little Brother, our ginger tabby, was later seen to have fled, but our white cat Ichi was nowhere in site.

Part 2

The fire crews arrived quickly, since we're within five miles of three fire houses. In fact, some of the firemen who attended this fire had also responded to our fire the week before Christmas six years ago. They probably aren't used to repeat business like that.

We retreated to the milkhouse, after I told every fireman I could get near to look for Ichi, and helplessly watched. Smoke poured from soffits all over the house. It looked like most of the building was involved. We could see the firemens' lights as they Linkmoved around the house. Windows were being broken out, charred cabinets were hastily thrown on the patio, they even chainsawed a four foot by two foot hole in the upstairs hallway wall, clear through to the outside.

There was a great deal of activity in the bedroom above the fire, the guest room that I hope will someday be the permanent abode of Alan Francis, my Englishman. "He's never gonna move here if his bedroom catches fire," was just one of the things I said that made the police officer who had arrived on scene first look at me funny. "This ain't even our first fire," I said, to explain the lack of tears and general sense of irritation rather than panic.

Watching all this, all I could think was "Not again. It was so difficult last time," and "I'm finished. I'll be wiped out this time for sure." You see, after the heat and smoke of the last fire ruined my equipment, supplies and inventory, it took me eighteen months to find the financing I needed to restart my business. A glimmer of hope came in the form of a handsome blond fireman who said he could smell the patchouli soap as they were going through the house. Well, that had to be good, right?

The other thing I was contending with was a female fireman (and yes, I'm leaving that gender contradiction in there) who was very keen on the idea of me being cleared medically. I couldn't stand the thought of being carted off to hospital and not being able to keep an eye on what was going on. I would've been able to resist her if my mother and one of my sisters hadn't shown up just then. Maybe I could get past the female fireman, but I'd never be able to get past my mom, so off to the ambulance I went. "What's your primary complaint?" the EMT asked me. "This fireman chick wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to get checked out," I said, being slightly cheeky. My vitals were fine and I even got to change into some (very temporarily) dry clothes that they'd fetched out of the house for me, though I felt guilty because Kevin was still soaked to the bone.

So the firemen finally get the blaze doused, tearing open holes in the walls and ceiling to look for hot spots. I've always found it ironic that the people putting out the fire can do more damage than the fire itself. After a quick chat with a WTVR photog who turned up, we were escorted inside to get valuables and such. The whole time we were sitting on the miking stand watching the goings-on, Kevin and I were picturing the damage from the last fire, the images worsening in our minds as the minutes ticked by. It wasn't nearly as bad this time. In fact, as we walked around pointing at damaged things and being thrilled that the weren't more damaged, the fireman escorting us actually said, "You might be the happiest fire victim I've ever seen."

The insurance company, Liberty Mutual, is taking very good care of us. Our belonging went to specialized cleaning companies, who can't throw anything out without me signing off on it, as opposed to last time when the clean-up company binned half of our stuff right off the bat (and a lot of undamaged or easily cleanable things were never seen again). They're also paying for me to stay in this nice little apartment from which I'm writing this newsletter. I still have to drive to the farm twice a day for milking and, for the first 20 days after the fire and the standard shutting off of power and water to the house, had to haul buckets of water for the goats. Thankfully, as of Friday, a plumber fixed it so one spigot is functional.

What does all this mean for the business? As you may have seen if you've seen us recently, some of our labels were a little schmutzy, but apart from that, the business got off scot-free. ...Well, maybe not that well. While we didn't lose much product to the fire, a lot of soaps slid from their drying racks and got jumbled together during the move. If you'll look in the website, you'll see that we're now selling perfectly-good, randomly-mixed, unlabeled soap by the pound. No sense letting it go to waste.

The contractor thinks the repairs will take three months, so operations will be shoe-horned in here for the duration. The insurance company thinks it will take five months, but I seriously hope they're wrong. This situation cannot go into the fourth quarter or I'll be in a right pickle.

So that's where we are, milking goats at one place and making soap in another. It's not gonna be easy, but like they say, nothing worthwhile ever is.

P.S. Ichi turned up the next day, so everyone's present and accounted for.

Jan 22, 2011

What a Year

Hope yours was as good as ours, soap fans.

We really rocked it out in 2010, expanding to new venues, adding to our product line, and enhancing our display. And we've got no plans to slow down in 2011. Here are a few teasers:

After a good first year, we're looking forward to bringing back our CSA, a program guaranteed to save regular local customers money. We're negotiating booth spaces with popular farmers markets even now. You can read more about it online.

Kidding season
The most wonderful time of the year around here, though I'm not exactly sure when it will be. We'll probably have 10 kids born this season and you'll be able to watch them live in their box in the living room.

We've had our current logo for more than four years (an eternity for someone as hyper as me), so it's time for a new look! Keep your eyes open for our new logo (actually a different take on the current logo) to begin appearing online, on product labels and even as a soap mold.

With great clarity, I have recently come to realize that I can't possibly grow my business without some more hands. To this end, we will be offering part-time employment in production and sales later this year.

A Goat by Any Other Name
Over the past nine years, we have named lots of baby goats, passles and scads of them. To help us come up with enough names (often a dozen or so), we like to have a theme. We've done everything from cars, to Lord of the Rings characters, to herbs and spices. It's January already and we haven't chosen this year's theme. What do you think would make a good naming theme for our baby goats? Things like constellations (i.e. Orion), nuts (i.e. Filbert), and Warner Brothers cartoon characters have already been suggested. Chime in here or on our Facebook page.

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