Thursday, January 1, 2015

Wrapping up 2014, It's a New Year!

I'm very much a forward thinker and rarely think about past disappointments. Luckily this year was a pretty darn good year to remember.

Our last 2 chickens.
We didn't have any pet deaths, thankfully, and only lost 2 chickens because they were given back to my neighbors when they returned from Hawaii. It was a sad transfer but their original yard is deep in the forest with lots of worms and Blueberries to enjoy. We hope to get more rescue Chickens and are even contemplating raising Bees! I've switched so much of my sugar consumption to honey that it really does make sense so I'm trying to develop a bee and bird friendly habitat.

My mail carrier is wonderful, I would die w/out Debbie!
My blog title "wrapping up" 2014 is appropriate because this past year I shipped over 400 items from my etsy shops and ebay. Setting lofty goals in 2014, my expectations were exceeded! I've streamlined shipping, designating an area that my friend Cindy helped me set up. My only frustration has been the tape dispenser that will soon be beaten to a pulp!

My favorite flower photo of 2014, one of Ted's Dahlias.
I continue to shop responsibly, bringing reusable bags and mugs everywhere I go. Keeping two bags in my purse and backups in the car! I've also started emailing junk mail companies to remove me from their mailings. Our disposables are showing up in our oceans and is deadly to wildlife.

Lot's of balloon landings around our house on Forsythia Hill.
I still use grocery coupons but have changed my habits to include more fresh organic vegetables and fruit instead of cardboard boxed items. Coupons for produce are far and few between but I still managed coupon savings of nearly $1,200.00. I'm still keeping my life pledge to only purchase organic eggs hoping the treatment of the hen is better.

Crowned Slug Moth Caterpillar hiding in leaf litter.
Gardening for me is constantly evolving. Initially I grew for food, then incorporated flower gardening because of the beauty and diversity. Now my focus is on the creatures that need our plants to survive and how to best support their habitat. I stumbled upon a few interesting critter activities that were totally foreign to me. If I had not been photographing my garden, I never would have noticed an amazingly strange bug and a bee living in my cut Peony stem. I've changed my garden ways of totally cutting back stems and clearing out beds until I'm pretty sure that critters have finished doing their thing. I've also learned that organic and natural remedies for killing "bad bugs" is not always a good thing. A friend informed me that my sprinkling of Cayenne Pepper to deter Deer can harm Bees!

I video taped the refinishing of my freecycle find.
This Spring I will focus on rooting cuttings instead of growing seedlings. Something I've never mastered and have a big fail rating as far as that goes. I'll have to provide bottom head inside and better control the process in order to succeed. I have big plans to put in trees in the front yard, probably Magnolias among others (but husband assistance is required so we'll see how that goes).

Cute Coffee Cup set for sale in my vintage shop.
On the home front, I hope that we find a flooring solution for our basement and paint our shed (a rollover from 2014). We continue to make progress each year with a few minor improvements that seemed pretty major at the time! We still love the kitchen floor that we installed in 2014 and somehow still remain married after it was all said and done.

Wishing you a happy 2015, let's focus on the positive, support one another, and be kind to our amazing planet.

Beautiful barn in Tennessee when visiting the in-laws.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

USPS Mailing Tips

My packages awaiting pickup.
It's that magical time of year when often people show their worst side while standing in the dreaded Post Office line. In Charlottesville, you are guaranteed a long wait at any of the three main offices. Some of the best post offices to go to during the Holiday season are the small rural stations. My personal favorite is in Ivy. A teeny post office conveniently attached to a cute garden center out of a scene from Dr. Zhivago or It's a Wonderful Life.

If I had to go to the USPS 365 days a year.
After years of selling online, I have acquired many tips from my mail carrier. Last year I set the goal to sell one item each day and I actually exceeded this goal. Driving to the post office 365 days a year would not only be insane but time consuming! I would have shut my business down or gone postal if I had not changed my shipping habits. Standing in line is one of my least favorite things to do (inherited from my Grandmother English who was a notorious butt in liner). The only thing I miss about not going to the Cville Central Post Office is that I no longer run into Charlottesville's finest. On several trips, I wished I had taken my camera. I never figured out why the lady with the pink curlers was in the line to get a passport photo!

My vintage mailbox, an old door knob as the pull handle.
If you mail a lot of packages your first step is to upgrade to a bigger mailbox. I found our jumbo box at the Habitat Restore. When stuffing in the packages, arrange it so they all can be seen or attach a note with the package quantity (a substitute carrier missed one of my packages that was hiding in the back dark corner).

Debbie my exceptional mail carrier with my packages.
My mail carrier is what I will call a "full service carrier". I complained to her that I had to go to the post office and stand in line to get stamps. She looked at me and said, why did you do that, you know I have you covered! I never knew that stamps and other postal products can be ordered directly from your mail carrier! She handed me an orange envelop that can be filled out and placed my box along with a check. You can even request specific types of stamps, I think we often forget that behind the mailbox is a person that can make your life easier. In a pinch, you can also get a first class (.49 cent stamp), at the grocery store.

Gazing over Forsythia Hill instead of driving to the USPS.
Even with a big mailbox, often packages are too large to fit. After complaining AGAIN to my mail carrier about the long lines and wait, she told me to just pop the flag up and slip a piece of paper in my box saying there was a package at my door and she would drive up and get it. She always says, we want your business! Prearrange this process with your carrier, it's been working smoothly for 2 years for me on Forsythia Hill.

My organized shipping supply closet.
In four years of online selling, I have never purchased boxes, bubble wrap, wrapping paper, or peanuts. I have a strong commitment to reusing shipping materials. It not only saves money but it's environmentally responsible. Materials can be found on freecycle and from local businesses. My mother picks up boxes from a local optical shop in Roanoke and they are happy to unload them. My father has dementia and removing the labels is a way for him to participate in my business venture and he looks forward to it!

Sylvie my Shipping Manager oversees the action.

Because I recycle so many boxes, I asked my carrier what would happen if I mailed a package First Class but the box had a Priority Mail sticker left on it. She said the postal carrier would have to collect the extra postage on the other end! So if you are recycling boxes, make sure you remove all the old stickers!

My biggest dilemma was how to ship golf clubs. One day when browsing through the FREE USPS mailing boxes. I stumbled upon a FREE box that holds such a thing! EUREKA! Some items are what they classify as flat rate which means there is a set mailing price regardless of the package weight (if it fits it ships for that flat price), others are just priority boxes and you will be charged a varying priority rate based on the weight.

Don't be a chicken - just ask!
You can print mailing labels from your home in paypal. There are also online companies that you can buy insurance from, often cheaper than the postal rate and less of a hassle if you have to file a loss. Instead of buying expensive sticky labels, I print directly on a regular piece of paper and use shipping tape to completely cover and adhere it on to the package.

Don't be afraid to talk to your mail carrier. It can be a game changer and make your life so much easier!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Alternative Gift Giving

Desperate for a gift, maybe this Cow Necklace fits the bill.
There may be someone on your Christmas Giving list that is just plain hard to shop for. Don't despair, there are alternative gift choices for that person that seems to have everything or no longer wants anything!

or how about a nice Wide Tie ?
The other side of the coin is to sit down and think about what you are really trying to convey this holiday season. Gift giving is an expression of love, thoughtfulness, and kindness. I always try to purchase something meaningful, but often, out of despair buy something that I fear has little interest. A Soap on a Rope that will go unused hanging in a shower as a show piece for 25 years, only to acquire a nice coating of dust and dirt, seems a waste of a thoughtful gift moment!

Mom giving me a sack of Corn Meal for Xmas.
Why don't we instead select a local charity and make a gift in honor or in memory. Holidays are often tough for those that have lost someone during the holiday season. Sadly my Grandmother passed on Christmas Day and it was her favorite holiday. An "in memory" donation might be the best gift you could make.

My sweet Daisy Doodle, found at the shelter.
Because of my long involvement in Animal Rescue, I tend to donate to agencies that benefit animals. Think about the person you are giving to and if they or the person you are memorializing liked animals. I can't think of a nicer thing to do than to make a donation in honor of a friend and their beloved pet(s).

Local private animal rescue agencies have to spend countless hours begging (and I mean begging) for funding. It's often thought that local SPCA's receive funding from the national ASPCA, Humane Society of the US, or Federal or State funding. They do not. The only situation where a local SPCA receives county funding is when it operates the state mandated Animal Shelter. This is a rarity in Virginia but is actually the case in Charlottesville but funds only cover the collection and housing of animals, they do not cover spay neuter, vaccines, or other humane outreach. Many local humane societies struggle to keep the doors open and giving to them is a direct benefit to your community.

Saved by Animal Control with HOWS involvement.
I seek out agencies that work "in the trenches" or are located in low income areas as they tend to need extra support. Last year Voices for Animals in Charlottesville merged with Houses of Wood and Straw (HOWS) and both groups do amazing work for our local animals. If you have ever been involved in animal rescue, some of the saddest cases are animals left outside 24 x 7. Both of these groups help animals, that in my opinion, are the most needy in our community.

Now you get it ?
This year I received notice that the Humane Society that I worked for 5 years ago was CLOSING. Donations had trickled to a near stop. The group had worked so hard to help the animals that fundraising took a backseat. County shelter euthanasia rates had dropped to historic lows but so did donations. Fortunately, animal lovers heard the cry and donations flooded in. Grants were also written to help fund spay neuter programs. The Pulaski County Humane Society operates in a part of Virginia that has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the state. The last thing this community needs is to have an "in the trenches" group close.

Many privately run animal groups are teetering between opening and closing. This is not an uncommon case since they are rarely supported by local tax revenue like other charitable agencies. Think of how much work could be directed to helping the animals if a regular check came in the mail to support their programs!

Two more of my babies saved by the Humane Society.
I have talked about a non-profit sector that I personally know well but there are many agencies that do good deeds in your own community that can benefit from your charitable gift this time of the year. A meaningful gift is the best gift!

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