Completion!

Completion!

Our woods project is done!

I’ve been working on this for months in 30-45 minute installments with the girls while Katy was making lotion. 20 bags of garbage, scrap metal, rugs, rusty camping gear, and a discarded porch hauled out and three trees saved from invasive vines, but the real question was what to do with the big pieces of slate, granite, and hundreds of bricks we found all over our hill.

From the beginning, we wanted it to be a “re-arrangement” with nothing new brought in (albeit $5 of landscape fabric), and for it to have a Rivendell feel of ruins in the forest. The girls did their share of the hard work, and the seal of completion has been watching how much they love playing here now.

Here’s some pictures!

 Joel and Katy

#LoveYourForest

Marriage is hard in this season.

Marriage is hard in this season.

The other day I woke up at six, and Makayla, our five-year-old, was lying on the bed about a foot away staring at me (I wonder how long she was there??). I told her to go back to bed, and forty minutes later, I woke up again from Kelsey’s eye lashes against my eyelids. She’s three and doesn’t have Makayla’s sense of personal space. I opened my eyes, and her eyeballs were the only thing I could see, which is a an unsettling way to wake up.

And so, it goes.

Gone are the days of Katy and I waking up slowly together, brushing our teeth together, brewing the morning coffee, and putzing our way through breakfast. Sometimes, we still pause for things like a hug, but now it’s a hug of five, and it can feel like the marriage we’ve built one brick at a time for the last nine years is being unbuilt at the same slow, steady pace.  

On Saturday, I was paddling the Humble Bumble (my kayak) in the Rollinsford reservoir, towing Kelsey behind me in an innertube. Kayaks are designed to slice through the water in all the ways big innertubes with cupholders aren’t, so tying them together made it slow going, but I could hear her chipper, little voice exclaiming, “Wow! Good job, Daddy!” and it made it worth it.  

Katy was back at shore with Emma, while Makayla, who’s learning to swim, kicked around the shallows. Katy was beautiful standing there holding our baby, and I’m grateful to be married to such a terrific mom.

And yet, moments like these are why marriage is hard right now. Even when things are good, we’re often a hundred yards apart laughing and playing and taking care of different people.  

While we were there, an eagle swooped too close to the tall pines on the ridge overlooking the reservoir. There’s a falcon’s nest there, and peregrine falcons, which can dive at 240 mph, don’t hesitate to defend their nest, even against birds twice their size. The aerial combat that ensued was spectacular. After a few minutes of sorties ranging back and forth across the sky, the eagle withdrew.

The next day, we went to a wedding and listened to our friends vow, as we did, to cultivate a life together “until death do us part.” I want that life to be filled with joy—together. So, amidst everything, we’re reflecting on what makes it hard, and what makes it better. These are a couple of fresh habits that are breathing new life into our relationship that I thought I’d share.

  • At breakfast, we read to our kids and ask them lots of questions. It’s focused on them. Then, we banish the children from the kitchen, and we sit and have our coffee together (obviously Emma stays). If there’s protesting, I exclaim in a high-pitched voice, “No, no! Out! It’s Momma’s and I’s time! Up to your room!” and they run out, usually giggling. We tell them to get dressed or play, but they’re not allowed back in the kitchen.

 

  • While we’re making lunch, and immediately afterwards, we banish them from the kitchen again (most of our habits have to do with banishing). Like at breakfast, we focus on them for the meal, letting them talk with us about whatever they want, but before and after we process anything from the morning, deal with practical things from the business, and tell each other funny things the kids did.

It’s wonderful. I’m a much better father when I don’t feel like I’m losing Katy. I’m able to pour into Makayla and Kelsey, to affirm, treasure, and teach them, and I’m a much better husband. It keeps the buildup of life low. Instead of catching up on a day or a week or a month, we catch up a few times a day in short, intentional conversations that make me feel sane. Then, a few weeks go by, and I think to myself, “My goodness, I feel in love again.”

What you have with your kids and your spouse is precious beyond measure. Fight like a falcon.   

<3 Joel and Katy

#CelebrateFamily

Your Favorite Christmas Tradition 20 Years from Now

Your Favorite Christmas Tradition 20 Years from Now

This is the best tradition you can give your kids. Every year since I was born my parents have given me a Christmas ornament that had something to do with what happened that year. Our Christmas tree was 14′ tall, so there was plenty of room for all the ornaments and each of the kids had our own box of ornaments, which we had to hang ourselves.

For awhile, this was just something nice we did, one more present under the tree, another tradition.

But now my memories from those years have begun to fade. We’ve moved away from our family home of 25 years, my parents have gone to Africa, my grandparents have passed on, and providing for little kids has made it harder to remember when I was a little kid myself.

I love hanging my ornaments every year. It’s an annual reminder of how much we were loved growing up. Some are funny, some more serious, but mostly just lots and lots of treasured family memories from when we were all together. Here are some of my favorites:

Sometimes my mom let us stay up late reading series like the Wizard of Oz or Redwall and we would all sprint to bed as my dad drove up the driveway. One year we got Oz characters for ornaments. My sisters got Dorthy and the Scarecrow and my brother and I got the Lion and the Tin Woodman (my favorite character).

My first car was a red,1997, Nissan pickup truck named Tessie.
Katy says we’re never allowed to name a daughter after her.

from Mrs. T. when I was 5

one of the greatest teachers of all time

Katy’s 1st ornament from my mom and dad because she loves puzzles. Once we were on vacation and I woke up to her puzzling at 7 a.m. Who does that on vacation??

I proposed to Katy at Odiorne State Park on a rocky trail along the ocean. We went for a picnic at Prescott afterwards and ended the day with a fire on the beach. I was so distracted on the way to Odiorne I was pulled over. Nicest cop I’ve ever met.

Makayla’s 1st Christmas ornament. This year I told Katy I thought someone accidentally got us an ‘M’ instead of a ‘W’
“Umm That’s Makayla’s,” she said.
Oops 🙂

As a little girl, Katy’s grandma gave her sweet little ornaments of angels and woodland creatures. I, on the other hand, had a long stretch where my favorite thing was clowns, which can make for a pretty creepy Christmas tree. Every year Katy asks if she can get rid of another one 🙂

2013 was the last Christmas my grandmother was with us. She gave everyone these little ball ornaments with a folded up $20 bill inside. She was so tickled watching us open them. Now we put in a chocolate kiss for Makayla.

Katy’s Australian Heritage

All our trips to Ukraine

make sure you label them

That’s my favorite Christmas tradition. What’s yours? Comment below!

Phew, where did the Fall go??

Phew, where did the Fall go??

Most of the leaves have fallen and we find ourselves talking about who’s making the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Looking back over this fall, it was one of the best. Our favorite memories were…

Exploring New Places

training to be batman

being a captain

visiting the “ocean park”

taking time to ponder

Passing on Favorite Traditions

picking apples

going for picnics

Anytime We Were Together

being sisters

enjoying a final, windy day at Rye Harbor

trying to take a family picture

being goofballs

Anytime We Slept

Have a great Thanksgiving!!!

What are your favorite fall memories? Comment and tell us 🙂

Final Confessions

Final Confessions

The line, “Harry doesn’t know how to fail,” haunted me for years after I saw Armageddon. We fail often. There it is in its simplicity and its terror.

One of the first times I scaled our manufacturing, I made 500 soaps in a day, a new record for us. Unfortunately, some equipment changes muddled our temperature controls and the next day all the soaps were riddled with spots. They were okay to use, but not to sell. My heart sank. Things were financially thinner at the time and I reported to my wife the loss. Some failures recede with memory, but since we still sell these occasionally as 2nds, I have to inventory them every month. Literally counting my mistakes.

Running a business (and being alive) makes us want to highlight our successes and hide our failures. Whether it’s social media or coffee with friends, we tend to talk about new stores coming on, popular candle scents, and what’s on the horizon for next year. Failure rarely takes center stage.

Our biggest failure to date was the Boston Gift Show (BGS) in 2014.

Before participated in BGS, the most expensive events we had done were farmers markets and craft fairs. Tables or tent spaces usually cost $50-$100. Not long after taking on Joy Lane Farm, we had coffee with a former marketing rep from Stonewall Kitchen who recommended we try attending gift shows. There were some smaller, locally run shows that cost $800, but—to get the most out of the experiment–we thought we would skip over those to the big city. A booth in Boston cost $1,500. Since we had never done one before, we spent months researching, designing, and building a booth, coming up with line sheets, and printing order forms. We upcycled a set of kitchen cabinets into a portable kitchen so you could actually wash your hands with our soap at our booth.  We were stubbornly committed to only using money we made through soap sales. Since we hadn’t had Joy Lane Farm very long, the show was a massive—albeit absorbable—chunk of our budget. Looking back, the time invested was much more valuable.

As we got ready, we pictured Black Friday and the stories you hear of shoppers who were almost trampled. After all, it was Boston. We daydreamed: Hordes of buyers. Frenzied excitement. People rushing from booth to booth snatching up show specials and placing orders that stretched the limits of our increased inventory.

On setup day, Katy stayed home to take care of Makayla. Right up to when I arrived, my hopes were high. I wound my way around the bases of Boston skyscrapers following my GPS to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. There were hundreds of booth spaces stretching out like a giant encampment. Birds flew around in the ceiling high above. I caught my breath and texted Katy, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

I should have known during setup that something was wrong. The option of renting grungy grey carpets at exorbitant prices might have tipped me off. If I had wandered a couple aisles over from our “New England Made” section, I would have seen rows of cheap t-shirts and junky souvenirs made overseas. Instead, I went about nervously setting up our booth space. Buyers were coming.

With 250 sale sheets printed, I stood at my booth early the next day waiting for the show to begin. George, another business owner a few booths over, arrived late and was setting up as buyers entered. I remember wondering if floods of people would pass him by because he wasn’t ready.

Then the trickle started. A few buyers coming down the escalator at the end of the hall. Then the trickle stopped. It started again. It got slower. It ceased altogether. Looking down the corridor of booths, you could see vendors standing by expectantly as single buyers made their way from showcase to showcase.

We didn’t make back the money we invested in BGS. We definitely didn’t make back the time. Other vendors said to come again, that a lot of stores like to buy from you your second time, but the loss was a little too big to justify returning. Earlier this year, I received this email from BGS:

“Dear Valued Exhibitor,

We wanted to let you know that the 2017 Boston Gift Show has been indefinitely postponed. We are currently evaluating the New England marketplace and will keep you posted on any future changes or additions to the schedule.”

The big city wasn’t the land of Oz we thought it was. We should have researched more; we should have walked the show; we should have been less dazzled about vending down the road from the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Pops.

In his book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins talks about growing great companies amidst uncertain times and chaotic forces. His book changed my view of failure. Instead of a “never fail” model, his research points to companies that fail intentionally by trying lots of small things (knowing that most of them won’t work) and then investing in the ones that yield results.

The Portsmouth Farmers Market is a great example of that. Our expectations were low the first time we went, but we wanted to try it as a small experiment (around the same time that we did BGS). It was low cost and the preparation was minimal. Since it went well, we invested in better signs and better displays. We committed to being there every week and began the regimen of 5:30 a.m. Saturdays to make it possible.

And it’s been awesome. We love our customers. We love the stores that found us at the market. It’s part of why we’re able to do Joy Lane Farm full-time. A small experiment that worked well and turned into something bigger.

What are your small experiments? What are you trying out?

Neighbors setup and ready to go

Market View of Portsmouth

Market Sunrise

Confessions II

Confessions II

Downtown Portsmouth

It’s a little embarrassing, but between Katy and I, I’m the one who loves to shop. Katy shops like my dad (who shops like an assault squad). Every errand is a military operation maximizing one ratio:

In this ratio, as in life, time is also money. If we only need a couple things, one of us stays in the car with Makayla while the other runs into the store. At Market Basket, we move from right to left with our grocery list, thanks to Katy, arranged by aisle. It’s steady and organized. Once I picked out items based on white sticker prices instead of orange, but that was a rookie mistake and I’ve learned to follow Katy’s lead.

As for me, I’m more of a downtown Portsmouth kind of shopper; I like to browse; I like to buy things not on the list (I don’t make lists); I like window shopping.

remember when all our shopping systems ground to a halt?

One of the things we never expected with Joy Lane Farm was how much shopping there would be. Before candle supplies came on pallets we had them delivered to our apartment. There was a large pile of boxes outside our door and Ian, a little boy who lived down the hall, exclaimed, “Woah, look at all the packages!!” Inwardly, I was saying the same thing.

I’ve always loved getting mail, but getting it as an adult hadn’t been what I thought it would be. I’m not sure why, as a child, I pictured my parents opening handwritten letters from dear friends. Most days our mailbox is crammed with political mailers, credit card offers, and keys that might open a treasure chest in Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank.

Once we took on Joy Lane Farm, packages were always coming and we’re still excited to open them. There’s a thrill in a pallet of American soy wax, a jug of lavender essential oil, or handmade chalkboard tags.

one of our first pallets

upcycled into a soap mold

As you would expect, Katy and I enjoy very different parts of business shopping. Katy has spreadsheets and calendars for all our regular items. She excels at maximizing shipping, maintaining inventory, and keeping dozens of companies in view where we get everything from olive oil to shipping boxes.

On my side of the company, when someone says, “I love your packaging,” they’re commenting on countless hours spent searching, sifting, designing, prototyping, redesigning, and stumbling upon the “end result” we love. Exploration, artistry, and luck. Efficient? Not exactly. As it turns out, Simple really is Beautiful, but also more complex and intricate than we thought.

All of this makes one thought resonate every day: Thank goodness for Katy.

She is my complement in every way.

Early on (God-willing, it’s still very early on), we had to decide if owning a business meant splitting tasks equally or splitting them by our strengths. There’s things neither of us are good at, of course, and those we both shoulder, but generally it’s become easy to see who’s better suited for what:

I handle sales, research and development, and long-term strategy. I discover, dream, and build relationships.

Katy handles accounting (thank goodness), manufacturing, and day-to-day planning. I guess I actually make the soap and candles, but Katy decides what and when and cuts and labels everything. She builds systems, makes things efficient, and figures out the best way to do something a thousand times after I’ve done it once.

One of my favorite leadership authors, Marcus Buckingham, says, “Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”

In 2004, I heard his talk, “The One Thing You Need to Know.” It changed my life.

One of the biggest gifts Katy has given to me is making it possible for me to work in my strengths.

Marcus Buckingham

The hard part of owning a business is that when it’s small, we have to do everything, which means working outside our strengths is necessary. The heart-stirring part is that, as it grows, we get to operate in our strengths more and more. We get to cultivate Joy Lane Farm into an ecosystem where people’s passions and talents are valued more than the bottom line.

Katy reminds me that the bottom line matters; it pays for groceries and someday those won’t just be our groceries, but also our employees’. Thankfully, we believe that as companies pour into people’s passions, their bottom line grows as well. This in turn allows them to invest in even more people who get to experience the thrill of working in their strengths.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are your passions? What are your strengths? What do you love to do most?

Before you go, here are a couple of my favorite things I’ve found while shopping…

a briefcase I found on craigslist from a gentleman who was retiring

all our stainless steel tables I found at a scrap metal yard

the most cherished things can’t be bought…
this is a painting by Katy’s grandfather

Until next time,

Joel

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