Thanks, Etsy shoppers, for my inability to sleep!

Last year we were dragging ourselves out of a financial mess. After many months of being severely underemployed, our situation was slowing improving with new jobs. But we didn’t yet have any funds for Christmas. I wondered if I could generate a few dollars to provide Christmas for our family of eleven—nine children, plus an in-law and a grandchild. We’ve never spent a lot at Christmas—about $50 a person—but our budget by October was literally nothing. (Writing novels and giving them away for free doesn’t produce much income; go figure.)

I’ve always been crafty, had read about successes on Etsy, and wondered if I any success could be mine. So after several prototypes and a few failures, I came up with this:

House Elf (Dobby) Laundry Room Sign--A fun place to store those single socks

I liked it, wanted one, and hoped maybe someone else would, too. Nervously I put it up for sale.

About a week later someone bravely took a chance on my new shop and . . .

 . . . bought one!

In my head I thought, “That’s enough profit to buy one paperback for a child!”
Then another one sold.
“I can buy a used DVD!”
Then another, and another.
“A handful of matchbox cars! A Minion t-shirt!”

And then the avalanche hit, mid-November. One week, the payment that went into my bank account on Monday was in the triple digits—over $100.

I was ecstatic. And stunned. And overwhelmed. I needed to get cutting more wood and painting and packaging, quick! Get the kids to help—it’s their Christmas we’re buying, after all.

The avalanche grew, and by the second week of December I realized something astonishing: we had earned enough to have a regular Christmas.

I was both humbled and thrilled. My faith in the free market system was also restored as I realized that people all over America were buying my little sock holder, and giving my family a Christmas.

My oldest daughter, whose birthday was in December, said, “Mom, years ago you tried making a Harry Potter/Mrs. Weasly clock. I think you should try it again. I really want one for my birthday.”

I hesitated. What I had made as prototypes were beautiful, but since there were out of solid wood they were heavy, bulky, and ridiculously expensive.

“So try something else,” my daughter was persistent. (Oldest children tend to be the naggiest.) “See what’s out there now. I really want a Harry Potter clock for my apartment.”

My husband and I searched all the hobby stores looking for ideas, but nothing that was reasonably priced. Finally I decided to try a trick I’d done years ago for Mother’s Day gifts: I purchased a clock, dismantled it, made a new face, and reassembled it again. I showed the prototype to my daughter who said, “Very good. Now start selling these on Etsy.”

Harry Potter Clock, 8.75 inches

Why would anyone want this? I mean, I loved, loved coming up with the fonts, designing the face, creating the sayings, but would anyone want it?

I also made the Geek/Nerd clock for fun. For years I’d thought such a clock needed to exist, so I designed it and listed it just in case.

Geek Nerd Clock, 8.75 inches

I got an order here, another one there. But it was January, and things were normally slow. I ran into shipping problems, packaging problems, other worries, and stressed about my ability to make something consistently good enough. I almost, almost pulled the clocks from Etsy.

Why was I so arrogant as to assume someone would find my tinkering worth $21?

Someone was, in Australia. Would I ship a Harry Potter clock internationally? Uh, I guess I could . . . and I realized that international shipping wasn’t that tough.

I also hadn’t understood before the power of websites like Buzzfeed and ThinkGeek and other sites that stroll around the web looking for something mildly interesting, then posting about it.

Someone thought my Harry Potter clock was mildly interesting, put it on a piece about decorating with Harry Potter decor, and within one day I was sold out. An avalanche of orders and requests came, half of them internationally. Gee, people still love Harry Potter as much as we did?

The next month that happened again, with my Geek/Nerd clocks. Several websites picked those up, and in one day I had over 50 requests for those clocks. And the next day, and the next. Every time I opened my email I cringed in worry about how many more requests there would be. It took me three weeks to catch up to the demand. I’d never been afraid of my email before.

etsyshop header

(I realize the name of the shop isn’t too representative of what I sell. I initially was going to sell something completely different, for which the name made sense, but that didn’t pan out. With no idea of what else to name my shop, and not thinking I’d sell more than 30 items, I just kept the old name. In a way, it works. At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

Overwhelmed, I stared at my Etsy stats as they reached numbers I’d never seen before. And when a weekly payments went into my bank account that month sporting four figures, I could do nothing but stare at it.

The timing (ha!) was perfect. We had some major financial needs to fill, and the sales—and my working about 40 hours a week to make all of the products—filled it.

Then another website posted about my sock signs, and someone found out I made Star Wars key signs. More avalanches.

Star Wars key holder

By June my sales had leveled off, but I realized I could quit my part-time job and work from home, never leaving the house to earn money, but always being available for my kids. Another welcomed, wonderful miracle. Etsy buyers were consistently paying for our groceries each month. And for a family of eight, that’s a few dollars. I’ve added a Disc World clock (my personal favorite), a Lord of the Rings clock, a Disney Princess activity clock, and two Star Wars clocks–Light Side and Dark Side, whatever your preference may be.

Have I ever mentioned before that we’re a bit geeky at our house?

Now, a little over a year since I started, I’m once again overwhelmed—happily—with orders for Christmas. There’s no time to work on my books, or keep my blog updated (except for this). Our Christmas is already paid for this year, and now we’re hoping to pay for someone else’s. This bounty is also letting me donate $1 from every DiscWorld/Terry Pratchett clock I sell to the Alzheimer’s Association, and much of our proceeds from last week and this week will be donated to help the Syrian refugees via the LDS Church’s humanitarian organization.

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It’s tough to be three years old and see giant rolls of bubble wrap in your mom’s room, just waiting to be used. Even tougher when you sneak in her room and start popping the rolls when you think she can’t see you. Amazing how she still hears it, though . . .

A year ago, I never would have suspected I’d sell over one thousand products, a number I hit a week or so ago. I realize that for a lot of Etsy sellers that’s not a big number. But I’m not used to success. This feels huge! I’ve sold to every state in the union, and sent orders to a dozen other countries. My kids enjoy seeing the places where our little ditties fly off to.

But there are some disadvantages to working from home. Try this: go to your place of work or business, get your pillow and blanket, then have a good night’s sleep there.

Yeah, not too easy, is it? My storage and packaging room is also my bedroom. We have a small house and a large family, and while we’re down to only 5/6 kids (depending who’s home from college/army), every room is filled with kids, so my bedroom is also where I keep my orders chart, my shipping boxes, etc. When I lay down at night, I stare at the shelves crammed with work that needs to go out in the morning. Not the most restful.

Nor can I get away from it. When you work out of the house, you can leave your job and relax at home. But even as I sit here happily typing away and “relaxing”, I see out of the corner of my eye the stack of shipping labels that will be taped to packages tomorrow, and while I never work on Sundays (I desperately need a day of rest and renewal) my job sits there, watching me, waiting for early Monday morning . . .

But that’s ok—I don’t mind. I’m fine losing a bit of sleep because of success.
It’s a lot tougher to lose sleep because of failures.
I’ve been down that road.
This one’s a lot better. Thank you for this sleepless journey!

What you should say to people who offend you

At a neighborhood dinner I sat by a woman whose daughter had just gotten married. Since my oldest was planning her wedding, the conversation naturally turned to expenses. I told her we were investing in buying decorations since we’d have more weddings in the future, and were trying to keep down costs by doing everything ourselves.

“Well, you have to do that,” she told me, with what seemed to be a haughty glance, “since you have so many children. I, however, have only one daughter, so my husband and I decided to show her just how important she is to us. We’ve gone into sizable debt for her wedding, but she’s worth it. When you have only one, you treasure her all the more.”

I was stunned silent. Was she insinuating that I didn’t treasure my four daughters? That I had too many kids to show proper attention to? That I was cheap?

Fortunately for both of us, more people joined our table, and the conversation mercifully shifted. I didn’t know how to respond to her insults.

Recently a friend asked how another of my daughters was doing, and I told her she was thrilled to have found a major in college that she truly loved. I said that she’d been struggling to “find” herself, and another woman who was listening in said, rather dismissively, “All of us struggle to find ourselves.” Her attitude of So your daughter isn’t anything special or important, hung thickly in the air.

Again, my inability to respond when I’m surprised kicked in, and I was silent. Fortunately.

As I’ve reflected on those exchanges–and many others when I perceived I or my family was being slighted–I’ve thought about what I should have said.

And always it’s the same.

Nothing.
When someone offends you, say nothing.

Because over the years I’ve discovered that when someone goes on the offensive, it’s because they’re feeling defensive. As I’ve written before, no one who is happy or content in their lives purposely go about offending people. And most of the time, offenses aren’t intended; they’re accidental.

But when a slight is intended, I’ve discovered that it’s caused by pain. Something about a situation triggers pain (or fear, or anxiety) and the reaction is to defend one’s self with a deliberate offense. A pre-emptive strike, if you will.

While I heard the snideness in the remarks, I also heard the pain lurking underneath.

For example, the woman who suggested I didn’t spoil my daughter enough always wanted six children, mostly girls. That had been her dream since she was a little.

She got one daughter, and two sons, after a lot of costly medical intervention.

The fact that I had four daughters, and that I inadvertently reminded her that I effortlessly achieved the dream she never could awakened her pain.

Same with the woman who flippantly dismissed my daughter’s found happiness, because her own daughter had tried to “find” herself, and found drugs instead, then found herself in jail.
While my daughter found herself admitted to a competitive college program.

I heard that woman’s pain. I heard her undertones of, “It’s not fair.”

I agree, it’s not. Not that I live an enchanted life by any means. I could have countered with claims about our family’s anxiety and depression issues, or our financial stresses, or any number of other trials to prove that yes, I feel pain too!

But trying to trump someone else’s pain with detailed claims of your own never works. You can’t conquer pain with more pain. There are no winners in the “my experience is worse than yours!” battle.

Over the years I’ve tried to listen for the pain, or fear, or quiet whimper of, “It’s so unfair!” when I hear a remark that could be considered offensive. It’s always there, in the background.

Whenever I’m tempted to hold a “I’m so offended!” party, I try to invite Compassion and Empathy to show up first, so that they can trample my Arrogant Ego before it goes off on a drunken rampage. Because despite the term, there’s nothing “righteous” about Self-Righteousness.

offended party

This past week I’ve analyzed “offenses” in the news and social media, and looked for the pain or fear beneath it. From the silly (think Starbucks) to the severe (think terrorism strikes, everywhere), folks are “offended” that we’re not doing things right: not worshipping enough, or worshipping too much; not empathizing enough, or empathizing with too few sufferers; not caring about others, or caring too much . . .

Everyone chooses to be offended. There’s nothing we can do about that, except choose not to take offense ourselves, and listen instead for the pain hiding underneath.

Yung squeezed her again. “If you’re worried that I’ll be offended by his reactions, don’t be.  Nothing offends me.”
~The Falcon in the Barn, Book 4

Why I made all my books free (and title release for book 5!)

If you go to Amazon/Smashwords/and-the-like you’ll see that my four books are now all available as FREE DOWNLOADS, and this is a PERMANENT change. (The paperbacks still cost money, because I’m unable to give those away, but I adjusted the prices so that I make nothing from them. Literally nothing.)

Why the heck did I do that?!

Because I felt, intensely and undeniably, that I should.
Because as I’ve stated elsewhere in my blog that I didn’t come up with this story; it was gifted to me.
Because when you’ve been given a gift, freely, you don’t then go around charging other people for it.

I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to improve these “gifts,” these stories. I started the series five years ago and spend an unconscionable amount of time developing them to the point that they’re just this side of readable. And while it’s been an enormous undertaking–I’ve never worked harder or longer on any other project besides motherhood–I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and felt incredibly blessed.
It’s been my therapy, when my sister and parents were ill and dying.
It’s been my escape, when we were severely underemployed and struggling.
It’s been my motivation to study deeply some theories, philosophy, and writings I normally wouldn’t.

It’s been a complete joy, a pure blessing. A true gift from God.

And I need to give that gift away.

It’s not like I ever made big bucks from this series anyway. I barely paid off my computer from the proceeds one year.

But something I read just the other day affirmed what I’ve been feeling for a long time now. Those words come from the Book of Mormon (yes, I’m a Mormon–a practicing Christian, as I’ve confessed before). When I read the following in my studies the other day, I felt a cosmic slap upside the head:

 29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.

 30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing;  . . .

 31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.

~2 Nephi 26: 29-31 (emphasis added)

As I’ve stated here in my bio, I believe in the concept of Zion—a group of people that are of one heart and one mind, where individuals choose (unlike socialism and communism) to share all things freely so that there are no poor among them, and are focused on improving their minds and increasing their knowledge, not their possessions. And I also believe creating this kind of society is doable in our future.

That’s why I’m writing. That’s why I’m so excited–and anxious–to get out Book 5, titled Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti (the enigmatic nature of the title is explained in the book; here’s a hint–it’s a code). I still hope to release in Spring of 2016. I had planned all along to make Book 5 permanently free, and held on to the idea that I can make a buck-fifty on the other books, no problem.

No. No, I need to be as open with all of my books.

Safety Assured book 5 PreCover

This isn’t the OFFICIAL cover yet. But this was the magnificent sunrise only this morning, and I realized it’d be a perfect background for Book 5 in the meantime.

To be honest, I was hoping to make some money because we’re crushed by an enormous student loan debt which we have no hope of paying off. I should be a brain surgeon with a debt like that. (Fortunately for all people requiring surgery, I’m not.)

But I’ve decided to have faith that if/when God wants me to pay off that debt, He’ll provide us with the right opportunities. Selling the inspiration He’s given me is NOT the way, however.

I have three other books kicking around in my head completely unrelated to Forest at the Edge, and maybe through one or all of those we’ll finally come into the money that will allow us to get out of the debt.

So today I happily announce that my series–which people either LOVE! or HATE! based upon the feedback I’ve been getting online and privately–will always be permanently free.

Enjoy! (Or bash, whatever.)